Three boys on a sleeper train

We have entered a window of time which seems perfect for big adventures – my boys are 6 and 8, so small enough to want to have adventures with their parents, and big enough to appreciate them. And, of course, they are now old enough for adventures to be just a bit more practical too. And so I have found myself saying yes to more things recently, including ‘yes, let’s all get a sleeper train to Scotland.

My littlest boys have been asking when we can go on a ‘train with beds’ for at least a year, and I tended to respond with a deliberately vague ‘one day‘, as I do to many things. And then, for some reason I decided to actually look into it. And the more I looked into it, the more I liked the idea. So I investigated dates and found myself booking the Caledonian sleeper train all the way from London to Inverness.

I didn’t think too much about it after that – it would be an adventure, but I had absolutely no idea whether the sleeper train part of it would be a success. And then all of a sudden it was upon us, and we were waiting to board with three super-excited little boys.

If you also have this on your family to-do list, then here my attempt at providing you with some (useful?) information:

Where to go? 

The sleeper trains go all over Scotland (from London), but if you are travelling with young children then you will just want to think carefully about timings – for some destinations, you would either have to depart very late or arrive very early. We opted for Inverness, partly because we fancied a little adventure in the Highlands, but also to give ourselves the longest journey possible – the train left London at about 9.30pm but boarding was from 8.20pm, and we arrived in Inverness at 8.40am; so perfectly civilised times for small children.

Is it expensive? 

If you consider the cost of train travel these days, or compare it to the cost of booking flights for a family of 5, then it isn’t bad value. In total our booking came to just under £208.00 – about £72.00 each for the adults and just under £21.00 each for the children (one way). We did invest in a family railcard beforehand so saved a bit with that. We decided to book the sleeper train one way only – after three days in Inverness, we travelled down to Stirling and had a few days there before getting the regular East Coast train home.

How do the cabins work for families? 

There are two bunks per cabin, and if you are travelling with children then you are cabinallocated inter-connected cabins. You can buy a ‘Family Ticket’, which means that if you’re an odd number of people (ie a family of 2 adults and 3 children) then the spare bed is automatically reserved for you. HOWEVER, the family ticket deal does not apply if you book using a railcard…….something I didn’t realise before booking because I didn’t read the small print (d’oh). So I was a little surprised when I looked at our tickets to find that my husband had been allocated a berth a couple of carriages down from the rest of us. No harm done – we were fine and this didn’t really turn out to be a problem at all, but if you are an odd number like us then you might just want to ensure you’re actually booking the ‘family’ option.

Did the children sleep?

I’m happy to report that YES THEY DID! They were in their pyjamas and ready for bed when we left home, and so they were happily tucked up in bed just as we were pulling out of Kings Cross. I won’t pretend there wasn’t a lot of excitement and silliness, as well as 101 questions (‘Are you asleep yet, Mummy?……What about now?…….And now?…….And are you now, Mummy?‘) but the 6 year olds were asleep by 10pm and the biggest boy by 10.30pm. I found the eldest boy having a sleepy wander around the cabin at about 2am, but other than that everyone was quiet until just after 6am, which I consider a result.

Did the grown ups sleep? 

My husband reports that no, he didn’t sleep particularly well; and I didn’t either. Whilst I was perfectly comfortable, I was essentially trying to sleep in a cupboard with three children. I was also extremely aware of every single noise the train made (it is a fairly bumpy ride), and was constantly listening out for boys falling out of bed. It then got to that stage where I couldn’t sleep because I was too busy working out how many hours sleep I would get in the absolute best case scenario. I finally dropped off for an hour or two, but had a very vivid dream in which the whole train had turned into a giant soft play centre with only me in charge…..so my hour’s sleep really wasn’t restful in any way. Having said that, I didn’t mind because the whole thing was a novelty and my children were quiet, so I was quite happy lying in my bed enjoying the experience.

Things you might just like to know….. 

