It’s now 16 months since the lady of the manor’s mum passed away, I’ve put off writing this post for quite a while, unsure exactly what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it. But part of the reason I started this blog in the first place was to share the perspective of being a dad in a world where us dad’s don’t do a good job of talking about how we feel or what we are experiencing. At least when it comes to being a parent that is, men probably do too much talking when it comes to other topics not least politics. But today I’d like to talk about grief and preschoolers.
Grief is such a personal thing, how someone reacts to and feels about losing someone is specific to them and we all deal with it in a different way. It also has a habit of sneaking up on us when we’re least expecting it bringing all those feelings of pain and anger back to the surface. When you then add the complication of the person grieving being 3 or 4 years old it’s hard as a parent to know what you should do. I can remember that night vividly as I sat Matilda and Henry down to try and explain to them what had happened to their nanna and why mummy wasn’t going to be home for a few days. Even writing this now I’m having to hold back tears. How can I, their dad who loves and protects them, be the one to shatter their innocence and bring such heartache into their lives at such a young age? My beautiful, happy little children who have been robbed of the pleasure of growing up with their nanna in their lives.
Going to Cornwall on holiday is now firmly set in our annual family traditions as it was in my own childhood, it’s a place that feels like home whenever we visit, a place that can be horrendously busy if you head to the hotspots but full of glorious scenery and a place where memories are made. I can still remember the smell of the wetsuit rental shop tucked away on an industrial estate in Braunton we’d visit to get out wetsuits for the week, that mix of neoprene with salt and board wax which tell you you’re officially on holiday. I remember taking a rowing boat out on the Bude canal with my brother and annoying all the fishermen as we struggled to row in a straight line, I also remember the journeys down from Oxfordshire where turning off the M5 felt like you were almost there but in reality it was a long way yet. There is another reason why Cornwall will always be a special place for me, Tintagel castle was the place that I proposed to the lady of the manor. A time that feels like a lifetime ago but was a big moment in this adventure we’re on together and that’s good enough reason on its own to go back every year.
But go back we will and with Matilda and Henry loving it as much as we do I don’t think we’ll get much choice in the matter any time soon. Easter is the time we tend to go, risky weather wise but no matter what the weather we know we’ll have great fun and so I thought I’d share with you our top 5 places to visit.
The Eden Project
The Eden Project could well be our favourite place in the UK to visit, we’ve now been 5 times in the past year (thanks to the annual pass which is the same price as day entry) and each time have discovered something different and are yet to be bored, parents or children. ‘The domes’ as Matilda and Henry call them is just fabulous, no cheesy gimmicky rides or activities but so much to keep the children engaged and interested from the short cuts designed just for kids on the walk down to the amazing rain forest walk for those who like heights. There’s the story teller in the Mediterranean biome who we listen to while eating lunch and the ride on the tractor train to get back to the exit. The list could quite honestly go on and makes no mention of the seasonal activities they put on or the wonderful and varied food options. For adults or older children there is plenty of education on the plants and the environment and this year ‘the seed’ a stone sculpture that took my breath away. They also sell a mean latte and some of the best ice cream you can buy (it is Cornwall after all).
There are certain numbers that every parent knows with a high degree of precision; the amount of hours they or their partner were in labour, the weight their child weighed at birth, when their child walked (although that one fades a little once they pass 5 years of age) and how long it’s been (to the nearest day) since they last had kid free time with their wife/husband/partner. Those heavenly moments where you skip out the house as a grandparent, willing or otherwise, volunteers to look after your little
monsters angels. The skip may even be accompanied with a few whoops if it also means that you’re avoiding having to do bedtime with them. Rupert was 13 months when the lady of the manor and I had out first evening out, we went to see James Bond at the cinema, not much change to watching TV in the evening I guess but even so we felt FREE.
The last time we had a night away together without children was on 24th April 2014 and technically one was actually with us because we think that might have been the weekend Rupert was conceived. But at least at that point he wasn’t able to cry, scream or talk to us, or for that matter play with the bin, throw things in the toilet or try to break the telephone.
I of course love my children, I love being with them, playing with them, seeing them grow. But you realise how much you love them when you have a short time away from the intense, all consuming activity that is parenthood. As they say a break is as good as a holiday and those short breaks certainly feel like a treat. But here’s the best bit, it’s also pretty darn good for your kids, especially if you have more than one like we do. Let me give you an example.
