Motherhood: now I am lost

Milin and Jasmin

There were delays on the Northern Line when I found them. I’d shoved my arm into the depths of my handbag; I was in up to my elbow, and rummaging around for my headphones. But I pulled out Jasmin’s Finding Nemo knickers instead. And at that moment, which was the same moment that the tube pulled in and I realised I’d need to push my way on because of the delays, I also felt like I was in pieces.

There are no more nappies. Not stuffed into drawers in the hall, in the bathroom, in the bedrooms, in the lounge, in the emergency bag in the car, in the nappy bags, in the nursery spare clothes bags.

I should be glad, I know, that we can pass on the 200 or so size fives I’d bought and never needed. And, I imagine, I will be once I appreciate how much easier life is without a nappy bag to pack and carry around. For now though, these signs that show me how much my children are growing up have knocked me a little off balance.

Milin, without us noticing, has stopped taking his beloved bunny to bed. He’s not been able to put himself to sleep without it since he was eight months old. Until this week. What will we do with those seven, faded, threadbare, bunnies? I always put one in the washing machine each morning. But this week, there hasn’t been any need.

I can’t, at the moment, escape the big and little markers such as these. They are the objects and forms and events and actions which are tangible proof of life with a two and four year old. Jasmin is doing an extra session at nursery each week, Milin tells me about the rallies he and his friends can manage at tennis, they can both dress themselves. We’ve accepted a school place for Milin, Jasmin will move into the ‘big children’ class in September. They are not babies.

But it is these two big milestones that have thrown me. Saying goodbye to nappies and to bunnies has made me realise – I might not be new to this thing that is motherhood anymore, but I will still be shaken by it, every day, as life changes and we grow.

I’m still able to be left feeling bereft when they barely say goodbye at the nursery door. They’re too busy, ready to go and have fun. As I watch them feed and dress themselves I want to delight in their independence – but instead I’m alone. I wish I would celebrate that they are growing and becoming braver. But each new feat brings a longing for what we’d come to know.

It’s around five years since I found out that I was pregnant with Milin. In those five years, life has revolved around my children – it always will, but our positions are shifting. Soon, I’ll add on an extra half day at work, they’ll add on hours at school and nursery. They’ll become more of their own people. Without me. But this is not just about their independence. Because really, every day of the last five years has involved a crumbling of the pieces that hold things together.

Motherhood has left me grappling at what’s left (of me). As much as I embrace that I am a mother, as much as I know that my identity will forever be intertwined with the existence of my children – I am lost.

With Jasmin’s Finding Nemo knickers in my hand, I stood on the tube platform this morning wondering, searching. I couldn’t find the stable ground. I am a mother who misses her babies but is overjoyed at her growing up children. I am a woman who no longer has the drive or career that defined the decade before her pregnancy. I’ve come to fear mortality, worry about the future, stress about stability, question myself endlessly. I’ve lost confidence in what I know, what I can do, and what I am.

Five years ago, life was lived in a naive state of optimism, of excitement for future achievements. I had ambition, dreams – I still do – but the successes are harder, the battles are not mine alone. They feel beyond me, too big for me and far outside my reach.

Motherhood did this. I was just getting to know who I was when everything changed. Five years on, it’s still changing, and I’m just about keeping my head above water, grabbing at the strands that resemble the things I know. They’re moving though. Now, they always will.

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Our week in Fuerteventura, Canary Islands

Corralejo beach main town

The Canary Islands have never featured on my ‘places I want to visit’ list. I’d never even considered them for a holiday, in fact, until a few months ago. But when I started looking for family-friendly holidays in Europe for a one-week break in April, they seemed like an obvious choice.

With Tony away for the whole of this month, I wanted to take the children somewhere to distract them a little from missing him. I wanted somewhere warm, easy to travel to, not too far away, and somewhere we could have a relaxing, stress-free break. It needed to be relatively inexpensive too.

I could have picked any of the islands really but Fuerteventura stood out because of it’s stunning sandy beaches. There are miles and miles of golden sand dunes, and calm shallow and clear waters as well as surf spots.

