The Preschool Express

This post is destined to be a few poorly composed and poorly focused phone-camera snaps that might, on first glance, leave people wondering why on earth I’ve bothered to share them. But to me, they represent something big. They represent a moment of our week that has been an absolute staple, week-in, week-out, but which now, sadly, will be no more. And while it may seem unfathomable now that I could forget, I know that human memories are deeply fallible. So whilst the pictures may not be Pintrest-worthy, or or any way aesthetically pleasing, they and their accompanying story are important to us because they detail something that I don’t want to risk not remembering.

For the last three-and-a-bit years I’ve been walking to work with a little detour, to drop Thomas at his nursery. To begin with, Thomas sat in his pushchair, kicking his legs with glee at all that he could see. Later he’d hop in and out of the pushchair depending on how tired he was (or how much of a hurry I was in). There would be ritual demands to stop as we passed the station, in order to watch the trains. We’d have to wait at the Pelican crossing until Thomas could be the one to push the button, and then he’d jump up and down with excitement at the appearance of the green man. Then, for the last nine months or so, since we’ve ditched our pushchair, Thomas has walked raced at top speed there and back. And predictably we’ve been organised in to a train formation for the journey.

There have been stops off at convenient lamp-posts in order to “fill up” with (imaginary) coal or water. We’ve had to stop at the steam works numerous times to “fix” Thomas. And woe betide us if we aren’t in the right order (Daddy is the tender, Mummy is the coach. Until we lose Daddy at the station, then we become a Southeastern electric train!) And if we aren’t following the “tracks” on the path (the lines where the path has been previously dug up for cabling to everyone else, but definitely “tracks” to Thomas) we’ll be told in no uncertain terms that “trains can’t go on the road”.

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The evening walk home was the opposite in reverse. Once I regained my driving licence last year, Thomas took to asking with trepidation when I picked him up if I had the car, and insisting that he wanted to talk, come rain or shine. He gathered a collection of admirers at the pub around the corner from nursery. The same group of people who would often be outside smoking and would cheer as they saw him race around the corner, pumping his “pistons” and tooting his “whistle” with me in hot pursuit, struggling with multiple bags and his latest artwork offerings flapping in my hand.

As of next week, it’s all change.

There will be no more preschool express train.

Thomas’s new preschool is located just under a mile away at the wrong end of town for my work. In order to get him there in time and myself in to work by 8.15, I’ll have no choice but to drive him there (and yes, I know this is neither environmentally friendly, nor particularly healthy for my son, but needs must.)

I will miss these moments in our day, now matter how foolish I may look as the back end of a train, all whilst trying to instill road safety advice and consideration for other pedestrians. I’ll miss the times where I can barely keep up equally as much as the times that I have to keep encouraging a dawdling child to continue moving in the right direction. I’ll miss him popping out of the bus shelter shouting “boo” when I’m lagging behind.

But next year, once Thomas starts full time school, I’ll have the time to walk him there twice a week. Maybe, just maybe, he won’t yet have lost his passion for “being a train”and we’ll once again be able to reinstate this very ordinary moment in our lives.

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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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It’s Autumn!

I’ve always loved autumn. I’m not a fan of grey drizzle, but a bright, clear and crisp autumn day? I’d probably take that over searing heat anytime. I love the fact that the changing weather is a cast iron reason to hole up at home a bit more, with a hot drink and a blanket, and the fire going. And I love the changing colour of the leaves and crunching through piles of fallen red, gold and brown. I always have, and the kid in me always will.

I think I’ve been waiting for the autumn where I could properly share this pastime with my child ever since I knew we’d be having a baby. Last year Thomas was a reluctant participant. He still hadn’t fully got over his hatred of wellies and the look on his face clearly told me that he thought the idea of running through piles of crisp, dry leaves was a bit daft.

But this year, he’s watched with fascination as the trees have changed colour and begun to loose their leaves. He’s asked incessant questions about the seasons and really noticed what is going on around him. He’s really got on board with some autumn craft, spending an hour long walk collecting the best leaves he could find and then sticking them to sticky-backed plastic to hang on his window.

And, perhaps most importantly of all, he’s found the pure joy that is tossing fallen leaves in the air and watching them spiral down around him. And the fun that can be had by running through rustling heaps of dried leaves, kicking them up as you go.

Every time we venture outside, he can be heard declaring “It’s autumn!”

I don’t usually “do” video. By which I don’t mean I don’t record it – I have hundreds of clips of Thomas doing various things. But they all contain someone (usually me) saying something silly across the ending, or large amounts of waiting for the real action to occur. It’s just that I’ve never really understood how to edit videos, and turn them in to something other people might want to watch. But this weekend I finally took a look at the iMovie app on my phone. In the space of 20 minutes, whilst simultaneously doing other things, I’d cobbled together something vaguely resembling a presentable video. I know I’ve got a long way to go, but I couldn’t resist sharing it anyway.

