17-11-2014

Christmas sightseeing in London with children – A walking route

london christmas lights

I know I’ve said it many times before, but hopping on a train to London is one of my go-to entertainment options for the children when we have a full day to ourselves. Arlo just adores London, and I’ve done public transport with two kids enough by now that the journey doesn’t seem as daunting or tiring as it used to.

Walking around London is one of our cheapest child entertainment options too – sightseeing at the cost of a travelcard or less. And if we wind up near the museums, there’s even more free entertainment to be had.

Another great thing about Soho, in particular, is just how close together everything is. It’s so easily walkable, even with young children – no need to attempt tube escalators with a buggy. Just pack a waterproof, an oyster card, and a buggy board if you have preschoolers, and you have everything you need to cover a lot of ground in all types of weather.

pizza making rossopomodoro

 

A few weeks ago, Arlo, Rory and I were in London for a pizza making class at the launch of Rossopomodorro at John Lewis Oxford Street. Arlo is always keen to see more of London, so in between our lunch stop off, we walked the following route – stopping by at some of London’s famous landmarks, finishing off in the heart of Soho after dusk in prime position to see the best of London’s Christmas Lights.

Christmas Sightseeing in London with children – A walking route:

Starting off at London Victoria station, Buckingham Palace is just a five minute walk away. The changing of the guard happens at 11.30am every day in Summer, and every other day in Winter. The ceremony runs from 11.15 – 12pm – check here for the confirmed schedule.

From here you can enjoy the greenery of St James’s Park. We stuck to the right side of the lake and came out at the Great George Street exit, a short walk away from Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.

Next, we turned back and walked up Whitehall for a view of Downing Street and the guards on horseback outside Horse Guard parade (you can also watch the changing of the guard here if you are out and about slightly earlier than the Buckingham Palace timings – full schedule here.)

The top of Whitehall spits you out right at Trafalger Square. If it’s summer, you can easily nip back into St James’s Park for a packed lunch.

Walk up Pall Mall and Haymarket (if you’ve had enough of walking, there are plenty of buses that will take you on this route towards Oxford Street too) and you’ll find yourself at Picadilly Circus – Arlo loves seeing the Picadilly Lights.

london christmas lights

Head up Regent’s Street and you can show your children the wonders of Hamleys. However, if you don’t fancy your chances of inducing toy shop tantrums, you can cut through Carnaby Street instead.

If you need to stop for lunch or an early dinner nearby Oxford Street, check out John Lewis’s dining options. This part of Soho is hugely busy. with queues and waiting times for most eateries. However, being inside John Lewis, Rossopomodoro is slightly more off the beaten track, and a less chaotic, in-and-out, dining experience as a result. Despite it being within a department store, it’s secluded location means it has just the same vibe as a standalone restaurant (definitely no cafe atmosphere here). And if you don’t fancy pizza, there’s a burger restaurant just next door (still within John Lewis).

rossopomodoro

With tummies fuelled and the day growing darker, you are a stones throw away from the best of London’s Christmas lights on Oxford Street, Regent’s Street and Carnaby Street. Still in the mood to explore after that? Check out the festive window display at Selfridges, and even hop on a bus to Knightsbridge to see the Harrods all decked out in its Christmas lights splendour. From Knightsbridge it’s approximately a ten minute bus ride back to London Victoria.

Arlo LOVED this route (his favourite thing was seeing the BT Tower) and Rory was pretty content with watching the busy sights and sounds of the city from his buggy. I have a feeling I’ll be walking this route a few more times before the year is out…

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We sampled a complimentary lunch at Rossopomodorro as part of their launch events. I was not obligated to write about the restaurant, but it left an impression on me as a good option for young families in a very busy area of London, and I wanted to share that. 

14-11-2014

Eleven days alone

11 days alone

Eleven days alone.

…Not that I was counting or anything.

When Sam’s away, life becomes a series of numbers. Days counted down until his return on a calendar in my head. Stats that are immediately telling as to whether I’m happily coping or a sleep deprived mess. So, I thought it would be fitting to write this post ‘my week in numbers’ style.

