Friday, 24 April 2015

#LittleLoves; yawning, poetry and Bear Grylls

Regular readers will know it's been a big week in our house. Our #NoSchoolNoPlan adventure has taken up most of our headspace, but thank goodness there have been lots of #LittleLoves to help us through.

Read

The whole #NoSchoolNoPlan thang has meant we've had a lot of unexpected time with our son, so we've been doing lots of reading this week. Top of the pile has been I Dare You Not to Yawn, written by Helen Boudreu and illustrated by Serge Bloch, Candlewick Press.

Just try to resist this comical — and infectious — cautionary fable that will have even bedtime-avoiders gladly snuggling up for a nightly challenge.


Image result for I dare you not to yawn

I loved
The premise. I can't believe no one has thought of it before! Kids resisting bed? Claiming they're not tired? This book is your friend! You'll all be yawning before you turn the first page.

The kids loved
The interaction. Holding in their own yawns? Funny. Watching mummy try to read through her 7th yawn? PJ-wetting hilarious.

Heard

I discovered Hollie McNish, the spoken word poet this week - just when I needed to most. What can I say? She says it better.


Wow! And if that wasn't enough to inspire my next girl cursh, she gets even better. This one - Opposite Man - brought tears to my eyes for my very own Opposite Man, who was there for our son's birth and delivered our daughter in the car park.




Made

So, I've never really got the hang of ironing. I have high hopes that this recipe might mean I never have to. Hello Homemade Wrinkle Release Spray, where have you been all my life?

Wrinkle Release Spray

Watched

Very little. We decided the kids were watching too much TV last weekend so haven't turned it on during daylight hours since Monday. (Torture, but that's a blog post for another day.) Still, what they don't know won't hurt them...

We've sneaked in a few episodes of the new series of Suits after dark. If you haven't already seen this US legal drama, it follows the cases of a pair of New York lawyers, only one of whom attended law school. Senior law partner at one of New York's top law firms, Harvey Spectre, has to recruit an associate from Harvard Law School. By chance, he ends up hiring gifted college-dropout, Mike Ross, even though Mike never actually attended law school and relies on his photographic memory and quick wits to help him win cases.



The third series of this easy-watching and sexy office-politics show is still a winner, but I'm missing the dynamic between Harvey and Mike and the tension surrounding Mike's dark Harvard secret. Another thing; have the writers forgotten about Mike's amazing memory? Maybe he should give them a nudge: it was one of the most compelling parts of the first series.

Wore

No school uniform! Our first day on the #NoSchoolNoPlan adventure looked like this! As you can see, we've mainly been outdoors, getting scuffed, grass-stained and muddy! Hurray!



And finally

I don't normally do quotes, but I do do Bear Grylls and these gems hit home this week;

“There is little faith involved in setting out on a journey where the destination is certain and every step in between has been mapped in detail. Bravery, trust, is about leaving camp in the dark, when we do not know the route ahead and cannot be certain we will ever return.”
Bear Grylls, A Survival Guide for Life

“Listen to the quiet voice inside. Intuition is the noise of the mind.”
― Bear GryllsMud, Sweat and Tears

I hear your prayer, Bear.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Imposter Syndrome for Working Parents

So as many of your know, my son and I walked out of his primary school on Tuesday, never to return. If you've read my previous post, you'll know it wasn't working out for us. #Understatement. Anyway, it all came to a head on Tuesday and we made a big decision to call it quits.

In positive moments we've been feeling deliciously-rebellious, heroic and liberated about our decision. 'How brave.' 'How amazing,' our supportive friends and family have been saying when they hear about our #NoSchoolNoPlan adventure. (Thank you so much, I've been clinging to your words in middle of the night during sleepless moments.)

BUT the only problem with being heroic and rebellious is that we now have no childcare. It's just a temporary blip and luckily my work is flexible and my son has fab a daddy, grandparents, uncles, aunties and godparents to look after him so I've been able to continue working. But there's nothing like small child climbing up your leg to make you feel like a Career Impostor.


Know the feeling? Apparently 'Imposter Syndrome' is a real thing and everyone worries they're only just pulling it off and are about to be discovered a fraud every now and then. Even Kate Winslet has been quoted saying;

'Sometimes I wake up in the morning before going off to a shoot, and I think, I can’t do this. I’m a fraud.'

One of my favourite authors of all time – Maya Angelou  – also suffered.