  • My children are not too old to find playing with light switches totally hilarious. Each bunk gets its own berth light (with switch), as well as a switch for the main cabin light. Berth lights caused the most trouble – apparently playing with your own berth light switch whilst also shouting ‘TURN YOUR BERTH LIGHT OFF!‘ to your mum and siblings is one of the funniest things in the world. In the end, I realised that I would have to sit in complete darkness until the boys went to sleep – this was a bit of a pain, but worth it not to hear anybody mention berth lights for the rest of the night. And once everyone was peaceful, I popped my light back on, read my book and had my can of G&T.
  • The gangways are extremely narrow and, obviously, cabin space is also very limited. I’m sure there must be somewhere to store large pieces of luggage, but it wasn’t immediately obvious to me when we boarded. We had fairly small bags and so had everything in our cabin with us; but if you are taking sizeable pieces of luggage then you might want to check out where to store these before you board the train. Once you have boarded there is really not much space to be lugging around huge bags.
  • In each cabin, the desk lifts up to reveal a SINK. A friend had warned me about this beforehand but I had totally forgotten about it until all my boys were asleep, and was thankful that I had – combined with the excitement over the berth lights, the discovery of the hidden sinks would have caused total chaos.
  • The inter-connecting door can LOCK OPEN. Unfortunately I didn’t realise this until the morning and so attempted to keep it open with my rucksack…..I then spent the night listening to it swinging open and shut (or the part of the night when I wasn’t supervising the soft play centre).
  • The top bunk is not for a nervous child – the barrier is, effectively, a couple of straps. There is no way my 8 year old would even go up there for a look, let alone sleep up there; so it’s a good job the 6 year olds have no such fear. If you have a nervous child then this is something to keep in mind.

Getting around in Scotland 

coach with a view

Bus ride with a view

We didn’t hire a car and actually, this was one of the things I loved most about our trip – it made such a refreshing change NOT to have a car. Jumping on buses, coaches and trains made the whole trip even more of an adventure, and meant that everyone could relax and enjoy the views, rather than someone having to concentrate on the roads and follow directions. And of course we were up in Scotland so the views were incredible – this was in no way a similar experience to getting the buses in and around London; which is what we are used to. Obviously we would have had more options had we hired a car, but we went out and about from Inverness using public transport and had no problems.

Was it fun? 

Was it fun?!? I would absolutely totally recommend it to anyone who enjoys an adventure. We went to bed in London, and woke up to views of mountains and lochs  – it was magical. I loved the sensation of lying in my cabin and not really knowing quite whereabouts in the country I was (until Facebook asked me if I would like any recommendations for places to eat in Doncaster). Yes, there were stressful moments – trying to manage very excited little children in extremely narrow cabins, trying to get people and bags down the tiniest gangways, trying to get everyone washed and dressed without bumping your head, tripping over something or bashing into a door – but when a 6 year old flings his arms around you just before you board the train and tells you this is his ‘best life ever’, then yes, it is absolutely worth it.

The lesson I have learnt from the whole experience is that sometimes it is worth being guided by small people when making holiday plans, and occasionally saying yes to things that you would normally just say ‘one day‘ to. What came from a request to go on a ‘train with beds’ became a wonderful adventure and something which I know will go down as a highlight of 2018.

 

N.B I have written this from a London-Scotland point of view because that was what we did. Obviously the other way round exists too – I just can’t promise quite the same scenery as your train pulls into London.

If you’re considering a London-Scotland adventure, here are a few websites you might find useful:

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The back to school wobbles (that never really leave us)

“When can we make that cake, mummy?” / “We’ll do that during the holidays.”

“When can we make my clay robots, mummy?” / “We’ll do that during the holidays.”

“When can we see friend A or friend B, have friend C round to play, and go for a picnic with friends X, Y and Z?” / “Oh yes, we’ll do all of those things during the holidays too.”

Apparently we were going to do it all during the holidays. I should have known better than to promise such things – we rarely achieve much of what is on the start-of-holiday to-do list.  We keep our days busy, because staying in the house for too long usually ends up with me crying in a corner. We head to the park with balls, tennis rackets and skateboards; and I listen to my boys squabble outside instead of in. We make the most of the freedom, but we get spectacularly little done.

