Our Journey Between Schools and How We Got Through It

The History

We formed a plan when it came to schooling and like many well-made plans, things changed and the plan fell apart.  We relocated to get a bigger house, this meant the 4th change in nursery / pre-school but it was going to be worth it as this was to be our house for the duration of their schooling.  The girls started their new pre-school after we moved, this led into the village primary and all was going to plan.  Then, the next move happened, unexpectedly.  It was too big a move to remain in the school, I think 1 hour 50 minutes each way is just that little bit too far!  So, began the hunt for the new schools.

Close-up of Woman Working

The Practicalities

It is immensely stressful moving house, which I knew as I had done it many times before.  But suddenly I had to factor in the switch of schools when we were,

  1. so far away from the new house,

and

  1. at the mercy of everyone else in the house sale chain as to when things might happen.

I began to panic about finding suitable places, you are not actually able to apply for the place until you have a completion date on a house sale.  I am quite keen for my children to have the perfect attendance record, as their little faces when they didn’t win the award for attendance was heart breaking.  Don’t get me started on that one though; they didn’t ask to be sick, but that’s one for another time.  I then started to get mad images of children’s services knocking at my door because they had not got a new school place, so I knew I had to find a way to sort things quickly.

Contact with Schools

I dealt with two local authorities as were moving to a house on a county border; I found both to be equally helpful.  Though you need to make a formal application to the authority, once you have your sale completion date, or proof of moving address, you can speak to the schools before that time.  I rang around many of the local schools looking for places and they could not have been more helpful.  They are not able to talk about waiting lists but can tell you about spaces they currently have.  Schools with spaces will take children out of their catchment area, so as long as you are willing to travel, then the choice is yours. We had done our research prior to moving and knew the school we wanted, so we put in our application as soon as we were able, knowing full well we would be placed on a waitlist.  Waitlists are complex things, there are so many rules as to how to they decide your place on the waitlist, it is hard to know where you will end up.  The schools are able to tell you where you are on the waitlist, but it can change daily as people move in and out of the area.

The Long Distance Transfer

Microphotography of Orange and Blue House Miniature on Brown Snail's Back

I found the stress of the timings too much to bear, so after some discussion with the children’s teachers, I decided I would home school for an interim period.  The aim was to take the pressure off us and give us time to do things calmly.  It was a simple process as we were moving out of area, all I had to do was put the request in writing to the school and they did the rest. I set up my home school kit and on the day of the move, the children waved goodbye to their school friends and we started our short home school adventure. It wasn’t a huge challenge as they were only in Year R and Year 1 at the time.  The main thing was that it gave us breathing space to find the right place for them.

Choosing the Right School for The Children

I am lucky in that I drive and was able to be available to drive them to their new school, however, I didn’t really have a choice as there was not an available place within walking distance.  I believe that transport could have been provided but as we chose a different school to the one we were offered, that was not an option for us.  As soon as we arrived in our new home, I started calling around the schools to see what places were still available.  It was a challenge to find a school that had places for both children, we considered splitting them up but the logistics of that made it expensive, even impossible in some cases.  We found a few schools and took the children to see them, we wanted them to feel like they were involved in the choice.  Eventually, we went to visit one in a nearby village, which fitted the bill.  They both enjoyed their visit and said that they would like to go to the school.  By this time, they had left their old school, so didn’t have that difficult issue of leaving behind something they loved and replacing it with this new school.  Home school was going OK, but I could see that they missed the company of other children.

Settling In

Free stock photo of wood, pencil, school, numbers

Whatever the reason for a move, whether it be good or bad, it is essential to be as upbeat and positive about the move when the children are listening.  Make it seem like an adventure, highlight all the positives that the school may offer – great playground, sports facilities, anything that might appeal to your child.  Hopefully they will like the new uniform and getting all new things can be quite exciting.  You will understand that I am talking about younger children here, I doubt that a teenager would be quite so easily convinced.  Communication is key, keep talking to them, make sure they understand the process and when things will happen.  We arranged two settling in sessions with the school, which were brilliant.  The girls knew they were only there for a short time and the whole novelty factor really helped.  When it came to Day 1 for real, they were excited about going as they had tried it out and had fun.

What Happens When the Novelty Wears Off?

To start off with there will be a huge novelty factor for everyone involved.  The children will be the interesting newbies and the other children will be fascinated by that.  The teachers will make a real effort to settle them in and communicate daily with you about their progress, the other mums will welcome you in and hopefully you will quickly find out the lines of communication.  Facebook or WhatsApp groups are a life saver for newbie parents as you find out so much from them.  The biggest issue about joining a school without all the usual introduction is that there is so much general information you won’t know, so other parents are key to information.  But eventually this wears off, the children return to their clicky groups (as do the other Mums), the teachers stop communicating quite so frequently and no longer make that extra special effort with your child, general day to day life kicks in.  This is when things get tough for the children and parents / carers have to up their game:

  1. Playdates – arrange ways of making friends outside of school, don’t force them to play, but try to find out who they would like to invite to their house. The usual school etiquette is that the favour will be returned, so that means at least 2 playdates.
  2. Clubs and activities – if you have an outgoing child, sign them up as quickly as possible to activities, where they can meet new people and generally feel part of something. School clubs might already be full, so make sure you book in for the next new term. If your child is less keen to join things, it could take a while but Google all the local activities and research options until you find something that works for them.
  3. Talk to teachers – don’t be in their face every day, but do keep up to date with them, push for information if you think there is an issue. If your child is unhappy or worried about something, the teachers need to know.  They can’t prioritise your child but will make sure they deal with any issues that arise as long as they are made aware.
  4. Do your bit as a parent / carer – get involved as much as you can. Volunteer in class, at the PTA stuff, try to socialise with other parents, get to know people.  This bit is tough if you are working and can’t get to the school, or just too shy to talk to other parents, but keep trying and it will happen.  Not all PTA events are in school hours, you might be able to help out at a weekend.
  5. Most importantly of all, find a way of checking in with your child. Sadly, “How was you day?” probably won’t cut it as a starting point for a conversation, you need to get clever.  Timing is everything if you want a child to talk to you, wait until they are relaxed and not busy doing something more interesting.  One of mine is easier to read than the other and has certain physical complaints when she is worried, so I generally know when I need to delve into the workings of her brain – believe me it can be a challenge.  The other one is very secretive, so desperate to please that she pretends she is happy, so as not to upset us.  Sometimes she seems flat and lacks enthusiasm, I know this is when she has a worry, but getting to the root of it can be difficult.

Resilience

Girls on Desk Looking at Notebook

Children are far more resilient than we realise, they cope with so much by just getting on with things. Having placed them in an interim school, we had to make the move to our preferred, local school when the places came up.  This meant a separation, which was really tough, but they got through it.  Eventually another place came up, so they could be together once more. I was terrified that this next move was going to push them over the edge, but if anything, they have come out fighting.  Stronger, happier and achieving more than ever before, this took just under 2 years though, so it was a long road to feeling settled.

