Visiting London Zoo

Visiting ZSL London Zoo is one of my favourite things to do with Milin and Jasmin. They both love seeing the animals and both have their favourites. Milin can’t get enough of the giraffes while Jasmin loves the squirrel monkeys.

I have an annual membership for the zoo which allows me into Whipsnade Zoo too – and for us this yearly pass has been great value. Children under three go in free, and members get free offpeak usage of the carpark. It means that if I’m organised and take a packed lunch – the outing costs us nothing on the day! (That is, if I don’t give in to buying super-cute toys from the gift shop…)

It’s less than half an hour in the car for us to get to, and I usually try to time journey in with Jasmin’s nap. They both always fall asleep on the way home – because seeing animals is tiring!

When we lived in New Zealand, we got Milin an annual pass for Wellington Zoo not long after he was born. Although it took him some time to appreciate it, he really did enjoy being there from a younger age than I thought he would. Children love animals from such a young age, and so zoos are fascinating places for them even as babies. They’re also lovely places to visit on days out.

We are strong supporters of zoos which are committed to education and conservation – and ZSL London Zoo, like Wellington Zoo is exactly that.

Take a look at our little video of our trip there earlier this week. If it looks quiet – it’s because we were there first thing Monday morning after the schools had gone back. If it looks like fun – it was. Milin and Jasmin loved every second- from the treat lunch in the cafe, to getting up close to the butterflies, monkeys, and penguins, and to peering up at the beautiful giraffes. It was an amazing morning out.

 

Silent forests, mining paradise, and saving the earth

Tata Beach, Golden Bay, New Zealand

In an unimaginably beautiful gorge on the other side of the world, a small group of locals gathered this weekend to protest against it being spliced open for mining. A week before New Zealand’s general election, the protestors wanted the country to look closely at that stretch of paradise, and see that it was about to be ripped apart for the right sum of dollars and cents.

A few years ago, while I was working the environment beat at a national newspaper in New Zealand, I would have done my best to see that protest splashed all over the front page. Today, I still can’t resist writing about it – but for different reasons.

At the paper, I wrote frequently about the New Zealand government putting a price on paradise. I wrote about the country’s clean, green image being – at times – a farce, and the erosion of stringent environmental policies to protect one of the most pristine nations of the developed world. I wrote about rivers of shame, turned toxic by the effects of dairying, I wrote about once-protected mountains being cut open for the sake of mining. I wrote these stories filled with a sense of injustice – nature was losing its voice. For the sake of lining the pockets of multinational corporations, entire species and their habitats were being wiped out.

Today, I write not as a news journalist. I write as a mother.

I write as a mother on the opposite side of the earth who lived in New Zealand for eight years before returning to London. I write as a mother who now understands something else about the value of the natural world. That value is not based on the amount of coal stored in the ground. That value is rather based on the land being protected, on the biodiversity being maintained, and the habitats and species that exist within it being retained.

I write as a mother of two young children who regrets their limited experiences of the natural world. I write as a mother who dreams one day of taking her young to jump with her into the icy crystal clear river of a deserted gorge. I want to show my babies the forests Tony and I explored in the company of native birds. I want to see them grow up and bury their toes in the sand of my favourite wild, empty beach and realise they are visiting a very special place on earth. I want them to see the skies we slept under every night – scattered with millions of stars. I want them to hear the silence of the mountains.

Tata Beach, Golden Bay, New Zealand

Yes our lives are in Britain, but one day, I want my children to know this life we lived. We lived it simply in a land protected so far by its geography. It had been too far away for much damage to be done.

That’s changing. I fear my children will return with us to forests silent of birdsong. I fear we will find mountains where the sound of heavy machinery echoes around us.

What upsets me still though, as it did some years ago, is the underhanded way in which nature is being made into a business. This time, it’s the Karangahake Gorge in the Coromandel – opened up to a gold mining company to extract 600 tonnes of ore a month. Again, permission has been granted without residents feeling like there was adequate consultation. There are always sweeteners too – funds given to other conservation projects, promises to make the site good. But these are surely second-best to protecting the environment in the first place.

New Zealanders, I hope, will go to the polls next week knowing it doesn’t have to be this way. It is in their power to protect their land. For them, for their children, and for something in the end far greater than us all.

