breastfeeding, feeding, motherhood, parenting

The inevitable final feed!

It’s been emotional yet again!…..”Again?!” I hear you sigh. Well, I make no apologies, regular readers will know by now that my blog entries tend to come with that caveat. In fact the writing of my last blog was such a process for me that I’ve been slow to dive back into the headspace of sharing my mumblings.

This new post focuses on a time that inevitably creeps up on every parent, at varying stages with varying degrees of impact. It’s among popular conversations at toddler groups and playdates…Feeds!…Not just any feed though, invariably one of the last to be dropped; the cherished bedtime feed.

Associated with cuddles, stories and peaceful bedtime routines, saying goodbye to our baby’s big boy’s bottle, felt like such a defining milestone. All other stages; weaning, beginning to toddle, moving to a toddler bed, never seemed to graduate him in my mind to being my big boy. He will ultimately always be my baby as he has completed our family but it has taken some time to stop referring to him as ‘the baby’ in conversation, much to his dismay and correction.

We’d been anticipating the end of the feeding chapter for some time. In fact, the occasion actually occurred a few months ago now but I’m only just getting around to collecting my thoughts. In my experience, I’ve learnt there is no benefit in hindsight when it comes to the last feed; as with many elements of parenting it is outside the reach of control and takes you by surprise. There is no going back, no repeating or rewriting of that precious final paragraph of the chapter.

Those that read my recent blog post, ‘One in Seven Hundred’, will have some idea about the significance of Bubbins’ feeding. I had a bit of a love-hate relationship with the specialist squeezy bottle. Loving the sheer fact that it meant our son could actually feed in a more traditional sense, avoiding a feeding tube and not least allowing me to feel close to my son. However, on the flip side, every feed was a reminder of the fact that he required such a bottle and nature’s design meant we couldn’t share the bond of breastfeeding.

Needless to say, as months passed we became a little team, we’d got through the initial learning stage of feeding, the cramps of squeezing the bottle for forty minutes at a time began to ease and we’d figured out a perfect harmonious rhythm. The result being that he only liked to feed from me! (Daddy squeezed a little harder than me and Bubbins started to refuse his attempts). So effectively he was as reliant on me as any breastfed child would be of their mummy and I held this very dearly! Often, when speaking to other mums I’d hear how frustrating this reliance could sometimes be and at times I could agree but ultimately this dependence made me feel so special and importantly for me, able to relate! In some ways I feel I had the best of both worlds, being solely relied upon, contentment at being able to provide him such comfort from my feeding ability, precious eyes gazing deeply into mine or studying my every feature, whilst not having the many physical downsides and pains that I had feeding his older brother. (That’s not to say I didn’t have any of the latter though, having had the joys of feeling like part of ‘the herd’ with express feeding for his early months!)

I guess my feelings of sadness were based upon knowing the extent to which I would dearly miss the above. The connection. The dependence. His universe revolving around me, especially considering I now have to chase him around the house for cuddles and kisses! Yet, upon reflection, as much as I miss it, I also adore the happy, independent little soul he is becoming; watching his world expand, as I force myself to relinquish the desire to support his every move.

It would be amiss of me not to mention at this point how much both myself and my hubby relished the thought of never having to wash and sterilise a bottle or teat ever again! I remember a conversation we had when I was heavily pregnant with Bubbins; how much we’d like breastfeeding to work, not least for the fact that it meant not having to sterilise bottles all day long. We joked about it again after Bubbins diagnosis too – if you could have seen the piles of bottles, teats, and expressing paraphernalia in the sink! It might seem trivial but this was an arduous task neither of us ever enjoyed. We actually raised a large glass to this!

As it came to be, Bubbins was just over two and a half when he had his last ever bottle feed. There are some that will say we carried on too long and others not long enough but we did what was right for him as an individual. We’d had endless professionals suggesting he no longer needed it. Of course, we knew he no longer needed it physically (he is a big boy!), but I think we both needed it emotionally. We would see an end to the bedtime milk era when the time was right for our son (and myself to a degree). I’d always hoped/wished we’d be able to empower him to feel ready at his own pace and give him the tools to enable him to tell us in his own way, be that through speech or makaton.

I hadn’t quite got to the point of imagining how it would come about (truth be told, I purposely didn’t imagine it!). We’d toyed with the idea a couple of times. Mainly for selfish reasons, to feel a little more freedom, maybe even go away for a day and night! Rather than the one night away we’d had, where we made a mad dash for the motorway after the most rapidly squeezed milk feed on earth. I seem to recall we even advanced the entire day by an hour in an attempt to deceive the kids into thinking 5pm was bedtime, just to bag ourselves an extra hour of ‘us’ time. As you can imagine, on the couple of occasions that we’d suggested the concept of the bottle fairy it was swiftly refused by Bubbins and who was I to deny him the comfort and cuddles if he so desired them? I was always happy to oblige!

So, to hear Bubbins say the words “Gye Gye Goggle” came a little out of the blue. Totally unexpected! He was just sat happily playing with toys and a dolly if I recall correctly, when the words popped out completely unprompted. I didn’t think he’d truly understood the enormity of what he’d agreed to, so in turn, spent the entire day checking that I had understood him correctly and prepping both him and myself for the evenings shenanigans that lay ahead – an important component of which was to ensure there were copious amounts of wine to turn to should I need it, to help dampen the tears, my tears!

That evening we found ourselves assisting Bubbins to lovingly parcel up his bottle in a little canvas bag and tentatively waiting for him to fall asleep anticipating waking to a special little treasure left in its place by the bottle fairy. It was as we’d snuggled down for the story prior to tucking him in that the reality began to dawn on me….I had given my last ever feed the prior evening without even knowing it….safe to say this realisation left me feeling a touch emotive!