11 days without Sam.

1 hour in a 24 hour day with no children awake or needing me.

2 evenings where Rory actually slept from 8 – 10.30pm leaving me with a glimmer of an evening to myself.

2 4am starts to the day.

6 interrupted dinners.

7 nights that Arlo slept all the way through without needing me for any reason.

0 nights that Rory slept all the way through without needing me for any reason.

2 takeaways ordered. (Pretty good by my standards)

4 engagements not attended due to lack of babysitters.

A million times I was asked “What time is dada getting home today?”

5 nights of fireworks. 5!! (The perils of bonfire night falling midweek).

1 new phone game obsession.

1 mini meltdown from me (speaking from past experience, the 8 day mark seems to be where I lose it).

264 hours where I was ‘with children’ all the time.

0 complete disasters.

Now that Sam’s back I can say this without feeling like I’m going to jinx the whole thing, BUT…

This solo stint was definitely one of the best I’ve had (despite being one of the longer trips, too).

I had really started to dread Sam’s trips away. It eats away at my thoughts constantly in the week leading up to him going, the days drag whilst he is away, and my first thought every morning is “Thank god we got through another night”. It feels like surviving – stumbling through a haze, rather than living my life. And I hate it being that way.

Usually, when Sam’s away, I am too anxious to eat or sleep properly. I feel that I need to be alert at night, to jump to attention as soon as one of the kids needs me. And it’s always only ever a matter of hours before someone will need me.

My mind races thinking about all the things that could go wrong, and I’m constantly tweaking my plan of action in case something does happen. I lose all appetite, so I neglect to eat. And then it’s a repeating cycle of no sleep, no fuel – spinning myself out until I feel there’s a very thin line between OK and breaking point.

I have written before about the anxiety and sleep deprivation I feel when Sam is away (I have two kids that don’t sleep well, even without the anxiety it feels like running a marathon). But it’s time to face up to it all, because Sam’s work trips are very frequent now. For at least one week a month, this is now our life. And I owe it to the kids and to myself to attempt to function as best I can and lead our normal lives when it’s just me at home. I will try my very best not to have my issues affect my children.

So, this time, there were a few differences.

As much as it doesn’t come naturally to me, as I get older, I can better appreciate the benefits of talking. I am currently seeing a counsellor and we are in the midst of overhauling and attempting to finally process the many things that have happened, the last five years in particular. Working through my specific anxieties is a part of that. Knowing that I have a dedicated person to debrief with seems to have made me feel more calm.

My usual routine is to push everything down, not make a fuss. I’m always “fine”. Mainly, this is because I don’t like asking for help and I’ve always just tried to do everything by myself as best I can. It’s not because I don’t like having help, it’s because I’m not very good at recognising when I’m not coping very well. There’s also a small part of me that insists on berating myself for feeling like I can’t cope with simple parenting stuff when I know single parents with three kids and 6 day a week jobs who don’t have any fall-back, like I do. But comparing myself to others isn’t going to change my struggles or the way I feel about my situation. Recently, I’ve allowed myself to make allowances for the things that I struggle with, at least to myself, taking time to be aware of the things that tend to set me off.

I guess this is another big part of my ‘Year of Me’, but it was a bit too big a topic to tackle in my last post.

I ate fresh food, proper meals, not snacks (scrambled egg, avocado, mushrooms, and asparagus were my staples – things that I can finish cooking in less time than it takes before a child that has just woken up will need me desperately), and I made sure to give myself an hour on the sofa each day, even if the kids needed something (they always do) and even if there were a million tasks I needed to do (there always are). And I slept better. Maybe as a result of the first two things.

Arlo made a big difference, too. When he sleeps well at night, it’s a game-changer. I can concentrate all my night time efforts on Rory, I don’t have to run between the two of them. It felt like we were on the same team, rather than exacerbating each others stress.

For now, I am holding onto the memory of the last 11 days. Reminding myself that it doesn’t always have to be overwhelmingly stressful and exhausting.

