Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Holiday Bizarro World

So we had our family holiday. And I’m intact. How was it? If you can believe it, this holiday went brilliantly well. I was really bracing myself for a working holiday, where the chaos of our lives merely transfers to a different venue and proceeds to get more intense and more chaotic. And with even less sleep, as per my previous experiences with mini-breaks and children.

Remember that Seinfeld episode where Elaine meets ‘Bizarro Jerry’ and his friends, who are all polar opposites of actual Jerry and the Seinfeld clan? Well, that’s what our holiday was like. It was the total opposite of any holiday I've previously experienced and the opposite to what I thought it was going to be like.It was everything a holiday should be: relaxing, fun, easy. And nothing like my previous holidays with kids: stressful, exhausting, nightmarish.

But to give myself a little credit, I was prepared for anything this time. First of all, I had eight separate lists going, of stuff to pack and stuff to buy to pack. I worked on these all week, and actually didn't get a chance to pack anything until the morning we were leaving. But I didn't stress. Because I had the lists. I know you're curious, so here are the list titles:

1. Stuff for Miss P
2. Stuff for Mr B
3. Stuff for babies
4. Stuff for me
5. Food to pack
6. Food to buy
7. Toiletries
8. Miscellaneous

In case you're wondering, Husband was in charge of his own packing, and naturally just packed a spare t-shirt and extra pair of shorts. Which he shoved in my bag.

Anyway, then we were packed and headed off, with a car load of children and luggage. Here's where the weird, bizarre stuff started happening. To begin with, we arrived at the holiday park, not just on time, but a few minutes early. Believe me, we are not an early family. Someone once told me that you get to be an extra 10 minutes late for every child that you have. Sums me up perfectly.

As I unpacked everything, the babies happily crawled up and down our cabin while Husband took the kids out for water play. I set up my coffee machine, put all our food away, put our clothes in the designated cupboard areas and even prepared pyjamas and sleep comforters ready for the night.

When Husband returned, it was time to put up the two travelcots for the babies. We were not looking forward to this. What is it with travel cots that makes them so hard to put up and take down? I tried my hand at one, but when it pinched both my hands I cursed loudly and had to walk away, feeling the familiar hatred and frustration for those contraptions.

But then I spied something. The instructions. I showed it to my Husband and asked if we ever looked at the instructions for the one we used to have at home (which was woefully abused by both of us in various fits of frustration). He looked as stunned as me. Together we went through the step by step guide and amazingly, the thing went up the first time! We were definitely in Bizarro world by this point.
By 8pm that night, all our kids were asleep. Also a Bizarro thing, I really expected a battle with the babies. Overnight, the babies woke up only once each, which is what they do at home on a good night, (which is hardly ever). It was completely tolerable compared to multiple wake-ups from each baby, and compared to every other holiday experience I've had with small children and sleep.
We had friends with children come to the holiday park with us, and so the next day, all the kids were in and out of the water, playing gleefully all day. The weather was perfect, not too hot and just right for getting wet. At about mid-morning, the really Bizarro thing happened:
The babies had a huge sleep, and with the kids out playing (and being looked after by other parents), I had time to myself.
What the??? I was as surprised as you. I didn’t know what to do with myself, I was giddy with excitement. I pottered about, talked with my friends and even had a beer. I ended up having to wake the babies. That’s ok, by that point I missed them. I think I was a bit lost without them.
So there you have it, a mini-break that was actually a break. Why was it so easy? In hindsight, I think it was a combination of factors:
  • .       The lists made sure we had everything we needed, so we didn’t need to leave the holiday park for one forgotten thing.
  • .       Stuff to do, like water play and swimming was on our door step, so getting the kids out and about was simple.
  • .       Going with brilliant friends who had kids of their own meant that there was always someone there to watch a child while you do other things. Plus cooking and washing up duties were shared between us so no one was chained to the kitchen at any one point.
  • .       I  kept my expectations really low for this one. I was prepared for the babies to get out of whack and ready to offer extra feeds or sleeping aids as needed. So I wasn’t disappointed. As it turns out I was pleasantly surprised. I kind of wanted to live there forever.
 What about you? Have you got one brilliant holiday tip that really helped you enjoy being away with the kids? Any amazing places you've been to with them?

