Who wants to stroke the grumpy boa constrictor? 

My family don’t really like animals. We also don’t really like mud. We’re not overly keen on being outside in the freezing cold. So for our daughter’s third birthday in January, we booked her a farm party, complete with a stroke-the-creatures package.

My first faux pas was inviting more than the maximum amount of invitees allowed. How was I supposed to know that babies counted as people? And also not inviting people I wanted to, and then realising after the party. 

Secondly, I was a bit miffed that last year I had booked the ‘party room’ for a tenner and this year we had to pay ten times that. Apparently they had cottoned on to people like me ignoring their party packages and having a farmy rave on the cheap. 

So I invited ten thousand children, forgot some of my good friends, and bought some cake with Paddington’s face on it. It felt really disturbing to cut into that. I couldn’t afford party bags after paying out for the farm, kids’ overly-sugary lunch and cake but I justified this to myself by hoping that parents wouldn’t mind not coming home with more plastic toys so soon after Christmas.

It was a delightful start to the day. Party day was here; excitement was high and, as a result, there were a few meltdowns. Surprisingly not from my daughter. My husband and I did not handle the build up well. Our crowning moment was dropping all three cakes on their faces and both swearing in front of my sister-in-law. Thankfully our daughters didn’t seem to notice and our eldest didn’t learn a new word that day. 

Once we had calmed down (well nearly. My brother was desperately trying to be helpful in setting up the childrens’ lunch bags and got snapped at for not ‘sticking to the system’) our friends started to arrive and we got some time to go and ‘enjoy’ the animals.

The farm-man gave us a bucket of feed with strict instructions to only feed three types of animal with it. I instantly forgot which three he had said so handed out bags with vague guesswork and prayer that we didn’t accidentally kill any alpacas. I haven’t had any letters through the post or seen any news items so we probably got away with it. 

I helped my daughter and her friends throw some feed at the sheep. I want to say to the sheep but that wouldn’t really be accurate. They needed some encouragement by demonstration to let the goats eat out of their hand so I, begrudgingly, stuck my hand near enough to let a grimy goat nibble and lick pellets from my hand. I gagged inwardly but was willing if it meant it would give the children confidence to try something new. It did not. They watched me get mauled by this creepy creature and then flat out refused to have anything to do with it.

The time then came for us to congregate in the party room for the stroking ceremony. The farm-man (maybe he is called a farmer on reflection) brought in four helpers and five animals between them all. His helpers looked little older than our bunch of toddlers which concerned me slightly. What if the animals decided to make a break for it…? I didn’t hold out much hope that the mini farmers would be able to do much to stop a mutiny.

There was a seemingly gentle guinea pig, an oversized rabbit who looked suspicious…as if he had possibly eaten all the other rabbits…two nasty looking ferrets and a snake. I had not expected them to bring a snake. A boa constrictor they informed us. To a children’s birthday party. I’m no expert but that didn’t seem sensible to me. Mr Farmer introduced the animals who all had names like Barry, or Sir-eat-a-lot. I can’t actually remember what they were called. I was too busy making sure that bloke had a firm enough grip on the baby reptile.

After his pleasant introduction, he casually dropped into conversation that the children mustn’t touch the snake’s head or he might get grumpy. Brilliant. I knew from the look in his eyes that he had secretly brought a killing machine into the room. My husband had taken it upon himself to ‘give our baby some air’ which was a great excuse to avoid this whole situation.

I counted it a great success that the sharp-fanged, stretchy ferrets didn’t snap anyone’s fingers off and the rabbit didn’t eat the guinea pig in front of the children. You could tell he was tempted. The snake also behaved itself and I didn’t stick around long enough to see if he was indeed getting grumpy or not. 

The cakes also survived our earlier mash-up and we piled plenty of sugar into everyone. Our daughter was sung to, which was actually all she wanted from a party: “cake and everyone sing to me”. Mission accomplished. That was it for another year. Although we now have another child so we need to do this kind of shindig twice a year.

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Could have expressed this blog through interpretive dance

I had thought that it would be a great idea to put my daughter’s name down for some dance workshops at the local children’s centre…

When I dubiously poked my head around the door and saw three fully grown adults lying dead still and dramatically sprawled out across the floor,  I wondered what on earth I had signed myself and my toddler up for. 

