Our Brittany Ferries holidays and adventures

I remember travelling on the ferry to France as a child – it was always an adventure and a mind-boggling experience for someone without a strong grasp of the laws of physics. The excitement of those journeys came back to me over half-term as we travelled with Brittany Ferries to and from France. For the kids, those crossings were a much a part of our holiday as our stay at Eurocamp itself.

We were lucky enough to be reviewing our journey on Brittany Ferries for Mumsnet, so we thought we’d try out different routes. On the way to France we travelled from Portsmouth to Cherbourg on the three-hour Normandie Express, while on the way back we took the nine-hour sailing on the Bretagne from St Malo. Both journeys were great – and while we’d pick the ease of the express journey next time, the kids loved the longer one on the way home which felt like a mini-cruise.

We didn’t tell the kids we were going on holiday til just a few a days before leaving – because who needs a daily countdown from over-excited children, huh? But when they found out we were going to be putting the car on the ferry, they were fascinated. It was too exciting for them – they just couldn’t understand how the boat would flat with a deck full of cars on it.

Once on board, the three-hour crossing passed by in a flash – and they loved every second. They hardly touched the colouring and sticker books we’d brought, because they were too busy looking out of the window. And then Trolls came on the big screen, so that took care of the rest of the journey.

As on the way back, we were treated to glorious sunny skies and calm seas. Tony and I love being by the sea – we spent so many years living by it – and these crossing were like a tonic to the weeks of work and stress that had led up to our holiday.

We had the luxury of a cabin for the daytime cruise home which meant Tony and Jasmin fitted in naps, and it was nice to have some privacy and a base for the long journey. It passed quickly – the kids watched a movie and we ate well on board between the self-service cafe and the French cafe which helped us pretend we were in the land of croissants for a little longer.

The kids danced for ages in the bar at the mini disco and then laughed til the tears came at the entertainer. Oh to be young. Luckily there was a comfy bar from which to watch them from! The sun deck on the Bretagne was amazing – and the kids loved being between the sea and sky while the sun shone. Both journeys were such an adventure, the kids are already asking when we’ll be taking the ferry again. Given how handy it was to have the car on holiday and pack it full of all the home comforts we needed (and those we didn’t,) I have a feeling it wont be long before we’re on a ferry again!

Brittany Ferries Normandie Express Brittany Ferries Normandie Express to Cherbourg Brittany Ferries Bretagne Brittany Ferries Brittany Ferries sun deck Brittany Ferries sun deck Bretagne

Our family holiday at Les Ecureuils, Eurocamp, France

We’ve done a few trips abroad with the children, ranging from taking Milin to Thailand when he was 12 months old, to a much easier trip to the Canaries last year. But now we’ve done a holiday with Eurocamp, I think we might have found the perfect getaway for us as a family with young children.

We spent May half-term at a Eurocamp in the Vendee region on France’s Atlantic coast. Les Ecureuils is a relatively small Eurocamp and I was very, very fortunate to be offered the chance to review the holiday for work. We could have chosen any Eurocamp but decided we wanted somewhere not too big, somewhere on the beach, and somewhere with great pools for little kids, but also with a kids’ club.

We got everything we wanted. We stayed in a three-bedroom Avant mobile home which was spotless and spacious and even meant we had a spare room because the kids wanted to sleep in bunks. The huge deck, barbecue and full kitchen were perfect for us (you know how fussy my kids are – and this meant no restaurant squabbles, hurrah!)

We were lucky enough to have amazing weather and so spent each day between the pools and simply stunning beach. Trips to local market towns meant we could feast on fresh coffees and croissants and bring back delicious fruit veg and local sea food for the evenings.

It really was heavenly. The kids made friends and we made friends with their friends’ parents. The kids slept well and even spent six hours over three days at the kids’ club. There was also bike riding lessons, a sandy playground and a mini disco and soft play. There really was everything. Milin watched his first sunset over the sea, I read two books and managed two yoga sessions, and Tony, of course, fitted in lots of naps.

I can’t think of a thing we’d change – and, in fact, we’re probably going to go again next year. Self-catering suits us, we love France, and this was a location that really suited us. Tony and I love the sea, I got some swims in, Milin chased waves for hours, Jasmin searched out the best shells for making new necklaces (we brought home a bucket in the car) and Tony even got out on the kayak a couple of times. We came home rested and relaxed – I couldn’t ask for any more.

