Travel tips! – A mum shares her top twenty

Brazil 2013 086Each year since Digger moved in we have been travelling to see Pierre’s family. It takes almost two days to get there, so we stay for a fortnight in Grandmama’s house.
We just did our third trip with Digger, who is now 3 1/2. Here’s is what I have learned over the past three trips. Much of it is advice from parents and carers, who have passed on their best advice. If you have any ideas to add to this list, please do add them in the comments below.

Here goes my top 20 tips.

Before you go…

#1 Preparation is everything
Tell you kid you will be travelling. Map it out. In words. In drawing. In whatever way you normally tell your kid that something new – and quite possibly unsettling – is about to happen.

That said, this year we made the mistake of telling Digger too early. Two and half weeks before. So … Every. Single. Day. We have been over the travel itenary. How many sleeps til Grandmama’s house? A week would have been plenty – pleeenty ! – of warning for a three-year-old.

# 2 Warn the kid about possible travel stress
I warn Digger at the latest on the day of travel of the probability of stress will be going UP. I say something like : Ok my little heart, mummy and daddy are going to be stressed while we pack. We will rush around looking for stuff. We might say things like: Digger hurry hurry. Shoes on. Where’s your bunny? Digger where is your cocktail umbrella? And so on. We make fun of it. We all rush around hurrying each other. We may put socks on our head while saying I can’t find my socks… Where are the socks?? Has anyone seen my socks?! It worked a treat this year. Digger didn’t get unsettled by us dashing about and stress levels rising.

But then again packing up to go home, it didn’t work as well. Mainly because we forgot to involve him properly.

#3 Make a list of what to pack
One of the things I stress most about is forgetting essentials. So sometimes I write it all down. Or try to. This really helped when Digs was little and needed a caravan of stuff – formula milk, diapers, special toys etc.

Nevertheless I always always forget something. I reassure myself that I am likely to forget something. And that that is ok. Usually we are going to place where they have diapers and food.

#4 Start packing well in advance
I start a couple of days before. It truly cuts down on things I’m likely to forget, and adds to the things I do bring.

#5 Get the kid involved in the preparations
We drag out the suitcases from their hide away. Digger loves hiding in them. We put a coloured ribbon on the outside so we can recognise it when it comes round on the bagage carousel.

I ask him about which clothes he would like to bring. For instance I might say : Would you like to bring the red or the blue trousers? Holding both pairs up.

We pack his little rucksack together. Here Digs will be in charge. This year we brought:
A couple of small books
A selection of cars (4-5 hotwheels, a bus, a match box digger and a dump truck and a duplo car)
A few duplo blocks
A tiny book for drawing in + colour pencils
1-2 soft toys (we choose bed time softies)
Post its
Some cotton wool
A piece of string
A small giraffe
A new reusable pad and special water brush, which reveals colour when wet. Neat. No mess.
In addition I brought a few things in the diaper bag:
A sticker book (Frozen. Don’t ask)
The iPad (loaded with a few new apps)
A few more books
#6 Bring something that spells home
We bring at least:
Bunny, definitely bunny. When Digger was little we took Bunny, plus a back-up bunny incase we lost the first. Which we did – once or twice
1-2 current favourite bedtime soft toys
2-3 current favourite bedtime stories
2 big scarfs of mine
His pillow and duvet. This was great when he was wee, but now it is just too much stuff to carry.
The scarfs doubles up as small blankets. They are soft and smell of mum. Scarfs and soft toys usually makes for a much better night’s sleep or kip on the plane.

#7 Bring more diapers than you think you might need
Be prepared for a lot of moisture. Going in and coming out.
I calculate a generous amount of diapers. Then I take double that number. Even though they may have diapers at the end destination, you don’t want to get caught out. Like in Spain during siesta. If your plane is delayed…. We took 12 on our eight-hour flight. This year we used one. But last year we used nine before we got our suitcases back.

#8 Bring minimum one change of clothes for everyone in your travel party
This is especially true if your fellow traveller is under two and likely to be sitting on your lap a lot. Take it from a dad who got wee-ed on, two hours into an eight-hour flight. I took said advice and have been grateful for the change of clothes on trips when Digs was 1 and 2. This year we got off with one set only for all of us.

Once in the airport…

#9 Dress you little one is something bright – so you can spot him if he does a runner. Or consider reins. We had a little rucksack in the shape of a monkey which had reins – worked a treat during the toddler years. He grew out of that aged 2 1/2.

#10 Squeeze as much energy out of your tot as possible
I make my son walk. And run. And jump. All the way to the plane if I can.
I trick him to run from window to window to spot planes and diggers and what not. I go up and down escalators. Same ones if I need to. Trying not to care about people staring. I play lots of ‘red light, green light’ (red light = stop/freeze, green = go, go, go). And when I am out of fuel and if my husband I also travelling, I hand Digs over for some invigorated energy squeeze.
Once onboard …

Opportunities for excercise will be severely limited on board. But even there we take walks. When Digger first learnt to walk we had him walk back and forth between us – the game was to be silent or whispering. Only we would gesticulate as if shouting. This of course we had been practising in the weeks leading up to the travels.

