Pondering

A letter to my daughter before I go back to work

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My darling Maddie,

I’ve had the absolute privilege of spending almost every day with you for the past 18 months.

I’ll be honest, staying at home with you has been a bit like being on a continual rollercoaster. Sometimes it is the best thing in the world. I have been there for all your firsts. I was the one who witnessed your first steps, who heard your first words, who watched you eagerly shovel fistfuls of avocado into your mouth for the first time. We’ve had  the most wonderful adventures together – spending long summers at home in the UK, travelling around Italy, seeing Japan.

Because I’ve stayed at home with you, I feel that your Dad and I are stronger than ever. We have learnt to work together as a team, to communicate more openly about all sorts of things. Over the past year and a half, my focus has been completely and utterly and wholly on you and your Dad. How lucky I am to have had this time to dedicate to building our family?

But on other days, staying at home with you is hard. Those early days seem like such a blur now: the hours and hours spent worrying about you, wondering if you were eating enough or sleeping enough, if you were still breathing in your cot at night. The struggle with breastfeeding, the time put into making new friends (for both you and me) who I could journey through parenthood with. The occasion that you did the world’s nosiest, most explosive poo during a baby massage class. The hours spent lugging you, your car seat, a bag full of nappies and snacks into and out of taxis to get to baby sensory classes on time, praying all the while that you wouldn’t have an almighty sh*tfit  (a personal highlight being the moment when you were crying so much a taxi driver asked me if you were sick, and if we should go to hospital instead of dropping us at Green Planet). The days spent looking at the clock, counting down the minutes until Daddy got home and normal adult conversation could resume. The nap times spent praying that you’d keep sleeping so I could meet a freelance deadline.

However hard it’s been, before now I didn’t feel like I was ready to let my days with you go. That you weren’t ready to let me go. You have been my world, and you still are. You are a mummy’s girl through and through. But over the last couple of months I’ve felt desperate to get some independence back, to use my brain again in the way that I used to before you were born. To have some time during the day to have an adult conversation that wasn’t with your Dad. To get stuck into projects again, and maybe even have a moment to enjoy a warm cup of tea.

What’s more, I can sense that you’re ready. You can be shy in social situations sometimes, but once you warm up you’re such a funny little thing. When I first took you to nursery a few weeks ago you cried and cried, and I questioned my decisions and felt awful. These days you still cry when I leave you but then you immediately settle once you realise there’s more exciting stuff going on.  I’ve been thankful that I’ve had some time to get you used to your new surroundings , to be there to drop you off at nursery and pick you up at midday to take you home for a nap. And the benefits of being with other people is already shining through:  you’re building relationships with other adults, you’re coming out of your shell with other children, you’re daring to go more than 5ft away from me when we’re out and about at soft play.

We’re so lucky that my role is part-time to begin with, so that we both have time to adjust to the time we’ll spend without each other. Please know that I’ll never, ever stop worrying about you, my darling girl – but deep down I know we’ll both be just fine with this new chapter, however shaky I might feel now. There will be wobbly days ahead, but I hope I make you proud. I know already that you’ll make me proud.

Thank you for the most wonderful 18 months.

Mummy xx

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Pondering

A slightly boring (but hopefully realistic) third before 30 list

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I turn the big three-oh in just under three months. I’ve always been a bit of a list maker, but to be honest the big 30 before 30 lists you see doing the rounds scare the b’jesus out of me. You know the ones – the sort that contain stuff like backpack around the world three times, drink a G&T on top of Mount Everest, run the Boston marathon in 1hr 30 or less and buy a mansion.

I’d say I lead a nice life. I’d even go so far as to say that on the most part I manage to get my sh*t together approximately seven days out of ten. I know deep down that my twenties have been pretty amazing on the whole. This decade I got a degree, got a postgrad, married my husband, did a fair bit of travelling, moved to Dubai and had a baby. And this year has seen me learn how to look after a little human without dropping her (unless you count that time she fell off the bed, whoops) and make a whole new set of  amazing mummy friends. But there’s something about those lists that make me feel like I’m a complete failure, and a very boring one at that.