04-11-2014

My ‘Year of Me’

my year of me

At the cusp of the new year, Twitter and the ‘blogosphere’ was full of talk about people’s chosen words for the year ahead – a word to focus on as a reminder of what you want to achieve in the coming year. Things like “Love”, or “Calm”.

Not one to be outdone, I decided to give myself a phrase (why stop at just one word?), and that phrase was, “I don’t give a shit”.

I enthusiastically announced my new way of living to Sam, and he declared it highly selfish. And so, wasting no time, my new mantra was applied almost immediately.

But you see, it’s not about sticking two fingers up to all and sundry and forgetting to be a nice person. Neither is it about sacrificing the happiness of others in order to benefit myself.

It’s about not getting so hung up on obligations, feeling that I HAVE to do certain things that I just don’t feel like doing, without the inevitable thick layer of guilt setting in. It’s about saying no to things that will cause unnecessary stress, saying yes to a few things that have been sidelined due to various reasons, trying a few new things, and above all, remembering to prioritise myself after too long a time of never really giving myself a second thought.

And I know that’s something that a lot of us parents with young children can understand.

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The change from living alone, just having myself to think about, and having a disposable income, to being part of a family unit with a baby to prepare for came suddenly and instantaneously.Everything had to change – financially, and emotionally, and physically, all at once.

I won’t say it’s been hard, because it’s mostly been fine, with a few, heightened, tough moments dotted throughout my memory. But it’s been a long time of automatically shutting down MY needs and preferences, whilst still coming to terms with the fact that I had to do this overnight without being prepared at all.

So, the Year of Me was born. Otherwise known as, The Year of Spending Money. (Yep, it turns out there was a REASON I gave up most of this stuff when I had kids).

I bought a new SLR and upgraded various computer parts. The camera allowing me much greater control in low light situations, and the computer allowing me to actually get straight down to work without numerous problems and a slow running OS affecting my productivity. To me, making these upgrades meant that both myself and Sam had decided my work was worth investing in, and so this remains one of the biggest ‘Year of Me’ decisions to date.

I said no to driving long distances (these have always stressed me out when I’m so sleep deprived) and focussed more on having family time at home.

After three years of being sensible, I insisted we take our first family holiday.

I rejoined my choir, which I’d previously left due to affordability and having Rory.

I restocked my makeup with the high end products that I’d swapped for cheaper versions that I had tried to like but just really didn’t get on with.

I started buying shampoo and conditioner again (I used to wash my hair with body wash in an effort to be cheap).

I allowed myself to part with money for play cafes, etc. I still do it begrudgingly, but I really think it is keeping me sane.

I insisted that this would be the year that Sam learned to drive (work in progress, he’s getting lessons at the moment).

I put a stop to dragging the whole family out to Tesco every weekend, and started getting grocery deliveries instead, despite Sam’s preference to go to the actual shop.

I updated my wardrobe with a few key bits. And in doing so, I realised that I don’t hate shopping for clothes post-kids, I just hate doing it WITH the kids, and doing it without the budget to buy anything I like. I realised that every trip to the shops does not have to be a depressing succession of unflattering lighting and confronting mirror angles. Three years ago I was very much lost in the newness of my post-baby body, but now, I am confident in picking out clothes that I like, and clothes that I KNOW will flatter my body to the best of it’s ability rather than see me handing everything back to the changing room attendant, silently cursing my decision to bother coming clothes shopping in the first place. I realised that just because certain styles might be kinder to my current shape, I don’t NEED to wear something that makes me feel 59. I can wear something that makes me feel 29, even if it’s not THE best cut on me, because I love it, and I only want to spend my money on that. There is a lot to be said about wearing clothes that suit your figure, but there is also something to be said for ignoring the rules and wearing something that makes you happy.

…. I digress.

I had my first ever night away from my children (in fact, I’ve had two this year with another two planned in December). I NEVER would have considered leaving Arlo whilst he was still so reliant on me at night. But with Rory, I have decided that enough is enough and one night away is OK – he might not like it, and there may not be a great deal of sleep for whichever lucky person has the job of looking after him, but it’s not a big deal.

