Ho ho noooo – Christmas as a grown up

I have always loved Christmas. For me, it’s not about the presents. It’s about the music, the food and spending time with loved ones. That love of Christmas has reached new levels since becoming a mum. I love watching Christmas – and all of the magic that comes with it – through the children’s eyes.

What I don’t love is the growing amount of Christmas stuff to do both as a grown up and a parent. Every year, there seems to be more to organise from unusual nativity Christmas costumes (last year a chicken, this year a pig), last minute fancy dress requests and permission slips. And that doesn’t include the gift-buying, wrapping, and card-writing, which is in addition to the myriad of things that go hand in hand with being working parents.

For the next month, our family calendar is a scribbled blur of plans and reminders from Christmas dos to festive jumper days to school trips to visits to the big man himself. 

Throw in our son’s birthday in early December (and the associated party-planning and birthday prep) and the next few weeks are looking hectic to say the least. 

And that makes me worry. I’m always the planner in our household, the one who knows what’s happening when and exactly what’s required. I book things in and try to make sure nothing clashes.

I’ve got a weekly planner on the fridge, a diary, a family calendar and electronic reminders, but with so much to do and going on, I’m worried that I’m going to drop the ball soon. 

Although most of the shopping is done, much of it is yet to be wrapped. I’ve yet to write a single Christmas card and the decorations are still tucked away in the cupboard in a dusty box. 

For now, I’m going to take each day as it comes and hope that my planning strategies will pull me (and the rest of the family) through this busy yet fantastic time of year. 

It’ll all be worth it when I see our boy singing in his nativity play and watch the children meet Father Christmas and promise him that they have been good this year.

But until then I’ll be a hive of activity. I will be trying very hard not to forget about several fancy dress days, secret santa gifts and getting around to writing (and posting) those Christmas cards. Phew.

How do you keep on track with Christmas preparations? All tips welcome.

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Due date memories five years on

Thursday 24 November 2011 was a huge day in our lives. It was the day our first child was due. Since seeing his tiny arms, head and feet on that dark, grainy scan, it was a day that we had many hopes pinned on. 

I had been informed by midwives, family, my pregnancy yoga teacher and countless articles that only a minority of babies arrive on their due dates. But as a keen planner, I had clung on to that shred of hope that he would arrive as expected. Armed with the information that 37 weeks was full term, I’d started my maternity leave four weeks before my due date to wait for baby Pyke to arrive.

In reality, he arrived 15 excruciatingly long days later after a two-day labour that was nothing like my carefully-crafted birth plan. So I thought I’d look back on my due date – and subsequent overdue days – and the lessons I learned.

1. Babies arrive when they want to. This enormously frustrating piece of advice is not what you want to hear when you’re two weeks overdue, the size of a hippo and enduring the hell that is being induced, but it’s true. I ate curries, drank shed loads of raspberry leaf tea and bounced on my birthing ball like there was no tomorrow but they didn’t work for me. I remember waddling around Ogmore-by-sea while heavily pregnant willing it to kick things off all to no avail. 

2. Have you had the baby yet? woes. When you have been pregnant for longer than you felt humanly possible, and the pregnant mums you know who were due after you are already cradling their babies, there is nothing that makes you want to lose it like the have you had the baby yet? messages. I had so many well-meaning texts, calls and Facebook messages that kept tipping me into hormonal overdrive. If I had had the baby, you’d have heard about it most definitely. In my rule book, there should be a mandate not to ask this question unless you want to be responsible for making a heavily pregnant woman cry (or angry). Not sure which is worse. Alternatively, anyone thinking about asking the question can be directed to this insightful website.

3. Innocent due date questions became insufferable I tried to do things and go out to distract myself from the frustration of being overdue. So when the checkout operator at our local supermarket asked when I was due, I had to answer “10 days ago” through very gritted teeth. Sigh.

4. Have you tried?…  Yes, I most definitely have tried the old wives tales to start my labour. They may have worked for Emma and your cousin Jennifer, but they most definitely did not work for me.

5. Nesting is a thing I had been cynical about this, but I found myself kneading bread and baking cakes like never before as I tried to make those long days pass. I ended up making a loaf a day.

