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Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Party Pressure

It was the perfect venue.  Huge floor to ceiling windows ran along both sides of the room, the late afternoon sunlight refracting from the huge crystal chandeliers hanging from the ceiling.  At one end of the room, a small discreet corner bar; ornately carved in dark wood to match the polished wooden floor.  Pre-prepared pimms; summer in a glass, it’s sweetness tempered with slices of cucumber, lemon and mint, tempted party goers as if whispering; embrace me and you embrace the party spirit.  Small white plates displaying pyramids of pistachios and bright green olives, as yet untouched, lay neatly on  the front of the bar.  Along one length of the room, a long table, with chairs to seat thirty, decorated exquisitely - in a polka dot theme and laden with delightful pom pom party hats. Helium balloons waved cheerfully from the seat backs of each chair.  Bunting hung from the ceiling fluttering in the soft breeze from the open window. It was a picture perfect scene.

The tasteful banner read: 4 today.

This was my induction to children’s parties, London style.

Slick. Professional.

GULP

An entertainment duo (the creme de la creme of entertainment duos in these parts) were on hand (with bagfuls of haribo sweets) to occupy the children in the room whilst parents supped drinks from the bar, chatted and ate canapes.  It was all rather lovely, and very civilised.  Rather like something from someone’s pin interest board.  Damn you, pin interest, for making everything seem so...

Perfect.

Parties weren’t like this in my day.  We had them at home. The whole class sat around the kitchen table and the picnic table brought in from the garden. The birthday tea featured plentiful quantities of chocolate animals, chocolate fingers and iced gems. There were no worries about a 'theme' or it being overly tasteful. Just as there were no worries about children eating their quota of sandwiches or carrot sticks and hummus. The only concession to fruit was tinned pineapple (with cubes of cheese), skewered onto sticks. It was a party; sugar overload was expected. We gorged ourselves on sugar niceties until we felt sick, we played hide and seek, parcel the parcel, musical bumps, sleeping lions, and then everyone went home, with a piece of birthday cake wrapped in a napkin and a bag of sweets.  I don’t remember anyone’s parents staying, or my mum having to cater for parents.  I don’t remember any of the parties I went to having ‘entertainers’. How times have changed.

3 weeks to go until Pip’s party.

GULP

Pip didn’t have a birthday party last year.  He didn’t seem particularly bothered, and caught up in first trimester morning sickness and the ongoing saga of our house renovation project, we agreed with him that he would have a day out at Legoland and the next year, when he was four, he’d have a BIG party. He was happy with that.

One year on.  Time to stand and deliver on my promise.

I’m feeling rather stressed.

It’s a minefield this party business.  Where should I have the party? What sort of entertainer should I get?  Do I have to invite the whole class? (As far as I can tell, that seems to be the trend).  Has the venue got room for them and their parents? Do I need to offer the parents something to eat and drink? What about a theme? To goody bag or not goody bag?  High stake decision making indeed.

I confess, I hadn't spent a lot of time thinking about it.  But after the amaze balls party of the weekend, I have been shell shocked into a party planning frenzy.

GULP

In my defence, I had done something. I booked the venue ages ago. An unremarkable hall in a building owned by a local charitable trust. I decided that if I had to fork out for a hall, I’d rather that the money went to a local cause rather than to a commercial enterprise. But back then, I’d only really thought about the kids attending, not the fact I might have to provide a soiree for parents too. It’s functional, but it certainly doesn’t have the razzle dazzle factor of the last chandeliered place Pip partied.

On Sunday night, I woke in a sweat. I'd booked the entertainer on recommendation, but I’ve never actually witnessed one of his parties.  What if Captain Fantastic is less than fantastic? What if, heaven forbid, he gets stuck in traffic or is late or doesn’t turn up at all? What if I’m left with 30 children to entertain? Being a kids party entertainer is pretty high up on my list of worst jobs ever. It’s enough to make me want to lace my morning coffee with brandy just thinking about it.

Next on the stress list, to theme or not to theme? Pip has been going through a particularly fickle stage, so I decided it might be best to avoid a theme. One minute he wants a pirate party, the next it’s a superhero one, and then a day later, a knight themed party.  I took an executive decision; plates, cups and balloons in primary colours, easy to execute. 

