Mind the gap!

There’s almost exactly four years between B and A.  Three years and 353 days to be exact.  For those who can’t be faffed doing the maths, A was born twelve days before B’s 4th birthday!

Some people think this is quite a big gap to have.  It’s certainly a bigger gap than most of our friends have, and of our antenatal friends from when I was pregnant with B, we were the last to have a second baby (apart from one couple who aren’t planning another).  But according to a recent article in The Times, we’re not that unusual.  The article says that the average age gap between siblings in the UK is now 3 years and 8 months.

We didn’t originally plan such a big gap.  Even before B was born, we spoke about having a gap of around two and a half years, and I remember when she was tiny and we were in that sleep deprived fog of the newborn days anxiously asking hubby “You do still want another one don’t you?”!!!

But things changed, we decided to wait, and then it took a bit longer than we had hoped, and I sadly had a miscarriage before A was conceived (more about all of those things one day I’m sure!).  But putting aside the fact that their birthdays are so close together (imagine a birthday party for 21 four year olds in a church hall when your baby is 17 days old….!!), I think the four year gap is working out pretty well for us so far.

Of course every family is different, and there’s no such thing as a ‘perfect’ gap.  I know there are pros and cons whatever gap you have, but here are some of my favourite things about how our wee family has worked out.

One of the biggest positives is the fact that I am on maternity leave during B’s first few months at school.  I can drop her off every day, and pick her up (a real bonus for the first three weeks when she has only been in mornings – what a faff that would be if I was working!).  We don’t have to worry about after school care, I can sit and do homework with her in the afternoon, rather than at 6pm when I’m trying to cook tea as well, and I just generally feel happy that I am getting the opportunity to help her settle in without having to juggle work as well.

I’m also very grateful for all the time I had to devote to B on her own.  I was very lucky – I had nearly 14 months off work after she was born, and when I went back to work it was only three days a week, so we’ve had lots and lots of one on one time.  I like to think that she has benefitted from not having to ‘share’ me with a younger sibling until she was 4, and I will always cherish that time we had just the two of us.  And of course now B is at school, I will get that one on one time with A as well – not quite to the same extent, but more than if we’d had a smaller gap.

At four, B was already pretty independent in a lot of ways by the time A came along.  She could go to the toilet by herself, get herself a snack from the cupboard, get dressed pretty much by herself…  She was also very good at entertaining herself in the early days when I was constantly on the sofa feeding A.  Yes we had lovely quiet times snuggled up reading stories, but she was also quite happy to take herself off to play with her dolls house or do a puzzle in the playroom for fifteen minutes.  Of course there was the time when I told her to play quietly while A had his feed, she disappeared through to the playroom, came back dressed as Merida, and started firing suction cup arrows at the patio doors….!!

I was worried that B would be jealous of a new baby, given that she had been our one and only for almost four years, but other than a few stampy feet and shouty moments in the early days, she’s pretty much taken it all in her stride.  We involved her right from the start – I will never forget the excitement on her wee face when we showed her the 12 week scan pictures and told her she was going to be a big sister.  She’s so proud when people ask her about A, and she’s enjoyed showing him off to all her new friends at school.  They are doing phonics and for each sound they learn they have to take something starting with that sound into school – for ‘A’, she took a photo of her brother!  She reads him stories, sings him nursery rhymes and just generally chatters away to him nineteen to the dozen!

And for his part, A absolutely adores his big sister.  His smile when she comes through to see him in the morning is lovely, and him giggling as she tickles him is one of those memories I have locked away in my heart (to recall on the days when they are fighting like cat and dog in a few years!!).

Of course it hasn’t been plain sailing the entire time these last nine and a half months.  I couldn’t count the number of times I’d just got A off for a nap only to have to waken him after 10 minutes to take B to ballet or gymnastics.  And then there were the days me and B would start baking, or doing a craft project, only to be interrupted halfway through.  Those of you who follow me on Twitter probably know that A is not a particularly great sleeper, but now I have to be up at 6.40am five days a week, regardless of if I’ve only had four hours broken sleep, to get B to school on time.  And of course B’s days of daytime naps were long gone by the time A was born, so when they were both at home all day I got no down time at all until they were both in bed!

I suppose I do wonder whether they will be close growing up, particularly as a girl and a boy rather than two girls or two boys.  Will we be able to find things to do on weekends and holidays that will occupy and entertain them both as they get older?

But for now, things are working out pretty well with our 3 year and 353 day gap!!

Would love to hear what the best and worst things about the age gaps other people have are!

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Tomorrow.

Tomorrow.  For most people, an ordinary Tuesday.  But not for me and B.  Tomorrow I will wave my wee girl off at the school gate for the first time.  Tomorrow feels like the start of a new chapter, a chapter that will see her spend more time in the company of other people than she does with me, a chapter that sees her never need me in quite the same way again.

How did we get here so quickly?  When I was pregnant with B, people told me time and time again how quickly kids grow up.  But you don’t appreciate just how quickly until you’re living it.  It feels like the last four years and almost nine months have gone by in a heartbeat.  And now my clever, hilarious, bossy, gorgeous chatterbox is ready for school.  But what if I’m not ready?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited for her.  I’m excited that she’s excited.  I see how animated she gets telling me about something new she’s learned at nursery, I see how much satisfaction she gets out of writing a new word, and I know she will thrive in the classroom where every day is filled with new discoveries.  I’m excited for the new friends she will make, for the opportunities that school will give her, and I’m excited to see her grow as a person.

