Mutterings of a Fool

Man, Dad, Runner, Chief dog walker

Tag: preschoolers (page 1 of 2)

Grief and preschoolers

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.

Nanna and Henry

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Just one more week?

I’ve a serious case of the back to work blues tonight and I’m not even back to work for another 12 hours. The last week of holiday has been fabulous, hard and tiring at times as you would expect with 3 small children but that’s soon forgotten when you are making memories isn’t it? That’s after all what family holidays should be all about, making memories, creating those stories that you reminisce about for years to come. I know I still talk about things I did on holiday as a small child over 20 years ago and I hope Matilda and Henry will be doing the same.

We’d planned to go to the Lake District camping for 4 days after our wedding anniversary celebrations had finished which would have been awesome, but a weather forecast of heavy rain and 40 mph gusts of wind soon changed our minds. Who wants to be in a tent with 3 children and a dog in weather like that? It’s a real shame as I think we would have had an amazing time and I really wanted to be in that landscape again. Instead we did a bunch of day trips; we went to the Cotswold Farm Park (Adam’s farm for you Countryfile fans), Leigh Woods in Bristol, to the lake for a swim and bacon sandwich and then to the Cotswold Wildlife park (a big feature in both mine and the lady of the manor’s childhoods).

We had such a great week, a good mixture of visiting attractions and then low key days in the forest with Bracken along for a run around too. I also grabbed time this weekend for some daddy son and daddy daughter time with the 2 big ones; Henry and I went to the canal to look at the boats and I went to Avebury with Matilda (which is fab for kids if you haven’t been). Funny that the weather in April for our holiday was better than August but that didn’t matter, however I now want to have another 6 weeks just like the last one.

While I go off to buy a lottery ticket here’s a few photos from the past week.

Alex and Rupert

Henry by Lake 32

In Leigh Woods

Matilda and Henry feeding the horses

Matilda outside Avebury Manor

Penguins at cotswold wildlife park

Pops

 

Bracken

Matilda with a Rabbit

Repotting and rats

This is the point in the year when my enthusiasm for gardening normally wanes, the enthusiasm of Spring seems a long time ago and for the most part we have yet to reap what we have sown. However this year the enthusiasm for gardening was almost over much sooner; having spent a fun morning with the children planting loads of little pots with seeds we went away for a weeks holiday. Our neighbours kindly watered every day but unfortunately during the week a small army of mice or rats got into the greenhouse and have a veritable feast of crunchy seeds.

Some seeds did survive but quite honestly it was a massacre, I almost threw in the trowel there and then. But we regrouped and decided that it was only mid April so there was plenty of time for more seeds to grow. In they went with a few carefully positioned rat traps around the floor (which incidentally are proving quite effective).

Tomato plants

Fast forward 6 weeks and we’ve now got real signs of vegetables coming; the squashes and courgettes are planted out and have the first few flowers coming, the runner beans are rapidly running up the canes and the first green tomato has appeared. The smell of tomatoes growing in a greenhouse has to be in my top 5 smells of all time, I can’t be the only one to put my hands to my face after picking out side shoots from a tomato plant and take a big deep breath through my nose much you like you do to a babies head. Simply divine.

We’ve thankfully managed to end up with a few different varieties of tomato which I love, it makes summer salads and meals so much more interesting. There are a couple of big beef tomato plants, some cherry tomatoes, some plum shaped yellow ones and also the standard tomatoes that Heinz sent us which might even be doing the best.

All of them are now potted on to bigger pots on the ground in the greenhouse with the help of my trusty assistant and we’re trying to be diligent in picking out the side shoots and generally keeping the plants tidy and growing upwards. I swear the plants grow a couple of inches every day, the do certainly seem to shoot up at this stage don’t they?

Henry planting seeds

Now all we need to do is to remember to water them each day, plant out the beetroot, put the seedlings into bigger pots, plant some more lettuce seed and tie back the raspberries. Easy. I have loads of free time of course so shouldn’t be an issue.

How’s your growing going? What’s the biggest success so far?

A walk on the wild side

When you’re under 5 what could be more exciting than a walk along winding forest paths following a map? Throw in some activities along the way and the occasional swing to swing on, fallen tree to climb and a picnic and I think it may be close to a perfect day out. Which is why I love our National Trust membership and the way they have embraced families visiting their properties. I remember well visits to National Trust properties as a child where it seemed like every bit of grass had a ‘do not walk on’ sign and the houses were places you were told to stop making so much noise.