On reflection, I feel that it was rather mis-sold. Maybe I read the invitation incorrectly but I rather expected to go along to a set of three jolly classes, led by a professional dance company, in which my daughter could twirl around like a ballerina and have a lovely time. The reality was a strokey, rolly, interpretive, contemporary kind of performance and a request for feedback at the end. 

I couldn’t quite work it out. We were invited to sit down in a square a bit too close to the non-moving bodies for my liking. I felt like we were watching strangers sleep which was uncomfortable at best. I made eyes at my friend next to me who whispered “…I’m scared.” We politely sat and waited. They still didn’t move. We waited some more. I noticed that the woman on the floor had probably never shaved her armpits…

My daughter unsurprisingly wanted to climb into my lap. One worried Mum across the room whispered a bit too loudly “Are they dead?!” which made me chuckle. Maybe the dancers heard this and realised that they were beginning to alarm the room, as they soon began to gently roll out of position or at least wriggle a finger here and there. One dancers was at least in his 50s and revealed brightly coloured Calvin Kleins. 

Their movements gradually built and eventually they were… I personally wouldn’t call it dancing. It was amusing to think that I had chosen, of my own free will, to spend my Tuesday morning watching hairy ladies and sweaty, bald men skipping about. 

Movements included dragging themselves around the space…I couldn’t help but be reminded of the walking dead… and often keeping physical contact with one another. I was impressed (?) at how at ease they were with being rolled over or tangled up in someone else’s leg. There was also lots of stroking faces with intense expressions. It would be an interesting experiment to see how my closest friends reacted if I made contact with them like that. I may try it.

The creative folk then started mimicking the children in the audience. This alerted my memory back to the handout we had received which invited us to this show. It had mentioned interaction; something about the exploration of touch and discovering the world around. Maybe that’s why they kept grabbing each other. Maybe they were being babies when they were lying down at the beginning…? Not slugs. 

My daughter didn’t appreciate the symbolism and flinched away whenever a dancer came near her direction. She shook her head with a face of disgust when they reached out and offered for her to join them. I wasn’t surprised. I graciously declined too. I’m all for trying new things and I love a bit of performing once in a while, but I couldn’t leave my daughter on her own, uncomfortable by the ringside. That was my excuse anyway.

When a long 40 minutes was up, the dance company finished in another dramatic collapse on the floor and the room hesitantly clapped. They then started wandering around, in search of feedback… I thought that bolting for the door was probably verging on rude so I sat there, trying not to make eye contact and failed. 

I greeted the now cheery performer and used words like ‘interesting’ and phrases like ‘never seen anything like it’… I didn’t mention that I never wanted to again. I praised that it was good to offer interaction with the children but not to force it. Some of the kids there were clearly born to be interpretive dancers. Others were not. I was secretly quite glad that my daughter hadn’t loved it and, after thanking the performers and saying our goodbyes, quietly visited the reception and asked if our place for the remaining sessions could kindly be given to someone else.

Processing the experience with my daughter was eye-opening to see this odd world from a younger pair of eyes. To me, it seemed obvious that she hadn’t enjoyed it. She had sat spellbound for the entire duration of the performance but I interpreted that as incredulity. She pondered my questions carefully when I asked her what she thought about it all. 

Hoping for confirmation that she was as unimpressed as I was, I waited for her to answer. It turns out that I really don’t know what is going on in my little one’s mind, and that, even if we do share an opinion, we don’t necessarily have the same response to it. After a while she concluded, in the same sentence, that she “didn’t really like it” and “can we go again tomorrow?” I sighed and begrudgingly went back to the receptionist to ask for tomorrow’s ticket back again. 

Road tripping with babies

Visiting four cities inside a week with a nearly-three year old and a four month old baby is arguably ambitious, potentially dim. However, we felt like gold medal winning athletes when we arrived home with all four of us in one piece and no one wanting to run for the hills.

