Staycation vs Vacation vs Crazy Gap Year

This summer we opted for a ‘staycation’ with curly headed boy (4.5yrs) and little dimples (6 months).  For ages I had perused all sorts of vacation options, but there were three problems:

  • I was shattered and really wanted bigtime pampering and five star service (for that read price!)
  • Little Dimples was just turning 6 months, so just about to start weaning and changing on a daily basis, so we had no idea what she would really want, plus really hot (like greece) wouldn’t be ideal with a little baby, and she screams in the car, so the UK wasn’t an option either.
  • Little Dimples had just decided to develop a bit of separation anxiety, or preference for who she liked to be left with, so a creche might not work.

So we opted for a ‘staycation’.  I did miss the automatic relaxation I get from the sound of the sea, with a bit of warmth, and laughing children in the background.  But we had someone to look after Little Dimples, and Curly Headed Boy went to camp a few days, so we had a bit of time together to chat, plus get a couple of massages each.  It made me realise that it would be more sensible to take care of my body regularly, rather than wait for holiday time, so I’ve kept up the massages/reflexology since then which is helping with the general exhaustion and breastfeeding.

We had some great adventures as a family too, and found that going into London really suited both the kids, even if it was just to meet up with friends.  The science museum is a must if you haven’t taken your kids.  It’s free (but I recommend taking refreshments, because big-time rip off!), and the kids section is so much fun.  Curly Headed Boy keeps ‘doing science’ when he finds reflections since our visit.  We are definitely going to go back in the next month or so to the Natural History Museum to see the dinosaurs again.  There’s a splash park in St Albans, which I’d been meaning to go to for years, and we are members at a local children’s farm.

There was one big disaster when the morning that we were off to see ‘The Lion King’ I asked big hairy northern hubby to check if pushchairs were allowed, only to find that under 3’s were not allowed.  Seriously, it’s a Disney show!  Before people start leaving comments saying how they hate being interrupted by kids at shows like that, let me point out that I’m not daft.  Curly Headed Boy loves shows and would definitely have the stamina for it, and he has read the book, bet you haven’t recently!  Little Dimples might have needed a break, but being a matinee it was perfectly timed for her nap.  We couldn’t go because Curly didn’t want to leave his sister behind, and I couldn’t leave her for that long as I’m still breast feeding.  So learn from my lesson.  It might be disney, but many shows in london are not actually for young kids.  I was very tempted to give my tickets to 3 smelly tramps, but couldn’t find any, and sadly couldn’t find anyone else either, which was a big shame.

Since then I’m even more chuffed we stayed at home, because having gone through the whole rite of passage of curly headed boy starting school, I’ve got very different opinions on what I would like to do for holidays with the kids.  Watching ‘My family’s crazy gap year’, I had a huge realisation.  I was incredibly lucky as a young baby and child to travel to africa every year, and go to lots of places in europe as a young girl, and colorado as an adult.  There are tonnes of amazing places in this world that I never got to go to as I didn’t have a gap year.  I’d love to make sure that over the next few years I can share my children’s first experiences of some of these places, and set them off on a path where they remember to look for the magical places on offer.

So that’s my plan.  Take care of myself during the year a bit more, so that I don’t need the huge relaxation of a holiday (not sure it’s possible with young kids anyway), and make a big long list of places that we can go as a family.  They don’t have to be posh or far away or an amazonian rain forest (like the TV show), it’s about giving them a richness of experience.

So here’s the beginnings of my list:

  1. A Festival: I’ve never done a festival and the other day read about camp bestival, which sounds fab!  It’s certainly the only way that big northern hubby is getting me in a tent.
  2. Lake District: Dare I admit I’ve never been there, I’m more of a devon & cornwall girl!
  3. Isle of Wight & Jersey: as above
  4. Lapland: I know it can be a bit rubbish, but if we get a good trip it’s meant to be amazing (in a few years when little dimples is 3/4).
  5. Colorado: Definitely need to take them there, I LOVE this place.  I might be a rubbish snowboarder, but you can pretend to be quite cool when sitting on your bum looking at the mountains.
  6. Africa: specifically zimbabwe when it is safer and when the kids are older, so I’m less worried about giving them malaria pills.  I’d LOVE to do an elephant safari oneday if it was one where I could be sure the elephants were well cared for.
  7. Aura Borealis : This is for big hairy northern husband ;o)

So can you help me with ideas to fill up my list?  Where have you been?  Did you take the family?  Feel free to link to your blogs if you’ve blogged about it (sorry I’ve not learnt how to do a mcklinky thingy yet).