'I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’

I can't help suspecting it's worse for working parents. It's hard to feel professional when;

  • You reach into your bag for a pen and pull out a crayon.
  • You eat Pom Bears and party rings for lunch
  • Your phone rings a Cbeebies theme tune.
  • You can't take off your suit jacket cos your top is covered in sticky fingers
  • You want to 'work from home' but still have flashbacks about that time your son answered the phone to your boss saying 'Hi Dad! We're still in our pyjamas.' At 2pm.
  • You have to give a client a lift in your car and they have to squeeze in between 2 car seats.
  • You pretend you're sick cos you can't take time off for the kids again.
  • Your colleagues still tease you about the time you went in late with smudged mascara after the School Nativity.
  • Your only smart, clean jacket is covered in dinosaur stickers.

How do you conquer Impostor Syndrome? I'd love to know. Turns out good performance reports, great feedback and project success all mean nothing to me. I've still got Cheerios in my bra.

Monday, 13 April 2015

What Happens When Your Dream Primary School Just Isn't?



You know the drill. We swatted up on all our local schools before we put in the application. Listened carefully and asked all the right questions at the Open Days. Got the gossip from parents in the year above and talked about it at home till we were even boring ourselves.

OK, so we were never gonna get our first choice - even though we lived on the same road as the school, less than 100 metres away. It was chockablock with siblings and so oversubscribed the secretary told me to not waste a spot on the application form - *rolls eyes* - but we still had several 'Outstanding' schools within walking distance so we were optimistic.

In the end, we made our choice mainly based on the school's reputation. For a long time, it had been the 'it' school in town and I'm embarrassed to admit I was easily impressed by other people's reports. We also liked that it was a small school and felt cosy and nurturing rather than intimidating.

When we got the letter confirming we had our place, I felt nervous about the change from Montessori to Reception, but also excited and a tiny bit smug. We'd nailed it! A coveted spot in an Outstanding school. Our first big responsibility as parents had come good.

I won't deny I had moments of doubt over the summer, but they were centred around my son rather than the school. He was still a baby. As an August-born boy who's young for his age, the basics of sitting still, dressing himself and holding a pen were hit and miss. But the Montessori leader, who I would trust with his life, assured me he'd be fine and my God, he looked cute in his little uniform!

We scooted to school on his first day, high on energy, excitement and good vibes.

Shame it didn't last. Slowly I noticed his personality changing: nothing drastic to those who didn't know him like we did. He just seemed like a muted version of himself. Slightly less spirited, slightly more cautious. He lost his trademark daredevil twinkle and seemed stressed about obeying rules. He told me he wasn't good at writing and reading - despite his Montessori teacher telling me he excelled at both only months before. He didn't seem to be making many friends and was overly-reliant on one lovely girl he'd known from his nursery; to whom I'll always be grateful for holding his hand.

My only reassurance was his fab teachers. I bagged myself the chance to volunteer in the classroom a few times and loved what I saw. They were attentive, kind and just seemed to 'get' him. I trusted them and was sure they were the best we could hope for.

But then they left. All 3 of them. In the middle of the school year. In fact, out of a pool of 6 staff divided amongst 2 classes of 30, 5 members of staff moved on from reception in 9 months. Call it management problems, call it coincidence, call it a cruel stroke of luck, whatever the reason my son's confidence was fading, and with it, mine.

I started questioning whether the school was right for us. I was gobsmacked. After all that agonising, all that thought, I couldn't believe we might have got it wrong. Perhaps the new direction the school was taking wasn't right for us? Perhaps the ethos jarred with our own? Perhaps the culture wasn't a good fit? Perhaps *shock, horror* he'd never even been ready for school at all. Suddenly, our 'dream school', so recently the most popular school in town, was giving the whole family sleepless nights.

I realise we are lucky to have a school place at all. #Spoilt #PrimaDonnaParent But it's a horrible feeling to drop your child off at a school you don't think is right for them. I'm not sure how much longer we can keep looking him in the eye on wobbly mornings, telling him how great it is, how he'll love it when he gets there. How much longer can we cross our fingers and hope he survives, never mind, thrives?

So what's next? We are looking around. This time we're following our instincts rather than Ofsted ratings, schools' reputations or hearsay. We're open to options we've never considered before; everything from repeating Reception elsewhere to travelling across county or opting out of the mainstream all together. But that's a blog post for another day...

In the meantime, wish us luck. we've got homework to do and lots to learn before September...

