Monday, 7 September 2015

When your only child starts school

Today is the start of a new era - my little boy has started school. My only child. My baby. Only he's not a baby any longer...or a toddler...or even a preschooler. He's almost five years old and, as of today, he's now officially a schoolchild. Off he went this morning in his new uniform with mummy loaded up with book bag, PE kit, spare clothes, wellies and a water bottle all labelled with his name. We were up, breakfasted and dressed by 7:30am which left plenty of time for playing and for taking those all important photos before daddy left for work. We were all organised and then suddenly there was a last minute wobble as we were due to leave the house - "I don't want to go!" - which meant we were running a few minutes late. We had a cuddle and an emergency phone call to daddy (who was on his way to work by that time) before finally leaving the house with me panicking about the time. Not the best start but I'm sure teachers are used to first day tardiness due to last minute nerves. A game of 'I Spy' distracted my boy on the walk to school and by the time we arrived at his classroom, found his peg and had caught sight of his friend, all nerves seemed to have been forgotten. He let me leave with no more than a quick kiss goodbye. A familiar face and a load of toys and it was 'mummy who?'

His first day is only a half day and so it will be time to collect him soon. Hopefully he will have had a fun morning and any sadness and worry will have faded. But what about for me? I have no real worries for him - once he has had a few days to settle in, he will be fine. He's a bright boy and one of the older children in his year group, so he is more than ready for school and to take those first tentative steps in his formal educational journey. And yet, still it seems so soon. It seems only weeks ago that he was learning to walk, toddling along in his dungarees (I miss dungarees - he looked so cute in them!).

Like all the other parents waving their child off on their first day today, I'm wondering where the time went. Where my baby went. When your firstborn child starts school, it's a time of anxiety. How will they cope? What are the demands of a school day? How do the logistics work for parents? Do we have enough spare jumpers? It's a learning curve for parent and child alike. And it's emotional too. Parents who have been through it before and are now dropping off their youngest seem more confident. They know the drill and it doesn't faze them. But it's even more emotional in some ways - the last child growing up and the baby stage finished for good. The end of an era. As a parent of an only child, it's all of those things at once because he's my eldest AND my youngest. I've got to let my last baby - my only baby - go into this new stage without ever having done it before. An emotional day for me. A new journey for my son and a new journey for me; I wonder what lies ahead.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Random Review: Biore UV Perfect Face Milk

I thought I'd start adding some reviews into my blog of random things as they occur to me. Hence the name Random Reviews. Of course, they won't literally be random- you won't see giraffes one week and crisps the next or anything. It will mainly be products that I use and enjoy and may or may not be new to me. Gives me something different to ramble about awhile.  

So to get the ball rolling we have Biore UV Perfect Face Milk SPF 50. This product has Holy Grail status for me and it is one of those products I would actually cry if they discontinue. It's bad enough that you can't actually get this in the UK so I have to buy it on eBay from sellers in Thailand (there are plenty to choose from). 

Perfect Face Milk has spf50 yet is a really thin, light lotion that is basically a facial sunscreen and primer combined. It is very similar in texture to Clarins UV Plus SPF 50 and L'Occitane's Immortelle Brightening Sheild SPF 40 (both of which I've used in previous years), although I have to say that I actually prefer the Briore one personally as it leaves a better finish on my skin. I quite like the clarins one until they added the tint which then seemed to leave my skin with a greasy finish. The other bonus of the Biore is that, where the premium brands retail for over £30 per tiny 30ml bottle, I generally pay around £8 inclusive of shipping for this. Bargain!

Perfect Face Milk goes on smoothly as it is silicone-based and leaves skin with a lovely soft finish. Not totally matte but oil-free and just somehow 'smoother'. I use mineral make-up (Lily Lolo) and this works perfectly as a primer underneath it. It also improves the look of my skin on the odd occasion I go make-up free. In fact this product has given me the confidence to do that where I never had it before - I even went without make-up on our recent trip to Legoland.

As you can see from the picture, the product is a bright white fluid. Despite the colour, it rubs in well and doesn't leave a white cast on me at all. Saying that, I do have reasonably fair skin so this might not be the case with darker skin tones. I love that Perfect Face Milk has a high SPF level and yet isn't thick, greasy or uncomfortable to wear. And I do wear it every day without fail as I have melasma (a hormonal hyperpigmentation) and not wearing spf makes it a lot worse. This hyperpigmentation was actually what triggered me looking for a high spf product in the first place and I'm really glad I found this one.