#11 Consider separate seats
Pierre and I try to get seats a parts from each other. Two seats next to each other for Digger and one adult, and another seat for the other adult somewhere else. That way one of us can watch a film or catch up on sleep. That way we can take effective turns with our little man.

That said we do enjoy a row of three seats if we can get them.

#12 Locate packed snacks
Easy ones all the way. My favorites are:
Ellas. We love Ella’s (very good regulators on the bowel movements too while abroad)
Bars and crisps in their own wrappers
Fruit and veg if you can. Cut up in small containers work well, or in their own natural containers, like bananas and avocados.
But don’t overfeed. Travel sickness is more likely on a full stomach. Trust me on this one.

#13 Offer drink or chewy stuff during take off and landing
Drinking or eating during take off and landing will help levitate the pressure on the small ears. If you little one is still bottle feeding, ask the flight attendants to heat a bit of milk/formula for you.

#14 Think of activities you can do while sitting down – lots of them
I aim to have a mental list of 1-2 things to do per hour. Low tech games work really well. Here are some of our favourites:
Nursery rhymes work as background noise levels on a plane are notorious high and you can sign while you sit very close.
Post its – stick them to your kid – you can even number them and ask him to find them all. That has worked every year since we first flew with Digs.
The box! I found an old small box, cut a slot in it (approx. large enough for a £1 coin). I then searched the house for things that could go into it. Coins, spare buttons, pieces of foam, papers etc. It’s ok with some pieces are too big for the slot, eg. pieces of papers that would need to be folded to go in. This year Digger spent nearly a full hour doing it.
Sticker books
Play-doh, or my new favourite: silk clay (same stuff but lighter and more silky..)
#15 Bring surprises
We add some to Digger’s back pack, when he is not looking. And I keep a good few in my bag. I try to bring more surprises that I think I will need. This year it was the post its (again), the iPad, a sticker book and two new books to read.

#16 Under no circumstances – what so ever – ever bring a noisy toy or a musical instrument
It will ruin it for everyone. Just don’t.

#17 Invest in a set of comfortable kiddie ear phones
Just like for adults this transforms screen time. And hey oh you can even understand what they are saying on the screen!

#18 Make maximum use of Screen Time
We load up the iPad with new surprise apps – more on good apps in another blog.
We completely deprived Digger of any sort of screen time for two weeks leading up to our holiday. So he was a happy camper with a screen. For about an hour. On an eight-hour flight Diggers still need a lot of 1:1 time. And lots of interaction. Digger is nowhere near being able to watch a full feature length film on his own. So … those days of enjoying airplane movies are long gone for us.

Once you arrive…

#19 Get a hotel
If you have any distance to go from the airport to your end destination, it really pays off getting a hotel in or near the airport. Much better than arriving frazzled. Especially if you are visiting family. Or anywhere else where you all have to be on best behaviour. Sleep and wake up to breakfast. Then travel.

#20 Expect to be exhausted
That takes the sting out of it for me. And I always feel it’s gone much better than I thought it would.
As a friend once said Holiday with a child is just going somewhere else – less convenient. There is some truth in that. But only some.

Bon voyage!


FullSizeRenderI am transported back to when I was about 6 years old and it was a very heavy winter with snow blizzards and freezing ice on the roads. I still trudged to school with my brothers, in our wellingtons and duffle coats and we watched our breath form ice rings as we spoke. It was a giant adventure for us and we took our time getting to school. Making sure our hands stayed in our pockets as much as we could in between snowball making and general tomfoolery. The journey home though was as the crow flies, short and direct as we were going home for a winter feast. I’m sure our mum timed the opening of the oven door to directly coincide with our return to the back door. Wellies off, trousers on radiators, in our pyjamas ready for the feast. So imagine, 3 excited kids who had just trekked through the Arctic Midlands blizzard to make it home safely in time for freshly made buttered scones. The sofa was pulled up to the open fire and we sat there savouring and demolishing lots of succulent and tasty food. I firmly believed my mum was the best cook.

Years on, my son delightfully says ‘you are the best cooker in the world, ever mummy’ I can hear the joy in his voice as he says this without reservation and with complete belief. History is repeating itself and this bit of my childhood I am happy to engage in.

We started cooking together my son and I, as soon as he was able to stir a wooden spoon. He is still content to sit there at the kitchen table eating raisins and stirring air in his bowl whilst I do the ‘work’. He has a firm fascination with food and all it’s wonderful smells and delights. Whenever we are shopping he wants to smell each lemon and loves the fresh herb section, he is happiest reading through the cookery books on rainy days and we plan our next culinary adventure.

