The diary of a (yet another rubbish) family holiday – Part 2

Since child number two arrived it has been over fourteen months since my family has been away from the house and on holiday together. Given that previous holiday attempts with child number one were less than successful, it was with a sense of anticipation, fear and trepidation that we set out on a week-long family holiday over the recent Easter break. We shouldn’t have bothered. We should have stayed at home. This is part 2 of that diary (here’s part 1 in case you missed it)

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  • Family holiday day 5

Black cross put back onto front door of plague house, quarantine procedures re-established and disinfectant on standby. We consider cancelling holiday and returning home. Daughter shows signs of improvement. By evening daughter is bouncing off walls again, happy, charismatic little self once more. Unfortunately son spends day screaming with teething pain. Calpol not working. It must be serious!

When children are in bed, wife finds “Contagion” in DVD drawer of the Plague House. We proceed to watch it, touched by the beautiful irony the universe is serving up. Film finishes and we spend rest of evening washing hands, trying to avoid touching face (which the film tells us we do subconsciously more than 2,000 times a day) and disinfecting surfaces some more.

Wife complains that DVD has made her skin crawl and spends an hour in bed itching and touching her face. Surely Plague House hasn’t also got fleas?

Hands red raw from over-washing. Becoming concerned that I might have OCD.

I wish I was back at work.

  • Family holiday day 6

Daughter woke up at 03:00 screaming in pain, with a horrific rash on her lady bits. Wife starts sobbing and reveals cause is probably due to use of new toddler wipes used the previous day. Wife spends next three hours beating herself up. The Baton of Screaming is back in play again. Everyone takes a turn with The Baton of Screaming. I consider battering myself on the head with it again. Anything for a few minutes of quiet.

I spend the next hour organising an out of hours, out of area hospital appointment. Bitterly cold outside. Snow is falling. Peace returns to house around 07:00. Wife and I giddy with tiredness.

Later in the day wife starts to complain of nausea and stomach pain and retires to bed early. I sit upstairs on my own and revert to Twitter for solace. Good old Twitter. There is always Twitter. Thankfully there is wi-fi in The Plague House. Wi-fi stops working. Wi-fi is also sick.

I wish I was back at work.

  • Family holiday day 7

No diarrhoea or vomiting for 48 hours and daughters rash has improved significantly. Happy house once again, so as a treat, we organise an outing to local play park.

Daughter insists on going on insane looking zip wire. Completes a couple of zips with my help, and then tells me to go away and let her go on her own. I hesitantly “let go” physically, emotionally and mentally. Surprised at how hard I find it to expose my daughter to risk.

Daughter spends the rest of the afternoon finally happy, zipping up and down the wire with her cousin. I stand by, watching nervously, wanting to run along side her every zip, but also amazed at bravery of daughter.

Sun comes out. Last day of holiday and finally all seems well. Wife comes and gives me a hug while daughter plays happily with cousin, and son messes about contentedly in sandpit. This is how it could have been.

Unfortunately, temporary happiness broken on last go of zip wire before dinner. Daughter gets thrown off like a rag doll, does double somersault in mid-air and lands heavily on back. Terrifying moment of silence. Daughter starts screaming. Daddy and mummy breathe sigh of relief and run to winded, but not wounded, daughter. Decide not to go to A&E.

Daugther later asks, repeatedly, why I didn’t catch her when she went flying off the zip wire.

  • Family holiday day 8

No further events. Exhausted family pack up and leave Plague House behind. Car breaks down on journey home.

Standing on the roadside wife and I agree that from now on we are going to scrap all holidays. We agree instead that for future holidays we will lock children in front room for a week with a box of Cheerios and a DVD of “Lord of the Flies” on loop. We will retire to bedroom with a bottle of gin, curl up and rock gently in a corner, weeping whilst staring at pictures of unattainable sunny, palm fronded beaches.

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The diary of a (yet another rubbish) family holiday – Part 1

Since child number two arrived it has been over fourteen months since my family has been away from the house and on holiday together. Given that previous holiday attempts with child number one were less than successful, it was with a sense of anticipation, fear and trepidation that we set out on a week-long family holiday over the recent Easter break. Frankly we shouldn’t have bothered. We should have stayed at home.

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This is part 1 of the diary. Part 2 will be released later this week.

  • Family holiday day 1

Bags packed and ready to go! However, son, recovering from a sickness and diarrhoea bug, vomits at breakfast time, bringing up bowl of half-chewed Cheerios.  I try to score points with wife in personal ongoing vendetta against Cheerios by suggesting they are too sweet for son. Wife scores most points by making me clear up son’s vomit.

