Strolling down the river

It’s always so tricky choosing which path to take on an adventure. Today, we simplified matters and took the direct route: the stream.

Eldest and middle son quickly scattered. They sought out the muddiest patches and the steepest banks to play on – as you do. The game which materialised first was ‘Bridge making’. This involved our biggest boy hauling the largest sticks he could find and installing them perpendicular to the water. Some fell in; most wouldn’t even take the weight of a squirrel on a diet. In fact, what this game actually acheieved was new hazards for our toddler to navigate past.

Youngest son had plans of his own. Those did not involve holding hands with Mummy or Daddy. He probably didn’t plan to lose one of his wellies in the mud, or the multiple falls in the water. Not that he minded too much, his main concern was wet hands. These he waved at me with a look of disapproval. When there is no hand drier available, you can always use Mummy’s trousers and go on your merry way.

Youngest son choosing to scale a fallen branch while middle son unintentionally does his level best to stop Daddy assisting, by standing in the way.

Things I learnt from this trip:

– Always carry a bag for life. We’d been so good and considered bringing the back carrier to transport youngest on the return journey. What we hadn’t considered was also carrying muddy wellies and dripping wet weather gear at the same time.

– Never give yourself a time limit on a family adventure. It was Sunday and we needed to make it back before 10 to 4 to allow time to nip to the shop on the way home. Then we discovered rope swings. Two rope swings. And almost certain delay removing the children from them.

– If they tell you they don’t need the toilet before you go out, then they clearly do. Actually, ignore the above, I already knew this long before today.

– The child with the shortest wellies will always walk through the deepest part of the stream.

– There will always be that part of a river walk, where a child can fit and an adult can’t follow. It is usually at these sections where the 1 year old picks up speed in pursuit of his big brothers.

– Never try and duck under a branch when you are wearing a large toddler backpack carrier. Happily the toddler was not in it at the point Mummy forgot it was there and got herself stuck.

One final piece of advice: when asking your children for their suggestions as to the best way home, fully expect them to point in opposite directions.

Be careful what you wish for

Like so many others, our school run resumed this week. Last December, it was usual that I would have to sprint like an elite athlete in order to keep up with my boys. I’d get ‘those’ looks from people out for their morning walk – the kind of looks that aimed to establish whether I was actually their parent or just incredibly unfit. I would watch other families heading to the school gate, the children holding the hand of their parent or scooting alongside in perfect synchronisation. As proud as I am of my independent boys, a part of me wished they would slow down, just a little. Slow enough for a proper good morning if we passed a friendly neighbour. Slow enough to notice when youngest son pulled off and disposed of a mitten en-route. Most significantly, slow enough so the lollipop lady didn’t get so nervous when they reached her crossing. They are well trained not to attempt to cross that road without me, although they do have a tendency to stand right in the way of other innocent pedestrains.

This morning, after a scooter swap for reasons that I’m yet to understand, I got my wish. The big two willingly travelled alongside me. Only occasionally yanking at the side of the pushchair prompting a collision of wheels or wobble in the wrong direction. We were nevertheless together as a family unit, even having the odd opportunity for actual conversation. Until they began competing to talk to me – each of them had something more urgent to tell me. If their brother was talking, it only seemed logical to stop moving completely. Who knew there was a link between only being able to go forwards if you are also conversing with Mummy? From this point on, people ahead of us seemed to frequently disappear into the distance. Meanwhile my children were still discovering multiple ways to go even slower:

  • I’ve got an itch on the back of my heel.
  • I forgot my gloves.
  • I’ve found a worm.
  • Can we go up that secret passageway?
  • The wind is stopping me.
  • Move my handle up.
  • Move my handle down.
  • I’m cold.