It is never easy coming to terms with a move and leaving behind something familiar, surprisingly though, you, and they, can get through it.

 

How Did I Become a Walking Stereotype?

Woman Carrying Baby Boy Wearing White Tank Top Infront of White Curtain Inside the Room

I wouldn’t say that I set out a plan to live a life quite like this one, but here I am.  I was brought up with a strong female influence, to go out and be who I was, irrespective of my gender.  But over the last few years I have found myself living the old-fashioned ‘gender appropriate’ role of Mother and home maker.  For me, the reasons behind this are sound and not gender related.  My husband earned far more than me when I got pregnant.  Hastily adding that it is not because he is a man, he is better educated, good at this job and in his own words, ‘had a few lucky breaks.’  I on the other hand am less educated, less focused on the whole work thing, plus I had more than one unlucky break that set back my career to a level that I felt was successful but, was not exactly bringing in the big bucks.

So, AB (after babies), it fell to me to be the one responsible for the children during work hours.  It is 100% my responsibility, with favours being called in on certain days and use being made of his rather generous holiday allocation.  I have found that the secret is not to try to pin him down to a weekly / daily commitment, but to sneak in the occasional, becoming more frequent, favour.  But in the children’s eyes it is Mum, the woman, doing the school runs, sorting out their lives, cooking, cleaning and all that fun stuff that goes with having children.  In fact, on the days that he does pick up from school, you would think that a minor celebrity had arrived in the playground!

After baby no.1, I found it difficult to go back to work as I was so focussed on bringing along baby no.2.  This happened fairly promptly and there was a part-time job covering the pregnancy, with childcare for 1 child not being quite so depressingly expensive as childcare for 2. Then baby no.2 arrived and that threw up so many complications – childcare costs doubled, Grandparents backed off at the prospect of 2 rather than just 1, post-natal depression, mad business ideas to work around the children, etc.  My husband had to take on the main, sometimes sole, wage earner and all that brings with it; long hours, travel, stress, etc.  My mad business ideas brought in dribs and drabs of money, but nothing that could justify calling me a working parent.  I fell deeper into the old-fashioned female stereotype, until it became apparent that whatever role I took on, it would need me to take responsibility for the children and the home, as well as the job.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not 1952 in our house; he does his bit; he is doing the bath routine as I type, as tonight was an earlier one than usual for him.  But would he remember to make their packed lunches, sort their uniforms, know what homework was due when?  Sadly no.  Me, on the other hand am typing this, cooking dinner, making packed lunches and putting the rabbits back in their cage, not sure about the hygiene of all this at the same time though.  Now I’m wondering if anyone has fed the fish.  Darling Daughter no.1 has just arrived to tell me that I may heat her milk now; lucky me.

This is the sort of routine that my 2 daughters see every day; what they don’t notice is the work strewn across the table that I have done while they were out at school and, will return to after they go to bed.  They also don’t seem to understand that I work while they are at school in those rare and precious jobs that allow me to work school hours only.  What they see is the woman staying at home and keeping house.

Now to the tricky part, how do I teach them to be who they want to be and not fall into a stereotype?

  1. I bang on and on about my work at every opportunity, it’s pretty much white noise to them now, but maybe one day they will take it in. The dream is to write for a living, but for now, I will do whatever I can find to keep some money coming in.
  2. That brings me to 2; dreams and aspirations, in our house we bring them on in bucket loads, who cares that they change daily? They can have what they want in life and it’s my job to help them get it.
  3. Gender appropriate clothing – we are late to the game with gender neutral, it’s too late, the word is out that they are officially girls. I never wanted pink princesses or dolls in the house, but what do we have? Pink everywhere and scary looking dolls poking out of every drawer, not to mention the herd of unicorns that is now filling our house.  They choose what to wear; I am entering the, “You are not going out in that!” phase.  It would seem that 8 is the new 12; cropped tops and hot pants are in – now I am sounding very old and like my Mum here, but I thought we were covering up in these UV damaging days, apparently not!  I will always encourage their unique taste in fashion and long may it last, but I would like a bit more coverage when possible. Their tastes are currently girly, but that may change.  I would like it if they designed their own style, as that is something they showed interest in previously.  I will encourage their individuality every day. (This is not actually one of mine, but they would love this:)
  4. Gender Appropriate Careers – there are no men’s jobs and women’s jobs in our house, there are careers and jobs to enjoy. This is ironic as I am talking about the old-fashioned woman’s role of mother and home maker and sounding like I am putting it down. I truly am not, as I love where I am right now, but I have lived a different life and I want them to know there are so many options out there.Free stock photo of earth, space, working, united states of america
  5. Making the dreams a reality – at the moment, they are still quite young so dreams and focus change daily, if not hourly. What I now recognise as missing from me, is focus and drive (along with a massive lack of confidence, see point 6). I am a terrible role model for sticking with things, so this has to change as they become more impressionable.  I need to prove to them that sticking with things, working hard, being driven and focused is all that they need to succeed.  Along with a healthy pinch of luck.
  6. Praise and encouragement – I am crap at fake praise, they just know when I really like something and when I am just going through the motions, but is that a bad thing? Life is hard work and they need to know that getting what we want is not always easy. I am also a strong believer in making mistakes to learn from. Praise them for effort, urge them on, pick them up when they fall and boost them up high at every opportunity.  There are too many people in the world who are quick to put others down, I need to bring up resilient and confident women, who will not let others bring them down.
  7. No Excuses – being a woman is neither a hindrance, nor an excuse. We don’t need excuses, we need solutions. Whatever the problem is, the aim is that they will be able to solve it, sometimes with our help, but frequently without.
  8. Self-Image – we live in a society that is incredibly body image obsessed. We are driven to look a certain way to attract the opposite, or the same-sex, impress our peers, or to just look perfect for ourselves. But is looking perfect what life is all about, do we waste too much time on it?  Image is not just about how we look, it is about perception of who we are.  I know that I feel guilty for being at the school gates, as much as I feel guilty when I am not.  I sometimes feel that I have failed womankind by not being a mother and having a career at the same time; I worry that people see me as that failure. I often chip in that I have been at work, when we are waiting for the school door to open, just so that other Mums don’t judge me.  It is me who is judging though, not them!  But why feel that guilt for doing the wrong job, wearing the wrong thing, daring to get old?  It’s just a waste of effort that should be going into fulfilling the dream and living this all too short life.
  9. Careers / Life Choices – I will in no way force opinions on them, they will make their own choices, but I want them to know that the choices are out there. No pressure, but if you want to be an astronaut, then be one, if you want to have a house full of children, then do it. But most of all know the choices and the options, then decide.
  10. Last but not least is something that as a parent I am going to find hard to encourage but I have to do it; they need to take risks, try new things, experience it and live it. Life is not about taking the safe option, sometimes we need to stand on the ledge to see the world below. I doubt they will see silly old Mum as a risk taker as I pack their lunches and iron their clothes, but girls, “Never judge a book by it’s cover, open it up and have a read.”

