“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!

“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!

“No no no, not OUTSIDE.”

My moment of calm.

We made it. We are at Sherwood Forest Centre Parcs, on the first leg of our two week family holiday.

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The supposed 3.5 hour journey up here yesterday was ‘eventful’: Myself and The Boy suffering from motion sickness in our new car in the slow-moving traffic; Pipsqueak struggling to nap as the sun managed to work its way around the edges of the sunshade and directly into her eyes; a wee-wee accident from the boy that soaked through his jeans and the seat mat into his carseat; then a standstill traffic jam just as we were needing to stop for lunch.

But get here we did. And so far, so good.

Pipsqueak went down easily for her morning nap (it’s a miracle!) and I am currently sitting outside on our woodland patio in the actual sunshine. The trees are swaying in the breeze, the leaves rustling and the birds tweeting happily. From time to time, our resident ducks waddle up to say hello, a squirrel hurries busily past or an enormous rabbit pops out from the briars, wriggling its nose and chewing on something tasty.

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For the first time in a long time, I am feeling relaxed and serenely happy.

I know it’ll only last for five minutes, but that’s okay. And yes, the peaceful sounds of the woodlands are punctuated by the cries of a distant baby and the yells of a toddler walking by. But it is not my baby and it is not my toddler.

My toddler didn’t want to go outside.

Yes, you read that right!  We are surrounded by a beautiful forest, it is not raining, there are animals all around, crunchy leaves to kick, pinecones to collect, minibeasts to spot, logs to climb upon and mossy hills to run down. And The Boy wants to sit in his “new bedloom” (bedroom) and watch Milkshake on TV.

Nothing would persuade him to come and explore with Mummy, so when the protest screams threatened to wake Pipsqueak, we gave up. Because we know from experience that he’ll change his mind later (the TV and the double bed in his room are too much of a novelty to abandon quite yet). And because this is a holiday and my mantra for it is ‘no worries’.

And I am enjoying my moment of calm.

Note

As I finished typing this, The Boy emerged through the sliding doors. We went for my desired woodland wander. He collected pinecone “treasure” and we discovered a wildlife lookout on the edge of a lake where we watched squirrels and birdlife and The Boy entertained himself opening and closing the door of his “secret den”.

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Pipsqueak is still sleeping! Life is good.

The Black Hole of Sleep Deprivation

When I started this blog just a couple of months ago, I vowed to keep it light-hearted and ‘on-subject’, focussing on my boy’s fascinating chatter in an effort to provide a bit of escapism from the very subject of this post.  But I’m feeling the need to vent, so here goes…

I’m in the midst of another bad run of nights with Pipsqueak who is now almost 7 months. To be honest, the ‘good runs’ have been few and far between. There have been two. Both blocks of about a week long where she has only woken twice for food, has settled straight back to sleep and so have I.

There has always been something getting in the way of this holy grail of ‘normal’ wake-ups. For the first few weeks it was reflux-associated unsettledness in the small hours. From the 1 or 2am feed onwards she just couldn’t relax enough to go back to sleep, except when upright on me. I coped with this by going to bed early and, once she accepted a bottle, hubby did the first feed with expressed milk, giving me a lovely 4 hour stretch of sleep. Those were the good old days!

Then (just as the self-preserving sleep-inducing postpartum hormones wore off) the Wonder Weeks and growth spurts came thick and fast. Alongside these, daytime napping became problematic and impacted on night-time sleep.

Next, the sudden refusal to feed to sleep and inability to self-settle or easily be rocked or cuddled to sleep. Tears all round.

Then the development of a location-specific daytime feeding aversion (only feeding in dim silence in the nursery, never out and about and not even downstairs on the sofa), leading to reverse-cycling and more frequent waking on the days when we have actually gone out and had a life.

And finally, more recently, having cracked the self-settling, the poor girl’s physical development is playing havoc with her sleep and she is spending hours at night practising her rolling and spinning manoeuvres and doing stomach-strengthening leg raises involving noisy crash-downs against the cot bars.