But at the same time, the growing up scares me.  I know I have to let her spread her wings and make her own way in the world, even though she is only four.  But it is hard.  I don’t think I have ever been this emotional as a parent.  I can’t help worrying.  What if she struggles to make friends?  What if she doesn’t like her school dinner?  What if other kids are mean to her?  What if she falls over in the playground and hurts herself?  There are a million what ifs, stretching way into the future.

But all I can do is hope that we have brought her up, and will continue to bring her up, to be able to handle whatever life throws at her.  And to know that on the days when it feels like she can’t, that she can always turn to us for support and for love.

I suppose that’s my greatest wish as B grows up.  That she will always come to me when she needs to – to share in her triumphs, when she needs advice or a shoulder to cry on, when she needs to know that someone is in her corner, fighting her battles right alongside her.  And I hope that she will know every single day how proud I am of her.

And if tomorrow is the start of a new chapter, then I guess today is the end of a chapter too.  So let me just say how lucky I feel to have been part of the first chapter of my little lady’s life.  I often tell B that I’ve loved her from the second I knew she was in my tummy.  I’ve watched her grow from a teeny tiny newborn, to a clingy toddler who wanted mummy to do everything, to an inquisitive and energetic four year old who most definitely knows her own mind.  I’ve watched her adapt to life as a proud big sister, and she amazes me constantly.  And although I can guarantee I’ll be crying my eyes out as I walk home from school tomorrow morning, I cannot wait for the next stage of our adventure together.

Activity Overload?!

For someone who is only four, B has a pretty busy wee life.  As well as two full days in nursery (from 9am til 5pm), she also has a ballet class, a gymnastics class and a drama class.  She’s learning to ski, and although she doesn’t have proper swimming lessons, hubby is teaching her to swim and they tend to go to the pool once a week.  Add into that playdates, trips to the library/park/garden centre, it’s a wonder we have time just to hang out at home!!  I do think it’s important to encourage interests and hobbies from an early age, but how much is too much?

I’ve been very conscious for the last couple of months that things will change once she starts school.  Going from two days a week at nursery to five days a weeks at school (albeit shorter days) will be a big change for her, and I expect for the first term at least she will be pretty exhausted.  She’ll have homework and new friends to get to know, playdates, birthday parties, existing friends to try and fit in as well.  Something will have to give.  But what?

The first decision we had to make was about her dancing.  I will confess to encouraging her dancing, because it was my ‘thing’ when I was younger.  I did ballet, tap and Highland until I was about 10, and I did Scottish Country Dancing from the age of 6 until I was 17, and actually qualified as a teacher!  Anyway, when we got back from Center Parcs in May, we had a letter from the dance school about classes after the summer holidays.  B is currently in the pre-school ballet class, so obviously a move to the P1/2 class makes sense.  However, the letter said that “most children” choose to do two types of dancing – ballet and either tap or jazz.  Hmmm, well the dance school would say that, at more than £6 for a half hour lesson!!  I didn’t even really give it much consideration.  B’s current class is on a Tuesday afternoon, and the P1/2 class runs straight after the pre-school one, and we will probably have to go straight from school.  Another class on the same day would mean B not getting home until almost 6pm, which is a long day if she’s been at school since before 9am.  It’s also pretty expensive – not just the cost of the class, but the outfit and shoes, costumes for shows, exams and all these things will soon mount up.  So we’re sticking just with ballet (so are her friends who go to the same class, so I don’t know who these “most children” are!!).

Next up, gymnastics.  B has been going to gymnastics for just over a year now.  She does a little bit of badge work every week, and now has four badges, then the rest of the 45 minute class is kind of free play around the gym equipment – balancing beams, trampolines, climbing stuff, plus mats for forward rolls and stuff.  There are two ladies who supervise, but apart from the badge work bit they don’t ‘teach’ the kids anything as such.  B loved it when we first started going, but recently has found it a bit boring – repetitive I guess.  She was offered a place at the next class up, but it’s at 3.40pm on a Wednesday – the centre is right at the other side of town, and it would be a major rush to get there from school, so we said no thanks.  I didn’t think B would be too fussed, but the last couple of weeks before the holidays, they were taken through to the “big girl’s gym” with all the proper gym equipment, and she got to jump in the pits which she thought was super exciting, and now she is really keen on sticking at it!! I’m sure we could probably find a class on a Saturday, but that would mean giving up drama.

We started taking B to drama at the start of this year, partly because she loved the Xmas show she did at nursery last year, and partly to see if it would give her a little bit more confidence, as she was quite shy.  It’s an hour on a Saturday, and there are two things I really like about it.  The first is that it’s a ‘pay as you go’ affair – you don’t have to pay for a whole term in advance, so if we’re away for a weekend, or if she has a birthday party or is not well, it really doesn’t matter.  The second is that I tend to leave A at home with hubby, which means I get an hour to sit in the café and read my book!!  😉  But the main thing of course is that B really enjoys it.  There’s singing, dancing, dressing up, games, and if she stuck with it, she would have the chance to take part in shows.  I’m not a pushy mum at all (at least I really hope I’m not!!) but B loves singing and prancing about, and I want to encourage her to enjoy those things before she’s at an age where she’s self conscious about it.