 

An Almost Trip To Hampton Court – The Ordinary Moments

 

Day 1 of half term and the plans and we had an unexpected day off from Irish Dancing, the sun was shining, so a day out was a definite must.  We had suggested Hampton Court when we met some friends recently, but the group decision was a beach trip instead, so I thought, why not go for Hampton Court this time.  It is a bit of a journey over there, but the girls are not too bad at travelling and are entertained by I Spy and singing.  The challenging was something beginning with CS, which turned out to be steering wheel.

Hampton court

There was quite a queue to get in to Hampton Court car park and though we knew about the overflow car park, we had mistakenly thought it would be signposted, but no, that would be far too easy.  So, we ended up frantically trying to find this illusive car park and ended up in a park, which on googling, turned out to be Bushy Park.  I was then told that the fountain was called the Diana Fountain, which came as a shock from my geographically challenged husband.  It turns out that he had seen it when he was checking out the area earlier on google maps.  I thought it was all about Princess Diana, but it was actually the Greek, or is it Roman, goddess.

diana fountain

Bushy Park is a beautiful expanse of green space with trees, a fountain, play area and deer (who appeared in the evening).  We decided to get started with our day there, so we got out the picnic there and then.  There was an ice cream van in permanent residence, so we promised them an ice-cream if they had a bit of a run around first.  After about the thousandth, “Can I have an ice cream now?” I gave in.  DD2 is a fussy little beast and didn’t fancy anything from the van, so we headed off to the café, so she could get an alternative.  Sadly, she was met with the same choices, so had to make do with a Magnum, such first world problems and so young!

The Not So Ugly Ducklings

swan babies

After playing on the basic, but fairly well-equipped play area, (there was a huge sandpit that we managed to avoid, but highly recommend for the younger traveller), we thought we should go over to Hampton Court as that was why we had come.  It was a 5-minute walk to Lion Gate, which is right next to the maze.  We walked over to the Magic Castle as we didn’t have a ticket for the Maze but found that the entrance fee for the magic Castle and The Maze was going to be £27 for all 4 of us.  The girls were already a bit floppy and asking to be carried; no, we didn’t carry them, but nice try for asking girls.  They decided that they were too hot to play and fancied a boat trip instead.  What a result.  I like the Maze but on a hot day, I’m not sure I can raise the enthusiasm, so was quite pleased I didn’t have to do it.

We walked through the gardens, down to the riverside and hopped on a boat to Kingston.  I fancied Richmond but we decided the 1 ½ journey time was just that bit too long to keep them entertained, so opted for the 30 minutes to Kingston instead.  It was not crowded and we got a great seat by the window; the girls hung out of it and I took photos.  There were a few lone, slightly rounder men in speedos sunbathing on the banks; bit random and not exactly photogenic, which the girls found hilarious, “Look at that man Mummy, he is naked!” snigger, snigger. That happened about 3 times, what was that about?  It was a really lovely trip though, so relaxing and just the right amount of breeze on a hot day.  It cost around £36 for the four of us, but as we had not had to pay for parking, or entrance to Hampton Court, we didn’t mind paying.

boat trip

I’ve not been to Kingston for years, so it was good to have a wander around and inhale the amazing street food aromas.  I found a gluten free bakery and succumbed to some fantastic cupcakes, definitely going back there.  After just over an hour, we caught the boat back to Hampton Court, they only ran until 5 pm so we didn’t get much time in Kingston.  Bit smaller boat this time and the girls were not so entertained by river watch; they decided to play musical chairs instead.  That filled the 30 minutes quite easily, without having to resort to speedo watch again.

By the time we got back and had another play in Bushy Park playground, it was getting quite late and with the hour journey home, we decided to call it a day.  But the park was coming alive with families and groups of friends having late picnics and popping prosecco corks, that’s one for another time.  Just as we got back to the car, the deer had come out to eat; they were so tame, we could almost touch them.  The girls thought it was fantastic, even though they were a tiny bit nervous.  “Mummy, do deer antlers feel like Sylvanians?” that is actually a pretty good way to describe antlers.

deer

All in all, an ordinary day, but these are the highlights of their childhood.  I hope they will remember these simple days forever.

Suicide – Let’s Break Down The Silence

There have been some high-profile suicides lately and even Coronation Street have run a slightly clumsy story line on it, so I thought now would be a good time to talk about looking out for each other. I will not go into the details, but there are statistics out there on the amount of recorded suicides in the UK.  It is incredibly sad to know how many people are out there, that are so desperate, they decide to bring their lives to a close.

I am in no means an expert; my experience comes from losing family friends to suicide, dealing with my own mental health issues, as well as my helpline experience.  But it is all too easy to brush it under the carpet and say, “Well I don’t know anything about it, so what can I do to help, surely you need to be a professional to help?”  Though the professionals are the best people to help, access to them is limited and can often be out of the reach of people in need, so it is down to us as family, friends, strangers, members of the human race, to reach out and be there.

It is often thought that a person in the depths of depression will seek help, how often do we hear the comment that a suicide attempt was a cry for help?  Actually, when we are that low and deeply into our depression, conscious and logical thought processes go out of the window.  It is sometimes only when looking back that hindsight that gives us the clarity to recognise what happened.  But some people don’t get the opportunity for hindsight.

People with depression are amongst us all, living every day lives, getting on with things, seeming happy.  Many people with depression will do an amazing job of hiding it, putting on a brave face, even appearing like they don’t have a care in the world.  We all see the happy Facebook posts and know that they are not a true representation of the person’s life, well the same goes for that smile on their face.   Not everyone with depression will be suicidal, but it is likely that someone with suicidal thoughts will be suffering from a mental health condition, such as depression and anxiety.

One thing that everyone can do to help is talk to people, really talk and show a real interest.  We all ask people how they are, but do we wait for the answer, or listen to the answer?

If you are a relative of someone with depression then you might find they don’t talk to you.  It is not about lack of trust, it is about not wanting to bring other people down, not wanting them to be worried or scared, or maybe not knowing what to say.  Sometimes the words do not come, or they are held inside, for fear of not being able to stop it all flooding out.