The island is only a four-hour flight away and there’s no time difference – this made things really easy for the children. The flight was long enough to be exciting, but not too long for them to get fed up. And being on the same time zone meant we had no jet lag (or early mornings!) to contend with.

I picked an all-inclusive resort because I wanted a real break – and cooking their meals and tidying up after them was exactly the kind of reality I wanted to escape. As neither are great eaters, all-inclusive hotels take some of the stress of dining out away. It’s funny how an all-inclusive break in Kos two years ago changed my perspective of this as a way to holiday. It’s still not my first choice, bur for now and possible the next couple of years, it does make life easier.

I was sad to miss out on the local bars and restaurants this time – but the break was about doing things the easy way, and this meant eating at the hotel mostly. It also meant more time for the children just to have fun. (I did, however, manage a little shopping trip without them one afternoon, and a decent walk to explore the town alone one morning. I also fitted in a good few hours of book-reading as the sea air and swimming tired them out each day.)

My parents came along (there’s no way I wanted to negotiate a trip on my own with Milin and Jasmin – I would have needed a holiday to recover!), and we had a perfect week in the sun. It wasn’t too hot – the temperature on Fuerteventura in April is surely the pick of Europe – between 22-25 most days, with mornings and evenings cool enough for me to wear trousers and a cardigan and nights cool enough for comfortable sleeps. Sea breezes kept us from getting to hot in the day too.

Milin and Jasmin made the most of the children’s pool and Jasmin showed me how she could swim with just a ring around her. I never take her swimming as she goes when I’m at work, so seeing this was amazing for me. Milin spent the entire week squirting people with a water pistol and running around the pool, in and out of the water, having adventures.

A beautiful lovely sandy playground at our resort was also a hit, and Milin loved the kids club and mini disco each night. I loved his moves – and will never forget his ‘chicken dance’. I blame Tony’s genes though for that! They made friends and basically spent the week being happy. They came home knowing how to count to three in Spanish too, as well as say a sprinkling of words. I wonder how long they’ll remember them for…

The sea was perfect swimming temperature for me, although to cold for the children. But the amazingly clear waters meant they could see fish swimming near the shore as they paddled – which they thought was brilliant. Most of our beach days were spent exploring rock pools and looking for treasure. They thought this was the most exciting thing. And, actually, it was fun, hanging out with them and being adventurers.

They managed to fit in the ice cream buffet almost every day, twice a day – and I figured that since we were on holiday, why not? We stayed at Corralejo – a pretty little fishing village with beautiful sandy beaches and rocky areas as well for exploring.

I felt so lucky by the end of the week that we’d been able to have such a relaxing week. I’d never have imagined, even a few months ago, we’d go to the Canary Islands for that – but actually it was almost perfect. We just wished Tony could have been there.

Corralejo town beach photo Corralejo town main beach photo Corralejo fishing boats photo Corralejo yellow houses photo Corralejo kids pool photo Corralejo rock pools photo Corralejo fishing village photo Corralejo family holiday photo Corralejo cactus photo Corralejo beach

Primary school applications and a little boy growing up

It’s just over a week until we find out which primary school Milin will go to in September. I desperately want him to go to the little school up the road. We’re in the catchment area, but it’s always very oversubscribed. There’s also a slightly bigger school down the road. We’re in the catchment for that too. But I like the little one.

And so as the date approaches, my dreams about primary school applications have started. He never gets into our first choice on the form in them. I cry, feel like it’s my fault for even putting the bigger school down, and then I wake up sad and cross with myself.

I’m expecting more of the same for the next week. And I’ve realised this is just the start. Because whatever that email says, it’s not long until September when Milin’s independence will move up a gear. I’ll see him less, I’ll miss our Friday’s together when we’re both off from lunchtime, and he’ll have a little life of his own that I’m not a part of. He’ll make new friends in a new school, love new teachers, experience new dramas – and they’ll be all his.

