A Trip to Legoland

We all have aspirations for our children. To be healthy, happy and fulfilled are the usual suspects that head the list. But we can all admit to having a few other secret wishes for our offspring, even if we can acknowledge their lesser importance. Like hoping that they, too, will love the little plastic bricks that click together to create whatever your imagination can dream!

Fortunately for these Lego-loving parents (we own a very impressive collection of Lego from both of our own childhoods, but a not insignificant amount acquired once adulthood was reached too – I bought Ian a Lego Death Star for his thirtieth birthday some five years ago, and it now takes pride of place on a high shelf in the (Thomas’s) playroom) Thomas is following in our footsteps. It began as surely every Lego collection does with a massive pile of Duplo and has now progressed through to Lego Juniors models. Whilst he can’t quite follow the instructions to build a specific model without help, his ability to locate and fit together pieces is growing day by day. And a whole year later Thomas still talks about, amongst other things, the Lego Discovery Centre in Berlin.

With our first family trip to Florida planned for the early part of next year, we wanted to do some gentle introduction to the idea of theme parks before the Magic Kingdom blows his mind. So given the passion for Lego, and the fact that Legoland is designed for and aimed at children from two to twelve years of age, it seemed like an obvious choice for our first proper family theme park visit. And last week presented the day of choice, with my (also Lego-mad) brother on a flying visit from the West Coast of the US. So we set off around the M25 for a day of fun.

And it didn’t disappoint.

Thomas was captivated from the moment we entered. The Hill Train helped with that, of course as the train obsession remains as strong as ever. “There is Lego everywhere” Thomas declared with glee. Within moments he’d spotted The Aero Nomad balloon carousel, and any concerns about a fit of timidity in the face of rides were immediately quashed. We subsequently ducked inside to avoid a short rain shower and discovered the Scarab Bouncers, which elicited a continuous fit of giggles from start to stop, and even the darkness of the Laser Raiders ride was no match for our little man. (Sadly my brother was a match for me, roundly beating me in the shoot out competition. I may have stuck my bottom lip out in a recreation of our childhood.) The Train ride around the park was another must for Thomas too.

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We headed inside for lunch as the sky took on an ominous blackish hue. We managed to secure window seats overlooking the pirate show and catch some of the stunts whilst avoiding an absolutely torrential – and I mean skin soaking – downpour. We may have lingered over lunch a little longer than was strictly necessary….

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The afternoon brought plenty more adventures from a Submarine ride to rediscover Atlantis, driving a Duplo train and flying a Duplo Helicopter. “It went up and up and up “ shouted Thomas afterwards, jumping up and down. “And then it went round and round and round” he added, spinning on the spot for effect!

Thomas also wanted to have a go at driving a car in the Mini Driving School, which is a smaller version of the bigger attraction, and aimed specifically at 3-5 year olds. And it was whilst standing in the queue here that we had a moment-in-a-million real life blogger spot! As it began to drip with rain again, I asked my brother to pass over Thomas’s rain coat. As I edged slightly back down to queue to grab it I recognised first the child a couple of people behind us, and then her mummy as Carie from Space for the Butterflies. It was one of those moments where I’m glad that I had no time to think, or to be shy or nervous and simply said that I’d just recognised her! I can be very shy about meeting people “in real life”, but I’m so glad that there wasn’t time for nerves to get the better of me! It was so lovely to put a real person to the blogger and have a quick chat as we waited and watched.

Thomas and Kitty were in the same driving group (fortunately no accidents, because if my son had run her daughter off the road, that may have been embarrassing). As with everything, Thomas was overwhelmingly enthusiastic. When the staff told his group that it was their turn, he literally jumped up and down saying “Hooray, it’s finally our turn!”

And watching him drive that car was one of those moments that makes you smile and feel a bit tearful all at once. Because he tried so hard. And to begin with he had a couple of crashes in the curb and has to be put back on track. But then, all of a sudden, something clicked and he got the hand go steering to go exactly where he wanted to go. Of course, it was all over far too quickly, but once again he hasn’t stopped talking about it. (He thinks he’s a better driver than me now. Ahem.)

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As the afternoon wore on, we headed over to the Knight’s Kingdom area for Thomas’s first real roller coaster experience. Bold as he may be, Thomas can sometimes be reluctant to try new things, but fortunately this wasn’t one that phased him. In fact, he loved it so much that he wanted to go straight back on! (We sent Grandpa on for this one!)