Like most spf products, you really need to re-apply this every two hours for proper sun protection but it's not particularly  practical to do that with make-up on really so I just make do with the morning application with my foundation (spf15) over the top of it. Saying that, my melasma has massively improved since I've been using a facial sunscreen though so it has made some difference even having a once-a-day application. And now that I've found a facial spf product that's comfortable to wear (which means I will wear it), I'm sticking with it. Just don't discontinue it, Biore, or else I will cry!  

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Big boy bike

Last summer, a few months before his fourth birthday, we bought X a balance bike. He was so excited. His friend from over the road had one and X wanted to be just like him (and the friend was one of two kids we knew who had gone straight from balance bike to getting on a normal pedal bike stabiliser free and peddling off immediately, no hesitation). 

Sadly the excitement of the balance bike didn't last. X spent about two minutes on it and, realising he couldn't keep his balance, got disheartened and gave up. We kept encouraging him with it but he wasn't interested, preferring instead to use his Mini Micro scooter which he was already super-fast on. And so the balance bike sat in the conservatory (where we keep X's toys) for over a year, doing little more than getting in the way of accessing other stuff. 

S and I still wanted X to have a bike  and so we decided this year that, if a balance bike wasn't working, we'd go down the more traditional route of a pedal bike with stabilisers. X seemed OK with this idea although not massively excited. Then about a month ago we happened to be passing our local bike shop and I thought we'd have a quick look. X spotted the Raleigh Striker and it was love at first sight. He was especially taken with the boot-kicking-a-football bell! 

We didn't buy the bike that day but came away to think about it and get daddy involved in the decision. This Saturday just gone we finally decided that the time had come if X was going to get use out of a new bike over the summer. Back to the shop we went and my boy's eyes lit up when he saw the Striker. Unfortunately they only had a 12" one in stock which was too small for my almost-five year old. After speaking with a member of staff, they advised us that the 16" version would be most appropriate and give him a bit of grow room too. Order placed and deposit paid, we headed home with a slightly sad little boy who had wanted his new bike there and then. 

The wait was only four days. Just before 4pm on Wednesday - just as we were about to bake some flapjacks - we received The Call; the bike was ready for collection. X put his helmet on and off we walked to the shop. The look of joy on his face when they wheeled the bike out for him was wonderful. Payment balance paid and check on seat height done, we were off again. He cycled all the way home (not far - it takes ten minutes to walk) and by the time we got back to our street his confidence was sky high. 

A good portion of the rest of the afternoon and early evening was spent riding up and down our cul-de-sac (and testing out that football bell!). We even waited out in the rain for daddy to come home from work so that he could see a proud boy on his first proper big boy bike. And so very proud he was. And so were mummy and daddy. We'll probably have a while to go before those stabilisers come off and that will be a big milestone when it happens. But this feels like one too. My boy gets bigger and stronger and more confident every day. And now he has a shiny blue and yellow bike and he's pleased as punch. 

Friday, 24 July 2015

Holiday guilt

Today marks the end of the first week of the school summer holidays. One down and six to go and already I'm feeling guilty because we haven't done very much. This is the last summer before my baby boy (no longer even vaguely a baby at almost five years old) starts school and the school holidays is all we have. This is the summer I planned to make the most of before he's away from me five days a week. And already I feel like I've failed.

We've had a quiet week. We've walked that tentative line between our days being relaxing and boring. And there's the guilt again. Our days should surely be filled with days out and craft projects. Seven weeks of full-on fun. Again, of course, social media has a lot to answer for - a picture painted of everyone else having a sparkling summer full of activity-packed days complete with Instagrammed photos to show for it. 

We've had just one 'day out' this week and it consisted of approximately two hours in Reading. Of course, with the train journey there and back and the walk to/from the railway station, it felt like a full day even though it wasn't. The train journey's always part of the fun for X though. We managed dinosaur mini golf, an ice cream and a ride for X on a pretend train before getting back on the real one to go home. 