Then we had the debate over which dipped kerb to cross the road at. This is fairly standard for us and it’s usually not the one I reach first. Shorty after that, the heel itch became something far more sinister and required sitting on a conveniently placed bench (designed for those waiting for a bus) to completely remove both shoe and sock in order to discover absolutely nothing out of the ordinary before putting them on again. Finally, with school just around the next corner I hear middle son say to the eldest “Mummy is slowing us down.” Imagine my disquiet. So I motor past with the pushchair to walk in front of them, when I hear a squawk. I turned to witness what appeared to be a scene from ‘Walking with dinosaurs’, where the dominant males are competing for territory. Concerned it could end up as a sibling battle to the death, (starting with the removal of the other one’s hat) I tried to intervene. Unfortunately this was taking place on an especially narrow stretch of path, at which point other pavement users had approached from both directions. Of course neither boy came over to me when I requested, opting instead to act out the remainder of the battle scene for their newly arrived audience, completely oblivious to Mummy’s rising embarrassment levels.

I have missed the school run so much. It took the best part of three months homeschooling to realise how much appreciation I have for these little chaotic moments because then ‘there is only one’ – for the next six hours anyway.

The chaos of days gone by

The method I use to make myself feel on top of this parenting malarky is to compare to a time when everything felt much harder. For me, this was when I had a completely non verbal, fast moving, independent and stubborn 1 year old AND a newborn. I’ve just discovered a text I sent my husband during this time period:

“It’s been a very stressful morning. Both boys have been needy. All I wanted to do was to get the dinner in the cooker (I’d actually written ‘cooler’ but reading it back through, this made no sense) and wash up but both tasks took forever in between bouts of tears, toddler poo and baby sick. I still have a headache but am supposed to be going out this afternoon, so thought ‘eldest son’ should sleep (At the time, he would only snooze while in a moving vehicle or pushchair). Also needed to go delivering but the double buggy was all collapsed out the back so that took me a while to set up whilst ‘eldest son’ was banging his head. He then gave me another scare. I went to pick up the poll cards, turned around and he was gone. Gate was open. Went to check he wasn’t hurting baby (who was in the hallway) and saw the front door was open. I had visions of him standing in the middle of a road so dash outside. Without shoes or coat on, ‘eldest son’ has got himself into the pushchair (his brother’s side) and is looking at me wondering what that problem is. Fast forward 10 mins to when I finally got them both outdoors, dressed and strapped into pram properly. I made it down to the end of ‘our road’. It starts raining. Rain cover isn’t in the back of buggy. I thought about going back but don’t know where to search for the raincover and ‘eldest’ will likely be asleep in a few houses anyway. ‘Youngest’s (now middle)’ dummy is on the pavement. He is howling. Rain is getting heavier. A mere nine houses were delivered. Eldest did fall asleep. I have now settled baby and crashed out in bed. What a morning!”

So whenever someone asks me how I manage with three infants, my response is usually “It’s easier than it was with two”! If anyone is having a bad day and can’t think of a time when things were harder – after all we’ve never had a pandemic like this before – I’d recommend making the comparison to any parent in a soap opera. Or better still, stop, breathe, take an extended look at your little person/people and consider how blessed you are to have them. I don’t think medical science will ever discover a stress reliever as good as seeing your child’s smile.

The Quarry

The hardest part of taking the boys out on an adventure is often finding a starting point – somewhere we haven’t been before. With two infant school aged boys, the activities often plan themselves once you arrive somewhere new (as long as it is outdoor and has ample opportunities to get mucky). If there are arrows to follow, even better.

Today we decided to tackle the Hangars Way. This is fairly local and I was delighted to find that it’s divided into eight different trails. We elected to explore the section between Buriton and Butser Hill, knowing that there’s still at least 7 more adventures to try another time. I say “at least” given that we didn’t complete the route, we were too busy discovering exciting distractions.

We nearly didn’t even make it past the pond that we’d parked next to. The boys got a little over excited when they saw the ducks and appeared to be on the verge of jumping in, while I was still getting youngest son out of the car. They selected our route around the pond, opting to go clockwise over a mini walkway – barely wide enough for feet let alone a pushchair. So I decided to improvise and pushed the pram through the shallow stream in order to join them. Once on the other side, my intrepid children began testing out some stepping stones. I had visions of them slipping in and coating themselves in the stagnant looking pond water. Knowing we were close by to the car and armed with an old towel (for situations such as this), I let them take the opportunity to practise their balance. Only one wobble from eldest son meant getting a foot in the water. Although this was so uneventful, none of the duck community even noticed. Persuading him not to wander off back up the stream was a little trickier, because as he put it, “One of my shoes is actually wet anyway.”