Back in July, it felt like we had a never-ending stretch of time ahead of us.  We had some plans but we were gloriously free of the school/work routine, and those 6 weeks felt full of possibility. Now, autumn is around the corner and we are in full-on back-to-school mode – labelling uniform, getting feet measured, stocking up on stationery, and doing our optimistic start-of-term ironing.

And with all the back-to-school preparation comes that horrible back-to-school feeling, deep in the pit of your stomach – the Sunday night feeling.

It isn’t really about liking or not liking school – it’s the change, getting back into the normal routine, and that slight apprehension about what might be new or different this year. It is knowing that we’re going back to getting up and out, back to “why haven’t you got your book bag and WHY AREN’T YOUR SHOES ON???”, back to spellings and times tables. It is moving on to a new teacher, new expectations, different classroom dynamics. However much you enjoy school, it all feels like hard work after 6 weeks.

My boys are 8 and 6, but the same will probably be true when they are 15 and 13. The carefree routine which, for the last few weeks has been their life is about to be turned on its head.

And me, well I’m nearly 39 – a proper grown up now. So obviously it feels different for me, because these things get easier as you get older…..Except I’m not really sure that they do. It’s back to work for me too (and yes, I know I’m super lucky to have the holidays off), and I also have that Sunday night feeling – I will have it for the rest of this week, and over the weekend too. As much as I know that a return to routine will be good for all of us, I am dreading it. The morning rush, the after-school tears, keeping up with the school calendar as well as with my own work – the thought of all of that starting again makes me feel properly wobbly. I might look like a grown up, but the back to school dread is very much still there. And I’m not going to pretend that I have loved every minute of the summer holidays – by lunchtime on day one I was in tears and wondering how I would possibly get through a full six weeks (we did not thrive during that heatwave). It’s just that…..well, now we’re nearly at the end, I have settled into a new routine too.

So I fully expect there to be wobbles from you little ones next week and I understand that, because I will be having wobbles too….along with many parents, teachers; and lots of other grown-ups who are getting ready to go back to work after a holiday. Some things don’t change when you’re a grown up, you just get slightly better at hiding them.

Here’s to looking after each other, and a successful school year ahead.

summer freedom 2018

 

Sounds of summer

The long, hot days of summer 2018; when no-one knew quite what to do with themselves. When no-one could sleep and the children came home from school with that grimy, sticky look that only being smeared with suncream can give you. When the country was in total chaos (still), when Trump came to town, and when routine went out the window at least a month before the end of term because of a) the World Cup and b) the fact that everyone was just too hot to even contemplate putting children to bed at a normal time. When mummy spent her afternoons asking her children to please be kind and gentle with each other and to please please please come in from the garden for their tea.

And absolutely no-one listened to her.

It is NOT tea time mummy. It is not. Just one more minute. One more minute, mummy!

But you’ve had one more minute“, says Mummy, with her gritted teeth voice. “And now it is time to come in.

YES! It’s a goal for Portugal. What A GOAL!” screams Twin 1 as he rolls around the garden.

Twin 2 is furious. “I’m telling, I’m TELLING, I’m telling RIGHT NOW! That is not a goal. Mummmmmyyyyyyy – that was NOT a goal!” he shrieks, wiping his tears and his nose and his grubby hands on Mummy’s top. “He says it’s a goal but it went over the post so it is definitely NOT A GOAL. Not-a-goal, not-a-goal, not-a-goal. Yellow card and free kick to me!

Mummy resorts to her screechy voice, and threatens to eat her children’s tea if they don’t come in in the next five seconds.

Mummy then hears quiet voices drifting over the fence from next door. Tea is being poured. The newspaper is being read. Mummy immediately regrets having resorted to her screechy voice. “Whoops!” says Twin 1. “The ball has gone over the fence mummy. It was an accident, Mummy. I’m sorry, Mummy.”

