Family friendly breaks: Secret Meadows, Suffolk

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Now, I’ll be honest. Lovely Husband and I do like a spot of camping. Pre-children, we used to have a boat that we’d take down to the Hamble and poodle around on the Solent with, while camping at a lovely, quiet site nearby. I have wonderful memories of rain lashing down on our tent while we snuggled within. Post-children, a tent in the garden is about all we could bring ourselves to do. With four smalls of six and under, and The Miracle only just about to turn one, we just need too much STUFF. The Miracle has had a rough winter with two hospital admissions, so the idea of trying to check his temperature and administer Calpol with the aid of just a wind-up torch left me a bit cold. Yet still we hankered for fresh air and simplicity and the chance for the smalls to run wild.

Being married to Lovely Husband is, at times, a challenge: He’s the man who has everything (including the most fantastic wife in the world. That’s me, by the way) and if he doesn’t have it, he buys it. Birthday and Christmas presents consequently need a bit of blue sky thinking and for his birthday this year, that’s exactly what I decided to buy him: Blue skies (hopefully). We’d rediscover our camping hearts with a spot of glamping. The five star version of camping, if you will. So, armed with my credit card and laptop, I looked for a glamping site and stumbled across Secret Meadows, a site in a  115acre wildlife reserve in Suffolk. Secret Meadows has six Safari tents, one, which we stayed in, has power and Wifi. and another has a hot tub. There’s also a converted horse box, gypsy caravan and a shepherd’s hut.

I won’t lie, it wasn’t cheap. It’s comparable to hiring a cottage for the weekend, but if the price was similar, so were the furnishings and special touches. A four poster bed in the master bedroom, crisp white linen, organic produce on the welcome tray… But it was under canvas, so it’s still camping, right? It was definitely still camping; the first night was chilly, and we were grateful for the log burner in the living area. Hot and cold running water, an electric shower and our own loo made the camping experience with a recently toilet trained Little and her muddy kneed sisters a pleasure.

Fundamentally a wildlife reserve, Secret Meadows offers all sorts of cool extras. We booked a three hour bushcraft session with Ross. Despite the tender age of our littles, he was able to engage Big and Medium in making jewellery out of elder branches and teaching them how to light fires. Even Little had a go with the saw, which was a bit scary; She’s a liability at the best of times. Little enjoyed playing shops in a nearby den, and examining the gazillion tadpoles in the pond nearby.

You can also hire chickens for the duration of your stay. We have chickens at home, so are spoilt with fresh eggs every day anyway, but it’s a charming extra for those that live in cities. Now, though this isn’t a bookable extra (it should be), Ross and Charlotte have a very special and friendly cat. I was woken at dawn on our first morning by Big saying there was a cat on her bed. Random, I thought, assuming she was dreaming. “Mummy,” she persisted. “There’s a big cat on my bed.” When I went in, lo and behold there was indeed a cat on her bed. Probably the most friendly cat we’ve ever met, she came to spend our final night with us too. Big is obsessed with cats; it made her holiday.

You can order breakfast, celebration and barbecue boxes, but these are expensive. We ordered a barbecue box for convenience, but we could’ve chosen exactly what we wanted from the well stocked honesty shop on site.

You know when you watch a film, and it replays a protagonist’s memories in a sepia infused film? I think back to our time at Secret Meadows and my mind does just that. We were blessed with the most incredible weather: blue skies and warm sunshine every day. I loved the freedom the site brought the smalls. Big, in her cycling helmet all day and to-ing and fro-ing between our tent and that of the friends she’d made. Medium searching for perfect smooth stones to give me as gifts. Little becoming ever more feral as the days wore on, and The Miracle exploring the wood and grass around him. A brilliant day crabbing at Walberswick and lunch in a sunny tea room.

I see snap shots of myself, curled up on the sofa with a glass of wine reading an actual book (and not my kindle) while Lovely Husband went out on his bike, then us sitting down to a barbecue in our tent lit with candles and gaslights. No TV, no stereo, just peace and quiet. And the stars; oh boy, the stars. It was, quite simply, perfect.