Botanic garden lacock

But not any more and a trip to Lacock at the weekend proved it. We’re trying to get to all the National Trust places within about an hour of where we live this year. So far we’ve been to Avebury (which is just down the road) and The Vyne so are a bit behind, but Lacock was one more ticked off with Dyrham Park lined up this week also.

We’ve visited Lacock village quite a few times as we used to live just down the road in Trowbridge but had never been in the Abbey. Most of our previous visits have involved doing the scarecrow trail around the village which happened to be on this weekend also. But I’ll be honest I find the trail a little weird as most of the scarecrows aren’t really scarecrows, the one outside the ice cream stall for example was a pink bird cut out of a cardboard box. What exactly is that?!

Rope swing Lacock forest

But I can’t believe what we were missing in the Abbey! Such beautiful gardens and they had a mad inventors trail on for the children to follow and collect stamps (what child doesn’t like collecting stamps?). All inspired by the fact that Lacock was the place where the first photographic negative was developed (who knew?!). I really don’t think anyone does family friendly quite like the National Trust, always feel so welcome and you can see lots of thought has gone into designing the gardens etc to keep them interested.

We had great fun following the paths around the gardens, trying to spot the tools that were hidden in the trees. The wild garlic carpeting the floor smelled amazing all the way around and the kids had so much fun playing on the rope swing. We then ended up in front of the Abbey around lunch time and had a fab picnic on the grass there in glorious sun. What more could you ask for?

Using a telescope at Lacock

The grounds are also just the right size for our 2, plenty of space to run around in but not too big so it’s a long trek back to the car when they’re tired out and need carrying. Although do take food with you as I don’t think there is anywhere in the grounds to buy food or drink from, but there are plenty of lovely spots for a picnic.

We’ll definitely be back to Lacock again, but maybe not until we’ve been to a few more new places. If you have any recommendations of places within an hour or so of Swindon then send them my way. I’d also love to know what you favourite National Trust property is.

Mini adventures – kite flying

Kite flying is up there with jam jar fishing when it comes to nostalgic childhood activities. I have a vivid memory flying a stunt kite with my brother when I was about 12 on a big patch of grass next to Rutland Water. We spent a fabulous hour dive bombing every person that passed within range and laughing our heads off as they ducked when the kite whooshed past their heads. How we didn’t end up causing a serious injury I’ll never know but we just feigned innocence each time someone complained and told them we’d lost control.

Now my trip out with Matilda and Henry to fly the kite they got for Christmas wasn’t quite as eventful but it was most definitely awesome. It was one of those parenting moments where you cross everything that your children enjoy it as much as you hope they will. Which rarely is the case in my experience because they can be stubborn, independent things sometimes but for once it went just as I imagined.

Henry and Matilda kite flying

We live in quite a rural area as you may have guessed from some of my photos and are very lucky that 20 metres from our front door is the perfect piece of grass to fly a kite on. We also live on the side of a hill 600ft above sea level so are rarely short of a breeze and on the day we headed out there was a good wind blowing combined with glorious blue skies. Perfect.

We have a simple kite with 1 string and lovely long tail to flap in the breeze, ideal for 2 small children who just want the thing to fly and stay up there without much effort to steer it. Which also means not too much running back and forth for me to relaunch it, although that could be a good way for me to get my training in and still play with the kids!

Matilda holding the kite

We had such fun launching the kite into the air and watching it twist and turn, the kids loved the idea of flying something high up into the sky. Despite it being quite chilly we happily spent an hour out there taking it in turns (I had to have a go of course) and trying not to get it stuck in a tree.

Matilda is now requesting her own kite which has to be in the shape of a butterfly apparently. I’m thinking we buy one of those massive kites they use for kite surfing and see if we can launch ourselves into the air. Either way kite flying is going to be a regular activity for us I think and we’ll definitely be taking a kite on our next trip to the seaside too.

Matilda kite flying

Bluestone – the home of free range holidays?

I learnt 3 things during our stay at Bluestone:

1 – It is impossible to explain to a 2.5 year old the difference between Wales and whales. He was extremely disappointed not to see any whales in the water as we crossed the bridge into Whales. Then on the way home he said “but daddy, we can’t go home we didn’t see the whales”.

2 – I’d really like to live in a wooden lodge; the accommodation at Bluestone is in the form of the classic wooden lodges and I was quite amazed at the space we had given that it was a relatively small building. 4 very large bedrooms, 3 bathrooms and an open plan living area. Change the downstairs bedroom into a playroom and the bathroom into a utility room and you’d have a pretty perfect house to live in. I love the simplicity of it and the open plan feel. Plus with the double height sitting room you could have one massive Christmas tree!

