Saturday, 25 March 2017

On our first Mother's Day

I don't have much time these days, to write as I'd like, so I'll try to keep this short. But i wanted to write this to you, Sarah, on our first Mother's Day.

Dear my beautiful wife,

I remember so clearly on the day i met you, nearly 13 years ago, how much i knew i wanted to have children with you. I fell in love at first sight, i knew it was you, and i knew one day you would be the mother of my children. I remember i told you all this too, you laughed and told me you'd sell the baby on eBay.

As the years went by i told you, in those beautiful nights where we had nothing else to do but to lie in each others arms and talk about our dreams, that my dream was to become a mother. In fact, I'd never wanted anything else in the world as much as I wanted that. Gradually you started to dream of it too, of our future, not just us, but a little person or two too. Our conversations started to begin with "when we have a baby" and "can you imagine when..." And it was always of the 3 of us, or 4 of us, out on an adventure somewhere. Seeing the world as a family, proudly showing off what we know to our little ones.

The journey to our baby was long and at times difficult, but you were my rock. I will never be able to thank you enough for the way you took care of me through the arduous IVF process and then the physically and emotionally difficult pregnancy. It was one of the toughest times of my life, made only easier because you were by my side. There are wonderful memories in there too. The first time you felt our baby kick, that will stay with me forever, finding out he was a boy, celebrating my 30th birthday with him in my tummy, even those long days i spent in hospital, each and every day was made a hundred times more beautiful because we were together, we made the journey our own.

It was single handedly the most beautiful moment of my life, compared only with the moment you became my wife, that moment that our son was placed in to your top in the operating theatre. Right there, on the day you became a mother, something changed in you. I can describe what, or how, but your eyes shine differently now, your smile is so full of even more love. The way you look at life, the way you handle things, it's different now. He changed you, and it's beautiful.

As our son has grown i have seen you question your role in many ways. You are his mother but you aren't with him all day like i am. When he is sad or tired he wants me to comfort him (let's be clear, he wants to breastfeed, he doesn't want me!). You are not the same but you are equal. You are not a father but a mother. A non- carrying mother, a non-bio mother. But you have made motherhood your own and i am so in awe of that. Our son has a smile that is only for you. He laughs with you in a way i have never heard in any other moment of his life. He is fascinated by you, he follows you with his eyes wherever you go, he reaches out to you for you to hold him in your arms. It is clear to see that he already adores every little thing about you. And it's clear to see that you are two peas in a pod. Not only does he look like you, but he likes the things you do, he smiles with your smile, he giggles at the things you find funny too, and he has so much of your personality. Your DNA may not have created him, but your love did, so don't ever ever underestimate the strength of that in him. He is half of you as much as he is half of me.

I don't pretend that your role in all of this is easy. You work longer and harder than you ever have before to give me the gift of being at home with our son, and you will never know how grateful I am to you for that. You gave me my dream, and continue to do so each and every day. You will never, ever realise how much that means to me. And then you come home and have to pick up motherhood where you left off that morning. It's not easy to go to a job knowing you will miss a large part of your son's day, but you do it because you love us. And because of you we live in a beautiful home, surrounded by beautiful things, and more love than we could ever know what to do with. You are a superwoman.

So, on our first Mother's Day i want to thank you. For being you, for being not only the kind, strong, courageous, determined and beautiful woman i married, but now in addition, the patient, funny, imaginative, loving and generous mother you are. I am very lucky to have you, but more than anything, Oskar is so very lucky that he gets to call you Mommy. We love you.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Our 1st family holiday - Bluestone Wales

This week was a week we had looked forward to for months and months, our first holiday as a family of 3. It's no secret that we have a love of travel, and have always longed to have a child to explore the world with and pass on our sense of wonder and adventure, so it felt that at 9 months of age, our first trip with Oskar was long overdue.

When looking for where to visit first, we wanted somewhere that was fairly easy to get to, didn't cost the earth, and was child friendly, meaning we wouldnt have to pack up the contents of our house in order to make sure there was everything Oskar might need. With this in mind, we were intrigued when a friend of ours mentioned she had visited Bluestone with her sister and nephew recently, and suggested we check it out. Bluestone is in Pembrokeshire National Park, Wales. It has a similar feel to it as Centre Parcs, in that accommodation is in lodges or cabins around the park, with a central village with shops and restaurants, a swimming pool and indoor adventure centre. Cars are not permitted to enter the grounds apart from on Mondays and Fridays, and there are organised activities which you can partake in as much or as little as you want. And there's a spa, for a bit of child free relaxation too. More than anything we wanted somewhere beautiful, that we could take long walks and enjoy the outdoors, and could have some time together, just the three of us. Bluestone seemed to tick all the boxes, so we booked and waited for Monday 13th March to roll around.