Because drama is just a drop in class, she sometimes misses it to go to a skiing lesson at the dry slope near our house.  Skiing is very much hubby’s thing.  He was brought up very close to Ben Nevis and could go skiing every weekend during the winter.  He’s tried to teach me; it almost ended in divorce!!  I’m too old and too scared – if we ever went on a winter holiday I’d be sticking to the après ski!  Anyway, B absolutely loves it and is actually very good.  She’s had several private lessons now, and actually has her own skis and kit!  She could join the kids’ ski club which I think you sign up for in blocks of 12 weeks, but hubby seems to think the private lessons are still the way to go for now, probably once every four or five weeks.  While it holds absolutely no interest for me whatsoever, I think it’s great that she will have the opportunity to learn as a child.

The other thing I’ve put B’s name down for is Rainbows.  There was no such thing as Rainbows when I was a kid, but I was a Brownie and a Girl Guide.  The one I have her name down for is at the community centre beside her school, so I’m hoping it will give her a chance to socialise with some of the girls from her class (she doesn’t go to the school nursery so will only know one or two kids when she starts P1).  She has to be 5 before she starts though, so that won’t be as soon as she starts school.  Although now I come to think of it. it may actually clash with her ballet day.  Hmmm, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it!

So that gives us ballet and eventually Rainbows on school days, and drama and possibly skiing on weekends.  I really think this is plenty when she is going to have to adjust to the school routine, and if it looks like being too much for her then we will rethink.

I would love to know what other people’s pre-schoolers and school age children do outside of school.  Do you think we do too much?  Not enough?!  Would love to hear your views!

 

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The dreaded Miss Elliott – B’s journey with DDH

When I tell people that B was born with both hips dislocated, there are two common reactions – most people look horrified, while others (more than you’d think) say “Oh I know someone that happened to”. Some people think it happened during labour, some think she must have been in incredible pain.

The proper name for the condition B was born with is Developmental Dysplasia of the Hip, or DDH. DDH refers to a range of abnormalities in the hip joints.  It occurs in approximately 0.1% of babies, although a double dislocation is more unusual.  It is most common in breech babies, first born girls and babies where there is a family history. B fell into two of those categories – our first born girl was undiagnosed breech and basically sat inside of me with her bum down and feet in front of her face. No wonder her hip joints didn’t grow properly!  Anyhow, I am by no means a medical expert on it all, but if you are interested in knowing more, there is good info here and here.

The first sign we had that something was wrong was during B’s paediatric check the day after she was born. The paediatrician bent her knees  and wiggled her legs about, and said she thought there was a problem with her hips and she was referring us to the hip clinic. I had heard of ” clicky hips” before but was recovering from an emergency section and didn’t really take it in or understand properly the implications of what the doctor was saying.

We went to the hip clinic at the kids’ hospital for the first time when B was 7 days old. Hubby had done some reading up and so was better prepared than me for what lay ahead. First of all came an ultrasound scan of B’s hips (during which she had a leaky nappy and was sick!!).  My recollections of this part are actually pretty sketchy – I think there was some discussion about ball and socket joints and angles, but it was all completely over my head.

We then had a long wait to see the consultant.  Miss Elliott.  They say first impressions count – well, after four and a half years I have actually come to quite like Miss Elliott, but my feelings towards her will always be coloured by that first meeting.  She came into the room, got the scan pictures up on the screen and said “So neither hip is in joint, they are both dislocated”.  No beating around the bush.  Then she looked at me and said “Don’t worry, it’s nothing you’ve done”.  Well, thanks for that, it hadn’t actually crossed my mind that it could have been my fault, but now you mention it, what about all those hours I spent bouncing on my birthing ball??  By this point I was quite emotional and B was hungry, so we were left for a wee while so I could feed her without trying to take in what was being said at the same time.

When Miss Elliott came back, she was carrying a mass of Velcro strapping – a Pavlik harness.  She explained that this would hold B’s legs in a ‘frog leg’ position to allow the joints to grow correctly.  It was to be worn under her clothes 24/7 and shouldn’t be adjusted by us at all.  Before I knew what was happening, my tiny toot was stripped off and bundled up into the harness.  I don’t actually have any pictures of her just wearing the harness because I hated it so much, but there is more information about it here.  When I went to get her dressed again, I could see straight away that her babygrow wouldn’t go on without pushing her legs out of the position the harness was holding them in, so I just had to fasten it halfway and leave the legs dangling.

Once the straps had been adjusted to Miss Elliott’s satisfaction, we sat down again and she explained we would need to come back the following week for a check up, and that the harness would remain on for at least 6 weeks.  She asked if we had any questions.  Hubby asked sensible medical questions – what was the success rate of the harness, what if it didn’t work etc.  I asked what I was meant to dress her in.  The reply was that she would just have to wear dresses.  Without tights.  In December….  Then I asked how I should hold her to feed her.  Miss Elliott said “The same way you usually hold her.”  But that would involve her legs getting pushed together as she lay across my lap.  To me, Miss Elliott had absolutely zero bedside manner – she came across as very clinical and not sympathetic at all, and I was basically told I’d just have to manage.