So here we are… It’s autumn!

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What Do You Do All Week?

Sometimes, when I make it to the end of the week and look around me to see the devastation of un-done housework in my home, the incomplete piles of laundry and the empty kitchen cupboards, even I wonder just what exactly it is that I do with my time? Pre-Thomas I worked five and a half day weeks, kept up a successful sideline in freelance writing, found time to keep my house nice and chores done and still had time for hobbies and other enjoyment. It’s certainly seems true that children, or even just a single child, change everything and can take up an awful lot of time.

For the sake of recording real life, the way it really happens, though, I wanted to take some time to actually examine what I do do with my time in a fairly typical week. Because sometimes I allow myself to get overwhelmed and feel like I’m failing at everything, succeeding at nothing at all. It can easily feel like I haven’t actually done anything, just because one or two things I’d intended to accomplish remain incomplete. I let the guilt cloud in and imagine that I’ve let Thomas do nothing but watch Toy Story for hours on end, even when sense tells me that it plainly isn’t true!

So here is a sample of what I got up to last week. Although it includes a couple of atypical occurrences, there is usually something else unusual that crops up in other weeks. I suppose you could say they are ordinary extraordinary moments.

On Saturday we were up bright and early (read 5am) as usual. I should really have so many more hours to do things, since we get up these days at a time we most definitely would still have been languishing in bed before we had Thomas. But those early morning hours aren’t always my most productive, and Thomas is usually at his most demanding in terms of creative play. Last Saturday I had some “me time” meeting a friend for lunch in London. We all went up on the train together and my boys headed off for some fun riding various forms of London transport – this is Thomas’s idea of a heavenly day out. They had to rush back in the afternoon to meet the builders who were due to start work on propping up the back of our house on Monday, to get the scaffold tower up. I enjoyed an afternoon by the river, eating burgers and drinking wine, plus catching up on all the gossip. I was still home in time for bath time and story time though, and spent the evening doing work-rleated stuff.

On Sunday we fitted in a supermarket trip, then went to visit friends and their week old baby girl. Thomas had a lot of fun with their older daughter, who is his age, and more of our friends turned up with their daughter too. We drank tea, and had plenty of baby snuggles, which was way better than staying at home doing housework. I managed to squeeze in a run in the evening.

On Monday our building work started. Fortunately, given the amount of dust created, I was at work all day. My lunch break was taken up picking up prescriptions, a trip to the bank and other errands that had risen to the top of the “must-do” list. The evening was spent clearing up much of the dust created during the day!

On Tuesday I’m not at work. Thomas was due to move up in the 3+ class of his regular music class. This was a pretty big step, since in the 3+ class the children go in on their own rather than with a parent. Moving up was the suggestion of the teacher, who has known him since he was 3 months old, but since he was going to be the youngest in the class, I still felt a bit nervous. As it turned out, he couldn’t have been more eager or excited and I was told afterwards that he was totally focussed on the session the entire time and really enjoyed it. He came running out shouting “Mummy Mummy” with the biggest grin on his face to back that up too. It was a bittersweet moment – another reminder of just how much he is growing up. The walk home was pretty slow as he stopped to look at every leaf, twig and stone that caught his eye and we’d only just got through the door when our lift arrived to drop us to a play date with NCT friends. I finished up the day with another run. I’d say it was a pretty good day for Thomas, and me too.

On Wednesdays I’m usually at home with Thomas, but this week I spent the morning taking nearly ninety impressions of teeth for sports mouth guards at a local girl’s school. It was a pretty intense morning where we worked literally non-stop, and had quite a bit of pre-teen girl hysteria to deal with (they tend to set each other off!). I found out the following day thought that the lab were very impressed with my imps and not a single reject, so I guess it was a good day at the office! Ian had taken the day off to spend with Thomas, so in the afternoon we had a family trip to the park and a quick Starbucks date. I then had an appointment with the stirrups at the fertility clinic to have my endometrium scratched. So that was as fun as it sounds. (For which read, not at all.)

Thursday is a work day, but got off to a stressful start. Thomas wasn’t well. I think this is often the most difficult part of being a working parent – the juggling act that comes when they are unwell. A whole day off work is not only incredibly expensive for me (I’m self-employed) but also stressful because it means rearranging so many appointments and we are currently so busy that we have literally no where to rebook them. I hate letting people down, and I hate the fact that staff at work also suffer the fall out. Fortunately I managed to get a doctor’s appointment fairly early. He has an ear infection (again) and by that time Calpol had perked him up, so I was able to drop him at nursery and head in to work. (Cue, more guilt!) I knew there was a risk I’d have to leave again to pick him up, but even seeing some patients was better than nothing. Fortunately we made it through the day unscathed! I spent my lunch break attempting to shave some money off my extortionate IVF drugs bill by shopping around. Thursday evening I was on my own as Ian was out. I fall asleep on the sofa really early feeling grotty and it was only when I woke up I recalled having accidentally pulled out my insulin pump infusion set several hours earlier. Unsurprisingly my blood sugar is really high – the reason why I feel awful. Insulin and water on board, I have an early night.

