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The day we met Julia…

… and Axel too

Almost twenty years ago the world was introduced to an ugly, grumpy, hungry monster known as the Gruffalo. This lovable creature (along with Mouse, Fox, Snake and Owl) was brought to life by Julia Donaldson and Axel Sheffler in what is considered to be the ‘most successful author/illustrator partnership in picture book publishing’. Adored by children and adults alike, The Gruffalo is an award-winning, modern classic and it’s protagonist has a place alongside other celebrated children’s book characters such as Paddington, Winnie-the-Pooh and Peter Rabbit. It has sold over 13 million copies and been translated into over fifty languages.

Raising Jasper (now four years old), The Gruffalo quickly became a family favourite for bedtime stories. The rhyming couplets and repetitive verse have been memorised to heart and we can’t wait to share this endearing story with baby Jules as she grows. We have read the The Gruffalo hundreds of times, enjoyed the audio book and song, seen both the film and stage production, played with Gruffalo toys, puzzles and activity books, and explored the character trail through the ‘deep dark wood’. How else could we feed our Gruffalo addition? Why, meet the creators of course!

When the opportunity arose to meet Julia Donaldson and Axel Sheffler for a book signing there was no hesitation in getting tickets for the event. On a rainy autumn morning, Jasper and I made our way to an east London children’s venue to join the queue to meet our literary heroes. They were promoting their latest book, The Ugly Five, which Julia was inspired to write after going on a safari in South Africa. Julia and Axel have collaborated on over twenty books together, but most of the families I saw at the event were having their absolute favourites signed: The Gruffalo, The Gruffalo’s Child and Stickman. We chose to have the hardback book A Treasury of Songs signed for Jasper (because he already has all their stories!) and a luxury hardback edition of The Gruffalo signed for Jules.
24a. The Day We Met Julia...
Both Julia and Axel came across as quietly-spoken and humble despite their fame. We engaged in conversation with Julia, talked about South Africa and the wild animals, while Axel was busy drawing illustrations in our books. We happened to have Jasper’s class mascot with us that weekend, so Jasper showed Colin the Camel to Julia and she suggested we take a photo of her with the mascot so we could add that to Colin’s journal [the things you have to do as a parent!].

The best part of the book signing was seeing Axel draw the Gruffalo in Jules’s book. Jasper watched in awe when, as if by magic, a few lines and squiggles quickly formed an illustration of the enchanting monster. In the innocence of youth, Jasper gasped out loud “How does Axel know how to draw the Gruffalo?”. The gentle illustrator simply replied that he had drawn the Gruffalo so many hundreds of times that he ‘could do the drawing with his eyes shut’. And just when I was starting to fear that maybe Jasper was outgrowing The Gruffalo, he held my hand and we skipped through rain puddles back to the station, clutching our precious books, chanting “A mouse took a stroll through the deep dark wood / A fox saw the mouse and the mouse looked good.”24b. The Day We Met Julia...

 

October Retrospect

October. This month just seemed to fly by, so much so that I am a little delayed with posting this Retrospect! October 2017 you brought a beautiful autumn:

  • Early in the month we made a return visit to our nearest Gruffalo Trail at Thorndon Country Park. I love woodlands in the autumn as they are a treasure trove of colourful leaves, shiny chestnuts and delicate toadstools to admire during a family walk. Combined with seeking out the familiar faces of the Gruffalo, Mouse, Fox, Snake and Owl wooden sculptures, it was a fun afternoon spent in the crisp outdoors.
  • Our home renovations are ongoing. In October we had repair and maintenance work done to the chimney stack. This work was in response to one of the more serious concerns detailed in the building survey report on the house, published when we bought the property, and which we are slowly making our way through as part of the overall house renovations. We have also had more electrical work done and continued with redecorating.
  • After a busy start to Jasper’s first term at primary school, the half term holiday in October was a welcome break from the school run and for Jasper to catch up with some of his old preschool friends. Some of these friends are still in preschool while others are now in different primary schools, but it was wonderful to see them play together as though they had never been apart since the summer. I love witnessing the bond these small people share and, as long as the grown-ups continue to help keep the connection, hopefully some may be friends for many years to come.
  • Jules is now ten months old. Since mastering crawling, she has also started ‘cruising’ and can have a go at a few steps with a baby walker for support.
  • In the run up to Halloween we attended a baby and sibling Pumpkin Party run by Jules’s Baby Sensory group leader. It was good fun to get the children dressed up and for them to enjoy an afternoon of music, singing, lights, bubbles and other sensory activities. Jasper had attended this group as a baby too, so in some ways it was a sentimental journey back for him.
  • To conclude the month we enjoyed Halloween. Although I never celebrated this as a child in South Africa (read more here), this has become one of my favourite times of the year. Jasper loves the spookiness too and was my little helper when it came to decorating the house and carving our pumpkins. Dressed as a scary knight, and me as a black cat, Jasper joined one of his preschool friends for their first time trick-or-treating. It is definitely a growing tradition here in the UK and our neighbourhood was full of families enjoying the novelty of dressing up, going out in the dark and spotting which houses (lit by pumpkin lanterns) had sweets to share out.