And that was it.  An appointment was made to come back the following week to check on progress, then we took the harnessed-up B home.  My mum came round and I cried.  I felt quite alone with nobody to turn to to ask for advice, and I wish we had known support organisations like STEPS existed.

Those first few days were a learning curve.  Nappy changes were interesting – we couldn’t hold her ankles to lift her bum up, instead it was a case of putting a hand under her bum to lift her and hoping for the best!!  None of her newborn clothes fitted her because they would push her legs out of position, so my mum designed and made several pairs of ‘trousers’ with Velcro and poppers that would fit over the harness.  We struggled to find breastfeeding positions that worked, but we muddled along (although it probably contributed to my dislike of breastfeeding).

Two days after the harness was fitted, I met up with my antenatal friends for the first time since all six babies had been born.  We lined them up to take a photo – three boys and three girls.  I remember a pang of jealousy as I saw all the others next to B – they were all in the cute newborn clothes, while she was all happed up in the harness, legs akimbo, wearing her funny little makeshift trousers.  It seemed so unfair – why had this happened to us?  Looking back I know that sounds terribly superficial, but at the time it really upset me.  You kind of expect your baby to be perfect, and when they’re not and everyone else’s around you is, it’s kind of hard to take.

By the time we returned to the hospital for our next appointment however, we’d adjusted pretty well.  B was so little that she didn’t know any different, and for us that first week pre-harness seemed almost like a distant memory – a week is a long time in new-parenthood!

The first check up after a week showed some improvement on the right hand side but not much on the left.  When I was getting B dressed after the scan, I was horrified to discover that behind B’s knees were all sweaty and gunky 😦  After that I wiped behind her knees gently every day with a baby wipe, and to this day I always wash behind her knees in the bath.

We were back at the hospital again after 2 weeks, 4 weeks and 6 weeks. Of course during these visits we saw kids much worse off than B, and came to realise that if this is all we have to deal with, we really should be extremely grateful.  The 6 week check was the day after my birthday and I got the best birthday present I could have hoped for – the news that there had been sufficient improvement for the harness to come off!!  🙂  It was replaced with a plastic splint that went on over B’s clothes and was much less restrictive.  Miss Elliott said it could come off only for nappy changes and baths for the first four weeks, and then if progress was good it would be worn only at night.  I was beyond happy!

That first night without the harness B was actually really unsettled, we think just because she had grown so used to it that the freedom to actually move about felt strange to her.  But she soon got used to it, and the second day without the harness, at seven and a bit weeks old, she had her first bath and loved it!

The plastic splint stayed on constantly for four weeks, and at night for another six weeks.  I remember the day we were told it could come off all together – I thought that would be the end of it and we would be discharged from the hip clinic, but Miss Elliott wanted to keep monitoring things as the hip joints were still shallow.  I was very disappointed.

We had regular check ups at the hip clinic for the next four years.  For the most part, the hip joints continued to grow well, although the left one always lagged behind.  Outwardly you would never know B’s history – she was slow to roll over and never crawled, but walked at pretty much the same time as her peers and now does ballet and gymnastics (and in fact is super flexible!).  But still each appointment filled me with dread – what if things weren’t progressing, what if she needed more treatment??  Sometimes we saw Miss Elliott, sometimes she sent one of her minions!!  There were nearly always medical students though – I’m not sure if it was because of the double dislocation, or because of the success of the Pavlik, but she seemed to be a case of interest!

Just after B turned 2, progress seemed to have slowed down a bit, and the socket part of the joints were still shallow.  There was talk then of putting her under general anaesthetic and injecting dye into the joints to get a clearer picture of what was going on (it was possible that the harness had actually slowed the flow of blood in the joints making growth slower – talk about damned if you do and damned if you don’t!).  That was one of the occasions we saw Miss Elliott herself, and we made a joint decision to wait six months and see if things picked up again.  Thankfully when we went back that summer, progress was good and no further procedures were needed.

When A was born last year, he was automatically referred to the hip clinic because there was now a family history.  My heart sank when at the first appointment they said his hip joints were shallow (although both in joint, unlike B’s) and they wanted to see him back when he was 3 months old.  Thankfully at the second appointment, the joints had ‘matured’ nicely and we didn’t have to take him back.

After two trips to the hip clinic with A, we were back again last month with B.  She had her x-ray done then we were put into one of the consulting rooms, wondering if Miss Elliott would grace us with her presence this time!!  In she breezed, full of smiles and chat about how grown up B had got.  She didn’t get the x-ray pics up on the screen which was unusual, but she went on to say that both B’s hips were now completely ‘normal’!  The joint development has completely caught up with where it should be for someone of four which is obviously great news.  And the best part of all?  Miss Elliott was happy that there was no need for B to be seen again, and we have been discharged from the hip clinic!!!  I was so relieved.  We went home where my mum was looking after A, and I cried again!  😉

So our four and a half year journey with DDH is at an end.  Of course we know now that we were extremely fortunate – early diagnosis of DDH and treatment with the Pavlik harness meant a relatively easy ride for us, avoiding the need for far more invasive treatment when B was older.  And for that, I will forever be grateful to the dreaded Miss Elliott.

 

We heart Center Parcs!

Last month we went on our first holiday since A was born, to Center Parcs at Whinfell Forest, near Penrith.  We first went to Whinfell last September, when I was pregnant with A, and I have to admit I was a little sceptical beforehand, because organised holiday activities are not my thing. However, I was won round very quickly – I think we’d been there less than two hours when I was trying to work out when we could go back!!  It is so family friendly, it seemed like an obvious choice for our first trip away as a foursome.

