Saturday, 30 July 2016

Awkward conversations and leading questions

I grumble about my boys, but I must miss them when they're not with me. I'm instantly drawn in by any sound or squeak from a tiny person and often I can be found chatting away to a pre-verbal infant when I don't have to wrangle my own into not falling onto the train tracks. I took Brown Bear to stay with my parents yesterday and Blue Bear went to watch the football with Hubbie this afternoon, so I took the opportunity to go and have my hair done. I know proper 'me time,' not just the mad dash to get everything done between dropping them off and picking them up. On the way to the salon I saw a little girl with her parents waiting for the same train as me and chattered away at her as she squeaked back at me. On the way home I popped into Waitrose (shuttup, I'm addicted) and I did my usual wide-eyed, 'does your sock taste nice ?' schtick with another baby girl in Waitrose. As I was walking off I heard an older woman comment, "your baby is beautiful. She has your eyes." The mum smiled appreciatively.

It's unlikely that anyone would say that to me. Both my boys have beautiful eyes, but they are clearly not from my side of the family. I was telling mother-in-law the other day about the time when a mum from school asked - entirely innocently - why Blue Bear has blue eyes when Brown bear has light brown eyes.
"Well, he's got them from Grandpa, obviously." 
Said mother-in-law, suspiciously swiftly for a woman who can't hear the oven timer. I hadn't even considered that response. You see my eyes are dark brown and Hubbie's are, well we've no idea really, but they range from green to grey. Of all questions I prepared myself for this was not one of them. As a result I didn't have anything in the locker and just launched straight into it, 
"Oh that's because he's adopted." 
I'm not sure if the surprise was genuine, as I had assumed that another mum from our class would have mentioned it to her by now. Anyway, it gave me pause for thought as my reaction was a lot milder than when people first asked me about him and it felt like I was being interrogated at every turn. Maybe I've mellowed into the adoptive parent role.

I'm also working on my birth parent role - which I neglected when Blue Bear first arrived as I was so concerned that he fit in. I've been talking to Brown bear about caring and treating his brother with kindness. We spoke about how he hadn't always been cared for that well and that was why he was placed in a foster family. Introducing the concept of why children are adopted has been pretty tricky. In the car the other morning, just before I dropped him off at playscheme, he asked,
"Why didn't his foster family care for him ?"
"Blue Bear's foster family loved him very much. You saw that yourself." 
I said.
"His first mummy - the one whose tummy he grew in - sometimes didn't look after him, feed or wash him." 
I wanted to be careful to not portray her too negatively, but I also don't want to sugar coat it - or lie. We talked about what foster carers do and why children might be placed with foster families. Brown Bear seemed genuinely interested in finding out more about it so I tried to talk in an age appropriate way about it. I see this as part of the process that will eventually lead to telling Blue Bear how he came to be in our family. 

Oh and the other day Brown bear asked me if next time we can get a baby girl so he can have a sister.  I said, "Ask Daddy."

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Not just marmalade sandwiches

Amongst all the things I think about during the school holidays is the forward planning I have to do for Brown Bear's birthday. In the past we have always arranged a party for all his classmates and I try to theme it around whichever cake I've decided to make that year. Last year it was all Fireman Sam complete with firehats on the table for all guests. Themed party items are a key part of any celebration for us and I take time to get matching tableware, goody bags and food items.

The lovely folks at Party Bags and Supplies sent us a Paddington themed set which is part of their extensive range of themed party supplies. I was spoilt for choice with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,  Marvel Superheroes and so many other children's characters. I decided on Paddington purely because I loved the goody bag so much. It's designed to look like Paddington's suitcase and contains some lovely bits including sticker, a notepad and pencil and a nametag with thank you printed on it. I spend so much money on the items that go into party bags that this saves a lot of time and trouble as well as being on theme.

The party wear itself is really lovely with themed plates, cups, napkins and tablecloth. I always buy a spare tablecloth as one is never enough and you can buy most pieces in addition to the set. The sets are reasonably priced with most under £20. This set is for 8 places and would do for a small party for Blue Bear later in the year. That is unless he sees the Paw Patrol set and then it's game over !