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We finished up the day in the Miniland section of the park. This was absolute heaven for Thomas who spent over an hour following the trains around and working out where they all ran. I definitely forsee a Lego train set in our future. In fact, when we went in to the shop at the very end of the day, he gravitated straight towards one said with a pleading look in his eye. Not just yet, kiddo. Maybe when you’re a bit older!

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There is so much that we didn’t get to do. The park is absolutely vast, and the opening hours of 10-5 relatively short (although to be fair, Thomas was flagging by the time we left at past 5 o’clock anyway). You could easily spend the day just looking at Miniland and the other Lego exhibits and building in the Imagination Centre without even looking at any rides. We missed out the Splash Safari and Drench Towers entirely as well as a couple of other whole areas of the park. No matter, of course. It’s just all the more reason to go back!

If you are wondering about a trip to Legoland with your own preschooler, I can highly recommend it. The park is truly designed for children of this age. The height restriction for the majority of rides that have one is just 90cm (even my very short three year old is well over this) and many have no restrictions at all, so long as you accompany your child. The rides are all designed with young children in mind. There is nothing too thrilling or scary (with the possible exception of the new Riding Adventure, which also has the tallest height restriction at 1.2m) The only drawback if you have only one child is that all going on the rides together can feel bit awkward, as one of you obviously has to sit on your own, but I probably think about things like this more than average, because I’m vary aware of that empty seat and how very much I’d like it to be occupied!

And of course there is plenty that isn’t a traditional “ride”. There is lots of Lego to build with and a couple of large play areas. You can pan for gold. You ride the submarine which takes you through an aquarium filled with real fish to spot, or wander the park finding Lego animals.

It is big, though. We no longer own a buggy, so Thomas was walking the whole day. He did get tired, and so did catch a couple of lifts of shoulders, and the lack of buggy meant we didn’t have anywhere to put bags, so was instrumental in our decision to buy lunch rather than take it with us. I would recommend taking a pushchair if you have one, even if you don’t usually use it much. And there is plenty of space for picnicking if you choose to do so.

I will leave the final words of the day to Thomas. This was his face when we told him we had to go home.

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And when we asked what his favourite bit of the day had been, he responded emphatically “All of it!”

A Walk in Knole Park

I’ve written before about how much I love our National Trust membership, but now that I’m able to drive again, I’m loving it even more. With driving comes the freedom to nip to any one of the glorious spaces close to our home here in Kent. I no longer have to wait for the weekend, or someone else to give me lift to some of the more inaccessible sites. If the mood takes us, we can simply hop in the car and go.

So last week, we did just that. I needed to be in Sevenoaks in the afternoon anyway and it was a beautifully bright, if cold, day. So we decided to pop in Knole park for run around in the mud and a chance to spot some deer. (And, if I’m honest, to get Thomas to burn off some energy after some nightmare behaviour the previous day from too much pent up steam!) Thomas has been to Knole countless times since he was born, just as I went countless times as a child before him. It’s an amazing open space and something about the air and the light means I never fail to catch at least one photo that I love.

Thomas had a fantastic couple of hours racing up hills and through puddles, peering through cracks in the wall and the keyhole in a gate he spied. Armed with paper and crayon, I attempted to teach the idea of bark and leaf rubbing, with some fun results. We ate our lunch outdoors (as the tearoom and restaurant here is currently undergoing drastic rebuilding and refurbishment). Thomas climbed inside an old tree stump, and balanced his way along logs, tightrope style. When it was time to leave he begged to stay “just a bit longer” racing away from amongst the trees and inviting me to chase him. We took away a considerable amount of mud, both on our boots and on our car but Thomas was suitably worn out and promptly fell asleep during my afternoon errands!

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Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and the Arcelor Mittal Orbit

On the afternoon of the day we visited the Discover Story Centre, Thomas and I meandered our way over to the Olympic Park for our very first visit since we were there for the games themselves. Thomas was less than a year old at the time, so he surprised me last week by musing out loud “We’ve been here before”. I can only conclude he’s seen the pictures or something – any other alternative is a bit freaky!