In the end, we were a seven-some, as we were joined by our friends L and S and their little girl K. It’s the first time we’ve holidayed with another family (although we have been away with L&S minus children before!), but we were fairly confident we would get on well, as me and L have pretty similar parenting styles (although you’re never really sure until you’re living in close proximity to someone for a few days!!).  K is 2 years younger than B and absolutely adores her, so she was very excited, and I hoped B wouldn’t think it was “babyish” (a new favourite word) to play with her.  We booked up some activities before we went and reckoned we had a good mix of things the girls could do together and things we could do separately, so we wouldn’t be completely in each other’s pockets.

Here’s a wee diary of our trip!

Monday

We left Aberdeen just after 9am.  The journey down went surprisingly smoothly – less than 6 hours including two stops (including one for lunch which saw B have her first ever McDonalds!!), which with three kids in tow is not bad going!

There was a bit of a queue to get our lodge keys, but it moved very quickly, and before we knew it, it was time to unload the cars.  We had a four bedroom lodge, and we had decided in advance that our friends would take the downstairs bedrooms as K is an early riser, so it made sense for them to have access to the morning essentials (coffee and TV!!) without worrying about disturbing us. Needless to say the girls weren’t particularly interested in unpacking, and were also in need of some fresh air after being cooped up in the car, so the dads took them out on their bikes while me and L emptied the suitcases and sorted out the kitchen.

We had a table booked for dinner at 5.45pm, so we headed over to the Village Centre where the girls ran around the soft play area for a while before tea.  We had A in the buggy in the hope he would have a nap, but there were far too many new things to look at!  Dinner was at Café Rouge – one of the things I love about Center Parcs is that you know wherever you eat will have a great kids’ menu, and I especially like the options at Café Rouge.  It also has a little soft play area that the girls pottered about in for a little while, but then some colouring sheets appeared and that diverted their attention until the food arrived.  By the time we’d eaten, K was starting to flag and A hadn’t napped since before we’d arrived, so me and L headed back to the lodge, leaving B with hubby and S so she could have a pudding!

Despite the excitement and the new surroundings, all three kids settled reasonably quickly at bedtime, but the grown ups sensibly decided an early-ish night would be a wise idea all round!

 

Tuesday

One of the things B had wanted to do on our last trip to Whinfell that we couldn’t fit in was horse riding, so we’d booked for both girls to go on a pony trek on the Tuesday morning.  When hubby was checking our itinerary when we arrived, he’d discovered that we had to be there half an hour before it started, and it was a half hour walk away!!!  So we got everyone breakfasted and dressed, and set off just after 9am – hubby carrying A in the sling and the rest of us walking, although L&S took their buggy in case K got tired. Well, it was a walk and a half!!  The riding centre is right on the edge of the site (and I believe in fact is an independently owned business) and to be honest meant the girls were tired before we even got there!  K went on her dad’s shoulders for some of the way, and I ended up carrying B for a bit, but with hindsight we should have taken A in the buggy so hubby could take B on his shoulders.  Thank goodness we hadn’t let the girls take their bikes as it was pretty hilly and would have been a nightmare!  It was also FAR warmer than any of us had been expecting – I had no sunhat for A, no suncream or anything.

Anyhow, once we (eventually) got there, the girls were fitted with helmets then taken along to meet their ponies – Dinky and Harry!  There was one other wee girl and her dad, but I can imagine during peak season the groups are a bit bigger.  I had half thought B might not be so keen once it came to actually getting on the pony, but she was fine.  She had a little handle on the front of the saddle to hold on to, and I just had to walk beside her – L had to actually hold on to the back of K’s jacket because she is younger. The trek itself was half an hour, just along the same paths that we’d walked half an hour earlier…..!!  It was very gentle, but B really enjoyed it, although she was disgusted when Dinky stopped for a poo!!  Half an hour was definitely enough though, especially on top of the long walk the girls had already had.  Once we got back there were cuddles for the ponies, then we sat at the picnic benches and had a cold drink and a snack before starting the walk back to the lodge!  So a great activity, but the distance and time to get there meant a half hour activity took up more than 2 and a half hours which would put me off doing it again.

B was desperate to go swimming in the afternoon, but she’d been complaining of a sore ear during the night so I said no pool (mean Mummy!).  Instead we settled for face painting and an hour or so in a fab play park (kitted out completely differently since our last visit), followed by ten pin bowling over at the Village Centre, which was lots of fun. We’d decided just to eat at home that night, so we headed back to the lodge to let the girls have a wee bit of downtime while hubby cooked.  Both girls were in bed early and even A settled reasonably quickly, so the grown ups got the Uno cards out – rock ‘n’ roll!!!

 

Wednesday

Lucky L was booked into the spa on Wednesday morning (she highly recommends the hot stone massage!), but that was the only planned activity, so we decided it was time for one of the highlights of any Center Parcs stay – the pool!  B loved the pool the last time, especially the rapids and the kiddy slides (not so keen on the waves though!), and her swimming has really come on in the last six months, so she couldn’t wait to get going.  A was due a nap, so the girls headed to the pool with the dads, and I followed once A had woken up.