St Jean de Monts beach France Eurocamp Les Ecureuils swimming poolsSaint Hilaire de Riez beach Vendee France Saint Hilaire de Riez beach Vendee France Eurocamp Eurocamp Saint Hilaire de Riez beach Vendee France

St Giles Croix de vie Vendee France market St Giles Croix de vie Vendee France Les Ecureuils Eurocamp france Vendee camping Les Ecureuils Eurocamp france Vendee camping Saint Hilaire de riez beachSt Jean de Monts France

 

Getting back our family weekends

We’re like most families with young children – weekends are too short and too long coming. We try not to overbook activities for Saturday and Sunday, but we still seem to find ourselves rushing around far more than we’d hoped. Sunday night sneaks up on us as Milin and Jasmin, overtired, finally slow down – and once they’re asleep it always feels like we’re not ready to even think about Monday yet.

I spend our weekend days trying to make the most of being at home with Milin and Jasmin. But I also make sure I get time to myself as well. Just like during the week, it’s an impossible balance to achieve.

We’ve made a conscious effort over the last few weeks though to do less. We’ve entertained less, we’ve not made as many social plans, and we’ve said no to invitations. We’ve not lived like hermits (far from it!) but we’ve definitely tried to slow down. And it’s felt good.

After spending Easter in Cornwall, we came home knowing we need to make more effort to spend our precious weekend hours doing things together. Activities at home aren’t easy – I’ll always sneak away to get a meal ready, or tidy up a corner that’s needing it – and then realise an hour has passed and everyone else is still curled up on the sofa watching a movie. So nothing beats getting outside for having to switch off from chores or work or errands.

Over the last year or so we’ve got into the habit of doing our outdoor adventures as only half a family. Tony will stay home and get jobs done while I take the kids somewhere. Later, he’ll take them bike-riding while I get my jobs done. Sometimes, you need to do that – but actually, I think we’ve been doing it too much.

So over the last few weeks – our trips to the park, our forest walks, our heath rambles – all of those things have been done as a foursome. It’s made a real difference, I think, to how we’re feeling about time, and whether we have enough of it. Somehow, we’re squeezing in a few more hours spent as we’d really like to spend them. I feel like I’ve had more time with the children – even though I might not have done. I’ve probably had a few later nights because laundry or tidying or sorting etc has had to wait until later. But it hasn’t mattered.

The kids have noticed it too. Jasmin has a habit of asking me at the weekends, “Mummy are you going to yoga or work?” It’s been so bloody nice to say “No, I’m not.”

I’ve missed a few of the things I’d usually do by myself (I’ve done no yoga this weekend and normally I’d feel tense and stressed as a result – but actually, I’m ok); and some of my usual solo tasks have been done with three ‘helpers’ in tow. (The shopping mall a la famille on Saturday afternoon was not really fun!)

It’s not practical every weekend, but the last month or so has been a reminder. These weekend days and hours are too precious to lose. There’s no easy answer to finding balance – but I do think you need to switch things up a bit regular to make sure you’re balancing your priorities. The weeks of work and school and nursery pass in a blur – and the kids feel it too, to an extent, I’m sure. Having a bit of time together as a family, just to do nothing but trample through a forest, look at the duckslings, or take a tube ride a few stops to get to a different cafe – we need these hours like this. Between Monday and Friday there’s no chance of them. So for two days, while the kids still want me and Tony to hang out with them and have fun with them, that’s what we’ll do.

Milin and Jasmin smiling

I wasn’t ready

“Mummy, Lana’s not my best friend anymore.”

I wasn’t ready for Jasmin to say it. She’s three. She’s been best friends with Lana since they both started in the ‘big room’ at nursery in September. They draw each other pictures, they both wear Frozen dresses every day. They’re best friends. Or they were, apparently.

“That’s OK Jasmin, you’ve got lots of friends.” I tried to sound like it wasn’t a big deal. I changed the subject. To chocolate. Because chocolate solves everything. (It doesn’t solve anything.)

I tried to forget about it, but of course I couldn’t – so later, I told Tony.

Lana’s a bitch, we both said.

Two days later we were all in the car singing to Portishead, when Jasmin said out of the blue:

“Mummy, Lana said she’s not my best friend anymore and I was sad.”

I did that thing where you draw your breath in quickly because you don’t know what else to do. I mumbled something about how saying that wasn’t nice, but don’t worry too much, and you’ve got lots of other friends, and who else do you play with, and, and, and, let’s keep singing along to Portishead.

My heart is a bit broken for my three-year-old. I want to let her work through this herself, to hold her tight when she feels sad, to let her talk to me about it whenever she wants, and to let her know that she’s OK, that this is OK. But actually, I don’t really know what to do or how to do it. I’m not ready for this – for broken friendships and broken promises and broken hearts. For playground squabbles and words they don’t even understand making them feel things they don’t understand and won’t for years. Jasmin is three. Lana is just four. They’re babies. They don’t even know what a best friend is.