Despite the odds, only 1 out of 4 feet fell in.

Only at this point, did we begin the trail itself. Within minutes the boys had found three steep paths to convert to slides and a railway bridge. Middle son was thoroughly amused when two trains passed over the bridge. We also saw the old quarry path and an obsolete mine cart. Mario Karts is a current favourite of my big two. They love the Wario gold mine track, so this rusty, disused transporter was always going to capture their attention. The steps down to it meant we continued south along the same path.

The quarry path.

On this occasion, Grandma had joined us on our adventure; she requested that we took a circular route, coming off the Hangars way and circling around the Buriton chalk pits instead. Not only did this route seem practically vertical in places but the multiple tree roots and rock hazards made pushing the buggy was similar to an army assault course training facility. We began running parallel to a hard surfaced road path and established from passing hikers that this was part of the South Downs way. Having an extra adult to hold the baby, meant I could lift the pushchair up and over a number of tripping hazards, brambles and undergrowth to reach it. Eldest and middle son followed and we reunited on flatter ground, beginning our descent and stopping only for a snack in the sunshine. Adventure incomplete on this occasion but I’m already planning to returning with the husband and Littlelife baby backpack.

While we were still on the ‘sensible’ path.

The full route and individual sections can be found here: https://www.hants.gov.uk/thingstodo/countryside/walking/hangersway

The Game

Some days I’m convinced that all three of my children are part of a highly tactical game. Not only have they not shared the rules with me, but I suspect that the aim of this game is to keep me moving and alert at all times. If it wasn’t for the fact that they’ve been playing this for pretty much their whole lives, I’d assume that they are simply supporting the government in encouraging me to follow the first part of their current three part slogan. Despite being completely unaware of the official rules, I have established the following:

  1. Points are awarded for converting a simple task into a chaotic one.
  2. There is no finish square. The game is ongoing.
  3. Children play as a team. Usually they tag in and tag out at select moments to lead Mummy into a false sense of security.
  4. Usually children take turns, but they regularly alter the order of play to provide maximum confusion.
  5. If at any point, Mummy appears calm and is danger of either completing a job or finishing a sentence, then immediate action must be taken by one of them.
  6. You win bonus points by throwing yourself on the floor.

This morning my children were definitely playing. I was feeling super positive when I woke up this morning. This feeling of optimism was maintained for at least the first six minutes of the day. Then youngest son played his first move: the cry and wriggle. This is where you cry and refuse to be comforted. The louder the better – this way you have more chance of waking your brothers. You don’t want milk, you don’t want to play with your toys and you don’t want cuddles. You do want to be held in a standing position, in the kitchen, with a plastic spoon. It only took an hour or so for Mummy to establish this and make her comeback.

Eldest son wasn’t hanging around though, and quickly made his move: the whine and stall. This involves taking a standard situation, such as putting your socks on then adding more drama to it than you’d expect from an Eastenders Christmas special. He played well, successfully delaying us just long enough to mean he got to take bike to school instead of walking, but not so long that he would miss any of his cherished school time. While my eldest was was having a tantrum about not wanting to wear his raincoat (on a rainy day), his siblings were being saintly. Youngest son smiled sweetly at me as if to say that he would never sulk like that (conveniently forgetting a moment earlier) and middle son was ridiculously obliging and polite, whilst simultaneously providing a running commentary about the good things he was doing in contrast to his naughty big brother.

