And breathe…

Sometimes, keeping your cool is the hardest thing in the world. There are times when the children become mini dictators, their weapons of mass destruction being relentless and irrational screaming. Even bringing out your own big guns (namely, shrieking like a fishwife that Father Christmas is WATCHING and he doesn’t like naughty little girls!) has no effect.

Last night, Big – usually a very compliant and easy child – had the devil in her. I’ve had a few rough nights with Little being snuffly, teething and hungrier as she begins weaning and Medium suffering a bout of tonsillitis. I’ve averaged maybe two to three hours a night and I am a wreck. I have that weird tinnitus thing you get when you’re super tired and my eyes keep going into a stare that’s really hard to break. I really, really needed the girls to go down easily last night. Lovely Husband was out with his cronies and planned to do the Christmas shop on his way home (I told you he’s lovely) and I had a date with a bath, Made in Chelsea (my guilty pleasure) on catch up and a very, very, VERY early night.

At first, it looked good. Medium was out before I’d finished reading their story. Little was out as soon as she finished her feed. Big was looking at her books silently in bed. I retreated downstairs with a sigh and started folding washing. And then it started.

I don’t know what got into Big, but the following two hours were two of the hardest I’ve endured as a parent. Suffering pretty severe sleep deprivation and with no back up, the two hours of endless screaming for absolutely no apparent reason were exhausting. I tried everything; I got cross, I was kind, I read stories, I threatened to phone Father Christmas, I promised a surprise present, I cuddled, I scolded, I pulled everything out of my arsenal but nothing worked. Big didn’t even know what was wrong, so how I was supposed to fix it I have no idea.

Eventually, exhausted, I burst into tears. I sat and listened to her howling through the baby monitor on the sofa and let the bitter tears of frustration fall. I indulged myself for a few minutes then patted myself on the back. Despite the provocation (if you can call it that – I’m in want of another word, but I can’t find one. I told you I’m sleep deprived), I didn’t lose it. I kept my cool and I didn’t lose it when – especially with my eyes stinging and my legs feeling like they are made of lead – she pushed every button. If it had been anyone other than one of my children, I can’t imagine I’d have stayed calm.

My last attempt to settle her was to bring out The Rabbit That Wants To Go To Sleep. You know the one – the book that the Daily Fail reported as THE tool for getting children to sleep several months ago. She was asleep by the time I got to the fourth page. Was it the book? No, she was exhausted and she finally gave into it. It’s been a busy term and she’s so excited about Christmas that she’s ready to explode. I finished reading the story anyway and then I took ten minutes to sit and just watch her sleep: Her lovely eyes closed, her little mouth relaxed and her gorgeous hair tumbled around her shoulders. She really is the most beautiful child. I watched her and I felt the stress of the last two hours disappear. There’s nothing so calming as watching your child sleep peacefully.

Thankfully tonight all three have gone to bed easily. Largely thanks to lovely playdate that wore them out and regular reminders that Big needed to go to bed nicely if she wanted Father Christmas to visit. I know other nights like last night will happen again, but hopefully next time I won’t be quite so sleep deprived, but what I will always remember to do when they finally fall asleep is to watch them. To watch their dreams flit across their faces and remember that I love them and I am blessed to have them, sleep deprivation and all.

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And breathe…

When they make you cry

Today was a day of tears. Good tears. The kind of tears that start with a bit of a choke in your throat and you feel like your chest is going to implode. Your bottom lip does a little tremble – nothing major, just a wobble. You smile as your eyes well up.

Your pupil reflects the reason for the tears. In my case, today Big was Mary. It was her second nativity. Last year she was a sheep and got a bit worried and cried.

Big is a funny little button. At home, you wouldn’t be surprised to find a copy of The Stage in her back pocket. At Pre-School, you wouldn’t be surprised to find her hiding in a corner. She’s a complete contradiction. She hates loud noise, but loves banging drums and singing. She hates being the focus of attention, but at home will treat visitors to solos of Let It Go. She will melt down if another child is upset, but she’ll tell her sister to stop being so silly if she cries.

I spent most of last night worrying how she’d cope with the starring role. She’d struggled to get to sleep last night after counting down the sleeps until ‘Her Play’. She woke early and melted down about it still being sleep time. I knew it would go one of two ways: Spectacularly badly with her refusing to take part, or she’d be reaching for an Oscar by lunchtime. Thankfully, it was closer to the latter. She happily walked down onto the stage with Joseph on her arm, declaring that she “couldn’t see Mummy!”, swiftly followed by “Hello Mummy, hello Daddy, hello Gransy!”. Obviously, we’d got there twenty minutes early to secure the front row.

