Adventures in the Lake District (part 2) #countrykids

When I started writing up our holiday, the blog post soon got too long. So here’s the second instalment about what we did in the second half of the week….

If you find yourself on holiday in the Northern Lake District with children, here are some ideas for activities that a family will enjoy, including places that are fun and allow children to let off steam in wet weather. I thought I’d also link up with Country Kids over at Coombe Mill.

Monday

Again we awoke to the pitter patter of raindrops as well as little feet. But rain never stops play in the Lake District – it couldn’t, you’d never go anywhere if it did! We hung around at home for a bit longer than usual, waiting for hungry babies to feed and hoping the rain might ease off a little. It didn’t, so we headed to the World of Beatrix Potter attraction in Bowness. This was perfect for Andrew, and even his baby brother and cousin had a good crane of the neck out from the sling and buggy! He was fascinated by all the models of characters from her books, and we even got to walk round Peter Rabbit’s garden as the rain eased off. There was an activity trail too, which was a bit old for our kids, but would be great for school-age children.

The World of Beatrix Potter
The World of Beatrix Potter

After a browse of the gift shop and a souvenir present from Granny and Grandad, we drove back up along Windermere to Brockhole visitor centre where we ate our picnic in the sheltered picnic area – so very British 🙂 Apart from the indoor bit of the centre which has a nice cafe and tells you all about the Lake District’s history and geography, there is quite an extensive parkland on the shore of Windermere, with an adventure playground for kids, paths for walking for all ages, and a treetop trail (a bit like Go Ape) for adults.

Peter Rabbit's Garden
Peter Rabbit’s Garden

Nap-time today was spent in the car, starting on the journey home and ending after a while sat on the drive with Daddy in the passenger seat having a nap too. Our evening meal was out at Keswick’s bargain curry house during happy hour. Andrew charmed the socks off the waiters, and impressed them with his appetite and love of spicy food – when ordering a kids portion of medium-heat chicken curry for him, I was warned that the spice would be too much, but he wolfed it down.

Tuesday

As this was forecast to be the best day for weather all week, we decided to venture further afield to Ravenglass and ride on a steam train at the Ravenglass and Eskdale Steam Railway. According to their website, it is “Lakeland’s oldest, friendliest and longest most scenic railway”, a narrow gauge one with fully functioning miniature steam trains. Andrew is into trains, particularly Thomas the Tank Engine, big time at the moment, so he was so excited to watch them at the station and then ride on one himself; on the return leg the train of carriages was pulled by a blue engine just like Thomas!

trains

When we arrived at the other end of the line, we had a quick picnic on the rather windy area of grass behind the station, and then went on a walk down to a little church down by the river in the valley. Before we boarded to ride back to Ravenglass, Andrew and the babies got some badges for having a go at the activity pack that was given to children on the train. I added ‘on a narrow gauge steam train’ to my (mental) list of places where I’ve fed a baby!

As we drove home, the boys slept and the sunshine decided to come out properly, giving us lovely blue-sky views across the mountains in the distance, including Scafell Pike, the highest peak in England (which we climbed together as a family on a hot sunny day when I was a child on holiday in the Lake District).eskdale

Wednesday

To make up for the disproportionate amount of sun the day before, we had nothing but rain, rain and more rain! Granny and Grandad were happy to walk with Andrew into the town in the morning, and go to the park all togged up as well as dry off in a cafe afterwards. I needed to keep moving with Joel in the sling (with rain cover) so that he would go to sleep, so Tom and I had a pleasant, if damp, walk along the Keswick Railway Footpath. We got half-way along this disused railway which runs between Keswick and Threlkeld, an ancient settlement which became a mining area in the 20th century; we turned back after a 45 minute walk from Keswick because I knew Joel would want to feed in a little while.railway walk

The beer connoisseurs in the family fancied a lunchtime pint, so we headed up the road to the local pub less than a minute’s walk away and had a warming lunch. Nap-time at home was followed by playing with toys and games in the living room, watching the rain through the window. The day finished with us listening to the howling gale outside, rattling the old sash windows as we fell asleep.