How could the inevitable have been so sneaky?! As I said, benefit in hindsight is ironic in this case; I could not go back and repeat it. I just wish I’d been more aware. Had I been, I’d have cherished the moment that bit more; snuggled him that bit closer, gazed into his beautiful eyes that bit longer and sniffed his delicious smell that bit deeper. The truth is, no matter how prepared my ‘big boy’ had become, I wasn’t quite there yet but was forced to be so.

I’m quite sure I am not alone, that every other mummy out there is as unprepared too. I’ve never had a conversation with a mother looking forward to saying goodbye to feeds. Quite the contrary. I remember it well with my first, all the emotions! Looking back now, it seemed a little easier at that time. Perhaps it was due to Bubba’s level of communication, he was after all, able to reassure me he was happy with his choice. Or perhaps it was because I hoped deep down that it wouldn’t be my last ever feed, if we were lucky enough to be blessed a second time, then I’d have that precious connection all over again, and we were, I was!

If you’ve experienced it, I’ve no doubt my mumblings will have you reminiscing, maybe give you a little aching wish to have that last time once over. If you are soon to be experiencing the stealthy last feed then beat it at its own game -gaze, sniff and cuddle your little one as if it’s already upon you. For those at the start, or yet to start your feeding journey, you are in for a lovely ride, it won’t all be smooth sailing but whatever form it takes, enjoy and most of all treasure the time.

No words were ever truer than to live for the moment. Each and every one! I, as much as anyone, would do well to remind myself of this daily. I am lucky to have had such a lovely chapter with my son and although I miss it dearly I am also relishing the new chapter that has begun and my ‘big boy’ is a delight (for the majority of the time at least). So I cherish the memories and the present….The games, giggles, cuddles, sibling rivalry, even the nearly threenager tantrums. And for the times when I forget myself and have a blip there is always a ‘big girls’ bottle which I can safely say won’t be going to the bottle fairy any time soon!!

cleft palate, motherhood, parenting

One in seven hundred

My latest blog is a slight departure from my usual mumblings. The 5th-13th May is Cleft Lip and Palate Association awareness week. CLAPA, as it is known, is a charity close to our hearts and so I thought what better way to use my blog than to share our experience with my readers and hopefully beyond(!) to raise awareness.

One in seven hundred.

Bubbins first day…

He’d arrived…..I had always suspected I was carrying a boy and was spot on! One rather arduous labour later and our precious boy had arrived. His arrival was not all plain sailing. An Apgar score of three even after seven very long minutes – I cannot begin to describe the relief upon finally hearing a noise utter from his tiny body. The thought itself brings me to tears!…Having narrowly escaped the need for NICU we began to relax. He was just perfect. We shared the joyous news with family and then just cuddled and stared at his little face for hours, a tiny replica of his older brother….

As time passed, I was unable to get my head around Bubbins eager desire to feed, yet seeming disinterest and frustration at each attempt. I put it down to being a tired newborn and simply continued to offer whilst we cuddled. It was evident he was becoming distressed but I couldn’t clearly recall what ‘normal’ was, having been high as a kite when our first was born. Hours later when we were joined by a midwife, coming to complete the newborn ‘checks’, a special new chapter of our life began….

…Something was wrong but the midwife couldn’t say what as she truthfully didn’t know at that point. I won’t say what I thought the midwife had said, just imagine the most misconstrued words and you’d be about right. I heard everything incorrectly and entered a fog. To this day, despite their inaccuracy, the words still echo. I’d just had an incredibly hard labour, fairly scary birth and now I cradled my baby, tears falling on his tiny head, wondering what on earth was wrong with him and how this could be when he looked so perfect.

Skip a few hours and some very confused physicians. At 13 hours old Bubbins entered NICU afterall, due to hypoglycaemia and suspected stridor (a breathing problem). He had not been able to consume any milk, not mine, not formula, not at the breast, by spoon, or syringe. By this point our tiny baby simply didn’t wake, he just lay there jittering from lack of sugar. The lead NICU nurse barely took one look at him before immediately whizzing him away. It had been so worrying seeing his decline during the course of the day despite everyones best efforts and we felt such relief knowing something was finally going to be done to help him.

Bubbins diagnosis…

Finally in the safe, amazing hands of NICU and on our sons second day of life we were enlightened with a diagnosis. We were visited by one of a group of specialist cleft nurses, our saviour (no coincidence the team became our life crutch from that point on), who confirmed for us, what was actually ‘special’ about Bubbins. This was the point at which my husband became a mini scientist, something very far removed from his normal self, whilst I, the actual scientist, remained in a foggy emotional cloud. As ever the solid rock that he is!

Our son had been born with a cleft palate, a very wide, isolated, cleft of his hard and soft palate. Not sure what I mean?!….Then pop your tongue to the roof of your mouth and imagine nothing exists other than a hollow straight up through to your nose. In Bubbins case the cleft was linked to PRS, Pierre Robin Sequence (Robin pronounced Roe-ban), a condition where the chin is much smaller and set further back than normal (known as micronagthia) in turn pushing the tongue backwards. Both the cleft palate and the PRS contribute to feeding difficulties due to an inability to create suction and can result in breathing difficulties. A cleft palate requires surgical intervention to close the cleft, or in our sons case, create a palate! His surgeon said his cleft fell into the definition of ‘no’ palate as opposed to a ‘cleft’ (gap) in the palate. Longer term, most children require speech therapy in order to learn how to use the palate correctly (to make sounds, letters and words) and some require further surgeries to improve palate function. Hearing problems can also occur as a direct result of the cleft, requiring correction, to support development of speech and engagement with the world around them.