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

What's the fuss with co-sleeping?

Last week I found myself deep in a fog of sleep-deprivation. Now, you might remember that I am normally pretty good with the lack-of-sleep thing. See here if you need a refresher. But I may have hit rock bottom last week, where I reached a point of actually feeling unwell with sleep-dep. My eyes were itchy and hot, my brain a mushy mess. And I was so fed-up with being tired!

It's Baby J that's causing the angst at our place. He won't go to sleep in his cot, and when he does, he's up again after half an hour. I've tried all the recommended stuff: shushing and patting, staying in his room, leaving the room, letting him cry, offering comfort, decreasing the comfort, encouraging him to settle himself. None of it works. He just stands in his cot crying bitterly, and he will BATTLE YOU UNTIL THE END. I've managed to face-off with him for an hour and a half, with me going to comfort him and then leaving him for increasing intervals. The few times I've done this it's been a shambles. He has just stood there and cried the whole time, watching the door until I returned. Not even the slightest hint of self-settling. And as soon as I pick him up, he snuggles into the crook of my arm and falls asleep.This is really frustrating, because a couple of months ago, he was able to fall asleep on is own every time. Not anymore.

I don't know what Baby J's story is, but I do know that last week it was all beginning to take its toll on me. And when you have to go to work and pretend to be functional and intelligent, this situation is no good at all. I also looked like AWFUL.

So I decided to try co-sleeping with him. There's a bit of taboo about this and I don't get why. It seems that there's two strong camps of thought. On the one side you have the attachment parents, that are all for co-sleeping and will happily continue with this until their child or children are good and ready to leave the parental bed. I have no judgement about this, I am all for parenting that works for the family.

On the other side there seems to be the opinion that co-sleeping is a bad thing, a habit that will be impossible to undo. A few people I know who have co-slept with their babies have talked about their guilt for doing so, and the feeling that they really need to 'sort it out'. I told a friend about my plans to try co-sleeping and she shook her head adamantly. 'Keep persevering with the sleep training', she said. 'Don't start a habit you'll regret.'

But I was done with the persevering. I needed sleep. There was no way I wanted to tough it out for another night when it JUST WASN'T WORKING. So I put the sleep-training on ice for the night and let Baby J fall asleep in my arms during our overnight feed, before transferring him to our makeshift bed on the floor in his room. I used a load of blankets as padding for us and a 'safe sleeper' bed insert thing for him, designed for babies to sleep in their parent's bed safely.

And  guess what happened? Yeah, he slept. He's slept there every night since, with me by his side. If he stirs a little, I just put my hand on his tummy and he falls back to sleep. Last night he slept through, for the first time. I love his little snore. The only time he wakes is if he catches me leaving the room when I hear Baby A crying. A slight flaw in the plan. But it's still so much better than how it's been.

So I don't get the fuss with co-sleeping. For some reason, my baby needs to be close to me to sleep. I can give him that, with minimal trouble, and my reward is that I get to sleep too. What's to argue with? We will work on his sleep again down the track. All our instincts at the moment are saying that he's not ready for the tough stuff.

And to be honest, I think it's awesome to sleep so close to my baby. He's my last one, I'm loving being near him all night. While I'm sleeping, anyway.

We went down a similar route with our first child, so I know how it goes. After many months of interrupted sleep, we finally caved and let him sleep in our bed. Which resulted in me moving to a different room to sleep and our bed being dubbed 'Daddy's bed' for the next year or two. Eventually we got control of it. Once he was old enough, we used positive reinforcement (read: bribery) to coax him into his own bed permanently and that's where he now sleeps. No big deal.

For now, I'll let Baby J have his way. I'm a soft touch for a bit of sleep. I just hope my back can cope with the big rod I'm making for it.....

What about you? Ever had to resort to co-sleeping with your baby to get some sleep? Or did you get yourself into any other 'bad' habits for the sake of a few Zzzs?

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Starting School & Other Things I'm Excited About Right Now

I love having things to look forward to. With the silly season approaching, I'm sure lots of people are in the same position. Holidays, time with family, great nights out, work Christmas parties. When I'm excited about stuff, I get a kick in my step and can feel my momentum in forward-drive. It is also great for the adrenaline (and list-making), as for me, upcoming events are going to need massive organisation and prep if they're to go smoothly. Otherwise my head will explode with worry.