Thursday

With the promise of better weather, we made the short journey to Whinlatter Forest Park, where we played on the adventure playground and went for a walk through the woods and down, round, and back up the hill. It had been so windy the night before that there were bits of tree everywhere: branches that had fallen off, one which had to be chopped off just before we walked past because it was was hanging off precariously, and even a whole tree that had come down across the path, which we had to climb over with two buggies and two sleeping babies (one in a buggy and one in a sling attached to me) – that was quite an adventure in itself! The Forestry Commission, who manage the park, were out and about clearing up and sorting out all the damage to trees.whinlatter 1

whinlatter 2

Having walked up an appetite, we had a lovely homemade cake in the cafe, which unfortunately had no power, we think due to a tree falling through cables, so they could only do tea and coffee by boiling water on the gas hob rather than with the electric coffee machine. We headed home for lunch, packing and naps. Later in the afternoon, we nipped over to the park, where Andrew got the hang of swinging his legs with the rhythm of the swing, copying Daddy’s movements on the swing next to him. For our final evening we had a pub dinner just up the road, a great night to end a lovely holiday.park

Places to visit on twitter

The World of Beatrix Potter Arrtraction: @BeatrixPotter

Brockhole Visitor Centre: @brockhole

Ravenglass and Eskdale Steam Railway: @rersteam

Whinlatter Forest Park: (Facebook) Forestry Commission

I’m linking up with Country Kids over at Coombe Mill’s blog.
Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Adventures in the Lake District (part 1) #countrykids

Last week we had our annual spring holiday in the Lake District. It’s very handy for us that my parents have a holiday home up there, which they let out for much of the year, but also take weeks for themselves and family. This time the four of us went up with my parents and my brother and family – 6 adults and 3 kids – good job the house sleeps 10. It is situated in Keswick, which is in the northern Lakes on the northern shore of Derwent Water.

There are plenty of activities for the whole family in and around Keswick and further afield. As we had 2 babies with us who are feeding quite a lot still, we couldn’t easily be on the go for too long at a time, so we did a mixture of very local outings and some which required more travel, of course with frequent feeding stops throughout the day. I kept a mini diary of what we did, and here it is written up in (hopefully) intelligible form along with photos. If you find yourself on holiday in the northern Lake District with children, here are some ideas for activities that a family will enjoy, including places that are fun and allow children to let off steam in wet weather. I thought I’d also link up with Country Kids over at Coombe Mill’s blog.

Friday

Having travelled to my parents’ home in Coventry on the Thursday evening, we set off up north after breakfast. We had one of the easiest journeys up there that we’ve ever had. We stopped twice at services for toilet/food/drink; the second stop was at the Tebay services on the M6 – this is like no other service station that I have ever visited. Secretly I was quite pleased when Joel started whinging for food not far from it, because I knew that Andrew would be in his element in the soft-play area, which would help him let off some steam during an otherwise sedentary day in the car.

On this occasion I spent most of the stop in the car, as that seems to be the most reliable place to get Joel to feed. But Tom sampled the deliciousness of the cafe, which prepares fresh snacks and meals using lots of local produce – I’ve tasted it before and was very impressed, not like your average bacteria in a bun or cardboard sandwiches at services! The highlight of my trip there this time was the family changing room, which was clean and easily fitted the four of us, with a spacious change table for Joel, a little person’s toilet and wash basin for Andrew and an adult-sized toilet and wash basin too; this kind of thing makes such a difference when you’re travelling long distances with little ones.

When we arrived in Keswick, Andrew set about exploring the house, which we think he vaguely remembered from last year. Despite having slept quite a bit in the car, the boys were tired come dinner time, so a quick bath and into bed was the next step. Tom and I then went for a short wander through the town for a leg stretch and fresh air whilst Granny and Grandad babysat. It felt very weird to be on our own without the kids.

