When my eldest was finally able to be pushed really high on the swings, and let out high pitched screams of joy that I was sure were secret communication between him and local dogs/practice for communicating with dolphins, he was still having two mega naps a day, and I was heavily pregnant. We were limited to a short lunchtime dash between naps. When I had the two of them, with very conflicting nap schedules, we spent even more rushed moments when they were both actually awake, going outside! Having come from a job where I spent a lot of time outside, there were quite a lot of wistful, staring at the four walls times during this period!

I’m sure you can guess from my previous posts, that the deep thinking, tentative eldest, generally favoured slightly more genteel outdoor adventures like sand and water tables tables-swings were sometimes as adventurous as he got. And again, as you all know, the assassin child didn’t get his name for nothing…! He was using me as human climbing equipment and making as many freedom rolls as possible, before he could even walk!

outdoor play

And then we arrived at what I call the Golden Era. An era where they had co-ordinated naps (I co-ordinated mine with theirs, obviously!) and the rest of the day, we were freeeeeeeeee!!! Although I’ve mainly moaned ruminated about how hard each stage of parenting has been-I really do miss this particular time. The mornings being free, and getting a rest in the afternoon, is probably the dream combination, right?! Even at that stage, soft play was ok for the boys (and I seriously disliked it,) but going to the park was always, and still is, where it’s at.

children on swings, outdoor play

We have what we call the ‘secret park’ around the corner from us-so named because we didn’t even know it was there when we moved in, and it’s always so quiet! It’s surely one of Bristol’s best kept secrets. Although it does have what I once overheard one parent call ‘the bridge of death,’ a very high bridge with gaping gaps either side, and between each step…! It wasn’t until, yep, it was bound to happen-the youngest ‘run before you can walk’ child had climbed onto it, got half way before I realised he was no longer rolling safely in the mud, and fallen inevitably by the Law Of Sod through one of the gaps, that I fully appreciated playground surfaces too… After he’d bounced and rolled a few times, then pulled himself up guffawing, ready to go again, one of the other parents gave me an in depth explanation about the flooring is specially designed to do that, to break his fall. This, I admit, is something I’d never even paid attention to before. I’m now eternally grateful for it every time he falls from something he’s way too young, but far too adventurous not to be climbing.

outdoor play

Even the deciding factor in the eldest’s school, was the sheer volume of amazing wooden climbing frames in the extensive outdoor space. We were lucky that our other two choices we loved just as much, and they had a gorgeous literally ‘old school’ Victorian charm, but very little outdoor play space. Plus when the head teacher said that the school liked to put much more of an emphasis on playing in the primary years, and learning through outdoor play especially for reception and year one children, that was even more of a reason to choose it.

It can be hard to get the little one passed the school play equipment every day (I think I get the email ‘can we just remind you that siblings ARE NOT TO PLAY ON THE OUTDOOR EQUIPMENT!’ more than everyone else!) It’s like putting him in a bath of chocolate and telling him he can’t touch it, twice a day at pick up and drop off! But he’s looking forward to starting school next year, just for the play equipment alone!

outdoor play

Don’t get me wrong, I can still be a bit meh about it. I can be too cold, too tired, and feel a little Groundhoggish about going to the same places, and doing the same things on repeat. But we do have some amazing park memories, and days where the children have been to the park and played well for hours, have just been the easiest days-they are so much happier for it. Also, research carried out by ESP Play found that:

“With over 1,000 children being referred to hospital as a result of obesity, and 1 in 3 children between the ages of 2 and 10 being overweight, these figures are truly alarming.”

Me and my husband enjoy, and are still trying to improve upon, our healthy lifestyles, and we want to instil that into the children too. And while their diet is still a work in progress, at least I can ease my guilt, and at least hold onto the fact that they run wild and free in the park, as often as they need, even if I’m sometimes in need of just a trashy magazine and a sit down…! Being outside means they are happier, and then we all have a happier family dynamic-a win, in a sometimes very winless life!

*This is a collaborative post.

starting school

It’s that time. We are coming up to the time of year where everyone of a certain age will have their every social media platform flooded with pictures of children in brand new shiny, soon-to-be-ruined uniforms, shiny, soon-to-be scuffed/lost shoes, being forced to smile for a first day of school picture.