The reality…

His lack of suction meant that Bubbins couldn’t feed at the breast. He required a nasogastric feeding tube. As, I would guess, do all PRS babies initially, with the hope and aim that they can later feed by specialist bottles. We were incredibly lucky…Bubbins was fed by NG tube for the first four days of his life and then by some greedy miracle, the second time he inadvertently pulled his tube out the nurses didn’t replace it and we found him one morning being fed from the special bottle (essentially milk is squeezed into the mouth). Most mothers get to cherish the first feed(s) with their baby but I reflect on this time differently. I was terrified to do any of the NG feeds, daddy was our hero and learnt the ropes. Then when it came to the bottle feeds, I made the cleft nurse do the first feed as I was even more terrified that I would somehow choke Bubbins by squeezing the milk too fast (which I subsequently found is possible(!) but not as frightening as I’d imagined and you do eventually find your childs own rhythm). I’ll certainly never lose these memories, they are clearly etched and precious in their own way.

We came to learn that Bubbins really was a little miracle in the cleft world. Many babies affected by PRS stay in hospital for weeks before coming home and even then they remain on NG tubes for months on end, unable to take enough milk orally to sustain growth. Many need breathing support too sadly, due to anatomically restricted airflow. We were so unbelievably fortunate on both fronts – other than extreme reflux, he fed well and his oxygen saturation was always good, so simple adjustments such as side sleeping (tricky but achievable) prevented any risks of suffocation. We will never take for granted how lucky Bubbins, and we as a family, have been.

The emotion….

The diagnosis had come as a complete shock. A cleft palate is rarely detected at scans, even in cases associated with a cleft lip (visable on scan) where they know what to look out for. In the case of a PRS cleft I suppose the only potential flag might be the smaller jaw/chin in those with a family history. So despite me noticing and saying to the sonographer “He has no chin, just like his brother at his scans!” it never occurred to anyone to even consider PRS or a cleft palate as we have no family history of either.

The shock, along with the hormones, pain and overall emotion of having given birth seemed to make me shut down. I didn’t feel able to bring myself to speak to anyone other than my husband. I bizarrely shut out our families for days, the people who would have given me the most comfort and support. It was incredibly hard for them, not least because my side of the family all live hundreds of miles away and couldn’t visit immediately, so just wanted to hear my voice and know we were all ok. They’d had limited information fed back by hubby when he could find a moment to call between looking after the three of us. I know it was a very worrying time for them. I cannot really explain what made me shut myself off, perhaps self preservation….I know my mum instinctively understood and I felt immense relief to have her by my side for support when the fog lifted.

Every parent will question ‘how and why?’ ‘What is PRS and cleft palate and why does it occur?’…. There is not really a simple answer. I hadn’t had any alcohol for about six months prior to conception, I didn’t even have a sip during pregnancy (despite unhelpful people saying I was overcautious). I’ve never done drugs. I didn’t eat foods on the ‘banned’ list. I had nine months worth of folic acid prior to conception and throughout. I didn’t have any illness or virus during pregnancy. I did take a drug used to help maintain and protect the pregnancy from the effects of polycystic ovarian syndrome but have had multiple reassurances that this would not have caused the cleft. We had genetic testing which took over a year to complete and again, no obvious cause. We’ve accepted that Bubbins cleft was just a random occurrence. I carry no guilt whatsoever but what can be upsetting is stumbling across ignorance in the world, where people with no scientific substance whatsoever speculate and lay blame on certain causal associations, when in reality, more often than not, it is just ‘one of those things’.

The early days and his first year….

His first year was by no means a breeze. I express fed for roughly five weeks before concluding that my breast milk fuelled his worsening reflux and the combination of expressing, feeds taking upwards of 45 minutes and reflux meant there was barely time to have a wee, let alone consider the impact this lack of attention was having on his big brother. Bubba quite frankly saw his brother as an obstacle between him and his mummy, which I’ve eluded to in other blog posts. There was also the prospect of Bubbins first operation, that ended up being done at 11 months old. I eventually required support from the cleft psychologist, another fantastic support service provided by the team – I’d managed to convince myself that something dreadful was going to happen during the surgery and suffered panic attacks and insomnia as a result. I fondly recall the kindness shown by the psychologist who came to see us as I cradled a very brave baby post-op. Offering a shoulder for support, she said “see, he came back from surgery, you made it through it!”

An intense period of recovery followed the operation to build Bubbins palate. This was incredibly challenging for us as parents and required a lot of support from a combination of family, the cleft nurse team, the CLAPA charity and the online cleft community. It was harder than we’d imagined and unbelievably disheartening to watch the repair and stitches come apart before our very eyes, meaning that at least one subsequent operation would be necessary. We made it to the light at the end of the post operative tunnel though, just in time for Bubbins to enjoy his first birthday in style, his first post operative solid food, four weeks on, was his birthday cake. The look of pleasure on his face is a memory I will cherish.

Of everything that surrounded the PRS diagnosis, an associated syndrome, known as Sticklers, was another of my main worries, besides the operation. Sticklers is a disorder that can affect the eyes, ears and joints and occurs in 50-80% of all PRS affected children. The syndrome can lead to loss of sight. We were warned about this the day after Bubbins was born and I remember thinking the palate is easy, that can be fixed but sight cannot and I shed many a tear about this, it felt like the toss of a coin. It was particularly hard knowing that tests could not be done until after the age of one. We just had to sit tight and ‘wait and see’. Yet again though we were blessed, Bubbins proved to be our little trooper and after a few months of tests he was discharged from the ophthalmic department with the all clear, we will be eternally thankful for this.