Food. Ha! Easy. At 4 years old, they don’t care about the grub. A few sandwiches, some token crudities to appease healthy parents, some sugar laden delicacies (if only for me).  I felt relaxed about the food.  Until Husband (a shaped sandwich lover if ever there was one) announced he was going to make these: 



for 30 kids.

"We’re not having a Pirate party anymore". I wailed; despairing at the thought of sandwich induced stress as Husband fiddled about with ham sails and bread stick masts on the day of the party. 

"That was last week. There’s no theme anymore."

"Well, if there's no theme, we can have these sandwiches." Husband was wearing his determined face. 

I parked that battle for another day and moved on to the serious matter of the loot expected by four year old party guests. Goody bags.  What on earth should I put in the goody bags?  The last party had separate goody bags for boys and girls; another level of added complexity. A quick google on the internet and some (poor) mental arithmetic revealed that delivering party bags for 30 children adds quite significantly to one's party budget.

GULP

Yesterday

Pip: "Mummy, can I have an Octopod cake for my Octonauts party?

CUE * SERIOUS ADRENALIN RUSH*

OCTOPOD CAKE? (Couldn’t he have chosen something more regular in shape? A square perhaps?)

OCTONAUTS PARTY?

Me: (Breathing deeply): "So, you want an Octonauts party darling?" 

Pip: " Yes. Definitely. Octonauts party. Octonauts are my favourite."

Husband: "So we are having a theme... Shall I make Gup B sandwiches instead?"


What’s wrong with bog standard triangles? 


SOMEONE. HELP. ME.

I’m in party hell. And it isn’t even here yet. Who knew that throwing a party for a four year old could be so stressful?

All sage advice from those well practiced in delivering children’s parties greatly received.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Adored - EB 5 Months

At 5 months - Your personality is starting to show itself more and more, the essence of you, who you are inside, keeps revealing, like a present with many layers of wrapping, each one a delightful surprise. You have mastered the art of smiling.  Now you’re on to laughing, giggling. I’ve discovered that you are rather ticklish. You love to be sung to, (yes, even in my monotone voice). I’ve made up a song for you, ‘There was a boy called little...’  it makes your face light up every time I sing it.  You are a joy to me; I am enjoying this time with you so very much.

At 5 months - You have legs like a Michelin man, each with two or three tyres of gorgeous baby fat. You love to stand in the funrock in the kitchen, or bounce in the baby bouncer in the hallway. You can almost sit on your own, but not quite. You love being on your tummy and can’t wait to get moving. You’re perfecting all your pre-crawl techniques right now and it amazes me how strong you are for such a small person.

At 5 months - You’ve discovered the F word.  Food. You object noisily to anyone eating anything in front of you. If eating is a social occasion then you want to be part of it. You’ve tried a little baby rice, pear puree and some mashed banana now. Everything you’re offered you polish off with gusto and a satisfied grin. I’m really enjoying introducing you to food.

At 5 months - You love bath time. The complete opposite of your brother, who sat inside a wash tub in the bath for months, not you, you revel in a bath full of water; try to splash, crawl and stand in every bath, try to swim to the jacuzzi jets at the end to touch them and explore.  Always with a wide smile.  You were, and always will be, a water baby I think.

At 5 months - If I hug you it feels like you’re hugging me back. Clinging to my body as I carry you around the house, my own personal Koala.  Just about big enough now to settle on my hip without sliding off. Again, it reminds me of four years ago, I have become a one armed kitchen hand again.

At 5 months - You’re still going to bed each and every night like a good boy.  I breast feed you on the bed, then place you in the cot and turn out the light but not before kissing your face and your chin, watching a smile, turn to a grin, and sometimes even a squeal of delight, as it tickles as I kiss you goodnight.  I love these moments so, so much.

At 5 months, you are secure in Mummy’s love. Don’t think I haven’t seen you - scouting for girls.  Casting your smile far and wide, letting them see the twinkle in your eye. You want to reach further than me now.  5 months and you’re spreading those little wings already.

5 months - I’d forgotten just what an adorable stage it is.

Mostly.

At 5 months there are a couple of things that could be better.

At 5 months -  You cry every time I put you in the car seat.  This really does make journeys stressful, especially the pre-school drop off’s and pick up’s.  I wish you liked being in the car more. Babies are supposed to like travelling in the car. It’s a well known fact.  Perhaps when we put you in the front facing seat? I do hope so. 