Milin has been at nursery since he was 16 months old but when he’s four and three quarters he will move on to ‘big school’, as he calls it. He’ll need me less. He’ll learn to read and write, he’ll join sports clubs and practice for the school play and line up for assembly. He’ll wear a uniform and walk up the road or down the road with his buddies each morning, packed lunch in his bag.

I used to feel so much sadness at how quickly time passes. But now, although I would give anything to have those newborn days with him all over again, I’m more excited for him than sad for myself. Whichever school he goes to, he’ll start the term excited and ready for adventures. He’ll have years of learning ahead of him, years of making friends and doing new things. I’m trying not to spend these months before school worrying about all the harder parts of schooldays and growing up – those we will deal with as they come. For now though, I want to look forward to all the happiness ahead of him, and feel glad for all the fun and laughter and goodness he has known along the way to this point. He’s already so much bigger than the little boy who cried every at drop-off for three months when he started nursery. He’s so much more independent and fierce and strong and wilful.

My little boy is on the verge of growing up and while part of me wishes he wouldn’t, another part of me is so madly happy for him because of all that he has to come. Whether it’s the little school up the road or the big school down the road, we will do everything we can to make sure he is happy and knows we are here when it’s time to come home.

We will ask about his day and what he learnt, we will talk about his friends, his football games at lunch break, his teachers, his discoveries and his adventures. He’s growing up. Part of my job is to hang on to the precious memories of the baby days we’ll never get back. But the other part is to help him get ready for the excitement of the future. I’m still figuring out how – but hopefully as we get closer to September, whatever the outcome of our school application forms, I’ll have figured out how.growing up

When your husband goes away for a month

I spent nearly a decade away from the UK before returning home to London. I’d visit every year or so, savouring the days with old friends and family, walking down familiar streets, reminiscing over places that had changed, reliving happy memories. Those trips home made living so far from home manageable.

Now it’s Tony’s turn – and he is away for a month. He needs to see his family, to spend evenings laughing with old school friends, to walk along the shoreline in Wellington and look over the harbour to the valley where he grew up. I wish I was there for fish and chips on the beach, for swims in the too-cold sea, for walks up the hills and for days and nights with people I miss so much. I miss the big horizon, the big sky, the big weather. I miss the stars and the crashing seas. A month’s visit would barely be enough.

This is one of the hardest things for us. New Zealand – Tony’s home – became mine. When we left Tony’s home and family and friends, we left mine too. I’d come to love that land and I only knew once I’d left that I’d belonged. Now though, or rather, for now, we live so very far away. And as much as we want to be there, we can’t be. Not just now.

Maybe this will be what we do for the next few years and years. If Tony goes home every now and then, maybe he will manage the heart wrench of being away.

Falling in love with someone from the other side of the world has made our lives complicated. And this month apart will be hard. But Milin and Jasmin have amazed me with their resilience. I’m not sure we’d cope without Facetime, but they’re little troopers, doing ok. Milin tells me every day that daddy is his best friend and he misses him. Jasmin wants to see him on the phone whenever she can. Jasmin tells Milin that mummy can’t fix broken toys and he has to wait for daddy to come back. Milin gets out his Lego and pictures of what he wants to make and tells me to try my hardest to make things like daddy does. They’re sad and don’t understand how long he is away for – but really, they’re amazing because they’re also busy and distracted and just getting on with playing and being happy and doing all those things that four year olds and two year olds do.

And me? I miss him. It’s a long time to be without your best friend. But this is what it is to love someone from the other side of the world. We’ll find our way. Somehow, with Milin and Jasmin making sure we don’t dwell on the tough stuff, we’ll get there.story time reading books

Dresses for Spring and Summer

Monsoon dress

The children spent an hour just scooting up and down the street outside our house today. They didn’t have coats on, we left the front door open, and they only stopped because they got hungry and thirsty. For the first time in months, we were outside, without coats on, in full sunshine under a bright blue sky – and we were warm. Spring is finally here.