Twin 1 runs off to retrieve the ball, meanwhile Mummy wants to make a thousand apologies for disturbing the peace of the entire street; and then dig herself a hole and hide. The hardest thing about summer for Mummy is that family life now takes place in the back garden instead of in the confines of the house. Squabbling children, complete with a slightly shrieky mummy. Lucky neighbours.

After 15 minutes and a selection of increasingly random threats, Mummy’s children are finally inside. Mummy announces that there will be absolutely no more playing outside if her children can’t listen to what they’re being asked to do.

One by one, Mummy’s children announce that it is not their fault.

Mummy talks about the importance of taking responsibility for their actions, before then asking them to take a moment to think about their neighbours.

“Do you think the neighbours want to be listening to you shrieking while they’re trying to enjoy a sit down in their garden?” asks Mummy. “And do you think they want to get whacked on the head by a football as they’re trying to drink their tea?

Mummy’s children agree that this is probably not an ideal scenario for the neighbours, and then swiftly move on to a passionate argument over who has got the most Costa Rican players in their Panini World Cup sticker album.

Now boys“, says Mummy, “we are all very hot, and tired……”

I am NOT tired”, interjects Twin 1.

“OK, well we are all very hot and not-tired”, Mummy continues. “And when we’re hot we feel irritated.

I am NOT irritated!” says Twin 2, sounding more than a little irritated.

Well, irritated or not; in this hot weather, what we all really need to do is be gentle with each other. And kind…..

Mummy’s children start poking each other with their forks and searching for onions/peas/any unknown ingredients to pick out of their dinner.

As I was saying,” Mummy continues. “We need to be gentle and kind to each other. So can you please all think about what you are saying, and not say anything that is deliberately intended to upset anyone.”

The eldest boy tells Twin 1 what a bad goalie he is – he is absolutely, definitely not as good as the Spanish goalkeeper David de Gea. Twin 1’s sobs into his dinner and kicks his big brother under the table.

Mummy knows that any more words from her about being kind and gentle are pointless, and that she will be saying more or less the same thing to her children tomorrow anyway. And so she leaves them to their arguments about how their goalkeeping skills compare to David de Gea’s, and goes to raid the treat tin. Because, in this hot weather, it is very important that Mummy makes the effort to be kind to herself.

three boys summer.jpg

The great injustices of life – popcorn, Pringles, and a trip to A&E

We were coming towards the end of our holiday, and the sun had finally decided to make an appearance. Keen to make the most of it, there was one boy in the pool playing catch, a second boy on a sunbed; and a third boy who hadn’t quite had enough of the waterslides – up and down he went, again and again.

It was a classic holiday scene.

And then came the shout down from the top of the slides – “He’s hurt himself!” called the biggest boy of the group; our friends’ eldest one. “He needs some help.”

So far, nothing unusual. Twin 1, aged 5 and the most boisterous of the three, is always tripping and tumbling. He comes home from school with an accident slip in his book bag most days. I imagined that he had fallen on his face and cut his mouth again – that happens quite a lot. Or perhaps yet another grazed knee.

And then he appeared…..with a lot of blood and what appeared to be a hole in his head.

A HOLE IN HIS HEAD!

I am not good at dealing with such situations, but I tried my absolute best to hide my panic and think I did reasonably well, until I reached my husband and shouted that we really needed to find some first-aid very urgently indeed as our child appeared to have a HOLE IN HIS HEAD!

This was probably not the best choice of words. Twin 1, already distressed at the sight of quite a bit of blood; was understandably alarmed by this latest news. “What do you mean I have a hole in my head, mummy? What do you MEAN???”, he sobbed.

It’s not really a hole, sweetheart; no it’s not a hole.” I said, desperately wishing I could take back my words. “I got it wrong…..that was a silly thing to say. But we do need to get you some first aid. And probably go to the hospital.”

We found the owner of the campsite who told us where to find the local A&E. We found a plaster, we stopped the bleeding, and my common sense told me that the hole was fixable. We were all much calmer.

Our friends offered to look after the other two boys so that we could concentrate on the injured one – advantage number 270 to holidaying with friends.  The eldest boy and Twin 2 were beyond thrilled at the news that they were going on an unexpected playdate. Would this mean they would finally get to play Fifa 18 on their friend’s Nintendo Switch? What about Mario Kart? Perhaps the evening could start with a football match outside? There was just so much fun to be had.