That being said, there is some merit to them. Being on the cusp of turning 30 which has made me think a little bit harder about where I am now, and what I’d like to achieve.  Having Maddie has meant that over the past 13 months my own aspirations have taken a bit of a back seat. But I’m slowly coming to realise that just because I’ve had a baby, it doesn’t mean my own life has to stop.

So, whilst I quite frankly haven’t got the time to climb Mount Everest and drink a G&T at the top, and I certainly don’t have the cash flow to buy a mansion let alone a two bedroom ex-council house in Essex, I do have the inclination to set some hopefully achievable goals over the course of the next three months. And because I’ve left it until three months before my birthday, there are only ten of them (which I like to call a third before 30). I’ll update you on how I got on in August!

So, without further ado:

1. Do some form of exercise every day

I bloody love my body. It isn’t a size 10 and never will be, it has wobbly bits and a definite muffin top but it grew a baby (and pushed one out) and put up with a fully blown haribo and vodka and lemonade addiction when I was at uni for three years. The time has come, therefore, to show it some sort of respect, which is why I’m vowing to do some sort of exercise every day until the big 3-0, even just for 20 mins. Boring, yes. But I know I’ll feel better for it.

2. Quit sugar for eight weeks

Linked to the above. I have a super sweet tooth and a history of type two diabetes in my family, so something’s gotta give – something that doesn’t include giving my credit card to the McDonald’s delivery website every.single.time after Friday brunch. I’m five days in to this eight week I quit sugar program and surprisingly I don’t miss it. Carbs, yes. Sugar, no.

3. Finish a book

I’ve been reading the same book v.e.r.y. s.l.o.w.l.y since November. November! I bloody love reading but these days I’m more inclined to flick through Facebook or Instagram once Maddie’s tucked up in bed which is completely mindless and is verging on a social media addiction. Its time to get reading again!

4. Go on at least one date night

My husband and I have managed a few days out on our own since Maddie was born (big thanks to my Mother-in-Law) but I’ve forgotten what Dubai looks like after 7pm. I want to get dressed up and go out for a fancy dinner (which may or may not be sugar free). Babysitters, form an orderly queue please.

5. Book my theory test

Here’s a big one: I can’t drive. I’ve had three run-ins with learning: once when I was on my gap year and decided I’d rather use the money to travel, once when I’d just started working and I had a pervert of a driving instructor who was like something out of a Bridget Jones film (Mr Tits Pervert, anyone?), and once when I was 30 weeks pregnant in Dubai which I’m convinced sent me in to early labour and will never be repeated. 2017/18 will be the year of the car, inshallah (just not learning to drive in Dubai thank you please).

6. Watch more Modern Family

Modern Family is a piece of genius and everyone should watch it. I vow to spend the next three months watching more. Easy peasy.

7. Finish my wedding album

It’s been almost three years since I got married and I’m yet to actually bother to put our really lovely photos into any semblance of a wedding album. I know if I don’t get round to this I’ll regret it when I’m old and decrepit (which, let’s face it, isn’t that far off now I’m almost 30), so it’s time to get friendly with some Snapfish promo codes.

8. Join a Ramadan initiative

Ramadan in the UAE is a really, really special time which is characterised by giving and spending more time with the people you hold dearest to you. This year I want to make the most of being here by getting involved in a Ramadan initiative run by a school or charity. Watch this space.

9. Write more and follow up opportunities

Writing is something I love to do but very rarely prioritise. This year I’ve had some brilliant experiences because of my writing which I’ve really enjoyed – both in the form of professional work and becoming a Mummy Panellist for Baby and Child Magazine. But there’s been some opportunities that I feel I’ve let slip a little, so it’s time to follow them up. More soon!