The selfishness of leaving behind people who care – it is incredibly hard to explain how a person can leave behind people they love in such a terrible way.  Do they really care and love their friends and relatives?  The answer is a resounding yes!  They will feel that they have so little to give and are so useless, that the people will be better off without them.  I know this sounds ridiculous when you think of losing anyone that you care about, but that is what thought processes do to you when you feel that suicide is the only way out.  The demons tell you that your existence is pointless, that you are damaging other people by just being around.

I can still recall the last conversation that I had with a work colleague before he killed himself, it will haunt me forever.  I wish that I had done more, picked up on the signs and offered a helping hand or a listening ear.  I would be hugely over estimating my part in his life to think that I could have stopped it, but maybe if I had just taken a little more time to listen, then things would have worked out differently.  I’ve taken every opportunity ever since to listen and be there when I can.

What can we all do to help? Simple things, there is no need to over complicate this, we are not therapists or professionals, if you are, then you already know what you can do:

  • Smile, make eye contact, nod, say Hello – anything that makes an impression on someone.
  • When we ask how someone is, take time to listen.
  • Ask questions and wait for the answers. If someone is not ready to talk, then just be company, there is no need to force conversation, companionship in silence is just as beneficial.
  • This might sound a strange suggestion; talk about yourself; involve others in your life – it is great to feel that someone wants to share their time and their life, it makes us feel good to interact.
  • Look for signs – look when they think you are not looking, check that the smile doesn’t slip, look in their eyes; sadness hides in the eyes.
  • If someone is angry or stressed, don’t get angry back, think of the reasons why, try to find out what is troubling them, diffuse the situation. Anger is a good way of shutting people out but try to get through the barriers.
  • Look for behaviour that is out of character, it may be something really small, but if you see it then make sure you check in on them more often.
  • We lead busy lives, that is why this needs to be a group effort. It is too easy to find our cliques and stick with them; try to reach out to the people outside your group, you might find they have an interesting story to tell.
  • Be brave; it is easy to run when you find the going getting tough with a friend or relative, feel that your own problems are already enough to cope with, but be brave and take on both, don’t abandon someone because you are struggling, maybe you can struggle together.

Here are a few helplines and contact details for people in need, they will give support to friends and relatives too.

Samaritans – for everyone
Call 116 123
Email jo@samaritans.org

Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) – for men
Call 0800 58 58 58 – 5pm to midnight every day
They have a webchat page too : https://www.thecalmzone.net/help/webchat/

 

Papyrus – for people under 35
Call 0800 068 41 41 – Monday to Friday 10am to 10pm, weekends 2pm to 10pm, bank holidays 2pm to 5pm
Text 07786 209697
Email pat@papyrus-uk.org

The Silver Line – for older people
Call 0800 4 70 80 90

Check out MIND too, they have some great information on their website

https://www.mind.org.uk/

And for those left behind, this is a useful website:

https://uksobs.org/

Is it still a wedding anniversary?

Green Tall Trees With View of Mountain and Sun Peeking Through

Today is a day of reflection as it would have been my 20th wedding anniversary with my now, ex husband.  It feels strange to think that without the twists and turns of fate I could be in such a different place to where I am now.

I am not going to disrespect the time we had by talking about what went wrong, as today is about remembering the good times.  In fact, I don’t think I really know what changed between us, it was probably just us.  Life is stressful and hard, so people change, the best of friends become strangers, lovers become haters and the cycle starts anew, that’s what we call life.

Our wedding day was a day much like any other, there was nothing momentous about it, there were friends and family all gathered together, which made it a day to remember.  It deserves noting as part of what made me who I am today, not in a resentful or angry way as often happened with other anniversaries.  I focused on the bad memories and life is just too short for the negativity of hurt.  For had it not all gone stale, I would not be in the place I am today.

We parted friends, but sadly the friendship turned sour and we drifted apart.  My biggest regret is that we didn’t get chance to put it all to rest before he was laid to rest.  Our petty squabbles were so insignificant in the greater scheme of things.  I went on to experience the life that I felt I was missing out on and I hope that he did too.

I have a new wedding anniversary now, of a day that really was one to remember.  My children were born into this happy relationship and our family is now my world.

For those of you who are at that time in your lives when things are falling apart, take some comfort from one who has been there, it does get better and it does get easier.  I did not going out looking for my next husband, I went out looking for me.  Believe me there was a long time that I didn’t like what I found.  Eventually I grew to acknowledge that I can appreciate what I have and that is when I found someone that appreciated me too.  I can’t tell you what would have happened if I had not met my now husband, but it took time.  It wasn’t a time of solitary misery that’s for sure, so in no way am I saying that I needed a man to complete the story, he just came along to help with some of the chapters.  So if it is your time to break up, then welcome the dawn of a new day, it’s onward and upwards.

 

 

Introducing Theo aka Fifi

fifi

My little old man

I thought I would take a little time to introduce the other man in my life; Theo the cat.  He is now affectionately known as Fifi, not sure how that happened, it just did.  I had many ups and downs on my road to parenting.  Back in 2008, I began to think that the end of the road was in sight and that babies were just not going to happen.  I decided that a child substitute was needed in the form of a cat; I had always pictured myself, in later life, as a mad old lady surrounded by cats.  So, I took a look through the local paper; old skool, I know.  There was his ad, which I responded to and 9 ½ years later, here we are; 2 children, 2 rabbits, 6 fish (it was a different 2 fish that bred like rabbits, then there was an unfortunate boiling incident, so 6 new fish have just arrived), have all been added to the family, along with Fifi.  There was briefly another cat but her taste for bats was more than we could bear; after removing countless bats from the bedrooms in the middle of the night, not to mention the remains of a billion small rodents from the carpets, we decided to wave the other cat off to our saviour, The Cats Protection League.  So little man Fifi became a lone cat once again.

He was gorgeous, I even used his photo on my promo material for mad venture number 1; the pet sitting and dog walking business.  That lasted all of 30 seconds, as I hadn’t exactly thought through the challenge of transporting dogs in a tiny Toyota Yaris.

cute fifi

He was playful and little bit bitey, but kittens are, aren’t they?  He was timid, very nervous around strangers and wary of other cats.  In the early years, I opened the door to find him pinned to the front step by the neighbour’s cat, after that he became victim to every local cat bully and has been hideously tormented, until, that is, the recent arrival of the marvellous invention, the microchip cat flap!  No more uninvited feline visitors.

It was ‘radiator cover gate’ that gave us some cause for concern about his aggressive behaviour.  We thought that covering the horrible old radiator in the hall was a cheap way of making things look better, but we didn’t get around to fixing it to the wall.  We were fairly unaware of how precariously balanced it was until I heard a crash and Fifi came flying through the house, with blood dripping from his tail.  Sadly, he had pulled the cover on top of him and cut his tail quite badly.  Off to the vets we went for a quick operation and a lovely overnight stay in Hotel De Vet.  The operation went well as general anaesthetic is an amazing thing; but the next day, I received a call telling me to collect Fifi immediately, he was a terrorist and was being expelled.  He had apparently turned rogue on the vet’s nurse and was blacklisted for life.  How could they say such a thing about our cute and gorgeous little Fifi?