Saturday

Views from Friar's Cragg
Views from Friar’s Cragg

After the car journey the day before, we all decided that staying very local was the order of the day. A leisurely get up, involving Andrew going in to Granny and Grandad’s bed to play with the iPad and listen to music, was followed by a relaxing breakfast. We then headed down to the lake, which is about 15 minutes walk from the house. The land around Derwent Water is managed by the National Trust, and in particular we like the area called Friar’s Cragg, a rocky outcrop where you get some stunning views of the lake and surrounding hills. We were not disappointed by the views there on that day.

We also stopped to look at the ducks on the pebbly beach where the rowing boats are available for hire, and Andrew had great fun running after them. He kept shouting “ducks running away” as he followed them around, as if he was surprised by this cause and effect! As the weather was fairly warm and bright, we stopped for a coffee and cake at a lovely cafe overlooking the lake and even sat outside.

Andrew at lake chasing ducks

In the afternoon we went back home for lunch and then Andrew napped and the rest of us rested. Later on we nipped back into the town to have a mooch around the market which sells all sorts of things from food to crafts to old books to clothes. Amazingly all three children were in a good mood and not feeding/sleeping at the same time just before dinner, so Grandad got his camera out and we had a family photo shoot with some cute results.

Sunday

We woke up to pouring rain, the kind that soaks you through in just the seconds that it takes you to run to the car to pack it up! So to get our fill of exercise and fun we headed to Penrith leisure centre for a family swim. The small pool was perfect for the little ones, and the adults took it in turns to swim some lengths – I did a quick 30 lengths which was great as I don’t get much chance to swim properly these days. Whenever we’re with family we take advantage of the extra pairs of hands and get as much swimming in as possible so that Joel’s experience is as close as possible to Andrew’s at this age – we used to go once a week but I can’t take them both on my own now.

On the drive back we stopped at Reghed Centre – what’s that? In their words: “Well, we are a number of things really, but the four things we pride ourselves in is being a destination for family, food, the outdoors and arts & culture.” It’s actually run by the same people that run Tebay services (Westmorland Ltd). The two things we went for were lunch – a yummy freshly cooked selection of mains and lighter bites (I’d definitely recommend the flatbreads) – and soft play – Andrew adores this at the moment he’s just like a Duracell bunny going up and down and round the play area again and again.

Worn out, we headed home, and after quite a late nap to recharge the bunny’s batteries, we nipped over to the park opposite the house as it had stopped raining by then.

View from the park (on another day - it was more miserable weather than this)
View from the park (on another day – it was more miserable weather than this)

To be continued in another post…..(this one got too long!)

Places to visit on twitter

Tebay services and Rheged: @tebayservices

The National Trust: @nationaltrust

Penrith Leisure Centre: @Penrithleisure

I’m linking up with Country Kids over at Coombe Mill’s blog.

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Pregnancy diary: week 39 – bump still here

I was thinking about starting to write this post yesterday, with the thought that it might help to start labour, as then I would have wasted my time in writing something that I wouldn’t have got round to publishing. But in the end I had other things to do and Andrew’s nap was shorter than usual due to the fact that I stupidly let him take a talking toy car with him for nap time – he must have moved and inadvertently pressed the button, which started the car talking again and woke him up! Lesson learned!

This week has in many respects been much the same as any other recent week. We’ve been to the same groups as usual, and at every single one I’ve had the usual comments – ‘so you’re still here then’ or ‘so you’re still pregnant then’ or ‘no sign of baby then’ or ‘when are you due?….[me: next week] Really?! You look very neat/small!’ In fact if I had a pound for every time someone commented on how small or ‘neat’ bump is for this stage in pregnancy, I’d have enough money to splash out on some more cloth nappies (you can tell what’s on my mind). But according to the chart, bump was bang on the right size for 38 weeks, the last time it was measured. Maybe it’s because I’m ‘all bump’ and from the back I don’t look pregnant (so I’m told…)

I wish I had a pound for every time someone said how small/neat bump is considering there's less than a week to go til due date!

