Monthly Archives: June 2015

Leaving the house with small children: a beginner’s guide

In the past week, due to a toddler with a sickness bug, a husband who’s had to work late and a baby who insists on feeding all evening, I’ve only managed to head out for one run. It’s made me realise what a mammoth task training for a marathon while caring for a very young family is going to be. Still, one thing consoles me. However tough it’s going to be, it won’t be nearly as hard as my almost daily task of trying to make the 5ft journey from the house to the car with said young family.

Unfamiliar with having to get out the door with an entourage of mini people? Here’s how it works.

10am: Inform toddler that it will be time to leave the house in five minutes. Ask toddler if he needs a wee.

10.01am: Watch as toddler breaks down into tantrum of epic proportions, because he does not want to leave the house. Ever, Mummy.

10.05am: Try to placate toddler by telling him we’re going to the park and he will have fun.

10.06am: Dodge the Lego train the toddler hurls.

10.07am: Sit down with flailing toddler and explain we don’t throw things in this house.

10.10am: Bribe toddler with a cookie.

10.11am: Wonder why I didn’t bribe toddler with a cookie ten minutes ago.

10.12am: Find toddler’s shoes. Ask toddler if he needs a wee.

10.13am: Baby starts crying. Realise it would be wise to feed her, to avoid the car journey from hell.

10.14am: Feed baby. Toddler asks to watch Peppa Pig. Tell him he can watch just one episode.

10.29am: Three episodes of Peppa Pig later, everyone is ready.

10.30am: Turn Peppa Pig off. Give toddler another cookie. Get toddler’s shoes on. Ask toddler if he needs a wee.

10.32am: Hear the baby fill her nappy. Head upstairs to change nappy.

10.33am: Realise it’s explosive. Change baby’s entire outfit.

10.42am: Get back downstairs with baby. Spy toddler’s shoes at the bottom of stairs. Toddler has vanished.

10.43am: Locate toddler. Ask him if he needs a wee.

10.45am: Get both baby and toddler in their car seats. Get in the car. Start the engine. Toddler announces he needs a wee.

10.46am: Turn off engine. Race out of car with toddler and back into the house. Locate potty. Sit toddler on potty. Console myself that at least that distant crying I can hear isn’t my child.

10.47am: Realise that distant crying I can hear is my child. It’s my other child. The one who is now outraged at having been left in the car.

10.48am: Get toddler back in his car seat. Get back in car. Toddler announces he needs his tractor. NOW Mummy!

10.49am: Slowly lower head to the steering wheel and silently weep for those bygone days when all I had to do was grab my keys, grab my bag and then LEAVE THE F*CKING HOUSE.

10.50am: Go back inside. Locate tractor.

10.51am: It’s the wrong tractor.

10.52am: Lose the will to live.

10.53am: Go back inside. Locate every tractor the toddler owns.

10.56am: Present toddler with eight tractors.

10.57am: Get back in car. Turn the engine on. Reverse out of driveway.

10.58am: Congratulate self on leaving the house in less than one hour.

11.01am: Realise I’ve forgotten the changing bag. Turn car around.

Yes. Running a marathon will definitely be easier than this.

Car

Getting a toddler into a car seat: harder than running 26.2 miles.

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On Father’s Day

Back in 2009, before we had even contemplated the adventure that is parenthood, my husband and I went on a different adventure: a month campervanning around New Zealand. While there, we ticked a few obligatory activities off the list: bungee jumping [check]; horse riding [check]; single-track mountain biking [check]; sky diving [him, not me. You will never catch me in a plane that tiny]; and white water rafting. I was really looking forward to this last one. My mum had done it. How hardcore could it be?

I had no idea about grades.

My mum has rafted a Grade 3 river (intermediate: still impressive, mum). Ours was Grade 5.

A quick Wikipedia search has since provided me with the following information:

“Grade 5: extremely long, obstructed, or very violent rapids which expose a paddler to added risk… swims are dangerous, and rescue is often difficult even for experts.”

Excellent.

On top of this, due to adverse weather the previous week, they’d cancelled all trips as the river was deemed too dangerous.