24a. October Retrospect

 

Incantation: a Poem for Halloween

Last night, the waxing crescent moon shone eerily through a veil of cloud and I felt a chill of excitement for this time of year. As we ready ourselves for Halloween, the clocks fall back and autumn will creep into the darkness of November. There is magic in the air and it tempts our senses with the fiery, fallen leaves that crunch underfoot on chilly mornings and the tickles of woodsmoke in the twinkling twilight.

My sister and I were quite ghoulish children. We enjoyed spooky tales and frightening films. As a teenager, I read so many horror thrillers that our village librarian, fearing for my taste in the gruesome, had to have words with my mother. I don’t like gore, but I enjoy suspense and mystery. I believe in signs and spirits, but try not to be superstitious. Growing up in South Africa we never really celebrated Halloween. There it is now late spring which brings the brightness of warmer weather and longer days. My family have also suffered a great loss at this time of year, and for a long time after it didn’t seem appropriate to indulge in the macabre.

Now I enjoy celebrating Halloween with my husband and children – we decorate the house with fake cobwebs and skeletons, carve pumpkins into lanterns, dress up in cute costumes and watch The Addams Family and Sleepy Hollow on repeat.

I recently discovered this atmospheric poem by American novelist and poet George Parsons Lathrop (1851 – 1898). I think it is a perfect ode to this time of year. Below is an excerpt which I hope you will enjoy. Happy Halloween!


Incantation
, George Parsons Lathrop

When the leaves, by thousands thinned,
A thousand times have whirled in the wind,
And the moon, with hollow cheek,
Staring from her hollow height,
Consolation seems to seek
From the dim, reechoing night;
And the fog-streaks dead and white
Lie like ghosts of lost delight
O’er highest earth and lowest sky;
Then, Autumn, work thy witchery!

Baby Essentials Part I

10 Must-Have Items for Babies 0-6 Months*

Bringing a newborn home for a second time was a surreal experience. I felt confident but in no way prepared for life with two small people. Many newborn parenting skills came back to me very naturally – how to change a nappy, how to operate the electric steriliser and the best ways to help release baby’s trapped wind.

There were, however, many things I had forgotten in the three and a half years since my first child was a newborn. The sleep deprivation – oh, I had forgotten just how awful it makes you feel. And how to fit the infant car seat or collapse the pushchair. I had also forgotten just how much baby ‘stuff’ there is on the market. So much of what was considered a ‘must-have’ several years ago has been usurped by something bigger, better and seemingly more expensive.

My sister is expecting her first child soon and so has been quizzing me for the must-have items I would recommend for a newborn. After bringing home a second baby, my list has been streamlined down to things I really couldn’t have survived the first six months without.

* I have purposely not listed essential items such as nappies and baby toiletries, cots and cribs, feeding and sterilisers, prams and car seats because there are so many options available for each of these categories and your choice may be driven by budget, convenience, availability and/or personal ethos. As babies change and develop so quickly from 6 months onwards, I plan to write a separate blog post on my must-have items for an older baby.

This blog post is not written in affiliation with any brands – where a product is listed by brand it is because I, as a consumer, genuinely love it. 

1.  Thermometers
Being a parent to a newborn is exhausting. Investing in thermometers will help build your confidence in caring for your baby, and give you one (or in this case, three) less things to worry about:-
Room thermometer – the safest room temperature for a newborn baby is between 16-20°C. A digital room thermometer accurately records and updates this information so you can see at a glance if you need to add or remove layers of clothing on your baby. My first child was born in a heatwave, and using a digital room thermometer helped me to appreciate just how quickly a room can heat up and cool down in extreme weather.
Bath thermometer – a simple bath thermometer is brilliant for gauging if the water is too hot or cold for baby. Many come in fun shapes which can also be used as bath toys. As the ideal bath water temperature for babies is similar to our body temperature, I find a bath thermometer is the safest way I can check this.
Digital thermometer – this should be an absolute must-have item in your home as a baby with a raised body temperature can so quickly turn feverish, which requires immediate attention and monitoring. A digital thermometer should give you an accurate body temperature reading, and they are available in several different types depending on your budget.