Feel free to promote your holidays or your company, but beware: if they are boring, bog standard and have not an ounce of ‘experience’ in them, then they wont get shown ;o)  For instance, a mummy friend of mine just stayed in devon at a farm, which sounded brilliant, and amazing value: something like that is definitely a ‘yes’, and I’d love to know about it.  But your villa on whatever costa, however nice, doesn’t fit the bill for what I’m interested in today, unless you are also teaching curly headed boy to become ‘Avatar’ (he’s seen the cartoons, not the film ‘the last airbender’), have some great tree hugging stuff for me, a pool for little dimples, and a mountain for big hairy northern husband to climb.

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School: The Problem Is They Can’t Do Everything

I’ve unravelled some of my discomfort last week with curly headed boy starting school, so I feel much clearer this morning.  Apart from the obvious Rite of Passage, it’s because there has to be a compromise and there is no such thing as a perfect school.  Please Note, I’m a very fond mummy, but I’m not clingy, so don’t assume that was my problem, I’m a bit sleep deprived and might get grumpy if that steriotype is put at my door ;o)

What can a school give your child: learning, academic results, confidence, sport, individuality, life lessons, art, creativity, experiences, friends, discipline, so many things.  But none of them give it all, that’s the problem.

Let’s look at our decision process when it came to picking schools.

State Schools: The UK has a good state primary system and I had always said I would NEVER pay for a young child to go to school.  But when I heard myself say that, I did get a little uncomfortable, because ‘never say never’, and sure enough it didn’t work out.  We moved into a lovely new estate when I was pregnant, with dodgy local school, but lots of fab schools around us.  So the plan was to send him to one of several.  However, a few years and a big baby boom later, and the only option was the local school (sadly I’m not catholic, otherwise there are lots of catholic schools around).  Now, I’m not suggesting that this school would have ruined his life forever, and he would certainly have experienced a different kind of reality.  But kids do need to feel like they fit in, and I winced when seeing 5yr olds swearing leaving the schools, with Mums smoking and swearing back.

Tree Hugging: My next plan was to go for a Steiner School, which I had again always assumed would be a good choice for me.  I happened to be offered a table at their fair, and was incredibly impressed with the confidence and individuality of the young teenagers as they strolled around the corridors busking and looking much cooler than the standard wannabe fashion follower.  But as I learnt more about it, I realised that it just wouldn’t work for curly headed boy’s values.  He wanted to learn, learn and learn some more.  So waiting until 7yrs to read and write wouldn’t have worked for him.  Plus it was a risky choice as we have often moved due to job changes, and he might then end up in a place without a Steiner school and have a huge amount of catch up to do.  He wasn’t the type to want to spend an extra year at school either, although I see that it makes a great deal of sense.  Plus I was a little uncomfortable with the deeper beliefs in the school system and knew that with the training I had over the past 10yrs, I would have been in major disagreement with some of their most deeply held philosophies.

Private Sector: Inevitably we moved onto the private sector, but it was a bit late in the day, I was naive, and had no idea of the amount of competition involved.  I thought that if you had a relatively bright kid, you applied to one school, and that was that.  I soon realised this was not the case and had to apply to 4 in total.  (I do understand that I am lucky to have this option, but it’s neither an easy option to decide to spend that kind of money every year on schools).