Each of these can be dismissed as ‘just a phase’ (except for the feeding aversion, it seems), but boy are these phases relentless.

Who me?  Causing sleep problems?
Who me? Causing sleep problems?

People see me and comment on how well I am looking. ‘How’s she sleeping?’ they ask, perhaps expecting a breezy ‘Oh good, thanks, she’s sleeping through now.’ I smile a wry smile in return and reply ‘Hmm not so great, I’m still up a lot in the night,’ then change the subject swiftly before I crack.

Because, behind the fixed smile and mask of makeup, I am always on the verge of cracking. And by that I mean falling into the black hole whereby I break down and sob in despair because I feel so rotten and am finding it such an effort to function and it is just not fair.

Unless you have been here, ‘being sleep deprived’ is hard to understand. And of course there are varying levels of deprivation. Two relatively short wake-ups might sound like heaven to me right now, but is some new mothers’ idea of hell. And their struggle is real too. And they might feel truly exhausted.

I am the first to admit that I can cope fairly well on less sleep than many. I’ve had to, as I was a seasoned insomniac well before I had children. I am the type of person who just pushes on through.

My vocation as a primary school teacher has been the root cause of much of my insomnia (I find it very difficult to switch off) yet I have been known to teach fantastic lessons on less than 5 hours sleep.

I am not looking for violins or applause here. But I do want others who are in the same boat as me to know that they are not alone. And I want to raise awareness to others of what it is like to live with severe sleep deprivation. So here’s a bit of an insight:

My eye sockets ache.

My headache is constant. Drinking water doesn’t ease it. The painkillers are reached for more often than I am comfortable with.

I feel nauseous.  Sometimes this leads me to eating a lot of the wrong types of food (chocolate, biscuits, endless slices of toast..anything for a quick pick-me-up).  Other times, like now, I have to force myself to eat anything.

My bones ache. As though I have the ‘flu.

I have a mouth full of ulcers.

I feel dizzy.

I feel weak.

I have hot flushes.

My vision is often affected.  Stationary objects appear to flicker and move, as though I am drunk.

I am clumsy, have a lot of accidents and injure myself daily (usually stubbing my toes, bashing into furniture edges, banging my head on open cupboards or under the stairs, scalding and burning myself). At work, I was renowned for being accident prone. 90% of it was down to insomnia.

My tolerance levels are down. This is something that I work really hard to minimise as it’s not a good headspace to be in with a toddler and baby. I practice deep breathing and make myself count before reacting. Sometimes I leave the room to calm myself. But I do find myself muttering my favourite sweary phrase (FFS) too many times a day. And I do snap at my poor long-suffering hubby at least once a night.

I cry a fair amount. Usually of an evening (poor hubby) as I clock off from mummy duties for a precious couple of hours. Sometimes during the day, I have to leave the children and pop upstairs for a wee and a weep, just to get it out of my system.

I can’t think straight. Thoughts whirl around in my head and I often can’t ‘catch’, them in order to process them.

Decision-making is difficult. Whether to stay in or go to toddler group; whether to return to work when intended or stay on maternity leave for longer; what to pack for our holiday.

I doubt myself constantly. Is Pipsqueak over-tired or just over-excited? Am I being a good friend or do I moan too much? Is The Boy’s behaviour challenging sometimes because of the way I am interacting with him? All normal questions for parents, but I am usually pretty self-confident and I know the lack of sleep is undermining this.

I talk gibberish. I stumble over words, repeat myself unintentionally, contradict myself.

I loose things constantly. The fridge is the first place to look now.

My mind plays tricks on me. Especially at night when I think half the time I imagine The Boy calling out to me or Pipsqueak crying.