I can’t wait to update my wardrobe with a few bits for the warmer weather. I’m on a *very* tight budget though, and so when High Street Outlet got in touch and asked if I’d like to pick a few items to review, I felt very lucky – what perfect timing.

I’d not heard of High Street Outlet before, but they buy in factory surplus stock from high street stores – and then sell it for a fraction of the price. Often, the brand’s labels are cut out but since I don’t really care what the label on the inside of my clothes says or doesn’t say – this doesn’t bother me at all!

There’s so much choice on the site, but the first thing that caught my eyes was this lovely Monsoon Aztec shift kaftan dress. In sheer navy, this beautifully embroidered dress comes with an underslip and is super comfy and easy to wear. It’s classic Monsoon – something a bit different, a bit smart, a bit boho, and works in so many situations. So far, it’s a work dress, an evening dress, and a dress I’m definitely packing for our holiday in the sun later this month for warm evenings chilling at the hotel. I still can’t get over that such a stunning dress is only £22.50 – it really is something special!

 

Monsoon dressMy other favourite was this Boden Lupin maxi dress. At £24.99 it’s another fabulous bargain and something I know I’ll get lots of wear out of from now until at least September. I’m only five foot two, but I love a long dress because they’re so easy to wear all summer – and, like the Monsoon dress, this will get worn on lots of occasions and definitely be coming with me on holiday. (It’s also SO lovely to find a maxi dress that doesn’t need hemming. Hurrah!

The very pretty and extra comfy gold strappy flats from Monsoon/Accesorize were my final bargain from HighStreet Outlet. They were only £12.99 and I plan to wear them with everything!

 

Boden maxi dressIf you’re near Poole, Dorset, make sure to check out Highstreet Outlet ‘in real life’ as they open their doors once a month to the public. And if you’re not, enjoy having a browse online – there’s lots to choose from, and if it’s a bargain, you can justify getting something else as well… right?

*Disclosure: I was sent the above items for the purpose of this review. 

For our daughters

no ordinary dayThis is not how I wished it would be: this being a woman, this being a mother, this showing our daughters that this is how to be.

I would like to show them that I am strong and brave and content. I would like to show them that this is what it is, to be a woman: it is fair and equal and life is just. There is no fear, there is no constant regret over not matching up or constant frustration over giving in. Because it’s easier.

But, despite all my wishes, when we wake up, we are so damn tired and yet must start another day. We are exhausted by not being able to do it all, by telling ourselves we can’t do it all, and by years and years of just not managing to be good enough. And, on this morning, we are shattered because all night, we held them while they cried or we worried about them while they slept. We feared that we weren’t good enough, to show them how it could be. Then, we went out into the world and didn’t let anyone see our sadness. We looked over our shoulder and got a taxi in the dark and pretended we took it all in our stride.

And in the years between our daughters and us, we berated ourselves for not being that one we’d built in our minds, that one who haunts us each birthday and never was real anyway. In those years, we did everything wrong, but how were we to know, because we didn’t know we had any choice. Did we?

And so on another tired morning we wake and dress, not for ourselves, but for every single other person who will see us today. We wear the clothes we have bought over the years to hide our scars and bones and roundness and woman-ness. We look in the mirror and there is sadness as we try to cover up the guilt. We have become accustomed to gathering up our armour, which gives us a blanket to hold up against the world and crouch behind with our mistakes. Somehow though, sometimes, still, for our daughters, we try to walk with our heads held high. But first, this is not for them, but for every other person who would not notice us if we didn’t.

Then, when we speak, we try to erase the self-doubt and loathing that we have grown to live with, because we believe we don’t measure up. We listen to our words and hear in them decades of not being enough.

Our daughters will embark upon the worst years, the years we want to forget, to erase, to one day stop crying over.They should know that these years will pass, that they can be stronger than we were, that they can be not-broken. They can know choice and courage, and turn their backs on fear. Yet, after living those years, I don’t know how to tell them that. Those years, I now see, are lived by knowing that there’s something to prove or to succumb to. They are lived in a constant state of blame, that points only to ourselves.