I suggested that they might like to calm their enthusiasm a little and remember that their brother had just had a nasty fall and now had to spend his evening at the hospital. Perhaps asking if their brother was alright might be a nice thing to do?

They looked suitably sombre.

“Are you alright?” asked the eldest boy.

“Are you alright?” asked Twin 2.

Twin 1 tried to hold back his sobs but couldn’t quite manage it. “It’s not fair, mummy”; he said. “They get to go and play with the others and I don’t. I want to go and play Mario Kart. And LOOK! Now they’re outside playing football too.”

I tried to explain that I would be a thoroughly irresponsible parent if I decided to let him go and play football followed by Mario Kart rather than take him to the hospital to get his wound attended to. It didn’t help.

I offered him a few Pringles followed by some caramel popcorn; which seemed to work much better.

Fuelled by his snacks, Twin 1 ran outside to find out how the football was going.

How’s it going guys?’, he asked. For a brief moment, you wouldn’t have known there was anything wrong.

Apparently football was going well – it was 2-2.

The others crowded round the injured boy. Friend A, the eldest of the group, looked at the injured head. ‘I can see blood coming through the plaster’, he said. ‘I really think you need to get to the hospital – I hope you get on ok.’

You are probably imagining him to be about 15…..He is 8, but clearly very sensible when it comes to giving medical advice.

There were nods of agreement from the others.

Have a good time at the hospital!’, shouted Friend B, aged 6 and the only girl of the gang.

Yes, have a good time!’; they all called out.

Thanks!’, shouted Twin 1 as he strode to the car with his backpack. It was all so ridiculous I couldn’t help but smile as we went on our way.

My first ever experience of French A&E was generally very positive. Obviously I would have preferred not to have been there in the first place; but given that we were I came away really quite impressed. AND the parking is free. FREE! In fact, when we asked a man if we needed to pay, he looked at us like he’d never heard anything so ridiculous before.

Anyway, the injured boy was amazingly brave while the (now much less dramatic looking) hole in his head was stitched, and then the doctor gave him a whistle as a well done. That was probably the only less positive bit about the hospital experience….. thankfully we may have misplaced the whistle since returning home.

We headed back to our little cabin with one tired out but actually quite proud-of-how-brave-he’d-been little boy, and picked up the two other boys who had had the time of their lives. And then everything returned to normal alarmingly quickly.

Twin 1, still struggling to get past the fact that his brothers had played on Mario Kart and Fifa 18 without him, let slip that he had had some Pringles and TWO pieces of caramel popcorn.

Twin 2 could not believe the injustice. Couldn’t he have some caramel popcorn? What about Pringles? And what was this…….Twin 1 was now eating more slices of pizza than he’d had? Perhaps it is worth injuring yourself if these are the rewards.

Clearly I had got my priorities all wrong. In an alternative universe, Twin 1 would have forgotten all about his head and instead would be flinging himself around on the football pitch before playing endless games on the Nintendo Switch; while Twin 2 would be busy finding some steps to fall down in the hope of earning himself some Pringles and caramel popcorn.

Life is so unfair when one of your siblings requires a trip to A&E.

hospital trip

Panic over and all fixed up. Big thanks to the lovely doctors and nurses.

A turning point

I have seen a few posts recently about the challenges of parenting pre-school aged multiples. We are a couple of years on from that now, but I’ve been thinking back to when I was navigating my way through that very tricky territory.

I remember those days so clearly.  When your little ones suddenly have language and are able to express themselves…. which you would think might make things less frustrating, not more; but of course it doesn’t because they don’t yet understand what is and what isn’t reasonable (and, of course, you are attempting to reason with two at a time). When it feels like one twin is always upset over something and you’re not sure how much energy you have left to reason with children who have not yet mastered the art of reasoning. When one minute it feels perfect but the next you are rocking in a corner, questioning everything and just wishing you were a different sort of mum and able to give your precious little people the time and attention that they deserve.