10. Go on an old-school night out

As every good Essex girl will tell you, nothing in the world beats a good night out, starting in some dank and dirty Wetherspoon’s where you sup on watered down cocktails and end in an equally bad club that blares out Indie from 2003-2009 (music’s finest era, incase you were wondering). This one will have to wait until I get home in the summer, so home friends, if you’re reading this, get listening to the Libertines in preparation please. Thanks.

Activites

A first birthday photo shoot

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Maddie is one! One! How on earth did that happen and, at the risk of sounding like every boring parent in the world, where on earth did my tiny baby go? In the blink of an eye we’re now the very proud parents of a crawling, cruising, cheeky little girl.
In celebration of her first birthday we decided to have some professional photos taken of Maddie and our little family on the eve of her birthday. I’m not keen on studio style shoots and I wanted something that would capture Maddie at her most relaxed – which is usually when she’s covered in food or pulling toys out of her toy box with gay abandon.  We were originally thinking of a shoot in the beach or the desert – popular locations for family shoots in Dubai – but after careful consideration we decided we’d like it to take place at home and be a record of a normal afternoon in Maddie’s life (which also meant she’d be able to throw as much corn on the cob on the floor as she wanted to).
Lianne – the powerhouse behind Dinkyheart Photography was an absolute star and as a mother of a one year old herself, Maddie immediately took to her. We’ve now got a series of pictures that we will truly treasure, a selection of which are above.

Thank you so much, Lianne, for a really lovely afternoon.

You can view the dinkyheart portfolio here, and contact Lianne via her Facebook page here.

Advice

On finding the win and playing the glad game

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This week I’m having one of those weeks where everything feels just a bit hard. Maddie and I have both had colds, we’re going through a particularly rough patch sleeping wise (could be teething, could be because of the cold, could just be Maddie being 11 months old), my house looks like a bomb site has hit it, I have laundry coming out of my ears, I keep having deep and meaningful thoughts about my career but then not actually finding the time to action those thoughts/make those thoughts a priority, my husband has been working late. As I type Maddie is sitting on the rug and ripping up a bit of toilet roll that I’ve been using to wipe my snotty nose and I simply don’t have the energy to stop her. Disgusting, I know. The culmination of all these things is nothing majorly bad, but has just left me feeling a bit dejected and down (and a bit OMFG LOOK AT THE STATE OF THE RUG).

I’m a big list maker and one of the hardest things I’ve found about being a stay at home mum is that I always have a big to-do list but nothing ever seems to get ticked-off. I feel like I’m in a constant state where things get started but don’t ever get finished. At the moment my priorities are making sure that Maddie is clean, safe, happy, healthy and full of yummy food, and before I had her I think I underestimated how much time this can take. Sometimes there are days where my major achievements are only having to clean the floor under her highchair once and surviving a car journey without a major meltdown.

The lovely Helen from The Mothership, a Dubai blogger I much admire, has recently had a daughter. She posted on Facebook the other day about how her husband has always encouraged her to ‘make every day a win’ – in her words getting to the end of the day and thinking: “I did my best and some good stuff happened”. Particularly important in those early days when your life seems to revolve around feeding and burping and pacifying a crying baby, and she’s juggling a two year old to boot too.

This reminded me of a game we used to play when we were kids that was based on the old Disney version of Pollyanna. Incase you don’t know, Pollyanna is a bit of a sickly sweet kid who was taught by her dying father to “find something about everything to be glad about”  – called the Glad Game – even when she falls off a roof and becomes paralysed. She clearly never had to deal with cleaning ripped up bits of tissue off the carpet (I kid).

Helen’s post and remembering Pollyanna got me thinking about my own attitude to parenting. Yes, the days can be long and sometimes I feel like I haven’t achieved much. But I think I focus too much on all the stuff I haven’t managed to get done, instead of the stuff I have. Whilst I’m not about to get all glad about falling off a roof like Pollyanna, this evening I’m going to congratulate myself on the fact that my daughter has survived today intact, she ate two bowls of dinner, I had a two hour nap with her to catch up on missed sleep and a nice lady at our local cafe commented on how happy she seemed. I’m going to forget about the laundry, and the fact that taking a two-hour nap meant that I didn’t get anything crossed off my to-do list, and I’ve booked a cleaner to come and sort out the rug (and the rest of our apartment) tomorrow. I call that a win. Sometimes you just need to delegate.