Find out more about Secret Meadows at http://www.secretmeadows.co.uk/.

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Family friendly breaks: Secret Meadows, Suffolk

An open letter to Little

My darling Little,

It seems like yesterday that you finally, after a long and exhausting labour, arrived. Despite your arduous journey into the world, other than a brief cry to show us you could, you were calm and tucked into your first feed. You were so unbelievably beautiful with enormous eyes and two obvious symmetrical dimples. You still are unbelievably beautiful; your eyes – still huge in your little face – are luminous and those ‘timbles’ (dimples) are ever present.

You’re a funny little button. Everywhere I look, I find stretched out tea towels with an array of play food arranged on them, all ready for a ‘ticnic’ (picnic) with Dolly. Dolly must get hungry; there’s usually one in the bathroom, one in the playroom and one in the middle of the kitchen floor. You love to bake with me and to get busy with your paints. You just like to do everything, usually at speed and if your sisters are engaged in something, you need to get involved too.

You’re a force of nature, Little. If Big is a promising spring day, Medium is a bright, summer’s morning and the Miracle is a cosy, cuddly winter’s night, you, my darling, are a hurricane. You bridge the seasons without blinking. One moment, there’s the sunshine of midsummer in your smile, then the mischief of spring in your eyes before – quick as a flash – the storm clouds of autumn gather and you unleash winter gales on us with the mother of all tantrums. Oh, you’re an expert at tantruming. The wrong colour cup, being given a biscuit because you asked for a biscuit, being told you’re two when you want to be eight… You’re a master of the irrational but then, as quickly as they arrived, the storm clouds clear and those bewitching dimples are back. You’re delicious.

Despite it feeling too soon for me, you’re ready for Pre-School. I don’t doubt that there’ll be parting sorrow for both of us this week, but my darling girl, you can take on the world and win. You define feisty. I will miss you on those mornings you’re out. We do so much together. As you take your first steps into the world and away from me, I want you to know that I’m so proud of the clever, sparky little girl that you are and I will be counting the minutes until I can kiss those dimples again and again.

I love you, Little, all the way to the moon and back.

Mummy xxx

An open letter to Little

The long and winding nights…

The Miracle is almost seven months old. Where did that time go, friends? As I type, my living room is full of twinkling Christmas lights and I’m aware that it’s not that much further on than the point last year in which I shared our somewhat surprising, but happy, news with you all.

By seven months, you’d think that The Miracle would be starting to sleep a bit, right? Wrong. Despite embracing the revelation of food – and believe me, he really does embrace food – The Miracle is resolutely a boob man. Food is wonderful; it’s a joy, it makes him laugh and smile and he can’t get enough of it. But it categorically does not take the place of his milk. Especially his nighttime milk. He’ll feed around three to four times a night and he soon worked out that at night, I’m not rushing around after his sisters and he can take his time. A feed can take anything from five minutes to an hour. My mum says it’s a habit, but with the amount of milk he takes, I don’t think so. That, and the variation of times suggests that he is hungry or, at the very least, thirsty. Besides which, what am I going to do about it? Not only is he my final baby, so I’m going to indulge him – sorry, but not sorry about that – but if he kicked off, the whole house would be woken up and Big, Medium and Little would join in the cacophony of screams. I’d like to say Lovely Husband would wake too, but he probably wouldn’t. (As an aside, why do people say they want to sleep like a baby? They should say they want to sleep like a husband).

And it’s not just The Miracle that’s stealing my sleep. Medium, in her angst over school, has been glued to me at night too. We have a king-sized bed and between her and The Miracle, I may as well be sleeping on a shelf. Add to that Big’s predilection for calling me to tell me that her duvet is ‘wrong’, her ‘pillow is too cold’, she’s got an itch, it’s dark outside (I kid you not!) and ‘is it tomorrow yet?’ along with Little’s sudden insistence for dummies of a particular colour, and I do wonder how I’m still standing. Sleep deprivation is a killer and, since The Miracle arrived, I’ve been known to:

  • Put my car keys through the dishwasher;
  • Find my phone in the fridge;
  • Make a cup of tea and put the used tea bag in a new cup, then throw the cup of tea in the bin;
  • Get in the car and drive to school, despite needing to go to the doctor’s in the other direction;
  • Actually, get in the car and drive to school regardless of where I’m meant to be going;
  • Break eggs for a cake and put the shells in the mixture and the eggs in the bin;
  • Completely misread a message from Lovely Husband, explode in rage at him at what I thought he’d said and then have to back down when I realise I’d flown off the handle at…. er, nothing;
  • Leave my bank card in a payment device and wander off;
  • Leave cash hanging out of a cash machine (thank you, honest person that chased me).

And that’s the tip of the iceberg. I sometimes think I’m going a bit mad.

My rambling aside, I’ve been sent a bottle of Infacare’s Night Time Baby Bath to try, and they’ve said that I can have a couple of spares to give away to you. Comment with your best sleep deprivation faux pas, and the best two will receive a complimentary bottle of bubbles.

Their blurb says that Infacare’s Night Time Baby Bath produces masses of long-lasting bubbles, perfect for  little ones to have fun with and the gentle, powdery fragrance helps to relax, easing tots first into bed and then off to sleep. If you think I’m wasting that on the kids, you’re mistaken. Anything for a good night’s sleep. This bad boy is mine.

RRP – Infacare Night Time Baby Bath £3.49 for 750 ml. Stockist details: available from all major supermarkets, as well as Lloyd’s Pharmacy and Boots. For more information: www.infacare.co.uk

 

The long and winding nights…

The worst mother in the world?

There are 200 children that attend Big and Medium’s primary school. The majority go in smiling and excited about their day ahead. Big absolutely loves school. She skips in, and comes home full of news about her day. She strongly believes that her teacher is a real-life princess. So does Lovely Husband.

Medium, on the other hand, hates it. As soon as she wakes up, she’s surly. She doesn’t want to eat breakfast or get dressed. Eventually, she’ll come round enough for us to feed her and get her ready for school. She’s subdued on the journey there, but usually bounds into the playground happily to play with Big and her friends.

But then the bell rings to start the school day, and to start Medium’s tears. Her response is almost Pavlovian. “Ooh, bell – I must cry.” The Reception children face a long walk from the playground to their classroom. It’s even longer when you’re grasping your sobbing child’s wrist and half pulling them up the path, before untangling them from your leg and bowling them into their incredibly kind and patient teaching assistant.

I have tried staying with her, but it makes her worse. I have tried putting notes in her pockets and giving her something of mine to ‘look after’. I point out a particular cloud or some other landmark each morning and tell her that every time she looks at it, Mummy is looking too and that I’m never far away. I tell her what she’ll have for tea so she can look forward to it. I tell her the exact time I’ll be picking her up. I excitedly wonder if the dinosaurs will be out for her to play with, and if her friends will have bunchies or plaits today. Nothing works. She’s developed a vocal tic that disappeared over half term, but returned as soon as her uniform was laid out.

I’m left wrung out before the school run is over, and constantly questioning myself. Medium is only four. She doesn’t legally have to be at school, and I wonder if I’m damaging her somehow by making her go. I’ve considered deferring, but she’d lose her Reception year and the jump to Year One is big enough without that hurdle to cross too. The speed at which they rattle through the early phonics – something she doesn’t find easy anyway – in Reception rules out the possibility of her losing that year. Put simply, she has to go.

This week, she starts part-time hours and breakfast club twice a week to see if that eases the anxiety she feels at leaving me. She’ll miss assembly for a while, and school are trying to work out coping strategies for her at lunch times. They’re supportive, and we’re meeting regularly to come up with new ideas to make this easier for her.

But nothing makes it easier for me. My guilt at leaving her so unhappy lasts all day. It’s exhausting. Medium is my sunshine child; the child that smiles all day and throws out so much love. I just wish she’d come out from behind this cloud.

The worst mother in the world?