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The best part of visiting the Olympic Park this time for Thomas was almost certainly the journey across Stratford, which offers the opportunity to see almost every type of train – and bus – that he could wish for. He was delighted by our journey to Stratford on board the HS1 Javelin Train from Ebbsfleet, and equally as delighted by “driving” the DLR to Stratford High Street and back. To be honest, if that had been our entire day out, I think he’d have been completely happy.

As it was, however, it was a beautiful day, so we did go for a walk through the park. The site is so vast that we traversed only one corner, and did not make it to much of what is on offer, including the large outdoor playground. We did have a lot of fun exploring the Year of the Bus Trail, with all 60 painted Routemaster models on display at the park prior to being auctioned off for charity. The exhibition has already been extended but is now due to finish next week. Thomas picked out some definite favourites, including one painted with a steam train, and another dressed as a Coldstream Guard in a bearskin hat!

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Thomas was also absolutely overjoyed to spy a good old fashioned helter skelter. He first rode one at Carter’s Steam Fair last June, and still talks about it now, so when he saw this one in all it’s glory in the sunshine, I knew I was unlikely to get away without a ride! And as helter skelters go, it was a good one, even if carrying Thomas up to the top, along with my bags, did nearly kill me! he’s getting pretty heavy these days!

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The main reason for our trip to the park, however, was a ride up the Arcelor Mittal Orbit – a first for both of us. The Orbit is Britain’s largest sculpture and on a clear day offers views over London reaching twenty miles in each direction. It may not be as high as the Shard, but it still offers a unique perspective – and is considerably cheaper to boot. There are good discounts for booking online in advance (which is what we did) and you can then exchange your tickets free of charge for one which is valid for a full year. I’ve no doubt that we’ll go back with Ian as a consequence. (This fact also meant that we came down in the lift rather than walking, as we’d already had a long day and I could imagine I’d end up having to carry Thomas most of the way down on my own. It’s good to know we can go back and do the walk without paying again.)

Whilst we were there, the “Bricks in the sky” exhibition was still on, showcasing miniature Lego models of the Olympic venues and other London icons. In addition there were plenty of Lego bricks available for free building, which captivated our budding Lego enthusiast almost as much as the skyline views.

 

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It was a very full and exciting day, despite barely scratching the surface of what the area has to offer. Thomas still had enough energy for a good run around the park on our way home, and I’ve no doubt at all that we will be back, as it’s firmly on our list of good places to go in London.

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The Discover Children’s Story Centre, Stratford

Half-term is a funny old time for us at this stage in Thomas’s life. He attends pre-school at a private nursery which provides year-round care. It closes for Bank Holidays and a week at Christmas only. This means that half-term doesn’t really affect us yet. I still go to work, Thomas still goes to pre-school and it’s all hunky dory. Except… anywhere that we might choose to go for a day on the days I’m not at work is FULL of older kids on their half-term holidays. I almost feel guilty for taking Thomas out to places because we have all the other weeks of the year to do these things, and everywhere is quite crowded enough without adding us to the mix. But, Thomas’s usual weekly classes are not in session, which, particularly on a Tuesday, gives us a lot more scope for a whole day activity. And with the good weather this week, I didn’t want to pass that up.

I thought carefully about what we might do that wouldn’t involve too many crowds. And settled on a trip to the Discover Children’s Story Centre in Stratford (combined with a trip to the Olympic Park, but that’s a story for another post). It’s a place that’s been on my list to check out for quite a while, and it seemed like a good place as much of its content is aimed at younger children anyway, so I thought it was unlikely to suffer from an influx of older children and teenagers. Plus, during “term-time” I know that it’s popular with nursery and school groups, and choosing the holiday avoids these large groups. As it turned out, it was busy but not unbearably so. The good weather helped, because the outdoor garden was being well utilised.

The Discover Centre bills itself as the UK’s first hand’s on creative literary centre. From their website:

“Discover’s overarching mission is to spark children and adults’ imagination, curiosity and creativity in a magical and stimulating environment.”