Option 1: Had the most holistic feel of them all, but this year a big sibling intake, a new headmistress starting and unfortunately I had inadvertently moved to a nursery the rumour is that they didn’t like.  Their assessment day was weird; a long line of teachers march in, randomly pick a child, and walk off with them.  I suspect that curly headed boy took a dislike to the teacher, so despite a very successful open day and private walk around with the head we didn’t get offered a space (the teacher wouldn’t explain why she needed to keep the 2 photos of him that she had, and that she’d been given them by me anyway, so he could just ask me).

Option 2: Had a lovely concept of EVERY child learning to do EVERYTHING, but the downside to that was saturday school.  I had a strong feeling that we wouldn’t fit in there with the other kids, which is very important to Curly headed boy.

Option 3: Seemed to really concentrate on creating programs that would encourage and bring out the best in your child, whatever that was.  The problem was they only had 4 spaces as they only had 1 class, already full from the nursery.  Plus, there would have been no one there that Max knew, which would have been very against his values.

Option 4: A very traditional school.  People pick it because they can rely on the results that it gives, and thinking about it this week I can see that this gives a huge amount of security as it’s not necessarily the private education that counts in our competitive job market, but the academics you get.  A large number of Curly Headed Boy’s friends are going here, and it is massively comforting for him to meet them in the play ground (there are 3 classes here).  Plus, there is a great mixture of backgrounds, which he likes.  His old nursery had all your ‘standard’ backgrounds of white, asian and black, but also russian, french, jewish, oriental; and he loved meeting lots of different types of friends.  But as you see from last week, there is very little ‘touchy feely’ stuff and so I’ve been uncomfortable about the lack of information provided and the lack of forethought in helping the kids to fit in.  Some people would probably consider me as a bit ‘bloody minded’ as I don’t tend to just do something, just because I’ve been told to or am expected to!

As it was, it was Option 1, 2 and 3 put curly headed boy on their ‘reserve list’, and Option 4 offered him a place.  I could probably have pushed 1/2/3, but decided that I would go with 4 as they wanted him from the get go, so I trusted that they knew he would fit in best there.

So there are the options we faced:

  • State sector, which would have saved us lots of money and given him a good ‘normal’ academic start, that we could easily have afforded to add to if he wanted to learn something extra on the side.  But the problem of the baby boom, leaving us with a less attractive school.
  • Steiner system, full of individuality and community spirit.  But also with it’s problems.
  • Private Option: where the education is more focussed on academics.  When watching a TV program yesterday called ‘My family’s crazy gap year’, I realised my big concern was about ‘life experiences’ and a more holistic view of life being missing.  Both of which are very important to me.

I firmly believe that there are no mistakes and that there are as many pros as cons to all options.  Today I realised how come I have picked the ‘right’ option for curly headed boy.  The option I have picked works for his high value on learning and friends.  Meanwhile, everything that I am concerned is ‘missing’, I (and big hairy northern hubby) have all the skills to fill in.  I love doing creative stuff, know how to support/encourage him when he is unconfident, can add some extra sports classes at my gym and he can do lots of sport with hubby.  Meanwhile, having had a chat with hubby yesterday, we can fill in the ‘life experiences’ with holidays that ensure he and little dimples gets a broad education.

So phew: that’s one thing sorted off my brain anyway!  It does feel very uncomfortable when in a situation that feels very opposite to your own values.  It’s about working out why it is, and then looking for the balance.  Mind you, I will keep my eyes open to options as he gets older, and not count out a ‘crazy gap year’ of our own oneday ;o)

Handing Your Child Over To Strangers

It’s against everything we’ve ever been told not to do, and everything that a Mother feels is right.  But there we all are, handing our children over to someone we’ve hardly met.

The only reason I have met Curly Headed Boy’s new primary school teacher is because her son was at his nursery in a younger class, but it’s only been a fleeting ‘hello’.  We have no idea what they do all day, apart from the fact that we have provided them with a packed lunch and snack (no hot dinners available, because the council won’t let them build a dining room, arrrgh!).  So far, there is no class list and no time table.  There was a letter inviting us to a 30min meeting next week, where I assume that some of this will be dealt with, and an evening get-together the week after (very difficult to go to when you have a young baby).  So we are meant to be patient parents and wait.  I suspect that if we ask beforehand, we will be considered ‘one of those parents’, and labelled as difficult.