Holiday postponed by one day, due to Breakfast Cheerio Vomit. Holiday suitcases remain by front door. Daughter spends day whingeing – repeatedly – about not going on holiday. Son also spends day whingeing and clinging to any adult in sight. Wife reflects it’s like being on lock-down in an old people’s home, where all the old people are on Speed. Stressful day ends with wife sobbing in bathroom.

  • Family holiday day 2

Son, hasn’t vomited in 24 hours, but is clearly still not fully recovered. Hold telephone consultation with rest of family (brother, sister in-law, two kids and Grandma), who arrived at separate, but nearby, holiday houses the previous day. We decide to travel to our holiday house, but under strict self-quarantine rules.

Both children fall into deep beautiful slumber on the three hour journey from Oxford to Kent. Wife and I dare to believe that the holiday is back on track.

However upon arrival at holiday house, both children melt-down. Daughter wants to go play with cousin, but nuances on the concept of quarantine are lost on her. Two resulting time outs for daughter. Son, teething for England, screams his way through the day, and nearly chews his own fist off. In order to delay onset of parental tinnitus wife and I take shift turns with son.

One brief conversation through holiday house window with rest of holiday party is our sole contact with the rest of humanity. Our holiday house is renamed The Plague House by my niece. Cold, wintry and miserable outside. Snow starts falling. It’s April.

  • Family holiday day 3

No sleep due to daughter and son spending the night in a relay race, passing The Baton of Screaming between each other. At 4am, after approximately NO hours of sleep, I consider picking up The Baton of Screaming and whacking myself over the head with it. Seems like the only chance for some sleep.

Son still unwell and doesn’t eat breakfast. Bitterly cold and miserable outside, barely reaches above freezing all day, feels colder with barbaric North-easterly blowing in off Siberia. Children really tetchy. Pattern set for rest of day.

We are locked into Plague House, with no contact with the other holiday party except for stolen conversations through Plague House window.

Highlight of day is when daughter has a poo on toilet, looks down and squeals “It looks like Makka Pakka’s house!” I can confirm it really did.

  • Family holiday day 4

The Baton of Screaming is dropped. The house is silent at night. Sleep results. Eight, lovely, unbroken hours of it. Both children wake up happier, smiling. Son attempts a few wobbly steps after breakfast, daughter back to usual charming and charismatic self. It’s been over 48 hours without an incident of diarrhoea or vomiting. Disinfectant is locked away! Recovery is complete!

Ring other members of holiday party. Sun comes out. Daddy and mummy rejoice. Celebratory decision made to go to Safari Park en-masse.

Arrive at Safari Park. Colder than hell, despite sunshine. Queue for hours waiting to get onto safari transport. Son goes quiet in pram, little nose frozen. All other children begin whingeing. Safari finally gets under way, vehicle passes through massive Jurassic Park style gates “Welcome to another world!!” announces driver triumphantly. This other world looks suspiciously like cold, empty fields. In Kent.

Son falls asleep, probably hypothermic. Safari passes field after freezing field, no sight of animals. Vehicle passes empty lion pen. Grandma suggests Friesian cows have kidnapped the lion and are torturing him for escape route information.

Vehicle eventually stops at an outdoor restaurant in the middle of nowhere, with no shelter, no cover. Bitter wind blows through restaurant, food takes over one hour to arrive. Son wakes up starving hungry, screaming for food. Food doesn’t arrive. Son eventually stops screaming, reverts to guttural protest growl and worrying thousand yard stare.

Food eventually arrives 80 minutes after it is ordered. Utter garbage. Utter expensive garbage.

Family huddle around a tropical lizard tank, along with 30 other people, to try and defrost. Tropical lizard tank is only piece of warmth remaining this side of hell.

Daughter wets herself. No spare trousers, so spare trousers borrowed off sister-in-law. Daughter refuses to wear spare trousers and escapes my grasp, running half naked out of the toilets and into the outdoor restaurant screaming “Get off me! Get off me!” I die of embarrassment in front of hundreds of startled onlookers. I suppress the urge to shout “It’s OK! I’m not a paedophile, I’m her father!”

Family troop back onto safari vehicle. Still no safari type animals. Plenty of squirrels though. Hands frozen with cold by this point. Children melting down. Final ten minute walk to car park is most miserable, cold walk ever taken. Cost of family outing totals over £300. Would have had more fun if we had spent the day sat in a big freezer, looking at pictures of squirrels.