I can’t deny it though, I have been waking up each day wondering if today will be the day. This thought doesn’t usually have chance to stay around in my head for very long, because it’s soon overshadowed by thoughts of looking after Andrew and keeping on top of things around the house, which tend to keep my brain occupied until nap time, when I relax and have me-time – still on all fours and kneeling! This week I’ve had a real sense of enjoying my time with Andrew, just the two of us; not that I don’t enjoy it anyway, but this week all the more so because I’m aware that we don’t have long left now until there will be three of us when Tom’s at work. Exactly how long, I don’t know, but not long compared to Andrew’s life-time so far. It’s quite hard to imagine being able to love and care for two little ones, to spread between two what I currently have for one, but I’ve been told that this is a perfectly normal feeling when you’re pregnant with your second child, and you soon learn once the baby is here that it is completely possible to spread the love between two and not feel like you’re doing either of them any harm.

I’ve also reached the stage of trying out the old wives’ tales of natural labour induction methods; I have no idea whether any of these really work, but it can’t harm in trying!

  1. Large pineapples currently cost only £1 in our local supermarket, so I’ve been munching on these, though I have to say I haven’t consumed my own body weight in pineapple, which I think is the scale of consumption that’s necessary to actually induce labour. Still, I love pineapple, and it’s a good excuse to eat it anyway.
  2. I’ve dug out the raspberry leaf tea that I bought in the final week of pregnancy with Andrew – it’s slightly out of date, but how can tea go off?! Again, I like the taste of it anyway, so even if it makes no difference, I’m enjoying the odd cup here and there when I’m in the mood.
  3. I still can’t stand the smell of food cooking if it involves frying or roasting, but I have experimented and figured out that I can cope with a curry made like this: chuck in a pan a tin of chopped tomatoes, a tin of lentils, a chopped up leek and whatever other veg you like (e.g. chopped cauliflower, chopped aubergine, chopped sweet potato), mix it all with a couple of tablespoons of curry paste, and heat it up with the lid on the pan for about 20 minutes until the veg is softened to the consistency you like it (we like ours with a bite still), then wilt in some spinach and serve with rice and/or naan bread. So we’ve been eating quite a few curries and I’ve been adding more and more chilli powder to mine as the week has gone on. It was immediately after a hot curry on Tom’s birthday in 2011 that suddenly my waters broke and 3 hours later Andrew arrived!
  4. I’m doing lots of walking, as this is part of our normal daily life anyway – we walk most places (shops, town, groups, park etc.) in Cambridge, and this usually adds up to at least 1-2 hours a day.

As for an update on baby’s positioning – I have no idea! I’ve tried to feel bump myself, but unlike the midwife who seems to just do a few prods and tells me confidently exactly how baby is lying, I find it hard to know which way round baby is. So I’m just hoping that all my efforts of kneeling, sitting forward on hard chairs, swaying my hips side to side whilst on all fours, swimming on my front, doing handstands in the pool (a tip from a friend’s mum who’s a midwife!) etc. will all pay off in the long run. I can’t say that I haven’t tried.

I’m hoping that the next post I write involving baby will be to announce our good news. My due date is Tuesday (30th), so only 4 days time. Not that I have any say in when baby decides to arrive, but I think by next Friday I’ll be getting a little impatient if there are no signs. Plus we now have all-day and all-night cover for Andrew looking after purposes until the end of next weekend, thanks to my parents and Tom’s mum. Let’s hope that my body and baby agree that this would be a splendid time to kick off the action! 🙂

Pregnancy diary: week 28 – holiday

This week we’ve been on holiday! And what a well-needed holiday it’s been. With all this being pregnant, looking after Andrew, working, editing, blogging etc. I was feeling very much in need of a rest. We’re very blessed to have Tom’s family living in Devon, so we can go and stay with them for holidaying down in the South West of England. This means it really is a holiday, as we get looked after, for example meals get cooked, washing gets washed, tidying up gets done, and Andrew gets entertained by people other than us, which is always a novelty for him. I think with very small children, it’s less of a holiday when you still have to sort things out yourself, and still do the cooking, cleaning, and even travelling around once you’re there.