But seriously, where is the respect?  For us as parents, handing over our kids, and for our kids?  Yesterday, in the distance I saw the last child literally being picked up screaming and kicking by a teacher and dragged into class.  I so felt for his Mum, it made me want to cry, god knows what she felt like.  Surely it doesn’t have to be like that with a little more forethought?  No one likes walking into a situation where they don’t know what the hell is going on.  I have no idea whether curly headed boy will end up academically bright, but I am a bit freaky in that I talk to him like a normal human being, so he is used to being told what’s going on and being treated like someone with some rights (not too many of course!!).

Now I see why I was so upset the other day, this school is not matching my values at the moment.  However, then realism sets in.  The whole process of finding a school last year was a nightmare, and in the end he might not have ended up at the one I would have picked that was less traditional, he is very happy to be walking in with so many friends.  Thank god for that, as curly headed boy has 3 mates in his class and I reckon another 10 in the other 2 classes.  Friends are extremely high on his priorities, so this is definitely better than one of the private options I looked at, and both potential state options (our state schools locally are bad, so as we had a choice, we chose not to go for them).

So, I’ll suck it up, wait patiently until next week, and then if by then I don’t have more information I’ll kick off.  But at some point, I think it is only fair to mention that if other schools managed to send out class lists in the summer holidays so that kids could meet, and they are already getting ‘parent mail’ by text/email, then clearly this school is not showing that it values keeping us in the loop or reducing the anxiety of the kids.  They need to be aware of the fact that they compete heavily with a local boys school that doesn’t take kids until next year.  I have NEVER considered it as an option before, but today I’m wondering whether it might not hurt to go and have a look.  In this time of recession it is wise for all of us to remember to consider how our clients/customers feel and reconsider a position of arrogance/strength that could easily disappear.  More updates next week, arggh!

Seriously, Why Am I Crying, He’s Just Starting School?!!!

  • I cried the last morning morning I dropped curly headed boy at nursery 8 weeks ago.
  • I cried when I picked him up.
  • I cried when I bought his school uniform 3 weeks ago.
  • I cried when I cuddled him last night.
  • And I cried when I dropped him off this morning at primary school.

Seriously, what a sap!  Luckily he didn’t notice apart from last night when he said ‘but mummy, there are actually tears in your eyes’, said in his best scientific experimenting voice.  Then he started wondering whether aliens had put them there and off he went on one of his little chats with me before bed time.  As you can see from his picture above, he was fine this morning, if a little serious at times.

You know how you walk out of the house and know you’ve forgotten something, but can’t remember what?  That’s how I feel.  Some of the Mums today were looking sad.  I didn’t see any other tears, but then we were going at different times.  Some Mums where old hats at it, as they already have several kids at school.  A few looked like they were skipping down the path on their way back from the class room!

So I drove home thinking, what on earth it was that makes my heart feel like it’s breaking.  The good news is how fast the last 5yrs has gone.  A very wise man once told me that the faster time feels, the more you must be doing what you love, and I really do love being a Mum.  But the problem is that means that the next 5yrs will go fast, and the next, and the next, and he’ll be off away, followed nearly 5yrs later by Little Dimples.  I can’t grab the time, I can’t hold it.  When I got sick a few months back I realised that one day I would have to leave my kiddies behind, and it was a horrible feeling.

But how lucky am I.  Despite not sleeping through the night for the past 5yrs (Little dimples took over where curly headed boy left off on the sleep stakes), a stone in weight I’d rather be without, lots of new grey hairs, struggling to juggle working and being a Mummy, I know I am just the luckiest ever.  This life works for me, it suits me.  It was blinking hard to come by and a bit of a surprise having been told so young that I’d never have kids.  All my troubles (people don’t go into my line of business without some ‘life experiences’ to encourage them) paid off with a great big pay off.  So, I’m lucky that I’ll be looking forward to picking him up from school.  Some Mums are not so lucky.  The pressures of what the world says they should be like get the better of them, and can create such a problem for their own identity that all the sparkle and love in the world literally gets sucked out.  So these are ‘lucky tears’ really.  OK, now I’m crying because I feel grateful that I was crying, seriously!