The swimming pool is, well for starters it’s more than just a pool!  Tropical swimming paradise is its official title I think!  There’s slides (for the big kids as well as the wee ones!), wave machine, rapids, baby and toddler pools, outdoor pool, lots of seating, a poolside café….  You could easily spend several hours there, particularly if your kids are a bit older.

After getting A changed (another plus point with wee ones – the changing rooms always seem very clean and amazingly dry underfoot!), I caught up with hubby and B at the kids’ slides.  We watched B come down a couple of times, then I took A into the baby section of the pool.  The water is so warm it is like sitting in a bath!  A had a happy time splashing in there, by which time the girls had had enough, so we all headed back to get changed.  The one thing at the pool that doesn’t work for me is the showers – there is nowhere to hang towels, bags and other paraphernalia required when swimming with small children, so you either have to put them on the (wet) ground, or you have to leave everything through in the pool area, get showered then go back and get it, at which point said small children make a break for the pool again….!!

When everyone was organised, we headed to meet L at probably my favourite eatery at Whinfell – The Pancake House!!!  Yum.  The guys made this their lunch and went for savoury options, while me and L chose full on sweet pancake stacks – mine with bananas and cream (one of my five a day, and I did share with B!).  Delicious.

B really wanted to get her hair braided, so on the way back to our lodge we stopped at one of the booking stations to see when we could fit that in.  The machines are a bit clunky to use, but the system works very well and showed a slot for hair braiding in ten minutes.  B was very pleased with the result, and I could already forsee a tantrum when the thing had to be taken out in a few days!

Our afternoon activity was something for all of us to do together – pottery painting!  When we’d pre booked this a few weeks before, hubby and S had mocked and rolled their eyes; however I have some great pics of hubby, deep in concentration helping B paint a pink unicorn!!  The price that we’d paid upfront only included the studio time and use of the paints, so depending on which items (ranging from egg cups, mugs and plates to unicorns and other ‘ornaments’) you select to paint, it could end up being quite expensive.  You can choose as many items as you like during your 90min session, and they are then glazed and fired (or fired and glazed?!!?) and ready for collection the next day.  B did the unicorn and a tile, and I did a ‘Family’ ornament that I painted in different colours then wrote our names on (here in progress!):

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It was actually a great way to spend an hour and a half – both girls enjoyed it, and B amazed me once more with her attention to detail when doing something like that, and it was nice to do something creative as a break from the more physical activities!

At B’s request we’d booked another game of bowling, so we headed across to do that straight from the pottery studio.  Being beaten at bowling by a 2 year old and a 4 year old – mildly embarrassing!!!

Our dinner plans involved takeaway – you can order takeaway food and either collect it or have it delivered to the lodge.  The best part about the takeaway service is you can mix and match from Chinese, Indian and pizza, so there’s bound to be something to please everyone, and it also lets kids try something they maybe wouldn’t normally, with a pizza to fall back on if it all goes wrong!  The quality of the food is great, and fair to say we could hardly move afterwards!!

 

Thursday

Thursday morning saw us all head off in different directions for a couple of hours.  L had booked a messy play session for K, so they left fairly early for that, with L hoping that the recommendation to bring a swimsuit to wear was only directed at the children….!!  Hubby and S did an aerial assault course (or “swinging in the trees like monkeys” as B called it!!), and B was booked for a Tots Tennis lesson.  She had done Tots Golf on our previous trip, so I knew parental participation would be required, but I was fairly sure A would fall asleep in the buggy on our way across….

Well, the best laid plans….  We arrived at the Sports Plaza, A was still wide awake, but by now tired and grumpy.  Just as I was wondering how I was going to manage to help B with tennis while dealing with a grouchy baby, hubby appeared!  Their aerial adventure hadn’t lasted quite as long as they’d expected, so he was able to take A off for a walk, while I attempted the tennis.  Safe to say my hand/eye coordination is not the greatest, but we got on OK and B really enjoyed it.  The instructor was very good with the kids as well.

A was now napping in the buggy, and L&S had taken K back to the lodge for a nap, so we decided to stay in the Sports Plaza for lunch at the Sports Café.  This was definitely the most disappointing meal of the trip – nothing wrong with the food, but £35 for two salads, a kid’s sandwich and three drinks is pretty steep, especially when it comes with a 40 minute wait.  There was a little soft play bit which kept B amused for a while, then she did some colouring, but a wait that long feels like forever to a 4 year old!

After lunch we headed back to the lodge to get organised with swimming stuff for an afternoon at the pool.  A had slept for almost 2 hours, and K had had a good nap too, so everyone was raring to go.  We spent about two hours in the pool area, including a stop for mini doughnuts and mocktails, and a go on the big slides for the dads!

We had an early dinner booked that evening at the Lakeside Inn, which serves pub grub and a carvery – I had a mountainous plate from the carvery which was very tasty, and B had a huge bowl of spag bol from the fairly extensive kids’ menu.  None of the grown ups had room for pudding, but B and K made room for more mini doughnuts and chocolate brownies!

We then headed into the Village Centre for the kids’ disco, which the girls enjoyed (although B did sulk a bit when she didn’t get a prize for being the best dancer!) and was a nice way to round off our last evening.