He was still a little bitey sometimes, he liked a rough and tumble play with me; I think I might have been a surrogate sibling for him.  That was all fine though.  Along came baby number 1 and he was fine with it, he used to sit in her room meowing and rub himself on my legs, when I was holding her.  Sadly, she wasn’t then, and isn’t now, a cat fan, she needs help to walk past him, over 8 years on.  Baby number 2 was a step too far for him and he has ignored her since birth.  She lets him into the cupboard under the stairs when he shuts himself out, so she has a purpose in his eyes.  She, on the other hand, is not too sure of his purpose.

 

young fifi

Still cute as an adolescent

I can’t remember when killer cat mode kicked in.  It was definitely there all the time we lived in Wiltshire, and possibly even before then.  After we moved 2 years ago, he seemed to chill out, until yesterday that is.  Sometimes, he starts off all friendly, then suddenly the ears go back, the heckles (is that a word?) go up and he makes this sound like he is hissing under water. Then he attacks with claws and teeth, my ankle is his favourite, but if I fend him off with my arm, he goes all koala on me and completely wraps himself around my arm, using both teeth and claws.  My husband has developed this technique of blowing in his face to get rid of him, but I’m not sure what that says about his breath as it doesn’t seem to work for me, in fact, it just makes him madder.  All this came to head when we lived in a 3-storey town house for a while.  One child was a nightly waker, so one of us had to go down a floor to collect her, this would often be me.  Until, one night, Fifi decided that this was a reason to attack me, the attacks then continued most nights.  I would be pinned against a wall, child in arms, with a grey furry thing physically attached to my ankle, calling out for help in a sort of happy style, so as not to scare the child.  Only me, I might add, no one else. Does this mean he loves me most, or the opposite?  Eventually, I had to stop the middle of the night child run, oh what a shame!

Things settled down and it was just the occasional over exuberant play session that led to killer cat re-emerging.  But then yesterday, I was met with the usual squiring session that always greets me when I get up.  I usually give him a quick stroke and then head down to the kitchen to feed him.  But not yesterday, totally out of the blue and for no reason killer cat reared its ugly head; I had to be rescued, dripping blood from my arm and leg.  After it all calms down, he is sorry and rubs himself on my legs, follows me around, turns up wherever I am for a head to head session, where he rubs his head against mine, if I am particularly lucky I might get hair chewed too.   This went on for the whole of yesterday, until the evening, when he decided he had done enough grovelling and returned to his spot on the sofa next to the other man in my life.

cut arm

One of the wounds

Why he does this remains a mystery, he never does it to anyone else.  He is a lover, not a fighter and usually runs inside like Usain Bolt if approached by another cat.  But I get to bear the brunt of his testosterone fuelled outbursts, lucky me.  Isn’t being owned by a cat great?

Next time I will tell you all about how he loves his cuddly elephant, just a little too much and very regularly.

My Top 10 Tips Ideas for Promoting a Healthy Attitude to Food for My Children.

I have always had a difficult relationship with my body, particularly my weight.  My family were fit and healthy; Dad worked long days on the farm and when he wasn’t working he was doing judo.  Mum was mad about her yoga and still is, so body image was a positive thing in our house.  So where did my poor body image stem from?  I am not sure I know the answer to that question, or ever will.  Would knowing the cause, give me a cure?  Probably not, but maybe it would help me with my own children and their self-image.

With so much talk of childhood obesity, I am lucky in that is not a concern for me.  My children take after their naturally slim Dad, he has no idea about what it is like to diet; I hope that they grow up the same as him.  But they have inherited his sweet tooth, so teaching them about healthy food, versus yummy food is an ongoing challenge, it is easy to let it slip when their weight is not a problem.  Their weight is always on the under rather than over side of the healthy scale, so at the moment the idea of cutting down because of weight is alien to them but getting them to be able to manage their own eating with a healthy attitude is something I desperately need them to have.

Brown Potato in Front of French Fries

I was a big eater and luckily have the height to hide my weight, as I have been told many times.  Problem is that I think I might need to gain a bit more height to cover my weight these days; I may be under height for my weight now.  In our traditional Yorkshire farming family, food was a big part of our lives.  There were desserts with every dinner and cakes with every tea.  I regularly spent my pocket money on chocolate on the way to school and then again on the way home.  Fridays were Mum’s shopping day, so there would bowls of peanuts and chocolate bars to snack on.  We all ate the same meals as my Dad, who needed his carbs to keep warm in the freezing Yorkshire winters and fairly chilly summers.  I think the plan was that we would eat smaller portions of the high calories meals, but my mind has a problem telling me when I am full, so I am not great with ladylike portions!  It is easy to copy the patterns of my parents, even though that is not how I eat now.

Very long story short, I grew up into a, some might say curvy, others said blobby (yes, I did hear that comment about me) woman.  I left home at 19 and began a journey of discovery about what I should and shouldn’t eat.  At 19 the weight came off easily; with the big change in diet that came with cooking for myself; my staple diet was soup and toast, I began to take a whole new shape.  This is going to be a whole series of the blogs about weight, as there is much to tell, but the point of today’s blog is to talk about the things I have learned a little later than is useful about feeding my own children.

Free stock photo of food, healthy, red, summer

  1. They do not need to finish a plate of food

Everyone’s appetite is different; the advice given to adults is to finish eating before feeling full, as the brain takes time to tell the stomach it is full – or in my case it skips that part and goes straight to telling me to eat chocolate.  I am not averse to snacks, as long as they are healthyish, as I know my youngest is better with more regular small meals than 3 large ones.

  1. Eat food slowly

I am a super-fast eater, so much so that I have polished off a plate of food before my brain even computes that I have started eating.  It is hard at school to eat slowly, my youngest struggles with the others eating so much faster than her; she often comes home hungry as she hasn’t had time to finish her lunch.  I don’t tell her to eat faster, we just find her something to eat when she gets home.

  1. Dessert / Pudding is not a necessity

Refined sugar is not needed for energy, in fact it is not needed at all.  As my Mum used to say, there is no pudding until the savoury stuff has gone.  If they are too full to finish a plate of savoury, then it is no to pudding, harsh but true, children.

  1. We don’t all like the same things

It seems to be accepted as adults that we don’t like certain things, but not so much for children; we all have different tastes and children’s tastes are no exception to that.