Five years on, I can see that 15 days is nothing in the grand scheme of things. But at the time, each day seemed to last an age. I didn’t know anyone who had gone that far over before so it added to my nerves and fears about becoming a mum for the first time.

Of course, when he did arrive, he was worth every single second of that wait. Our lives changed forever as we held him for the first time, watched him take in the world and felt his perfect fingers curl around ours.

What do you remember about your due date? I’d love to know.

On getting it wrong 

Last weekend, I washed my son’s goggles in the washing machine by accident. In my haste to load the washing after his lesson, I bundled in his swimming kit without realising his goggles were going for a spin too. They came out intact so I popped them back into his kit bag and forgot all about it. 

That was until his next swimming lesson, when the said goggles disintegrated in the water. I sheepishly took them back from his teacher, who knew precisely what had happened. “Washing machine?” he asked. 

The following day my son came home from after school club with a salt dough Christmas tree decoration that needed to be baked. I dutifully put it in the oven as I cooked dinner, but a toddler melt down distracted me, which led to the ornament being burnt around the edges. Now, like most parents, I want and try really hard to get things right. It’s important to me. So when things – even relatively small things – go wrong, I feel guilty. I felt awful on both occasions.

Sometimes I get days where the things my husband and I juggle as parents amaze me. From work to drop offs to helping with homework and giving comforting cuddles, each day is filled with a myriad of tasks that need to be done along with the important things, the kisses, the laughter and favourite bedtime stories.

At other times, I melt goggles, misplace keys and make other silly mistakes. After all, we parents are people and people make mistakes. We are not the superheroes we often try to be.

So for now I will keep trying to get it right and try to be more accepting when I get it wrong. It doesn’t make me a bad mum, it makes me human.

Why I didn’t capture that Kodak moment today 

You are likely to be aware that today is Children in Need day, where children and grown ups alike take on fun fundraising challenges for this worthy cause. 

In the Pyke household, it meant dressing our son and daughter in their pyjamas for school and nursery for a sponsored pyjama day. I’d excitedly got the Pudsey ears out last night and imagined the lovely photograph I’d take of our pyjama-clad pair to post on Facebook and Instagram.

But when it came to 7.55am this morning, it became clear that this imagined moment was going to remain a figment of myover optimistic imagination. 

My son most definitely did not want to wear his Pudsey ears. Our daughter cried because she wanted to wear her brother’s Pudsey ears, which he suddenly insisted on keeping when she declared her interest. This then led to a shoe,  sock and coat refusal standoff that lasted for 17 minutes and meant we were running late. 

So, no Kodak moment this Children in Need day unfortunately, but I’m pleased they both took part in this brilliant fundraiser. And, hey, there’s always next year.

How have you supported Children in Need this year?

What went well today? One week in.

A week ago, I was lucky enough to do wellbeing workshops at work. The workshops covered lots of insightful ground, but the simplest thing that resonated with me was writing down the three things that went well for me at the end of every day.

It is a positive psychology concept by psychologist Martin Seligman and had led to some brilliant results.

Now I’m the type of person who can struggle to switch off and relax. Very often I can’t sit and do nothing as my brain is a constant monologue of the things I should be doing. The washing, the ironing, cleaning, wrapping gifts, doing the online groceries, packing the school bag and batch cooking meals. I have always been like this, but I have fallen into this trap even more since having the children as the to do list just never ends.

I downloaded the Headspace app earlier this year, which I loved, but I found it difficult to commit to 10 minutes a day when there was so much other stuff to do (a sad excuse, I know).

So I was drawn to this simple idea that could be done in very little time. I dug out a pretty new notebook and started the what went well? project that evening.

One week in, I have to say I am feeling more positive. It is great to end the day celebrating the things that went well. 

Quite of often it’s the little things such as a sunny lunchtime walk, laughing with friends, getting to that exercise class when I would much rather have collapsed in a heap on the sofa. 

So I am going to keep going with this simple exercise to see where it takes me. So far, so good.

Have you tried what went well? before? Or are you thinking of giving it a go? Let me know.

10 dinnertime moments post-children

I’m a big believer in family dinners, gathering everyone around the table to eat and talk as each day nears an end. I love sitting at the table, talking through our days and enjoying a good meal. 