Children's parties can be so stressful so a one stop shop for all the basics you need is great. They came really well packaged and arrived in good time too so you don't have to worry about rushing out to buy last minute supplies. They don't just do children's themes either, there are teen and adult party supplies including 80's themed, hen party and even a Team GB theme which is very topical right now.
I can't wait to use this party kit and to see the look on my boy's face when he sees it.

Disclosure: The lovely folks at Party Bags and Supplies sent us a Paddington Party pack to write an honest review. 

Monday, 25 July 2016

Only 42 days to go... and counting.

Before the boys finished school for the summer I had all these great plans. I would be at home with them and take them swimming and we'd do arts and crafts and maybe some baking. I'd be at home with them for lazy days and we'd go out for some active days. I even mentioned that we might go into London and maybe meet Hubbie for lunch as he works so close to the science museum.

Then we had the holiday week in Cornwall. Somewhere we've been before that is perfect for kids and that our boys have loved in the past. The whole week Brown Bear was just awful and argumentative and obstructive and... well just horrible. We took him on the feed run and he refused to join in. I took him surfing and despite having a great time he complained afterwards that he hadn't enjoyed it at all. When we got back from our holiday I took him to a movie preview screening and he loved it, but still insisted that he wasn't having a good time. I almost gave up, but took him to the Transport Museum (we were close to Covent Garden anyway) and he seemed to be ok with that. Until we got home and it all started again. 

Then Blue Bear started and would spend most of the day screaming and biting his brother. Badly. He left teeth marks and drew blood. It was horrific. The screaming and laughing as they chased each other around playing turning into screaming and crying as Blue Bear ran off and Brown Bear enacted a death scene from Saving Private Ryan. Blue Bear can be every bit as trying as his brother, but he's small enough to pick up and move if he's unruly.

It would be fair to say that I did not enjoy the beginning of our time together at home.  

I've been home with the boys for two weeks now and my throat is sore from threats and my eyes are stinging from all the tears I've cried at how useless I am at this. There are parents who home educate their children and are with them all the time. Why can't I be with mine for the time they are off school and nursery ? What does it say about my inability to parent these demanding petulant aggressive children ? 

So, I have admitted defeat. Yep, two weeks into being at home with my own children I have decided to outsource them for the holidays. I'm not going to bake, or take him swimming (again) and I won't be thinking of nice parks to go to or creative lunches for us to enjoy. No day trips to museums and impromptu visits to meet Daddy for lunch. From today the boys are taking a packed lunch and going to a playscheme where I know they will play with friends and run around enjoying sports and fun activities.

And what will I do ? I will catch my breath. Sit and watch TV if I want to, switch on the radio and do chores if I want to or just lie down if I want to. I feel broken already. Like a big old parenting failure. What is it about me that I can't even take care of my own children without it overwhelming me and making me feel like I wish I wasn't with them ?

Whatever it is I'm counting down the days until they are back at school and nursery.

Only 42 days to go.

Wish me luck.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Summer time and the living is...

Before the school holidays I like to plan ahead and have some idea of what to do with the boys to keep them busy. I have to have something in mind otherwise I can get into a panic about how to keep them from being bored and running riot around the house. It appears I'm not alone in my worries and in research carried out by Fellowes* they found out what stresses parents the most about school holidays.

Unsurprisingly top of the list of worries is the cost of keeping children entertained during the long break. That and how to manage disruption to daily routines - are concerns I can identify with. I have a few rules about how to manage including getting the boys to decide if they want a lazy day or an active one. As it's been so hot this week we've had relatively low key days so far. I took them swimming this morning to cool them off before the heatwave set in. Yesterday we did one of my favourite low cost art activities:
The Big Picture
You know when you receive a package and it's filled with packaging material ? Well I unroll it to see if it's worth keeping and if it is brown paper I keep it in a box for rainy days and indoor fun. I lay it on the floor - or in this case on a long table - and put crayons, coloured pencils and pens in the middle. The boys have plenty of space to draw and/or write and it keeps them quiet for, oh minutes. Big pictures don't have to be kept, they are just fun to do.