I don’t have any magical advice for this very tricky stage, but if I could go back and have a chat with myself two years ago, I think I would tell myself the following:

  • Stand back every so often and let them resolve some things for themselves. Tell them you’re not getting involved, and go over the top with praise when they manage to resolve whatever they’ve been squabbling over.
  • Realise when you are just adding to the noise – this is the hardest thing because when it’s all going crazy, well sometimes you just can’t help but join and in and let rip yourself…..but when they’re in the moment, squabbling over who gets to wear the tractor socks or who gets to use the special purple cup; they absolutely WILL NOT LISTEN TO YOU.  You can try, you can reason; but most likely……well, it will just be more noise. I still have to remind myself of this one all the time.
  • Have a safe spot/safe toy/special cushion…..something they associate with calming down. We only started this one in the last year or so – my boys will now calm down with a fidget spinner, a favourite cuddly; or if they’re feeling really really angry and just need to go and hit something I encourage them to go and hit a cushion rather than lashing out at a sibling.
  • A lovely doctor we saw a few months ago suggested this next one – let each child take it in turns to be ‘in charge of the day‘. Being in charge of the day means that you get to make all the big decisions…..you know, all the really big decisions like who gets to use the yellow spoon with the lion on it, who gets to open the front door, who gets to turn the television on. All the things that cause proper angst and heartache. And then at the end of the day, whoever is in charge gets 10 minutes of ‘mummy / daddy time’ – doing a drawing, playing a game or whatever. In theory, no-one can complain that it’s unfair because everyone will get their turn. It is not flawless and it can cause a few problems of its own, but it does help eliminate a lot of the bickering.
  • When you can, change the dynamic. It is hard to emphasise enough how valuable one-on-one time is (I wrote another post about this), particularly for multiples. It removes so many of the elements that makes parenting so draining and achieves the exact opposite – a bit of one on one time with my boys usually reminds me how much I enjoy their company, and makes me better equipped to deal with the more challenging moments. It’s not easy to schedule time for, but if you can arrange a trip to grandparents/friends/an aunt or uncle for one without the other, it changes everything.
  • DO NOT EVER compare yourself to other parents. Ever. Don’t look at pictures of your friends and their children on big days out and feel bad because you’re not doing the same. Don’t look at other children going from football to yoga to French and think that your children are missing out. Keep it simple, because there is plenty of time for #makingmemories and for adventures……I know we all feel the pressure to make every moment magical, especially these days; but with more than one at the same stage it can’t always be like that. And there is plenty of time for making memories when they’re old enough a) to enjoy them properly and b) to actually remember them. So just hang on a little while, because there is good news coming……..

It. Does. Get. Easier.

Or many of the things above do, anyway.

Over the last 6 months or so, I have noticed some BIG changes with my lively pair (who will be 6 in the summer); and I have realised that we have definitely entered a new era. What signalled the start of this new era was being able to read, and once that clicked, so many other things seem to have clicked too. Learning to read means so much more than just plodding through Biff, Chip and Kipper books after school. Learning to read is everything and feels like the proper start of independence. You see, as well as now being able to pick up a book and attempt to tackle it themselves, they can also now play proper sit-down games together; with minimal input from me. I first noticed it a few months ago when I watched them playing Top Trumps after school – they were happily playing by themselves, with no need for an adult hovering over their shoulders. Now games are a regular feature, and they have even been known to keep themselves amused with a few games first thing on a Saturday and Sunday morning.

Activity books are also achievable and, if my boys are feeling co-operative, something that they can do while I’m preparing the dinner. They can follow the instructions, attempt the puzzles and read where the stickers are supposed to go……which is excellent if, like me, you struggle to cope if the stickers that are supposed to ‘complete the scene’ on page 16 are stuck willy-nilly all over page 12 instead.

Something else that seems to have clicked over the last 12 months or so is the ability and desire to sit down and do some drawing or colouring – and not just furious scribbles on a page but trying to draw actual things. This was almost unknown two years ago. They still need to get outside regularly and run off some energy; but there are now so many more options for sitting down activities when I need them. Having mastered some basic life-skills, they just seem so much less frustrated with life.