2. Babygros
The trusty babygro is a must-have item for all babies – in the sleep-deprived newborn days, making a baby fashion statement will not be high on your agenda. There is nothing cuter than a baby in a onesie and they are incredibly dispensable (especially when a poo-nami strikes at 2am):-
Bodysuit – for new parents, this simple item of clothing is the keystone from which you can build your baby’s wardrobe. Bodysuits come in different variations – cap-sleeved, sleeveless, long-sleeved, patterned or plain. For summer babies, a cotton bodysuit may be all the clothing they need to stay cool in the heat. In winter, a bodysuit is excellent as a base layer to keep little chests and arms warm. The best bit about bodysuits is that they add a layer of defence against the inevitable poop explosion. Then, instead of wrangling a soiled bodysuit over baby’s head, stretch it over her shoulders and pull it down and off  – et voilà!
Sleepsuit – a close relative of the bodysuit, a baby sleepsuit is not just for bedtime. Sleepsuits with built-in scratch mitts are brilliant for newborn babies to wear day and night. They are also super comfortable for baby as they have no waistband and thus don’t put pressure on windy tummies.

3. Baby Sleep Bag
With a newborn baby, one of my biggest fears has been SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). The thought of one of my babies wriggling down beneath the bed covers, potentially suffocating or overheating, was enough incentive for me to to put them in a baby sleep bag at bedtime. The Gro Company was one of the early pioneers of the baby sleep bag in the UK and I love their products. They have worked with The Lullaby Trust to design and produce great quality baby sleep bags and promote safer sleep practices. Using a baby sleep bag, together with monitoring your baby’s room temperature (see Item 1), can help to reduce the risk of SIDS. Both my children have loved using sleep bags; making them feel safe and cocooned.

4. Muslin Cloths
Whether your newborn baby delicately possets or full-on projectile vomits after a feed, the humble muslin cloth is your friend when used as a burp cloth. They are easy to wash and dry, and offer a myriad of other uses. An extra-large muslin cloth can be really useful as a lightweight cover in hot weather or as a makeshift picnic blanket on days out.

5. Baby Bouncer
When my second baby outgrew her baby bouncer chair I wept because it had been one of our best baby buys. It was bought when my first baby was born, then stored away, and reloved when our second arrived. A simple, vibrating bouncer chair is a lifesaver for new parents. Cuddle and snuggle your newborn as much as you can, but there does comes a time when you will need to put the baby down in a safe place so you can a) use the bathroom, b) make a cup of tea, c) have a shower or d) all of the above. In addition, the gentle vibration settings are brilliant for calming a fractious baby if nothing else seems to work.

6. Baby Monitor
Like the baby bouncer (see Item 5), a baby monitor is another tool to help new parents regain a bit of normality and order in their lives. A baby monitor, preferably one with audio visual settings and a long distance range, can give you the confidence to put your baby down to sleep in the bedroom while you may be in another part of the house. Our baby monitor has been reloved with the arrival of our second baby. It has also been easy and compact enough to pack up and take on holiday with us. It offers such peace of mind for new and experienced parents alike.

7. Blackout Blind
For the first couple of weeks, your newborn baby won’t know the difference between day and night. She will probably sleep during the day and be awake at night. However, her natural body cycle will start to develop and this can be encouraged by creating a stark contrast between day and night. During the day fill your rooms with natural light, be chatty, play music and engage in lots of eye contact with your baby. Then at night time, make your room as dark as possible, whisper and sing lullabies to your baby. My son was born in the height of summer and he also suffered terribly from colic. By using a blackout blind in the bedroom, we were able to shut out the daylight in the evening and this would help calm and settle him into a nighttime routine. A portable blackout blind, which attaches to the window with suction cups, is invaluable for the long sunny evenings of the summer months and to take on holiday too.

8. Buggy Clips
Attached to baby’s pram, a large buggy clip is so useful for keeping items nearby rather than in the basket underneath the pram/pushchair. I have found that using two large clips is even better for distributing a bag’s weight across the handle of the pram. If you’re making a quick grocery shop, the two buggy clips are also great for carrying a two-handled shopping basket while you push the pram. Make the most of your days with a pram or pushchair and save your arms from carrying too much – get a buggy clip (or two) to carry your bags!