I thought I would share a couple of ‘highlights’ from the trip with you:

1) My youngest learnt to screech this week. She loves it. We don’t love it. It’s not a scream, it’s not a cry, it’s a screech. Like a pterodactyl or what I imagine a velociraptor would have sounded like. We have been watching Rio with our eldest… Maybe she is trying to impersonate a macaw. She does it when she’s happy, when she’s sad, when she is hungry, when she is tired, when she’s playing, when she’s bored. It is the kind of sound that makes you wonder if you really do need your ears for everyday life or if you could get by without them.

2) We drive Claris the Yaris which is an impressive tardis of a car. Throughout this trip however, we did, on occasion, ache for a slightly bigger vehicle. The climax of frustration came when I was climbing over my toddler to squeeze in between the two car seats in order to entertain the children for the next leg of the journey. On climbing, I accidentally knocked some of my toddler’s cereal bar out of her hand. She started balling like I had just crushed her. I assumed I had so was irritated to find out that all this drama was over a piece of food. Then I had to search the car for this sticky piece of gunk. I found it attached to my dress… then dropped it under baby’s car seat. Nearly cracking bones in my hand by retrieving it, I eventually rescued the now dusty and gross mouthful. I watched my toddler demolish it whilst reminding myself that it is all immunity building. Whilst this was all going on I realised that my squawking parakeet was chewing on black fluff from my cardigan and to add to the heated stress, someone in the packed car let rip.

We have learnt to love the phrase ‘if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry’, and even though when one of us starts giggling it might initially be met with a glare, the other one generally can’t help but join in. This is a great technique when travelling with two mini people bundled into a car for hours at a time. 

Daddy dressed me

I recently went out in the morning to run a quick errand and left the girls with my husband. We were due to leave for a party as soon as I got back so I gently asked him to get the girls ready. Gently, because it was a Saturday. A restful day. And also because he and the girls were watching the Formula 1, a favourite pastime of theirs, one to interrupt with caution.

Everything was laid out; party dresses were hung up and shoes were by the door. Easy. I nipped out, calm and relived that the day was going to plan. I really can’t stand being late so was chuffed that my husband was on board with the get-the-girls-ready-to-go-bang-on-time plan. 

Whilst out, I got held up by traffic and a lunatic who really should have his license revoked. It’s like he waited, saw me coming, waited some more, made eye contact with me, and then decided it was a good idea to pull out. Just to make sure that I could hit him. Thankfully I didn’t. Obviously I calmly applied the brakes, smiled my gracious forgiveness and went on my merry way…. That’s definitely an accurate portrayal of events.

So then I was running late and feeling even more grateful that my husband was holding the fort. I zoomed into our parking space, hurtled upstairs and flung open the door expecting to see them all standing there with shoes on and bags at the ready. 

They were not.

They were sitting in front of the screen, still in their pyjamas, hair wild and breakfast around their mouth (the last description applies only to my toddler, not my husband).

Not wanting to be a dictator-kind of wife, I made some passive-aggressive ‘joke’ to my toddler about not being ready and, haha, we were going to be so late now and wasn’t that so funny!?  Bless my husband, he looked very sheepish which did help me to feel vindicated.

To cut a long story short, we got to the party fashionably late looking relatively decent. 

Anyway, fast-forward to the next weekend. This time, we were hurtling round in the morning, with no time to spare, trying to get all four of us up and out. My wonderful husband had given me the most precious treat of a lie-in, and then had watched the girls whilst I nipped out to the gym. What would I do without him? Have less sleep and less exercise, that’s for sure.

I was slapping on a bit of make-up and throwing on some clothes when my daughter walked in. I had just been making a mental still-to-do list and had thought that she wasn’t yet dressed and that we hadn’t yet brushed her teeth or hair. I looked down. She was dressed! Her hair was up! Her breath smelt minty! My husband must have taken charge, found extra minutes in the morning and got her up and ready! 

It didn’t matter that she was wearing quite a bizzare match of clothing; more than a few bold prints were going on and colours that wouldn’t necessarily compliment each other were side by side. It was a creative choice of outfit. Her ponytail could have been described as fashionabley messy, and maybe my husband had intended to give it a wonky edge to try out a new style. 

I was just so grateful that he had taken on getting her ready so that I could have some me-time. 

To show my gratitude, I changed her entire outfit and redid her hair. 