 

Activites

Little Signers Club Dubai – my honest review

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My goodness, it’s been a while since I’ve blogged. Whoops. Balancing having a ten month old who doesn’t like sleeping very much, getting my head back into the career game and tackling seamlessly endless washing up/laundry/other household rubbish does not a good blogger make. Must try harder. Sorry.

Apologies aside – the reason I’ve popped back is to tell you all about a gem of a baby class that Maddie and I have recently found.

As I’ve mentioned previously, unfortunately Dubai seems to be the capital city of expensive baby activities (we’re talking over £20+ a session for my UK readers) where sometimes it feels like you’re having to take out a mortgage to listen to a baby nursery rhyme CD for an hour. Or there was the time we paid over £200 for a term’s worth of swimming lessons which Maddie screamed her way through every week. Because of this, over the past (almost) 11 months I’ve become quite selective about the baby classes I go to, favouring Baby Sensory every Tuesday (which is expensive but worth it) and dabbling in Expat Woman’s weekly Mums and Babies coffee mornings (which are excellent value for money).

Wanting to expand our horizons a bit, just after Christmas I went along to a trial class of Little Signers Club Dubai which was held at Kids Zone in Souk Al Bahar. Run by the lovely Katie, Little Signers Club offer a six week course that is designed to teach you, and your baby, the basics of British Sign Language which in theory will help your little one communicate with you more effectively as they slowly develop the basics of speech. It’s been proven to help with avoiding toddler tantrums and have a positive impact on language development (which you can read more about here). Most importantly for me, the classes were ‘only’ dhs450 for a 6 week block which is positively a bargain when compared with other baby classes in Dubai so I decided to sign up.

We’ve been going along to the sessions for four weeks now and it’s been a really good experience. Each class is very well structured, focusing on a different topic area each week (e.g. food and drink, going to the doctors, animals) and using songs, rhymes and stories to help cement the signs in your head and engage the little ones. Katie has really thought about the number of mums and tots allowed in each class, meaning that we’re in with a small group of likeminded people who all have babies around the same age as Maddie which has been great for socialising.  The babies are encouraged to play with the toys in the room each week and aren’t required to sit and listen for long stretches – which is useful when you’re dealing with a bunch of tearaway crawlers. Whilst I don’t think Maddie is as engaged with the activities as she is with Baby Sensory, I feel that the classes aren’t just for her – I’m learning a new skill which is encouraging me to use my brain (important when sometimes the most challenging thing you deal with on a daily basis as a stay at home mum is separating the whites from the coloureds for a wash).

I’ve only got two criticisms about the course so far  – firstly the timing: trying to get to Downtown Dubai for 9:30 is a bit of a stretch and often falls around nap time, meaning I’ve got an exhausted babe by the end of the class. A little later – perhaps around 11am – would work better for me and many others in the session. Secondly, I think it’d be really useful if we were given a hand-out at the end of each week covering the signs we’d learnt during the class. We’ve been told that we’ll have access to the whole course online at the end of the six week period, but I believe it’d be useful to have this as we went along to help us practice the signs at home.

Apart from that, I’d really recommend trying out Little Signers Club Dubai. What’s the sign for go and register?

You can find out more about Little Signers Club on their website and Facebook page. Happy signing!