I have horrid, realistic dreams. The night before last, when Mr Don’t Say was up and down all night with food poisoning, I had a snatch of 20 minutes sleep and I dreamt that both the children were vomiting fountains and they weren’t close enough for me to hold a bowl under each of them and I ended up slipping in a sea of it. I woke with a jolt. Last night, when Pipsqueak’s cot antics were particularly extreme, I dreamt that she had pulled herself up to sitting and managed flip herself out of the cot onto the wooden floor. I heard the thud and walked in to find her motionless, face down. It was so realistic.

I can’t lead the life I want to. As the time suffering from sleep deprivation increases and the associated insomnia worsens, I am more inclined to take the easy option and stay in and play rather than have play dates or go out. And I am by nature a sociable person who likes to be busy.  Some days it is simply not safe to drive. I desperately want to start exercising again but there is no way I can physically do more than short walks from A to B. I want to cook (hubby has been an absolute saviour on that front), get involved in early evening gardening during the summer, and go out on nights out with the girls. But I am too exhausted.

"What are we doing TODAY, Mummy?"
“What are we doing TODAY, Mummy?”

And, most depressing of all:

I can’t sleep.

Yes you read that right. Even if I didn’t have a toddler to look after, I wouldn’t be able to take that well-meaning advice of sleeping when the baby sleeps. I did in the first couple of weeks when hubby was home and the sleep deprivation was within the bounds of normal. And it really helped.

When I do sacrifice the couple of early evening child-free hours (when I can enjoy some uninterrupted adult conversation, vegetative TV viewing or the opportunity to get some studying or blogging done) and have an early night, I lie awake.

Between night feeds, I toss and turn and wish for the much-needed sleep to consume me. If I’m lucky I drift off for half an hour or so, only to be woken by the sound of the cat coming through the cat flap downstairs or Pipsqueak coughing or hubby snoring or the shift-working neighbour’s car starting or another neighbour’s child crying out from night terrors or the birds singing (one of my favourite sounds but now with such a depressing association). Frustratingly, have always been a light sleeper too.

As those birds start singing and it starts getting lighter just before 5am I shed silent tears in the knowledge that my night is done and I can once again count on one hand (and all too often just two or three fingers) the total amount of sleep accumulated.  It sounds so melodramatic and I don’t want it to read that way.  It’s just what happens.

As dire and difficult as it is pulling energy from somewhere every day to cope being a mum and a wife and a friend, I know that I am lucky compared to many. I am hopeful that, as Pipsqeak matures and with recent changes in my life hopefully meaning that work stress-related insomnia will be reduced, there should be an end in sight for me. Others (those suffering from chronic pain for example) are not so fortunate. And they are so strong and they deserve so much respect for coping.

So next time you ask someone who is struggling with insomnia or other sleep-related issues how they are, just take their reply with a pinch of salt. They will probably play down the reality of it. But they do deserve a high-five for just getting through another day.

End note
Excuse the soppiness, but I want to take this opportunity to say a big thank you to my mum, who is so kind and selfless.  She has continued to look after The Boy two days a week throughout my maternity leave and in doing so has saved my sanity, literally. Mum, you are amazing and I don’t know what I’d do without you.  Also my hubby who has been keeping my spirits up and doing all the stuff I’m too exhausted to do.  And my friends – thank you for being great listeners and for your offers of help.  You are all lovely. xxx

“I LIKE the number 10!”

…And other things that rock my boy’s world

How I wish I could get inside the mind of my toddler sometimes!  Yes, toddlerdom is clearly tough at times but the simple pleasures he finds in everyday life are both fascinating and spirit-raising.  I feel so lucky that he so vociferously shares these pleasures multiple times an hour (in between more negative trains of thought, naturally!).

Time for a list; this time a chart countdown:

Top 10
Things that Rock my Boy’s World

#10:  His sister (“I love youuuu”).
Just creeping into the charts, Pipsqueak has waited 6 looong months to gain a space in her big brother’s affections. It has taken much charming on her part; smiling, cooing, reaching out to him and staring at him endearingly whenever he is within eye-shot.