Poor guy. Phrases like “can’t win” and “why do I bother” came up amidst laughing when he saw our daughter’s wardrobe change and me in the background looking a whole lot more sheepish than he did the first time.

Please don’t lick your shoes 

Let’s not pretend. We all love our kids more than life itself but just can’t wait until they fall asleep. Time with them is one of God’s greatest blessings, but time without them can taste like a little gift from heaven.

We had a moment recently which made me especially keen to encourage a nap:

Having moved to our estate about six months ago, I had become pretty frustrated that I still didn’t know our neighbours. So when I found out about a Facebook page for the estate residents, I tentatively posted (in words ever so slightly less cringy) ‘does anyone want to be my friend?’ Shockingly, quite a few women saw past the desperation and got in touch. Maybe it was pity but I’d take it.

One lovely lady invited me and my girls to a Saturday morning walk. We would be delighted. I remember a distant time when I couldn’t understand how people could make plans for 9:30am on a Saturday but now it almost feels like the middle of the day.

Because I haven’t kept up with the alarming rate at which my daughter’s feet are growing, she was left with two options: wellies or the full-on sparkly party shoes. Party shoes it was and she scooted on over with me and baby who was snuggly in her carrier.

I hadn’t taken toddler out on her scooter recently but she was pretty confident and I was proud of her for tackling corners and not falling into too many hedges. She even managed to stop before colliding with a gate, when in the past she has deliberately used it as a bumper. It hasn’t always ended well. 

We met my neighbour and she suggested a walk around a nearby university campus. It was a lovely area, beautiful and leafy with many squirrels for the kids to spot, shout at and basically terrify. 

Anyway, it was a really nice location, my neighbour and I were getting on like a house on fire, baby was calm in her koala pack, toddler was scooting away like an angel down the long drive which led to a grand stately home. It really was a long drive. Much longer than I realised. And also had a car park at the bottom. And turned a corner which we couldn’t see around. 

Everything taken into account, my angelic daughter decided that this would be a perfect place to practice scooting as fast as she could, bashing her vehicle over the speed bumps and also seeing how far she could get away from us before I went completely mental. 

She normally stops when told, and usually slows down when we ask. Not today. She had obviously had enough of doing what she was told. She suddenly flew away as fast as one of those squirrels she had earlier been terrorising. 

Completely ignoring me, she darted down the drive, into the car park and sped around the blind corner. Of course I had been calling to her to slow down and stop. At first I was calm and firm, trying not to look like a paranoid sergeant major type mother in front of my new friend. However, seriousness of the situation quickly took priority and soon I was barking orders at three times the volume. On a Saturday morning. Nearby undoubtedly sleeping students. 

Screaming like a sweaty maniac, I hurtled down the road after her, my baby bouncing around on my chest probably wondering what the heck was going on. She had just been about to drop off to sleep.

Once caught, I don’t need to describe the telling off she received and, needless to say, it sucked the joy out of the rest of her morning. Such a shame as she had been flying around like a happy fairy in those sparkly shoes.

She begrudgingly carried on with the journey (refusing to scoot however) and dragged her feet around the route, cheering up ever so slightly when we found some rescued battery farm hens. 

After bidding our new friends goodbye, I was congratulating myself that, despite my needy outreach message and my daughter’s unruly display, our neighbour still seemed to think that we were normal enough. My toddler had finally cheered up and was skipping happily home in her glittery footwear. I was carrying the scooter. 

Time to relax at home. Enough effort and drama for the morning. I put the scooter away and looked down at my daughter, relieved that our trip out had a happy ending. But then I saw what she was doing now, and you probably know the feeling… inward prayers of *deep breath* “Lord, give me strength”.

Maybe it was the glitter, she wanted to know what it felt like on her tongue?! Maybe she likes the taste of dirt and dust and damp?! When I am already running on my last few drops of patience, I have to reach deep inside, draw a breath or two and calmly say ridiculous things like “sweetheart, please don’t lick your shoes”. 