It was late on Saturday afternoon at CarFest South, we’d had a long but happy day wandering around the festival and were ready for dinner. We sat and ate pizza fresh from a wood fired oven while Henry and Matilda laughed and sang along with a kids theatre group doing a country and western play. It was one of those rare moments where everything is right in the world, the sun was just starting to fall towards the horizon, the children were all happy or in Rupert’s case asleep and we had that contented tired feeling you get from a day spent outdoors. It was also the moment I realised that buying CarFest South tickets was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Now if that’s not enough to convince you that CarFest is the perfect family festival then read on!
The lady of the manor and I had talked a few times about going to a festival but had never been brave enough to take the plunge. I liked the idea of it but wasn’t sure if the reality would be the same or actually a smelly, tiring, stressful experience. But listening to Chris Evans one morning as he announced tickets were being released I grabbed my credit card and took the plunge, after all how bad could it be going to a festival with a 4 year old, a 3 year old and a 10 month old? Maybe I wasn’t thinking straight due a lack of sleep or maybe the first cup of tea hadn’t quite kicked in but either way I’m so glad I did and here’s why we’ll be back again this year:
Picture the scene; we’re driving back from a busy day out at the Lost gardens of Heligan (great family day out BTW), the boys are asleep in the back and Matilda is chatting away to herself. The lady of the manor and I are discussing dinner plans for the evening, we’ve had a good day but any day out with 3 children under 5 cannot be described as relaxing. Unless of course relaxing means feeling like you’ve run a marathon while shouting 10 times every mile “don’t touch that” “stay away from the edge” “that’s not for climbing on” “what do you mean you’re hungry again” “you’ll just have to wee in a bush”.
The thought of dinner out sounds very attractive, we talk ourselves into it; the boys have napped so will be in a good mood, the pub is on the way home anyway and it means no washing up (as the lady of the manor keeps telling me, it’s not a holiday if there’s washing up). Maybe it was the day in the sun, maybe we just had low sugar levels, whatever the reason we take the plunge and pull into the car park. Miraculously they are serving food all day (anyone else find it a nightmare with small children finding somewhere to eat before 5pm?) and we find a corner in a large and quite empty restaurant.
I beat the Quadzilla, of course by beat I mean limped over the finish line battered and bruised, but victorious nonetheless. I even finished the final of the 4 marathons with my fastest 2km of the 4 days, amazing how you can find that extra burst when you know the end is in sight. Sitting here just over 2 weeks since finishing it all feels a little surreal really, the 4 medals sat next to me the only real evidence of what I did. My legs are pretty much back to normal now after feeling like blocks of lead for at least 10 days but I do still feel a bit achy when I get back from my morning runs.
It won’t surprise you that finishing the quadzilla was tough, getting up for 4 days straight to run another 7 laps of a lake in Milton Keynes hurts both mentally and physically. It was also almost as tiring making sure I managed my recovery well with nutrition, stretching and rest. Surprising how hard it is to force down carbs and protein straight after a marathon, but knowing if you don’t it’ll make a big difference to how you recover. The race route isn’t going to win any prizes for it’s scenery with the A5 whizzing past one end but it was actually ok and finding someone each day running at the roughly the same pace to chat to for a few laps certainly helped. Incidentally you make think I’m crazy but one guy I chatted to had run 58 marathons LAST YEAR. That’s a whole other level of crazy.
What do Tigger’s like to do the most? Bouncing! What do kids like to do the most? Bouncing! What do big kids like to do the most? Bouncing! And that’s exactly what we did 2 weeks ago at a special pre launch event at the Better Extreme trampoline park Swindon. I’ve been watching them build the trampoline park over the last couple of months when I go swimming next door so when the invite appeared in my inbox to test it out I leapt at the chance (excuse the pun). I was also pretty sure my crazy little monsters would thoroughly enjoy bouncing around given how much time they spend jumping on and off beds at home.
If you’ve never come across the concept of a trampoline park before let me give you a quick overview. A trampoline park is essentially a large room where most of the floor (and some of the walls) is covered with trampolines of various sizes and shapes with thin sections of mats between them. The park in Swindon has a few different zones to it; there is a large area of smallish trampolines which are great for bouncing between, it then has 2 baskeball ‘courts’ where you can practise your slam dunks using trampolines to help you, there is a dodgeball area surrounded by nets, a raised section with a couple of trampolines that bouncy really high and finally a balance beam and slack line above a foam pit to practise your balancing.