Friday is another work day. Where I can walk to work on Monday’s and Thursdays, Friday is more of a rush as I have to get the train. I crammed in getting my fertility drugs ordered during my lunch break today. The best part of getting the train to work as far as Thomas is concerned is that I have train tickets, so we can visit the station on the way home to see the trains, even if the ticket barriers are closed. We watch the trains for a bit and meet Daddy from his train, as he makes a special effort to get an earlier one on a Friday. I squeeze in another run and then finish up a few projects I have on the go.

Back round to Saturday and I’m working this week, so that is my morning taken up. I get home around half one and we head out to get our filthy car washed. (Thomas loves going to the wash down! And judge all you like, but yes, we get our car washed at a hand car wash. Why would I spend my precious time getting wet and grubby when someone else is willing and able to do a better job of it for seven quid?) And then another quick supermarket trip to keep the cupboards topped up. The remainder of the day is devoted to the long-neglected housework so we end the day with a presentable home again. I end up dealing with a “Call Service Error” on my insulin pump, which involves a long phone call, but eventually is sorted.

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When I look back at it like that, I realise just how much I do manage to get done. The early starts and middle-of-the-night wake ups have a lot to answer for when it comes to my energy levels, so it’s unsurprising that some evenings it’s all I can do to get dinner made and the bare minimum of essential tasks done. Thomas is actually getting a lot of my time, and Ian’s time too. He actually gets to participate in a huge range of activities most weeks, even if we don’t have a big “day out” or trip planned – this week he had his music class, a play date, two park trips, riding his bike, painting, plus plenty of trains, cars and duplo. My work is stressful, and in many ways more-so for being part-time as I can no longer carry things over to the next day the way I once did, and I always have the stress of ensuring I’m away in time to pick Thomas up. I’m still managing to fit in exercise. And actually, I’m still managing to fit in a reasonable amount of relaxation time, including watching the odd television series or DVD.

I”ve wondered, in some of my more irrational moments, whether part of the reason we’ve not been able to have more children is because the universe thinks I’m making too much of a hash of raising the one one we have. I do sometimes wonder how on earth I’d cope with the the two or three I wanted if I feel like just one is sometimes tough. But obviously, I would. After all, you don’t know what you can do until you have to do it. When you have to do it, you tend to get it done! And I really think that I am managing to keep all my balls in the air right now, so I’m sure I’d squeeze in another if it was tossed to me!

So yeah, that’s what I do all week…. and I’m linking this up with the lovely Hannah over at Make, Do and Push

Bedtime Stories

I’m not, and never have been a heavily routine-led parent. The structure of our days can vary pretty widely, but the one exception is bedtime. We started implementing a “bedtime routine” when Thomas was just a few months old. That may have seen us bathing him at 10pm, since that was the time he naturally settled and we wanted him to learn to associate a bath with bedtime, but the basic structure hasn’t varied all that much, even if the timings have.

Reading books has been a part of the process since he was about six months old. Back then, he was still breast-fed to sleep, but we always made time to look at a book first. Looking at picture and textured books gradually gave way to reading a story. Then one story became two. Then the bedtime feed shifted to being before bath time, and suddenly it was a free-for-all with book after book being requested. “One more” was probably Thomas’s first two-word sentence! I invariably gave in, because I loved – and still do – the fact that Thomas enjoys books and stories so much. I find the request to read almost impossible to deny.

Up until we took the side off his cot, stories were read in the glider chair in Thomas’s room, with him snuggled on our lap. Ian and I take it in turns (although he has been through phases of requesting Daddy every night, and currently, if asked, it’s always “Mummy’s turn to read tonight”) and we’ve finally settled on the reading of three books. This is always stated firmly, with the three books picked out before we begin. Of course, it’s not quite that simple though, and we play a game where Thomas gets away with requesting “a short one” which is always taken from a small selection of short picture books. Sometimes Thomas insists on “reading” this book himself whilst giving us another that we must read to ourselves. Since he knows a surprising number of books off by heart, the casual observer would be forgiven for thinking that he truly was reading to himself!

Now that we’ve taken the side off the cot, story time takes place sitting on the bed. And yes, he really does sleep with all those trains in his bed. We’d hoped when the side came off the cot that he may start to line them up on the floor next to him, but when we tried, an epic meltdown ensued. He carefully audits his trains before sleep, and woe betide us if any are missing!