Change of background from normal as we're not at home yet, though back soon. Looking very bumpy in this summer dress, about to head out for the day, and it looks like it'll be lovely weather again 🙂

I’ve never been into holidays where you just sit around or lie around – I like doing something for at least part of each day. When I was younger, most years we went on holiday to France camping as a family, and would spend the morning out and about exploring the local area, and then come back in the afternoon to the campsite where I would spend the rest of the day in the swimming pool. Since Tom and I have been together, our holidays have mainly been in the UK, all in places where there’s plenty of outdoors to explore, like Devon and the Lake District. Although it’s been restful this week, that doesn’t mean we haven’t been out and done lots of activities as well. We’ve been to the beach and played with a kite and sandcastles, done lots of walking (Andrew sometimes on the dinosaur reins, sometimes in the back carrier, sometimes in the buggy) and been swimming. Generally the weather has been just right – not too hot, but also dry (apart from the odd shower) and only one really wet day (which we spent at the swimming pool and visiting family).

Collecting stones at Wembury beach. It turned out much better weather that day than we were expecting, so Andrew had joggers on instead of his swim stuff - it didn't seem to bother him though!
Trying to keep him out of the sea as he didn't have his swimming stuff on at that point, and it wasn't a particularly hot day!
Stuffing a jaffa cake, whole, into his mouth. Jaffa cakes are clearly the best part of any picnic!

The general routine has been to get out and about in the morning, have a picnic lunch somewhere, and then head back in the afternoon when Andrew naps (either in the car on the way back or at home) and we rest, and then do something locally in the late afternoon before dinner. This has been just right for me at this stage of pregnancy. I know that keeping active is really good for me, and I always feel much more energised when I’ve done some activity, even if I feel low on energy beforehand. I think that keeping fit in pregnancy was a big factor in how smoothly labour went with Andrew, and I’m determined to do the same this time in pregnancy. It has of course been lovely to have times of rest, when I can really rest, have a snooze, do what I like, rather than doing housework (or feeling bad about not doing housework because I did have a rest!)

A spot of croquet on the lawn at Saltram House. I don't know, we come all this way, and Andrew wants to play what is everywhere in Cambridge!
Daddy and Andrew having fun on a rope swing at Saltram House.

Andrew seems to have enjoyed his second holiday in Devon too. We came last summer, but he was only 6 months old, and didn’t really have much of a clue what was going on. This time he’s been able to take part in all we’ve been doing, and he’s pretty flexible with things like eating and napping, so we’re not tied to very strict timings in his routine. It’ll be even more fun this time next year, when there’ll be two little ones to entertain on holiday! Baby will be about 9 months old, so a bit older than Andrew was on his first trip down to Devon. I think that’ll be even more of a great reason to holiday in a place where we all get looked after!

Andrew enjoying a dinghy ride at Mothecombe beach.
I know it looks like he's running out to sea on his own, but it's shallow for miles as it's a river estuary, and we were just behind him in case of tripping up. He loved it in the shallow water with few waves.

This week should have been my 28-week appointment with the midwife and also my glucose tolerance test (to check whether I have gestational diabetes). But as we’ve been away all week, that wasn’t possible of course. So next week I’ll write about how those went, as I’ll have them at 29 weeks instead. I don’t think it really matters if you don’t have them bang on 28 weeks, because, after all, babies aren’t all born exactly on their due date, so mums don’t all end up being checked-up/tested at exactly the same stages of pregnancy. It seems like ages ago since I last saw the midwife – 16 weeks I think. But time is flying, and we’ll be into the thirties weeks very soon. There must be more posts on preparation that I’ll write, although I don’t think I’m half as aware of preparation for this baby as I was with Andrew at this stage in pregnancy, mainly because there is a lot less to do, as we have lots of ‘stuff’ for baby already this time. There are still a few things that I need to get organised with though, and I’ll let you know when I’ve done something about them!

Trust the National Trust for a great family day out

Just a quick post to say what a lovely time we had at Ickworth House and Gardens near Bury St Edmunds this weekend. It’s a National Trust property, and as usual we couldn’t fault the location for a fun family day out.

