Tag Archives: Days Out With Toddlers

Mottisfont meets the twos

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DON’T GRAB THE BEES, PLEASE. THEY’RE JUST HAVING LUNCH. THEY DON’T WANT TO BE GRABBED.

Look, I don’t know how I forgot about it. Is it like childbirth, having a two-year-old? You only remember the bits that make you want to have another one?

Ted is now doing what he did for me once before, when the contractions started. Bringing it aaaaaaall back. In technicolour. And in both scenarios there’s a lot of screaming.

Since today was forecast to include some actual sunshine, we took a longer trek than usual down to Mottisfont Abbey, an NT place we’ve been to before and loved, back when only one of our children could move independently. Today there was just me, a pushchair, an almost-four-year-old desperate to complete the Charlie and Lola trail in the gardens, and the Tiny Beast.

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Suuuper good at directing their cheese faces anywhere but the camera

Suuuper good at directing their (admittedly magnificent) cheese faces anywhere but the camera

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No, he’s not a beast, Teddy: he’s a bowling ball. That’s what a two-year-old is: barrelling in one direction no matter how loudly or desperately or sweetly you holler for them to come back. Completely impervious to bribes, disciplines or strategies. On a mission to leap into every large-ish body of water, and climb every high thing, and throw every damn stone within reach. Determined to prove false ye old advice that ‘man cannot live by bread alone’. Oh, but this one can. They are untouchable. And after you’ve cajoled your little heart out and tried every distraction in the book, the only way to make them change course is to pick them up bodily, like a parcel.

(Unfortunately Necessary Internet Disclaimer: of COURSE I don’t let him wander out of sight; of COURSE I don’t let him do whatever he wants; I give him limits and I stick to them as much as I can, completely ignored though they are. None of this changes the fact that two-year-olds are gonna two, and they save most of their twoishness for public places. If you had an angel toddler who stuck to your leg like a limpet, well, tell me more about your wonderful life.)

Today he was in a puckish mood, and ran off gleefully more times than I could count. Some of it was joyous. Watching them make themselves a hideout under a giant tree, far enough away to make them think they were unobserved, felt exactly the way boyhood should be. Once I saw him wandering off the grass section I’d specified, and went to get him. He tipped his head back and laughed too hard to run away. I picked him up and said ‘Ted, you must stay where I can see you. Stay on the grass. It’s not funny’.

‘It IS FUNNY!’ he crowed, legs kicking furiously from under my arm, beaming face flushed with triumph and crusted with bits of cereal bar.

It wasn’t, but in the moment I could see his point.

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In the walled garden they sat for ten minutes, scooping shale chips onto each other’s heads and stirring them to listen to the shirr-shirr noise they made. We sat side-by-side in the little shelter at the end, pointing out spider webs and interesting flowers.

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Then there were the moments where he pounced on flower heads when just out of arm’s reach. Or when we spent five minutes in the disabled loo, during which they took it in turns to unlock the door while I was still sat down, and turn on the tap hard enough to splatter us all with water (the group toilet visit – everything dirty! Everything low enough for a child to reach! – is a particular kind of hell). When we came out a polite knot of mothers and teenage daughters were staring at the door, open-mouthed. It probably sounded like we were skinning a cat or dispatching a corrupt city official in there.

I can’t help but feel embarrassed by this sort of thing. Even though I know it’s what kids this age are like, and the people watching are almost certainly sympathetic if they’ve had children themselves. It makes me feel incompetent. Like if I were a better, more engaged mother, it wouldn’t be like this. When T runs, full-tilt, away from my voice – and H is going in the other direction and I need to go back and get the pushchair and THERE IS ONLY ONE OF ME, WHY IS THIS – it makes me feel like it would be better all round if we stayed indoors.

I don’t believe this, not really. There’s a lot of wonderful things to see in this bright world, things that will make their mouths drop open and their chests hurt, and we won’t see any of them from our living room. And I don’t, either, want him to spend his life in the pushchair when we’re in a deliberately child-friendly place full of families, and he’s desperate to use his legs.

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But, you know, sigh. Just imagine a giant sigh here composed of uneaten sandwiches and attempted scuba-divings and continual soothing and redirecting and much, much sprinting. My legs are tired.

It’s a good job two-year-olds are also so vibrant and adorable you could eat them. And that twoishness passes. And that he wears dinosaur pyjamas like a boss, and that he required seven kisses and three magic blows when he accidentally bit his own finger at dinnertime.

When I was about half an hour past exhausted this afternoon, an old lady smiled at them both, and then me, as they zoomed past her in a cloud of dust. I wasn’t sure whether they should be running in a flower garden, and looked at her anxiously with an apology ready. But she forestalled me.

‘I have two sons too’, she said. ‘Grown up now. They’re wonderful. You’ve done a good thing’.

Honestly, I could’ve cried.

‘Oh!’ I said, so gratefully it was probably weird. ‘Thank you. You give me hope.’

‘There’s always hope’, she said over her shoulder, shuffling on.  (Well-placed fairy godmother? Who says these things to a strange girl covered in yoghurt?)

I crossed absolutely every last one of my digits, and ran.

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The strawberry fields are a-calling

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We’re ten days off the beginning of the summer holidays, and I dunno how H feels, but I am raring to go. I get to be in charge of summer these days, and I’m all gleeful about it. I feel like revelling in every day this summer especially, since it’s the final hurrah before H gets swallowed up by school.