All children put to bed, so I open the first bottle of wine of the holiday and pour into glasses. A split second later I am immediately alerted by crying coming from children’s bedroom. Daughter has vomited all over bed sheets and herself. Half digested, open-air-freezer-restaurant pizza stuck in her hair.

Daughter spends rest of night vomiting, one particularly strong hurl goes down my front, with splashback onto face. I note that vomit is surprisingly hot.

Wife and I painfully strip skin off hands through over use of soap and disinfectant.

I begin to wish I was back at work.

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Look out for Part 2 of – The Diary of a (yet another rubbish) family holiday – later this week

Potty training; It’s more than just the ones and twos

Change is never easy, and potty training – one of the major milestones in any young child’s life – can be one of the more challenging and frustrating change phases for everyone involved. It is much more than just taking off their nappies and showing them where the toilet is. It is the beginning of the process that will eventually see your child walk out of the door and off into the great wide world on their own. No wonder it can feel so stressful.

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There were three indicators that my daughter was ready to start potty training

  • She started to express an interest
  • She was becoming conscious of the urge, shifting around and fussing when she needed to go.
  • She was regularly waking up with a dry nappy

And there were three good reasons to start potty training

  • She was getting stronger, and at 26 months old, we were fed up with fighting her on the change table.
  • It was summer. Much easier for potty training
  • Her best friend was potty training too, which provided a great peer pressure incentive

We were initially quite fearful as our daughter likes routine, doesn’t like change and expresses displeasure openly, frequently and assertively. In other words she can be a Todzilla.

However the transition to grown-up pull up pants made my daughter happy as she felt like a grown up girl. Equally my wife and I felt an immediate relief and liberation from the dreaded nappies (not to mention happiness at the thought of the expense saved).

However despite these early quick wins, the first two weeks didn’t go very well at all. In fact I would describe them as a disaster.

My daughter found it very difficult and was having accidents all day at nursery and also at home in the evenings. We tried to be patient and adopted the line to never scold an accident, but instead gently reassure and encourage her to get it right the next time. This is difficult though when yet another poo ends up on the kitchen floor.

My daughter became increasingly frustrated, unable to vocalise her angst. In hindsight, and judging by her reactions to each accident, I am also pretty sure she found the whole process quite humiliating – after all, who would want to be seen wetting or soiling themselves in public?

This went on for two weeks. Fortunately we have tiles and exposed floor boards at home in the majority of the family space in the house, so the damage from the many accidents was easily cleaned up. However the emotional scars were much harder to deal with. My daughter still couldn’t work out what was happening and became tense and stroppy.

My wife and I were also frazzled from following her around the house and garden with a potty. I began to hate those words “Do you need to go to the toilet?” which had become a burdensome mantra.

We tried lots of ideas, but even the sticker chart (which we thought would be the failsafe technique given her love for stickers) didn’t work. Each day the situation report from our key worker at nursery made depressing listening. We began to dread the daily briefing of failure and the exchange of yet another plastic bag full of soiled clothes.

Then one day, as we entered the third week of potty training, our nursery key worker pulled us to one side with our daughter, and suggested that it wasn’t working and that we should revert back to nappies. She said my daughter was not ready.

We were gutted.

I was actually at the point where I was also willing to cave in but thank goodness my wife provided the spine on this occasion and argued that we had put so much energy into potty training, and that this was NOT the time to give up.

My wife was also aware that my daughter’s friend had successfully transitioned from nappies to potty pretty easily in the meantime, and this provided further incentive for all of us.

And the very next day something amazing happened.

We were stood in the nursery, explaining our decision to our daughter’s key worker and my daughter toddled off into the bathroom. After a few moments I decided to follow her. When I turned the corner I cried out in amazement! My daughter was sat on the potty, big grin on her face, HAVING A WEE! I could not contain my excitement and called the others in to see. Of course I am not sure this was the right move as it temporarily made my daughter a little shy of her achievement.

However, amazingly she had no more accidents that day, nor the next, nor for many days after that.

By the end of it my daughter had cracked number ones within three weeks and number twos within two months. Accidents, when they did come, were generally during periods of intense play and excitement, when her mind was on something else, but within a couple of months these became incredibly rare. She suffered a couple of viruses in the time, which also seemed to set her back, but generally the learning trajectory was extremely sharp after that initial success.

I look back upon that period with mixed feelings. I was pleased that my wife had been tenacious enough to persuade me to stick with it. I was also proud that my daughter had decided to prove us all wrong, determined to do things in her own time, in her own way; but I also know it was a tough and stressful time, and a time when there were also many other challenges such as teething and sleep issues to deal with.