9. Sensory Baby Toys
It is never too early to start engaging your newborn baby in sensory play. Stimulating baby’s senses can enhance their development and offers a wonderful way in which all family members can bond with baby. My go-to brand for baby sensory toys is Lamaze. They offer a fantastic array of characters and types of sensory toys which are durable and have become my babies’ favourites. Many sensory toys provide black & white or bold patterns to stimulate baby’s eyes, crinkly fabric or squeakers to engage their touch and hearing, and textured teething rings for baby to pull on and mouth. A lot of sensory toys play music or songs, which babies love as they learn to recognise familiar phrases and melodies. Some toys also provide baby-safe mirrors to engage baby and help build their self-confidence. A simple, textured baby book provides sensory stimulation and can nurture a future love of books and reading. You don’t need to spend a lot on sensory toys as each usually provides multiple sensory activities in one item. You can also try recreate many sensory-stimulating activities at home using basic items safe for baby.

10. First Aid Training
Although you hope to never have to use it, at least one parent or carer in your household should receive baby and child first aid training (ideally before baby arrives). No matter what your budget is in preparing for baby, the cost of a first aid course should be factored in. The British Red Cross offers a day course in baby and child first aid, as do many other organisations and private trainers. Download the British Red Cross Baby and Child First Aid app to your smart phone and always have advice at hand.

I really hope you have found this list of must-have items, for a 0 – 6 month old baby, useful. I would love your feedback on the things I have selected as baby essentials – do you agree, or are there other items you would suggest to new parents?

 
Bumps & Babies Linky: http://www.letstalkmommy.com

September Retrospect

September. A new chapter, a new season. September 2017 you have been exciting and utterly exhausting:

  • At the start of the month we attended Jasper’s preschool graduation. It was a sweet celebration of friendship and childhood development. Each graduate was presented with a gown, cap and memory book. They enjoyed party food, games and music before ending the graduation with a tear-jerking farewell song.
  • I took Jasper and Jules to visit the Walala X Play installation at Greenwich Peninsula in London (one of  digital artist Camille Walala’s latest creations). It was a fun indoor maze of bright colours, bold patterns and mirrors. Both children loved it and we managed to capture some fun photos against the striking labyrinth.
  • In September, Jasper started attending a local rugby club for young children. Despite the early start on Sunday mornings, we have enjoyed taking him to to play tag rugby and to see his enthusiasm for this sport grow.
  • The big news from September is that Jasper started primary school. His first day of Reception was an emotional one for all of us. He looked so cute in his new school uniform – a crisp, white shirt, shiny shoes and trousers too big for his tiny waist. As we anxiously waited with other families at the school gate, I just wanted to pick Jasper up into my arms and never let him go. He is so young, only just recently turned four, and this seemed like such a big leap for my little boy. The induction weeks were exhausting but had their place as Jasper seems to have settled into school life really well. I plan to write a blog post about this experience after the first half term holiday.
  • Jules is now nine months old. She is confident in crawling and sitting on her own, and is trying hard to pull herself up to start ‘cruising’. She and I have resumed Baby Sensory classes for the autumn. They provide us with a special bonding time and a chance for Jules to interact with other babies her age.
  • Jasper also started swimming lessons this month. He attended baby swimming classes when he was about six months old but just used to freak out about being in the water. I didn’t like seeing him so distressed, so we never returned to the lessons after the first term. After researching a lot about teaching young children to swim, and the dangers of secondary drowning, we decided to wait until Jasper was confident enough to undertake swimming lessons in a more structured format. At his first lesson this month he waved goodbye to me at the pool gate and, as I watched him from a distance, he climbed into the training pool and had a really positive experience. I am so, so proud of him and hope his confidence grows every week with each new lesson.
  • As if we didn’t have enough going on in our lives at the moment (work, raising a young family, home renovations), we are now the proud custodians of an enormous plot in the allotments behind our home. We thought we would have to wait several years before a free plot became available, but now we have been offered a somewhat neglected piece of land in which to plant and harvest our own fruit and vegetables. It is going to take a lot of work to clear the overgrown plot over the winter, ready for the spring planting season, but we have a vision to help keep us motivated.

What has your September been like? Was it back-to-school for your family, or maybe you have enjoyed the return of spring from the other side of the world to us. I love to hear from readers of my blog, so please get in touch or follow us on Facebook and Instagram.