Other than Reading, we've been at home (or at least in our small home town) all week. Two trips to the park, two coffee shop visits, one swimming lesson, a lot of playing with Lego and more chocolate and television than 'good' parents are probably meant to allow. Not to mention me distracting myself with my iPhone whilst the TV has been on instead of using the time to scrub the floors or make a lentil casserole or whatever Good Mothers are supposed to do. And, to top it off, zero craft activities carried out so far - unless we're allowed to include drawing a pooing caterpillar? 

But is it such a bad thing? For starters, does my child need to be entertained with craft activities and days out everyday? He doesn't mind not being out all the time. In fact he's enjoyed just playing with his toys. I might have been bored by the tenth game of Snap, but he wasn't. It's just me who thinks we should be doing more, not my child. Furthermore, we have six more weeks left until school starts. Six. There are plenty of days left for adventure and days out. And there's plenty I plan to do with my boy in those days ahead. But not all of the days; maybe not even most of the days. Whilst play dates and visits to a number of attractions (including re-use of that Legoland pass) are definitely on the cards, so too are more days of relaxing at home and playing with toys. And today we're baking cookies! Not to tick off the boxes on a Pinterest ideas board, but because X wants to make them. It may be the only vaguely crafty activity we do all summer - and that's ok too. 

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Preschool days are over


As I type this, my son is at his last ever preschool session. In less than three hours from now - probably a lot less by the time I hit 'publish' - I will collect him for the very last time. I wonder if there will be tears? His or mine? He walked in through the door proudly this morning, handing out chocolates and cards to the staff who have shaped his time there and clutching his cuddly dinosaur, Steggy, in readiness for today's Teddy Bears' Picnic. His last day already and it seems hardly any time at all since the very first time he walked through that door.

The photo above - as you might guess - shows my boy on his first day at preschool over two years ago next to today's shot of him on his final day. You can see physically how much he's changed. His hair is darker, he's obviously taller and he's lost that toddler fullness to his face. And then there's all the stuff the photos don't show. All the other ways he's changed. When he started preschool in April 2013 he was so shy. I'd ask him when I picked him up who he had played with that day - he'd always name a teacher rather than another child. It took him a while to have the confidence to join in with his peers, especially as he wasn't as 'physical' as some of them in terms of wanting to run and climb. Now he is so confident, it's untrue. My boy has a whole list of friends he loves to play with and runs straight off to join them when I take him in. Sadly most of them won't be at the same infant school as him in September but he has so much confidence with other kids now, I don't worry too much about him making new friends (though of course we shall keep in touch with the old ones as much as we can).

There's so much else he can do now that he couldn't do when he began his preschool journey. Toilet training has happened in that period as has other personal independence such as being able to dress himself.  His number skills are fantastic now - he's forever adding up and multiplying - and his willingness to try his hand at drawing and writing has improved. He has bit of a perfectionist streak so doesn't like to see that the letters he has written look 'wrong' or messy. We overcame this a little with the use of whiteboards so that he could erase his mistakes and try again. Gone is the child who wouldn't try to write his name for fear of making an error and yesterday he not only signed his name on six thank you cards for staff at preschool without hesitation but he did most of them without me telling him which letter comes next in his name. My baby can officially write his name all by himself! Proud mummy moment. I've also seen him moving on from recognising individual letters to reading short, simple words as well as his verbal vocabulary going through the roof. No doubt about it, my boy is ready for proper school.

The question is: am I ready? No. No, I'm not. Not even close. Five years ago today was my last day at work before I went on maternity leave. Still two months before my boy was born, but still the start of five years of being a full time mum. My life has been all about him for all that time. When he started preschool at 2.5, it was so strange to have him away from me. Even just for two mornings a week. He now does three days but we still get two for 'just us'. How will I cope when he's in school 9-3, five days a week? We will find a new balance of course. But today I'm left reflecting on the baby that he used to be. The toddler that he used to be. And now the preschooler phase which is coming to a close this summer. These milestones are bittersweet; I love that he's growing up and I hate it too. It also feels harder because he's an only child - I won't get to do this over again with another one and the first time I experience these milestones as a mother will also be my last.

Of course, no matter how old he is, my boy will always be my baby. At 4, at 14, at 54. And I expect I will always want to make time stand still so that he doesn't get any older. I remember wanting that on his first day of preschool - to freeze him at age two forever. But ultimately, I'm glad I couldn't. If he'd stayed two forever, I wouldn't have got to know the smart, funny, wonderful little boy he is at four. And if I froze him here at four, I wouldn't get to know what he's going to be like at six or ten or 25. As much as I am sad that his babyhood is gone - and that I don't have another to raise - I am proud of who my little boy is becoming and how much fun he is to be around. This is the end of an era for sure, but I'm excited for the new era ahead and all the adventures that I can have with my no-longer-quite-so-little little boy.