Here's what's making me excited at the moment (and inflating my head with the worry):

1. School
This week we had our second School Orientation session for Mr B. I have to say, I am seriously excited about him starting school. It's going to be a whole new world. I'm looking forward to him learning in a different setting to his pre-school, and watching him thrive. I'm looking forward to the new community that starting school will bring us: a whole classroom of other parents. Some we'll befriend, some we'll aspire to, others I'm sure we'll bitch about. Newsletters, school lunches, events, sports days. I can't wait. Most of all, I'm excited about his school uniform. He looks so damn cute in it. We got the smallest size and it still hangs off him. To combat this, I tucked the shirt in, and he looked even cuter. Like a little nerdy skater boy. When he was amongst all the other school kids at orientation, I noticed he was the only one with his shirt tucked in. But just for that day, I indulged myself and kept the shirt tucked in. And took lots of photos.

2. Family Holiday
I use this term loosely, as our 'holiday' consists of two nights away at the local caravan park. In terms of manageability, this was the best I could come up with. To be honest, the thought of going away with four small children sends shivers down my spine. For starters, two of them hate sleep. But I desperately wanted the big kids to have some form of a holiday this year. Mr B thinks two nights away is a bit of a rip-off, but I make no apologies here. Two nights is more than enough for us to handle as a first holiday with the six of us. Don't worry, I will be bringing my coffee machine. Husband found this quite bemusing when I told him. I don't see the humour. It makes complete sense to me. He says there's bound to be a cafe nearby, but I say, will it be open at 5am when the babies have decided they've had enough sleep?

3. Birthdays
Miss P turns 3 just after Christmas. I made a vow to always have her party early in December so she would have friends available to come, rather than have them all be away around the Christmas period. I'm planning a big party for her, as she was really overshadowed by newborn twins arriving last year. I am really excited about the party but it is stressful! So much to do and so little brain space to figure it out with. I've started prep for it early on so its not all left til the last minute. Our babies are turning 1 the same week so it is a double, no, triple celebration. Also, we are getting a face painter for the do and I am definitely getting my face done. Now THAT'S exciting.

4. Christmas
I love it! Tinsel, carols on loop in every shopping centre, advent calendars, photos with Santa. I am the advertisers' dream: I will suck up anything Christmasy. This year I want to start a bauble tradition: each of the big kids can choose a fancy ornament to go on the tree. Every year they can each pick another new one to decorate the tree with. Then, when they're adults they will each have their own personal collection for their own Christmas trees. Last year I started a 'craft' advent calendar tradition and can confirm that we will not be revisiting that one. Complete time-consuming, pain-in-the-arse thing to make that the big kids didn't even get that excited about. This year we go ready-made.

And then amongst all this exciting stuff, it's Summer! Steamy weather, beaches, mangoes, cold beer, long hot evenings, the smell of BBQs and the sound of happy people enjoying the holiday season. Bring it on!

And then in March I can start complaining about how its been so bloody hot and that I can't wait for Winter. Something I like about me: I'm excited about Weather the whole year. I like that I'm so easily pleased by a new thing that isn't actually new, its just the same as the year before. I feel like a goldfish.

What are you excited about right now? Anything giving you a kick in your step?

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Why You Won't Find Any Recipes On This Blog

I come across so many recipes when reading blogs. Accompanying them are always gorgeous, mouth-watering pictures of food. Often, they are good-looking enough to make me hover, mentally calculating what ingredients are involved and how easy it would be to prepare and cook. But after a quick peruse, I click away, both disappointed to miss out and relieved that I decided not to go there.

Recipes these days, even ones designated 'easy' or 'quick' are just way out of my league. Here's why:

Reason 1: I'm rubbish in the kitchen.

I used to be into cooking. I used to buy fresh herbs and make curries from scratch. I loved poring over recipes and exploring new cookbooks. I even used to work in a small pub kitchen in the UK (Husband vehemently refutes this fact. He's got a right to be suspicious). I've hosted a dinner party once or twice and still have, somewhere, a file full of collected recipes.