At the time, I was not armed with this information. It didn’t take long for the nerves to kick in, mind. When even the guides (who navigate the river day in, day out) look excited, you get a pretty good idea it’s not going to be smooth sailing.

The experience was exhilarating terrifying. There were three rapid sections. And we only did two of them in the raft. Yes: we capsized.

Rafting 1

Oh, this? This was nothing…

rafting 2

…because then this happened.

rafting 3

And finally this. This was not supposed to happen.

As I got sucked under the water and dragged along the river bed, I felt strangely calm. It was only when I eventually surfaced, amidst swells of white water, trying desperately to catch a breath, that I began to panic.

And then, like a mirage, the rescue boat appeared in front of me. A girl grabbed my life jacket as I spluttered for air. I was too shocked to follow her instructions as she tried to get me onto the boat. This rescue was not going particularly well.

And then I heard a familiar voice.

“I’ve got her”.

My husband. He’d already been pulled from the water, and now he had hold of my life jacket. And at that moment, I completely relaxed, despite still being in the river; despite the fact I was still coughing up water. Because I knew something: I knew he wouldn’t let me go.

Where am I going with this tale? I guess my point is that, while the types of adventures we’re now having are very different (these days, it’s more, “Can we get the toddler to the potty in time?” rather than, “Is this river raftable?”), one thing hasn’t changed.

On those days when I’m floundering; even when I’ve already sunk below a tide of congealed Weetabix splatters and meal refusals and nappies and tantrums and baby sick, I know something.

I know my husband will walk back in and rescue us. And I know he won’t let us go.

 

 

“Mummy’s got balls”

I’ve spent so much time telling myself “I can’t”… that I forgot to try.

But this weekend, for the first time in a long time, I ran for 30 minutes. With no walk breaks. Four years ago, this would have been nothing. Today, it is everything.

This was an accidental development. I’d planned a couple of walk breaks during the half-hour outing, but for the first time since my humble comeback, I got caught up in the actual running and forgot to check my watch. By the time I’d made it off the roads and into the woods; by the time I’d escaped the cars and the concrete; by the time I was immersed in dirt tracks and tree roots and green leaves, I’d been running for 12 minutes. I’d missed the first walk break. I was about to stop and then a thought struck me… perhaps I could do this. I kept running. I missed the second walk break. I ran up a couple of pretty steep hills. Still no walk break. My timer hit 30:00:01. This was a big deal.

I’m stronger than I thought.

Woods

Lost in the woods. Not literally.

I was ecstatic when I arrived home… although I didn’t have a huge amount of time to revel in my achievement: the toddler was excitedly wielding a toy hammer and was having a crack at “fixing” everything in sight. Including the baby.

I dragged him into the bathroom with me, so my husband could have a bit of bonding time with the baby, and he pottered around banging the bathroom cupboard and sink, while I showered. And then he looked up at me and yelled:

“Mummy’s got balls!”

Er, WHAT?

I questioned him quickly, before he yelled it again and freaked the hell out of his father.

“Look, there [pointing at my chest]! Where baby’s milk comes from. Balls.”

Aah.

I’ve been worrying a little (OK, a lot) recently about the fact I’ve signed up to run the Brighton Marathon in ten months. I’m nowhere near the fitness level I’d like to be, I have two children to look after, there are a fair few sleepless nights (and, I fear, a lot more still to come), and I just don’t have the time I used to have to dedicate to marathon training (the last one was in 2011. Pre kids). But yesterday made me relax about the whole marathon thing. I’ll be fine.

 

I can run for half an hour. I’m stronger than I think. And I have balls.

 

 

Times like these

There hasn’t been a lot of running going on this week. I haven’t had the time. Or the energy. Instead, there have been a lot of nappies changed, noses wiped, tears dried, food thrown, floors scrubbed, drinks spilt and clothes washed. There have been tantrums. Many, many tantrums. There have been 12-week inoculations. There has been bottle refusal from the baby and refusal to give up the bottle from the toddler. Oh, and there has also been a little bit of wee on the carpet.

It’s times like these that I need to take a deep breath and remember what my husband said to me the morning his paternity leave ended. It was his last-ditched attempt to curb my terror at being outnumbered by the little people.