Beyond the operations and tests…..

I made a conscious vow to myself after Bubbins first birthday that I would stop with all the worrying and simply enjoy! I will always feel like I tainted his first year with stress and worry and didn’t enjoy it as much as I should have. I now compartmentalise everything to cleft review milestones, happy in the knowledge that the prospect of the next operation doesn’t even need to cross my mind until he is at least three years old. For now, we focus on the every day task of learning to speak – requiring a fair bit of patience, sign language to help fill the gaps and regular diagnostic speech therapy. Bubbins will get there eventually, we’ll hear the word ‘daddy’ as opposed to ‘a-ee’ and along the way the specialist team will support him (and us) with his future cleft needs.

There will never be a day goes by where we don’t thank our lucky stars for our healthy children – touch wood! We feel so incredibly fortunate that our son only has a cleft palate (again, touch wood). If there is one thing we’ve learnt as we’ve grown as parents, it is that there are so many worse things that can and do affect babies and children and you don’t have to look far within family and friendship circles to see those who are living with such heartbreak and worry. We never ever fail to feel immense emotion on our regular trips to the children’s hospital, where we are humbled by the strength of other families, yet deeply saddened for what their children have to endure, despite them smiling through it all.

Raising awareness…

Writing this blog has been a bit of a ‘process’ for me. I’ve always written Bubbins chronicles since his birth to help manage my emotions and give him some understanding of his early days as he grows older but these notes have always been for my eyes only. This ‘blog’ is a bit different – baring personal feelings and experiences and sharing them with the big wide world to raise awareness, whilst trying my best to be mindful that there are far worse things than a cleft! I just hope I’ve hit the right note…

People often say to me “Oh, you’d never know he had a cleft!” – if I had money for every time I heard this I’d be fairly wealthy! I probably would have said something similar myself many moons ago and from my perspective it demonstrates the broader lack of awareness of isolated cleft palate as a condition and a great reason for this blog.

I do wish I had known more about what is included in the newborn checks, perhaps even stumbled across something in the mummy magazines that I read religiously during pregnancy. Had I known more then maybe Bubbins cleft would have been less of a surprise. So in writing this blog I hope it goes some way to sharing a small element of what we now know and in reading this blog you are enlightened somewhat to our, very individual, experience of having our darling 1 in 700! One of the 1200 babies born extra special in 2015!

motherhood, parenting, staycation

The Great British Staycation!

Back in January, you may recall, there was a day the travel agents named ‘Blue Monday’. A clever marketing ploy to remind us how much we all desperately need a holiday. Adverts showing sparkling blue shores with golden sands were distinctly unavoidable. I tried to pay as little attention to these as I could, in fact, I had quite a happy monday, local playgroup fun amongst other things. I will admit, I did find conversations steering themselves towards holidays, which is clearly the subliminal plan behind this ‘special day’. I resisted for a while but inevitability there was no avoiding it, the message sunk in, and within days I had planned out and booked our half term and Easter breaks….(don’t get me started on Summer, the hubby clearly cannot cope being organised that far in advance!)……

However, I did not book the blue shores and golden sands that you may imagine…..

So I write this blog as an ode to the Great British staycation. My thoughts on not just surviving it with a toddler in tow but, dare I say it, relishing the pleasures and treasured memories that it brings!

You may question how a Southern girl who once worshipped the sun (as much as an English rose can do so!) came to resign herself to the simple pleasures of Britain and it’s not so hidden treasures. Well, let me enlighten you!…Firstly, becoming a parent means you can no longer sleep on a sun lounger all day long…Funny that! However, most parents we know, still hop on a plane each year in search of guaranteed sunshine and far off shores and clearly have a lovely time. So why, you might ask, don’t we?….Well, apart from being advised against air travel (for now) with Bubbins (quite a deciding factor for us), I still do not think, to this day, I could convince the hubby to board a plane!

I will take you back to our first, and to date our last, family holiday abroad. Before I do, it would be prudent of me to remind you of those adverts again…..crystal white sands, turquoise shorelines, blissfully relaxed parents, drink in hand, overlooking blissfully happy children. It’s the dream, or so they tell us in the ads!

Now imagine, upon arrival, you’ve finally got an overtired toddler into bed, you’ve congratulated yourself on mastering the degree course to erect the travel cot and after emptying the cases to locate the baby monitor, sterilising kit and general rigmarole that comes with a child, you are ready for a drink! Next comes relaxing on your private balcony, book and welcome bubbles in hand – yes, I did say book, a rarity, the bubbles on the other hand are a simple necessity! Let the enjoyment commence, the sheer bliss of warm summer nights, care free, for all of ten minutes before hearing on ‘said’ baby monitor the sound of vomiting!…..oh dear, oh dear!…..To this day we will never know if it was a bug or travel sickness (either way, not helped by endless shovelling of a cheese panini on the plane to keep the peace), all I can say is, vacation or staycation, takes spares, plenty spares!

So, after a miserable 24 hours, wishing we were back home, we all perked up in time to enter the next new phases. Starting with the toddler refusing to eat or drink anything foreign….so that would be everything then! (Shakes head in desperation, seriously, how does a Greek cows milk taste so different?!) Followed by a constant hunt for shade and battles with a trowel to apply the factor 50 to the fair skinned, sand covered Bubba, and in turn dealing with the very public meltdowns as a result (ginger and sun mix about as well as sun cream and sand!) Not to mention Bubba being terrified of the pool and sea, ruling out many of the holidays key features….All in all, you can imagine the speed at which I ran to the beach bar each day when nap time arrived….”Another drink madam?” Cue quick check under the buggy shade….”Absolutely, make it a double!” I am not ashamed to say, this became the highlight of my day, and yes, I rocked the pushchair frenziedly with my foot to extend the pleasure!