Last year I had a chuckle at the two people on my feed who chose to break the mould-my 23 year old cousin, who posted a picture of Sloth from the Goonies, with the caption ‘this is what I see when you all post pictures of your so called cute kids on their first day of school. Stop already,’ and my friend, who posted a picture of herself jumping up and down and high fiving the air, while her child cried in the background. Both were a humorous break!

I won’t be posting one, not because I feel strongly about them one way or the other, but because I don’t actually use my own social media very often-I’m mainly a bloody antisocial misery! I also seem to be the only person who is glad that their child is going to school. And it might not be for the reasons you think.

Firstly, he has made it very easy for me to look forward to him going. He has been excited about it for months, and lately has been asking to go to nursery more than his regular two days. He is so bored and over being at home with me and the assassin child. Admittedly, if he was terrified and anxious about going, this post would probably have a totally different tone, with me scouring the world for all cotton wool supplies to wrap him up with for ever, and looking to totally re-evaluate my future so I could homeschool him.

I can’t wait for the better balance I am 98% certain will make our fraught house a slightly more harmonious place to be, when I get to spend more time with both children on their own. Tensions between the two children and constant conflict over satisfying everyone’s needs (including the ‘third child’ husband,) has left me feeling kind of destroyed recently. Every day has felt like a battle, and one I haven’t had a chance of winning, or even neutralising.

Since the smallest was born, when the eldest was 14 months old, I’ve never managed to find anywhere near a balance of spending time with both of them individually-something I often ruminate may have inadvertently damaged my relationship with both of them. Last week, I had my first day on my own with the eldest, that I’ve had since his brother was born. That’s 3 and a half years ago. It was an AMAZING day. One of the best parenting days I’ve had in  such a long time.

When he is at school, I’ll have time with the smallest on his own, and during school holidays, when the smallest is at nursery, I’ll have the eldest on his own. They are both looking forward to this time like you wouldn’t believe-and so am I. I feel like I can finally get to know them properly, and enjoy each day, instead of dragging myself through it, dodging my ever boiling temper, and constant fights for assassin supremacy.

During a park meetup last week, with some of the parent/children who will be in the eldest’s new class, all of the parents were throwing out the classic phrases like ‘hasn’t the time gone quick?’ ‘I can’t believe we are at this stage already!’ Half of me wondered whether these are just small talk phrases, that nobody actually believes, and the other half of me wondered if I actually just feel time differently to everybody else-because I’ve felt every second of the last 4 and a half years. Then I settled on the fact that people only feel like it’s gone quickly because they can’t remember every second of it- your brain can’t possibly do that, so you just remember the abridged version, which makes it feel like there’s been much less time than there has been. I have been parenting (mainly solo, apart from occasional full weekends,) for about 1632 days. And as much as I’ve marvelled over the milestones, and enjoyed some of it, it certainly doesn’t feel like it’s flown by. At all.

I’m also feeling quite selfish at the moment. Maybe it didn’t help that until 2 weeks before I became a mum, I had spent 10 years in a job where I selflessly put other people’s needs before mine, mostly working more hours than I ever got paid for, to the detriment of my social life and anything I wanted to do for myself. I went straight from that, into a job with a very similar job description, which was 10 times harder, and completely unpaid (although largely more rewarding and love filled.) I just want to enjoy more time to myself now, and do something for me. I can’t wait for this, actually.

So yes, he’s my oldest baby, and I’ll miss his careful, considered, deep thinking (if somewhat a little moany) presence in my life. But, there are a lot of feelings that come along with having both children at home, that I’d rather not be feeling, given the choice, and that is why I’m looking forward to the new balance that his going to school will bring. I’ll more than likely send him off with a lump in my throat, and totally forget to take a picture of him, because I’m just a bit shit like that…!