Finally, he now tells her he loves her, tells us he likes her, shows and teaches her things and has even been known on occasion to hold her hand, stroke her hair or kiss her goodnight. We have yet to convince him to actually cuddle her or hold her for ‘that’ frame-worthy photograph, however.

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#9:  Shapes
With the purchase of Usborne’s ‘Lift-the-Flap Shapes’ book a couple of weeks ago, a new shapes obsession was born. He points out shapes to his keyworker at preschool, and to us around the home and out and about.

When we visited Milestones Museum in Basingstoke, he noted on arrival that the building was a ‘semi-circle’. That’s my boy! (This is a lesson starter that I have used when teaching 7 year-olds!)

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Much to our amusement, at the start of our recent potty training mission, he would do a little wee, stand up and declare “That one’s an oval, Mummy.”  Whatever floats your boat, E!

#8:  The Zoo
The Boy likes animals. I like that he likes animals. Maybe one day he could become a vet and earn bucket-loads of money whilst saving the lives of our furry friends.

We are lucky enough to live just 20 minutes away from a really decent zoo, so of course we have taken advantage of this and have bought an annual pass for three years running.  Many a memorable morning/afternoon/day has been spent at the zoo and I’ve loved witnessing how The Boy’s engagement with the animals has grown: From signing ‘duck’ and ‘tiger’ whilst flapping his arms or banging on the glass at 10 months to really observant and detailed descriptions now at 32 months.

The Boy’s favourite animal at the zoo is the giraffe (the same as Mummy’s) and he can tell you lots of facts about them, including that they live in Africa and have black tongues.

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But, just to be a bit different, his second favourite is the mongoose.  I wasn’t even sure what a mongoose was until recently!

#7:  Marks and Spencers (“Can we go to M&S? Peease?”)
Please don’t judge! Honestly, in general conversation with The Boy, you would be forgiven for summising that we have spent his entire upbringing to date dragging him around the shops. This is so far from the truth it is laughable.

However, we do happen to have a rather large retail park style M&S practically on our doorstep and we *might* have made it sound like the most exciting place on the planet, just so that (once or twice a month) we can go and have a coffee in the café there.

The tractor-shaped pasta and the escalators have become particular highlights of this ‘trip’ since the buggy has been ditched (before that it was the lift; before that sitting in a highchair and charming all the elderly ladies with his cutsie smile and baby babble).  Mr Don’t Say maintains that The Boy’s love for this retail chain began as young as a week old, when we went emergency shopping for larger feeding bras and he ‘posed for the camera’ in the lingerie section.

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#6:   The number 10. (“There’s TEN! I LIKE the number ten.”)
The Boy has been obsessed with numbers for a long time, too. This may or may not have had something to do with the rather large IKEA print that featured in his nursery (Mr Don’t Say often pointed the numbers out to him upon fetching him from a nap). I guess as a teacher I have encouraged this interest and we do count things often when out and about or when reading. But I do wonder what’s so special about ten.

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#5:  Singing & dancing
The Boy’s penchant for singing has been discussed in a previous post; he still declares daily how much he enjoys it. This has been clear to us from a young age: his first ‘sentences’ were heard down the monitor one evening as he finally added the words to his nightly hummed rendition of ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’.  I am fascinated to know how long this love will last and where this passion might lead him; he is pretty much note perfect nowadays. The school choir? Lead singer in a band? The sky’s the limit.

The Boy’s love of dancing really became clear during a recent trip to a bouncy castle soft play area. This was somewhere we hadn’t been before, but we will definitely be visiting again.  We went with The Boy’s best buddy who, upon entering the room, immediately began scrambling over and jumping off the soft play pieces, running around and generally making the most of the equipment provided. Meanwhile, The Boy stood in the middle of the mats absolutely entranced, swaying his body and staring into the distance.

When quizzed, it became clear that he was trying to work out if he recognised the children’s song currently blasting out of the speakers.  “I LIKE this one!” he declared excitedly as ‘I’m a Little Teapot’ came on, and he immediately broke into all the actions!