  1. If at first you don’t succeed

I stand by point 4, but we need to really try something to be sure it is not for us.  Textures are an issue that many are unable to work around e.g. I love peaches, but can’t stand the feel of the skin, so for me they have to be peeled.  I don’t like the texture or the taste of pears in any form, that is just the way it is, despite trying many times.  If a child doesn’t like something, try presenting it in a different way; peeling it, cooking it, hiding it within other foods. I am not a great lover of raw peppers but, I find the taste subtler if cooked; I prefer raw carrots to cooked ones; there is no logic or rules to what we like and why.  It is a painful process but we need to help our children find their own likes and dislikes.

  1. Forcing / Bribing Just Doesn’t Work

We once tried to get our oldest daughter to try new foods, the deal was that she would try a small piece of food a few times to see if she liked them or not.  She refused to even try many foods at least once, so we decided that she had to try things before she made her decision about them.  Then grape gate happened!  Her Dad decided to take on the task of getting her to try grapes, she refused, he begged, she refused again, he got cross, she still refused, he got more cross and she ran off to have a huge tantrum.  No grape has since passed her lips.  Force feeding, or bribery is not for us, she would starve rather than eat something she doesn’t like or believes she doesn’t like.  We find that eating with friends is a good way of introducing new tastes, she is a little more receptive to trying something if her friends are eating it.

  1. Keep Things Balanced

Try to keep a balance of protein, carbs and vegetables for every meal and explain about the reasons why.  Talk to them about nutrients and the reasons we eat what we do, there are some great TV programmes about health and nutrition, so if they don’t believe you then they might believe someone on TV.

  1. Cook with Them

I am not great at this bit, all my two ever want to do is make cake, but they are getting a feel for cooking and hopefully we can move onto something savoury one day.eggsplosion

  1. There are no ‘good’ foods, ‘bad’ foods, reward or punishment foods.

I was given food as a reward too many times, I associated food with comfort and the good things, later this turned on me (a story for another time).  I don’t like to hear that food is bad, everything in moderation and all that.  Education is the key; a ‘bad’ food is just a food that we should eat a little less of.  Mine love sweets and chocolates, but they know to ask me before digging into their stashes and ‘usually’ accept it if I say no and give my reason why.  This has been a long challenge though as my oldest does not like the word no!Brown Potato in Front of French Fries

  1. Ignore all of the above and head down McDonalds

Life is just too short to fight the good fight every day!  Joking ….. I don’t even like McDonalds and yes, I have tried them.  The kids eat McDonalds, but it is a convenience when we are out and they know that.  With busy lives, we all need convenience; I find eating on the go is tricky to keep healthy, so I often pack a few healthier things to take with us.  It can be a pain, but so can finding something for them to eat on the go without spending a fortune.

I have an unhealthy relationship with food and I need to work especially hard to ensure my children don’t develop the same relationship.  I wish it was all so much simpler and the things we loved to eat were the things that were the healthiest to eat, oh well, I can dream.

Bank Holidays –  Compare the before and after children long weekends.

 

It’s been a lovely Bank Holiday weekend; the weather was amazing and we were all together.  Made all the sweeter by the fact that the day’s pay I lost, I can now get another day.  The lazy days of spring / summer had me reflecting on how life has changed for us since the arrival of our little bundles of joy.  Our bundles are now large packages of delight, with attitude.

Fridays –

Wine Glass on Restaurant Table

Before kids:

We would finish work and head off to the pub, probably until closing time and then maybe onto someone’s house to finish off the evening with more drink and good conversation.

After kids:

It’s finish work, pick up child 1, return an hour later and pick up child 2, cook dinner for kids, sort bags, sort uniform, ensure homework is all planned for, pack bag of supplies for 60-minute trip out, and then off to the pub we go.  We have 2 great kids who do allow us a one drink trip to our local pub on a Friday night, this is a Friday night ritual, not just for bank holidays.  In the summer there is the not so secret garden for them to play tag in and generally drive all the other drinkers mad with their screaming.  Hence the reason it is a one drink thing, as I think any longer may result in us being barred. This Bank Holiday Friday they made a friend, so there were three screaming children running around the not so secret garden, made even less secret by our screamers.  So, after countless, be quiets, calm downs, stop running around the tables, mind those people, be kind to your sister and play nicely, we finished our drinks and headed home for the usual bed time routine.  After that, it’s our turn to eat, and then it’s not long until we collapse, exhausted into bed.

Saturdays-

Coffee & magazine

 

Before kids:

Lay in bed till around 9 ish, maybe a little later, depending on the night before.  Leisurely cup of tea, read the papers or a magazine, generally, gently ease into the day.  Bank Holiday with friends might mean a trip to the shops, a stop for some wine, followed by the prep required for a big night out, then it would have been the big night out.  If dancing was involved, this could take up pretty much the whole night, falling into bed just before dawn.  A more couplie Saturday could have been a similar ease into the day.  Lunch and a walk somewhere, followed by evening out with other couplie friends.

After kids:

It’s a 6.30 start – don’t you just love the light mornings?  They both have terrible fear of the cat, so have to be escorted past the cat and down the stairs, but thanks to Sylvanian Families, they were entertained for an hour before demanding food, meaning a welcome return to bed for parents.  Then it’s a 7.30 restart and, by this time they are up to full speed, bickering about everything and in full on demand mode.

We decided to do the grown-up thing this weekend; doing DIY type things in the house and garden.  With kids in tow, we, along with the whole of the local area descended on B&Q for supplies.  Apparently, B&Q had thought it wise to have a Paw Patrol event on a spring bank holiday and the car park was rammed, with a queuing entry system on the go.  How random is a Paw Patrol event at B&Q?  Supplies bought, we head back home to do DIY.  Here is a list of demands we received on returning home:

  1. Swimming costumes to be found and put on the right way around, backward bikinis leave little to the imagination – trail of clothes is left from garden to bedrooms
  2. Water balloon filler bottle to be filled and water balloons tied – repeat this task about a million times
  3. Sun loungers to be dragged out of the shed, cleaned and laid out with cushions
  4. Drinks
  5. Snacks
  6. Find bouncy castle – total result that the thing still inflated, an inflate / deflate it, repeat many, many times over the weekend, as apparently it is fun to be on it when it deflates.
  7. Clear up burst balloons to stop the rabbits eating them and choking – again repeat a million times
  8. Sand table to be refilled after all the nasty looking sand had been removed
  9. More snacks
  10. Too hot, shade to be found in the form of spare garden umbrella
  11. Shed / play house hunt for balls, all of which are in the neighbour’s garden. Luckily this was his weekend to go do a ball return, about 10 balls returned on Sunday morning.
  12. Realisation that we had forgotten sun cream on one arm, as it started to go red, there was quick dash to cover it in as much factor 50 as we could find.
  13. Dinner – to be laid out in the garden, then cleared; there is not a chance either of them could possibly carry a plate into the kitchen.
  14. Repeat most of the above
  15. Provide tablets for indoor, cooler entertainment while we tidy away all of the garden equipment.