Now if you'll excuse me, I think there's something in my eye...

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Adventures in Legoland

We've been meaning to visit Legoland for ages but between it being so very expensive and us just being a bit rubbish, we hadn't got around to it before now. Then two weeks ago Legoland held a flash sale for their annual passes giving a 50% discount. With only a few weeks of term time left to visit before the summer break and with X starting 'proper school' in September, I jumped on it. £55 for a whole year seemed a lot more appealing than £40 for one day and I was keen to squeeze in a term time visit whilst we could. 

So passes ordered, S booked Friday off work and plans were made! We crossed our fingers for decent weather and fortune smiled on us with one of the most glorious days we've had this year. Friday rolled around and off we went - the traffic gods smiling upon us as well. By the time we'd parked and walked to the entrance it was pretty much dead on 9:30am (the time the gates open). Then there was plenty of time go to the toilet and check the map of the rides before we were allowed through into the main park at 10am. Abandoning all advice to go to the far end of the park first, we headed for the closest ride and walked straight on. Sky Rider is a high-up monorail that gave us a great view over the park, particularly nearby Miniland. 

X wanted to go on the Raft Racers so we headed there next. These are basically water slides you go down in a dinghy. We'd done a similar ride at Woodlands Park in Devon so I was confident X would love this and I was right. Annoyingly you have to go down in pairs so, as a family of three, this didn't initially seem ideal. However, we were able to take advantage of the 'parent swap' system which allowed the boys to ride whilst I waited at the top and then X to come back up and ride with me without us having to rejoin the back of the queue. This also allowed me to benefit from S learning the hard way that the boats are soaking wet when you get in them! So I saved myself a wet bum by throwing on one of those attractive disposable rain ponchos. Getting splashed is one thing - a soggy bottom is quite another. 

Since the boys were already soaked, they decided to change into swim stuff and head into the splash area in Duplo Valley. This looked amazing and there was lots of seating available for those parents (like me) opting to watch rather than participate. I thought X would be in here for hours but the water was too cold for their tastes (despite it being a scorching day) and so it was only a short splash-about. By this point it was already 11:30am and X was hungry so we took advantage of having a good spot to sit in the sunshine and ate the sandwiches we brought with us. Food is incredibly expensive in Legoland so we opted for a simple picnic from home and I would advise others to do the same. We also took our own water bottle and it's easy to refill these at the various water fountains dotted around the park (they will also refill them with tap water for free at the 'hydration station' kiosks if you ask). 

Picnic eaten, we headed on to Adventure Land  and made our stop at Atlantis. This is a 'submarine' ride that allows you to view fish (both real and Lego) through the glass panels on the side of the vehicle. This was only short but held X's interest pretty well. Once we came back out into daylight, we took the opportunity to ask another visitor to take a photo of our family all together as I knew we'd end up with just photos of X with only one of us otherwise. We then headed on to the Dino Safari. I had been quite excited for this but actually it was the most disappointing ride of the day; there are only a few dinosaurs and the vehicle went past too quickly to see them in much detail as they were positioned quite close together. The dinosaurs are also supposed to be animatronic but this must be periodic as I didn't see any of them move as we went past. 

An ice cream in Heartlake City and then we were into the Kingdom of the Pharoahs for a balloon ride on the Aero Nomad and to channel our inner adventurers on the Laser Raiders. This was our longest queue of the day by far at around an hour. X was as good as gold and at least there were some Lego models to see.  When we finally boarded, X found the noise and the dark for this ride a little scary but we all enjoyed using our laser guns to shoot at the targets - we even hit some! 

Next up was Land of the Vikings where we rode the Vikings River Splash (water rapids) which was great fun if bumpy and very wet! I decided not to don the plastic poncho this time and of course paid the price with an extremely wet bottom. We continued with our 'spinning' theme and rode the Spinning Spider. You can control how fast your log spins and S got us going super speed which X loved. 