This is another thing in a long list, I suppose, of things which I’m not ready for, which Jasmin isn’t ready for, and which we’ll have to figure out along the way. I have felt her sadness when I’ve realised a friendship has ended, I have caused that sadness at the end of a friendship and I now feel rubbish about it. And I don’t want Jasmin to know any of it for herself.

But she will, whether she or I are ready. Because that’s what this is, I guess. This crazy, gut-wrenching ride that is motherhood. It is day after day of all that we’re not ready for, that nobody is ever prepared for – no matter how much you’ve read or studied or watched or talked about. And I suppose that’s all we can do – let them know we’re here for them to talk about it all. Because at least we can be not ready together.Sad Jasmin

Back to blogging

It’s been almost a year since I blogged – and easily a year since I blogged with any regularity. Suddenly though, it feels like the time to come back to it.

I never really set out to become a mummy blogger – or any kind of blogger for that matter- but having some time away has made me want to come back to it all.

I stopped writing here last year for a few reasons. Work felt increasingly busy and I was tired out by the evenings. I’d gone up to 4.5 days a week and didn’t feel like I also had the energy to put into my blog. More than anything, I had no desire to keep up with the competitiveness that seemed to have crept into blogging networks.

Instead, I thought I might spend my evenings finally getting that manuscript together for the book I secretly know I’ll never finish writing. I thought I might take up a more constructive hobby. But it seems the best part of a year has passed and there’s still more of the book in my mind than on paper. I’ve watched a lot of TV, drunk a lot of wine, and definitely not done anything constructive in the time I’ve gained by not blogging.

I’ve remained friends with the very brilliant and lovely group of women I met (years ago now), through my blog. I guess we started off as, largely, London mummy bloggers – now we’re doing all sorts of things. Those friendships aren’t based around blogging anymore, but there’s still something about blogging that I miss. It’s the wider connections, the community, the network, the being a part of something.

Whether we write for ourselves, for our children as a record, for our mental health for catharsis, for an income to support our families – whatever the reason, this year off has given me some perspective. It’s made me feel incredibly awed by what the blogging community is doing. I am amazed everyday by what the group of incredibly strong women around me who do this have achieved – be their successes very personal to them or wide-reaching.

For me – I’ve missed writing. I’ve missed adding my voice to the noise (because yes, even if it is noise, where else will it be heard if not here?), and I’ve missed recording the stories of my family’s life. Without my blog, I’m not very good at doing it.

I am, more than ever, determined that women’s voices aren’t drowned out. I spend every day at work trying to strengthen the power of our voices as a collective. And it feels like I’ve silenced myself in some way, by not writing, talking and publishing here.

I’m not quite sure whether this blog will stay the same as the children grow – they need their own space and this shouldn’t be it. But what I do know is that this was always my space for me to be me. It feels good to be back.

Kiran Chug back to blogging

The simplest third birthday gift

I asked Jasmin a few days before her third birthday what she would like for it. “Don’t go to work mummy. Stay home with me.”

Simple.

I’d already booked the day off, but I couldn’t stop thinking about what she’d said. She’d made her statement without hesitation and with such certainty. She’d already thought about this.

I went to the toyshop a day later and picked up some silly little trinkets. She loved them when she opened them (nail stickers, colouring pens, Elsa slippers…) but they really weren’t up there with the best things about the day of her birthday. What mattered was that we were all at home together, just hanging out.

Tony and I had thought about a day trip to the beach – but in the end, we decided we were tired and the kids were tired. We kind of all just needed a day together. And so it’s been lovely and simple. A slow morning, presents, and then a picnic in the park, just us four. We spent the afternoon pottering in the garden, watching tv, playing toys – and really just not doing very much. Milin and Jasmin have been happy – and, it didn’t feel like a birthday at all. (We’d had a few friends round and sang happy birthday the day before.) And so, on the day Jasmin turned three, the children unceremoniously ate leftover cake on the garden steps, Tony put up some shelves in their room he’s been meaning to do for ages, I washed the floors….

I take it for granted that the children are happy without things on their mind – but maybe I need to remember how young they really are and how much things do get to them, even if they don’t always say so. I know they’re happy while I’m at work, I know that I work for good reason (as well as necessity), but still, I’d give anything for more time with Milin and Jasmin.

I can’t always make that happen, but today – on Jasmin’s third birthday – I did. We didn’t rush anything, we didn’t do anything because we felt we should, we didn’t do anything apart from the stuff we felt like. And that felt right.