However, looking back, the overwhelming sense for us all is one of celebrating a victory; for my wife and I it was about having survived one of the key transition phases in early childhood development and for having successfully supported and coached my daughter through it.

But more importantly the victory was for my daughter; my daughter who assertively and confidently took her own decision to take yet another step on the path towards autonomy and independence; for my daughter who took a step closer to understanding and taking control over her own body; for my daughter who became closer to understanding her own needs and shaping her own independent future.

We learnt that potty training is more than just removing their nappies and showing your child where the toilet is. It is about empowerment, trust and preparing your child for the next stages in their life. These are big issues and big concepts, and introducing them so early on in their little lives is bound to cause tension, friction and challenges. And it is no surprise then, that it can feel all consuming.

And as we now stand on the verge of embarking on the potty training process with my son, who will soon embark on his own little war of (nappy) independence, we are preparing and steeling ourselves for a long, and sometimes stressful, journey. We will be prepared for setbacks on the way. We will be prepared for another summer of running around the house with a potty in one hand, and a bottle of disinfectant and brush in the other. We will be prepared for the inevitable accidents.

But ultimately, given what an incredible achievement it is for a child to throw off the lumpy shackles of nappies and to be able to stride confidently, with bare buttocks, out into the big wide world, we will be prepared for our children to (once again) amaze us.

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This post appeared in its original format for a series of guest posts on Potty Training on the @Mummy_loves blog page (thismummyloves.com). Go check it out, there’s some great stuff on there. And why not follow Sonia on Twitter @Mummy_loves, she’s ace!

Birthdays aren’t always about the kids; A blog post celebrating the celebrity of The Birthday Cake.

Kids birthday’s are a riot of colour, noise and fun, with the primary objective of giving the celebrating child a day to remember. But birthdays aren’t just about the kids. There is sometimes a quieter celebrity which often threatens to steal the show. The celebrity of The Birthday Cake.

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I have long forgotten how to celebrate my own birthday properly, usually perfectly content to let the event slip silently out of sight (as long as a little bit of a fuss is made for the zero ending birthdays).

So since becoming a father I have had to re-train myself to acknowledge the birthday as a key event in my children’s lives, and to re-engage in the ceremony of birthday for the benefit of my children.

As a result I have spent what seems like most weekends for the last 12 months or so, attending these wonderfully intense little explosions of colour, noise and vibrancy as child after child passes yet another milestone mark in their lives. And toddlers birthday parties are a sight to behold, populated by clumsy, wobbly zombies, each one vibrating with the raw energy of life itself; too young to really know what is going on, but old enough to know that a bouncy castle + balloons + friends + sticky cakes = best time EVER!

And the more birthdays I have attended, the more I have observed that there is a fundamental competition going on behind the scenes. Which parents can hire the best hall? Which parents can get the best bouncy castles? Which parents can get the best entertainment?

But it appears that the one factor that trumps everything else is the food. For my circle of friends at least, the more homemade, the more organic, the more wholesome the food, the better. For example a hand knitted flapjack using fairly traded sugar and Goji berries from an indigenous tribe cooperative in Latin America would score you BIG parent points.

But the thing that really trumps everything else is The Birthday Cake. Ah yes. The Birthday Cake. The ultimate symbol of the Super Parents. The Birthday Cake. The thing that shouts “Look at us. We have given birth AND we can bake. We are multi-tasking, home-baking, sustenance-providing SUPER PARENTS”

Ever since I became a father, my Facebook and Twitter timelines have become chock FULL of my friends pictures of their children’s Birthday Cakes (ironically, with not a child in sight). Some of these cakes are so utterly magnificent that the creators’ children probably didn’t eat for days whilst they were painstakingly crafting them.

And while my wife and I have largely resisted the lure of The Birthday Cake for my daughters first and second birthdays, I could see all this changing for my daughters recent third birthday.

It was a Saturday afternoon, about two months before the birthday. My wife asked my daughter if she would like a birthday cake. A perfectly reasonable question you might think, but let’s unpack it a little bit. My daughter was approaching her third birthday. Her opinions and views of the world are not yet fixed. Given that this question was her first introduction to the dialogue about birthdays, it is now likely that her view of birthday’s evermore will be first and foremost defined by the presence or otherwise of The Birthday Cake.

And in addition, it wasn’t just the question that was asked, it was the way it was asked. A glint in the eye, a conspiratorial whisper in the voice and a subliminal and very slight nodding of the head as the question was delivered. I realised my wife was, consciously or not, making it impossible for my daughter to say “no” to this question.