One of the other worries in the survey was keeping the house clean and tidy during the holidays. As someone who is constantly trying to declutter and tidy my home I struggle with this one too. I try to be a bit laissez faire with the house during the summer, but I do expect a level of respectable tidyness. The playroom is going to get trashed - I accept that. I do have some chores that I like to get done and the boys have jobs to do too.
Printable planning sheets
These printables from Fellowes enable me to plan ahead with the boys and when I laminate them they are wipe clean and reusable too. If possible I can also try and build in some time for myself so that it isn't all too much. Managing time and workload can be tricky during the holidays, but it's important to make child free time to keep me sane.

At Britmums Live a few weeks ago I was chatting to the lovely folks on the Fellowes stand when I admired the laminator they were demonstrating to show off the free printables they have online. I am looking forward to having a play with mine and using it to prepare these wipe clean printables for the boys to write / draw about days out during the holidays. We're also going to laminate some special pictures and certificates from school. The world is our laminating oyster ! 

I know the key for me is planning ahead and doing all I can to ensure that the boys are kept busy and occupied. I'll let you know how I get on !

For now take a look at the top ten things that parents stress about and hopefully feel better about yourself :)

Summer Stresses
Having the money to entertain the family
Keeping a child/children entertained
Juggling work with childcare
Keeping the house clean and tidy
Being able to get time of work when wanted/needed
Disruption to daily routine
Maintaining a good work/life balance
Finding time for yourself
Managing hay fever/allergies
Travelling with the family

*Fellowes surveyed 1003 respondents with children aged 4-8 years.

Disclosure: This is a collaborative post with Fellowes. 

Saturday, 16 July 2016

I think I need a holiday !!

We've just spent a week on holiday with the boys in gorgeous Cornwall. We spent days out and about and even had some lovely weather to enjoy the beach. Hubbie and I are zonked out and in need of a period of recovery and - if I'm honest - some child free time. Except now I'm home with them for 2 months. Yeah 2 whole months with them at home with me and no respite. The exhaustion of being with two belligerant and argumentative boys hasn't quite worn off yet so I won't bore you with details. Instead I'll give you a whistle stop tour of the holiday snaps. Enjoy :)

It was Blue Bear's first visit to Peppa Pig World - he loved it !

Camper Van fun to start the holiday

We always visit Lappa Valley - it's a brilliant day out for the boys (and Hubbie loves it too)

Ruby the steam engine 

The boys wanted to play crazy golf with Daddy - with varying degrees of success 

Blue Bear putting
Brown Bear playing seriously

On a particularly sunny afternoon we decided to go to the beach - great fun 

Beach Boys

Me and Brown Bear tried out surfing for the first time - it was awesome !

Polzeath Beach 

Jiggles the Bear and Woof Woof the Dog enjoyed relaxing at the beachside cafe during lunch

Jiggles and Woof Woof chilling out 

Pizza after surfing was fabulous !!

Veggie and delicious ! 

Brown Bear went for a lovely walk with Stanley the dog - it was so sweet

Stanley and Brown Bear taking the coastal road to Tintagel 

The search for the camper van is now on - we found a few to be going on with

Campervans to end the holiday too

Monday, 11 July 2016

Postcards from Cornwall

I used to imagine that spending time in Cornwall was just what other people did. That it cost too much and would be out of our price range. It was a shame really as on my travels around the country I'd seen some lovely places and wondered how the experience of Padstow would differ if I was a tourist instead of visiting for work. My first ever visit to the Eden Project was in its first year of opening as I was staying in Wadebridge for work so I thought I'd take a rare morning off to go and see it. It was the beginning of a long love affair I have with the place and one I've been able to indulge in since we've been taking holidays at Coombe Mill with the children. We took Brown Bear the first time we stayed in Cornwall and he's been with us a few times since. I've wanted to go back on my own for a while though.

At the weekend I was lucky enough to go to the Eden Project twice. On Friday night I went to watch the Manic Street Preachers with Hubbie. We were absolutely soaked by the rain, but the gig was amazing so the weather didn't matter much. I made a quick visit to the Mediterranean biome where the lovely Nathan told us all about how oats are transformed from a humble crop to a breakfast cereal and I even rolled some oats to take home with me.

The tickets entitled us to go back the next day so Hubbie kindly offered to have the boys while I went off to spend time by myself exploring and enjoying the place without having to entertain or feed the boys. I stopped for a lovely brew and then I achieved a long held ambition to make it to the top of the lookout point to get a stunning view of the rainforest below. A young lad who was also walking up was delighted to share that he'd just overcome his fear of heights. It was a good day for us both.