Okay, she didn’t sing anything more than ‘We wish you a Merry Christmas’ and instead sat with her hands over her ears during the singing and she was too busy saying hello to us to remember to say her line, but she was fantastic. She was fantastic because she coped. All those people looking at her shy little face and there were no hysterics and no tears. My little button really was the star of the show and I am bursting with love and pride.*

This afternoon she had ballet. Big has a fabulous ballet teacher who is brilliant with smalls. Her class usually has about five children in it and I can never understand the mums that sit there playing on their phones or reading a book instead of watching their smalls. It’s delightful. I usually have half an eye on feeding Medium raisins to try and stop her joining in, but I knew today that would be futile. Big’s ballet school came to toddler group on Thursday and Medium got to ‘have a go’. Consequently, today she couldn’t see why she couldn’t claim a dot and take part.

And take part she did. Despite being only two-and-a-bit, Medium was up there with the Bigs doing everything they did. So much so that she can now join the class and ‘do ballet’. She is beyond excited and watching her chunky little legs ‘dip dip dip’ as she pointed her little chubby toes gave my tear ducts another work out.

Two work outs in one day and not an onion in sight. Those little pixies are just the best.

*Apologies to the other parents of cast members today. This was a big deal for Big.

When they make you cry

Family friendly breaks: Review 1

Lovely Husband works ridiculous hours and I am permanently shattered from the demands of our three smalls. We don’t spend enough time together. Weekends are full of chores and catching up. We still don’t spend enough time together. Consequently, we’ve decided to try and get away for a long weekend once a month to preserve precious family time. Our smalls are growing up fast. Despite the demands on our time, they won’t wait. They’ve growing to do and we don’t want to miss it.

We’re not unique in the push-me-pull-me of everyday family life. We’re fortunate to be in the position that we can make a decision to spend more time together away from social and household demands and squirrel ourselves away. I’ve done extensive Googling on suitable destinations and I’ve been shocked at the lack of reviews by other parents to help me find family friendly self-catering cottages in the UK. So I thought I’d share our experiences with you, so if you’re looking for somewhere to go, perhaps we’ve tried it first and can guide you. This weekend, we bunged our stuff in the car and took our first trip.

Twin Cottage, Burley (New Forest)
I simply Googled ‘luxury self-catering, New Forest’. That’s all. I was thrown up with results of camping and hotels and then Twin Cottage caught my eye. As a parent of tiny smalls, the idea of a weekend away almost doesn’t seem worth the bother. We need a travel cot, toys, books, steriliser, Bumbo, a billion different options for whatever the weather, food, wine… Plenty of wine. Twin Cottage seemed to clear the boot space for the wine.

When I say that even if you have a four-year-old, a two-year-old and a 20-week-old like we do, you only need throw a bag of clothes in the boot, I really do mean it. We walked into a cottage with an unrivalled welcome pack. Bread (baking in the bread maker), wine, milk, eggs, bacon, sausages… A pack of Peppa Pig cookies ready to bake and both Calpol and Baby Nurofen. Seriously, you only need clothes.

Boasting a fully stocked playroom and a stable full of outdoor toys, one crate of packing was no longer needed. The toys were perfect for our smalls. Medium fell in love with a Woody doll, and he was consequently treated to a National Trust and a Buckler’s Hard (v interesting) outing. The only way we managed to leave him behind was by telling her that Woody had to go on a special mission to find Jessie. Fortunately, she’ll be finding Woody and Big will be finding Jessie in their stockings this year. I’d already bought and wrapped them so it’s nice to know this year’s gifts will be a hit!

Walking through to the dining room and our girls were thrilled to discover wrapped presents waiting for them. Perfectly chosen gifts that they were delighted with. Even Little had a Lamaze cloppety horse (we love Lamaze toys). Alongside, we found chocolates and wine for us. The night ahead looked good.

Upstairs and the girls’ room had more toys, a fabulous nightlight and friendly owls waiting on their beds for them. The bathroom boasted REN toiletries for us and baby friendly ones for the girls. I really didn’t need to pack their bath stuff.

A full compliment of DVDs and books completed their entertainment options and a steriliser, baby monitor, night light and Bumbo meant Little’s needs were catered for.

One thing that always annoys me about self-catering cottages is having to buy dishwasher tablets and sundries when you’re only there for a few days. Really, I’d rather pay a bit more and have enough loo roll for our stay. We stayed at a wonderful house in the summer with five bathrooms. Not one had hand wash. I bought five dispensers of hand wash for a week’s break. And left them there for the next occupants. This bug bare was not brought into play at Twin Cottage where there was hand wash, hand cream, dishwasher tablets and every other domestic product you can think of. Really, the owner had thought of everything.

The house was clean, comfortable and homely. We settled in immediately and our four night break felt much longer. We loved being able to walk straight from the door into the New Forest and see ponies, deer and pigs. We had a lovely family walk and built some precious memories. We’re not thrilled by the eateries (we’re a bit foodie) but maybe we just didn’t find the right places to go.

The most precious gift Twin Cottage gave us though, was family time. We weren’t endlessly unpacking, packing and cleaning. It was done for us. So thank you, Amanda. We’ll be back.

*If you own or manage a family friendly self-catering property and would like us to review it, please get in touch. We’re not looking for freebies. We’re looking for places to go where we don’t need to pack the world into the back of the car. Recommendations gratefully received for venues within two hours of West Sussex. 

Family friendly breaks: Review 1