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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Family frustrations!

I’ve mentioned before that my mum (and dad, but particularly my mum) does a lot for us as a family.  Since I went back to work, they keep B one day a week, meaning I get paid for three days of work but only have to pay for two days of childcare.  They are the only babysitters B has ever been left with, not just to let me and hubby go out for the evening but to let me get my hair cut, go to the doctor or the dentist, or even go to the supermarket in peace!  In the almost three years I was back at work before going on maternity leave last year, I never once had to take a day off because B was poorly – mum and dad would always step in and look after her.  Since A was born, they have helped me out with bathtime and bedtime when hubby has been out or away, they’ve popped round and taken B out for an hour when we’ve been having one of ‘those’ days.  And as if all that wasn’t enough, my mum has done our ironing since I fell pregnant with A!!

I suppose as a result of all the extra help they give us, I do sometimes bite my tongue about some of the things they do with B.  Nothing major, just too much “treaty” food, too many new toys/comics/colouring books etc, and especially recently when her behaviour has been very challenging, they sometimes undermine what I’m trying to do at home.  But that’s what grandparents are for, right?!

However, I think me and my mum might be about to clash a little bit.  A is not sleeping very well, after being brilliant as a newborn he is now up sometimes every hour between midnight and 5am, at which point he usually ends up in beside us.  He only feeds once, around half past midnight or 1am – the rest of the time he tends to be awake and grumpy, but not interested in feeding.  Despite this, my mum keeps saying I should be giving him a bottle of formula at bedtime so he’ll “sleep through”.  Gah. 

Last week, she said (and I quote), “I assume you’ll start him on formula once he’s on solids?”.  Ermmm, no.  Why would I?  “When did you stop feeding B?  Wasn’t that when you weaned her?”.  Well yes it was, but she was combination fed from about 6 weeks, and by the time I stopped breastfeeding, I was only giving her the first feed in the morning.  Plus I didn’t enjoy feeding her and couldn’t wait to stop!  Mum knows that this time around I feel totally differently about bf-ing, and ultimately it’s working out for us – A is gaining plenty weight, ok he’s not sleeping but if it’s not hunger that’s waking him then formula ain’t going to help!!

The final straw was yesterday when they dropped B off after her ‘Nana Papa’ day.  We’d spoken about weaning A before and I’d mentioned my plans to do baby led weaning, so yesterday I said that before I start him on solids I would let her read some of the stuff I’ve gathered on BLW.  She looked a bit sceptical, so I explained that babies who start off on finger foods can quite often gag, and it’s important to know the difference between gagging and choking.  I then also made the mistake of saying that in the first few months it doesn’t really matter if he doesn’t eat much, as he’ll still get most of the nutrition he needs from breastmilk.  Cue various comments about how can I expect him to sleep through in that case, finished off by the statement “Well if I’m looking after him he’ll just be getting proper baby food”.

Now I’m not saying that A will not be fed anything off a spoon at all, but that’s my decision to make once we get started.  Mum’s remark is the equivalent of her saying “Well if I’m looking after him I’ll just give him a bottle of formula instead of expressed milk”.

I’m not really too sure how to address this.  In a lot of ways it’s probably not even worth bringing it up again at the moment – we’re still a few weeks away from weaning, and I don’t have any plans to leave A with my folks for any length of time in the immediate future.  But at the same time, I feel like I need to make it clear that all these things are my decisions – how long I breastfeed for, how we move on to solids – and I need support, not someone questioning my choices, however well intentioned it is.

I suppose part of it comes from an increased confidence on my part – as a first time mum I constantly asked my own mum for advice and for her opinion on what we were doing with B.  Maybe Mum is feeling less needed this time around.  Maybe I need to make more of an effort to involve her with our day to day routine with A, and she’ll come to appreciate my point of view on the bigger decisions.

I shall keep you posted!

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.

Thank you Mum! – Mother’s Day 2014

I think Mother’s Day takes on a new significance once you are a mum yourself.  Not because you’re now the one getting presents and a lie in (although that part is nice!), but because you finally really appreciate everything your mum did/does for you.  So when hubby suggested going to his dad’s over Mother’s Day weekend I put my foot down.  I should point out before you write me off as completely heartless that his mum and dad are no longer together, and his mum actually lives in New Zealand, so I wasn’t doing him out of seeing his own mum on Mother’s Day.  I just really wanted to be able to see my mum on the day, and spoil her a little bit to say thank you.  I’m very lucky to have my mum (and dad!) less than a five minute drive away, and I sometimes don’t know what I’d do if they weren’t so close by!

My Mother’s Day treats had started earlier last week, with a tea party at B’s nursery (which was actually a bit of a shambles – kids crying when their mums left to go back to work, kids crying cos their mum hadn’t arrived yet….  You get the picture!) and a handmade card.  On Sunday morning my biggest luxury of all was hubby taking both kids downstairs after I’d fed A so I could go back to sleep for a wee while (much needed after a couple of rough nights with A!).  Had a lovely snooze and was woken by whispering outside the bedroom door at 9.15 – breakfast was served!  Just cereal and juice, but B had poured everything herself and was obviously very pleased with her efforts!  I managed about two spoonfuls of cereal before B appeared again with pressies and another card, and proceeded to “help” me to open them!!  I got some lovely Champneys Spa goodies, chocolates and flowers.  All very nice and very much appreciated, but I know it’s the handmade card from nursery that I will really treasure – all handwritten by B herself, and with a drawing of me on the front.  I can just imagine her getting her nursery teacher to spell out each word for her!

 

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I’d suggested to B that we could take Nana out for coffee and cake in the afternoon and leave A at home with daddy – she loves any opportunity to do anything “just the girls”.  I let her pick where she thought Nana would like, and she said the Marks & Spencer café!!!  Not exactly afternoon tea at the Ritz, but B said Nana would like it “because she always goes to Markies”!! (This is in fact true!).

So the three of us set off in the afternoon to M&S at Union Square for a coffee and a fine piece!  B polished off a huge gingerbread lady, I had a very nice Victoria Sponge (not like me, I usually choose something chocolatey!) and Mum had a fruit scone.  We’d taken Mum’s presents with us – a scarf, a book and a keepsake memory book for her to fill with stories about her life and then give to the kids (hubby thought this was morbid but I really liked the idea, and thankfully so did Mum!). I’d got a card with a lovely verse on it, and B had written out a card “From Your Grandchildren” – struggled to find a nice Nana card (card companies take note!!).  Like me, I know Mum will treasure the cards and keep them in a box somewhere!  B occupied herself with looking out the window and a bit of colouring, which gave me and Mum a chance to have a bit of a blether – especially since A was born, all we ever seem to talk about is the kids!!

We then had a quick pit stop at Clarks to get B’s feet measured, then headed home where hubby had put pork in the slow cooker (following my detailed instructions!) and my dad had arrived.  We have Mum and Dad round for tea fairly regularly, but this time it was a treat for me too as hubby was in charge in the kitchen.  Mum had a wee glass of wine and did some craft with B (a Nana is never truly off duty!!!), then we sat down for tea.  Smoked salmon (my absolute fave!), slow cooked pork with apples, and cheesecake.

Clearly worn out after his efforts in the kitchen, the day finished with hubby chatting to my dad in the kitchen while I got A ready for bed and fed him and my mum gave B her bath and did her bedtime stories!!  I guess they do say a woman’s work is never done, but I also know that secretly my mum wouldn’t have had it any other way!

I probably don’t tell her often enough how grateful we all are for everything she does for our wee family, but hopefully Sunday made her feel appreciated and loved.