I stopped trying to maintain the version of motherhood that I thought my friends wanted to hear from me. This had led to certain funny moments (“I’m sorry, but I’ve just never heard anyone refer to their child as a prick before”), but it’s SO GREAT to be able to say “Let’s talk about something else” rather than answer the same old boring questions about the kids all evening, or attempting to sugercoat my parenting experience for the sake of not wanting to be a downer.

I stopped breastfeeding Arlo. (My aim for the latter part of next year is to wean Rory and have an actual breastfeeding break for the first time since becoming a mum).

In more recent months:

I have decided to cut back on the amount of work I am taking on, in order to better juggle my children and work-from-home-parent life. I have learned to say no to photography work that I’m just not that passionate about, leaving room for the projects that excite me.

I ran a day of studio mini-sessions, which is something I’ve always wanted to try. It was BRILLIANT, and I felt like a proper working person.

IMG_9859

I’ve given myself the OK to find a half-day of childcare for Rory every week, despite the probability that on an average month, I won’t break even. With Sam away more and more, and with the relentless unreliability of my childrens’ sleep, I think it will really help keep me level. (The problem is, I can’t find anyone who wants to take on as little as 5 hours a week, so this might be a non-starter).

To be honest, ‘I spent money and I liked it’ wasn’t really a sustainable way of living, in any way. Pretty sure bankruptcy would be not such a far flung prospect if it wasn’t for the fact that Sam’s earnings have recently doubled just in time to get us out of a very bad hole of using credit to make sure our basic monthly outgoings were covered. Which means we can now continue with a normal attitude towards spending and saving, which is how it should be, in a perfect world.

It’s a happy medium between two years of feeling pretty miserable and trapped never spending a penny, and one year of slight over-indulgence. Next year will be the year of sensible budgeting, with a few treats here and there maybe.

Oh wait. Next year is my 30th birthday year…

04-09-2014

Sleep – It’s getting (a bit) easier.

IMG_9349Last night, Rory woke at 11pm, just as I was going to bed. I fed him, and waited for him to settle in his cot, before hitting the hay myself at 12am. At 2am, Rory was up again, and this time would not settle for being settled in his own bed.

I brought him into my bed and he spent the next hour wriggling at my breast, pulling my hair, tugging at my ears, and stroking my face with his hands (this sounds endearing, but when this is every single night, it gets damn tedious, let me tell you). After that, we both slept for an unconfirmed amount of time. I can’t check the time on my phone during this point of the night as it automatically makes Rory think it’s time to get up.

Then I woke with my back seized in pain from being locked in the same position for too long, and it took several attempts to unlock my back and prize myself away from Rory before I could successfully turn in the bed. Turning away from Rory disturbed him of course, and after a minute, I find myself turning back to him, hoping I can feed him back to sleep.

But it fails, and Rory is now sitting up in bed, chatting away, clapping, and climbing over my head as I pretend to sleep (sticking diligently to the ‘don’t talk to them or let them know you are awake’ tactic that never works). Rory breaches my man-made barrier and starts bashing Sam over the head, laughing because he’s spotted ‘fun dada’. Sam is pushed so far towards the edge of the mattress, he’s barely clinging on.

Eventually, Rory decides that he IS tired and he DOES want to feed. He settles back to sleep just as it’s getting light. And just as Arlo is waking up at 6am. Sam quickly intercepts and takes Arlo downstairs, at which point I get a glorious THIRTY MINUTES in the bed. Rory asleep, me dozing, more room for both of us.

Sam has to leave for work at 7am, so my lie-in doesn’t last long. But two things occur to me. 1. How is it that my quality of sleep is so poor that a mere thirty minutes can make a real difference to how tired I feel when I get up? (My 21-year-old self is crying for me). And 2. This twenty-minute GODSEND has only become possible recently, and what a difference that makes.

Before Arlo was weaned, he always had to come and see me in the morning. And that, of course, would lead to EVERYONE being wide awake, rather quickly. It’s so easy now – Sam can take him downstairs swiftly and with no fuss. It’s such a simple and small change, but I’m still getting used to this little bonus.

