CF Family: 5 tips for surviving the first year of school

This mothering lark is hard. Who knew? Obviously the newborn stage is tough, I grant you. However, even when you’re getting 10-hours sleep a night and your offspring can wipe their own arses, I wasn’t quite prepared for how hard the ‘starting school’ stage would be, for both of us.

me and Dante June 2017This might be a timely post for readers waving their littlies off to school in September. Gird your loins, people. The eldest, Dante, had been at nursery for 3 years, so I presumed moving next door into the big school with all his friends wouldn’t be too much of a biggie. Wrong. It has been a MASSIVE learning curve, both for his little brain (he can read! he can write!), but more than that, he is now learning about the big. wide. world, he is part of the school community and working out his place in the pecking order of playground politics (don’t get me started on Pokemon cards…). It’s hard.

Don’t get me wrong, he is at an AMAZING school where he is truely thriving and he adores both his class mates and his teacher – I just think they are learning SO much amazing stuff and they are constantly being stimulated and inspired that their brains are constantly firing and it’s hard to switch off. We had a bit of burn-out in the first term where he got sick a lot and in hindsight I don’t think he was getting enough down-time to let his brain switch off. So, we are now trying these little tweaks to our home life to help him navigate his school life better:

1/ We have a few mantras, mini pep-talks in the car on the way to school to set a positive tone for his day. Some my mum used to say to me and some are our own. ‘Be honest and kind’. These are the only two things we ask Dante to be. I think for a 5 year old, simplicity is best. He knows that as long as he tells the truth he will never get into trouble and being kind is fundamental to everything else he will learn to be at school. Kind to his classmates, friends, teachers and to himself. ‘If something is hard, try harder’ – this is a BIG one for him, maybe it’s his nature, or maybe it’s his age, but if he feels he’s not very good at something, or is finding something a challenge, he tends to get frustrated and give up quickly. Trying to instil in him the fact that we all have to do things in life we find a challenge I think is important, but also showing him that succeeding in something we find hard is actually all the more rewarding.

2/ Making our home a sanctuary. This is something I read about on Cup of Jo aaaaages ago and it stuck with me. The idea of when they walk through the front door and kick off their shoes they can unwind and feel revived is so simple but so key to balancing out the pace of school life. Whether it’s hot chocolates, onesies and a bit of trash telly in the winter, or ice lollies and the paddling pool with his brother for an hour in the summer. Before we get into the dinner, bath, bed routine I always make sure he has some down-time to unwind.

3/ Make the most of the weekends. Before he started school I feel like we had all the time in the world, now in those 48-hours we have at the end of the week, I try to make sure we are focused on being together as a family. It’s so easy as working parents to spend the weekends catching up with jobs at home, getting the chores done ready for the week ahead, but we are trying to carve out time to actually just BE. Whether it’s just a leisurely pancake breakfast (Dante’s favourite), a bike ride, beach trip or even hopping over to Italy for the weekend to see his beloved Zia Maria, I want him to feel like life isn’t just about school, he has a ‘home life’, too.

4/ Do a bedtime brain dump. When you’ve spent the whole day learning about how rubbish and plastics are killing the ocean’s wildlife, that can kind of stick with you if you’re a sensitive 5 year old. Bathtime seems to be the key time, once he’s unravelled from his day, where he wants to process the stuff he’s learnt or has stuck with him through the day (how do snail’s shells stick on? Why do whales have noses on their heads? Why didn’t X want to play with me at lunchtime today? I’m worried I’m going to come last on Sports Day…). Just like I try and write down any ‘to-do lists’ or worries from the day before I sleep, it’s a bit of time for him to off-load and I think he’s sleeping all the more soundly for it.

5/ The great mystery of what they had for lunch. So, I’ve polled approx. 30 parents and not ONE of their offspring can answer the question: ‘So, what did you have for lunch at school today?’. Similarly, if I ask Dante what he’s been doing at school he will usually reply: ‘I can’t remember’. Which at the start of the year INFURIATED ME. I’d look at his timetable and he’d have had a day packed with science, PE, art, Spanish…. and NADA had sunk in. It wasn’t even so much that I was worrying that he wasn’t learning anything but more that I had missed him for the previous 8 hours and wanted to know what he’d been up to! Over dinner, we now try and ask him more leading questions to spark his memory:

‘Tell me something amazing you did today’
‘Who did you play with at break time today’
‘Did anything funny happen in class today?’
‘What book is Miss H reading to you at the moment?’
‘What was your least favourite part of your day?’
‘Tell me something that you bet I don’t know?’ (this is always a winner, he is such a fact-lover!)
‘What are you looking forward to about tomorrow?’