But this rose-hued vision of dinnertime is becoming further and further away from reality as family with two children under five. In fact, dinner often descends into chaos before I’ve even managed a forkful of bolognaise.

So here is my list of the 10 dinnertime moments that have become a reality in our home and sometimes make me feel like silently weeping into my garlic bread.

1. Someone will always need a wee. This will happen the moment your carefully-crafted meal is placed in front of the children. Sigh.

2. The dinnertime dance. This begins when one of the children decides they absolutely must get up from the table to play/colour/find a long lost toy (and it usually coincides with a meal they’re not that keen on). This then leads the other child to follow suit. This now leads to a wandering dance where we try (and often fail) to herd them back in the direction of their chairs and plates.

3. The wander. When one of the children escapes the table, we will often find them wandering around eating remnants of their dinner in another room. Our toddler particularly enjoys eating turkey meatballs while standing on her dance and spin zebra. 

4. Food can be a weapon. Nothing gives a toddler more glee than wilfully flinging pasta/grated cheese/chilli everywhere bar their mouth. And you can guarantee said food will land in a faroff nook that is almost impossible to reach. I have found myself contorting under the dinner table to reach far flung food more times than I would care to remember.

5. You will repeat the phrases of your parents. Yes, you know the ones that made you roll your eyes or stamp your feet as a child? They’ll be tripping off your tongue quicker than your brain can scream “You’re turning into your mum!”. I spent a long time making this dinner so you will eat it. There are children in the world who don’t have enough to eat so you will eat your carrots! Mummy just wants to eat in peace. 

6. Your food always tastes better. Yes, it’s the same food. But it’s on your plate, therefore, it’s better. This also applies to cutlery. Tonight I had to negotiate with my toddler to get my knife back. It took some time.

7. Drinks need refilling constantly. Right that second. Our children demand instantaneous refills of water and milk cups, usually as we are starting the holy grail of a still-hot meal.

8. You will need to learn inventive ways to feed yourself. One-armed pasta while holding a toddler? Check. Roast dinner while breastfeeding? Check. I have also had friends take pity on me when I foolishly made or ordered something that cannot be eaten one-handed by cutting it for me. Mamma’s gotta eat.

9. The school day is a state secret. I am always desperate to find out about our son’s school day over dinner. What did he do? Who did he play with? What did he enjoy today? But most days, I get reminded that, to him, the school day is a sworn secret. He is no more likely to impart with this information than he is to give away his Lego Star Wars DVD.

10. I’m not hungry…can I have dessert now? A personal bugbear for me is when our son declares he cannot eat a morsel more of his food but asks for a dessert a few moments later. No. Just no.

What dinnertime habits do you have in your house? How have your dinner times changed since having children?

Learning to love muddy puddles

I’ve always been the type of person who likes things just so. A planner. Organised to a tee with a spick and span house. So the constant chaos, sticky hands and spaghetti-smeared walls that go hand in hand with parenting have come as a bit of a shock. 

Most days are now a blur of wet wipes, soap, and constant use of our cordless Dyson (a parenting game changer). Days spent picking up a never-ending supply of toys as our toddler tips the box of the Megablocks we have just put away all over the floor. 

Most days, I’m used to the whirlwind of toys, crumbs and dropped toys and I can accept them. But, despite my best efforts, I’m less comfortable with messy play and mud. In fact, I feel tense just thinking about these things. I really want to be the mum who relishes messy play, mud kitchens and baking with the children, but I’m not. 

What I am, though, is a mum who is trying to make my peace with mud, mess and puddles. I push myself out of my mum comfort zone with messy play sessions, welly walks and making fairy cakes. But it’s a constant battle.

Last weekend, we went for a morning walk near the seaside, a place jam-packed with muddy puddles. The children were thrilled, stomping, jumping and marching around (inspired by Peppa, I think). They got soaked and muddy but they were delighted.

So I decided my natural Look-at-the-dirt reaction needed to be put aside. Clothes could be washed, wellies dried out, muddy hands cleaned. Because these muddy puddle moments are the things we will remember in the days, weeks and years to come. And we will cherish them.