For our final ride of the day, we headed over into Knights Kingdom to where The Dragon lives. This is a roller coaster ride and I'd been looking forward to this one all day. I originally thought we'd be better with the smaller Dragon's Apprentice roller coaster for X but I'm glad we didn't as he absolutely loved this bigger, faster ride. It was brilliant and definitely my favourite ride of the day. I would have liked to have had two loops of the track though as you only get one and it's over pretty quickly. Still worth queuing for though. We also splashed out and bought the photo that had been taken of us on the ride as it was a great action shot and a nice memento to end the day. 

Rides over and almost ready to go home, we paid a brief visit to Miniland where you can see Lego sculptures of famous landmarks. This didn't hold X's interest for long but they were very impressive to see. After that we headed back to The Beginning for one final stop - at the Big Lego Shop! As the name suggests, this is a big shop full of all the Lego sets you could imagine. As it was our first visit, we allowed X to take his pick within a price bracket and he chose a fab police van set. Finally, eight hours after our arrival, we exited the gates and headed home with happy smiles and aching legs (though my new flip flops kept my feet super comfy all day!).

I'd definitely recommend Legoland to anyone with kids and, living just under 40 minutes drive away, I think we will get our money's worth out of our annual passes. In the words of the movie theme song...everything is awesome! It really is. 

Have you visited Legoland? What rides did you enjoy best? We'd love recommendations of what to try out on our next visit! 

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Happiness is a new pair of shoes

Shoes make women happy. This is the universal truth that magazines, memes and mugs-with-cute-sayings would have us believe. Today it happens to be true for me as I've come home from town with new shoes. No, I'm not talking about some sparkly, strappy, barely there sandals with killer heels or a pair of £500 Louboutins with their seductive red soles. I'm far too tight/sensible (pick one!) to spend hundreds on shoes and I cannot walk in heels. At all.

The shoes that have made me happy today are a pair of flip flops. They aren't sexy and they don't even have sequins on. But they are bloody comfortable! Yes, I've reached that age I'm afraid. Shoes need to be comfortable. I'm talking about my lovely new navy flip flops from Clarks; I'm hoping they will see me through a day at Legoland tomorrow and a good amount of general summer wear thereafter.

The reason my new flip flops make me happy is two-fold. Firstly there's simply the comfort factor. Who doesn't love a pair of shoes that are super comfy? (Of course tomorrow is the real test of comfort when I've actually worn them for a whole day!). Secondly, though, is the fact that they represent caring for myself. I almost always buy very cheap shoes. Partly because a bargain's always nice but mainly because I'm vegetarian and decided 15 years ago I wasn't going to wear leather any more. The cheaper shops tend to have a wider range of footwear in synthetic materials so I always head to those places. Today I decided the £7 New Look ballet flats I bought two years ago just weren't cutting the mustard any more. Cheap? Yes. Pretty? Absolutely. Comfortable and supportive? Not so much. It never helps that I have to make do with whole size shoes for my half-size feet (generally sizing up and sticking an insole in). I also have both knee and back problems; these aren't caused by cheap shoes but I'm betting the poor fit and thin soles don't help one bit. Today I was ready for something better. 

I always assumed the shoes in Clarks would all be leather so I never go in there other than when I'm buying shoes for my son; properly-fitted shoes for his growing feet absolutely trumps ethical dilemmas over leather for me. But what about properly fitted, comfy shoes for me? Don't I deserve that too? Doesn't my son deserve a mum whose feet and back aren't too achy to run around with him? So off to Clarks I went. Sadly nothing in their fab sale was quite what I was after but on the normal shelves I spotted these!


They tick pretty much every single box. I was after flip flops, preferably navy blue. Check! I was after a good quality, comfy sole that wasn't totally flat. Check! And, whilst I decided that leather was a small(ish) price to pay for comfy feet and potential relief of back pain, these are actually not leather! Check. The only box they technically didn't tick was that they aren't available in a half size. However, this is fairly normal for flip flops and they are a generous fit so going down to a size 6 was absolutely fine. They even have a Velcro bit on the side to make the width slightly adjustable - perfect for my wide feet.

So...I love my new shoes. £30 seemed a lot for flip flops but it's not a lot really for comfort is it? And I've decided that, from now on, comfort will be the key factor in choosing my shoes. This may mean leather ones next time. But I think I'm ok with that and I'm definitely ok with spending a bit more money to be comfortable.