And because of all of this this, the really good news is that it is so much easier to go out and have adventures. We can do bigger days out (I won’t pretend they’re not still exhausting), we can do train journeys, we can handle later nights. They can sit on a train and read a book or do some puzzles. When we’re out and about they can walk further, keep going for longer and there is less kit for us to carry around. So much so, that I am now desperate to book up more adventures – now that they are old enough to appreciate them but young enough to still want to have them.

The age my boys are at now does not come without its own challenges, obviously – that is for a separate post of its own. But in terms of the pre-school years – well, hang on in there ……because just like all the other phases, this too shall pass. And a new stage awaits.

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School holidays and the things we learn

Every school holiday I learn something. Like that October half term when I thought that what we all needed was some chill-out time at home, and so I planned practically nothing. I’m not sure what I was thinking really – I think I had visions of cosy days full of baking and games and crafts; but by the end of the week we were all in tears and I was ready to poke my eyes out. I made a mental note to fill future school holidays with plans; to remember that days at home with all three children are very rarely either relaxing or productive. Now I approach each school holiday knowing that plenty of plans are very necessary in order to stay sane; and this tends to work.

The school holidays also remind me that providing three meals a day every day for all of my children is so much harder than I ever remember it being before they started school. Nothing I produce can ever compare to what the school cooks manage to rustle up and therefore is, very often, a disappointment. I am running out of ideas……and generally apologising for not being the school cook.

But this holiday, aside from trying to keep busy and struggling to keep up with the never-ending meals, I have learnt a couple of other things too.

Number 1 is that incorporating some named, timetabled elements into the day is, apparently, a good thing.

At the start of this holiday, I decided that every day we would have 15 minutes quiet reading time. There are always books around the house and my boys can often be found with one, but the difference with Quiet Reading Time (notice the capitals – it is now a thing) is that it would apply to everyone in the house at the same time, and we would all sit together for 15 minutes. It’s amazing the difference that simply giving something a name makes. Hundreds of times a day I ask my children to calm down, to stop shouting, to go and do something rather than poking a sibling with a pencil or sliding around on the stairs; but saying to them, ‘Right then, now it’s Quiet Reading Time‘ actually means something to them. They know what to do; and believe it or not, they all do it – at the same time. There is usually one boy (the same boy) Quiet reading timewho spends a couple of minutes insisting that he is off to do something else; but in the end he appears with a book looking sheepish. The youngest two usually also ask me a never-ending string of questions about what they’re reading and why Batman is chasing X and whether this guy is a good guy or a bad guy; but essentially, we all sit down with some reading material. Occasionally, if the books are going well, quiet reading time lasts for longer than 15 minutes – it is bliss.

When I think about it, I suppose it’s not surprising that my children prefer to have us all sitting down doing something at the same time rather than listening to me telling them all to calm down as I attempt to cook the dinner, clean the kitchen and nag a child about handwriting and spellings. Quiet Reading Time has helped calm the fractious moments and helped me to realise that sometimes, I need to do less yelling and more sitting.

Number 2 is that sometimes, you need to recognise when it is time to outsource. That sometimes, you can’t do it all yourself; and that’s ok. This holiday, I realised we needed to outsource the ‘learning-to-ride-a-bike’ thing for the biggest boy. I had been putting off the outsourcing, because I felt like riding a bike was the sort of thing that we should be able to teach him ourselves. I felt like we were letting him down, like this was an important part of parenting that we really should be able to do. But he just was not interested, and on top of that he was frustrated. So frustrated. Having always struggled with co-ordination, just learning how to use pedals had proved to be enough of a challenge. He was frustrated with himself and frustrated with us, and in the end he lost the will to even practise.