“Your only goal is to keep everyone alive. Anything else you achieve during the day is a bonus.”

And so, by these (admittedly low) standards, I’m doing amazingly well. We might not all be happy all of the time; it might not always be sunshine and picnics and cosy afternoons curled up on the sofa watching films together; it might be that most days, most of us are in tears before tea time (hell, sometimes before breakfast). But we are all still alive.

There is a lot of Peppa Pig on the telly, and the odd assault on the baby from the toddler, in the form of smacks on the head or hugs that are just that little bit too tight. There are trips to the park, pushing a double buggy up the hill, laden with changing bag, snacks, drinks, toys and scooter. There’s a fair amount of scrambled eggs and spaghetti hoops on toast eaten. I sometimes feel guilty that the toddler doesn’t eat enough (any) organic wholefoods. But at the end of the day, we’re all still alive.

There are games of chase with the toddler, and building towers with the toddler, and playing trains with the toddler, and having tea parties with the toddler, and jumping in the paddling pool with the toddler, and occasionally I get two minutes to dangle a toy in front of the baby and wonder guiltily whether watching her big brother play is entertainment enough for her. But it’s OK, because at the end of the day everybody’s still alive.

Some days, I actually manage to do something about the pitiful state of my house, on top of keeping everybody alive. Admittedly, my claims of what I’ve achieved often outweigh what has actually been done…

“I’ve been food shopping” [I had an online shop delivered. It’s still in the bags in the kitchen. Including the frozen stuff. Sh*t.]

“I cleaned the bathroom” [I tipped some bleach down the loo and hoped for the best.]

“I’ve vacuumed” [the hallway. For show.]

“I swept the kitchen floor” [I had to. The toddler kept treating it like a buffet.]

And amidst all of the everyday keeping-everyone-alive moments, there are, hidden away, the real gems: the it’s-amazing-to-be-alive moments – kissing the baby’s cheeks and watching her beam the most genuine, loving smile in return, and hearing her cooing and gurgling; and the toddler blowing raspberries on my forehead and thinking this is the funniest thing ever, and hearing him laugh and laugh and laugh.

baby

An it’s-amazing-to-be-alive moment

So no, there hasn’t been much time or energy for running this week. But that’s OK. Because we’re all still alive.

 

 

If you go down to the woods today…

Last night, we ditched the usual bath-and-bed routine and went for an evening walk in the local woods. I was supposed to be going for a run, but, due to a rather strenuous outdoor exercise class the day before (more on that another time), I could barely move. Running was out of the question.

However, one of the reasons I’m so keen to regain a regular running routine is to set an example to my children that exercise (and the outdoors) is just a normal part of everyday life. So, what better way to demonstrate this than all head out together? We’re also taking part in The Wildlife Trusts’ #30DaysWild this month. We actually try to have some wild time every day anyway – ever since I was inspired by the rather amazing film Project Wild Thing over a year ago. OK, so sometimes this ‘wild time’ is merely a 10-minute splash in a puddle at the end of the driveway, but hey, it’s all fresh air, right?

Anyway, yesterday was the perfect opportunity for a wild adventure, so, with the baby in the sling and the toddler in the buggy, we set off.

Our little excursion wasn’t without error. We forgot to put shoes on the toddler. (We didn’t. We put them on him. He took them off. We put them back on again. He took them back off again. We gave up. We put him in the buggy. We forgot to sling the shoes in as well).

But despite that, it was pretty damn great. We strolled, explored dens, balanced along fallen trees and the toddler thought it was hilarious running around in his socks. The baby grizzled a bit and then fell asleep. We made a pact that, once a week, we’re going to do away with the usual and do something fun as a family in the evening instead – something outdoors and exciting for the little ones.

Den

When we got home, the toddler was hyped up, excited and refused to believe us that it was, in fact, time to go to sleep (turns out there’s something to be said for routine, after all). After finally managing to tuck him into bed at 9.30pm we were all shattered. But we’re sticking to our new pact. Because all the best childhood memories are made from exploring that small patch of woodland near to the house, or riding your scooter up and down the road, or slurping icy lemonade in a pub garden as the sun sets. This is adventure for children. Not sitting indoors in front of the TV.