At 5 months - You object profusely to going in the buggy. ( Yes, the brand new one I bought especially for you, that I was sure you’d like better than the old one.) What is it about wheels in motion that makes you fret so?  I simply can’t carry you everywhere. My biceps are buckling under the strain.  And you know, don’t you, the buggy is my shopping trolley too? I need it to carry all my shopping. Please learn to like your buggy soon.

At 5 months - You now refuse to take a bottle, even if it does contain mummy milk. All you want is breast. To which I say; you don’t have to have a bottle all the time, just on the odd occasion; if Mummy wants to go out for instance (it’s rare, but it’s nice for me to do once in a while).  Perhaps you could give me a break on this one? I’m a better mother when I get a bit of ‘me’ time.

None of these things are insurmountable. I know you’re only little, that sometimes things are scary, or you’re tired, or sometimes just cranky and want things your own way, but if you could see you way once in a while to helping me out...well, that would be nice.

Finally, let me tell you this.

At 5 months - Loving you feels so easy.   I don’t take the fact I have you for granted, I count myself very lucky. On days when I am dark eyed and weary I just need to see your smile and it reminds me why I battle with interrupted nights, machine loads of poo stained vests and sick possetted babygros. It makes it all worth it. Unconditional love. Forever. 


NB: EB is nearly 51/2 months at time of publishing - At 5 months it still takes me a while to get things done.


Linking up with #magicmoments over at The Oliver's Madhouse.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Two Kids and a Yurt

Prior to having children I had a rule about holidays; thou shalt not replicate.  I wanted to see and experience as much of the world as possible, I didn’t feel in my younger years that I should return to places already visited when the world held so many other unexplored destinations. If I did return to a place I’d already been to, I would seek to stay somewhere new, discover new things, try to make my experience different to the one before; try to make it count the second time.

How things change when you have kids; this year we have three holidays planned, and bar a couple of tweaks here and there, they are exact replicas of the holidays we took last year.  Unadventurous? Possibly. But the fact is, they’re tried and tested. With two small children, limiting the hassle factor, minimising stress and ensuring we have a relaxing time is high on my agenda. Knowing that the accommodation and location passes muster, that there are facilities and activities for the children to enjoy is a great starting point and limits adrenalin and unnecessary stress once we get there.

Last week we found ourselves holidaying in a yurt in the Canary Islands.  The exact same yurt that we stayed in last year.  As we arrived, it seemed strange, casting my mind back to the year previously. Back then we didn’t even know of EB’s existence; it was strange to think that as I had wistfully sipped sangria, unbeknown to me, he was there, but barely yet a thin blue line.  Only one year later, there we were, returning with him, as a family of four not three. It felt surreal.

Friends were surprised when I told them we planned to holiday with two young children in a yurt.  “Is there more than one bedroom?”  “No. We all just sleep in the same tent”.  “Oh, I couldn’t be doing with that, I like mine in a separate room” said one.  If your kids sleep through the night, or you’re accustomed to nightly privacy then this might be a concern.  But as we play musical beds all night in the UK, I figured that being in one ‘room’ (albeit one that slept 6) wouldn’t make much difference, in fact, might make life easier. (As it was, both boys slept pretty well...thanks to the effect of constant fresh air and the very comfortable beds.)

Pip absolutely loved staying on the Finca (small farm) the yurt was situated on.  I was unsure whether he would remember the previous year's trip, then aged 2 3/4, but he seemed to have no previous recollection of the place, exploring it excitedly, as if he were seeing it for the first time.  His enthusiasm for everything was adorable. I would have liked to have bottled it, kept it on a shelf, to release it’s vapours and drink them in, later in life.

He adored our outdoor courtyard kitchen, outdoor bath, the warm cosiness of the yurt and the way the mosquito nets draped themselves over the beds.  The children’s play area with trampoline, playhouse and swings kept him amused for hours in the early evening prior to teatime.  But the piece d’resistance;  Molly the donkey, the chickens and the ducks.  Simply feeding our food scraps to the animals each and every day, and entering the chicken shed to search for eggs for our breakfast, a small wicker basket in his hand, was, as far as he was concerned, the best thing ever.  It’s easy to forget sometimes, that it’s these simple things that young children love so much.  When I tucked him into bed each night, asking him what the best thing about his day had been, his answer was always the same, ‘feeding Molly and the chickens’. Not the submarine ride, or the visit to fire mountain, or building sand castles on the beach, or the indulgent ice cream’ - no, just an old lame donkey and some greedy, egg laying birds.