This afternoon, Curly Headed boy will be pleased to see me, and hug me just that little bit more tightly.  A bit of distance can bring you together sometimes.  I’ll remember that each time I drop him off and savour the chats in the car on the way to school, and the ability to listen to music on the way home all on my own for 15 minutes (little dimples still screams in the car, so she stays at home; post to come about that!).  Even when he’s big, there will still be a little bit of him that is the baby, toddler or pre-schooler that I’m so desperate to hold onto today.  I know this, because there are days that I would dearly love to have a parent to cuddle me.

Meanwhile, I reckon I’ve found a way to juggle work and mummydom much more easily;  Oooohhh I have so much to tell you from the summer holidays, I’ve got lots of exciting news!  So it’s time for me to wipe my eyes and catch up on emails and plans for the next two weeks.  (Can you imagine what I’m going to be like when Little Dimples starts primary school in 4yrs time, I’ll need a whole box of tissues, not just one!).

Why I Think Mummy Blogs Are Fabulous

There’s tonnes of reasons why I think Mummy Blogs are fab.  I think of a ‘mummy blog’ as one written by a Mum, rather than any other type of person.  They may not even be about mummy stuff, but they will still have a particular slant, which other blogs won’t have.  You can get blogs about babies, toddlers, pre-schoolers, children, teenagers, single mums, divorced mums, married mums, stay at home mums (SAHM), work from home mums (WFH), and going out to work mums.

But the main reason I recommend Mums check them out is because they can give a REALITY CHECK, something we all could do with sometimes.  The more honest the blog, the better the reality check.  (How can you tell if it is honest?  If it has both happy and sad, coping and struggling, good and bad days discussed in it).  Reality checks help us to see that the grass is different, but not always greener on the other side, and to appreciate our particular lawn.

So if you are a Mum, and haven’t gotten into Mummy blogs yet, I really recommend you have a go.  They are easy to fit into a Mum’s life, for a quick 2-5min read, and will often give you a much needed giggle.

You can just keep all the URL’s but it’s tricky to keep up to date, so the best option is to either subscribe by email or an RSS reader.  You can do both of those by clicking on the little orange square thingy on the RHS of my blog.

(By the way, if you are subscribed to my blog, you might want to re-do it, as I have just updated my blog to use a different feedburner).  I use google reader, which means I can read the blogs on my macbook air, iphone or ipad (geeky apple household here we come): http://www.google.com/reader/

If you would like a list of places to start, then there have been a couple of lists of the top British Mummy Bloggers and awards recently (all measured in totally different ways!):

Tots 100: http://www.whosthemummy.co.uk/parent-blog-index/

Make sure you add Sally who hosts the Tots 100, as she is hysterical, but not listed in the list anymore: http://www.whosthemummy.co.uk/

Wikio’s Top 20: http://www.wikio.co.uk/blogs/top

The Gurgle Blog Awards: http://www.gurgle.com/articles/Lifestyle/36776/Top_20_mummy_blogs_on_the_web.aspx

Alpha Mummy Top 10: http://timesonline.typepad.com/alphamummy/2006/12/10_great_blogs_.html

Cision top 10 Mummy Blogs (also check out Daddy & Parenting): http://uk.cision.com/Resources/Social-Media-Index/Top-UK-Social-Media/Top-10-UK-Mummy-Blogs/

For people already really into blogs, what are your favourites, or do you have lists you can recommend to my readers?  Are there any other tips you would give people?

Oooh by the way, I’ve never been up for an award for any blog list, sob sob.  I once got listed as in the top 50 mummy bloggers on twitter, but that was ages ago.  So if you ever see any competitions going, feel free to recommend me, plug, plug!

So often our advice is for us, not for them

I had a giggle at myself the other day, when I realized that there is a particular subject that I’ve been often offering unsolicited advice about in the last few months and really it was for me. This happens a lot, don’t you find?