And I think they certainly achieve that. The space is laid out in various sections. The main floor is a bit like a themed play area, but with numerous imaginative triggers. There is a large central area where stepping on the lights triggers musical sounds that correlate to the image of an instrument projected on the wall. In one corner there is a craft activity station.  In another an area with tents and a slide with a cubby hole underneath. Elsewhere is a trip trap bridge, a lion tunnel and mountain, and a climbing wall. There are dressing up costumes and a miniature theatre to perform your own tales. Thomas’s favourite place of all was the “Lollipopter” – a flying machine that might have been a spaceship, but might have been a boat. Thomas spent a good deal of time here, spinning the wheel and changing the speed settings. I asked him what he was doing.

“Going to find treasure Mummy!”

“Where are you going to find it?” I probed

“On a pirate treasure island. You can bring the map. It’s in the sea. We’re sailing in the sea. Oh look. We’ve arrived”

“How are we going to find the treasure?”

“On the map, silly. Look. ” [Hands me an imaginary map] “X marks the spot! We need to dig the treasure. We need shovels.”

And so it went on. With him describing what needed to do, and how we were going to do it. I prompted him every so often to ask him where, how and why, or to describe something to me, such as the chest the treasure would be hidden in. What would it look like, and feel like. We began to talk about different words to say the things he wanted to express. It was lovely to just sit listening to all these things pouring out of him and exciting him.

Can you see what was happening here? Just being in this different environment inspired me to encourage Thomas’s imagination and storytelling. It’s certainly given me pause for thought in how I deal with games he plays at home in order to nuture this raw and budding creativity. And that, I suppose, is the very point of the Discover Centre.

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They also hold various sessions, for different age groups. There is currently an Oliver Jeffers exhibition on in the basement section and there are daily story readings. We attended a reading of Roald Dahl’s The Enormous Crocodile. We bought a copy of this for Thomas for Christmas – his very first introduction to Roald Dahl. He has loved the book at home, and really seemed to enjoy hearing it in a different environment where the children where encouraged to contribute thoughts, actions and sounds. He asked to read it again before bed last night, and provided sound effect throughout for the snapping of teeth and evil laugh of the eponymous croc.

The Discover Centre also has a story garden with various themed play station, including a dragon slide, a pirate boat, space ship and taxi cab as well as various outdoor musical instruments. We were so lucky with the weather yesterday, given that we’re still mid February, and enjoying a packed lunch sitting in the garden I got so hot that I had to take my coat off. (Thomas kept his on. “No Mummy. It’s winter silly. You need to wear your coat!”)

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If you have young children, particularly if they love story telling or imaginative play (or perhaps especially if they don’t, but you want to encourage it) I’d highly recommend at least a few hours spent here. It was not only part of a fantastic day out, but it will definitely influence how I assist Thomas at home in developing his ideas, story telling and vocabulary. For a few hours that’s what we focused on, and it made me realise how simple it can be.

For a full programme of event, check out the website. We paid for our own tickets to the Discover Centre and all thoughts, opinions (and bad iPhone photos) are our own. 

Feeding Ducks

New year’s Eve was a cold, grey and damp day with a mist that lingered well past lunchtime. It would have been an entirely miserable day had it not been for the promise of the new year just around the corner, and we must not forget that spring comes some time after that. The festive season had given us all a bit of cabin fever, despite the fact that I’d already been back to work and my boys had spent that particular day mostly at the park. But cabin fever we felt, so we set off for a walk.

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Or, in Thomas’s case, a bike ride. We headed, at his direction, for the local lake, nestled in woodland that begins just a few minutes from our front door.

Thomas wanted to feed the ducks.

Feeding the ducks has been a slow burner for Thomas. At first he hated it. He didn’t like these inquisitive, demanding and noisy birds. And he certainly didn’t want to share bread with them. Why do that when he could eat it himself?

But gradually, he warmed to the idea. We kept taking walks, making slow circuits of the lake without specifically stopping to feed the ducks. Gradually he liked to watch them, and imitate their quacking. Then he began watching others feeding them with curiosity. And finally, he wanted to do it himself. And now, it’s a favourite pastime. He asks to feed the ducks early some mornings. If we try to reign i his enthusiasm at such an early hour by telling him the ducks will still be asleep, he then pesters us every few minutes, enquiring “Are the ducks awake yet?”

The one thing he has never been keen on, however, is ducks and geese – especially the geese – who come too close. Early on in his duck feeding career, he’d run away, squealing in genuine fright. Boldness came with practice, but he’d still cling to my leg and say “go away ducky”. Gradually he’d allow me to feed them straight out of my hand, and when they chased after him his squeals transformed to ones of delight. It was a fun game.