 

lodge at bluestone

If you read my post last year, about our holiday to Bluestone, you will know how much the whole family loved it there. You can imagine how excited I was when we booked to go again this year, and I was then contacted by the Bluestone Bloggers programme, to see if I wanted to stay for a week as part of the programme-the week they offered, happened to be the week after we had already booked. So with a massive ‘yes,’ we decided that we’d stay for two weeks. We have never been away for two weeks with the children yet. We were worried. We thought it might be too much. We thought that two weeks worth of entertaining the children may have pushed us over the edge. None of that happened, because even after two weeks, we didn’t want to come home…

So what is Bluestone A selection of gorgeous lodges, in beautiful Pembrokeshire forest land. A tranquil, back to nature holiday camp, appealing heavily to the outdoorsy. It has everything you need on it’s car free site-a shop, restaurants, and a shed load of activities. For me personally, it’s a pretty unbeatable holiday destination…

Check in: This is easy-drive up to a check in booth, and do it all from the car. You can get early check in, meaning you can enter your lodge at 3pm, otherwise it’s 4.30pm. However, you can be on site from 11am, so we arrived around lunchtime, and I had a bag with me, full of stuff we might need, to last us until we could get in, and we had all the keys/info with us already.

outdoors at bluestone

 

Golf buggies/bikes: Get a golf buggy! Ok, if you’re into fitness, and enjoy cycling, you can hire bikes and cycle around, but our children just loved being driven around in the golf buggy-it’s a fun and handy way to get around, and it became an evening post dinner ritual that we’d go ‘out for a drive’ and find somewhere to stop/play for a while, before bedtime.

The lodges: We had a 3 bedroom lodge last year, which was HUGE, and the third bedroom (which is downstairs,) was a waste of time and money, when the children decided they were going to share a room! So this time we had a 2 bedroom Skomer lodge, which has 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms downstairs, and a large open plan living area upstairs. I won’t lie, it took a while to get used to the upside down living, and I prefer to sleep upstairs, but that is completely personal preference! The lodge was really spacious, decorated in lovely muted greens/taupes/beiges, which matched the lovely forest surroundings. My only criticism is that the fridge and freezer were tiny-we took a weeks worth of shopping with us, and couldn’t fit it all in, we had to decide what we were going to leave out/use quickly, and even throw away. Again, that’s personal preference, because I presume most people would only use it for essentials, and eat out a lot. But as I was trying to be a killjoy stick to my PCOS diet, I wanted to make my own food most nights.

The food on site: There’s several places to choose from to eat, on site. There’s the Wildwood Cafe in the Adventure Centre, which we didn’t try, but heard really good things about! There is also the Knight’s Tafarn-made to look like a traditional pub, serving traditional pub food. I expected it to be just ok here (I had a salad,) but the food was amazing, and everyone with us, said that they were also equally impressed.

Oak Tree restaurant was our favourite place-I allowed myself one evening of carbing it up, and I have to say, it was probably the best pizza I’ve ever eaten-and I don’t say that lightly!! My brother, who is a very snobby foodie (he’d hate me for that, but it’s true,) said that his pasta dish was the best one he’s ever eaten too. This place is awesome!

There’s also The Farmhouse Grill, which we didn’t try, and Ty Coffi, which sold brilliant coffee, cakes, and my children would definitely vouch for the quality of the ice cream!

The best place to eat, for me, by far, was Camp Smokey. Right in the depths of the forest, this beautiful rustic area serves pretty basic BBQ food, while playing country music, and has the bonus of an outdoor fire pit for toasting your smores! It was an every afternoon occurrence for us, where we’d arrive back from wherever we’d been, and head straight to Camp Smokey for beer and wine for me and Mr W, and smores for the littles. A brilliant atmosphere, and something that makes Bluestone really special! There’s also a nightly shindig held there-sing for your dinner, and dance away!!

outdoors at bluestone

The activities: There’s a very handy play area/parks in the middle of the pub/restaurants, where you can quite easily see the children playing from the outdoor eating areas, or are welcome to take drinks in a plastic cup, in with you (bonus.)

The activitiy centre has a massive indoor climbing area, slides, ball pits, bouncy castle, soft play-everything you need for entertaining on a rainy day. There are loads of structured group activities, both indoor and out (some payable,) if that’s something of interest to you!