Golden Bay, New Zealand

What are little boys made of?

On the way home from the park one day, Milin got off his scooter and knelt down on the pavement. He’d found a slug in the middle of the path.

He wanted to make friends, but after realising the slug wasn’t going to do much with him, he pretended to play with him for a little while and sang him a song.

Then we went home.

And just like that, he showed me that you don’t have to look far to make friends and have fun when you’re two. If you believe in the people (or animals) around you, and imagine that life is just the way you want it – that’s how things will be.

Have a look – it’s a short clip – and I promise it’ll make you appreciate how wonderful life is when everything is looked at from an innocent and simple but imaginative viewpoint.

(Milin also reminded me of that ditty…. “What are little boys made of / Slugs and snails and puppy dogs’ tails / That’s what little boys are made of.’ But I could write an essay on the inherent sexism of nursery rhymes, and that wasn’t the point of this post)

 

 

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

ordinary moments

Working mum guilt – what about the sadness?

Everyone tells you about working mum guilt – but what about the sadness? Everyone tells you that it gets easier, and yes, I can believe that you might learn to handle the guilt over time, particularly if you accept where it’s derived from. But what about the sadness? Does it diminish? Do you feel it any less?

I returned to work a month ago. My two-and-a-half year old son and my 13-month-old daughter met this change in our lives with confusion. When I told Milin I was going to work, he simply said: “Why Mummy?”. Jasmin’s reaction was more visceral. On that first morning, she eyed my made-up face with suspicion. I wasn’t wearing jeans. I picked up my handbag and she held out her arms to me and screamed. She has, since then, stopped sleeping through the night. She wakes hysterical – only I can soothe her.

I feel happy, though, with the arrangement we have for the days when I’m working. Milin has nursery in the mornings, but Jasmin stays at home. My mother looks after Jasmin all day and Milin in the afternoons. On the third day, Tony is home to help her and they share the load.

I love that my children are with their grandparents and father on the days I’m not there. I am, too, enjoying being back in the workplace. I’m regaining some sense of identity separate from my children. I’m finding the enjoyment again that I once had from the challenges of work.

I do feel some guilt – and this is guilt that I have put upon myself, not guilt I feel because of the heavy expectations of society on working mothers. I feel guilty that my daughter, who at 13 months needs her mother more than anyone, doesn’t see me all day for three days of the week. I feel guilty when I think of her teething and just needing a cuddle from me. I feel guilty when I think of how confused she must be about me not being there. Does she know I’ll always come back? I feel guilty I’m not there to play with Milin in the afternoon when he gets home from nursery. I feel guilty about not being there when he’s over-tired or had a fall and just wants me.

I know I’ll never get this time back. The children will never have these days again.

I feel guilt because of my own expectations of what I want to do with my children. While they are so young, I wish I could be with them all the time. The guilt though is eased by the knowledge that when I’m not with them, they are still happy.

And so, more than guilt, I feel sadness.

It comes from missing them all the time, it comes from the knowledge that I’m not there to see what they’re doing, or hear what they’re saying. It comes from knowing that I might miss the first time Milin eats all his dinner. I might miss the first time Jasmin takes a step. I might miss the way the play together on the trampoline one day or I might miss the way they fight over the trains.

It’s a dull ache, the sadness. But it’s different from the guilt.

Most of the guilt we feel about going to work stems, I believe, from the overblown expectations of what working mums can do. If we don’t epitomise supermum, we feel guilt. If we don’t arrive perfectly presented without even a hint of porridge smeared on our silk shirts, we feel guilt. If we don’t work late in order to get ahead, we feel guilt. If we work late and miss bathtime we are not perfect mothers, and we feel guilt.

Shunning the expectations that have been built up around the ideal of the working mother will help us go some way towards resolving our guilt.

I can’t find a way, though, to shift the sadness.

Working mum sadness

 

 

The Reading Residence
*Sadness is my word of the week

Two under two: The reality

Two under two.

It wasn’t always pretty. It wasn’t the airbrushed photograph of a bright-eyed young couple and their babies. It was greyer than that, apart from the bursts of laughter and the endless, uncomplicated love from a little boy and girl born 18 months apart. They made it all ok. Because it was harder than I could ever have imagined.