New Year’s Eve, however, was a different story. Perhaps father Christmas had slipped some extra confidence in the toe of Thomas’s stocking this year. Or perhaps we’ve just allowed his confidence to build slowly and organically enough that it was inevitable that this moment would come.

He held out his hand, hesitantly at first, with a piece of bread for the closest bird. He was half turned away, and half hidden by my leg, protecting himself in case he needed to run. Yet he erupted in to infectious giggles when the bird gobbled the bread straight from his hand.

Moment later he offered another. And then another.

He was having the time of his life.

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Feeding the ducks is such a simple, ordinary and timeless pastime. Yet it still provides these milestones. These firsts. these reflections of how our little boy is changing and growing imperceptibly, but nevertheless undeniably, right in front of our very eyes.

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My Sunday Photo – 4th January 2015

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I’ve read a lot of posts this week about the blogging goals or resolutions that people have set themselves for 2015. I haven’t written such a post (yet, we’ll have to see what happens there). But I have been found on Twitter lately discussing some of my feelings around blogging – and my blog in particular – and the way I feel like I struggle to fit in and find my place in this enormous community. And without community, blogging is not really much more than diary writing, that I could do by myself, at home, using some of the many pretty paper journals and scrapbooks that I have stashed away. The very fact that I publish this for people to see should be a clue that I would like at least a few people to see it. So my only really goal right now is to better attempt to engage myself in the community. To stop using a lack if time as an excuse. To stop getting bogged down about where my place is between the parents and the infertility community. To just be.

And here is where I’m starting. With a Sunday photograph.

Taken on  New Year’s Eve walk around our local lake, with a stop to feed the ducks. As it so often the case when wrangling both a camera and a small child, especially when mud, water and wild animals are involved, it’s not exactly the shot that I wish I could have captured. But there is something mysterious about the lingering mist on the distant trees. Something strong, promising and hopeful stored in the beat of that gull’s wings.

It’s a good place to start.

OneDad3Girls
(And thank you to all who recommended I join up with this Linky)

2014: A Year In Blog Posts

It’s that time of year already: The closing moments of twelve calendar months that make up the year and the time when we inevitably look back and reflect, before looking forward to the new year. I’m not naive enough to believe that the turn of the calendar page, the ticking over of the clock, really makes some monumental shift to our existence. Things won’t cease to feel the way they feel now at tomorrow’s midnight chime. But years are one of the many ways we mark time, and they do offer a theoretical blank slate and fresh start. It’s natural to segment our lives by these arbitrary date divisions.

One of the ways I’ve used to reflect upon 2014 is a look back through some of my blog archives. Flipping through post titles and opening paragraphs reminded me of a review meme I’ve taken part in before. And so, prompted by its appearance  yesterday on the same blog where I very first saw it – Six Until Me – I decided to repeat the exercise.

It would appear, from these opening lines of favourite and defining posts from each month of the year, that 2014 did indeed become “The year of IVF”. Or perhaps more fittingly “The year of infertility hell”. There has been much, much more to the year as well, but I’ll let this review stand not only because I’m proud of some of this writing, but because in years to come I know that it is exactly what I will remember this year for the most.

That, and the better aspects of the year deserve their own review!

January: If I’d ever imagined a caricature of conception, then the egg would have been cool and mysterious, aloof even.

February: I’m writing this with a photograph of you in my hand.

March: Wow, what a difference a week makes. And, because this one is also important to me: Wanting another child who is biologically mine – and my husband’s – does not make me a bad person, in exactly the same way that wanting a second child at all does not make me a bad person.

April: “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

May: At a quarter past six this morning, with pale sunlight working its way around the edges of the blinds and Thomas chattering happily to his trains in his room, my heart broke just a little bit more.

June: I’m struggling a bit with writing here at the moment.

July: If at first you don’t succeed… …should you try again?

August: This week has been a tough week on the infertility front.

September: This month marks two years of trying for our second child.

October: It’s odd how a make or break moment of my life has come down to a plastic stick and three minutes. 

November: I didn’t know how I’d got where I found myself.

December: A couple of weeks ago we returned to our fertility clinic for a “follow-up” appointment after our last failed cycle.

Who knows where 2015 will take us…

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