 

Friday

We had to be out the lodge by 10am, so everyone was up early to get breakfasted and packed.  The girls were getting under everyone’s feet, so L took them across to the soft play, and I followed with A shortly afterwards, leaving hubby and S to pack up the cars and repark them in the car park.

You can actually stay in the Village all day, even once you’ve checked out of your lodge, but with 3 small kids and a long-ish drive ahead, we didn’t hang about for too long – just long enough for B to spend her pennies in the toy shop and me to get some treats for myself from the sweetie shop!

We had a really fantastic holiday and can’t wait to go back.  I think one of the best things about Center Parcs is that it grows with your family, so the next time we go B will be interested in a whole different set of activities, and there will be things that A can do, as well as things we can do as a family.  There is more than enough to keep a family occupied for a full week, but with smaller kids I think the short break is a great option, as B was exhausted after four days of full on fun!!

Bring on our next visit! 🙂

 

 

Time to eat my words?!

This time last week, I was determined to wait until A was 6 months to start him on solids, so we could do baby led weaning. This week, I’ve kind of changed my mind. Well, there’s no kind of about it….

We’ve had a bit of a hellish week. B came down with some hideous virus on Sunday and even now, on Thursday, is not 100%. So between A being up every 2 hours during the night most nights, and B being up not well, on Monday I was like a zombie. I did my Tesco shop online in a sleep deprived haze, and for some reason I decided to stick some Ella’s Kitchen pouches into my basket. In the end, I was at the doctor with B when the shopping was delivered on Tuesday, so my mum, who was minding A for me, unpacked everything. She left the pouches sitting on the worktop, where they remained until yesterday morning – a morning which followed another sleepless night.

I remembered that before we’d started weaning properly with B, I’d let her play about with baby rice on the tray of her high chair. OK, I thought, let’s let A puddle about with some fruit puree at lunchtime. OK it’s not BLW, but it’s not spoon feeding either. Lunchtime got closer, I wondered if I was doing the right thing. Then had an attack of the guilts that B’s first foods had all been homemade, and I decided I couldn’t give A something out a packet (nothing against Ella’s Kitchen, B still loves a “fruity pouch”!!). I had some pears in the fridge so I whipped up some pear puree. As you do.

I made myself a sandwich and popped A in his highchair – he’s been sitting at the table with us for a week or so now. I spooned some of the pears onto the tray and waited with great expectation. Nothing. He didn’t even notice they were there! Our highchair isn’t great for self feeding as the tray is quite high, and we’d planned to get another one after our holiday next week, so I helped him get his hands on to the tray and dipped his fingers in the puree. Still completely non plussed, and his hands fell back into his lap. Then I remembered reading about pre loaded spoons as part of BLW, so I got a spoon from the drawer (he’s been playing with a spoon and a cup while he sits in the high chair), loaded it with pear and held it out to him. He took it straight away, and put it straight to his mouth. A look of surprise crossed his wee face as he got his first taste, then he kept chewing on the spoon. We repeated this process five or six times. Some ended up on his face, some ended up down his front, but some definitely went in his mouth!! I was quite excited (and also hoping hubby wouldn’t be mad that I’d done it when he wasn’t there!).

Last night, A woke up at 11.20pm, which is a wee bit early for his night time shenanigans to start. Hubby went through and managed to settle him back to sleep, and I though that might buy us an hour or so before he woke for a feed. Next thing I was aware of was B at my bedside asking for Calpol. I looked at the clock. 4.45am!!!! I was so surprised I actually went to check on A before I saw to B. Needless to say he was fine, and he remained sound asleep until 6.15am, when I took him in beside me and he dozed off again until after 7am.

Now it could have been complete coincidence. I also had no caffeine yesterday for the first time in ages, so that could have been a factor in better sleep too. But I’m not taking any chances!! At lunch today, he had carrot puree (same process, pre loaded spoon) and a slice of avocado (which I think pretty much all got spat out!). I hadn’t planned to give him anything at teatime, but he was grouchy so I gave him a bit of broccoli from my plate. He ended up chewing on three bits of broccoli – again, some of it was spat out, but I think a wee bit went in.

So I’m not sure what kind of weaning we’re doing, but safe to say the process has begun, even if it is three weeks earlier than planned. Hopefully over the next couple of weeks we’ll lean more towards BLW, but in the meantime we’ll just take it as it comes (and hope for a few more good nights!!!). And I’m sure the Ella’s Kitchen stuff will come in handy next week when we’re away.

When Grandma came to stay

As I mentioned in my last post, my mother in law lives in New Zealand, having moved there about 11 and a half years ago.  This of course means that we don’t see her very often – we Skype with her once a month or so, but actual visits are few and far between.  So there was great excitement in the house at the end of last week as Grandma was coming to stay for five days (she spends 3 or 4 weeks in the UK in total, but comes to Aberdeen for only a part of that).  It would be the first time she would meet A, and she hadn’t seen B in 18 months.  I’ll be honest and say I wasn’t feeling that excited – the thought of a houseguest when I am surviving on about 4 hours sleep a night thanks to A did not really float my boat, plus MIL is a vegetarian, so I had to get creative with my weekly menu!!!