I've reached the roof of the rainforest !
The view is spectacular 
I ate a delicious lunch - made of locally sourced ingredients - in peace and quiet before going back to the biome to learn the 'story of chocolate.' How it goes from bitter cocoa pod to the delicious bars we consume. (some of us more than others, admittedly). The zipwire was definitely tempting, but I decided that one daredevil act in a day was plenty and - realistically - if I didn't have anyone to cheer me on it probably wasn't going to happen. After checking in with Hubbie I bought a pasty to say thanks for looking after the boys at Coombe Mill so I could have an unspoilt trip to Eden.

The story of chocolate from bean to bar 
These smell amazing 

All that time by myself gave me a chance to ponder how much time we spend doing things that make our children happy that we don't necessarily have any interest in ourselves. Equally why drag them around when they will just fuss about having to do a 'boring grown up thing' ? I've decided to plan what I want to do as the boys grow older and I am able to cultivate my own interests again.

My new ambitions:

Go on holiday without the boys - I don't mean a long weekend or a few days I mean a full on proper grown up holiday with cocktails and going out for dinner and only doing what we want to do. I'm relaxing just thinking about it.

Own a camper van - ok this is obviously a pretty common one, but it's still on my list. I want to be able to take off and have an adventure whenever I want. To pack a yoga mat and some swimming things in the back and just drive away for a few days and not have to worry about anyone else.

Learn to surf - now this is related to the last one as the whole surf culture is associated with camper vans. It's also one of the sports that I haven't yet tried and have wanted to for years. I booked a surf course on Fistral Beach over ten years ago and bottled out of going by myself. Now I have sons they can do it first so I don't feel so daft.

Live in Cornwall - maybe not all the time, but I do love it here. Of course I do have to wait until they have more than the one Waitrose (or live in Truro where that one is). This ambition will make it possible for me to...

Work / volunteer at the Eden Project - it's a place that always fascinates me and I would love to spend a lot more time there. Who knows I might even apply for an apprenticeship.

Care for a dog - I've had an ambition for a while to foster a dog. Blue Bear loves dogs so much and I think caring for a trainee assistance dog would be great for us as a family. He could learn to look after it and we would also be helping prepare the dog for a life helping someone else.

and finally...

Write every day - At the moment I write late at night before going to bed or in the brief moments I have during the day. It's usually in the front room with other things going on all the time - crying children, cat demanding to be fed, hubbie watching politics or sport on the telly. I'm often tired and unable to really concentrate on what I'm doing so all those fantastic clever witticisms that I thought of earlier have retired already. I'd like a space that is mine and where I can just go and write. Without distraction, unnecessary noise or guilt.

I'll let you know how I get on with achieving this list :) 

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Brown Bear's school days

The other day I was doing my usual scan of the bedrooms for errant washing before I put on the machine and I spotted that Brown Bear had forgotten his long trousers for forest school. I sent an email to Mr D (his teacher) to ask if I should drop them off at the office and I received an email back from Brown Bear himself. While he was at school. My five year old who we were told is a delight to teach (by his technology teacher - he loves technology of course) is now tech savvy enough to email me. I am torn between being inordinately proud and a little saddened that he will in future only talk to me via text or email - well that may be a way off, but you know what I mean.

It is a sign for me that his schooling here is just right and what we had hoped for him. Before he started I spoke to some parents whose children had been or still are pupils at the school. Every last one of them told me the same thing, "it's like a family." I wasn't entirely sure what that meant. As time has gone on I think I do now.

Families take care of each other: I've seen children run over to help when someone is hurt or crying in the playground. I know in my school they would have laughed. Older children are kind and caring to the younger ones and I have seen my boy take great pride in knowing older children in the school.

Families share our joy with us: when we knew that the adoption was going ahead we spoke to the staff at the school. They could not have been happier for us. Each step of the way we were supported. Whenever I saw the deputy head she asked how it was going and when we had good news she was genuinely delighted and hugged us.