Pondering

Five things that nine months of motherhood has taught me

At nine months old, Maddie has now officially been outside of my belly longer than she was in it. Which, to be frank, is quite a relief as I really enjoy being able to do stuff like roll over in bed without getting my husband to help (which was very much the case in the latter stages of pregnancy) and not get up in the night 150 times to wee (these days I just get up 150 times to settle a screaming baby. You win some, you lose some). Now that the newborn days have well and truly passed and pregnancy is a distant memory, I thought it was about time I took a moment to reflect on the things that motherhood has taught me so far. So, without further ado:

My dream job is working for Vtech as a lyricist

Before Maddie came along my dream job was to head up the PR of the National Portrait Gallery in London. Not anymore. These days my dream job would be to work at children’s toy company Vtech as a lyricist. Maddie has got two of the world’s most annoying and noisy toys ever from this company, that sing to you at random moments just when you think your child is safely in bed and you’re about to settle down with a glass of wine. The worst bit is, the lyrics are truly awful (my favourite two being “welcome to our learning farm, we have lots to show you” and “the cow in the triangle wants to sing for you, moo moo moo moo, the cow in the triangle”). There’s probably someone at Vtech who’s paid to write these lyrics. Get me that job.

Baby toys? Waste of money. Laptop cables are far more fun

When I was pregnant with Maddie I had dreams of her playing quietly with a beautiful array of carefully selected wooden toys. The reality? Maddie’s favourite toys are as follows:
1. Any plastic bottle, although she has a penchant for Al Ain Zero water bottles;
2. Cables. Preferably the cable of Dad’s brand new MacBook Air;
3. Mobile phones. The newer the better;
4. Plug sockets;
5. Specks of dirt on the floor.Trying to manage to get them in her mouth before I stop her is just the best fun.

Nothing tastes as good as four hours of continuous sleep feels

As I write this blog my  left eye is twitching from tiredness. My darling daughter has been waking up every two hours without fail for the past few nights and we’re currently in the middle of the arduous process of teaching her how to fall asleep in her cot, which basically involves me pacing her room, in the dark, singing the alphabet at 4am in the morning, attempting to put her in her cot ‘awake but drowsy’ and then starting the process again when she inevitably has a screaming fit. I would probably seriously consider selling a kidney in return for four hours of continuous sleep. Any takers?

Weetabix is the devil’s food

I am a firm believer that the UK’s teen-pregnancy epidemic would be solved if 14 year old boys and girls were presented with a highchair encrusted with weetabix and told to clean it one-handed whilst juggling a baby at the same time. The secret is getting to it before it dries because then the problem just gets so much worse. Enough said.

I now only refer to myself in the third-person

“Mummy just needs to go for a wee.” “Mummy’ll help you.” “Don’t pull Mummy’s hair.” In the short space of nine months I feel like I may as well start calling myself The Artist Formerly Known As Rebecca as I now spend the majority of my days referring to myself in the third-person as Mummy. Not cool. Not cool.

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Despite all of this, would I change anything? Well, maybe the sleep part and not ever having to clean weetabix off a highchair ever again. Here’s to the next 9 months of protecting my iPhone from imminent death. x

Travel

Top tips for travelling around Japan with a baby

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Happy new year, everyone! I hope you all had a brilliant festive period full of delicious food and fun frivolities.

Here in the Sandpit Baby house we spent our holidays a little differently this year – opting to spend Christmas travelling around Japan with Maddie. When we first booked flights, I have to admit I had moments when I questioned my own sanity. I had visions of running around Tokyo in search of nappies, wrestling a screaming child to sleep on a crowded commuter train or attempting to jump out of the plane’s window (that’s me, not her) an hour into a 12 hour flight.

I’m pleased to report that the reality was very different, and the two weeks we spent in Japan were joyous (bar the time when Maddie decided that she’d like to have a screaming fit at the top of a mountain for over an hour. Everybody else who was up there was trying to be all zen and calm. Not our daughter. No sir-ee.Can’t blame her though – she cut her very first tooth the next day). We returned full of confidence that travelling with children is possible and enjoyable – you just have to be prepared to do things at a slightly different pace and skip sampling the local nightlife . Maddie came back to Dubai with a new tooth, a love of Pikachu and the ability to crawl.