It especially happens to us coach/therapist types, because it does make sense to help people experiencing what you went before originally. But it can even happen about newer stuff: its always worth me taking note if I have a pile of people through the door, all with the same issue, because it probably means I need to take a bit of my own advice.  Of course I’ve been on maternity leave, so it’s been more subtle this time.

It happens because of a concept called ‘reflection’ which means you see in others what you see (sometimes subconsciously) in yourself. So if you think someone needs improving, it’s probably you that does! The nice side to this is to remember that when you see something fabulous in someone else it’s also in you. I’m bound to blog about this more sometime, so don’t worry if it doesn’t totally make sense now.

So my thing? I’d been giving people basic advice on getting found by google etc, because if clients or customers can’t find you, then they don’t think you are serious about getting business. So when I mentioned to my lovely mummy blogger mates muddling along and zooarcheologist that I wondered whether people actually wanted blogs like mine (service ones with tips etc) because my blog stats are lower than normal ‘mummy blogs’, guess what their answer was: ‘you’re really difficult to find’!

Bless them, they knew the answer, because they had bothered to notice, and I was really touched. The problem is that my main Mummy Whisperer site and my site for the other side of my work pop up first rather than my blog.  Plus, I haven’t been able to blog so much with the arrival of Little Dimples, and being unwell.

So this week I’m going to work on getting found and take some of my own advice. If you’ve got any tips for me, this is the week to let me know, even constructive criticisms! Ooh and if you like my blog, you’re welcome to let other people know and help me out a little.

I hope that anyone I’ve tried to help over the past few months, knew I was trying to be helpful, rather than irritating!

Baby is Eating: To Puree or Baby Lead Weaning?

So ‘Little Dimples’ (I’m trying out new nicknames for my kids, as I’m getting a little superstitious about using their real names), turned 6 months last week and is now onto FOOD, yay!

The question is of course, ‘To Puree or not To Puree’.  My decision is to go the rather laxidazical route of the second child, which is to make it up as I go along and see how it goes.

With ‘Curly Headed Boy’, I didn’t know much about anything asI ‘d had so little warning about the ‘baby thing’, so I just assumed I’d go the puree route.  But after a couple of weeks of baby rice, he had a nasty stomach bug and then refused anything pureed.  I’m a pretty rubbish cook, so I was tearing my hair out making stuff that he then refused, especially as he wanted to be held all the time, so the whole cooking experience was a nightmare.  Then I went to a local Mum’s for coffee who passed him a strawberry when I mentioned my worries (I think that actually anyone with potential allergy issues is meant to avoid strawberries!), and heh presto he munched it down.  So I ended up sort of ‘Baby Led Weaning’, even though I don’t think it was even named at the time.  Which means, I cooked normal food (healthy, no salt etc), and let him help himself off my plate.

The downside is that obviously they can’t get lots of food into their tummies for quite a while (i.e months).  But as I was breastfeeding, it wasn’t too worrying.  The upside was several months later, when Curly headed Boy was munching on anything pretty much, and other Mums were having ‘lump refusal’.

So with Little Dimples, I’ve been letting her munch on cucumber for some time and suck my apples.  This week, I’ve given her baby porridge in the morning and evening, and let her munch on my crusts or some pitta bread.  At lunch time, I’m letting her munch on a slice of apple, or suck my banana into a big mush (she doesn’t like it squashed up); apparently fruit ferments, so it’s best during the middle of the day, which I didn’t know, but luckily was doing things the ‘right’ way around.

For a baby who has only had milk so far, it’s amazing to see her munching on bread, I really wouldn’t have imagined that it was possible.  But she can sit up really well, and has a couple of teeth; and one of my mummy blogger mates (muddling along mummy) said that is a good indication that a baby can manage baby lead weaning.

She is VERY keen on her food!  I’ll let you know which way things go and how she manages over the next couple of months.  My body is already a bit relieved, as I’m pretty sure her demand for milk has reduced just a little.