After this it was time for them to go to bed, luckily tired after a day outdoors and an early start.  We could then get on with some of the DIY that had been cast aside in favour of parenting demands.  Bottles of wine and cider opened. Dinner. Collapsed into bed exhausted.

Sundays-

Gray Cat Near Gray Vase With Sunflower

Pre-Children:

A day of lazing around watching TV, reading, maybe a lunch out and a walk somewhere.  It’s a bank holiday weekend, so there may well be another evening in the pub.

After children:

We were joined by a 4 ft unicorn (no this was not a drug induced hallucination, we actually have a 4 ft cuddly unicorn) and 2 children around 7 am.  Then, we repeated all of Saturday, but without the trip to B&Q.  This time we decided to delight them with a trip to the local steam fair, which is always popular, until we refuse to pay for the Hook a Duck game and all descends into despair.

Mondays

Free stock photo of sea, beach, footprint, steps

Pre-Children:

Beach trip for sure, no worries about sitting in traffic as the music would be on, there would be no rush to get home, so if it took forever to get there, then that was not a problem.  Few drinks, snacks a good book packed and we were all set to go.

Post Children:

A beach trip is now like an arctic expedition, planning, packing and preparing for 1 little day out is now more effort than planning for 2 weeks away pre-children.  Children can’t cope with traffic jams, it is a proven fact that they melt down after a whole 5 minutes in the car.  We decided that this unseasonably hot day was no day to be fighting the crowds (I sound more and more like my own parents every day… argh!)  Needless to say, the DIY had over run so the one planned social event of the weekend had to be postponed, possibly the next months’ worth of social events may need to be postponed, DIY is quite time consuming!

We decided that Monday’s mini outing would be a picnic in the park, when I say picnic I mean some swiftly heated mini sausage rolls and a cheesy dipper each (not exactly a planned picnic), followed by a trip to a local river for some paddling. I had forgotten just how much rain we had had over the last few weeks; the river was more of a wading / swimming event and for the none swimming duo, it proved a little too tricky, muddy and it seems that pond weed feels funny on their feet.

Not unlike their mother, my 2 like to observe people but, sadly, they lack filters, so here is just one of their many observations:

DD1, “Mummy why is that lady only wearing pants and her boobie holder?”

Me, “It’s a bikini, not pants and can we say it a bit quieter please?”

DD1, “They look like pants.” Followed by lots of giggling and sniggering, plus me telling their Dad not to look as the bikini wearer only looked about 15.

Another memorable comment of the weekend was:

“Mummy, my pumps are bad, they feel like I have pooed myself!”  Not exactly what you want to hear on your relaxing Bank Holiday weekend.

All that said, I would not change a thing, time with the kids is the best.  The ordinary days make for the most fun sometimes.  It’s all about making memories, no matter what you do, enjoy it and remember it.

Anxiety, work and me – coming to terms with my anxious self.

I have never come a real conclusion about what I should be, or should not be doing, when it comes to work; I think the ship has sailed on finding that conclusion.  All I can do now is find something that pays money for doing something that I enjoy.  There are many practical reasons as to why I didn’t find my way one the path to a career, but recently I have reflected on the whole piece, as the history of it all comes back to bite me.  I am now wondering if practicalities were the reasons, or the excuses.  I am not exactly out and proud about my anxiety, but I am coming to terms with the part of me that is exactly that, a part of me.

Free stock photo of woman, books, desk, school

I managed to work with anxiety on my shoulder for many years, but jobs came and went with alarming frequency, especially as I got older.  When I arrived into parenting, I found that work was a challenge to fit in around all that being a parent brings.  The biggest problem of all being the cost of paying someone else to look after my children, especially when I wanted nothing more than to be there for them.  I started on the road to self-made millionaire and began my own business, to fit in around the children.  I soon realised that millionaire was never going to happen; in fact, I was happy, sometimes even ecstatic, to get paid anything at all.  That helped me come to terms with losing the bigger salaries that I had earned in the past.  My business was tough and lonely, anxiety makes sales and marketing an almost impossible mountain to climb.  I found myself almost apologising for trying to sell my business.  So, when my children started school I began to volunteer in their classes for a little human interaction.  This was fun; there was little or no pressure on my permanent state of anxiety, I felt comfortable with the children, challenged, but in a positive way.  It gave me an excuse not to work on building my business, but I needed to earn a wage.

So, began the journey into the paid world of education; job one was Lunchtime Supervisor (dinner lady to those outside of education), it was OK, but I started to feel the strain of the anxiety.  The thing that I have discovered in education is that you are told how not to do something, often with blunt force, but not always told how to do things.  I began to feel panicked and out of control, I did not know what I was doing, how could I perform to the best of my ability, what if I failed, what if they didn’t think I was good at the job, or didn’t like me? These are just a few of the questions that an anxious brain will ask over and over again.  But despite the self-doubt and the anxiety, I managed to do 1 ½ hours a day and not get fired.  The wage packet at the end was tiny, but I was only working 7 hours a week, 38 weeks of the year, so what could I expect.  I needed to upgrade to classroom.

Free stock photo of person, woman, dark, face

My family had to up sticks and relocate, so the failing / abandoned business got put in a box and I decided to face the fear and do it anyway; I trained to be a Teaching Assistant.  Now this is the perfect job for a school mum, isn’t it? Work school hours, sort of, have the holidays off with pay, work with children, give something back and other honourable thoughts.  The job is all of those things, except to a person with anxiety, for that person it is a minefield of challenges and agonising self-doubt.

College was OK, study was manageable, the deadlines caused me anxiety, but the work I could handle. I was incredibly lucky to find a paid job, while I studied.  I can tell you the practical reason for leaving the first TA job; it was that the cost of travelling to and from school did not make the tiny salary worthwhile.  However, the real reason is that my crippling anxiety was making every day hell.  People who have worked in education for a long time can become quite blunt, authoritative, or some might say a little bossy.  I should say that this is not everyone, but there are a few who find it difficult to remember that the way they command a room of children is not necessarily the same way you should command a colleague.  To be fair, these people are present in all parts of life, but for some reason, this job made it harder. Now to all you everyday folk, this is not a problem, you just politely remind them who they are talking to and go on your merry way.  Miss anxiety, however, was felled by the cutting remark, or fearful of the barked command, I would scuttle off to do as I was told, my adult brain telling me this was wrong, my anxious mind telling me that I was useless at the job, getting it wrong, disliked.  This made me falter in my role, become confused and anxious, the job that I could do well, suddenly seemed out of reach of my abilities.  Anxiety leads to mistakes as our brains become confused and anxious, us anxious people can struggle to clarify and problem solve, mountains and molehills spring to mind.