So, back to those adverts……false advertising in our experience at least! I could whole heartedly appreciate when my hubby said the words “we’re never going abroad again!”

Safe to say, the memory of our lovely ‘vacation’, followed by the arrival of Bubbins and his need for land/sea travel only, has meant we’ve firmly stuck to our staycations but what wonderful staycations they have been….Happy, happy times! Yes, we have previously been incredibly lucky weather wise, as, let’s face it, Britain does not have a guaranteed blessing on that front. However, we have just returned from our most recent staycation and can honestly say, making memories is just as much fun in the torrential rain as the blazing sunshine, possibly even more memorable, with not a blob of suncream in sight, just lots of puddles, child heaven!!

I do think you have to choose wisely with your destination and plan in advance, not just what you intend to do but what you intend to wear. A downside of the staycation is having to pack for every weather occurrence. We experienced, rain, sleet, snow, wind, rainbows and sunshine, all in 4 days. A plus side is that you have your entire car, not just 20kg, to fill your boots with, and if you are extra lucky, a roof box too! I am strangely thankful to the rain this time too, I managed to reduce my post-holiday washing load from 7 to 4 washes, all because the boys wore their waterproof suits the entire time (it amazed me how clean they remained beneath!) Literally, every cloud has a silver lining! I can wholeheartedly recommend a bit of rain to brighten your washing day!

Another thing I have learned from much experience, is that investment is key to holiday bliss. By investment I mean, a trip to your local toy shop and going wild in the aisles. The return, if you have indeed invested wisely with your purchases, will be in the form of a couple of relatively stress free hours of an afternoon to indulge in some pre-dinner drinks (the upgraded version of the aforementioned ‘beach bar’ drinks for when nap time no longer exists!) Worth every penny!!

Yet another bonus of the staycation, is the distinct lack of foreign food. Although I have to say on this occasion, it would not have mattered what food was placed in front of our youngest this week. After being offered some delicious tasting morsels he perfected his stubborn refusal and instead consumed a total of approximately 10 chips and 2 pieces of soggy garlic bread, only to refuse the exact same offerings two days later! Joy! The eldest, who is thankfully now much less fussy, relished the fact that he can now read the menu and choose himself his own dinner (again, it helps that this was not written in another language lol). It appears this was high up on the memory stakes too, as the first thing he did upon his return home was draw a picture of ‘said’ dinner!

One of my favourite aspects of the holiday was simply getting waterproofs on and heading out to explore. Now that Bubbins is that bit older he can manage to walk (be dragged) on lots of beautiful trails. In fact this time we clocked up 16.1km of rocky, tree root ridden, hill climbs over the space of just 3 days. That’s a lot of walking for a little person! He only once stopped like a stubborn mule. The rest of the time he was encouraged by the endless puddles, mud, a treasure hunt, chocolate energy boosts and an unlimited supply of praise, lightly tainted by sprinkles of mummy complaining her elbows hurt from pulling him, I mean encouraging him along! We obviously had a hidden agenda behind all of this exertion – the added bonus of sleepy humans and silent restful nights for all. Sadly this comes with no guarantee, as demonstrated by our miniature insomniac! Bed at 9pm every night then for mummy and daddy, yawn!

We haven’t entered foreign soil now for well over four years and have no immediate plans to do so either (at least not with the kiddies). Although I’m not sure we will still be able to make this claim post brexit when we hop over the water to the republic but that’s another blog altogether that I don’t fancy getting into! We’re hopeful that eventually we’ll be able to jump on a plane and then the world is our oyster. In the least it would make for much easier travelling to Grandma and grandads (1 hour flight vs 8 hour drive hmm!) For now though, the kids seem more than satisfied, in fact elated, to spend all day jumping in puddles, squelching through mud, digging in rivers, building dams, kicking a football and scooting about.

Of course you could argue that much of the above can occur at home or abroad and I’ll give you that! It absolutely could. But whether you choose to stay or vacate, by far the most memorable holidays are the least complicated. Long may we remain content to stick with these simple pleasures that come with the beautiful scenery our kingdom’s treasures have to offer and more importantly, watching the delightful expressions on our beautiful boys little faces. Some of my most distinct favourite childhood memories were made from the exact same ingredients (and it’s no secret family recipe).

Upon return from our holibobs Grandad asked Bubbins “What did you do on holiday?” Without hesitation he replied in a most joyous manner, “I used my umbrella” – evidently the highlight for him……enough said! Then, when heading to bed that evening Bubba was trying to decide what to dream about, as you do, and said, “I know, I’ll dream about our walks – the waterfalls and streams that you could walk through, they were incredible weren’t they!?”

So there you have it. Our recipe for success this staycation was a couple of umbrellas, endless puddles, a handful of streams and the odd glass of wine thrown in for good measure. We loved it. Simple!

The Great British Staycation | Simple pleasures | Memories to treasure!

motherhood, parenting

It’s not my party but I’ll cry if I want to!

I cannot quite believe that we will be the proud owners of a six year old tomorrow! Another incredible year has flown by and I sit now, as I do every birthday eve, reflecting on the last 365 days, wondering how on earth my baby is another year older already!