I don’t know how to fix it. But maybe this will help: to our daughters – it’s not your fault.

It’s not because you are weak that you cry broken-hearted tears in the dark, it is not your fault that you can’t find a way out.

I wish, for our daughters, things were different now. I would take away the hurt and the fear. These things have been built on a world we aren’t changing quickly enough. I would take away the loathing, the brittle and fragile sense of self, the mistrust and misunderstanding. I would make it all better.

I thought, by now, I would know how to do that for our daughters. I was wrong.

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The last time

world breastfeeding week

For days and weeks on end, you’re kneeling on the floor changing nappies, and waking in the night to make bottles. You’re lifting them into the car seat in the rain when your back hurts and you’re putting their coats on for them because they can’t quite get the hang of it still. You’re feeding them their porridge from a plastic bowl because they make such a mess if they do it themselves, for days and weeks on end, you’re doing this.

And for months and months you’re having the same battles over bedtime or dinnertime. You’re so tired of asking them to get their shoes on and wait by the door, you’re so tired of playing the games which finally get them to eat, you’re so tired of the battle to get out of the bath.

But you realise, these things you are doing for days and weeks and hours on end are different. You’re no longer repacking the change bag again and again and making sure there’s spare clothes in the car and you’re never without raisins.

No longer are you sitting up in bed at night, holding your baby to your breast and realising you drifted off while she fed. No longer are you waking up with a shock, with her sleeping beside you, and not being able to remember how she got there. No longer are you half asleep through all the small hours, feeding her back to sleep.

You used to read him the same book every night, it seems so young for him now, after humming the same tune. You used to wrap him completely in his baby towel after his bath, before it got too small to dry him. You used to love her falling asleep on your chest while strapped close to you in the baby carrier. You used to hold her on your lap and she fitted there perfectly while she fell asleep.

You can’t remember the last time you read that book or sang that song. You can’t remember the last midnight bottle or early morning feed. You can’t remember the last nappy change, the last time he needed you to hold his hand while he fell asleep.

When you wake, with them in your bed, tired and sad that you’ve not had any sleep because they kicked you all night. When you cajole them with tricks to eat their lunch and wish they’d feed themselves. When you read that chapter for the hundredth time. When you sing that song in the car again. It might be the last time. You’ll miss it. You won’t know. And you might not remember it.

Until much, much, later, when that moment is long gone and it’s even hard to recall what you thought about it at the time. Because now, you think they need you less.

You’ll see one day though that it’s all just different. It’s changed. It’s no longer nappies and tying shoelaces. It’s listening to stories about dramas with friends, it’s helping with homework, it’s picking them up from swimming.

It’ll change, but they’ll need you, still. You might not see it, or know it happen, but they’ll grow and learn – and still look for you. There will be more first times – you might not see them either for what they are at the start, but you’ll realise one day these are your new habits, your new routines, their new needs.

And so, when you feed her to sleep or sing him to sleep, you might not know it will be the last time. Even though it will always be between you. And with you. Both.

 

Why I will be hiding my grey hair

Kiran Chug

More and more grey hairs seem to be making themselves visible along my hairline. I’ve always had a few, but in the last few years I’ve become more and more conscious of them.

I’ve thought about hair dye on and off for ages. And, up until a few weeks ago, I was determined not to start using it. I didn’t care that greying gave away my age – I thought. I didn’t want to succumb to an expectation that women died their hair as they got older. I didn’t want to give in to a convention whereby we respond to the pressure to look younger – or so I thought. It isn’t that I’m confident about my appearance – I just didn’t really feel the need to make myself look younger.

Until a few weeks ago, when I changed my mind.

I have a birthday coming up, and I don’t particularly like birthdays. I find myself, every year, wallowing in a state of discontent for weeks. I feel like I’ve failed to achieve what I once thought I might have done by the time I reached this arbitrary count of days. I measure myself up against what my idyllic teenage self once thought I’d have done by this time, and I fail miserably and resoundingly. I take stock, and I don’t like it.