Now, I’m not going to lie. It’s not all woodland walks and puddle splashing and den building and flower planting for us. There is also probably far too much TV. In fact, Andy, Cat and the rest of the CBeebies presenters form an integral part of my daily childcare plan. Because if you’re outnumbered, or you’re trying to make dinner, or you even just want to sit down for two minutes in the day, I’m not sure how you do it without the company of Bing Bunny. And if I’m being completely honest, when I’m feeding the baby while simultaneously making the toddler’s tea while simultaneously trying to figure out what that congealed gloop at the bottom of the fridge is, and I hear a shout of, “Telly off now Mummy, play with me,” a little part of me dies on the inside.

TV

So, as much as I hate to admit it, TV has its place for us. But this is why those everyday moments outside – from a quick jump in a puddle to a full day exploring at the weekends – are so crucial. It’s a balancing act. I’m working on less TV and more wild time. But it’s a work in progress.

Tall grass

Mummy likes sticks

A couple of months back, when the baby was just a few weeks old, my husband, the toddler and I took her for a stroll in the buggy to the local park. While we mooched along in the sunshine, only occasionally having to yell sentences like, ‘PULL YOUR JEANS BACK UP!’ and ‘DON’T TOUCH THAT DOG POO!’, a runner headed towards us. As she passed, I said proudly to my son, ‘Mummy does that.’

He looked at me with an expression that can be described as, at best, withering.

‘No,’ he replied simply. ‘Me run. Daddy runs. Mummy walks.’ And off he trotted.

Erm, excuse me? Was I just heckled by a two year old?

I tried to console myself. This must be part of his latest phase, where no one is allowed to do/like what he is doing/likes. It goes like this:

Him: ‘Me like grass and flowers Mummy.’
Me: ‘Aah, that’s lovely. I like grass and flowers too.’
Him: ‘NO! NOOOOO Mummy! [Cue fists and foot stamping] Me like grass and flowers. [PAUSE] Mummy likes sticks.’
Me: ‘Oh. OK.’

So, that had to be the case in this latest scenario, surely. He knew Mummy ran, didn’t he? He must remember those trail runs we did together through the woods, with him bouncing along happily in the running buggy, back when he was… how old was he? Oh. It was before he could walk.

Running buggy

We went trail running together. Honest.

 

Oh dear. Toddlers are harsh critics. They say what they see.

To my son, I am a walker. A plodder. A buggy-pusher. While Daddy does all the racing, chasing and throwing-up-in-the-air play at weekends, Mummy can usually be found sitting on her arse on a park bench (feeding the baby), swaying to and fro (rocking the baby) or standing next to the buggy (ensuring no one abducts the baby). A walker? If I’m honest, my son was being generous.

There was only one way to change his perception of me.

I waited until six weeks after the birth (that seemed the sensible option, because, frankly, no one wants to risk bursting a stitch “down there”). And then one morning, after making sure the baby was fed and cuddled up to Daddy, and the toddler was engrossed in Peppa Pig, I made my move.

‘Mummy’s going for a run!’ I announced.

No reaction. He hadn’t heard. But I wasn’t going to let this go unnoticed.

‘MUMMY’S GOING FOR A RUN!’ I yelled. Into his ear.

‘Bye bye’, he replied. He didn’t turn away from the telly. Bloody Peppa.

And so it was, I set off on my first ever-so-gentle run/walk. And it felt freeing, and exciting, and energising, and exhausting, and frustrating, and upsetting all at once. I rejoiced in the fact I was out in the fresh air doing what I loved. I mourned the fitness I had lost and the fact I felt like a complete beginner once more.

But I was running.

As I rounded the corner towards home, my husband was standing on the doorstep, toddler in his arms, waiting for me. The sheer look of excitement and astonishment on his little face (the toddler, not the husband) almost made me shed a tear of happiness.

‘Look, look!’ he screamed enthusiastically. ‘Mummy’s running! Keep running Mummy!’

I intend to.