I’d happily bet money that there isn’t a mother out there that doesn’t reminisce over their child’s actual birth around the time of their birthday celebrations. At the point of writing this, exactly six years ago, I was in labour at a wedding, grimacing through what were probably very funny speeches, blissfully unaware of the rollercoaster that lay ahead! I say this primarily because I believe at one point during the twenty-seven hour period I actually thought I was on one! Technically I was. A bed shaped one! Whizzing down the hospital corridor at full speed, but therein lies another story. Still….with every birthday I replay the moments in my mind, time and time again. The memories never fade, and luckily, with each passing year, wonderful new memories are added to the replay, making for some pretty emotional times.

These emotional times, as I call them, got me thinking. As adults, our birthdays seemingly come around very quickly, advancing age sneaking upon us more rapidly every year. As children, let’s face it, we’ve all experienced it, birthdays seem to take forever (as does Christmas!) and counting the fractions becomes an integral part of growing up. This year was pivotal for Bubba’s understanding of birthdays and time. From the moment Bubba turned five years old he asked when he was going to be six. And so the importance of fractions, in my simple understanding of them, meant that we had to, of course, celebrate the half way point in style. Yes, we had birthday cake and sung happy half birthday! A tradition I would happily continue now that it has begun….any excuse when cake is involved.

Anyhow, back to my original point…there is definitely something about your child’s birthday and like the saying goes ‘I can’t quite put my finger on ‘it’! ‘It’ is incredibly difficult to explain and I cannot speak for the daddies for obvious reasons but I am pretty sure that for every mother, a child’s birthday elicits the same emotions for us all to some degree. I see ‘it’ and hear ‘it’ in both my mother and mother-in-law too, so I know it exists. For them it is perhaps a mixture of reminiscent joy along with a mysterious bundle of emotions for their grandchild that I am struggling to describe.

By this point in my blogging journey you have probably come to realise that I am a fairly emotional person. I do try my best not to fall apart in tears on a daily occasion (regularly using my happy tears laughing technique perfected by myself and my wiser sis), though I do find birthdays a bit of a stumbling point on that front. I tend to cry a rainbow of tears during the run up and on the day itself.

Maybe this bundle of emotions relates to the thought of missing all the lovely things they said and did when they were smaller. Like drawing the most adorable picture or telling me they love me more than I could ever love them. Or noticing year on year the need for cuddles slowly declining and the dependence on mummy gradually decreasing. Whereas on the other hand there is such joy and wonder in seeing all the changes as they develop and grow. Increasing in confidence, drawing even more beautiful pictures that annotate handwritten stories from their ever growing imagination. Knowing that when they say they love you, they’ve saved it for when you need to hear it the most. Our children are incredible.

As I’ve said, the culmination of all these emotion has a delightful habit of bursting out of me at various points during the birthday preamble. The most common starting point for me, usually a guaranteed tear inducer, would appear to be the cake creation process!…..

Every year I say “never again, next year it’ll be shop bought”. Yet, every year I have a lapse in memory and spontaneously decide to create a cake AGAIN! (I type this whilst shaking my head in dismay, when will I learn?!) Let me just say this, the pictures I aspire to on google never quite come to fruition…..hence the tears!! This year however when the cake decided to sink southwards I had already accepted its fate, that this was never going to be my finest masterpiece. I actually managed to smile at it through no tears whatsoever – success! I had masterfully convinced myself that Bubba would love it no matter what. Afterall everything looks different through a child’s eye, does it not? Needless to say, I won’t indulge what I thought when I finally showed him my masterpiece and he looked decidedly unimpressed before asking “is it mouldy?” …..

Anyway, back to the rest of the tears from the aforementioned bundle. After the cake debacles they tend to flow a little more loosely!

Easiest to describe are the tears of happiness, love, and pride. These don’t need further spelling out. You all know them and enjoy them and know doubt feel so lucky to have experienced another year of love, precious milestones and achievements. I also experience tears of excitement, purely for anticipation of Bubba experiencing his birthday celebrations. I’ve absolutely no doubt the above emotions stem from my own wonderful childhood memories of birthdays. The efforts my own parents went to and the beautiful cakes my mum lovingly crafted for me. Perhaps this is where my insistence came from in the cake department and why I have previously ended up in tears. I could only ever aspire to be the cake baker and decorator my own mummy was and still very much is!

The preceding happy tears are usually followed by what I can only think to describe as tears of disbelief. Now, I might not be quite on the mark here but I really cannot think how else to describe the tears that come with the realisation of yet another year passed. Where? Seriously! Where does time fly too? I feel I cannot emphasise this enough! How is it in fact possible that we nearly own a six year old? Yet it feels like only yesterday that we brought our precious wee bundle home from the hospital and proceeded to fumble our way through parenthood in those early days. I also wonder how I can be in such disbelief, seeing as it happened before my very own eyes! There really are no truer words tempus fugit, time really does fly!

I feel I need to congratulate myself a little now as I’ve actually done pretty well so far this year. I feel that I have had a little more control over my delightful emotions. I’ve made it through present wrapping, cake decorating, tea party planning and successful execution and a lovely family day out. I’ve now just got to hold it together, with the help of a little wine this evening, as I clock watch, continue to reminisce and lovingly display the presents in anticipation of a rather excited six year old waking us tomorrow morning.

I won’t deny, we did have some tears at the tea party, from the birthday boy himself though, not me! Hence the inspiration for the blog title. Who can blame him though, he wasn’t wrong when he said “dead fishes is a boring party game”. I would like to add that this was not my game suggestion! So on that note, I’ll leave it here and go back to enjoying the birthday eve excitement. I will make certain that I dwell a little longer on bedtime cuddles with my five year old before his overnight transformation into my even bigger ‘big boy’…..Six years old!! Six years old!…..I cannot believe it!……….Uh oh……here they come…….

motherhood, parenting

Costume changes.