On Monday we got up early and headed off in the car, leaving around 11am. We knew we would want to stop off for lunch on the way, and let Oskar have a bit of time out of his car seat, so planned to stop off at a place we have been to before, just off the M5 in Gloucester, where we were able to have some lunch and spend a bit of time out in the glorious March sunshine. With full tummies we headed back on the road and finally reached out destination around 4pm. Oskar was an absolute superstar and despite being in his car seat for longer than he has ever been before, spent the whole time either napping or chatting, giggling and playing happily.

Upon arrival we waited in the long check in line and were given our keys and a map of the park. It was a funny feeling, entering a village designed solely for people on holiday, as we have never visited anywhere like that before, but it was big, and beautiful, and we quickly found our cottage and home for the next 5 days. After unloading and taking the car back to the designated car park, we headed out for a walk around the lake nearby. It was going dark, there were bats flying overhead, and we were immediately struck by how peaceful and tranquil everywhere felt.

Waking up on Tuesday was really peaceful, all 3 of us in the same bed after a good night's sleep. Bluestone provide a travel cot but Oskar is used to sleeping right next to us in an attached co-sleeper cot so it was easier all round for him just to sleep in bed with us. We decided we would take him swimming in the morning and venture out in the afternoon.

We haven't taken him swimming more than a handful of times, so initially he seemed unsure. He clung on to Sarah as she lowered him in to the water, but before long was splashing around and enjoying the freedom of the warm water around him. The Blue Lagoon offers both a full size beach type pool and a smaller toddler pool, a lazy river, two slides, and a variety of water based games such as fountains and rock pools. After an hour or so we all got out and showered and headed back to the village area for lunch at the coffee shop.

In the afternoon we visited Bosherston Lakes, a National Trust site which has beautiful freshwater lakes, gorgeous mountains and the most spectacular views. It was only a 20 minute drive from Bluestone and very well worth the visit. With Oskar secured snugly in his sling, we set off. The views were incredible and the long walk was peaceful and very much enjoyed by us all. We always say that I love water and Sarah loves the trees, so this was a perfect mix of the two. Oskar just loves singing at the top of his voice as he took in the sights all around us! After a busy day, dinner and an early night was welcomed by us all.

Wednesday morning started out just the same, swimming! This time Oskar found his confidence much more quickly, and really enjoyed his time in the water. We vowed to take him to our local pool more so that he always loves the water as much as we do!

After a quick lunch stop back at our lovely little cottage we decided to explore the forest trail in Bluestone itself, so set off for a wander amongst the trees. There is so much peace to be found just walking with nature, and we are always at our happiest by switching off from technology and the rest of the world and enjoying time just us. Some of our loveliest memories have been made in Wales in mountains and forests, and Yosemite national park in California- the forest is definitely a happy place for us! After a little while we found a gorgeous little log cabin with a campfire burning, that offered hot chocolate, and marshmallows for toasting and making smores. It was a welcome afternoon pitstop for all of us, and we really enjoyed just sitting and listening to little else but the sounds of the forest, the trickling stream and the song of the birds.

That evening we went back again to enjoy the light show provided by Bluestone, where the trees had been lit and large illuminated bugs lined the forest walk. What with trees and fairylights it was hard to say who enjoyed it more, Oskar or Sarah! It was magical, enchanting and beautiful.

Thursday morning brought a different activity, baby sensory! We go every week at home, but thought it'd be nice for Oskar to attend one class here too, so had pre-booked on to the Thursday morning class.

After signing, signing and playing our way through "French week" we were ready for a coffee and headed upstairs to the rainforest cafe. The adventure centre looked great for older children and toddlers alike, with huge soft play and lots of games, all included in the cost of the stay. Oskar, however, was happy with a breastfeed and to look at the twinkly lights on the indoor trees while we drank our coffee!

On Thursday afternoon we had planned to visit the local town of Tenby, for a walk along the beach and some chips! But the weather had other ideas, so although we enjoyed the drive there it was far too wet and windy to go anywhere, and Oskar was decidedly exhausted from his exciting morning, so after admiring the scenery, we drove back again!