Saturday, 11 April 2015

#LittleLoves: Courgetti, Clarks and Colour

How's your Easter hols going? We're half way through and it could go either way. The wild swings between bliss, boredom and bedlam are a total head spin, but these #littleloves are guaranteed to bring joy.

Read
I Want my Hat Back, Jon Klassen, Walker



A bear has lost his hat. What if he never sees it again? Wait... He HAS seen it!

The little lady has been mad for this book recently. I was quite surprised as I assumed it was one of those arty picture books that parents like more than children. Not so!

She loved

The humour - The surprise ending is dark, sinister even, but my daughter cackled with glee. Perhaps she could relate to the Bear's red mist? So many picture books are marshmallow soft. It must be a relief to see someone share's her rage!
The repetition - Catchy rhythm and phrasing.
The hat - What can I say? The girl loves accessories.

I loved

The illustrations - seriously cool. The earthy tones are a nice change from primary colours and pink, pink, pink. I love the visual humour and how the Bear's facial expression never changes, despite his emotional roller coaster.
The subtlety -  Yes, the story is dark, but Klassen pulls it off without any gore. The crunch is implicit and easy to make light of should you feel the need.
The simplicity - the sparse style allows lots of room for imaginative voices and is great for early readers. Also loving the absence of moral lessons or political-correctness, though there's plenty to talk about if you want a conversation starter.

Heard




We had an amazing time at ColourScape Musical Festival on Easter Sunday: this labyrinth of air-supported tunnels and chambers uses light, music and colour for a psychedelic effect. To me, it felt like running around inside a bouncy castle. The light and colour really plays with your perception, perspective and emotions. Intense! If you get a chance, go! It's fab.





Watched

On the recommendation of Man V Pink we ventured into the world of Japanese animation this week. 'My Neighbour Totoro' was his recommended 'gateway drug' into our next addiction. It's an amazing family film written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki for Studio Ghibli. This story of two sisters who befriend the sprites, spirits and troll-like Totoros of their woodland home captures the wild imagination, curiosity and delight of childhood. Under Miyazaki's direction, even the everyday becomes fantastical: simple chores like dusting the house and waiting for the bus in the rain become truly spectacular. Enchanting doesn't cover it.




Made
My husband used to be a chef. He's now a food buyer. Safe to say, food is a cornerstone in our house. But after an indulgent Easter, we've been trying to 'eat light' during the week. Inspired by my neighbour- an amazing Food Stylist - we decided to give 'Courgetti' a go. Basically, this is just ribbons of courgette blanched or fried and served in place of pasta to cut carbs. Check this out! I'm converted!



Wore
We left a piece of our heart in Bluestone. And one of my son's shoes. Cue a visit to the shoe shop this week and lots of sharp intakes of breath. Flashing led light soles don't come cheap! Luckily, my son made a dive for these Clarks corkers. Loving the reasonable price tag, retro styling and bright colours! So cool I couldn't resist buying a pair for his little sister too.



And Finally
I wanted to share my favourite online discovery of the week. Mr Fox Magazine is a great resource for all parents: they put boys up front central, but not in a stereotypical - noise with dirt on it - way. I particularly enjoyed the 'Scandi Sense' article, on raising boys in Sweden. If your son likes glitter, pink or dolls go take a peek. 

Monday, 6 April 2015

On building up resilience. With chocolate.



We're dabbling with endings and new beginnings in our house at the moment, which feels quite seasonal what with it being Easter and all. I say dabbling because, on the scale of it, we've been very lucky. We haven't lost anyone close to us. All grandparents are present and correct. All pets are making the right noises.

We're just coming to terms with is the loss of 4 great teachers. Out of a staff of 6, 4 teachers left my son's two-class reception cohort at Easter. Don't ask...

We've spent weeks making sense of the situation and packaging it up as positively as we can. Isn't Mrs X lucky to be moving to the seaside? It's it great Mrs X gets to spend more time with her own children now? But everyone knows that for us it's mostly just sad.

I sobbed like a child on the last day of term. Not just because I was going to miss those great teachers, and felt a tiny bit abandoned on my's son's behalf, but also because it all felt a bit too real. This was the first real problem I couldn't fix or shield from my son - it felt like a watershed moment.

The school's Head Teacher is full of chat about building up resilience. I get the theory, but it goes against all my instincts. How do you even go about 'toughening up' your child? I don't want to think about it. We're trying various methods, with mixed results.