The Blue Lagoon swimming pool is loads of fun, with 3 different pools, to span all age/ability levels! The waves in the main pool are loads of fun! The slides look awesome, but we didn’t get to try them because we couldn’t leave our little non swimmers with just one adult.

Bluestone is an amazing base to explore the local area from-it really has some of the best beaches I’ve ever seen (I defy anyone not to be blown away by Barafundle Bay!) Here is a list of the things and days out that we (all!!) genuinely loved, while we were there:

Barafundle Bay: Not buggy accessible-you park in the nearby car park, then walk a steep flight of steps, across a cliff edge, and down more steps to the beach-be prepared to carry your things/children. Also no toilets/life guards, but it’s… just… stunning!!

Tenby/Castle beach: Tenby is a gorgeous town, one of the prettiest I know! And the beach is also gorgeous.

outdoors at bluestone

 

Folly Farm: A brilliant animal/vintage fun fair/park adventure, and currently the number one attraction in Pembrokeshire according to trip advisor!

Pembroke Castle: I thought mine (3and 4) were going to be too young for this, but they marched around every room, and loved it! Great grounds for a rest/picnic too!

Pembrokeshire Falconry: We booked an owl experience here, where the children got to fly the owls by themselves-they were completely entranced/in awe!! It was just us, and the handler, who was really knowledgable and great with the children.

Picton Castle and gardens: This is where the falconry experience was held, but another lovely castle and garden to look at.

The Dinosaur Park: This was my children’s FAVOURITE! A brilliant dinosaur ‘safari,’ and dinosaur trails through the woods, and there’s also loads of rides-which are all free once you’ve paid to get in. The children asked to go every day, once we’d been!

Bluestone, you were epic. We were sad to leave, but will absolutely be back.

Imagination: a fairy next to arailway line.

My children always want me to play with them. They seem physically incapable of playing by themselves, and I often have to ignore their pleas of ‘please mummy, PLEASE-WE DON’T WANT TO PLAY ON OUR OWN,’ not only because my house is a total shit tip, which is in grave need of my attention, but also because my imagination appeared to be completely dead.

They can hand me a Darth Vader, and they’ll be shouting: ‘And Luke Skywalker is going to jump out of God’s mouth, fall through heaven, collect eleven five ten thousand bajillion stars on his way down, then use the light power he collected to kill all the baddies, and the Ewoks will see him falling from God’s mouth and use power from their minds to save him. He will use his pants as a parachute, and use fart power to jet propel himself to somewhere safe, and the Ewok’s minds will stop him hurting himself, and build him a castle of chocolate to live in. What does Darth Vader do then mummy??’

‘Erm, get out his lightsaber and hurt some people?’

‘No mummy, that’s boring.’

‘Ok, yea, I am kind of lame…’

I always think that I could never write a children’s book, because I’ve lost that part of my brain that delights in simple, magical adventures. I can’t think of anything remotely exciting to bring to their games-I don’t know why they insist on trying to include me to be fair. I did think I’d completely lost all imagination-a brain deadened by a mundane adult life. That was, until a few recent car journeys…

I was getting really annoyed by someone driving a few inches from my bumper, recently. It’s the kind of driving offence I put up there with people who drive in the middle lane, and people who don’t indicate at roundabouts. ‘If he gets any further up my ass, he’ll need to use a condom,’ I muttered. ‘WHAT DID YOU SAY MUMMY?’ ‘Nothing!’ And my brain then proceeded to imagine a world where all bumpers were fitted with sensors, which when another car got too close, made a neon flashing sign rise up in the rear window, saying ‘STOP VIOLATING MY ASS, THIS IS YOUR FIRST WARNING.’ If they continued to drive so close, they’d get a second warning, then if they still didn’t back off, cars would spray theirs with condoms, which on impact, would cover their car with a corrosive material-surely a sure fire way to get people AWAY FROM MY ASS. Maybe repeat offenders could then have their heads placed on spikes at the entrance and exit to motorway junctions, along with those of people who drive in the middle lane, to serve as a deterrent to not be such a dick.