Instead we headed back to the forest at Bluestone, having enjoyed it so much the day before. Again it was tranquil, peaceful and beautiful. We especially loved the fairy village amongst the trees, it must be captivating for toddlers!

As Thursday was our last night in this lovely place we went out for dinner. There isn't a huge choice in terms of restaurants, and the selection for vegetarians is even tinier, but we opted to visit the Oak Tree restaurant, for pizza and wine! We are always impressed with our son's ability to not only sit well during a meal but also eat a fair amount too, so we were able to chat and enjoy being out as a family. We definitely feel baby led weaning pays off at moments like this, being able to just put some food in front of Oskar and know he will happily just sit and munch away! Plus we feel it's really important that he grows up knowing how to behave at meal times, and won't automatically demand a phone or a tablet for entertainment. He always manages to charm anyone who comes anywhere near our table!

On Friday morning we were sad to be packing up our things and saying goodbye. Although you have to vacate your accommodation by 10am, you can use the facilities until 3, so we decided to go swimming one last time to tire our tiny boy out before the long journey home. The good thing about going during term time is that nowhere felt busy, even places like the swimming pool, so we were able to enjoy everythibg there was on offer without feeling too overwhelmed by business or long queues.

We decided to take a different route on our return journey, that took us through the Brecon Beacons. We have previously holidayed here and so it was lovely to drive through the picturesque mountains and valleys on our way home. Oskar must've been tired by his busy week as he slept nearly the whole way home! Which was perfect as it meant we could chat and listen to our music and enjoy the last moments of our holiday before returning home.

It's funny how holidays change you. I guess that is part of the appeal. New sights, sounds, experiences, you always come back a slightly different person to the one who left, and it is wonderful. I love the chance to reflect on life, on our goals, ambitions and dreams, on where we are and where we're headed and what we want to come next. It reminded us how much we love to be surrounded by nature - the trees, the water, the sky. Although we weren't expecting is the change in Oskar to be so dramatic! Maybe not so much to the outside world but to us, his mothers, he has grown and changed so much in such a short period of time! It was wonderful to see his confidence in the water grow so much from going every day, and to see his eyes sparkle in wonder and delight at all the new places around him. He has learnt a whole new load of sounds, and gestures, and he seems so much older and wiser. He amazes us every single day, and our first trip away with him was at times overwhelming with just how magical it was, how magical he is, and how magical it is to be a 3. I hope we can always fill his life with as much adventure as he does ours, and this week was just the beginning of it.

If you are heading off to Bluestone, here are a few things you need to know!

* There is a cot in each cottage or cabin, but it's a travel cot, so might not suit every baby. We assumed it'd be a full size cot and planned for Oskar to sleep on the mattress of it, next to our bed, but instead he ended up in with us. Cot bedding isn't provided.

*The golf buggies are quite expensive - the lesser advertised mini bus service, is free!

* There is no plastic / children's plates or cutlery, so you need to take your own! Also take dishwasher tablets - you're only given two, and they're expensive in the shop. Tea, coffee, toiletries aren't provided either.

*Restaurants aren't cheap, but not as bad as we'd expected - we went out for dinner once, with a starter, two mains and two glasses of red wine costing around £40. The other evenings we cooked in our cottage, using the Hello Fresh box we had taken with us - this turned out to be a great idea as we really enjoyed cooking new recipes!
Breakfast and lunch options were quite limited, and as it's child friendly, most things close by 9pm.

*We wouldn't visit without children - Bluestone is definitely centred around families.

It took us a day or two to find our feet in Bluestone and were initially unsure of the 'holiday park' scenario, but once we had settled in, we adored it. Bluestone is suited to so many types of families - whether you want to do lots of activities, or like us, do a few activities but mainly explore the forest! We cannot wait to return and are already planning another trip, and also planning on family trips with Oskar's cousins too.

For a week we we felt like we found a beautiful place to relax and enjoy the world around us and each other's company. We realised what makes us happy, but also that we are happier right now than we have probably ever been!

Here's to many more adventures!

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Date night at Cirque Du Soleil!

On Thursday evening we were lucky enough to be invited along to see Cirque Du Soleil at the Genting Arena in our home town of Birmingham.

We were so excited for various reasons! Firstly, it meant we would get a baby free date night - our third one in 9 months! Although being mums is amazing, it's fun to be able to dress up, put makeup and jewellery on, and go out for a grown up evening where we concentrate on just each other! Secondly, it meant something to look forward to in the middle of the week, and last but definitely not least, another chance to see a Cirque show.