Jobs came and went; how lucky was I to keep getting new jobs after giving up on the old ones?  The final paid school role brought me to where I am now, the lightbulb moment where it all made sense.  When working in a school alongside a teacher, we are there to assist in anyway we can; there is not necessarily a structure to what we do, where we do it and how often we will be needed to do it.  For a routine driven workplace, the job is different every day.  Now that should make it a dream, and for me, who doesn’t want to like routine, it should have been perfect; how could I get bored if it changed by the minute?  But my anxious mind could not gain the control I needed. I spent every night worrying about what the next day would bring, and every day worrying about what I was doing, was it good enough?  The anxiety meant tears, frustration, confusion and an inability to see the wood for the trees.  I became more and more stressed, breathless, I would wake in the night having night terrors, I would cry at everything and often did cry, either in the classroom or hidden in a toilet somewhere.  The children made me feel amazing but broke my heart at the same time.  Children are blunt, but funny, the truth can sometimes be hard to take.  I found that my home life suffered as I was on a constant knife edge of emotions, angry one minute, crying the next.  I realised that I was not able to cope with the lack of control needed to do the job, I had to take back the control as I was spiralling into a dark place.

Free stock photo of black-and-white, person, woman, dark

Is this the end?  At the moment, I think sadly it is the end of my TA job, as every time I walk into the school as a volunteer, the old feelings return; I feel the nagging self-doubt, the panic, the fear of failing.  Failing at what is a mystery to me – as a parent helper, there are no expectations on me, but my anxiety will not let that logical thought be true, I feel the need to perform.  At the moment, I am focusing my attentions on other ‘controlled’ roles.  Whether it is just me, or the me with anxiety, I don’t know, but I know that I am desperate to please, I consistently over perform, then burn out.  I am told that the secret is to underperform and always have more to give.  But with my need to please and constant seeking of gratification, that is just not in me, so for now, I will continue to over perform as best I can.  A recent interview comment about my ever-changing CV certainly hit home, I am not sure that I can fix the past, but I can find a compromise with my demons within, maybe I can finally stay somewhere.  I can fight my anxiety, as I have done time and time over, but it is exhausting, sometimes I just need to give it a minor victory and find a way to live harmoniously together.

I have found that anxiety as a parent is harder to work with; as a mum I naturally give my all to my children, all of my courage and strength goes into what I need to do for them.  That leaves the part that belongs to just me falling short of bravery.  I will not give in and I will make something work, but every time I take a knock, my anxiety has a great time telling me how I deserve to fail.

It is a shame that this job didn’t work out for me, but I could never be a brain surgeon either, is that a problem?  I need to play to my strengths, which do seem to lie in organisation and order.  I am currently trying a self-employed freelance role, which does not require me to sell my wares, but gives me enough control to feel good about what I do.  There is even the occasional confident moment when something good happens.  If I have learned anything over my many years of fighting my anxiety it is to find a way of working with it and not against it.

Free stock photo of food, coffee, cup, table

In my next blog, I am planning to write about some of the coping strategies that I have successfully used.

Our Day Out In West Dean Garden #Ordinary Moments

A short blog about our trip to West Dean Gardens and a few of my pics to show off, just an ordinary day out, but it is what family life is all about.

west dean 7.jpg

I moved down to Petworth many years ago, before becoming quite nomadic and moving around the country too many times.  I had heard about West Dean Gardens and kept meaning to go along, but never got around to it.  As we were nearby doing one of our many child activities, we decided we would go along to see what it was like.  We are always looking for places to take Grandparents, so it was a good opportunity to test it out.  On paper, it doesn’t hold much appeal for children as there is no play area, but it is actually a perfect space to take children to just enjoy being outdoors.  The gardens are attached to West Dean College of Arts and Conservation, which I guess is responsible for the upkeep of the gardens, as they are immaculately kept.  The gardens are perfect for our 2 sets of garden mad grandparents.

I was worried that the children might not enter into the spirit of our great outdoors expedition, but I was pleasantly surprised at just how much of a family day out it was. I would say it is a half day, rather than a full day, but definitely worth a visit.

It is near to Chichester, a bit off the beaten track, but the sat nav got us there without a problem.  Parking was free and there was plenty of it.  The whole garden is laid to paths, so wheelchair and buggy friendly.  I doubt that they would be keen on scooters, but I didn’t actually see a sign saying no scooters.

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We arrived just after it had opened, following our early morning dance class; it was not sunny, but it was dry, which I would say is a must for the visit, as it is all outdoors.  The entrance takes you straight to a huge window seat which is set up for the café, it lures you straight into the café, which is never a bad thing.  The café was lovely, relatively small, but with a lot of outdoor seating for the warmer days.  We only had take out coffees, which were good, but there was a wide range of snacks and ice creams on offer, both to take out, or eat in.  There is no reason why you couldn’t take a picnic and have it in the woodland area, or by the river, there are plenty of benches in the garden, but no picnic tables, so take a blanket.

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Entrance was free for the children and £8 per adult.  Not cheap, but season tickets are available if you wish to go more than once, then that spreads the cost a little.  It is early season at the moment, but the garden still looked amazing, just coming into the spring bloom.  The garden team work really hard on it and it shows.

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First stop was the bridge for pooh sticks, good simple fun that they so far, have not got bored of.  Then there was manic running up and down the side of the river, before we set off in the direction the map showed up.  There are lots of old-fashioned glasshouses, but don’t go expecting the Wisley Glasshouse, they are built for purpose glasshouses, rather than showcases.  Some were open for the children to run through and check out the plants, others just had a little viewing hole, which the children seemed to find quite intriguing.

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There was a dovecote, which had a visitor’s book in it, so they spent quite a while checking out where visitors came from and writing in their own entries.

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From the glasshouses, we went into the garden which was laid out with bridges and water features to entertain them.  There were plenty of benches to take a rest, or possibly leave a grandparent to relax, while the rest of us go on the country walk.  The country walk was listed as 2 ½ miles, however, we went a bit off track and it was possibly a little longer.  We walked through the fields of sheep and lambs, which was really sweet.  The children spent most of the time picking their favourite lambs, this helped them barely notice the walking.  The views were lovely and after a fairly gentle uphill walk, we were on the downhill strait back to the gardens.  There was no moaning from the children, they seemed to genuinely have fun running around.  It was a relaxing and simple family outing, we will definitely be taking the grandparents there when they visit on a sunny day.

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We decided to move onto Chichester afterwards as it is so close to West Dean, where we found a great play area, as well as loads of shops and cafes.  We combined the two to give us a full day out.  Having managed to swerve the gift shop in West Dean, we did end up having to buy the most weird bean filled floppy banana for DD2 in The Works.  She loves waving her floppy banana around, while DD1 got a unicorn squishee.  One day we will get away with just saying no and maybe Mummy and Daddy can buy themselves a treat instead!