Obviously we don’t bombard him with questions! Usually it only takes one or two to get the ball rolling and he’s off on a tangent.

Trust me, we do NOT have this parenting thing sussed, by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ve seen all of these things really help Dante settle and grow in his first year at school… let me know how you get on!

CF Travels: Tips for long journeys with under 5s

So, we’re off back over the channel to France this week to meet the builders and get some more renovation plans scheduled for the summer (namely some more bathrooms, the house currently has an 11 bedroom: 1 bathroom ratio!). We are flitting back and forward every six weeks at the moment, which means we are become quite adept at 15-hour journeys with a new baby and a fidgety 4-year old.

Whilst my friends think I am nuts, this will be our 12th trip in 18 months, and my second solo one with the boys, so we have pretty much got the schedule down pat. It’s an early start (5.30am), but we are tucked up in our French beds by 9pm.

COPYRIGHT COUNTRYFILLE 2016
COPYRIGHT COUNTRYFILLE 2016

Which isn’t much of a hardship when we wake up to this:

COPYRIGHT COUNTRYFILLE 2016
COPYRIGHT COUNTRYFILLE 2016

The four-year old is hardened to it now, he’s been making the trek since he was 2. The excitement of being at the docks and then on the ferry still doesn’t grow old (the cranes! the smell of diesel! cargo!).Neither does the 12-hour window when all good parenting skills go out the window and he gets to play on the iPad for hours and eat more chocolate than he does in a month. Here he is at a pit-stop 10 hours in, slightly crazed on Mikados.

COPYRIGHT COUNTRYFILLE 2016
COPYRIGHT COUNTRYFILLE 2016

So, what are my top tips for travelling long distances with under 5s?

  1. Make life easy

Travelling with small people is exhausting for all concerned, so if it makes life that little bit easier to spend an extra £5 on a closer car park to the airport, to get the ready-made formula or say yes to ANOTHER ice cream – do it. You won’t ruin them, my mantra is ‘when in transit, all parenting bets are off’.

2. Plan, plan, plan

I am pretty confident that with a bit of forward planning I can pre-empt most scenarios on the journey now after a dozen trips. Before we leave I ensure we have plenty of blankets, water, snacks, batteries, toys, WIPES, a thermos of hot water (I had to give the 7mo a strip wash in a layby after a rather explosive bowel movement once), Calpol, first aid kit, audio books (hands down the best thing for car travel), spare clothing for everyone and chargers. Although I know the route in my sleep, we have often had to be diverted, or I simply want to know our ETA, so I use the Waze app to track our journey. I also have a travel wallet by my side that contains all our documents, passports, health cards etc, plus bank cards for tolls, spare Euros and driving licenses for when I get stopped for speeding. Ahem.

3. Make the journey fun

It might sound simple, but from the moment you close your front door, you are on holiday. Once I got into this mind-set, rather than having to ‘endure’ the journey to our destination, it made things easier. If you’re children are old enough, make the journey an adventure. We play stupid car games, discuss the sights we see from the car window, have frequently stops for a swing at the playpark or ice cream and sing, LOUDLY. Yes it makes the overall journey that little bit longer, but if we’re going to be stuck in a small metal box, hurtling down the motorway together for 15 hours, we might as well make it fun.

4. Pack light

Unless you are going to outer Mongolia, pack light. Ironically, having two small children has made me a much more efficient and frugal packer. Especially if you are travelling to the developed world, you can buy nappies anywhere people. Ditto wipes, toiletries, even a few cheap clothes. Obviously specific things like formula or medicines will need packing, but we now only take minimal clothes for the boys and do a big supermarket shop the day after we get there for the rest. I am also unabashed about siding up to another French mum in the supermarket and asking her advice on the best brands. I’m sure they think I’m nuts, but it’s great to get some insider advice when faced with a wall of jarred baby food.

5. Finally, aim low

I was a travel writer in a previous life, flitting off to the most incredible destinations as part of my day job. I remember fondly the days when I used to relax with a glass of fizz, waiting to be called for my flight, then don my eye mask and get in a good solid sleep on board…. Once you’re a parent you need to aim A LOT lower. As long as you don’t lose anyone, you avert most major tantrums and everyone remains on speaking terms you’ve won, and you’re on holiday!