Nowadays it's a slightly different story. Husband doesn't allow me to cook anymore. That's right, I've fallen from grace. To be fair, I've become terrible at it. Have you ever cooked a bolognese that tastes like warm water? I have. Ever overcooked your steamed vegetables until they turned to mush? Gross, right? I know. So, and this isn't such a bad thing, husband now cooks for us every single night. He point blank refuses to let me loose in the kitchen. For us anyway.

It's true though. When I cook, I make a huge mess, get completely disorganised and then the food tastes awful, so it's really one big disaster.

Reason 2: Getting the kids to eat anything new is a huge battle.

The kids eat well enough. Vegetables in every meal, protein and carbs side by side on their plates. Followed by a bowl of fruit. But they eat 'vanilla' style (read: boring). There are so many flavours they are yet to try. Here's what I've attempted to serve them in the last couple of months:
  • Really mild curry
  • Homemade burgers
  • Pizza
  • Beef casserole
  • Chicken stir-fry
They tolerated the casserole but the rest was pushed around their plates. And I know the advice is, if they don't eat it, don't give them anything else, but Mr B is skinny as a rake. I have to give him something. So if he doesn't want his dinner, I need to make him a sandwich, and then I may as well make Miss P one too. Which has me in the kitchen amongst the washing up from my experimental meal, making sandwiches I shouldn't be, while the babies grizzle monotonously, as their own dinner has been interrupted (given that I am their feeder). Way too much work if you ask me. Why do this to myself when I know I can serve the big kids XYZ and they will eat away contentedly while I get on with things?

Reason 3: Where is the time?

Maybe it's something to do with the having four-kids-under-school-age thing, but it actually hurts my head trying to think about making time to shop for ingredients and trying out new recipes, on top of what I'm already trying to pack into the day. Gone are the days where I used to be able to shop leisurely, browsing each aisle to see what grabs my interest and casually leafing through magazines at the check-outs. Nowadays, I'm either in a rush to get home to the kids, or I've got kids with me and find the whole thing really stressful. Either way, it's a get-in-and-out-as-quickly-as-possible situation.

So when I'm skimming over new recipes to assess the can-do factor, I'm quick to veto anything that adds to my shopping time while I hunt for the ingredients. Some completely baffle me. Like buckwheat. Or almond meal. Or chia. I honestly don't know what any of these are. And I hate them for it. I will also veto any ingredients that can only be found in specialist shops. I don't go to specialist shops. Obviously.

Even if I manage the full set of ingredients for a recipe, the motivation to make the dish still eludes me. Take hummus, for example. I finally found the tahini paste, in the health food section of the supermarket. The rest of the ingredients were easy: I have the lemon in the fridge, and the olive oil, cumin and chick peas sit proudly in the cupboard alongside the tahini. Should be easy from here right? They've been there for a month.

I know these things shouldn't be so difficult. That if I made the effort, these problems could be easily surmounted. But right now, and for the foreseeable future, my fried little brain just can't cope with the stretch. I don't know why I find it so hard. I'm tired. Just give me a bit more time, ok? The best-before date on the tahini is two years away. I will definitely make the hummus by then.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

If It's Not One Thing, It's a Gastro Bug


Six weeks ago, our babies came down with a cold. Runny nose, congested cough, run-of-the-mill stuff. For some reason, and maybe it's to do with them being premmie babies, this hung around for over two weeks. So while they were snuffly and blocked up, they were terrible with their sleep and we dished out the comfort cuddles and just did our best to roll with it.

Sure. I mean a cold is just a cold, right? It will do its thing and pass. Then we can get back to normal.

This two weeks became three weeks, and then they both came down with conjunctivitis. First Baby A woke up with red-rimmed eyes, that later on became crusty. Of course Baby J followed suit by the end of the day. So as well as the runny nose, we now had two sets of red-rimmed, crusty eyes refusing to sleep.

Fine. I mean, of course they were going to get conjunctivitis, after rubbing all that snot around their face. I got it. More quarantining of them. More hand-washing by us.

As week three became week four, and I'd finished cleaning out the last of the pus from the babies' eyes, Baby A woke up with a rash around his mouth that quickly became a hideous case of Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease (HFM). Not one to miss out, Baby J developed his case later that day.