Week by week, the sleep thing is getting (a bit) easier.

We moved Rory’s cot into Arlo’s room over the summer, which has had the knock on effect of stopping Arlo pissing about in the evenings for hours on end. Gone are the noisy protests of “I’M NOT TIRED” “I’M HUNGRY”, “I DON’T WANT TO GO TO BED”, etc. Gone are the repeated episodes of him sneaking out of his room at bedtime. His 9.30pm bedtimes have crept back to 8pm.

Arlo actually seems to have some kind of consideration for Rory being there at bedtime, and so he stays quiet and relaxed in his bed, which naturally leads to ACTUALLY FALLING ASLEEP a lot faster than it does when he consistently fights sleep by refusing to be still for longer than a second.

It seems that Arlo has come out of his horrendous sleep phase FINALLY. It was about six months of dramatic night wakings, nightmares, wailing and writhing around, not settling again without considerable effort. He is MOSTLY going all night quite peacefully at the moment.

The change has really been quite remarkable. Arlo obviously feels massively reassured by the presence of someone else sharing his room. And on top of that, he is comforted by the increased presence of Sam and I in his room during the night, as we pace the floor trying to settle Rory.

Having our room free of children in the evenings has been a big change for me, too. I can turn the lights on in our bedroom and do my face cleansing routine before bed. I can read a book in bed.

Rory has (for the most part) cut out his 9.30pm wake up, which means I generally get an evening and he wakes just as I’m going to bed. The other day he slept right through from bedtime until 2am – that felt like a crazy amount of time to have so much space in my bed. Pure luxury.

I say “It’s fine”, “I’ve learnt to adapt, to live with it”, and “I’m managing”. And I am. But I’ve realised that I’m doing myself a disservice to play down the sleep thing in my own head. I’ve recently realised that it’s OK to accept that years of broken, unpredictable sleep has had some effect on my mental health. That light bulb moment really shouldn’t have even been a light bulb moment, because NO WONDER. Certain anxieties that are closely linked to sleep, and it makes perfect sense, and it’s OK to feel that way.

I’m not saying that my experience has been any better or worse than anyone else’s. It’s an aspect of parenting that we all have to deal with. But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t get hard. Or that we have to play it down.

Give yourself a break from beating yourself up because you feel that you should be stronger. It’s OK to be kind to yourself.

photo (3)

 

02-09-2014

Five things I’ve learnt from my first (pre) school summer holidays as a parent

summer holidays

To me, next summer:

Have an action packed start
I originally assumed it would be best not to exhaust our summer bucket list too quickly and instead spread out activities to last the full duration. In fact, I found the first few weeks were when the plans for all day outings, etc, came in most useful. At the start of the summer holidays, you have more energy and enthusiasm, the new routine is disorienting so the thought of whole a day at home with all the kids is daunting. Save the quiet / low-key activities for the later weeks when you are exhausted and in the swing of your new summer holiday routine.

Don’t buy clothes or shoes at the start of the summer
Those clothes you bought to stash for next year in a bargain summer sale? Suddenly looking like they won’t last till this autumn. Kids grow like weeds over the summer. Don’t buy ANYTHING till late August or September. Or, if you do, always size up by a couple of years.

Let them eat snacks
I spent the first couple of weeks being really strict about sticking to appointed snack times. Half way through the summer, I could no longer be bothered to deal with hourly conversations battles over snacks, and so I relinquished all control. There were snack times every hour. But no one was moaning. Your kids are hungry ALL THE TIME. Keep the snack cupboard freshly stocked, let them at it, and give yourself an easy life.

Don’t schedule in any important appointments over summer
I’ve lost all sense of a schedule. I am never sure what day it is or what time it is. Appointments during the summer holidays are just an extra headache to work around and are likely to be forgotten about.

You will have fun
Children do a lot of growing over summer. Physically, emotionally, and in terms of milestones. It’s an exciting and fulfilling time to be around these little people 24/7. It’s been tiring, but it’s been the best.

school summer holiday tips