After an extended school run, complete with mini adventure, I took middle son to his beloved playball session. Within minutes of starting, he decided to take his turn: the squawking magnet. This move is one of his personal favourites and involves getting as close to Mummy as possible (parents aren’t entitled to their own share of oxygen after all) and forgetting how to use any sort of independence. It starts simple, you simply run over to Mummy every 2 minutes or so at full speed – just to see if you can catch her off guard and knock her to the ground – a loving type of rugby tackle. Around this point, his voice goes all high pitched and instead of using standard sentences, he precedes everything he says with the term ‘Mama’, in a manner which only his baby brother would be proud of. It then progresses to Mummy needing to be within 30 cm of you at all times. This is particularly difficult when Mummy blends in amongst a group of preschoolers in much the same way as a shark would blend in amongst the goldfish in your fish bowl. It also makes running, jumping and striking a tennis ball rather tricky. Finally, he moved on to the third stage, refusal to comply with any instruction and expecting everything to be done for him – perfectly acceptable when you are 4 months old but a touch mortifying when you’re 4 years old.

Luckily for me, breaks in play are as essential in this game as they are in an extended version of monopoly. Therefore the boys are currently back to their lovely selves. One is playing beautifully on his own, one is exploring the room managing to insert only toys in his mouth and one is at school – possibly doing maths – his happy place.

Pure imagination

I’m sat nursing youngest son while the sunshine beams through my window. Upstairs I can hear the conversation between my big two as they play. Currently they are putting on different voices for assorted underwater characters, as they set off on a mission across the playroom. No additional entertainment required.

It’s no secret that my children have always preferred structure over imaginative play. For them, the more rules a game had, the better it was. Eldest son in particular, has always found creative games difficult. He regularly informs me that a grown up is required for maximum enjoyment. Lego is strictly for use with numbered instructions only. Train characters remake Thomas the tank engine plot lines. All games are better with a Mummy shaped audience.

Middle son does play happily using his own ideas but prefers company. Like so many children, he is always eager to share his ideas, so Mummy would be required to sit and watch the paw patrol assist the octonauts in getting through the spooky woods (for an hour or so). I appreciate this sounds like I’m making up some feeble excuse for not getting my housework done. It is, in fact, the reality. Well it was.

This lockdown seems to have changed all that. The big two children appear to enjoy playing together, using their imaginations and combining ideas and without an audience. The irony of it is that I’m so proud of them I almost want to watch.

Edit: I drafted most of this post in the early part of last week. We’ve had a minor regression in patience skills since then. Facepalm.

When the harsh realities of life catch up with you.

If anyone ever needed evidence to justify why we have maternity leave, I’ve probably gathered a significant amount in the last fortnight. Home schooling – whilst enjoyable at times – resembles a baptism of fire once you add the baby into the equation. Youngest son has a habit of crying when middle son and eldest son are thoroughly engaged in an activity. Of course, Mummy is not allowed to go and comfort him; that would result in them doing everything in their power to disengage themselves in aforementioned activity.

The boys were excited about about learning at home. There were two reasons for this. 1) They chose their own class name. We are lobsters class for those of you who may be interested. 2) Middle son finally gets to achieve his lifelong dream of being in his big brother’s class at school. Some of the most successful activities we’ve done so far include our senses game and scavenger hunt, our giant mixed media food table, our minibeast hunt (with obstacles), and our making our sequences.

Middle son is still preschool age, so we’ve had to find the balance between basic pencil control and letter sounds and his brother’s investigations that he’s so keen to be a part of. Eldest son constantly insists on ‘harder’ work. Then there’s my youngest one, who grizzles when he wants a bit of a cuddle. Pleasing all three is certainly more of a differentiation challenge than I’m used to. On one occasion, I did attempt to sit baby on my lap at the table so I could interact with all three. Then there was the blue crayon incident. It started when I became aware of a wet patch on my arm. A quick inspection confirmed baby dribble; except this had a significant blue tinge to it. Youngest son has very stealthily selected a crayon and is munching on it. He looks like a smurf with a slush puppy. The hand is blue. The mouth is blue. The tongue is blue. And all this in a time period less than 30 seconds.

Perspective

Does anyone else feel like their head can’t absorb much more information at the moment, yet have a constant urge to check BBC news anyway? Like the rest of the world, we are facing new territory. People are scared. People are out of their comfort zone. I’ve never experienced anything like this is my lifetime. It’s been likened by some to wartime. But unlike any major nationwide fight in the past, this time we have technology to stay connected.

