“Where are we going TODAY, Mummy?”

This question is one of the first to be spoken by The Boy pretty much every morning upon waking, and after every nap. Today, it got me thinking.

Are we guilty of spoiling him with activities, outings and attention?

We have just spent an entire weekend based in the house and garden. I honestly can’t remember the last time we did that. Oh, wait, yes I can: it was when we were in chicken pox isolation a few weeks back. But believe me, it hardly ever happens.

This time, we didn’t necessarily plan to stay at home; we were just busy trying to Get Things Done. Going away for a couple of weeks can often have that knock-on effect can’t it? The house desperately needed cleaning from top to bottom; our freezer of homemade meals (that’s how we generally roll folks) was severely depleted and Pipsqueak needed some purees making up; our kitchen cupboards were shouting out for a tidy (every time we opened them, tupperware lids and baby bottles would fall to the floor as we are forever shoving things away with too much haste); the garden needed weeding; the last couple of days of rainy weather had meant that the laundry pile had begun to overflow again…you know, The Usual. The Mundane.

So, The Boy has spent two days in the garden (the sun was out – hooray!). We managed to get a fair few jobs ticked off the list. Hubby deserves an award for his sterling effort in the kitchen. We now have batches of chicken, sweet potato and apple casserole (plus purée form for Pipsqueak); pea and courgette soup (plus chunkier purée version); broccoli and courgette gratin purée; tomato, cauliflower and basil purée; bolognese portions and an amazing lasagne with surprise butternut squash layer… Nom nom!

'Helping' with the food preparation.
‘Helping’ with the food preparation.

The house is clean and tidy, bedding changed and kitchen cupboards given a quick tidy. Three more loads of washing have been line dried, folded and aired. The garden is a bit neater.

But boy was it a juggling act!

It didn’t help that poor little Pipsqueak is suffering from her fifty-millionth cold and cough. She has been snotting, wheezing and grizzling away instead of being her usual smiley self. Naps have involved lots of crying and resorting to rocking for at least 30 mins in the dark a la the Olden Days. But she was happy for a fair while in the Jumperoo and then in the ball pool. In fact, The Boy was infinitely more demanding than her.

To give a flavour:

I present him with a ‘new’ (second hand) Scuttlebug.
He spends 5-10 minutes scooting around and loving it but needs our attention constantly: “This is left, Daddy. And then you go along and you turn RIGHT! Look Mummy, LEFT and RIGHT! Look! Am I right?”

"Left and RIGHT!"
“Left and RIGHT!”
Abandoned bug.
Abandoned bug.

I set up the ball pool for Pipsqueak.
The Boy dives in, sticks his tongue out and demands a photo.

Stock photo pose!
Stock photo pose!

Hubby sets to the weeding.
The Boy wants to help. He disappears into the shed and comes out wielding a garden fork with rather sharp ends. Close supervision is required from then on.

The mini trampoline is brought out.
He jumps and sings for all of 30 seconds then lies down and shouts out for Miro to join him: “Miro needs to sleep underneath with me, Mummy. Mummy, WHERE’S Miro Cat? I WANT Miro! Mummy find him? Peease?” (Despite him admitting tiredness at this point and me offering to fetch his blankie, he refuses to really have a snooze – damn!)

Miro returns to our garden.
The Boy is ecstatic and spends 5 minutes stroking him, tickling him and feeding him breakfast (grass). It’s lovely to see and Miro is very tolerant, but again a close eye is required as he will lash out if his tummy is grabbed or his tail pulled a bit too forcefully.

A toddler version of a nerf gun is brought from the shed.
This backfires (literally!) as he needs help loading it each time and insists on firing the small balls into the flowerbeds: “Where did it GO, Daddy? I can’t see it!”

"Where's my big brother gone now?"
“Where’s my big brother gone now?”

Other toys and activity stations such as the sandpit are left untouched.
This is despite much encouragement to engage with them. “I want to do something DIFFERENT Mummy. What can I do that’s DIFFERENT?”

In short, The Boy just isn’t into independent play. Is this a consequence of his upbringing to date?