Naturally my daughter picked up on all the cues and gleefully replied “yes”. And that was it. Two months of discussing the party once the kids were in bed followed, with The Birthday Cake taking centre stage.

At one point, when I felt the party was in danger of mushrooming into a vast logistical and administrative undertaking that we would need an army of volunteers to help deliver, I suggested that we buy a cake from the local Posh Cake Shop to reduce the burden on the family. The frown and withering stare I received in return was enough for me to understand that what I was saying was tantamount to adultery and betrayal. I filed that suggestion into the mental box in my brain marked “Pandora” – along with the recent suggestion that we turn the kids sandpit into a raised bed for my carrots – and tried to change the subject to a safer, more mundane conversation, about balloons or something.

However, the worst thing about all this was that we decided to do a joint birthday with some of our best friends. This would mean there would be not one, but TWO cakes. And those cakes would be IN COMPETITION!

And sure enough the cake was an ongoing topic of conversation between the two matriarchs in the run up to the party. Some nights my wife would come off the phone from her friend, frustrated and grumbling about an added twist her friend had added to embellish her cake, walking off cursing into the kitchen to find something that could be added to our cake to fortify it.

As the party approached the conversations between the two women literally turned to sledging each other over their cakes. I got an insight into how men must appear when we do that blokey, sledgehammer, put down thing i.e. great fun for those of you in the middle of the banter, but extremely uncomfortable viewing for those watching and not quite sure of the rules.

Then came the day of the party. For my daughter, the party was all about bouncy castles, her friends, balloons and hilariously bad dancing to Katy Perry (can it be torture if they appear to enjoy it?). But for all the adults, underneath all this superficial colour, happiness and noise, was the underlying tension of the two cakes being pitted against each other; two houses going head to head in a glorious cake-off. The battle for cake supremacy had begun.

Someone dimmed the lights. I don’t know who. It didn’t matter. A hush descended on the room. Everyone turned to face the glow of candle light coming around the corner. The hilltop fires had been lit! The Birthday Cakes were here! CAKES!! INCOMING!!!

I must confess, while I had been, up until this point, less preoccupied by the quality of the cakes and more concerned about the survival of my CD collection (which was being frisbeed around the room), I was by now desperate for our cake to be beautiful; to be the show stopper; to resemble everything you might find in a Posh Cake Shop, and – with the benefit of the infinite love of a mother poured into it – much, much more.

The first cake arrived to a collective gasp; a deep, dark dense chocolate cake with elaborate bursts of coloured icing, crackling like fireworks against a midnight sky. The cake-makers face was lit up by the candles, a portrait of happiness and pride.

Then came our cake. More gasps of appreciation. And I was amazed! This was a lighter, pink affair over two tiers, each lovingly adorned with beautiful, delicate thin wafer flowers and studded with pink and white chocolate buttons.

And ff this cake had been a car, it would have been a pink Lamborghini. It would have come screeching into the room, exhaust throttling, tyres burning, a perfect hand brake turn at the end for the adoring crowds. It was a stunning, prancing horse of a cake.

The candles on the cake lit up my wife’s face, a pink halo burning above her head. My daughters face also lit up. She tilted her head down, beamed a beam as wide as an ocean trench and clapped her little hands together three times. Her shoulders bobbed up and down with excitement and she was squealing with joy. A burst of pride spread across my chest.

And my goodness, it tasted amazing. Admittedly it was helped by the TWO packs of butter that were helping to hold it together, but raised cholesterol levels aside, this was a job well and truly done.

So there it was, two months in the planning for both families, demolished in seconds by a hungry and appreciative audience. And it dawned on me. As the cakes were being brought through and all eyes were trained on them – flashbulbs popping and the crowds parting to let the sugary sweet VIPs through – that birthday parties are without doubt primarily about the children; but that the cakes take a certain celebrity too.

And on this occasion it was the mothers that had embraced this celebrity and gone head-to-head, two matriarch lionesses on the Serengeti savannah, circling each other, measuring each other up; each cake cub crying for attention, a symbol of life, creation and nurture. A symbol of pride, dedication and selfless giving, all wrapped up in a sugary-pink icing casing.

And as the chaos died down I decided that next year I am going to get involved. And it’s going to get serious. I have decided the cake will have turrets and minaret’s, delicately sculpted in an Arabic style. And there will be marshmallows and Lindt chocolate. And Spiderman and Winnie the Witch will be involved. And I will take photos of it, and post them on any social media site that will have me.

Oh yes.

It’s cake war.