It should all be really positive. I’ve been invited to a whole host of facebook support groups. It is a beautiful thing that everybody wants to work together to help people in need. Yet, the more time I spend reading them, the more ‘down’ I feel. Aside from the minor debates breaking out from differing views, I feel swamped by hints, tips and suggestions. The latest big news is regarding schools being closed. Being a teacher, I was feeling relatively prepared and had a basic idea in my head of what my children would respond well to and what was a reasonable expectation for myself -when constantly being accompanied by a demanding baby who doesn’t like to be put down. Even so, as I worked through these lists of never ending suggestions, I began to feel totally overwhelmed. What if I missed something really important? Should I be categorising and bookmarking these ideas? Subscribing to free channels and online resources is all very well, but how should I weigh up the best option? Sometimes even the greatest of intentions can be damaging. I have therefore made the decision not to publish my remaining challenges until all this dies down a little bit and people feel less pressure to keep up.

The same is true for other social media updates. Would I be aware of the ‘Shopmageddon’ situation if I hadn’t seen the pictures of empty shelves? Probably not. Neither would I have read a range of hurtful comments aimed at people who were just trying to be supportive. It really makes us aware how different we all are and that other people’s opinions (which differ to our own) are not wrong, just from a different perspective. Everyone’s situation is different – we need to respect that. My step grandfather sums this up perfectly with his poem ‘Perspective’ so I decided to publish it here as food for thought.

PERSPECTIVE

The darkness is much darker when the light has just gone out,

the thought of thirst more frightening in the middle of a drought,

a sudden noise more startling in the silence of the night,

a rough sea much more threatening when land is out of sight.

But too bright lights may hurt the eyes and blindness even come,

while floods and torrents harm the land and may bring death to some,

vicious noise may numb the mind so man no more may think,

a boat that hits the shore too hard may very quickly sink.

The darkness then is softer when the stars are seen to shine,

no fears of thirst remain when rain refreshes every vine,

night noises are not noticed in the chorus of the dawn,

a seaman’s fear is ended when back to port he’s borne.

JOHN SMART (written 1999)

So just for now, I’m going to trust my instincts, not feel obliged to read every single post and attempt to return to my optimistic state.

How to use your excess toilet roll.

While I was mulling over the ‘chaotic moments’ from the day at school pick up time, another mummy made a very good point, “Today you can get away with anything. No one is going to notice that your child’s cycle helmet is still hanging on the pushchair or that your kids are screaming at you across the street because everyone is too busy enlarging their stash of loo rolls.”

An excellent piece of advice. It led me to contemplate what everybody is going to do with their toilet paper collection in due course. There’s only so much you can use for traditional bottom wiping. I’m thinking, with the schools set to close imminently, people are planning lists of Charmin Ultra themed activities. Maybe these include the following:

1) Building a fort (or possibly full sized palace) using toilet rolls.

2) Making an extra wide pair of toilet roll binoculars to see if there’s anyone queuing outside the local ASDA.

3) Using the stuff as modern wallpaper and get the kids to decorate the entire house.

4) Reliving their youth by screwing up lumps of wet toilet paper and throwing it onto the ceiling to see if it will stick.

5) Using the rolls as valuable currency to gamble with while playing poker.

6) Filming their own Andrex style advert with the assistance of the family puppy.

In the meantime I’m preparing to return to teaching sooner than expected. I’m only going to have a class of 2 (plus a baby), but I’ve drawn up the timetable already. I’m aware this is completely unnecessary for homeschooling but I like planning and my children thrive on routine, so I’m keeping to what they know as much as possible. Eldest son has already told me he’s looking forward to Mummy maths lessons.

In other news: I ‘ve been interviewed about my blogging journey so far. The interview will appear on sophiejoan.co.uk on Monday 6th April at 6p.m. You can follow Sophie on Instagram: @_sophiejoan_ or Twitter: @SophChennell

My toddler’s 100 day breakfast challenge (Part 2/5)

Day 21: Stickers. This was a challenge eldest son completed with Daddy. I don’t really know what it involved nor do I have any pictures – largely because I have pittakionophobia. However, it seemed only fair that he was able to experience playing with these.