When I was pregnant, I tried to explain it to one-year-old Milin. He was starting to talk. He still needed me to lift him into his cot at night. I don’t think he understood that a new baby was coming.

I missed him more than I’ve ever missed anyone during those two days in hospital. And then I came home with his baby sister Jasmin. Our little family of three had become a family of four.

Life was lived in a sleep-deprived haze, from which there was no let up. I felt, often, like there wasn’t enough of me to share between my babies. I missed the company of my 18-month-old son. It had, before, been just us.

Now there was also my baby daughter. To feed, to dress, to hold, to be with. My son would squeeze his way under my arm while I was breastfeeding his sister. He was desperate to be close to us, to be a part of us.

For the first few weeks he was showered with attention from the rest of the family, but it was clear he missed his mummy. He was intrigued by the baby doll who had come into our lives and seemed to be taking up so much of everyone’s time. And then, after a while, he realised she was here to stay.

There were a couple of weeks of jealousy. Tantrums, playing up, behaviour we had not seen before. And all we could do was love him and love her and make sure they both knew that we would go to the ends of the earth for them.

The months of sleepless nights seem to go on forever. The days were a fog, and lifting my head off the pillow after a broken slumber seemed almost too hard on some days.

But gradually, without me realising, it became easier.

I was no longer cajoling a toddler to eat while also breastfeeding a baby in my other arm. I was no longer spending 45 minutes on getting us out of the door. I was no longer dreading outings because they were hard to organise around two different nap and feeding schedules. Getting up in the morning became easier as we all got more sleep and my two babies both grew a little less dependent on me for everything. They knew they had to wait while the other was attended to. They cried less.

Now, they are 13 months and just gone two-and-a-half. They are best friends who love each other intensely and want above all to be together. We have come out of the other side of what was a constant logistical puzzle.

There are still hard parts to days, yes, but life with two-under-two is no more. Life with a two-year-old and a one-year-old still has challenges. But it is also easier and simpler and less daunting.

With two under two comes tiredness like nothing you’ve ever felt. But you also see a bond grow between your babies like nothing you could ever have imagined.
Then, one day, you realise that the hardest days have passed. And, maybe, you wonder, quietly, whether you could do it all again.

it does get better

Will the Royal baby save the union?

There is going to be a baby.

But you knew that, didn’t you? Because unless you’ve been purposefully avoiding all forms of communication with the outside world (real and virtual), you will have heard.

Hashtag Royal Baby.

It’s not so long ago that Britain smiled a collective cheesy grin when seeing for the first time a newborn wrapped in a shawl and carried in his mother’s arms, as she left a London hospital.

Had any other child ever been so photographed before he’d even got home? Probably not.

Will it happen again to his baby brother or sister? Probably. As will all this:

* We’ll wonder, out loud, wrongly, whether a Royal baby will save the union. And then we’ll tut that news of a baby has even entered the political discourse. Because a baby is a baby, and is above politics. Right?

* Intense speculation over a due date – this will take the form of publishing close-ups of the Duchess’ middle because these photos will, of course, tell us that all important date.

* Endless comparisons of celebrity baby bumps. Because, for some reason, there’s a belief that it’s ok to compare one woman’s tummy to another and comment on the size of both. It isn’t.

* Girl or boy? The bets are on. Given that the Duchess is again suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum, speculation is favouring another boy. Same symptoms same sex, right?

* Real life stories in the papers about girls called Kate expecting her second child. Because, of course, if you’ve got the same name as a Duchess and you’re pregnant we want to read about your symptoms. Hmmm.

* Name. Once again, you could win big on this. Henry? Elizabeth? This game goes on and on and on.

*Look, it’s a door. Remember how we spent a whole day watching a hospital door for movement? We’ll do that again in about seven and a half months time. It’ll be the most photographed door in the world.

* The good mood.

Because whether you think the frenzy created by the press is overboard (I don’t by the way), you can’t deny that everyone loves a baby. Put aside your grumpiness and cynicism for a while, go on.

Everyone does love a baby. Add to this that the news is of a royal baby, and you have the story that keeps on giving while making most of the world happy.

Brace yourself.

And then, happily, after column inches on #RoyalBaby reach saturation point, one little family of four will be given the space they need to get to know each other.