I realised I’d gotten massively carried away. I also realised I did in fact, have an imagination-just translating that into the innocence of my children’s games, is just a whole different ball game, right…?!

mental health

I’ve been telling myself for quite a long time now, that ‘it’s ok, you’re just a little bit mental at the moment, you’ll be alright soon.’ Because often, we find ourselves tired, stressed, juggling 6.2 billion plates with just two hands (often while the other halves casually spin just the one on the tip of their finger-they totally have the other hand free to catch it with, if it falls,) and it all can make us feel just slightly crazy.

Except I noticed that I was telling myself week after week that the mentalness was going to go away, and making more excuses when it didn’t. I needed ‘that event’ over with, or when I’d had ‘that day to myself,’ that’s when I was going to be fine. Except, I still wasn’t. Before I knew it, I was in a painfully familiar pit of not wanting to leave the house, making excuses not to leave the house, crying in secret, and trying to hide the fact that I wanted to be crying the rest of the time too, but didn’t want to do it in front of the children, and everyone else I know, and dwelling on the fact that I wished I’d punched Becky from school in the face in 1993, when she said the best thing that could happen to me would be for me to be run over by a bus. I know we are told that violence solves nothing, but responding like that would’ve been really fucking satisfying.

Here is an example of my stream of consciousness, when I’m particularly batshit:
*Wake up, ears are ringing, head feels foggy for no reason*
‘This is going to be a terrible day.’
‘Don’t leave the house today because BAD THINGS WILL HAPPEN.’
‘The children won’t eat anything decent all day. Go on, give them the full sugar breakfast, and then they’ll get diabetes, and you’re going to feel like SHIT.’
‘Ooooh, what’s that on the news? Someone has a terrible illness? You better add that to the list of illnesses you need to be vigilant for, because the children can’t be left without a mother.’
‘Well, they could be, because you’re actually a shit one, and they’d be better off without you.’
‘In fact, if you did die, nobody would actually notice, because nobody really cares.’
‘Remember not to go out today, or if you do, just go to the park and stay in one corner, where you don’t have to talk to any other humans-you are shit at making friends, and you’ll make a dick of yourself.’
‘Oh, you’re looking forward to Mr W coming home are you? I don’t really know why he stays with you-you’re completely dragging him down. He should be with someone much prettier, thinner, funnier, and just, well, better, than you. He’ll probably be off at some point and then what will happen, you’ll have NOBODY.’
‘Stop snapping at the children, you used to be so patient. There’s another good quality you can tick off the list, that you don’t have anymore.’
‘Conserve energy for bedtime, because the children have decided that as you’re the worst mother ever, they’re going to bring you to your knees-you totes deserve it though, for being an all around crappy waste of space.’
‘By the way, while you’re being selfishly self absorbed with these thoughts, and only thinking about yourself, your mum told the eldest off for saying bugger. He’s replied with “it’s not as bad as fuck, nanny.” who swears in front of their fucking kids?’

Like I said-totally batshit. And it’s just soooooooo exhausting. I start every day feeling like I’ve run a marathon. Stuff hurts, that has no reason to be hurting. My eyes ache, my throat feels course, my stomach cramps, and my arms and legs feel like they’re made of lead. Everything sends me into fight or flight-even just handing over money at the till at the shop. The thought of coming to my laptop to write something, was making me feel sick. Plus, not going anywhere, and feeling like I was on the precipice of some kind of life destroying incident all the time, was becoming too much.

I went out last week to get my hair cut, which I was actually looking forward to, (I took this as a step forward,) until the hairdresser heard ‘can you please cut it a couple of inches below my shoulders,’ as ‘do whatever the fuck you want!!’ and gave me a long bob. I didn’t panic as much as I thought I would, about a) actually going there, and b) not being able to wear my hair in the bun it’s been sporting everyday for the last 5 years. It goes into a half bun now, so I resemble a mental hipster, minus ironic beard (unless you count the odd PCOS related chin hair flapping around.)

I’m also seeing a person. Someone actually qualified to deal with the mental. Someone taking my mental seriously, who has a plan. I feel better knowing there’s a plan, because although I’ve tried to embrace the crazy as being one of my quirks, and as a part of me, I also can’t and don’t want to, live with it to this extent anymore. So, it’s time to take a stand.