Day 22: Washing up. He explored forces with the sponge – twisting and squeezing. He played with the bubbles in the water. He had lots of fun splashing about. But most importantly, he did Mummy’s job for her 😉

Day 23: Sensible meals. Using the tummy ache games, I asked eldest son to select food that he thought would go well together. We did some early learning about healthy eating too. When I repeat this with youngest son I’m planning on getting the play food out too.

Day 24: Aluminium foil. We investigated. We used the foil as a mirror, tore it, folded it and rolled it into little balls. We looked at which piece was the largest and which one was the shiniest.

Day 25: Letters of his name. I can’t take any credit for this idea. A friend of mine – who was following my challenges – sent me the link and I couldn’t resist. Preparation took much longer for this one but eldest son spent significantly longer using it too. Hopefully the pictures are fairly self explanatory.

Day 26: Shreddie sculptures. This was basically Jenga but without the bricks. It was inspired by the Cheerios challenge that had gone viral on Facebook that year.

Day 27: Matching letter shapes and sounds. We played snap with the letter cards then we saw if there were any of our magnetic letters that also matched.

Day 28: Tower building/Turn taking. It was eldest son versus Daddy for this challenge. We had the excitement of who could build the highest tower but it was all about learning to wait for the other person before you could have your go. Lots of repetition required for this one.

Day 29: Subtraction rhymes. As eldest son was unable to join in with the singing we built a visual picture of some of the number rhymes for him and he was involved by physically removing bottles from the wall. We also playing using a tree and apples. “On the farmer’s apple tree, five red apples I can see, some for you and some for me, take one apple from the tree…”

Day 30: Dancing sultanas. I gave eldest son a glass of lemonade and asked him to add some sultanas. I just loved watching his face when he saw them move about on their own. He was so amazed. Little things

Day 31: Sock sorting. Another sneaky way of getting my toddler to do my housework here! I gave him all the dry socks from the line and asked him to find the matching ones to sort into pairs.

Day 32: Playdough worms and snakes 🐍. This involved lots of rolling. I helped him make the tails and put on little eyes, he made them slither about.

Day 33: Animal rescue. Eldest son expressed genuine concern when he realised that lion and hippopotamus were stuck in the jelly quicksand. Luckily he saved them both using only two spoons and a tea tool.
P.S. Jelly quicksand is tasty.

Day 34: Treasure hunt. In contrast to our previous sensory activities, eldest son loved letting the rice run between his fingers (much better than using the spoon). Not quite sure if he understood the concept of finding money but the coins he uncovered were fun to put in a bowl, fun to clink together and fun to line up.

Day 35: Saucepan music. Eldest son loved today’s challenge (the neighbours probably didn’t). He found lots of ways to make music 🎶 I forgot to photograph the colander flute. The baby (middle son) joined in today. He mostly preferred to eat the drumsticks. Clearly he felt they were chicken drumsticks 🍗!

Day 36: Fastenings. Eldest son made firm friends the the caterpillar 🐛. His favourite fastening to open was the zip and his favourite one to match up with a real world object was the shoelace.

Day 37: Acting out a story. Eldest son liked matching the animals and people to the pictures in the book. He was a little more fussy than Noah as to who he allowed on the ark though. One of the poor giraffes had to lie down to fit and an elephant fell of the back. My boy also used his signing to show the weather on the page when the rain came pouring down.
Middle son didn’t think there should be two of each animal so tried to eat one of the bears.

Day 38: This challenge involved taking it in turns with Nanny and Daddy to pick an object out of a covered box. Eldest son then had to sort them into their groups. Animals, trains, cars and shapes. He really enjoyed it.

Day 39. Eldest son’s challenge was to find out what Daddy and Nanny had hidden in the duplo box and how to get it out. 😌He was very quick at the challenge this morning but he liked looking through the windows to see what he could see inside.

Day 40: Memory. I broke all the rules for this challenge. Eldest son had an early breakfast, before I was home, so we completed the challenge a little later 🙁
The challenge involved hiding objects behind a screen then adding a new one at a time. Eldest son had to identify which the new object was – basically Kim’s game in reverse.