3 – family holidays are all about making memories; it’s as much about the journey as the actual destination. Which may sound a bit corny but if you ask Matilda what her favourite thing on the holiday was she’ll tell you that it was driving around in the golf buggy rather than the activity at the end of the drive.

Bluestone lodges

During our stay at Bluestone we had gales, a small tornado, hail, snow, rain and some sunshine. Yet even with this crazy weather we had a great time, although it does of course help that we’re happy to throw on our waterproofs and head out in most types of weather. The park is set in beautiful countryside and centred around a lake and small village at the bottom of a valley that contains most of the restaurants along with a few shops. This being Wales it definitely isn’t flat and going anywhere involves a few hills, worth keeping in mind if you have little ones like us or aren’t as mobile. The site is car free so we hired a golf buggy for the week to get around when we needed to travel a little further or wanted to save the kids energy for the playground.

What I liked about Bluestone was that even in the depths of January there were loads of activities on offer, most of which you can prebook before your trip if you want. I imagine that would be essential in the busy summer months but was less of a big deal for us. The activities ranged from baby sensory and messy play through to kayaking, archery and bug hunting. In fact as you can probably guess it’s the outdoor ones and more adventure type ones that appealed the most to me. However I would say that a lot of the activities are geared to older children than ours, certainly the more active ones like rock climbing or watersports. I can’t wait until Matilda is old enough to do rock climbing and the high ropes courses, we’re going to have so much fun!

Jumping in puddles

On the really wet days we went swimming and used the indoor soft play area, although we almost didn’t make it swimming as we didn’t have enough adults to meet the pool’s rules on supervision. Thankfully Ella was staying at the same time and was our extra adult. Matilda absolutely loved the flowing river that took us outside while Henry and Rupert stayed in the little pool that was just a few inches deep. Unfortunately I couldn’t indulge my big kid desire to go on the chutes this time which curl around the outside of the building.

On the Thursday we finally had a good block of sunny weather so we headed out for a stomp through the forest near camp smokey with Matilda eyeing up the zip wires across the valley. We’d only planned a short walk but ended up walking all the way down the valley to the village jumping in muddy puddles and trying not to scare all the wildlife away. We then dived into the Knights tavern for lunch just before the hail started again and for some warmth next to the log fire. I was actually quite impressed with the food in the pub, I’m definitely a bit of a food snob but the food wasn’t the mass produced chain pub food I expected and was really quite good. There are lots of mentions around the site about the use of local food and that was clear in the deserts and the tasty local ice cream!

Walking down the boardwalk at Bluestone

We definitely enjoyed our time at Bluestone but there are a couple of changes that could take the park a little closer to perfection. First none of the restaurants in the village open before 12pm, you do have the option of the shop or bakery but if you want a cooked meal 12pm is the earliest. If you have children the age of mine you want to be eating before this, or at least ordering. Given the site is set up to be family friendly I was a bit surprised at the timings. The second thing is in the lodges, they already have stair gates fitted which is great, but I’d have loved to see it go a little further. There was no child cutlery or china in the kitchen and it would be great to have a step in the bathrooms for them to use with the toilet and at the sink. Little things (literally) but they do make a difference.

The big question of course is would I go again? Yes, but is my answer. For me 5 days there was long enough; while I enjoyed not getting in the car at all during the week part of the reason I like going on holiday is to explore and discover new places. By the end of the week I was ready for a change of scenery and to see more than the parks roads etc. But if we had older children I can certainly see the attraction of having so many things for them to do, you could easily send them off each day for half a day to do a high ropes course or kayaking and then have time to yourself.

A quick stop off at Tenby on the way home to enjoy the beautiful January sun

A quick stop off at Tenby on the way home to enjoy the beautiful January sun

Blowing the cobwebs away

Sometimes you need to just get out and feel the almost gale force wind blowing through your hair, jump in some puddles and have running races with your children. We’re outdoors people, you know that already, so a few days of wet weather soon results in cabin fever. Throw in the seemingly never ending wait for a certain little baby to appear, some disrupted sleep and a cold bug and the urge to get outside becomes too much.

Tonight after dinner we put our wellies and waterproofs on and headed out for a tramp down the farm track with Bracken for some much needed fresh air. The children did their biggest jumps into the puddles, we raced with Bracken down the path, we threw crab apples for Bracken to chase and we almost got blown off our feet by the wind.

It was awesome.

Autumn sunset

Jumping in puddles

Playing in puddles

Walking with Bracken

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