Honestly, the amount of time spent on the equipment probably totalled 10 mins (and took some persuasion); the rest of the 90 minute session was spent dancing (often intentionally to the ‘audience’ of other parents: “Look at ME!”) and pointing out the numbers on the gymnastics posters on the gym wall!

#4:  Stories (“Can I have just ONE MORE story? Peease?”)
The Boy is a book junkie.  He is absolutely hooked and extra stories are the ultimate bribe treat here.  This is one boy whose eyes light up at birthdays and Christmases when he gets to open a ‘book shaped’ gift.  Stories have never been reserved just for bedtime in this house, and I hope they never will be.  They are constantly reached for, by The Boy himself, by us, and by his Grandma.  I’m glad: we all get so much pleasure from reading with him.  The staff at preschool did get a bit of a shock though when they asked what his favourite story was: “Anything by Julia Donaldson” was his confident reply!

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#3:   Miro (our cat)
Any toddler who has grown up with a cat, dog or any other pet who is treated as part of the family is going to become very attached.  Miro and The Boy have been hanging out together since he was about 4 months old. Luckily Miro is far more tolerant of The Boy than he is of us and puts up with a lot of rather rough cuddling, stroking and even tail pulling. This is probably mainly due to the fact that The Boy is the only one to really give him any attention during the day, as I can generally be found running around like a mad thing keeping the two little humans of the family alive and out of trouble!

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#2:  Brand and sign spotting (“Look it’s from IKEA shop, Mummy!”)
With a father who is a graphic designer and a mother hung up on displays as a teacher (and, if I’m really honest a bit of a sucker for certain clothing/toiletry brands), perhaps this interest was inevitable. But this interest is actually bordering on obsession! The Boy literally stops in his tracks wherever he is and whatever he is doing or saying if he spots a logo or label that he is familiar with.

When he was just starting to talk, the main interest was in cars. Whenever he saw a VW, he’d point and say “Daddy car!”; for Fords it was “Mummy car!” Navigating car parks became very tricky and time-consuming, especially as he had to go up to a stationary vehicle and actually point to the badge, then circumnavigate it searching for further logos, for example on the wheels or number plates!

Next came a preoccupation with shops. He recognised (‘could read’!) the wording and logos for Marks and Spencers (obviously), Co-op (“Co-op shop, Daddy!”), Sainsburys and TU clothing, IKEA and Next. He still points these out on packaged food items, carrier bags, clothing labels, branded lorries and advertising boards.

Right now, he is also really interested in signs. Yes, any signs. The boy has always been a rather laid back sort (read ‘slow and considered in all he does’) but this makes walks about town infuriatingly slow! In order to ask his favourite question, “What does THAT sign say, Mummy?”, he has to stop, point, make sure that I am giving both the sign and him my full attention, get an answer and often get a detailed explanation! It is exhausting, but he is insatiable.

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Believe me, when we are out and about, we constantly get amused/incredulous/pitying looks from strangers. I do love our quirky little man.

#1:  The garden.
This only just pips brands and signs at the post in the battle for first place in The Boy’s top ten. And only because of the many facets of opportunity for pleasure that it presents. Amongst recent declarations are:

“I LOVE stones!” Well, don’t we all?! Playing with stones was a favourite activity last summer: moving them, throwing them, sliding them down the plastic slide and his favourite – lining them up along windowsills. This year they have become “Treasure!”

“Look at me, I’m running!”
Running, bouncing on the trampoline, throwing the football around; we are all for encouraging these activities since physical accomplishments don’t exactly come naturally to The Boy.

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“I am GOOD at watering!” Which is quite helpful now he’s strong enough to hold his can and use it without soaking himself in the process. #slavelabour.

“Peease can I do some SWEEPING?” Top marks to Daddy who transferred The Boy’s love of the dustpan and brush at toddler group into another pretty helpful job – sweeping leaves from the patio.