A letter to Medium’s teacher

Dear Reception Teacher

RT (do you mind if I call you that?), there are some things that you need to know. I realise you’ve been doing this job for donkey’s years. There’s not much that you don’t know about children. You’ve encountered all sorts of personalities and brought the most unruly into line. I know that. I respect that. But this little fuzzy haired blonde in the line? She’s mine.

I know that all children are special. I know that every mum standing in line with their child will be giving you the same doleful, anxious eyes as they hand their child over to begin their school career. I know you don’t want to see our tears or take on board our anxiety. And you’re right: We’re adults and your concern is educating our babies.

But that’s just it. These are our babies. Medium has only just turned four. She’s the youngest in the year. You don’t care if she can write her name (she can’t), but you’d like her to be able to dress herself and wipe her own bottom. She tries, I promise, but it’s hit or miss. She is only just four. I don’t always see the capable little girl that she’s growing into. Sometimes I still see the big blue eyes staring out of her baby blanket and remember the first day that beautiful face broke into a smile.

That face smiles a lot. She’s a cheerful soul. She’s the kindest child I’ve ever known, always first to pick up her sisters if they’ve fallen, ready with a kind word if her brother is crying and happily approaches other children to join in her games. She’s great at sharing and she makes friends easily.

Her imagination is incredible. Her role-play is legendary, with her often staying in character for weeks. And when she’s in character, so is everyone else. It can be exhausting.

She sounds a dream, right? Not always. She’s complicated. Medium feels things so deeply and she’s easily hurt. A slight from you will take her weeks to get over. If a friend says a harsh word, it wounds her. She doesn’t retaliate. She doesn’t fight back. She just takes her hurt and stores it away. So, please… Please don’t let her get hurt.

She worries; she really worries. She’s worried about starting school, and change unsettles her. She’s a homebody at heart; her favourite times are when she has her family around her in her own home. She’s going to find starting school tough. I won’t be there and, as far as she’s concerned, a few minutes on Mummy’s Lap can end wars. Mummy’s Lap won’t be there, and that makes a the knot in my tummy twist.

You need to know that she still sleeps with her cuddly Horse, now somewhat loved a bit too much. She’ll shout for him if she’s hurt herself. Is it okay to pop him in her backpack or is that too ‘baby’? Remember, she is my baby after all.

I know you’re great and I know how well you took care of Big, but I look at my newly four-year-old Medium and she just seems so young to be joining the playground throng so soon.

So RT, I give you my Medium and I beg you to remember that Big School is a big deal – not just for Medium, but for me too. I beg you not to change her. She’s awesome as she is.

Love

Second-time Reception Mum x

 

A letter to Medium’s teacher

Tears with fears

Today, the Miracle is two weeks old and, I won’t lie, it’s been a challenging time. He was sleepy, and difficult to feed. I became engorged and, as the Miracle grew steadily more yellow, he made less effort to latch and refused to even try on my swollen, hot and excruciating mastitis-threatening side. When the midwife came, my temperature was starting to climb and, combined with my Day Three Blues which hit like a sledgehammer this time, I was feeling pretty ropey. A La Leche leader came to help me. These ladies are brilliant. The service is free, and she was here with her knitted boob within 15-minutes. The following day, things had improved. The Miracle was feeding better and the threatening mastitis was making a slow retreat.

But it didn’t last. By his seventh day, once again he was very lethargic and it was taking me over an hour to persuade him to latch. I’d bully him, stripping him off and tickling his toes all the time with tears running down my face. I called the midwife out again. By this time, not only could he have auditioned for a part in The Simpsons with his yellow tinge, but he did a weird wee that looked like a cross between lemon jelly and clarified butter. The midwife decided to call it in, and Neonatal asked us to go in with an overnight bag ‘Just in case’.

In actual fact, we needed a six night bag. Our little Miracle was poorly. He scored below the treatment line for jaundice, but two urine dips came back with a positive result for a UTI. We later learned that it was caused by E.Coli, but on that first night, we were warned of sepsis and an attempt at a lumbar puncture was made. The medics don’t like mums being in the room while they do the more invasive procedures, but my tears fell from a couple of doors away. The procedure failed, and the following day was unsuccessful again. By this point, the paediatricians were confident that his malady was down to the UTI and decided not to make a further attempt at a lumbar puncture.