21a. September Retrospect

 

August Retrospect

August. Busy, busy August. The last of our summer months has sped by so fast that I’m a little delayed with publishing this piece. August 2017 you have been bittersweet:

  • This month has been dominated by continuing house renovations. We have unearthed several issues during the work which means slow progress, but we have completed a lot of the major structural repairs and are now close to starting redecorating.
  • Midway through August we enjoyed a family day out to the seaside at Broadstairs in Kent. The weather was just perfect for a day on the beach – to feel the sand in our toes and the warm sun on our skin.  No trip to the seaside would be complete without ice cream, which we enjoyed at the delightfully [authentically] retro Morelli’s ice cream parlour overlooking Viking Bay.
  • We co-hosted a family picnic at a local country park for graduates and friends from Jasper’s preschool. It was such a lovely opportunity for the children to play together and for us to celebrate these first friendships of their young lives.
  • Jasper took part in the 2017 Summer Reading Challenge. This is a national UK event held by local libraries every August to encourage children to continue reading during the summer holidays. For young children, the challenge involves giving six verbal book reviews to library staff to receive stickers for their activity packs and to qualify for a certificate and medal (which will be presented by the child’s school in the autumn term). I plan to write a blog post about the Summer Reading Challenge at a later date.
  • Baby Jules is now eight months old. She is more active than ever – rolling over and crouching up all ready to start crawling. She claps her hands and continues to express dance and music appreciation in her own special way.
  • In South Africa, my father celebrated his 70th birthday. He and family travelled to the Western Cape to visit wine farms and view the phenomenon of Cape wild flowers in bloom following the winter rains.
  • Jasper had his final day at nursery/preschool at the end of August. For me, this has been an emotional time reflecting on the past three and bit years he has spent at this special home away from home (read more here). I am denial that he will be starting primary school in September as it seems like only yesterday he was born.20a. August Retrospect

From Baby to Boy

Dear Jasper

Today is your last day of nursery/preschool. For the past three and a bit years this has been your home away from home. It has been a place to feel happy, safe and supported. A place to learn, make friends and grow.

A couple of days before your first birthday, Mama and Daddy carried you into nursery for your first ‘settling in’ session. It was only for an hour, while we filled out forms and discussed your home routines, but it felt like an eternity as it was the first time we had handed our baby over to strangers. You cried to be away from us. We felt guilty and sad to be leaving you in an unfamiliar place. But soon, after a few more induction sessions, you started recognising the faces of adults you could trust and children you now call friends.

The women who have cared for you there have become such familiar faces that they feel like family. You rush to them in the morning with smiles, laughter and cuddles. These women have changed your nappy and then encouraged you in your toilet training. They have fed you bottles, then helped you to feed yourself. They have read hundreds of stories to you and settled you down to sleep. These women have picked you up when you’ve fallen and comforted you at times you have not been well. They have taught you new words, numbers and how to write your own name. They have given you space to get messy, cover yourself in glitter and jump in rain puddles. Importantly, these women have given me the opportunity to return to work after becoming a mother. These wonderful women have helped raise you.

You have flourished at nursery/preschool. Your outgoing personality has shone and you have made many friends. With each quarterly review meeting at nursery, we have delighted in hearing about your kindness to others, your excellence at language and communication, and your interest in numeracy and understanding how things work. Your love of books spread from home to nursery – the Book Corner has been your special place for a bit of calm in an otherwise busy and exciting day with friends.

While at nursery you have enjoyed days out to zoos and wildlife parks, woodland trails, local shops and the park. You have had endless fun at nursery Christmas parties, fetes, Halloween and other dress-up occasions. We love all the artwork and creations you have brought home with you. This has been such a special experience as you’ve grown from a baby into a boy.

For me, saying goodbye to your nursery/preschool is an emotional time. This is a place I have come to trust in caring for you completely. Sometimes, on busy days at work, I have barely thought of you as I know you have been looked after by people who genuinely love you.

You starting primary school in September will be a whole new learning curve for us as a family. New routines, new demands, new friends and new trust. I know you are sad to say goodbye today, but your excitement for starting ‘big school’ means you are ready to make the next jump in your development. I am so proud of you.

Love you always,
Mama x

The Naming of Cats

Today is International Cat Day and, as I am a life member of the ‘Crazy Cat Lady Club’, I couldn’t resist celebrating the domestic cat with this poem from T.S. Eliot (1885 – 1965). The poem is from his book Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, which was adapted by Andrew Lloyd Webber into the stage musical Cats.

Cats have been been a big part of my life since birth. Our family would not have been complete without all the wonderful cats of my childhood. The featured image of this post is of my beloved Matilda. She chose me in 1997 when I was still a schoolgirl. Matilda was so beautiful, intelligent and characterful. She took a big piece of my heart with her when she passed away a couple of years ago. Now I have sweet, fluffy Georgia in my life and my children adore her – in fact, Jasper’s first word was ‘cat’! Our house would not be home without her.