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…And then there’s bubbles, the sandpit, the tent, the easel, picking daisies, mud pies, picnics: the list is never-ending and saved our sanity during our recent incubation period necessitated by a double-wammy of chicken pox.

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I am so pleased that my boy is an outdoorsy type, just like his Mummy 🙂

I adore witnessing The Boy constantly evolving in the way he engages with the world. I wonder what Pipsqueak will grow up to love?

I would love to hear what turns your little people on so please do comment 🙂

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The Twinkle Diaries

50 Things that make me Happy

Thank you Mrs R at My Life After Logan for the nomination for this.

I did promise myself when I started my blog that I’d keep it ‘pure’ and simple, with EVERY post being related to something my son has said.  It didn’t take me long to get sucked in, did it?  But maybe it is about time I wrote a bit about myself for a change.

Happiness makes the world go round and I have really enjoyed reading about what makes other bloggers smile.  So here is my list:

happyMy Happiness List

1.  My amazing hubby.  He rocks my world, and is my rock.  I’d be in a constant tizz if it wasn’t for his calming influence and constant love and support.

2.  My gorgeous kiddiwinks.  Especially my boy’s constant chatter (the inspiration for my blog) and my baby girl’s peachy lips, smile and cute coos.

3.  My cat.  Poor Miro – he has been rather relegated to the bottom of the pile of late in our hectic family life, but I love him so much.  He is so handsome and affectionate.
IMG_20130521_1150154.  Family in general.  You can’t choose them, but I am very fortunate in this department and love my family dearly.  The relationship my Mum has with The Boy melts my heart (she looks after him two days a week) and my little nephews Oscar and Rowan are a delight.  I am also lucky enough to have acquired in-laws who I love spending time with.

5.  Family days out.  Particularly if a) It doesn’t rain; b) The Boy behaves and enjoys himself and c) Pipsqueak naps and eats something.

6.  Spending time with good friends.  I am blessed to have many good friends in my life, old and new. As family life ‘takes over’, I know that they are always there for me.  When we do spend time together it is precious.

7.  Me time.  By this, I mean the new luxury (time out from the children), but also just being alone.  I quite enjoy my own company and have never, ever experienced boredom when on my own.

8.  My morning cuppa.  Put it this way, I am not happy without it!

9.  Baby yoga.  The highlight of my week during this maternity leave has to be the Bibble & Bubble baby yoga class that I attend with my now 6 month-old.  Life with a baby and toddler is so busy, but this is an hour where I can completely relax and focus on my baby.

10.  Seeing children learn and discover.  This is the reason why I became a teacher.  And now I am relishing seeing my own children develop and learn.  Bliss.

11.  The Great Outdoors.  It is just such a spirit-lifter and Mother Nature never ceases to amaze and inspire me. It saddens me so much to know that we are slowly destroying our beautiful planet.

12. Fresh air. As above. Preferably administered in big, restorative gulps.

13.  Spring and Autumn.  When it is sunny but crisp/fresh (i.e. no sweaty upper lip but all the feel-good vibes).

14.  Tulips and daffodils.  So colourful.

15.  Birdsong.  But not birds per se.  In fact, I am terrified of pigeons and seagulls.

16.  The seaside. (Seagulls aside).  I love the sound of the sea, collecting shells, building sandcastles and, of course, ice cream.

17.  A good stomp up a mountain. My favourite thing to do pre-sprogs was to head out, often alone, find a hill and hike up it.  I still do it when I can. It makes me feel so alive:  muscles and lungs burning, the sense of achievement and the ultimate reward of the view from the ‘top of the world’.

18.  An exploratory cycle. I’ve loved cycling since I could pedal.  I have such fond memories of being out and about with my brother and school friends, exploring the roads and tracks around where we grew up.  I haven’t done much cycling since The Boy arrived.  We have got him a seat, but then I fell pregnant again.  I’m really looking forward to the summer when we’ll get Pipsqueak on the back of mine and head out as a family.

19.  Swimming.  This, for me, is the ultimate way to keep fit.  I love a bit of front crawl and can get a bit competitive in the lanes if the truth be told!