Once, before I knew really anything about life and people and myself, I had daft expectations of it all. This by this age, that by that age, etc, etc… I’ve known for a long, long time that life doesn’t turn out the way your teenage self thought it would, but I still can’t help, every birthday, feeling like I’ve failed. (For the rest of the year, I’m generally more able to see all the good in my world and feel mostly incredibly happy about it.)

But, given that the point in the year when I feel most rubbish about myself is nearly here, the grey hairs are taking up too much of my time. Not because I’m dying them, but because I’m thinking about them. All. The. Time. In fact, I’d probably spend less time on them if I was actually standing in front of the bathroom mirror and pasting them with chemicals every few weeks.

I know well the argument that women become invisible as they age. It makes me annoyed and generally disheartened by the values society places on women. But my reason for caring about my greys is pure vanity. When I see a salt and pepper hairline in the mirror, I don’t feel very pretty. Over the years, I’ve bought into what ‘pretty’ is and come to value it. Grey hair doesn’t fit in the image I’ve built.

Whether or not that’s because of a social construct of what prettiness is, isn’t my point. My point is that I’ve bought into the image, and I can’t stand up to it – even though I thought I would. I don’t mind being older, per se – so long as I don’t look like I’ve aged. I don’t feel confident enough in how I am and how I look, I suppose, to let the world see me in this natural state as it veers away the vision of non-greyness.

I’ve tried to quiz my husband on my greys. ‘Do you notice them? Do you think they make me look old?’ Of course he won’t answer because he doesn’t believe me that I won’t hold his answers against him during a future tiff. But, it’s not really about him or what he or anyone else sees.

This is about me and my mask and my armour. When you’re feeling down about who you are and what you’ve done, you need to pull strength from somewhere. That strength is a front, and my front is the layers of make-up, the heels on days when I don’t feel like I measure up, and – soon – a shade of hair colour bought in a bottle.

I wish I wasn’t so shallow. I didn’t think I would be at my age.

A weekend in Wales

Visit Wales Brecon Mountain Railway Find your Epic

We are big fans of short weekend breaks, and our recent adventure in Wales reminded us again why it’s so good to get out of town for a few days. We spent only two nights away, but returned to London feeling recharged and relaxed. Our two days in the countryside gave us all a chance to have a break from busy city life and we enjoyed just spending some time in each others’ company. What’s more, the children loved exploring somewhere new while managing to cram in a trip on a steam train in the Brecon Beacons as well as a visit to a castle too.

It was the perfect amount of time, although it did leave us wanting to return to Wales for more adventures. Our trip was organised thanks to Visit Wales who are running the #FindYourEpic campaign. We certainly had our share of adventure, and we’re already planning what we’ll do next time we manage to get to this beautiful part of the country again!

We left London on a Friday evening and drove to Merthyr Tydfil which is at the bottom of the Brecon Beacons National Park. Leaving London on a Friday after work might sound crazy, but the drive is only about three hours and even a closed road didn’t delay us for too long. The children went straight to sleep when we arrived and Tony and I had a glass of wine, glad we’d driven out of town on Friday so we could fit in a full day of exploring on Saturday.

We stayed in a beautiful studio apartment in a stunning Victorian townhouse – Studios at Glenthorne, in Merthyr Tydfil. We could have opted for Cardiff as a base, but we really wanted to be out of the city and so this was perfect, and right next to the national park. The house was built in the 1800s and for the last three years run as a guest house by the very lovely Claire – who Milin and Jasmin adored.

I loved the little touches and details that were everywhere you looked here – the frames around notepaper explaining parking or the wifi code, a lovely grandfather clock, fresh flowers, the surprise chocolates in the afternoon and the home-made Welsh cakes on arrival. (Jasmin and Tony made short work of these!) Our continental breakfast was a feast, and we loved the set-up of a studio apartment within a home. The house has its original features in tact, but is still modern and warm and welcoming. Our huge room had a bed and sofa bed, with a separate kitchen, complete with washing machine, and the shower was brilliant too.