And for me, my favourite thing; having my Husband around for one whole week and being together as a family. The old adage, two pairs of hands are better than one is certainly true.  Parenting two children felt a lot more relaxed with two parents each and every day and, a little less lonely too. It was the first extended span of family time we’d had together since EB’s birth when Husband took paternity leave, and five months in, I really appreciated it. Holidaying with two young children isn’t easy but nonetheless I came home feeling properly rested - despite only finding the time to read a mere thirty pages of my book.

As for the Canaries, parts of the island we stayed on (Lanzarote) were commercialised, but there were some lovely secluded pockets too, including the fishing village we were situated in.  The weather was unseasonably poor the week we were there and the wind did a good job of slapping my hair to my forehead on a few occasions, but it didn’t matter, I had no desire to get my post baby body in to a bikini - and Pip was happy on the beach whatever the weather.  


Next stop, Greece, - altogether again in a ‘family room’, on another holiday with a tried and tested blueprint. I am hoping for more sunshine on our next trip and by then, I will want to pour myself into a bikini. It’s time to fore sake the cake (or at least limit the consumption slightly) whilst pavement pounding the flab away. I’ve got a month to do it. Watch this space.

Details of our accomodation can be found at www.lanzaroteretreats.com/eco.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

The Long Wait For Spring

Snowbells. A sign of a beginning or an end?  I’m never quite sure. Are those delicate ballerina flowers winter’s final flourish, or, spring's first forays? The first sight of them always give me hope.

Spring. Nature’s way of having a party. Daffodils herald it’s arrival with the fanfare of their yellow trumpets. Tooting triumphantly, promising that sunshine is on it’s way.

Except this year, it wasn’t.

Arctic winds blew. Snow fell in April.  Heating stayed cranked up warm. Chimneys continued to smoke.  Delicate skin became cracked and chapped from the extremes of cold and heat. Oilatum was needed for the boy’s bath and calendula ‘weather protection cream’ for around his mouth before going out.

Pip, in keeping with a season that prides itself on growth, did what he was supposed to do. Grow. A lot. I found myself looking at a boy in half mast trousers and unintentional three quarter length sleeves; a wardrobe that needed replenishing, with the next size up. Except the high street had been foiled too, so all that was available was short sleeved T-shirts, thin cotton trousers and shorts, supplemented with the odd item found in a ‘winter sale’ basket here or there.



It was too cold to play outside for long. The Easter holidays were marked this year with empty London parks and hurriedly arranged, last minute play dates;  as mothers saved each other’s sanity.   We practised our drawing and phonics, we baked, danced to music in the kitchen, made Dens around the sofa, bought a playmobil circus from the charity shop and acted out elaborate shows. We continued to eat porridge for breakfast, and casserole for tea, because somehow eating salad and lighter foods just seemed wrong.  We grew flowers inside instead. And  looked for hints that a new beginning was in sight. 

A white feather in the muddy wood; a sign of baby chicks, starting to take flight.  A wobbly lamb in the fields. Primroses.  

Eventually they came - gentle signs of hope.



We watched the huge magnolia tree,  in the garden around the corner, start to brim at it’s edges, promising huge buds. Waited patiently for her to bloom; a sure sign that spring would then be here.  And then she did; a resplendent display of white and pale pink, her delicate petals like fine tissue paper, fluttering gently in the warm breeze. 

Sunshine started to break through the clouds warming tired, grey skin and sending spirits soaring. Breastfeeding at dawn was suddenly accompanied by a cacophony of bird song. The school run could be completed in a cardigan and absent of heavy winter coat, I found I walked with a lightness of step and a lifted heart. 


This weekend I celebrated the confetti like petals of the cherry blossom falling in the park. Allowed myself to buy the strawberry ice cream they so reminded me of from the gelateria on the corner, and savour it on a warm bank holiday.

After the long winter months, I felt warm, alive, inspired and truly awake.



Finally, the party has started.  Spring is here.


If you enjoyed reading this post make a note to watch out for the fabulous One Week linky at Older Mum in a Muddle running from 3-8 June. The theme will be spring. 

one week