With an NG tube in place, it was decided that I would try for half an hour every three hours to persuade him to feed normally. If he wouldn’t try, then he’d have my expressed milk through his tube. That first night was a cacophony of alarms going off to feed, to pump, for obs, for antibiotics… The soundtrack to the fear that our Miracle was properly poorly and the questions constantly running through my head: What if we hadn’t brought him in? Did this happen because of something I’d done or failed to do? I had a UTI in late pregnancy, did he somehow catch it? Eventually, a paediatrician told me to stop looking for reasons to feel guilty and that this was ‘one of those things’ and there was nothing I’d done or could’ve done to prevent it.

If he days spent in hospital were long, the lonely nights were even longer. It felt like years since I’d seen Big, Medium and Little when Lovely Husband brought them in two days after our admission. Little had grown exponentially. Medium was shy and Big was just pleased to go to the playroom on the children’s ward and see the nurse that looked after her when she was poorly. Escaping the stale air with a walk outside became a daily target, though finding time amongst the calls for obs, IV antibiotics and doctors’ reviews was a challenge. Meeting amazing but exhausted mums whose babies had been born too soon brought home how lucky I was. I guess the upside was that I could just sit and cuddle the Miracle and sniff his beautiful head. As he improved, I sat singing to him while he cooed in reply.

He has a journey ahead of him. Six to seven months of antibiotics, blood tests, consultant appointments, various scans… But the Miracle that we brought home two days ago is a different baby to the one that was admitted to special care last week. This baby is pink, alert, feeding well and determined to spend all of his time in my arms. Once again, I am truly thankful for the diligence of the medics, for the love and support from Lovely Husband and my mum and for the Miracle himself for fighting back.

We are home. We are six. There is so much love.

Tears with fears

On the eve of Mother’s Day

Today I went to do the pixie’s Big Shop for the next season. Big passes her clothes down to Medium in nearly new condition. Medium trashes them and Little gets new ones. I like to dress my children like children, so I am increasingly shocked by the ripped denim hot pants and sloganed t-shirts on offer to kids as little as four. Seriously, who dresses their children in this tat? Who wants their four-year-old to have their pants on display?

That frustration aside, it was a lovely day spent with my mum. The sun was shining as we went (waddled, for me) from shop to shop with frequent tea  breaks. I’m huge with the Miracle. I’m measuring a fortnight ahead and at 31+3w, I look ready to pop. I feel it too. The Miracle mainly likes sitting on my sciatic nerve (ouch!) and trampolining on my bladder. My blood sugars have just started to misbehave and I’ve started Metformin tablets and a diet of denial. Lovely Husband has a list of All The Nice Things he must buy/make me after the placenta has been delivered and I am back to normal. Salted caramel cheesecake, I’m coming for you.

I returned home to a newly poorly Medium. Just as we seemed to get rid of the bugs, it looks like a new one has moved in. I’m hoping Mother’s Day isn’t cancelled for us tomorrow.

Some, I know, will be wishing Mother’s Day could be cancelled. They’ve faced weeks of reminders about the impending day and each one will have been a twist of the knife embedded in their heart. Women who have lost their own mothers, lost their babies or simply can’t seem to have a child. Having Mother’s Day shoved down their throat is a bitter pill and one few will feel able to swallow.

While we hope to celebrate after our rocky but ultimately amazing journey to parenthood with our three ICSI pixies and now the Miracle, I will have a quiet moment to send vibes of solidarity to those that are deep in the wilderness. Those that are in the throes of the rollercoaster of IVF, of dusting themselves off after yet another disappointment, waiting for appointments or wincing as they jab themselves with powerful hormones that will make them feel like they’re going crazy. I will raise a glass to these strong women and hope that this time next year, they’re getting a slobbery kiss from the baby they’ve longed for.

As the Miracle kicks away inside me after a lovely day spent with my mum, I know I’m one of the lucky ones.

On the eve of Mother’s Day