I love this poem because I think I have a secret talent of bestowing awesome names on our cats. However, we always seem to call our cats by their nicknames which does bring them closer to us and makes them part of the family . This is for you ‘Tilly’, my beautiful Matilda, I miss you so much.


The Naming of Cats
, T.S. Eliot

All of them sensible everyday names.
There are fancier names if you think they sound sweeter,
Some for the gentlemen, some for the dames:
Such as Plato, Admetus, Electra, Demeter–
But all of them sensible everyday names.
But I tell you, a cat needs a name that’s particular,
A name that’s peculiar, and more dignified,
Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular,
Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?
Of names of this kind, I can give you a quorum,
Such as Munkustrap, Quaxo, or Coricopat,
Such as Bombalurina, or else Jellylorum-
Names that never belong to more than one cat.
But above and beyond there’s still one name left over,
And that is the name that you never will guess;
The name that no human research can discover–
But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.
When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Effanineffable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name.

 

July Retrospect

July. Slow, rainy July. After all the fun and adventures we enjoyed in the spring and early summer, July has been a more subdued month for us:

  • In early July we celebrated Jasper’s fourth birthday. He was very excited about reaching this age, but for me it was a bittersweet milestone as it feels like there has been a big jump in his growth and development (read more here). As we were not long back from South Africa, and busy with house renovations, we didn’t plan much more then a small birthday tea party for Jasper to enjoy with our nearby family.
  • This month we have been preparing for Jasper’s start at primary school (which will be from September). He really enjoyed the casual induction / stay ‘n play session with his soon-to-be teacher and classmates. We have also bought his school uniform ready for the all important first day of school.
  • Baby Jules is now seven months old. She is sitting well and can roll over from her back onto her tummy. She is undecided about solid food, but does have some favourite first tastes (sweet potato and yogurt).
  • This month we have mostly be busy with our house renovations. We anticipate the repairs, improvements and redecoration in the majority of rooms will last another few months. By then we hope to unpack more of our boxes and for the house to feel a bit more like our home.

17a. July Retrospect

Awesome uShaka: Holiday Highlight

In May and June we enjoyed family time in South Africa (read more here). One of the highlights of the trip was a visit to uShaka Marine World and uShaka Beach in the city of Durban. We have visited here several times before, and it remains one of my favourite aquariums in the world.

Ushaka Marine World opened in 2004 after large investment and development to the Point Waterfront area of Durban (in the KwaZulu-Natal region of South Africa). Since then the area has developed into a world class attraction for locals and tourists. Aside from the beach and aquarium, the uShaka complex includes a water park, restaurants, shops and entertainment.16a. Awesome uShakaThe aquarium itself plays a serious part in marine education and conservation. It is home to over 300 different species of sea life, particularly those from the nearby Indian Ocean. It is the largest aquarium in the Southern Hemisphere, with 500 meters of viewing tanks set underground within a faux shipwreck.

There is so much here for the whole family to enjoy. Aside from the aquarium and water park, entry also includes dolphin and seal shows. For an additional fee you could get closer to the marine animals by feeding the fish, ‘walking’ the lagoon floor or taking part in a shark cage experience. However this time, with two small children in tow, we concentrated purely on the aquarium viewing galleries. This provided more than enough to see and enjoy over a few hours.

16b. Awesome uShakaI love the attention to detail in the design and layout of the underground viewing galleries. The ‘shipwreck’ is not entirely lost to the deep blue of the Indian Ocean – in some galleries the distant sound of a gramophone playing makes you feel that this could perhaps be a phantom ship, and that its passengers were not long drinking from the fine china teacups around which deadly spinefish now swim.

The atmosphere is totally immersive and it is very easy to lose track of time within the labyrinth of the creaking old ship. The shark tank is large with brilliant viewing from several angles, and the close encounter with huge turtles and rays is exciting for both adults and children.

16c. Awesome uShakaWe also enjoyed seeing the African penguins and a sneak peak at the dolphins splashing about in their pool. The aquarium is located right on the splendid uShaka beach. We returned the following day to enjoy some beach time on a beautiful, sunny autumn day – to make sandcastles and dip our toes in the warm Indian Ocean.