I really can’t recommend Glenthorne highly enough and I hope we can go back. It was beautiful, spotless, brilliantly located, and we loved the personal touch. We ordered a takeaway on Saturday night and ate it happily with a bottle of Prosecco with the tele on, while the children slept. It really felt like a home away from home.
Wales Glenthorne Studios The GroveGlenthorn Studios Merthyr Tydfil Visit Wales Find your Epic

Wales Merthyr Glenthorne Studios

Wales breakfast with JasminWales Glenthorne Hallwaywales the groveWales Glenthorn Studios apartmentsWales grandfather clock

The highlight of our weekend was definitely a ride on the Brecon Mountain Railway. The station was only a few minutes’ drive from our guesthouse and at the foot of the Brecon Beacons National Park. Milin and Jasmin might be little (they’re four and two), but they’re not too little for adventures.

We arrived half an hour before our train was leaving and we’re so glad we did. At the station, you’re able to have a look around the engineer’s yard. Milin and Jasmin were fascinated by the engines in for repair and got to have a look close up at some of those being fixed. We saw the guard and driver getting our steam train ready and the children could barely believe their eyes and ears when it tooted and backed onto the platform.

Milin said it was just like being on the Island of Sodor and Jasmin agreed that this train looked like Thomas – but was of course the wrong colour. The ride itself was about an hour and half and seeing their little faces when we started moving absolutely made my weekend. That something as simple as a ride on a steam train made them so happy was the sweetest thing.

But, what a ride it was. With a glistening lake to the side of the track for much of the ride, and the snow-capped mountains of the Brecon Beacons in the distance, this wasn’t any forest train ride. In fact, it turned into an adventure when a fallen tree just before we reached the top of the track stopped us in our paths. As Milin said, it really was like a story from Thomas-land. We watched the guard investigate, but he decided his handsaw wouldn’t be able to clear the tracks and a chainsaw was needed. It was possibly the most exciting train ride the children have ever been on – and certainly beats the tube for adventure. We reversed all the way back, but not before a stop at a little station along the way for coffee and hot chocolates (and more Welsh cakes) and a little play at the play area.

Brecon mountain railway station Wales find your epicWales find your epic brecon mountain railway steam trainWales Brecon mountain railwayVisit Wales Brecon Mountain Railway Pant StationVisit Wales Brecon Mountain Railway Find your EpicWales Brecon Mountain Railway looking out of windowWales Brecon Mountain Railway ride

After all the adventure, we relaxed in the afternoon at a beautiful country pub which looked out onto stunning views over the Brecon Beacons. We saw plenty of mountain bikers making the most of the dry and sunny spring day – and Tony and I were a teeny bit jealous. One day, when the children are a bit older, we’ll hopefully return and get some family riding done in this beautiful part of the country. What a backdrop for it.

We also saw lots of horse-riders and, again, what an amazing place to be riding. Our train ride and ramble to the pub was perfect for little legs, but one day I hope we can return and explore more on foot.

We spent Sunday morning at the incredibly impressive Cyfarthfa Park Lake – again just a couple of minutes drive or ten minutes walk from Glenthorne Studios. Cyfarthfa Castle was once a school but we busied ourselves imagining adventures of knights and dragons in its grounds. Milin and Jasmin were pretty impressed to be at a ‘real life’ castle, and its surrounding grounds, lake and playground made this the perfect spot for just hanging out. There’s a little cafe and museum here, but we were too early for them because of course the children didn’t sleep in.

Wales castle Merthyr JasminWales Merthyr CastleWales castleNo trip to Wales is complete for us without a stop at the Temple Bar Inn at Ewyas Harold. Our stop there this weekend rounded off a perfect couple of days. In front of the fire, we ate chocolate brownies and looked back at a wonderfully relaxing but adventurous trip. Getting out of London always does us good, and heading just a few hours up the road to the foot of the Brecon Beacons was amazing. It was a part of the country we’d never explored until now – and now we can’t wait to go back.

temple bar inn

I’m linking up with Magic Moments over at The Olivers Madhouse  because this weekend was one magic moment after the other!