Today I found myself discreetly laughing as my 2 year old, freshly dressed in his brother’s batman costume, began throwing toddler style punches into the air, spinning around and grunting, as if to demonstrate his newly found status and authority. This was shortly followed by a lunge in my direction with arms flailing about. I gently reminded him that batman is a superhero, emphasis on the ‘hero’, he does not hurt people, especially not his mummy!

Both of my boys are equal in the respect that, as soon as a costume is donned, their persona completely alters. They become fully immersed into a world of character and imagination. I am almost certain, based on their behaviours and facial expression alone, that they truly believe they are from another realm. A simple outfit change is all it takes for this magical transformation. Thankfully these transformations are generally short lived!

These few minutes of imaginary play really struck a chord with me. It really got me thinking about identity of all things…My identity! … (Never mind, questioning is this a new ‘hitting’ phase?!)

Rewind back a few years. Sat, heavily pregnant with my first child, at a business planning meeting, I was asked a familiar question. “When are you coming back to work after having the baby? Will you even come back?!” My familiar reply, “Of course, absolutely, I will see you in nine months, you cannot keep me away.” I was so self-assured. So naive. After all, I loved my job, I had carved a great career, the baby would love nursery, would it not?! (Not to mention, I needed the job to pay the mortgage!) I reflect back now and can honestly say I had no idea about motherhood. Well, that’s not entirely true. I had an idea of how to care for a baby. At least I hoped that I did! I was thirty odd weeks pregnant and had read ‘What to expect when you’re expecting’ (thanks Heidi), what else was there to know?!…However, upon reflection, I do not recall reading the chapter on the ‘mind altering’ little being that would emerge into the world and turn ‘said’ world, and more importantly me, upside down. In a wondrous way I must add.

Fast forward a few months. I had given birth to our darling baby boy and as those months passed the bond understandably grew more immense. It was not until our baby boy turned six months old that I distinctly recall falling apart in an emotional flood of tears. Having had nearly a month of maternity leave prior to delivery, I knew I only had two months left before returning to full time employment. The realisation hit me really hard and I simply wasn’t ready. I’d bottled up my feelings and just could not bear the thought of handing him over to nursery so soon. Needless to say, time passed and thankfully nine months turned into thirteen wonderful months but nevertheless the phased return swiftly merged into the feeling of never having been away. Still, I had been away, and I had changed!

Going back to the batman costume and identity changes (I realise my mind works in strange ways). I clearly wasn’t savvy enough to predict the profound effect motherhood would have on me.

I’ve come to recognise that becoming a mother is somewhat a metamorphosis. A transformation into a completely different person from the one that you were. A new identity. A costume change! Reflecting back over the years, I’ve metamorphosed through many versions of myself. From a ‘suited and booted’ career woman, to a pregnant career woman, a working mother, a pregnant working mother and most recently a stay at home mother. Phew, that is a lot of iterations of the same ‘me’ but each with a completely different sense of identity along the way. No costume change being quite as intense as the moment you give birth to your first baby and enter the realm of motherhood. It’s the most magical and beautiful costume you could ever want to wear and I feel truly blessed. Cue emotional happy tears.

And now to the present. Times have changed considerably in our world. Being a mum means priorities switch, circumstances inevitably change and life turns up a gear. We now have two delightful little boys, whom I adore to infinity and beyond (yes, we have a Buzz outfit too). I recognise my costume is now very different to the one I enjoyed wearing for so many years but it fits me perfectly, regardless of whether or not I have a less productive day, or what my appraisal ranking may be (although I know both my boys would rank me exceeding regardless!) This does not mean that I do not yearn to capture a bit of the original ‘me’ every now and then, in addition to the current ‘me’. I know that times change and move on and very soon I will return to being a working mum and my children will move on to new phases in their lives. For now I treasure the time with my babies, and ‘on the side’ writing fulfils the yearning to exercise the grey matter and feel a sense of personal achievement above and beyond the proud parenting moments and glass of wine to toast another successful day of mothering.

Whatever iteration of motherhood we are experiencing, it is undoubtedly challenging, exhilarating and full of joy. I have evolved so much over the years and I know more evolution is yet to come. My costume will remain the same (‘touch wood’), I may just pop a different hat on with it!! 🙂


motherhood, parenting

Love at one hundred and forty first sight!

141 days. That is how long it took. I know the date and time and have photographic evidence. It was a huge deal! You could say I’d been eagerly anticipating the moment, whilst beginning to wonder if it would ever actually happen, or indeed if they were destined to be arch enemies for life!

In those 141 days we had tears, tantrums, cuddles and kisses, more tears and tantrums, all mixed in with jealous snatching, pushing and hitting. I could not safely leave the two boys in one room, even to go to the toilet, without expecting to return to a screaming baby and guilty looking older brother.

What on earth had happened to love at first sight?

I don’t recall reading any parenting books on introducing siblings. In hindsight maybe I should have done! I know I’d had my suspicions that it would not all be plain sailing and I did go as far as to read a children’s book endlessly to our eldest, convinced that this would ease the journey for him.

We were on a steep learning curve and rapidly discovered that life doesn’t happen quite like they describe in the ‘Becoming a Big Brother’ book. Our three year old would end up with next to no protected ‘mummy time’ and when he did finally find a few minutes between a sickly baby and an exhausted, frazzled, highly emotional mummy, it would always be disturbed by the realities of daily life.