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Bedtime story time is such a short, simple part of each day, but it’s a part that never, ever varies no matter what else we’ve been up to. And I’m so happy that Thomas won’t accept going to bed without his stories. It’s one of those ordinary moments that I treasure, and will surely miss when he is old enough to read his books by himself, and no longer needs Mummy or Daddy to share them. I hope, of course, that he might want us to share this moment long beyond when he is capable of doing without us!

 

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I Scream… For Ice Cream

I’ve always loved ice cream. Maybe it’s the Italian in me, and the fact that I was brought up with a freezer that never contained fewer than half a dozen varieties of the frozen treat. Whatever it is, Thomas has inherited it too. He tasted ice cream for the first time on his very first holiday at the age of eight months, delighting even then in the strange cold sensation coupled with the sweet hit at the back of the throat, as evidenced by his grin and an open mouth for more.

These days it’s his favourite dessert. It’s the thing he requests, almost without fail, every day. And whilst I’m not averse to foods that others may regard as less than healthy options, even I can’t give in to him quite that often. When we’re out and the sun is shining, though, it’s a no brainer. Ice creams all round!

Until this year, Thomas either had ice cream in a tub, or shared a few licks of one of our cones. But for a vociferous, bossy little boy who simply loves ice cream, sharing is no longer going to cut it. Which is how we found ourselves buying his first ever “Mr Whippy 99” on a recent day trip.

It’s safe to say, he loved it!

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Mr Whippy

Mine's a 99

Of course, one of the downsides of ice cream, especially eaten straight from the cone by a two year old, is the mess. Remarkably though, he did very well at keeping up, despite the intense midday sun that was determined to reduce our treats to a sloppy puddle. He only needed helping out a couple of times to catch the drips – and somehow doing this really made me feel like a “proper parent”. I can remember my Dad doing exactly the same for me, working quickly around the base of my childhood cones to catch wayward trickles of ice cream with his tongue.

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It may have been his very first Mr Whippy, but I’m sure it’s just the first of many. Another very ordinary, but no less special, childhood moment.

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A Walk In the Woods

We’re lucky to live in the heart of the Kent countryside – the so-called Garden of England. We live directly opposite green open space, a short stroll from beautiful woodland and mere minutes from a large lake. Just slightly further afield, the opportunities are endless, and we try to take advantage of our glorious surroundings as much as possible.

One of our favourite areas of local woodland to visit isn’t actually within walking distance, but the short drive in the car is worthwhile. The woodland, and surrounding land, belongs to a local charity which supports adults with learning disabilities and complex care needs through both residential care and community support. They keep a small collection of animals, including chickens, rabbits, pigs and goats which their service users help to care for. They also run a coffee shop and small plant nursery, as well as maintaining a beautiful woodland walk. It’s completely free to visit their land, and animals, but we always make a donation as I believe the work they do is both excellent and so worthwhile. We all enjoy it every time we go.

We usually try to visit in May, in order to catch the bluebells. The wet and mild-ish weather seems to have accelerated the season this year, and I was a bit concerned we’d have missed them by the time we made it last weekend. Certainly the bluebells in our front and back gardens seem to be past their maximum glory. I needn’t have worried though, for though they may have begum fading a little, the woods were as lovely as always. And Thomas had a fantastic time!

IMG_2806Checking out the chickens and ducks. “What they doing Mummy?”

IMG_2811A boy and his stick! “A good stick. A big good stick.”

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IMG_2809Setting off for the woodland walk. “Come on, Mummy!”

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IMG_2819That stick again!

I captured this series of pictures of Thomas with his Daddy as they were debating the merits of all the various sticks on the ground around them and which one was most worthy of being carries onward on our walk. Thomas is obsessed with sticks at the moment, and every  trip out to the park ends in a collection of more sticks being brought home. Ian is pretty encouraging of this need to find a good stick though… boys!!

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Thomas’s other major quest was to find “muddy puddles”. We’ve only relatively recently been able to persuade Thomas to put wellies on (previously all attempts were met with a major meltdown) but it’s as though he has suddenly realised that wellies mean he can go squelching through the mud – although we’ve been telling him that all along!

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We also came across a pile of cut logs. Or rather Thomas spotted a pile of cut logs and shouted “Look, Joby wood!” Obviously the boy is still completely obsessed with Thomas and Friends! He also found a bird’s egg shell (already hatched) which fascinated him for several minutes.

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I also took the opportunity to sneak off and capture some pictures just for me, although clearly I didn’t have quite the time and peace that I would have done in my former life, before Thomas!

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And amongst all the animals we saw, we also spotted this little guy hiding out in a fallen tree branch. We think he is a common newt, although I didn’t get a good look at his tail.

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And finally, Thomas had some fun with the dandelion clocks…

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… which reminded me of this post and pictures taken at the same place almost exactly a year ago. The boy has definitely grown!