Things got off to a bad start on Friday evening when Grandma’s flight up from London was delayed.  We’d told B she would be with us for teatime, but because of the delay that didn’t happen.  It also meant hubby wasn’t home for tea as he was picking her up from the airport, so me and B sat eating the vegetable and chickpea stew I’d made in the slow cooker (could have had meat after all!!!!!), with B asking every two minutes where Grandma was….  Eventually I could keep A going no longer, so gave him his bath, got B washed and told her to get into her pjs while I fed A, so at least she was ready for bed – and I promised she could stay up late if there was no sign of them arriving by the time I’d got A settled.  Just as B was getting her pjs on, the front door went and she shot off downstairs, only to return less than five minutes later.  I think she had just got over excited, and was tired after a busy day at nursery, and had just been a bit overwhelmed by it all!!  I managed to persuade her to take a book downstairs for Grandma to read her – then I heard hubby saying “But Grandma needs to have her tea”, at which point I very nearly shot off my chair with A still feeding to tell him not to be so bloody ridiculous, the poor child had been waiting for 18 months and two hours to see her Grandma, and surely dinner could wait five minutes!??!  Thankfully Grandma’s common sense prevailed and B got her story, then settled down to sleep no problem.

We had various things planned for B to do with Grandma over the course of her visit, so in an attempt to let Grandma spend a little bit of time with A, I managed to persuade B to go to her drama class on Saturday morning.  Added bonus for me was that it meant an hour on my own sitting in the café reading my book while I waited for her (I know, not as daft as I look!!!).  We headed home at lunchtime (sandwiches, easy!), then B had a skiing lesson in the afternoon which she wanted Grandma to watch.  When they came back from that, B wanted to do some colouring with Grandma, then we had lots of fun singing and dancing to the Frozen soundtrack!!  To give her her due, Grandma joined in with gusto!  Tea was a Chinese takeaway, so easy to cater for everyone’s tastes.

Sunday morning we went swimming, followed by lunch at my mum’s to fill some time!  It turned into a lovely afternoon, so when we got back from mum’s B wanted to go out on her bike, so that got everyone out from under my feet for a while!  I’d planned to have pasta for dinner, but my mum had made minestrone soup for lunch, so I had a quick change of plan and we had pizzas and salad instead.  By bathtime B was nearly asleep on the living room floor – all the excitement and exercise was wearing her out!

We had no specific plans for Monday, but it was the start of the school holidays and I’d seen a craft fair and play session advertised in Union Terrace Gardens for that morning, so we decided to head there.  It was a bit of a let down unfortunately – there were two ladies who were in charge of the play session, but they made no attempt at all to engage with us or get B involved.  Not that B was fussed, she got stuck in anyway, playing stepping stones with bits of wood and building a tower and a bridge out of plastic bits.  I think the intention is to encourage free play with equipment that they provide, but a “welcome” would have been nice!  Similarly, there wasn’t much to the craft fair either – a guy displaying 3D printing, and the opportunity to do a drawing to be added to a giant Easter Egg that will be displayed in Aberdeen Art Gallery.  So B did some drawing, by which time it was starting to rain and A was due a feed, so we headed to the shopping centre – B and daddy for a browse round the Early Learning Centre and me, A and Grandma to the John Lewis café for refreshments!!  After lunch at home, B decorated a couple of eggs for her nursery Easter competition, then hubby suggested taking her to see the Lego movie.  The cinema trip meant another couple of hours of one on one time for me and A, which is always nice, and while he napped I made the pasta dish I’d planned to make the previous night, with lentil and veg sauce (recipe here courtesy of Tealady Mumbles!).  The cinema goers came home having thoroughly enjoyed the film (daddy possibly most of all!!), and straight away B wanted to get her Lego out!

Yesterday saw another trip out for B with hubby and Grandma, this time to the theatre to see Aliens Love Underpants!  B loves the theatre, and I think it’s great to give kids the opportunity to go to things like that if you can.  Again me and A stayed at home, but went into town and met the other three for lunch after their show, which was a big hit with B.  We went to Café Rouge, who incidentally do a really nice kids menu.  While hubby was off walking A in the buggy in an attempt to get him to nap, he came across free face painting in the shopping centre, so we headed over there after we’d eaten and B got her face done as a butterfly!  We headed home about 2.30 so I could get tea started (prawn pilau, hooray for fish eating vegetarians!!) and B and Grandma literally spent the rest of the afternoon playing Barbies.  I wasn’t allowed in B’s room!  Because it had turned into a gorgeous evening and we were finished tea pretty early, B then got out for a bike ride before her bath – a lovely way to round off Grandma’s last day.

This morning Grandma’s cases were all packed, and my dad arrived to take her down to the station to get the train down to Glasgow to see my brother in law (nicely timed to coincide with his 30th this weekend).  I thought B would be upset when she left, but she gave her a hug and waved from the window, then got on with getting ready for her day at my mum’s.  It was then I realised that she doesn’t really have any concept that she won’t see her Grandma for at least another 18 months.

We had all this ‘stuff’ planned for when Grandma, but I bet if I ask B what her favourite part of Grandma’s visit was, she would say playing Barbies, or Grandma pushing her on the swing in the garden.  I certainly appreciated the extra pair of hands, whether they were keeping B entertained, or carting A around when he was grouchy.  I don’t suppose I’ve ever really thought about it before, but it does make me wonder how different things would be if she lived in the UK.  It also makes me appreciate once again how lucky I am to have my own parents on our doorstep, sharing so closely in my children’s lives as they grow up.