20.  Colour and pattern. As my current blog theme suggests, I love a bit of brightness in my life!

21.  Orla Kiely.  Her use of colour and pattern is right up my street.

STACKED CUPS - WELLIE'S [Converted]22.  Creative interiors.  My mood is really affected by my surroundings and I love to be in a creative space.  I am really enjoying the current trend of up-cycling and wish I could find the time to indulge!

23. Textiles.  Cushions.  I do love a cushion.  Especially with a bit of appliqué or an interesting pattern.  Ooh and buttons.

24.  Notebooks & journals.  I have quite a collection.  I have a whole series documenting my travels when I was in my mid twenties.  They are in the loft at the moment but I look forward to reading them back.  I have several filled with notes about my babies.  And still more where I note ‘ideas’ – for the books I will one day write, the small businesses I have thought about starting up, craft ideas.  Maybe, just maybe one day I’ll have the time to work on some of these!

25.  Talented friends.  I have several friends who are super-talented and I am a big fan and supporter of each of them.  Special mentions go to:
– My colleague Jon Senior of 60ft Chicken (@60ftchicken), a band of self-taught musicians and singers who played at our wedding and had every single guest on their feet dancing;
– My colleague Hannah Ross of Little Black Dress (@LBD_Southampton), one half of an uber talented singing duo who are a must-see if you are based on the South Coast.
– My little cousin Daisy Farris, who has set up her own dance collective and has impressed me with her passion and hard work.
– My old school friend Leigh Hodgkinson (@hoonbutton and @TheWonkybutton) who is a successful children’s book author and illustrator, maker of lovely things and all-round very clever creative who must never sleep.
–  Another school friend Lisa Good AKA Chocamama, who makes delicious homemade chocolates from her kitchen.
Whoops – a long entry, but they deserve it!

26.  Chocolate.  In particular, Minstrels.  My son now points to these and calls out ‘Mummy chocolate’ whenever he sees them in a shop!

27.  My man’s cooking.  Especially his lasagne.

28.  Prosecco.  There’s something so decadent about a glass of fizz.

29.  Strawberries.  They make fruit worth eating.  Also good with chocolate/prosecco.

30.  Coffee shops and wine bars.  For the coffee and wine they sell, and for the atmosphere.  I spent a lot of time in my twenties visiting friends in London.  My ‘young, free and single’ days!  Whenever I visit a trendy coffee shop or wine bar it reminds me of these happy times.

31.  People-watching.  I’m nosey.  I just can’t help it.  I just hope I’m more subtle when doing it than my mother is!

32.  Cornwall.  I am so glad our parents took us holidaying in this county when we were young.  The coastline is stunning with its rugged rocks, sandy coves and rock pools.

33.  Thailand.  This is such a special place to me.  I’ve been several times: with friends; on my own when travelling; to meet my now husband (and decide that our future was together!) when he was living in New Zealand; and twice since then with him.  The Thais are so friendly, the scenery breathtaking, the food and accommodation so cheap and the massage out of this world.

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34.  Camping.  I guess this links back to my love of the outdoors.  I have now successfully persuaded Mr Don’t Say that this is a viable holidaying option, although only since we have kitted ourselves up with a super-sized tent, chairs and camp kitchen!  I’m really looking forward to lots of camping adventures with my little family.

35.  The smell of freshly cut grass.  Lush.

36.  Blue skies and cloud watching.  The ultimate way to relax.

37.  Trees.  They are so beautiful.  I always think about how old big trees are and what they must have ‘seen’ in their lifetime.

38.  A long bath.  Preferably listening to music or reading a book.  Or (my new discovery) listening to an audio book – this way the pages don’t get soggy!

39.  Candlelight.  So romantic and cosy.  Back to basics.

40.  Clean bed linen.  And the smell of freshly washed clothes generally.

41.  Origins ginger body lotion.  In fact the whole Origins range.  And Sanctuary.  That fragrance transports me straight back to South Africa where I was when I first used Sanctuary shower gel.