Families keep giving us chances: I was convinced at one point that Brown Bear would be thrown out of the school. At the age of 4. Oh the shame ! Each day I would hang back when collecting him from nursery fearing that Ms W (nursery teacher) would have a list of misdemeanors from the day and often I was right. When I was talking to Mrs F (the deputy head) and told her my fears she gently said that it was not going to happen. That each day was a fresh start and they wanted to prepare him for the next year at school as best they could.

Families accept us at our worst: Nursery was a tough time for all of us. Brown Bear took time to settle and missed his old friends and often told Ms W that he didn't want to be there. She took it all in her stride and kept on supporting us to help him settle in. Then only one term in we found out that we would have a new family member and it threw us all into a tailspin.

Families carry us when we find it all too much: I have cried a lot. On the mums, in the nursery classroom and in the deputy head's office. The mums helped me to feel better about my worries about my son. Ms W reminded me that the adoption was a huge amount of emotional stuff to deal and it was understandable we would all find it difficult. Mrs F reassured me that of course they weren't going to ask Brown Bear to leave the school. I know, I really did think that !

In families we push each other and are a bit competitive: I was convinced that Ms W was being far too tough on my baby boy. I thought she disliked him. Then Mrs F spoke to me (as I sat crying in her office) and explained that if she didn't think he was capable of more she wouldn't be on him as much. It was her belief in my boy that made her expect more of him. I had never even though of that.

Families bring out the best in us: Brown Bear has flourished. His use of language, his table manners, his ability to write and read. He sets himself goals now. When he wanted a real tie for school, instead of one on elastic, Mr D said he would need to be able to do it himself. So Brown Bear learned and developed an obsession with ties as a result. When he asked to wear shoes with laces I said he would have to do them up  himself as the teacher couldn't be doing up his shoes for him. So he has learned and now does up Blue Bear's shoes for him.

You see I never worried about his academic potential. I honestly thought that he'd get the basics in any school. I was more concerned about the social education. The capacity to collaborate, take risks, share and care for others. The school values that they learn from the start are: Be Kind, Be Safe, Do Your Best. We have adopted these in our home too.

Now he is sending me email and writing his own instructions for lego models. He uses brylcreem and inspects his image in the mirror many times a day. He sits across from me at the table and asks, "How was your day Mummy ?" and sometimes he will negotiate so effectively that I cannot believe I have given in to a 5 year old. Again. Then there are the acts of kindness. At the weekend we saw a man sitting on the ground holding a sign that read, 'please help me.'
Brown Bear: Mummy can we help that man ?
Me: Of course - what would you like to do ?
BB: Can we give him some money ?
Me: I think that would be kind.

Now I understand why the school is like a family. I owe Ms W, Mrs F (now Mrs B) and Mr D a debt of gratitude for their kindness toward my son and to me. There are so many others to thank including: Mrs V (the TA) Mrs J (in the school office) and the other Mrs J (swimming teacher) who have helped in so many ways.

When it's time for Blue Bear to go to the school I can feel confident that he will be received into a family that already cares for him as they do his brother.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

A week in politics: the musical

This month it's the 5 year anniversary of my radio show. In celebration of this I have a few music related tales to tell. This one, however, has come about only in the last 24 hours as it occured to me that the news events of the last ten days really deserve a playlist. I might even make a podcast out of it.

So first we were all asked to make a huge decision:

And the result was a big shock. The side that had the most votes were all like:

And others - mostly Scotland and London - were all like:

Then the EU puffed up it's chest and was all:

And the UK was all:

Then it wiped its face, picked up its shoes off the floor and flounced off:

So next the lead characters in the whole drama started to realise what they had done:

And the loudest one of all just couldn't hack it any more:

So the other guy said he'd do it and his wife was all:

And a woman who doesn't agree with either of them said she'd take care of things:

Then a guy who isn't that popular wanted to get in on the act too:

So the guy who had stepped up first felt a bit overlooked:

Meanwhile the other side were having their own issues:

And the main man is all like:

Even though everyone else is all:

So, it's all a bit:

And in the background is the thing that started all of this:

You would be forgiven for thinking:

Ok, I've decided I'm so going to make this into a radio show / podcast. I'll post it here when it's done. For now, hope you enjoy the tunes and try not to take it all too seriously.

It's only politics.