The first time we saw Cirque Du Soleil was the Zarkana show at the Aria in Las Vegas, which we absolutely loved, so we were interested to see how it would compare.

Oskar safely left in the hands of his grandparents, we set off for The Genting Arena. We hadn't been here since the addition of the new Resorts World complex, so headed here first for food, as they have plenty of veggie and vegan options from GBK, Las Iguanas and Pizza Express. We parked at Resorts World and were worried about finding our way to the arena after dinner, but, helped by the staff, we found that it was literally across the road. 

We settled into our seats, and the show began! 

The Cirque Du Soleil shows are all slightly differently themed, and this one was Varekai - Tales of The Forest. Opening in 2002, Varekai (meaning 'wherever' in Romani) promises to be 'an acrobatic tribute to the nomadic soul'.

As soon as the main act began we were immersed, and reminded of how magical Cirque felt when we had seen it in Vegas. The music is beautiful and so atmospheric- it's more impressive when you realise it is all live, performed by two singers, and seven musicians, who are often just visible to the audience. 

The story begins with Icarus falling from the sky - wires were used so the acrobat fell in slow motion, which was beautiful.

From there, Icarus lands in a lush forest of exotic creatures, gaining his strength, and finally falling in love. 
The show is made up of various acrobatic acts telling the story, and as with all Cirque shows, there are a few of their comedic acts thrown in, with lots of audience participation! We have to say, these aren't our favourite part of the show as the slapstick humour isn't really our thing, but they do break up the show meaning that the acrobatic acts seems all the more impressive when they return. 

One of the things that really struck us about the show, was the incredible use of the space. Aswell as the main rectangular stage, there was a circular section to the front of it,which the acrobats really do make the most of, giving the impression that the show is overflowing from the stage. The set stretches up into the ceiling, trapeze artists soar out into the audience, acrobats drop from the heights of the roof down to below the stage floor, flowing fabric from costumes flies in the breeze, and strange lit orbs float out into the stalls. It really does give an other worldly, additional dimension to the show, and is extremely immersing.  

The use of props in Cirque is something the shows are known for, but we found the way props were used in Varekai to be particularly amazing - in a synchronised tumbling act, an acrobat is seemingly about to crash to the floor only to bounce from it like rubber due to a concealed inflatable floor, blue fabric acting as water disappears down a 'plug hole' in the stage and in a Russian swing act, acrobats fly across the stage and seem about to fly into a wall before being caught in fabric panels.

 Like many people in our age group, it takes a lot to leave us awestruck, but Varekai definitely achieved that. Many acts drew audible gasps of wonder, tension, surprise or disbelief from the enthralled crowd, in particular the Russian Swing finale, with six acrobats joining two swings, propelling them high into the air and across the stage, with the audience (definitely including us!) on the edge of their seats as the acrobats landed in sheets of draped fabric. 

But aside from the stage, sets, music, and scenery, by far the most impressive aspect of Cirque Du Soleil, is undoubtedly, the performers. Thanks to the stunning costumes and their incredible, fearless talent, you'd be forgiven for thinking they were super human, and forgetting they are mere mortals in character. The flawless performances seem effortless, but we are sure they are anything but! 

All too soon, the show was over, and we were returned to reality - the whole two hours is pure, other worldly escapism. You will remember certain amazing performances, but in general, the whole show will pass you by in a dream like cloud of magic. If you've never seen a Cirque show, we can't recommend booking tickets enough! 

We had lower expectations for the show being in Birmingham than when we saw Zarkana in Vegas, but those expectations were met and exceeded. 

A huge thank you to LD Communications for inviting us on a perfect date night, and the crew and performers of Cirque Du Soleil Varekai for reminding us of the magic of Cirque, and for such an amazing night - you had us, and the rest of the packed arena, enthralled from start to finish. 

Varekai is in Nottingham 8-12th March and Glasgow 15th - 18th March, with tickets at around £55 per person, before visiting Denmark, France, Amsterdam, Slovakia, Romania, Hungary, Prague, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Lithuania, Norway, Finland, and Sweden!

Watch the official trailer here:

Friday, 24 February 2017

The "Honest Parenting" Trend

It seems to be that there's a new trend dominating social media where motherhood is concerned. The so called "honest parenting" group. Those people who have decided to bare all for social media, and post pictures of themselves labelled 'scummy mummies' when they've not showered, with their children half naked at lunchtime, in a house which hasn't seen a hoover for a couple of weeks and the caption, "but this is reality. This is motherhood."