If anyone is travelling to France this summer and wants any specific tips/advice then just ask!

 

 

CF Family: baby names and following on traditions

It occurred to me when discussing baby names with one particularly pregnant friend last week, that the OH and I missed out on all that with Country Bebe. I loved hearing how she and her husband had pooled their ideas and researched the meaning of names and their heritage, then narrowed it down one by one…

When I was pregnant with Country Bebe, we had quite a few early scans for various reasons, so found out he was a he, pretty early on. It was always a given that if we were to have a son, we would follow on the Southern Italian tradition from my husband’s side, of naming your first born son after your father. So, as we stood outside St Marys Hospital in Paddington clutching our grainy scans giddy with excitement, there staring back at us was Dante Marco Mansi. Dante after my husband’s father and Marco after my own daddy, Mark.

I guess we were SUPER lucky that we had a good name to inherit (thanks Nonna). If it had been awful I don’t think I would have been so willing to carry on the tradition. We managed to keep everyone guessing as to whether we were going to call him Dante until he arrived, which was lovely as we got to introduce Dante to Dante, face to face.

Here in deepest, darkest Devon you don’t find many Dantes. But I kinda like that. As a kid growing up, I never clapped eyes on another Lydia. In fact, I think it took moving to London before I managed it. I had a fierce pride in ‘owning’ my name, the fact I was the only one around – unlike the hoardes of Emilys and Lauras in my class – and I hope Dante feels the same way, too. It always surprises me when people comment on how ‘out there’ it is for a name, or how ‘unusual’ it is. Because it is so engrained in our family, I never bat an eyelid.

Although, unlike a lot of parents, we didn’t wait to meet our baby before seeing if our chosen name suited him, I really do think he couldn’t be more of a Dante. In Italian, it means ‘enduring’, which I love. He is such a quiet, stoic, sensitive old soul.

I’d love to hear how you chose your baby’s name? Or how you got your name? My mum chose my sister Francesca’s name because it was the character in a book she was reading when my sister was born! Do you know of anyone that hates their name so much they’ve changed it?! Let me know!

CF x

 

CF Health: Colds, Croup and a cup of Pukka tea

This box of Pukka teas was sent to me by their PR back in August and I thought ‘ooh, I’ll stash those for autumn, when ‘cold season’ hits’. Reader – that time has come.

I might as well daub a cross above our front door and be done with it, we are so germ ridden.

Firstly, last week Country Bebe came down with croup (an infant-specific viral infection of the voicebox and windpipe) – which entailed a cough to rival a 60-a-day smoker, fever, aches, sleepiness and culminated in a brief trip to A&E after some rather laboured breathing and a nasty viral rash. All in all, grim. It is CB’s first illness, so at 2yo we are pretty lucky. Just as he started to perk up (i.e. showed an interest in his Duplo box), I was knocked for six by a killer cold.

I’m still knee-deep in snot, with fevers and headaches a plenty, so sorry things are a bit slow on the post front this week.

However I thought I’d post a quick review of the lemon, ginger and manuka honey tea from Pukka, which I’ve been sipping my way through this week:

Imagine a healthy lemsip that is more soothing and gentle, and you’re close. It’s zesty with lemon but fiery with root ginger (great for sinuses) and has a lingering sweetness that is really calming, thanks to the manuka honey. There is liquorice in there, and turmeric too – so it is deliciously spicy. I am *obsessed* with their three ginger tea, and this is a lighter more delicate cuppa.

Definitely one for the store cupboard over the winter months.

*coughs and crawls back under the duvet*

£2.29 for 20 sachets from www.pukkaherbs.com

CF Family: gNappies – an autumn trend for small bums

I have well documented my love of plaid this season, so imagine my delight when I received this image:

grand tartan gPants £17.95

Plaid – for smalls!

Country Bebe wore gNappies, with much success, for his first year or so. For those not entirely happy with the idea that each disposable they toss into landfill takes 500 years to decompose (no, me neither), yet the idea of soaking, washing and drying ‘real’ nappies is just quite frankly too much to contemplate, I cannot recommend gNappies enough. You can go the ‘fully washable’ route, however we opted for the ‘eco lite’ version, where the waterproof inner holds an insert that is disposable (you can fling the wet ones on the compost!), then there is a gorgeous soft, jersey outer like the plaid one above. Yes, they are just as easy as a disposable and no, they don’t leak. They are just wholly brilliant. And the Aussies couple behind gNappies have a great brand ethos, too.