I suppose we are surrounded by unrealistic expectations fed to us from media, books, etc, that we begin to believe them as the norm. All showing instant reactions of love upon meeting a future boyfriend, husband, baby, sibling. Who knows, maybe fellow mums skirt around the real truths, through fear of not conforming to societal, or indeed their own, expectations for their growing family.

I’ve always tried to be quite honest with myself and others that it was not love at first sight for my children. Please don’t get me wrong, affection was present but I’m pretty certain the love was one-sided for some time. My eldest struggles with empathy and is not overly paternal (no doubt the underlying reason for my obsessive retelling of the big brother book, desperate to convince him all would be happy and wonderful). He struggled to adjust to being a big brother and to understand why mummy and daddy were all consumed by this new little being. Who can blame him, I certainly don’t!

I’ve come to learn that it is perfectly OK for love to take its time. Not all love is instant. This doesn’t make the love any weaker. The heart just needs time to grow to make room for new love. Growing a little each day until it is so full of love it spills out in words and actions. In our case, it took 141 days of growing before Bubba had the realisation of just how much love he had for his baby brother and it spilled out in cuddles and the words “Mummy, I really love my baby brother”. I could not be more pleased (and if I am honest, a little relieved!) to hear these words after what felt like a fairly long time.

Now, I often hear Bubba saying “I love you more than you love me”, and watch our youngest smiling back, unable to construct the words to reply. It is wonderful and reassuring to hear and I feel safe in the knowledge that despite all the competing, bickering, snatching and fighting, they secretly (and sometimes publicly) adore each other and always will. A very special love indeed, that took time to forge its strength and continues to grows each and every day. Brothers. Best buddies for life.

The Pramshed
motherhood, parenting

Second child syndrome

Sitting around a piano at a local toddler group recently, listening to my little boy singing his heart out to ‘twinkle twinkle’ in his own very special way, a friend said to me “I bet that makes you so proud?!” ….”yes it really does” I replied. And as I quietly shed a tear it got me thinking….

Picture this, heavily pregnant with my second child and frantically completing a series of photo books to capture each year of my precious first born’s moments to date. Promising myself I will continue to do this forever more, not only for my ‘baby’ (as he will always be, despite his age or family position) but for his younger sibling too.

I held an image in my mind of bedroom shelves neatly stocked with yearly photo annuals, fully completed baby books, not to mention the year on year journals documenting highlights of each child to their 18th year. Fast forward two and a half years and I think it is fairly safe to say, the reality is fairly far removed from the dream!

As a second child myself, I get it! Life is busier, more preoccupied and rightly so! After all, you no longer have just one heart to hold within your own but two (or should I say three, best acknowledge the hubby!) Upon reflection, I often recall looking back at family albums and questioning my mum on the lack of pictures in my album versus my older sister’s album. Sorry mum! I could never have understood. I hadn’t lived it myself.

You hear it all the time “poor child, it’s second child syndrome”. Hey, I’ve even said it myself sometimes to excuse my own parental failings! Perhaps because of this loosely used term I naively made the assumption that second time around it is not as magical, a sort of ‘been there done that’ effect. After all, it is impossible to describe to someone the intense joy and pride when your first born reaches milestones. A smile, a giggle, a tooth, first steps, first words…. You photograph it, write about it, publish it (how generational times change!) and most importantly, document it in the infamous ‘baby book’.

Surely it could not possibly feel the same second time around? Let’s face it, how do you even have time? I barely found time to function between squeeze feeds, expressing, endless rocking, immense reflux and tears (from us all!) The realisation hits home, my own mother did all of the above (probably slight differences!) and still managed to have ‘said’ images printed and sealed forever in an album (and in those days it was not a simple click purchase!) That’s right, I have my very own supermum.

Somehow the time has passed by more rapidly than ever. The reality is, there are no more photo annuals, for either child. There is a bare baby book in my second born child’s bedroom cupboard. I’ve forgotten what year I’ve caught up to in the 18 year journals and have found myself resorting to my social media timelines to capture what happened ‘this year’. Memory keeping is in the form of scribbled diary notes, moments captured, teeth recorded, milestones achieved. Oh and endless unedited, unorganised pictures floating around in a cloud somewhere.

My children have taught me an incredible amount in the last few years. The discovery that time really does pass us by in the blink of an eye is an easy learn. The acceptance that, despite being a perfectionist, it is not always possibly to fulfil original expectations and flexing the goals is a necessity. This was and still is a slightly trickier lesson to learn (with reference to scribbled diary notes and dusty baby books!) Perhaps my most profound learning lay within my own parental preconceptions…..

I’d always presumed second time around would never be like the first. Never as magical, never as momentous. I’d made a naive promise that nothing would alter, memories would be documented to the same extent for both children and this would continue open-endedly. I was wrong on all counts but one, my presumption was indeed accurate, second time around is most definitely not like the first!

The reality is, it doesn’t matter how you capture the moments. They will be there in some shape or format, etched in history. What matters is that the moments are lived and I can honestly and open heartedly say, second time around, the moments and milestones are even more incredible than I could have imagined or describe.

Perhaps it is because my second was born ‘extra’ special making some of these milestones slightly harder to achieve. Perhaps it is because I know he is my last baby and I must cherish everything. Perhaps milestones are a little more magical second time around because I have ‘been there and done that’ and am more confident and relaxed to enjoy the moments.

Amongst all the unknowns, I can at least now reliably say that second child syndrome is indeed ‘a thing’, a very special ‘thing’! Second time around the moments are sweeter, the pride more immense, the joy more heartfelt. I can say for certain that this is because second time around you have double the sweetness, double the pride and double the joy. I have both my first child and second child (babies) to be forever thankful to, for giving me all the above and ‘touch wood’, beyond!

The Pramshed