Because, at the end of it all, there will be a child.

 

My hypermobile baby is crawling

In the last two months Jasmin has made so much progress it’s difficult to believe she is the same hypermobile baby the doctor told me might never crawl. It was just before her first birthday, not even two months ago, that my GP explained that Jasmin lacked muscle strength and was overly flexible at her joints – this was the reason why at 12 months she wasn’t crawling or able to bear any weight.

What’s changed? Well for the last few weeks she has – amazingly – taught herself  how to crawl. She’s fast, she goes anywhere she wants, and she does it with a strength she didn’t have two months ago. Her knees are under her hips, her hands are under her shoulders – she is crawling exactly how any other baby would usually do at around nine months. To say that I’m proud of her wouldn’t go far enough.

hypermobile baby crawling

I’m more than proud, of course. Jasmin, I think, decided she’d had enough of sitting in once place and playing with her toys. Bum shuffling got her where she needed to go, but she obviously thought it was time to push those muscles and strengthen them up. We have been encouraging her to clamber over objects and try and stand up against or crawl up the stairs. It’s made a difference, and her legs are clearly much stronger. She’s must also have been doing too, whatever she has needed to do to get stronger.

Her crawling began very slowly, with her legs out wide. But she has mastered the movement and perfected it. Now, at 13-and-a-half months, she loves the independence this has given her.

Yesterday, Jasmin did something else new. She got up onto her feet by leaning against the sofa at my nanny’s house. On her own two feet, having got there alone, she stood up. She clapped her hands on the sofa with glee. She was so happy to be up on her feet.

Now, she is unstoppable. She also figured out yesterday how to clamber up the stairs. So all she wants to do is crawl up the stairs and pull herself up on things.

She is getting stronger every day.

Whether Jasmin had crawled or not, whether she walks before she is two or not – these things don’t matter. What matters is that Jasmin is happy. She’s found a way to resolve some of her frustration at being immobile. I could watch her moving around all day – I’m so pleased for her. Except I need to be on my feet to keep an eye on her – she moves so fast.

Here’s Jasmin crawling around, looking very sweet, and feeling very happy with herself.

The Dinosaur trail at Knebworth House

One of our best days out over the summer involved exploring the Dinosaur Trail at Knebworth House. We had never taken the children to Knebworth, despite the stately home only being 30 miles up the road. When we got there, we told Milin we were just going for a walk in the gardens. We walked. And then, between the trees, we found the dinosaurs.

Knebworth Dinosaur trail

There are more than 70 life-sized dinosaurs at Knebworth. In a wooded area at the end of the gardens, there is a little trail which takes you around them. Milin thought this was possibly the most exciting thing in his live ever. “Look, there’s more dinosaurs here, and more here, and more here, Mummy! Look at the dinosaurs!” he kept on repeating this. Jasmin, in her buggy, kept pointing and babbling “oooh! aaah!” It was more animated than I’ve seen her at any other outing.

The dinosaur trail truly was fantastic. They loved it, and Tony and I also thought it was brilliant. We walked around it a few times, before heading back through the gardens for lunch in the grounds of the gothic mansion that is Knebworth House. We didn’t go inside, on this visit, because we knew the littles would have more fun in the grounds. (Which they definitely did.) I remember being enthralled by dinosaurs as a child. I know that as Milin gets a little older, he will continue to be fascinated by these creatures.

Knebworth Dinosaur trail

After our picnic, we checked out the adventure playground and ‘Fort Knebworth’. I was so impressed by the scale of activities for kids in the grounds. There was so much playground equipment dotted around, in addition to the huge fortress area. The children loved it, of course.

Fort Knebworth The gardens at Knebworth are beautiful. I could have spent hours wandering around – but we’ll have to do more exploring on another visit. Everything about the day was brilliant. At just off the M1 and 30 miles from London – it was also nice and close. We’ll be back.

Knebworth Gardens
Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Do stay at home mums have it harder?

Is it harder to be a stay at home mum than a working mum? I was recently on the edge of a debate over this working mums vs stay-at-home mums competition,  and I came away from it feeling sad, disheartened, confused and more than a little bit frustrated.