(Yes I was emotional and got all soppy reminiscing about the day she was born and how loud her cries were… and then I saw how bloody lovely she is now, at three, and I got even more teary about the present than the past.)

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What can I tell them?

Roses

In these days of hate, it’s hard to find any ways to describe our responses to terror attacks. Each awful time that the news channels show us an unfolding tragedy, we move through grief, anxiety, fear and confusion. I think a lot of us feel a little numb and unable to really think about or process these events when they hit. We are tired and scared. We are sad. But how do we talk to our children about terrorism?

I’ve been thinking about this so much recently. It’s been impossible not to – because as much as I wish this wasn’t a subject I will have to talk about with my children, that just wont be the case.

I think that as adults we look for answers. We try to apply logic and rational thinking to order the chaos. I know that I keep asking why. There are no neat or satisfying responses though. No tidy explanations. Instead, the world around us today is messy and ugly and very far removed from anywhere that provides something close to a fix.

Children, though, still look to us for answers. We usually have them, or we at least like to pretend we do. As parents, we normally have a ready stream of set responses for questions, we iron out problems with them, we serve up solutions which are simple and non-negotiable. But this isn’t the case when it comes to some of the horror unravelling around us. There aren’t any answers. It doesn’t matter that our children come to us for straightforward replies to their questions. It doesn’t matter that usually those replies offer certainty and grounding and a sense of security. It doesn’t matter that this is what our children need. Because right now – the world has run out of answers.

My children are young. And while I whole-heartedly agree with the practice of avoiding having frightening conversations around them – I also don’t believe this is fully possible. We often have new radio on in the background to life at home, in the car. There are newspapers lying around, the tv news channels are our default ‘sit-down-for-a-moment’ entertainment. I’m a hack by trade, a news journalist who spent years on a national daily – I’ll never stop being an avid consumer of news.

So while I won’t push it under the nose of my children – they will see this, they will hear this, they will know it. And they will have questions.

I guess what I’m grappling with is knowing how to make my responses age-appropriate and comforting. I haven’t faced questions yet – but I know they will come. Sadly, awfully, unbearably: they will come.

And I’m angry – because really there is no appropriate way to talk to a four-year-old and a three-year-old about hate, about prejudice, and about terror. These are not concepts they should have to know or see. These horrors of our days are not ones they should have to witness.

I hope, when the questions come, I can show them images of tributes which bridge difference, pictures of people from every corner of life holding each other, and photographs of communities coming together across barriers which shoudn’t have ever existed. I hope I can explain to my children not only that there is hatred in our world – but more than anything there is love and acceptance. I hope that I can say with enough belief that they don’t doubt it – that more than anything, this world is good.

Children will ask about guns – we will show them flowers. Children will ask about prejudice – we will show them inclusion. Children will ask about hate – we will show them love. How will I talk to my children about terrorism? I don’t know. But I will want to address their fears by comforting them with hope.

What I want my daughter to know about beauty

She watches me every morning, transfixed. Her eyes follow the strokes of my hand as I layer on mascara. She peers in closer as I run a pencil along the lower outline of my eye. When I’m done, she pulls her very own lip balm out of her jewellery box. It is a prized possession. She watches herself in the mirror – and then she smacks her lips together. A kiss. “Mummy, one day can I have make-up?”

Next week, she will be three.

She asks, sometimes, why I wear it. But I don’t have an answer that I want to give her. I don’t want her to know that this is my war paint, this is my armour, this is my wall – this is my mask. I don’t want her to know why I need this injection of self belief in a few bottles and pencils that fit into my hand. I don’t want her to see that this is a front, painted on with a few strokes of magic which I need to confront most days.

She is too young to know about the years and years that have preceded these mascara strokes, these eyeliner flicks and these layers of foundation. She is two for one more week. She is too young to know that for years and years there is a gradual crumbling of self belief, a gradual wearing down, a gradual fraying at the edges. The concealer helps to make things look like they are being held together.

It hasn’t started for her yet – the slow process that changes you into a woman who can’t always face the world as herself. More than anything for her – I want her to be stronger against it than I was. I want her to know that it’s coming, that it might try and break her, and that she is better than it. But not yet. She is two.

For now, this is what I will one day tell her: she is stronger and better and wiser than me. She doesn’t need a mask or a wall or a front. She is beautiful – and that has nothing to do with anything she will one day buy to paint on her skin. For this, this is what I want her to know about beauty:

Beauty has nothing to do with what anyone else tells her. Every person who tells her she is beautiful will have their own reasons for their words. She should know them before really listening.

Beauty has nothing to do with the make-up she will wear or the reasons why she wears it. Beauty has nothing to do with the way she looks or wants to look, or the way anyone else wants her to look.