We have always given him a lot of attention. Partly because it brings us pleasure; partly because we believe this is a good thing for development and self-confidence. He also gets a lot of one-on-one attention from Grandma when she has him. But has this led to an expectation of attention 24-7?

Do we spoil him with experiences? From a tiny baby, he has taken part in a huge range of classes and activities outside the home, as well as trips and outings at least twice a week. He is only 2¾ and has been to:

  • Maracajacks music sessions
  • Baby Sensory
  • Baby signing
  • Swimming lessons
  • Little Kickers football sessions
  • Toddler group
  • Play dates galore
  • Trips to local parks (inc splash pool in the Summer)
  • Soft play centres
  • Multiple trips to numerous local country parks and forests
  • Regular trips to local child- friendly garden centres
  • Rides on miniature steam trains
  • Regular visits to our local zoo, plus 2 other zoos included on the pass
  • Farm visits
  • Aquarium visits
  • Woodland walks
  • Seaside walks
  • Sandy and stony beach play
  • Marina trips (including the local ‘pink ferry’)
  • A trip to London on the train
  • A wedding in Scotland (involving a plane journey)
  • A Dorset camping trip
  • A holiday on the Isle of Wight (ferry trip and lots of cool day trips)
  • A stay at Centre Parcs (including an owl experience, seeing wildlife up close, swimming etc)
  • Our recent road trip (Scotland, Wales).

Just writing this list has exhausted me, and it’s not even an exhaustive list!

Undeniably, these experiences have helped with his learning and development, especially as they are always talked about and analysed afterwards. I also feel that another positive is that he is not afraid of new experiences. For example, starting preschool one morning a week at the age of 2½ was taken in his stride, and during his recent holiday he wasn’t phased by moving on regularly and sleeping in 5 different beds in the space of 2 weeks.

Life is one big adventure!

And don’t get me wrong, he finds a trip to the doctors and chemists just as ‘thrilling’ as many of the items on the list. As long as he has our attention 100% of the time. (Apologies to the doctor today who was constantly interrupted during our supposed 5 minute appointment: The Boy was on a high from playing with the Brio in the waiting room with full attention from myself and another elderly patient).

It is probably one of those nature-nurture questions which could be debated until the cows come home. Or perhaps we should ‘blame’ astrology – he is a Leo after all, just like his mumma!

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“THERE’S a Costa Coffee!”

Our 1400 mile road trip with the littlies

We have just returned from a fortnight away. Call us crazy, but we thought it would be a good idea to travel (with The Boy and his 7 month-old sister) from the South Coast up to Scotland to see hubby’s folks for his birthday.

Plane and train journeys, though infinitely more appealing than a car journey in many ways, were discounted due to the sheer amount of stuff we felt we needed to take with us (baby paraphernalia and an abundance of clothes mainly, what with the unpredictable British climate and our track record for instigating unsettled weather fronts whenever we choose to holiday).

So, a ‘road trip’ it was. It sure wasn’t going to be akin to our Australian adventures 12 years previously, but we were willing to give it a whirl.

Welcome to Scotland!
Welcome to Scotland!

A couple of weeks previously, we had finally upgraded our family car from a small but efficient Ford Fiesta to the obligatory MPV in the form of a Citroen C4 Picasso. The extra boot (and behind the front seat) space was a necessity now that the back seat next to The Boy was occupied by a Pipsqueak-shaped cargo.

Rammed it still was, however: Lord knows how we will ever fit in our super sized tent, two-ring camp kitchen and all the other ‘essentials’ required for the future camping trips that I romanticise about!

I imagine that most parents of toddlers (or toddler/baby combos) would experience a certain amount of dread trepidation at the thought of such a long period of confinement journey.  

I admit that perhaps a couple of episodes of night-time insomnia in the weeks leading up to our trip may have been attributable to nightmarish premonitions about what the trip might behold for us. But on the day we left I felt strangely gung-ho about the whole affair.

We had sensibly decided to minimise ‘risk’ by breaking up the journey into more manageable chunks, stopping for a Monday to Friday Centre Parcs break on the way up and a stay with friends on the way back. It was going to be just fine.