Look a little further and you will see whole blogs dedicated to the subject, and books published which comply with the new rules that your portrayal of your life can only be complete with a glass of wine in your hand, a few swear words in your post and your vomit stained PJs on. 
When we had Oskar people directed us to these blogs, and bought us books, the Unmumsy Mum, and Hurrah for Gin, to name but two. We sold them on eBay. 

Yes, we are well aware that these posts are majoritively 'tongue in cheek', jokes or comic relief. But there's something that makes us personally feel a bit uncomfortable about whole blogs, books and twitter feeds dedicated to almost bragging about how awful you find being a mother. We starting reading The Unmumsy Mum, and didn't finish it, because we just found it a bit..well..sad. Time being a mum to a tiny one is so fleeting, it seems such a shame to spend it complaining about how much you hate it.  It's almost uncool to say "actually, I enjoy being a mum, and I try my best to be a really good one."    As we said, a lot of people obviously love the trend, but we think there should maybe be a bit more balance to it. 
Don't get us wrong - we are by no means perfect, and like most other mums are just doing our best. We definitely have our fair share of moments we want to tear our hair out! But we don't get why people dedicate their entire social media feeds, places that record  memories, to just the bad parts. We wouldn't document only the bad parts of our lives, or bad photos of ourselves, so why do it with motherhood? Why laugh at being a 'bad mum' almost like it's a badge of honour? 

You see for us, we have absolutely no desire to portray our lives with Oskar as being something which means we have to open a bottle of wine and call him a few names just to get through the day. This is some people's  motherhood - and that's fine. It's not ours, and that doesn't make us any less 'honest'. Yes, we are mothers, yes we are real parents, but that doesn't mean that in order to be seen as being a true parent we need to change the way we get through a hard day, or how we post on social media.

Mums need support, but they also need to remember the positive, beautiful moments that motherhood brings, and that's what social media is about. It's about preserving memories, and aspiring to be a better version of yourself. It's about showing that one moment in the day that your child did sit quietly with a book, before they spent all of the rest of the day screaming. Because when Oskar is 26 and doesn't need us as much anymore, I want to look back and remember all of those wonderful quiet moments, sharing a book with my son.

Personally I don't need to be reminded that sometimes when you're a new mum you can't have a shower that easily, or often can't make yourself some food, and spend the best part of a few months constantly covered in vomit, crying at how hard motherhood is - we know. It's a given that parenting is really hard.  I understand that some mums may feel consolation or understanding from seeing social media images of women going through the same and that's great for them, but as we said, a bit of balance would be nice. Plus, the biggest part of our social media, is not portraying a perfect image, but preserving our own memories.

On the days when motherhood is hard, when our boy has cried all night, or been sick in someone's hair, or needs a nappy change right as we're about to leave, we can log on to Instagram or Twitter and see a stream of reminders that most of the time, motherhood is magical. We can look back and see our boy a few moments after birth, us holding him as a newborn, his first smiles, that wonderful night he first slept through, beautiful autumn leaf filled family walks, him meeting santa, playing with cousins, moments we were just holding him, looking at him, not quite believing he is ours. That is how we get through our hard times - not by swearing or gulping down gin. Why can you only be honest about parenting, if your parenting involves those things? Why is it suddenly uncool to actually like being a mum, and to want to do more than sticking your baby in front of an iPad all day? 

Because ultimately, we know how much a privilege this is, and even in those really hard moments, when we are exhausted, sleep deprived, he is crying, we are hungry, we never ever forget just how lucky we are. We remember watching thousands leave our bank account, then watching that second pink line on a pregnancy test fail to appear. We remember more money - for IVF,  the mandatory counselling, the numerous blood tests, the uncomfortable scans, the thrice daily injections, the silent, tangible hope. Watching others, paying their thousands, going through their treatments, seeing their heartbreak. We are so lucky to be here. We also know how fast this time goes. In twelve short weeks our son will be one year old and we will look back over the first year with our precious boy and want more than anything to do it all over again. To hold him as a tiny newborn just one more time, to be able to watch him in amazement as he claps for the first time just once more, to relive every beautiful second with our precious son.

So no, we won't subscribe to the hashtag honest parenting, exclaim we are only coping with a glass or five of wine, or call our little boy names for being, well, a baby, and yes, we will still keep posting beautiful pictures that capture special moments in our son's life. This is how we parent, and how we get through the hard times, no gin required. If, like us, you don't pretend that every day is baking and laughter, but get through those days without drinking or swearing at your baby - it's ok. Honest.