A lot of kids get HFM, I've been told it's as contagious as a common cold. And from what I hear, lots of kids get a mild version: a few spots on their hands and feet, maybe a scattering over their bottoms.

I have a problem with both of these points.

First of all, while HFM is hugely contagious, I can't think where they'd have got it from. My big kids have both had their share of HFM - apparently kids only get it once and then they're immune (though a lot of parents would say differently). In any case, they have had no symptoms, so can't have passed it on. I asked our doctor if they could have 'carried' HFM into the house without displaying symptoms and was told no. The babies have had no contact with anyone displaying any symptoms of HFM. They actually don't even go out of the house that much, let alone have contact with random, germy people. But still they caught it. Whatever!

On the second point, let me say this: my babies had spots all over their body. Their face, arms, legs, hands and feet. Inside their mouth. All over their bottoms. Big, blistery spots. It was atrocious. Another week passed by with them in quarantine until the spots disappeared. More sleepless nights for us.

Look, I can make my peace with the mysterious HFM, that somehow shape-shifted its way into our house. That just happened to follow 4 weeks of other unwell crap for my babies. These things happen. And what's another week of sleepless nights when we're kind of getting used to it anyway? Besides, if my doctor's right, the babies were now immune from catching HFM in the future, which is a bonus for when they start day-care next year. So I manned up, and again, we just got on with things.

And finally, after five weeks of being unwell, the babies began to resume their cheery nature, glow with health and we had not a runny nose in sight. Because they were no longer stuffed up, itchy or uncomfortable, their sleep drastically improved! Relief. We were finally back on track.

And then yesterday morning, gastro came knocking at our door. We seriously hadn't even made it past five days of being well before poor Baby J was taken down. To keep him company, Baby A went off his food and became really whingey and clingy. Again, we don't know where it came from. Fortunately, Baby J wasn't too badly affected. He managed to keep fluids down, so there was no danger of dehydration. I am just praying that it hasn't passed to any of us.

But you know, with the all the practice over the last few weeks, we are now pretty good with cordoning off germy little people in our house and keeping our hands fastidiously dosed in hand sanitiser. So with a bit of luck, it might pass the rest of us by.

With a bit more luck, maybe when this one is over, we could get through a whole week without the unwell/contagious stuff. These babies have got things to do, places to go. New and improved immune systems to test out.....

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Night out with a zombie

On Friday I decided to make a big effort to get Mr B out for some Halloween experience. It also happened to be my first time out in the big bad world of Trick or Treating.

After a clumsy attempt at this for Halloween 2013, when Husband took Mr B out at the last minute, only to find most of the treats to be gone, I thought I'd try and better it this year. So A very scary zombie (who wouldn't wear his mask cos it was too hot) and I headed out well in time to watch the streets unfold with Halloween chaos. We were ever so slightly, a bit too early this time....

Not to worry, there were quite a few people out and loads of small kids dressed in cute costumes, and we got to have a really good look at the efforts some people had gone to in decorating their place. There were some very impressive sights.

We walked the lengths of two very busy streets and tried to visit every decorated house to collect a treat. I stayed by Mr B's side and watched over his shoulder as he carefully chose his sweet from the bowls and buckets proffered. I have to admit, I was disappointed with a lot of his sweet choices and had to hold back from calling out: 'Not that one! Get the Mars Bar!" Alas, we have ended up with a lot of B-Grade chocolates and lollies, but at least our Bribery Pot at home will be filled for some weeks to come!

By the end of our venture, poor Mr B was exhausted. And the streets were by this time packed out with tweens running around in gory costumes, many of them carrying props such as a brain in a jar and bloody-looking toy weapons. Definitely time to go home.

My favourite observation was the adult hosts of the houses decked out in Halloween gear, who had gone to a lot of effort to get into the swing of things. Thumbs up to them. While hoards of scary kids set-upon their houses for treats, I noticed a lot of the them had the right idea at this point: put some deck chairs out on the front lawn, invite some friends over for wine, set up one of their tweens with a big bowl of sweets at the front gate and enjoy the show. Better yet, do it all dressed up in a brilliant costume. Bottoms up, I say!