42.  Music.  I used to spend a fortune on CDs and listened to music all the time when I lived alone.  Somehow, this habit has got dropped in the busyness of family life.  Note to self: play more music!

43.  A good book.  Getting lost in another world – I love that this can happen through simply reading words.

44.  Hugs. ‘Hugs and snuggles’ as The Boy calls them.

45.  Memories (good ones) and dreams.  Definite smile-worthy material.

46.  Photographs.  Photographs are so important to me, especially as I have such a terrible long-term memory.  I love capturing special moments or beautiful things and being able to look at them again and re-live them whenever I please.

47.  Celebrations.  Birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, Christmas.  All excuses to party.  All make me happy.

48.  New clothes.  Anyone who knows me knows that I love clothes.  I am a White Stuff addict! This is an addiction I have had to seriously curb since having children due to a lack of funds.

49.  A new haircut/colour. Incidentally, my hair is not red in real life: I applied a pop art filter to my blog photo.

50.  New adventures.  Travelling, living, working.  I am not one for standing still for too long and I embrace new challenges and experiences.  Blogging is my latest adventure, and so far I’m loving it.

Wow.  This is my longest blog post to date.  And I dare to call my toddler egocentric!

I now nominate:

Emma at Tropical Tot
Aimee at Mum Amie
Dad Without A Map

You Baby Me Mummy

Thank you Aby at You Baby Me Mummy for the lovely mention in this week’s #TheList.
Why not pop on over and have a nosey at some of the other amazing blog posts there?

“Let’s talk about ME.”

My boy LOVES to talk.  He may not be able to jump yet, is overly cautious on climbing equipment and is reluctant to try out his balance bike. But he’d be a champ at a 12 hour toddler chat-a-thon.  I don’t know WHERE he gets it from.

In the afternoons when I go in to get him up from his nap, as long as he is already awake, he often likes to instigate a conversation (otherwise, of course, he is a right grump).

One much-rehearsed conversation point is a(nother) recount of his day so far:  “This morning we…”.  This is a prompt for me to talk about the highlights of the morning; a story peppered with plenty of questions for him to answer – posed by me and by him. He positively digs a question and answer session: he’s going to be a right teacher’s pet when he gets to school.

I like this one as it makes me realise how much learning is going on in his little head-nod.  It also allows me an imaginary pat on the back that he is enjoying lots of memorable experiences at such a young age.  It’s often a great opportunity to praise him again for good behaviour, talk to him about bad behaviour and consequences and also of course to help him to make sense of the world.  Once a teacher, always a teacher!

Yesterday he surprised me with “Let’s talk about Daddy.  I like Daddy,” which I found endearing (but what about Mummy?!).  In response to my question “What does Daddy like?” he replied, “Going to Marks and Spencer shop and going up and down on the moving stairs!” which is, of course, one of the things HE likes doing on a rainy day with Daddy.  (Daddy just so happens to rate the M&S flat white.)

But my all-time favourite has to be the totally innocent and self-indulgent “Let’s talk about ME!” (said with the world’s biggest grin).  He loves to be reminded about how gorgeous and handsome he is; he is his father’s child through and through. We talk about his likes (currently preschool, sharks, dinosaurs, the zoo, singing, numbers, letters, shapes, digging, our cat, hugs, Julia Donaldson books and Tinga Tinga Tales on CBeebies) and dislikes (the duvet cover being on his bed, doing anything under time pressure, his sister crying and getting dressed). We talk about family and who loves him and he recites his home address. We talk about how brave and confident he has been starting preschool and how clever he is that he knows all his shapes and can count so well. And he smiles and smiles and smiles.

And so do I.

Blog post 6Yes, toddler egocentrism can be downright frustrating at times, but I can’t help but love this side of it. Long may his self-belief and confidence last before self-consciousness and social conventions squash such natural, unrestrained self-adoration.

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