I had recently read a couple of blog posts about travelling with littlies. They recommended packing snacks galore, carefully planning service station stops timed around usual naps and eating routines and investing in seat-back DVD players.

None of these survival strategies were executed here I’m afraid. For a start, we are (frustrated) owners of possibly the only toddler in the world who has not napped in the car during the daytime since he was approximately 6 months old. But he still typically snoozes for a couple of hours in his bed after lunch when we’re at home. He also never says that he is hungry so snacks are not a primary distraction. Furthermore, with Pipsqueak’s sleep all over the place, her daytime feeding aversion and being only recently weaned, predictable routines are non-existent.

On a wing and a prayer, with our boxette of Julia Donaldson story CDs, a CBeebies magazine and a handful of music CDs selected to help us reminisce about our carefree days of freedom, we were off. The breadsticks were mistakenly left in the boot with the bag of essential foodie provisions (ie. proper coffee and tea bags plus a colourful array of Ella’s Kitchen purée pouches).  As advised by the ‘experts’, the recently potty trained boy wore pants not pull-ups.

An hour later, the traffic has been sluggish, we’re half the distance from home that we expected to be, the boy is white as a sheet and sobbing that he doesn’t “feel vewy well, Mummy,”  and Pipsqueak is loudly complaining (screaming) about being restrained in a backward-facing car seat. We pull up at a petrol station praying for car sickness medication to find a boy with a very wet trouser area and sopping car seat cover (despite the well-placed waterproof sheeting).

Happy holidays!

Things could only get better. And luckily they did. Pipsqueak relaxed and realised that naps were indeed possible in broad daylight, the boy felt better after some homoeopathic sickness remedies and a change of clothes and the ‘fun’ started.

The Boy is renowned as being a huge chatterbox. This is the premise on which my blog is based. Granted, journeys always pass more quickly when there is some good banter, and he was pleased to oblige with the conversation starters and entertainment.

However, we did encounter a bit of a technical issue which we didn’t really foresee. Namely, the inability to hear The Boy easily from his seat in the back. This meant that his chatter was punctuated regularly with us asking him to repeat himself more loudly; him repeating himself over and over as we craned and concentrated with all our might to fathom what he might be asking/saying and me (as passenger due to ongoing sleep deprivation) ending up with a cricked neck and strained side as I regularly manoeuvred in the front seat to lip read.

Still, The Boy had a ball.

He counted lorries. He spotted his favourite logos on said lorries (on the return journey, Kimberly Clark of all brand names could be added to his ‘wow’ list: a legacy of all his public toilet trips whilst out and about). He named transport types (including car transporters, coaches and caravans) and pointed out VWs, Fords and Citroens. He even enjoyed the miles of slow-moving roadworks (where he learnt to distinguish JCB and CAT diggers, rollers and bulldozers).  He was in heaven when, on a services advertisement board he spotted M&S, Costa, Starbucks or McDonalds logos; if he spied the buildings themselves it was as though he awarded himself extra bonus points: his grin said it all.

"MY turn to drive!"
“MY turn to drive!”

We were kept entertained with his unique two year-old perception of the world: “Look! Sliding doors!” (he’d noticed how the sun visors on the C4 can be moved far back to reveal a sort of semi-sunroof). He had us in stitches with his application of ‘new’ vocabulary: “Have we arrived yet, Daddy?” and melted our heart when he spent a good twenty minutes at one point trying to make Pipsqueak laugh when she started grumbling, finishing with “I love you.”

Between chatterbox moments, The Boy could be found reading his magazine in such a grown-up way (holding it like a commuter might on a train journey) or listening avidly to our music and asking about the track name and artist. (“Jack Johnson is a little bit similar to Bob Marley, Daddy.”) It is sometimes really hard to believe that he is only two years old!

All in all, would we contemplate such a journey again? Yes definitely. On the way home, totally exhausted from all the excitement and exertion and an almost complete absence of naps throughout our trip, The Boy even slept in the car for over an hour.

I could get used to this!
I could get used to this!

Next time, though, I quite fancy the South of France for its weather!