I’ve been a bit of both of these labels that society feels the need to  categorise us by. When Milin was born at the end of 2011, I took three full months off my job at the newspaper. After that, I did a small amount of freelance writing from home for a month. And then, when my baby was four months old, I returned to work as acting head of news at the national daily I’d spent years at – but only for two days a week. I was, if I must use the labels, a mum working at the office part-time.

After Milin turned one, we moved from New Zealand to London. I spent the next 18 months, which included the period of Jasmin’s birth, working from home again. I freelanced and work varied, but as a minimum, I worked at least a few hours a week, every week of the year, from home.

If pushed, I thought more of myself as stay-at-home-mum, or a SAHM. The writing work I did never really felt like work because I loved it. Plus, I did it late at night, when the children were asleep – so I suppose I felt like it didn’t impact on the time I spent with them.

Last month, this all changed. I’ve started a new job which keeps me busy for three days a week. I’m lucky enough to do two of these days at home which cuts out commuting times, and I spend one day in the office. I still freelance too, and that work adds up to about 25-20 hours a month which – quite frankly – I only manage to do because I drink too much coffee and stay up too late fitting it in.

So, I guess I’m a working mum. My freelance work is still somehow managed when the kids go to bed at night. But for three days a week, they are either at nursery or looked after by my mother and husband. I don’t see them playing, I don’t see them laughing, I don’t see them learning, I don’t see them trying new things, I don’t see them eating their lunch. I don’t see them.

The three days I spend at work are of course hugely different from my four days with my children. Yes – I get to do things which feel like complete luxury. I drink my coffee while it’s hot. I eat lunch with two free hands, at a time that I want. I go to the toilet alone, with the door locked, whenever I want to. I wear fancy clothes without fear of chubby hands smearing pesto all over them.

And on the days that I’m home, I also do things which feel like complete luxury. I have endless cuddles with Jasmin who is the most affectionate little girl in my world. I laugh all day at the funny things said by Milin, who is the brightest, funniest boy in my world. I get to go to the zoo on a weekday, or the playground for hours on end just because we fancy it. I get to go out for cake with my two little best friends for breakfast if we feel like it. I get to play trains all day if Milin feels like it.

There are, of course, hard bits to both days too. On the days that I work, I can’t shake the guilt. Jasmin cries in the morning when I go, she stretches out her arms to me and pleads with her eyes that I would stay at home with her. That is the last image I have of her before leaving the house. I get on the tube knowing I will never, ever, get back the day I am about to have without her. What she does for the first time, I know I will miss. I know I won’t be there when Milin gets home from nursery and wants a cuddle with mummy. What I feel is guilt – because deep down I want to be with them all the time while they are so very young. And so, more selfishly, I also feel sadness that I’m not there.

On the days that I’m home, the hard bits are different. There is the frustration of not being able to get either child to eat their dinner. There is the guilt of knowing that I don’t try hard enough to feed Milin any meat or fish, because it’s easier to avoid the battles. There is the exhaustion that comes with being constantly on the go from 6am, attending to every need of a two-year-old and one-year-old – at the same time. There is the logistical drama of getting two children organised for outings, for getting anywhere on time.

Is one day harder than the other? Is staying at home harder than being a working mum?

Honestly – it doesn’t matter. The days themselves are so different they can’t be compared. And, more importantly, they shouldn’t be.

I’ve had enough of the competitions and the debates.

Mothers, simply, are mothers. Whether they spend their days at the office or their days running round after their children at home – they don’t spend the hours notching up how many challenges they’ve overcome.

Instead of debating who has it harder, surely we should be recognising that we all have personal challenges, personal triumphs, personal difficulties, and personal wins. We all have struggles which we face everyday – whether we are employed or not. Encouraging us to frame our experiences along battle lines, on one side of a fence or another, does nothing to acknowledge our individual experiences.

There should be no competition over who has harder days. There should be no debate over whether it’s harder to face the monotony of playgroups and nappies than sitting in an office all day drinking cups of tea, getting your head around budgets, while missing your babies.

We are all mothers. It’s time we valued each other and turned our backs on a debate which won’t help us.

It’s time to erase the labels and the perceptions that are associated with them. We will each have our own experiences of motherhood and of employment – and these will all be equally valid. They are what they are. We are mothers, together. That’s what matters.

working mums