Snow drops

We’re lucky that quite a few of the 512 NT locations are within a half-an-hour-ish drive from us. Before Andrew came along we were members for a year (whilst one of us was still at the under 25 years old price), and almost every weekend we went for a walk in the gardens/fields around one of the properties near us. We decided that we wouldn’t renew our membership when a year was up because (a) we would have to pay two adult prices, (b) with me being on maternity leave and a baby to budget for it was one of those things that no longer fitted within our budget, and (c) we thought we wouldn’t make it too far every weekend when baby was very little, so instead would go for very local walks from home.

I'm not exaggerating when I say that he walked all the way from the steps you see in the background to here on his own!
More walking/running

Since then we’ve been a few times with each of our sets of parents, either near their houses or near us. This weekend we decided to take Tom’s parents to a NT place they haven’t visited before. We all like walking, and Ickworth has miles and miles of walking paths of various difficulties and surfaces. They even have a designated family mountain bike track, which we’d love to take Andrew on when he’s older. We walked a nice round route through fields and a bit of woodland, nearly getting blown away by the gusty wind at times, but it was enjoyable all the same – made us feel like we’d blown away the cobwebs for sure.

Can't catch me Daddy!

Of course no trip to a NT place would be complete without a trip to their tea room! They always have scrummy lunches and cakes on offer, all freshly prepared there. This time was no exception, and we all enjoyed our food, including Andrew who chose beans on toast from the lovely kids menu (and put the 5-ish-year-old on the table next to us to shame by eating all his when she didn’t finish hers!), and my mum-in-law, who is wheat intolerant, had soup with a wheat free roll as well as a shortbread biscuit (there is usually at least 1 gluten-/wheat-free cake on offer).

Sitting on the big boys' chair (and being caught by Pop when lunging forward!)

Have you ever thought about joining the NT? Are you already a member? Which properties do you like in particular? We’re thinking about joining again at some point, when we think we’ll make good use out of it for the amount of money we’d spend on it.

Playing with stickle bricks in the visitor centre

Exciting times: first shoes

On Tuesday Andrew, my mum and I went shopping for a very special reason: Andrew needed his first pair of shoes.

He’d been cruising around any furniture or object that was stable enough (or not) for a few months, and we kept thinking that unaided walking must be just around the corner. The actual moment of what I would call proper walking (i.e. more than a few steps) came a couple of days before his first birthday. We’d just got home from the childminder’s. Andrew was standing by the washing machine, putting toys into it and closing the door, and I momentarily turned my head to open some post. A few seconds later I turned my head so he came back into view, and the next thing I knew he was walking towards me. I couldn’t quite believe it at first, but he carried on and I greeted him with a big hug when he reached me. His grin was as big as mine. After that, there was no stopping him. By his birthday he was toddling about everywhere, and handily Granny and Grandad’s present to him was just what he needed: a year’s worth of shoes! I was VERY grateful for this, having gulped after previously seeing the price tag on kids’ shoes. As Granny was coming over again in the week, we decided to make it a shoe-shopping date, and the three of us go into town to buy them together.

The day came and I was incredibly excited, much to Tom’s bemusement – ‘It’s only a pair of shoes, so why all the going on about it?’ he dared to utter after the umpteenth mention of the subject. ‘Ah but it’s his first pair of shoes, his FIRST pair of shoes, don’t you think that’s exciting?’ I replied. Granny arrived whilst I was at work in the morning, and she and Andrew came to meet me at lunchtime. After a yummy lunch of pasta at Carluccio’s, we headed to Clarks. On being lifted out of the buggy, Andrew was instantly showing off his walking to the sales assistant, and making a beeline for the snazzy electronic foot measuring machine. Ah that was a blast from the past; it reminded me of shoe shopping as a child. But for such little feet (and such a wriggly body) the manual foot measure was needed. The patient assistant had clearly measured little feet before, and knew that the reaction of scrunching his feet up rather than laying them flat on the measure was normal. After a little encouragement, we had the size sorted: 3 1/2 G.