He had a day off last week, so we had a little summer trial run, and went strawberry picking. We found a new PYO farm nearer to where we live now, which turned out to be a real gem: masses of fruit and veg to choose from, a little farm shop, picnic tables and a tiny play area.

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Neither of the boys had ever been before. There are some moments that stick in your head with kids, and watching them realise that strawberries were just SITTING ON THE GROUND ALL OVER THE PLACE and we could put as many in our baskets as we liked was the best, best thing. H was all conscientious about it and only picked the strawberries that called to him personally. T went mad.

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‘ANUDDER STAWBEWWY. ANUDDER STAWBEWWY PLEASE’.

After five minutes he looked like he’d been engaging in cannibalism. If anyone knows how many strawberries a toddler can eat before you should offer to pay extra at the till, let me know. He wasn’t exactly subtle about it.

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The sun and sky did its best to ripen everything while we were there, and we accidentally got the sort of neck sunburn that makes you look like a really responsible parent.

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After that there was nothing to do but play in the sprinkler and then make the best strawberry and cinnamon torte in the universe. Some cakes are like holy things. Oh man, this one is.

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Come on then, summer! We’re wearing a decent amount of suncream, this time, and we’re READY.

How a bear does birthdays

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Ok, ok, just one more about T’s birthday, and then we’re done. PHOTO AVALANCHE AHOY, CAP’N. So help me, I cannot narrow them down more than this.

(There’s something about having a birthday midweek and then a birthday tea at the weekend that seems to make it last f o r e v e r. Lucky T. He sees any old open flame these days and yells ‘happee birthdee day!’)

We are in the middle of redoing our little garden at the minute – more about that later – so we wanted to celebrate in ways that would be fun, but also relatively inexpensive. I found this balloon wall on You Are My Fave, and it looked perfect: five bags of heavy-duty coloured balloons from Hobbycraft cost £5, and boom, done. Or should I say, boom, much late night fiddling with tape, bicycle pumps and string, done. I’ll do a quick tutorial for this later in the week, because we tried a couple of different ways that didn’t work before we found one that did.

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You should’ve seen his face when he saw it. His mouth fell into a perfect O.

The thing about being a second child is that basically everything you play with belongs to your older brother. One of the nicest parts of the morning was seeing him overwhelmed by opening new, exciting things just for him.

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We’d given H the day off from nursery, and planned to go into London and visit the Natural History Museum. First though, lunch. On your birthday you want to eat your favourite food, and the problem with this two-year-old is that there aren’t many grape-and-strawberry-yoghurt restaurants. But he does love…curry, of all things. So we found a fabulous curry house just off Covent Garden and had a grand old time. They had a children’s menu, and we introduced T to mango lassi, which as a combination of milkshake and yoghurt (two of his favourite things) blew his tiny mind wide open.

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Heart-eyes emoji may be inserted here.

We will pass over the Tube trains we took on the hottest day of the year. Nothing like marinating in a sardine-tin sauna, air shimmering with the sweat of strangers, hanging on to two overheated and angry boys for dear life.

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H, I bless the day you got yourself a photo face. HAHA.

It all got better once we got to the Emirites cable car. It was like stepping into another world: cool breeze, open sky, and the blue Thames glittering ahead. And I don’t know if you’ve ever taken the cable car, but you MUST. If you have a day travel card you get a discounted ticket, and it is so, so worth doing. The views are incredible, and it’s just thrilling.

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At the other side we found a few splash pads next to the O2, and what looked like a worldwide Salvation Army convention enjoying the sun and spray. The boys were desperate to pull off their shoes and get wet, so we shrugged, and saved the museum for another day. They spent an hour running in and out of the water, soaking their clothes and cooling down before we headed home. Honestly, it was wonderful.

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Then on Sunday we had some family over for a little birthday tea (I am firm in my belief that it’s pointless to plan themed birthday extravaganzas before they can remember it). Most of the food was low-prep and easily done: veg and dips, fruit and chocolate fondue, scones and jam, chips and cookies. I found these brilliant watermelon napkins and cups at the supermarket, along with cocktail stick forks, which I found far too exciting for someone who claims to be an adult.

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The cake – oh, my giddy aunt – was an unmitigated disaster. I wanted to make the cinnamon roll cake we love, but in round tiers rather than a single tray. But the layers were too dense after baking, and became even more so after leaving them in the fridge overnight. The cream cheese frosting I’ve made before with no problems went through a terrifying cottage cheese stage, where the butter refused to mix properly into the rest. Then it wouldn’t set firm. Then there wasn’t enough to cover the cake. I’ve had many a cake horror before (you know this, loves) but never one in which, twenty minutes before guests arrived, I sat in a corner deep-breathing and saying ‘he has no birthday cake. HE HAS NO BIRTHDAY CAKE’.

Anyway, it slapped together with minutes to spare. Good enough for candles. And T was thrilled. He was getting the hang of this blowing-out-candles thing by this time, and kept trying to get it done before we’d finished singing ‘Happy Birthday’.

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That’s the main thing, isn’t it? Happy boy, covered in chocolate, running round the garden with a new helicopter. The balloons are still on the wall. We’re getting through the cake by heating it up into cinnamon roll pudding. The new toys and books are well worn already. It ain’t a bad life.

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