Cute, efficient and eco. No hair shirt required.

grand tartan gPants £17.95
www.gnappies.com

CF Family: Country Bebe’s nursery kit

This weekend heralded CB’s 2nd birthday (Duplo, Duplo and a toy hoover – he was in heaven) and with it came the day all parents dread. His first day at nursery.

These first two years have whipped by in a blink of an eye. One minute you’re breastfeeding a tiny, wriggly thing that has no control over its arms/legs/bowel movements – then whoosh – you have a fully formed, opinionated toddler, ready to head out into the world of education. Sniff.

In the last few weeks I’ve been picking up a few bits and bobs that the nursery pointed out might be useful:

First up, outerwear. I love that his little homely nursery school ensures they are outside as much as possible, come rain or shine. But that means they need all the wet weather kit.

We’re hoping we’ve got all weather-conditions covered with these two items.

1/ Baby Joules waterproof and fleece lined jacket (£49.95). It’s super warm, cosy, smart, hooded… the works. Although a bit too belt-and-braces for the current mild Autumn we’re having in Devon.

2/ Hippy Chicks waterproof all in one (£27.50). I am so, so, so, happy I was recommended this brand by another outdoor-loving mum. The all-in-one waterproof is a brilliant idea. We just slip it on over his normal clothes and he is good to go, whatever the weather. It’s water and wind proof, but breathable too. It is going to be invaluable on the back of our bike. I love that the ankles, wrists and waist all have velcro tabs on them so you can adjust them around wellies/gloves etc for a snug fit. The hood has velcro securing straps too, so it won’t blow off in the wind. It’s the perfect winter beach-combing outfit.

CB has been wearing his crocs pretty much solidly from May. There is a reason they are super glued to the feet of most under 5s. They can go in the sea in them, stomp through mud, splatter them in paint… they are indestructable and crucially, there is nothing that a quick blast with the hose won’t fix. I’ll be honest, I was a little stumped as to what footwear to get him come autumn, that would be as hard-wearing and versatile, then I discovered Crocs Wellies (£23). Result. All the benefits of the Crocs, in a winter-friendly alternative.

Obviously I wouldn’t have him walking in these for long periods. He has his everyday Clarks leather shoes that are width fitted, but for stomping around the garden/beach/woods. These are perfect.

His last bit of kit was a birthday present from his godmother. A monkey backpack from Skip Hop (available at Mothercare and JoJo Maman Bebe). It has an additional safety harness too which is useful for keeping them close when out and about, but he will generally be using it to carry his changing stuff, drink, snacks, conkers, toy soldiers etc.

I’ll report back on how he gets on next week!

 

 

See you Monday…

Today’s the big 3-0 and I’m bundling my two menfolk into the car and heading down the coast into Cornwall, back to our beloved Rosevine, near St. Mawes.

After our trip in July I knew there was only one place I wanted to spend my 30th. We are guaranteed amazing food, luxe service but equally our independence, within this brilliant boutique hotel/self-catering hybrid, country house.

Our plans are pretty small – swimming, beach-combing, pasty-scoffing and some lazy games of backgammon in bed.

See you Monday….

CF x

 

A sunny weekend in Cornwall?

Woooo hoooo hoooo! I’ve just seen the weather forecast for our weekend in Cornwall this Friday – and it is SUNNY. Like hot, sunny. THIRTY DEGREES sunny.

I’ve probably gone and jinxed it now but I don’t care. I cannot wait. We are staying at the brilliantly conceived Rosevine, near St. Mawes.

It’s a hybrid of self-catering mini-apartments and studios, with hotel standard restaurant, pool, bar, service etc. So basically, if like us you have a small person in tow, your room has two separate bedrooms (BLISS), as well as a kitchenette with microwave/fridge etc so you can feed hungry toddlers whenever you want, without the hassle of worrying about them screaming the restaurant down, or repainting the walls with tomato sauce. The Rosevine have everything covered for trips away for tots; our room will be ready-equipped with highchair, baby monitor, cot and even a toybox for Country Bebe.

Gerrans Bay is a 2 minute stroll for some sandcastle building and I can’t wait to revisit St. Mawes after 20 years away. I hear the sleepy fishing village of my youth is now rather more gentrified but still, pasties on the quay and a half of cider outside The Rising Sun are firmly on the agenda.

Now I’m off to panic buy sunscreen, bikinis, flipflops etc….

(all images Copyright: The Rosevine – www.rosevine.co.uk)

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