Then came the choice of shoe. Clarks do a Cruiser range, designed as first shoes when babies are doing some crawling and some walking – supportive but still softer soles than older kids’ shoes. For our little messy pup I wanted to get a dark colour, otherwise they would just show the dirt that he’s bound to get on them. That narrowed the choice down somewhat, ruling out the funky but not very practical pastel blue and checked yellow models. I realised that here I was doing exactly what I used to wish my mum wouldn’t do – only allow practical shoes; it’s the kind of thing you only understand when you’re now the mum. I went for a brown leather shoe with a velcro strap and a dinosaur on the side and the strap. Andrew didn’t seem too fussed whichever he got, and was more interested in trying to defy Granny’s attempts to stop him climbing on the foot measuring machine (complete with a ‘Please do not let your child climb on this’ notice).

Just checking the fit
Trendy dino design

As part of the first shoes buying experience, Clarks take an instant photo of the proud new wearer of the shoes, and stick it on a pack with various goodies including a height chart and a shoe size card so parents can remember their toddler’s ever changing size. We were vary happy with the experience, and walked out with smiles all round. When we got home, Andrew had to practise walking with his new footwear on, because, as they had warned in the shop, it takes a bit of getting used to walking with shoes on when you’ve not done it before. It was interesting that he seemed to regress slightly and wobble lots, but then soon got the hang of it again, and even managed his first toddle outside to wave goodbye to Granny when she left.

My first shoes

Watching Andrew figure out how to walk, seeing his wobbly first attempts after he got his first shoes, reminded me of a couple of verses in the book of Psalms in the Bible. Psalm 37 says:

The Lord makes firm the steps
of the one who delights in him;
though he may stumble, he will not fall,
for the Lord upholds him with his hand

Just like I follow Andrew when he’s walking, and hold him up when he’s looking particularly wobbly and about to fall, so God does the same for me in a less physical sense. For me it’s more about God helping me through my daily tasks, and even though I often get things wrong, He’s with me all the time, helping me to cope and not fall down into a heap of despair. Psalm 121 also says something similar:

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

I love this verse, and I often think about it through the modern song(s) based on it. Again it speaks of a God who always watches over me and doesn’t let my foot slip, like I try and protect Andrew’s foot from slipping by watching where he’s walking, but the difference is God is perfect, unlike me. It’s at times like this, when I see our baby making it to significant developmental milestones that I reflect on God’s awesome creation, and what an amazing thing this little life is that we are in charge of bringing up. As I watch over Andrew and do my best to make sure that he doesn’t fall, I stop and think about how God is doing even better for me (and Andrew), and that makes me smile 🙂 I guess not everyone reading this will know the God who I know and love. Please do get in touch if you’d like to ask me more questions about my faith as a Christian. I’d be very happy to let you know more about it.

Mummy was very excited, and Andrew sat still just about long enough for us to take this picture with his new shoes on!

Balancing act

My day starts when our alarm clock (aka Andrew) goes off at about 6am. I get up, play with Andrew for a while before giving him a milk feed around 6.30am, and then it’s family breakfast time at 7am. After that, it’s time to get washed and dressed. When we’re ready, it’s at that point that things have to be done differently depending on the day of the week. My brain is (usually) conscious of the next step:

  • it’s Monday/Friday = no rush, play with Andrew some more before putting him down for a morning nap, then do some things around the flat and get ready to go out for the rest of the morning;
  • it’s Wednesday/Thursday = pack up some lunch for Andrew and myself, put nappies in the change bag, wrap us both up warm in coats/gloves/hats etc., and walk round the corner to Tracy’s (our childminder) to arrive as she’s leaving for the school run at 8.25am, then cycle to the office;
  • it’s Tuesday = leave Andrew in Daddy’s capable hands and head straight off to the office for the morning;
  • it’s Saturday/Sunday = have some family time, then do some housework or go to church.

We’ve been in this routine for over a month now, since I started back at work half-time after 9 months of maternity leave, and it seems to be working. Two and a half days a week I work as a post-doctoral research associate (fancy name for the fact that I do research and have a PhD). I’m based in the Department of Experimental Psychology at the University of Cambridge, as the resident phonetician in a lab of psychologists and neuroscientists. The project that I’m working on is looking at how children with a language impairment perceive rhythm and pitch in language and music. I should go into that in detail in another post, but for now I’ll stick to the balancing act of being mum and going out to work.