Thankfully, I came to my senses and realised that we needed an outsider to intervene, and so I booked him onto a Learn to Ride course over Easter. The first day, he absolutely categorically did not want to go – he ‘loathed’ cycling, so he said. He never wanted to be able to ride a bike……apparently he would walk everywhere, or run. That morning, he woke up and cried, and my heart broke as I dropped him off. But predictably, when I picked him up a smiling face appeared – he ‘loved’ it, he felt ‘confident’…..and he hasn’t looked back. It has taken him longer than most but who cares? I am ridiculously proud.

It takes a village -that’s what they say. Not many of us tend to have a village these days; but trying to take it all on ourselves isn’t always the best way forward. If outsourcing is what it takes then occasionally outsourcing is the thing to do. And in this case, it was one of the best decisions we ever made.

So here’s to Quiet Reading Time, or whatever your activity of choice might be, and to thinking about outsourcing some of those things which just aren’t quite working. And to keeping busy and staying sane for the last remaining days of the holiday…… which, incidentally, feels like it’s been going on for months. It’s not that I’m not enjoying it, but it does feel like Easter weekend was about 3 months ago.

How many more meals to go??

Boy on his bike

Yippeeeeeeeeee!

 

That slightly awkward in-between-y stage

Do you remember, back in Year 1, when you would ask for five kisses before being dropped off at school? Five kisses because you were 5. Never a thought for who might see, just wanting to know that you’d had the right number of kisses before you went into your classroom. That was what was important……it doesn’t seem that long ago really.

And now you are 7 going on 8. You still like a kiss goodbye, but as I give you a kiss you are also half looking round the playground, scouting about, seeing what’s happening. You are self-conscious, unsure what to do with yourself or where to look; and all too aware that mum is actually a bit embarrassing (only a bit though).

That lack of self-consciousness you had not so long ago, do you remember that? No idea what might be considered cool/uncool/a bit unusual/totally embarrassing. If you wanted to play traffic-jams-on-the-M40 in the playground at lunchtime then that’s what you’d do – why not? The freedom that comes from a total lack of self-consciousness is so special, but it doesn’t last that long. As I’ve looked at you recently, I have realised how much you’ve changed – people tell me your face has changed shape, and I can see it has; but you are also so much more aware of your peers, of expectations; and of what is considered ‘normal’. Embarrassing is a word that means something to you now, and where possible you’d rather avoid embarrassing situations …..wouldn’t we all. This is growing up, I know that. This is you navigating your way through friendship groups and society and expectations; this is you starting to develop away from the bubble of home.

I am no longer the very centre of your world, and I know that this is normal too. There are things about you, about your thoughts, about your day that I don’t know. You don’t tell me everything nowadays – I don’t mean in a ‘I don’t want to talk about what I’ve done at school today, mummy‘ sort of way…..all children feel like that sometimes. But in a different, more deliberate ‘I don’t need to tell you everything anymore, mummy‘ sort of way.

It wasn’t so long ago that we could snuggle up and your body would still fit neatly into mine; that you could wrap yourself around me like an orang-utan. We don’t fit quite so neatly together these days – your limbs are longer and snuggling is just a bit more awkward. You don’t quite have the co-ordination to deal with these longer limbs yet – the little boy in you still wants to mess about, walk backwards, or race around without looking where he’s going or considering whether there might be anything in his way; but the longer limbs remind you that you take up more space now, and it isn’t really possible to charge around like you’re 3 anymore.

A growing body, a slight awkwardness  – you are trying to work out how this new, longer-limbed version of you fits into things. And I’m trying to work it out too. As parents, we hear a lot about the baby days, the toddler days, the just-started-school days, the teenage years……but what about this, the sort of 8, 9, 10 stage? When the categories just aren’t quite so clear-cut. That in-between stage of still needing mummy, desperately at times, but also wanting to assert some independence. Of feeling frustrated because you have your own ideas and convictions, but ultimately your parents are still in control of so many aspects of your day-to-day life. We don’t seem to hear so much about that bit.

It feels like a new stage for both of us – one which sees you brimming with happiness one minute and furiously stroppy the next; and one which sees me having to force myself to stand back a little. New stages can be challenging, but we will muddle on through……whilst getting used to these longer but still not quite co-ordinated limbs.

boy with his book