So, if you’re new parents who have a love of travelling and wonder how you’re going to make it work with a baby, or if you simply want to make 2017 your year to travel with your family, here are my top tips!

1)  Don’t attempt to do too much

My husband and I have an awful habit of running around like blue-arsed flies on holiday. A few years ago we spent three weeks in Malaysia and Singapore and went somewhere new every two to three days – which resulted in two knackered adults in need of another holiday by the time we got back. This time, with Maddie in tow, we decided to base ourselves in Kyoto for a week and then Tokyo for a week, staying in Air BnB apartments. I was worried before we went that by picking only two places we’d not get to see very much of an absolutely massive country, but by taking things a bit slower I feel like we actually got to discover a lot more. We also managed a trip from Kyoto to Hiroshima and Miyajima, using the bullet train and staying overnight in a traditional Japanese Ryokan, which was one of the highlights of our visit. Because we hired the apartment in Kyoto for a week, it meant we could leave our luggage there whilst we were in Hiroshima and Miyajima, which was perfect when we were also lugging around an 8kg  baby.

2) Pack light!

Talking of lugging around 8kg babies, the best thing we did this trip was to pack light (Maddie excluded). Last summer we went back to the UK for seven weeks and took over 100kg of luggage with us. Try fitting that into a tiny hire car. This time round we were far more economical with our packing, taking a week’s worth of clothes for each of us (weighing in at about 21kg), a rucksack full of things for the plane for Maddie (top tip – pack one nappy per hour on the plane), a shared hand luggage bag for my husband and I, and a super light travel cot that fits into a backpack. I made sure Maddie had a couple of her favourite board books and a small bag that contained a mix of her favourite sensory toys – and that was it. Packing light meant that hopping on and off bullet trains (which we did A LOT) was so much easier.

3) Book apartments with washing machines

Choosing to stay in apartments rather than hotels or guesthouses with Maddie made our trip to Japan so much more enjoyable. It meant that we had a little bit more space, a kitchen to cook in and — most importantly – a washing machine. This really helped both with the inevitable mess that 8 month-old babies make, and also meant that our plan to pack a week’s worth of clothes each wasn’t a daft decision. Neither apartment was particularly luxurious or huge but both were a comfortable base located in quiet areas – perfect for our family. In case you’re interested, we stayed here in Kyoto, here in Tokyo and at this Ryokan in Miyajima.

4) Research what’s available in the country you’re visiting

Before we left  I did a bit of research into what was available for Maddie nappy/wipe/food wise in Japan using Tokyo Urban Baby. I was confident that we’d be able to easily buy nappies and wipes so didn’t pack many of those, opting to pick them up when we were there instead (which we did with ease). I knew that because of the language barrier, getting hold of teething medicines and calpol or the equivalent might be easier said than done, so I made sure to have a stash with me. My only regret was not packing more food for Maddie – because we do baby-led weaning with her 99% of the time, on the whole she eats what we eat when we’re at home. In Japan that was slightly easier said than done as half the time Ash and I didn’t have a clue what we were eating, so we were sometimes a little reticent to let Maddie try in case of high levels of salt, sugar, soy etc. That being said, she really enjoyed tucking into her share of dumplings, cucumber rolls, noodles and ramen!

5) Invest in a decent baby carrier

Japan is a country of baby wearers, and I can completely see why. Limited lifts/escalators at metro stations, busy temples and beautiful hills for walking in make it a nightmare for strollers. We didn’t end up taking our buggy with us, and I am so, so glad we made that decision. Instead, our trusty ErgoBaby360 did the job perfectly for two weeks. It was lovely not having to take Maddie in the car for a fortnight too!

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If you’re considering a trip to Japan with a young family, I’d seriously suggest you go for it. It’s extremely baby-friendly, full of amazing sights that will definitely please everyone, and the people we met couldn’t have been friendlier. I’m happy to provide more in-depth detail about our itinerary for those that are considering a similar trip – just drop me a line.

Happy travelling!