When I watch her turn three next week, I will watch my brave, stubborn, spirited, fun-loving daughter being herself. I will see a little girl who is kind and compassionate, a little girl desperate to learn and grow, a little girl soaking up the world and everything that is new. A little girl who is nothing but good. One day, I want her to know that this is beauty. She already has it, and it doesn’t matter what the world does or tells her. This is what I want her to see, to understand, and to believe.

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Peace will win

Oh, Nice.

The world is heartbroken.

It is hard to make sense, though, of this world at the moment. The anger and hatred and grief is all around us. It’s incomprehensible in its scale, unbearable in its manifestations. And while it shifts the ground beneath us, unsteadies our stance and disrupts our consciousness – it also strengthens our resolve.

We repeat the mantras: peace will win, fear will lose, we stand together, terrorism has no religion. We say them louder and louder as we hold each other. Determined.

And even as we tuck up our children and check on them in the small hours, we whisper the words: peace will win. Because this has to end.

Last night, I held my children close to me, kissed their soft skin, and cried for the families for whom life will never be the same. For the children whose parents won’t come home. This has to end. I held my children for as long and tight as I could before I thought they will wake. I didn’t want to let them go and be alone in the night. It’s silly. But what is this world they will one day make their own way intro. How can we fix it?

There aren’t any answers. There are, just now, only searching questions in the dark and cries into the void. This is not, though, the way it will be now. For we have to be moved to stand together, to talk, to unite.

Words wont change the world. But we have to start somewhere. By holding hands and talking about why, by making people listen, by telling our children, by being angry, by doing, by bringing about change. This has to end.

Sea Life London and Shrek’s Adventure – all in a day out

With the long summer holidays looming I feel very lucky to be in London – there are so many options for things to do with the children We were invited along to Sea Life London and Shrek’s Adventure recently and it was the perfect summer holiday day out.

I took Milin to Sea Life almost exactly three years ago, when he was just 18 months old. He loved it then and both he and Jasmin had the best day this time round too. I’d forgotten just how much there is inside the attraction – but it really is amazing and provides easily at least a couple of hours’ entertainment.

You walk in over a glass floor and so see sharks and stingrays directly beneath you. It’s phenomenal, and the children thought it was great too right from the start. We admired jellyfish, octopus, seahorses, and so so many fish up close, before coming to the stingray which they both loved. Seeing them in such clear water – I was amazed at how graceful they were.

Enormous tanks holding sharks, more rays, and turtles were incredibly impressive – but Jasmin’s favourite was of course the clownfish. “Look Mummy, there’s Nemo.” She was beyond excited, and I was beyond blown away with her cuteness. There were penguins too – watching them swim around was brilliant, as was seeing one close up on the ice. A little touch tank was great fun and the children loved getting their hands wet and gently touching a starfish.

We could have spent all day at the aquarium – it really was amazing. Watching the kids completely enthralled by the fish was wonderful, and they came home wanting to read more about the creatures they’d seen. I can imagine too that if we went back next year or the year after, they’d still love it and would simply get more and more out of it as they grow up.

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It really was a big day out for us – we managed to fit in Shrek’s Adventure as well. This is just next door to Sea Life – they both have a wonderful spot on the river Thames opposite Big Ben. It is worth doing the two together. I thought it it might be a bit much but the children coped fine. We even ate out together afterwards and had a super, stress-free meal. I think they were so happy about their day that they were on their best behaviour! (Either that or they were too tired to talk or play up.)

Jasmin was a bit young for Shrek’s adventure. Things started well as we met characters from the movies and looked for a bus to take us to meet Shrek. But once on the bus, she freaked out. It was an amazing 4D experience which Milin loved but Jasmin just couldn’t understand. Milin is four and I’d say he just about coped without being too scared. Jasmin at three next week, was too young.

The adventure is a lovely idea though – after being on the bus driven by Donkey and suffering a mishap, the tour group goes in search of Shrek, meeting various characters along the way. It is so believable and fun for the little ones – Milin was transported to a magical world and totally captivated.

We got to meet Shrek at the end which Milin thought was amazing. There’s also a waxworks section and the kids were thrilled by that – Kung Fu Panda was a highlight! The older children on our tour absolutely loved the whole experience and I’d say that in a couple of years time, my two would as well.

I’m not sure how I’m going to top tis as a day out with the kids. We did so much, and they were so happy at the end of it. I’m looking forward to this summer in London – and doing things like this with Milin and Jasmin more and more. We’re pretty lucky,  I think, to be in this city! Happy summer holidays all…

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*We were given review tickets to both attractions.

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