Before I went on maternity leave, I loved my job and felt very privileged to have been offered it, given the competition for academic jobs when funding is relatively limited. I planned to go back part-time after 9 months, though I found it hard to return once those months were up, because I enjoyed spending so much time with Andrew when on leave. There was a feeling of being torn between two jobs I loved doing, and there still is most days. Being with Andrew all day really makes me happy, but I do see advantages to going out to work too. I thought I’d share some of the things I like and don’t like about splitting my week in half.

At the office I get to drink hot cups of tea, eat my lunch when I like, and there’s not a nappy in sight. As I work in town, it’s very handy to pop out at lunchtime and go shopping for a few bits without the buggy. I have such lovely work colleagues who are great friends and make the office environment a happy, sociable and productive one. It feels good to know that I’m taking part in research that ultimately aims to get to the bottom of something that affects many kids, and one day may make a positive difference in individual lives.

My computer is easy to spot if you know what Praat looks like on screen 😉

People talk about being able to ‘use your brain’ again and get ‘mental stimulation’ at work after having a baby, and that is true to the extent that I get to put to use my ‘training’, i.e. the skills for research that I gained by doing a PhD and continuing in an academic job. But I would say my brain gets put to good use looking after Andrew too. I mean there’s no training for being a mum, so you figure things out as you go along, and that uses a fair amount of brain power I find. All the things that I’ve started to think about and get interested in since having him certainly keep me mentally stimulated. An example is doing my own ‘research’ on baby-related matters, by reading up and talking to other parents about issues like breastfeeding. I can do this either at groups when Andrew is with me and happy to play with the toys and other kids there, or at home when he’s asleep and I need to put my feet up. So I feel like I get enough brain usage on both Andrew days and office days.

Big boy on a trike - at a group where there is a great outdoor play area so Andrew can unleash all his energy

My Andrew days are fantastic because I get to see him develop and start doing things he couldn’t do the week before. He is such a good-natured baby, so I get lots of smiles and cuddles. There’s never a dull moment as he’s so active too, making me and himself laugh at the latest thing he’s managed to find/do/get stuck in or under. We go to fun groups where he can toddle around, play with different toys, sing, hear stories, make things and get messy, whilst I get a cup of tea made for me (which might go cold admittedly) and can chat with other mums (and dads) about the joys and woes of parenthood. I get lots of fresh air and exercise, which comes naturally in our routine because we walk everywhere.

Wrapped up warm for a ride out in the buggy to get to a group

So that’s a lot of good stuff so far. The hard part is having to split my time between the two jobs. I worry that I’ll miss out on one of Andrew’s ‘firsts’, that I’ll be impatient with him because I’m too tired after a day or two in the office, that he’ll miss me either lots or not at all when I’m gone (the former being detrimental to him and the latter to me and my identity as his mum). I also worry that my heart might not stay in my research like it was, that I’ll be too tired to function properly, that I’ll not do my research to the highest standard I set myself. These worries on both sides basically come down to the fact that I’m a perfectionist, and by splitting my resources it might not be possible to do either job at 100%. So far I’m pleased to say that none of these worries have actually been an issue, but they are always in my mind.

Look at me, I'm so good at standing. Mummy loves watching me grow up and do things like this for the first time.

When I think about it, I’m not splitting my week exactly in half. In fact I’m a full-time mum, and always will be, as I do my mum thing before and after going out to the office (including in the middle of the night if he wakes up – what am I supposed to say? ‘sorry Andrew, work tomorrow, no soothing back to sleep for you tonight’); walking out the door to go to work doesn’t stop me being mum. I just do interesting research for about 19 hours a week on top of that. I’m happy with the way things are for now, but it’ll be interesting to see what’s in store for the future, especially as my contract ends in December 2012 (the research one that is – I don’t think Andrew will terminate my contract as mum anytime soon 🙂 )

Andrew loves 'helping' me hang the washing up to dry