  • Turning to spirituality (through garbled snippets of the Easter Story)
Son: 'When Mrs X goes to her new school she can come back to life, mummy!'
  • Transferring emotions onto inanimate objects
Coincidently my car was written off on the last day of term. The tearful send-off involved Easter hymns, stickers and lots of waving as Daddy drove it to 'car heaven' to be part-exchanged and 'rise again.'
  • Distraction
Mummy: 'No, you won't see Mrs X again. But the Easter Bunny is around all weekend.'
  • Self-medicating with chocolate
Son: 'The sad thing about Easter is all my teachers leaving.'
Mummy 'The good thing is; chocolate for breakfast. All meals in fact.'

How's that for building up resilience? We'll see when Bouncing Boy goes back to school and doesn't have a familiar face to meet him at the gate. You'll need lots of chocolate to deal with that one, Head Teacher...

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Behind the Scenes at Bluestone


It was a wet Wednesday when I got the email; did I fancy a holiday to review the beautiful Bluestone resort?

Does Mr Tumble have something special?
Does Pooh like honey?
Do mums drink gin?

My sister and I, with four kids in tow, were there in a flash. Well, five hours actually. Bluestone is in Pembrokeshire, Wales - but it's definitely worth the schlep over the bridge. Blue skies, beautiful views, and big smiles at the arrival gate immediately put us in the holiday mood. 

Our chalet was located in Preseli View and wow, did it live up to its name; on our first night we watched the sun setting over the hills and fairy lights twinkling in village below feeling very excited about the week ahead. Child-friendly trappings included a high chair, travel cot and enough space to scoot Trunkis indoors. Perfect!

Our first day unfolded outdoors. The kids scooted through car-free countryside, raced through willow tunnels and mucked about in shallow streams, all before we even got to the main attraction. At the Tree Tops adventure playground Sarah and I treated ourselves to Welsh Cakes and Hot Chocolate from Miller's Bakery while the kids roamed free, trip-trapping over wooden bridges and swinging on climbing ropes.

Day two saw us venturing to the Blue Lagoon to splash about in the Waterpark. The Wet Play area in the Nipper's Pool was perfect for toddlers. They loved clambering about in the rock pools and squirting Mummies with the water toys. The four-year-olds lived it up playing pirates in the water-filled shipwreck, Torrwr Mor, and winding down the lazy river between bouts in the wave pool.

By day three, we were ready to chill out and indulge in some grown-up treats. Sarah checked into the spa for a birthday treat and fell asleep having a facial - dreamy - then we all headed down to Camp Smokey. This rustic restaurant is hidden at the bottom of a steep ravine and surrounded by towering pine trees and babbling streams. Time seemed to slow down as we sipped wine and roasted marshmallows on the campfire while the kids splashed about with pooh sticks.

The facilities at Bluestone were amazing. Other highlights included the Circus Zone; a sensory play area for little ones - complete with giant chill-out sofas for adults - the bouncy castle, Lego area and giant play frame in the Adventure Centre. 

But the stars of the show were definitely the staff who went beyond the call of duty to make our stay fun, easy and tantrum free. At the Blue Lagoon, we were provided with free lifejackets and the reassurance of extra supervision in the Nipper's Area. Out and about, Rob, the bus driver, seemed to have a sixth sense - picking us up at the bottom of many a steep hill or rough path just when little legs were getting tired. He did a great job of humouring the kids when they invited him for a playdate too!



Behind the Scenes Tips 
  • If you're traveling with more than 2 under-fours per adult you won't be allowed to take both children into the main Blue Lagoon pool at the same time. But you can still enjoy the water - set away from the wave pool is a Little Nipper's Cove of rock pools and toys where lifeguards provide extra supervision. 
  • The resort is vast and hilly. Scooters are a must. Still, brace little ones for tired legs. Rob the bus driver was our hero this time, but we'll hire a golf buggy or bike, complete with tag along cart, for our next trip
  • I hate to moan, but the restaurant food was a bit of a let down... no amount of lovely service from the staff could make up for floppy sandwiches of processed cheese, but we got round it with some lovely picnics supplies from the on-site bakery. The shop was reasonable too, and I hear the nearest town - Tenby - does great fish and chips, with a side-order of stunning views.
  • If you need something, just ask. The staff is amazing. Extra towels, multiple spa appointment changes, and information were all arranged with a smile.
  • Make the most of the complimentary kids entertainment in the evening. Glass of wine while the Free Rangers play musical statues with the kids? Don't mind if I do.  
  • My biggest tip of all? Just go. You'll love it. 
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