If you plan on visiting South Africa I can highly recommend that you stay in the KwaZulu-Natal region. Durban is fun, vibrant and offers many family activities. uShaka Marine World and uShaka beach are our holiday highlight from this special city.16d. Awesome uShaka

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life with a Second Child

Six and half months ago we were celebrating our first Christmas as a foursome. How different it was from our previous festivities. Baby Jules was only a couple of days old, and I was utterly exhausted and in terrible pain. Trying to make the day magical and special for young Jasper was difficult, and I felt stretched beyond anything I had felt before.

I have previously written about the steep learning curve I’ve experienced in my parenting since Jules’s arrival (read more here). I am continuing to learn, and there are many things I now know to be true. Once a trio, ‘the three musketeers’, our family unit was a triangle – each of us a point with the ability to reach out and always touch the other two points. Now we are sides of a square and, in our foursome, stretched to the edges. But we do feel like a team, a puzzle with it’s missing piece found, and I love that about our little unit.

These are my 12 facts of life since we have welcomed a second child to our family. Over time, as the kids get older, I am sure many of these feelings and emotions will have changed. But for now, with a six month old and a four year old, we are still finding our way. These are how things currently stand – the good, the bad and the ugly:


1. 
Exhaustion
Nothing in life prepares you for the exhaustion of parenthood. It is relentless. You never get a vacay from the tiredness you experience while raising small people. Even if you’re lucky enough to have a support system nearby, and have some time away from your kids, the tiredness is so deep that it would take years of hibernation to undo the damage. With a second child in the family, my exhaustion has more than doubled. Weird maths, but true.


2. Time 

Much like the speed at which the pregnancy of our second child passed, time has flashed by like lightening since her arrival. It was only yesterday that Jules was born. Now she is sitting and feeding on solids. Where did the last six months just go? How do we slow down time? There never seem to be enough hours in the day because life is now running on overdrive.


3. Money
Or lack there of… raising a child costs a lot of money. Raising a second child costs even more money. Factor in nursery fees, after-school clubs, groceries, household bills, insurance, transport costs, children’s clothing and there is not much left at the end of each month. We never take for granted that we have a lot more than millions of people around the world. We have jobs and a new home. We have love and we have each other. These are our treasures.


4. Social Life
Like many of my friends before me, since having kids my social engagements have declined. Items 1, 2 and 3 above are mostly to blame for this, but I have also found that many of my urban friends have moved further afield to accommodate their families. The arrival of the second child seems to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back – sadly, I have lost touch with some friends since the expansion of our families. Like so many parents, for now, we get our social kicks through the birthday parties, parent evenings and club gatherings of our children. Whoop! Whoop! 


5. Housework

We have always tried to keep a clean and tidy home, but small people create A LOT of mess. Since having a second child, I am now embracing the chaos. I have to appreciate that the whole house will never be clean all at the same time, and can only dream of a cleaning service coming in to do the job for us. Some days the bathroom might get cleaned, but the bedrooms may not have been dusted for a while. The laundry pile never seems to end and often it can take a couple of days just to wash, dry, fold and put a load of laundry away. It is a never ending cycle. Fact.


6. Preparation
If you plan on leaving the house, with small children, before midday then you have to plan ahead and be prepared. Sadly, impromptu trips out for the whole family are on the decline because it takes us so long to get everyone ready and out the house. However, if we are prepared then we can pack change bags and snacks the night before, lay clothes out for the morning and hurry our breakfast to enjoy a day out together. With the start of Jasper’s schooling fast approaching, this is something we’re going to have to practice to ensure we make the school run on time!


7. Older Child
With a new baby in the family, it is only natural to expect their sibling to be a bit more mature and responsible. This seems unfair as the older child may still be little and need the same love and attention as before. I have, however, found that Jasper has relished being a ‘big brother’ and will happily be my helper. He beams with pride at his little sister, and loves it when we tell him stories about what he used to do when he was a baby. Jasper does have moments when the immaturity of his age shows through and, with two children, that is when the days feel longer and more exhausting.


8. TV
I hate to admit it, but the TV has become our friend these past few months. We laugh now when we think how strict we were with allowing Jasper to watch a little bit of TV only once he had turned a year old. We are still tight on how much screen time he can have, but the reality is that we have a new addition and she is mesmerised when the TV goes on for her brother. So, sometimes we let Jules watch TV too and this is usually a very productive bit of time for me to cook a meal or have a tidy up.  I am not ashamed to admit this and I am pretty sure the little bit of TV she watches is not stunting the development of her infant brain.