*We were given train tickets and accommodation for the purpose of this post but all opinions are my own and this review is my honest opinion.

 

My Petit Canard

Rewilding and remembering New Zealand

Anatori Golden Bay New Zealand

I’m not sure what’s brought it on, but I’m homesick for New Zealand. In nearly eight years of life there, I never quite stopped feeling like an outsider in a country which wasn’t mine. But, at the same time, I also felt very much connected to that place –  because the more I grew to love and understand it, the more I let it become a part of me.

In 2005, I landed there a city kid. New Zealand changed me.

I never grew to love the wind in Wellington, but it was the start of my introduction to a life lived outdoors. Gales which knocked me off my bike also taught me about living with a respect for the elements. Tony dragged me camping and I complained loudly and insisted on powered sites so we could plug in the coffee machine – but I’ll never forget our first night under stars. I woke early and just after dawn, walked down an empty beach, shared only with an oyster catcher who warned me away from her nest.

I came to love being away from the city. I remember having a pointless argument with Tony once and driving half an hour up the road to spend the weekend alone. I didn’t eat or read or really do anything other than walk along the coast and swim in the sea. Here:Marahau Golden Bay New Zealand Abel Tasman National Park

Golden Bay was my happy place, our happy place, where we went after we got married, where we went for countless weekends, where we went just to ‘be’. The tip of the South Island, just a couple of hours from our little flat, was where we went to recharge, to do not very much, and to marvel again and again at how lucky we were. I found a few old photos tonight, including this one, taken at Collingwood on my birthday one year. We’d hired a one-bed studio for a night and walked for hours until an estuary and the tide made us turn back.Collingwood Golden Bay New Zealand

It was in NZ that I swapped the treadmill for running outside for the first time. And now, in London, where I seem to have stopped every form of exercise other than yoga, I miss the freedom of mind that brought. This was snapped at the end of a good run, outside a hut we used to escape to with friends. It was on the west coast of the top of the South Island. Mangarakau swamp was our secret. I learnt about the birds, the plants, the trees, the bush, the land. Down the road, we let the freezing wild ocean rush up to our feet on the shoreline and I never imagined what it would be like to miss a place so much. I didn’t know, then.

Mangarakau Golden Bay New ZealandAnatori Golden Bay New Zealand

And now, in London, I am trying my hardest to bring up our children to love the land and weather and elements and environment around them. I want them to experience it in a way I don’t think I wanted to as a child, but long to do more and more as we continue our lives in the city.

For a family living here, I don’t think we do badly when it comes to getting out in the fresh air. The weather might not always be on our side, but that doesn’t stop us from choosing to brave the elements and head outside. We try to spend as much time as we can outdoors – choosing the park or the forest over staying inside. We have to, I think. The children love getting out, they burn off their energy and sleep better for it, and it saves the house being turned upside down again.

But I have been thinking recently about whether we could do more with that time that we’re out. Instead of scooting to the park, again, or walking our familiar woodland route again – couldn’t we push things a little more? Are the children too young to explore more independently? I don’t think so.

I’ve been thinking about rewilding and initiatives like Project Wild Thing. I have no doubt that less screen time and more time simply just exploring and being outside would help us all sleep better, worry less, and smile a little more. The outdoors does make us happy – there’s no denying it. It lifts the pressure, eases the strain and relaxes our shoulders. We’re kinder on each other, gentler with ourselves, and better at keeping the world in perspective once we’ve really been out among it.

Our weekends don’t need to be filled with trips to the sea or mountain walks – but we do need to make sure that opportunities are still there for the children to have adventures in the natural world around them. I want them to feel confident that this world is out there to forge a connection with.

Our life is here now, but there is so much from our old life that I want to share with our children. I learnt to love and respect the outdoors – I think children do this instinctively. The city knocked it out of me once. I hope I can ensure the same doesn’t happen to Milin and Jasmin.

 

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