The pros and cons of having two children under the age of three

Pro: toddler adoring baby

Con: constantly rescuing baby from over zealous hugs from toddler. Learning to recognise the ‘save me Mum’ expression from baby

Pro: toddler lovingly kissing baby on the lips

Con: often cleaning food/slobber from baby’s face and hoping we aren’t unintentionally weaning baby from milk to hummus at the age of 12 weeks…

Pro: toddler copying mummy behaviour with her doll

Con: finding said doll in moses basket or bouncy chair and periodically having a heart attack

Pro: toddler encouraging baby to reach her milestones

Con: toddler ‘helping’ baby to roll over and having to explain that it didn’t really count and you probably shouldn’t push your sister onto her face

Pro: baby and toddler sharing toys and playing together

Con: persuading toddler that baby doesn’t always enjoy having loud, rattly objects shaken in her face for minutes at a time. And neither do I. 

Pro: the siblings engaging in conversation

Con: reasoning with toddler that baby doesn’t mean to be rude when she doesn’t answer, or even maintain eye contact

Pro: toddler helping to change baby’s nappy

Con: cleaning up the devastation that this ensues

Pro: toddler’s creative flair developing

Con: vetoing all of toddler’s outfit choices for herself and her little sister. I really wouldn’t be a responsible parent if I let her go out dressed in only knickers, wooly hat and gloves. We might also get concern from onlookers if they peek inside the pram and see a 12 week old dressed in a silver party dress big enough for a 3 year old…

Pro: looking forward to sharing all of these moments with the girls when they are older and praying that they do share with each other, encourage and help one another and adore their sister. 

Using a train as a change mat 

The simple plan was to drive and visit my Auntie and Uncle for the day but, after battling with the delicate balancing act of getting all three of us dressed and hygienic, it dawned on me that I had cleverly locked my car keys inside of the car the day before… 

Not wanting to waste the opportunity of the three of us all being ready to depart at the same time, I made the bold plan to attempt the journey by public transport instead. I decided to put baby in the carrier…only to realise that this was in the locked car. 

Not to worry! I have another carrier which I’ve not yet used, that a friend gave me. So I could have just put an umbrella over us both when it inevitably rained…but the umbrella was in the car too. Never mind, I thought I would wrap her in my jacket…then I realised that this was also in the car. (Note to self: STOP using the car as a cupboard) 

Not one to be defeated, I grabbed the new carrier, awkwardly tangled baby up in a swamp of material and dressed us both in a winter jacket which immediately made me start sweating. At least my eldest was over the moon that we were getting to travel on both a bus AND a train! 

We got the bus to Clapham Junction and boarded the train without any complications and I was high-fiving myself. I noticed that the train splits in half at a point in the journey and I casually asked the two men next to me if they could direct me to the correct part of the train to go to Horsham. One delightful Italian guy assured me that I can stay where I am as this end goes to Horsham. Lovely. 

So I took baby out of her clothy lair, let toddler take her coat off and start playing with her toys. THANKFULLY the conductor came along and, on reading my ticket, commented that I needed to change at Gatwick Airport. The NEXT STOP. The sweet Italian guy had thought I said Hailsham and was now mortified… I really should have checked, bless him. I barked orders at poor toddler to hurriedly put her coat back on, I near enough threw baby back into another strange position in the sling, rapidly collected all our things, dressed myself in the winter warmer and jumped up sweating, only to realise that it’s at least another five minutes until we arrive at Gatwick Airport…so we awkwardly stood, trying to look like I had meant to get up when I did, and I loudly made some comment to my toddler about her little sister needing to be jiggled about…We changed trains and all was well with the world. I even managed to breastfeed on the short journey. Another pat on the back to myself until, one stop before our destination, baby’s nappy leaked pretty badly all over her clothes. In speed sure to impress an F1 pit stop team, I ripped off her outfit, threw a new nappy on, redressed her and actually managed to get us all ready and relatively calm in time for our departure. By this time, I had also managed to fit baby into the carrier in a position that was comfortable and didn’t result in her thinking that all the light had gone from the world. Hooray! We had made it. Easy peasy.

Lessons learnt:

1) Always check I have keys available; 15 checks a day should do it

2) Plan a train journey before embarking on one; double or triple checking should be fine

3) Really do stop using the car as a storage facility. I’m surprised the children can actually fit in there at all.