9.
 Multitasking
 I will admit that I have always been a pretty good at doing several things at the same time. My job involves coordination of a lot of different projects and activities simultaneously. However, since becoming a mum of two, and currently on maternity leave, I have become the Swiss Army Knife of multitaskers. There is nothing like having two children demanding different things at the same time to exercise this new super power!


10. Preloved
Although I am the oldest of two children, I am no stranger to hand-me-down items as I used to get a lot of great stuff passed down from my older cousins. Often people sympathise for the second child because they don’t get as spoiled as the first child did. However this is my case for embracing preloved items and why we shouldn’t always feel sorry for the second child:
(a) Jules was born in the opposite season to Jasper so we dressed her in what saved newborn clothes we could, but since those first few weeks she has pretty much had her own wardrobe of new clothes to suit the weather and her gender.
(b) We have saved lots of money by keeping most of Jasper’s baby toys. We recently unwrapped a box of six-month+ toys which we had stashed away after Jasper had outgrown them. I tell you, it was like Christmas morning {in July} in our house – both kids were so excited and Jasper has spent more time playing with the forgotten baby toys than he has with his recent birthday toys!


11. Version 2.0
Becoming a mum for the second time has made me an improved version of myself. I find that I am more confident in my parenting skills and decisions. I am a little more streetwise – I often venture out with the baby WITHOUT her change bag as I now know that babies don’t poop their nappies all the time, nor do they need constant feeding once they have settled into a routine. I have become more fierce (as in Beyoncé fierce). I am no longer a ‘yes’ person. I voice my opinions more often. I am more emotional yet feel more grounded. I would go to the ends of the earth to protect my children. I admit that sometimes I am a sh*t mother, but mostly I am a devoted mother and doing the best I can with what I have.


12. Love
When I was pregnant with Jules I was so worried that I wouldn’t, or couldn’t, love this second child as much as I loved Jasper. My son holds a great, big chunk of my heart and I was concerned that I wouldn’t have much more to give away to another child. But from the moment Jules was born I fell so in love with my girl child. The greatest thing about becoming a mama again is that the heart expands so that all your babies receive great and equal love. This is magical and mysterious, but truly amazing to experience. I am also witness to the adoring love between Jasper and Jules. As young siblings they have a bond that is already as strong as chains. It confirms that our decision to expand our family was right for us. We wanted to give Jasper a sibling, a friend for life, a partner in crime. We wanted to become a foursome. Life is exhausting, at times really tough, but with this love it is good.

 

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Now You are Four

Dear Jasper

Today is your birthday – now you are four. Ever since your best friend turned four, last November, you have been desperate to reach this milestone too. Now you can celebrate and rejoice at being this special age.

It feels like a big jump – from three to four years of age – bigger than your previous birthdays. You have experienced so much change in the last twelve months. This time last year we told you that you were going to become a big brother, and following that you have had to deal with the arrival of your little sister, moving home and preparing to start primary school.

Perhaps it is because Mama and Daddy have been so busy with all of these things (and more) that we have blinked and suddenly our chatty, baby-faced, innocent little toddler has morphed into the tall, lean, lovely boy you are today. You are still as talkative as ever, but now you discuss more serious things like monsters, superheroes, blood, bones and even death. You continue to have the energy of the Duracell Bunny and perpetually exhaust us with your bounciness. Your love for books is ever strong, but now you are so interested in how to spell and sound out words that I know it won’t be long before you learn to read. You have also developed a love of tools and an inquisitive mind about how things work or can be fixed – I am convinced that you may follow the path of your maternal grandfather and great-grandfather and might be an engineer one day.

Your social skills amaze me – you are much more bold and outgoing than Mama and Daddy.  You engage with everyone you meet and have a large circle of friends at preschool. You are a genuinely kind soul – you always champion little people, and have often been praised at nursery/preschool for being so caring and friendly to the younger children and your peers. Because of this quality, your baby sister instantly fell in love with you and always beams a big smile when she sees you or can hear your voice. You are strong, handsome and your eyes melt hearts – pools of denim blue I could stare into forever.

We may not have spent much time together (just me and you) this past year – wedged by the demands of your infant sister – and for that I am sorry, my darling. Even when I feel so exhausted from your endless energy, or your constant chatter is driving me insane, you will always be my precious boy and I will support, love and encourage you in everything you want to achieve in life. In turn, I know that you will be my fearless protector and loyal son for all my life.

You are the gift that made me a mother and that is why I celebrate your birthday each year with much pride and happiness. I cannot believe that just four years ago you came into our lives – sometimes it is hard to remember what life was like without you.  Always stay as lovely as you are today, no matter how many candles may be on your cake.

Love you always, Mama x