We have a menu board in our house which makes my wife feel like she lives in a hotel. I plan the menu on a Sunday and write the shopping list accordingly. Our son is starting to have quite a sophisticated palette and thinks nothing of eating kedgeree or fish en papillote. But his favourite is pasta stars with grated cheese. Making scones, biscuits or cakes with my son, welds me even closer together with him. We share a moment of togetherness which is just magical. When the timer goes off and the food is cooked, we are both jostling to get the first sample tester!

When we start cooking we always say: what’s the first rule of cooking?

Washing hands

What’s the second rule of cooking?

Put our aprons on

So a wipeable Peppa pig joins us on our gastronomic delights and I think she is most happy when we are making chocolate mouse, as there is a big bowl of yummy chocolatey goodness and a wooden spoon to lick before its gets washed up. A good day for us is a chocolate moustache and sticky hands, that means we have had a good day in the kitchen.







A call out for words. The Questions.

wpid-img-1407228241252-v.jpgThe well of new blog posts is an ever changing, random business, sometimes overflowing and sometime a little on the dry side so I’m mixing it up.

I know it can be hard to sit down and put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) so we’re off on a new tack with something I have inventively called (drum roll please)…The Questions. 

If you don’t have a burning issue that you are desperate to get off your chest (please share those too though) and are just getting on with the day to day of  family life – This may well be just your cup of tea. It is simply a list of questions about family life. All posts will be anonymous but provide a welcome and sneaky peak into how others do their day to day.

All questions are optional so you can pick and choose or miss as many as you like, and you can even add your own in if you want.

OK, I’m going to kick this off by answering them myself!

How and when does your child/children wake you in the morning

By charging into our bedroom and climbing into the bed with a massive teddy bear called Billy. If we do not wake up and start talking she immediately says “This plan isn’t working. It’s Good Morning time and you need to get up”  It’s usually 9am if I’m lucky. 8am if I’m not. (I know I know… this is quite late..)

Why adoption?

I was interested in adoption for many years but had no real knowledge of how to go about applying. I was under the impression it was a lengthy and difficult process and that may not come to fruition. I’m so  proud to say we have managed it. It is by far the best thing I have done in my life.

From start of assessment to bringing your child home how long did the process take?

I think around 2 years.

How could it be improved?

I think it could easily be made quicker and they could add in some proper preparation for Introductions part of the process which I found quite overwhelming.

What has been the biggest surprise?

How totally fulfilling it is. I constantly have to pinch myself and my heart wants to burst with love.

How was the assessment process? Long but better than I had imagined. Some bits were weird; we were asked to wrote poems.

What’s your favourite thing to do together? My daughter and I like swimming, playing hide and seek in the park and doing  eskimo kisses followed by butterfly kisses (Eyelashes tickling each others cheeks)

What makes you and your family laugh? Mostly our dog but also doing silly faces and voices. Putting each other’s shoes on is popular too.

The best thing about being a parent? Watching and nurturing a little soul.

The hardest thing about being a parent? Coming face to face with your own shortcomings.

The piece of wisdom you would pass on to a child? Make sure you laugh as much and as often as you can. 

What time do you go to bed? Usually about 10.30 after falling asleep on the sofa.


A republish of one of our favourites… If I could.. Gifts for you..

2011-09-03 13.04.34The following is a poem that our ten year old birth daughter wrote last week for her five year old sister, who we adopted four years ago.

Her class teacher had set them a task – write a poem for someone you love. Her ‘gift list’ that she’d give her sister moved me more than I can say. Her sister’s reaction, when I read it out to her, was wordless – a shy smile and a big hug. Here’s the poem:

I would, if I could, give these gifts to you…
A bottle full of dreams high in the sky
A spark of light from the bottom of a volcano
A fight for the night
And a songbird that will drop a long feather, as warm as can be

The raindrop from the heavens,
A puppy called Kevin
A pinch of golden sand from the far desert
The wonder of a unicorn

And so these are the gifts that
I would, if I could,
Give to you

The Briefest Moment

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was the briefest of moments, but a moment that has filled me with guilt and which I know will stay with me forever.

It was early days – in fact just five or six weeks into placement – the honeymoon period was over and we were starting to see a different side to our new sons. We were totally smitten with the boys and felt that we had loved them from the very first moment we were brought together, but now we were being challenged and we were finding it hard.

The previous couple of weeks had been tough – very tough – mostly with our then almost 5 yr old, who was angry and upset and confused – which we still see signs of today – and daily we were dealing with that. We were new parents and rapidly discovering that all the experience we had of looking after children seemed to be irrelevant when it came to our own, our own damaged and wounded children.

Our son is extremely short tempered and he will fly into a rage over very minor incidents, it is a rage that was uncontrollable then and grew worse with our feeble and misguided attempts to deal with it. We knew we were in it over our heads and we knew we were just not breaking through. It felt like we were failing and to be honest it felt more and more like we were faced with an insurmountable challenge. However, it was a challenge we were committed to and no matter what it took we would get the better of it. Nobody said it was going to be easy, in fact we had it drummed into us on the prep’ course that it would be anything but.

To make matters worse we were exhausted, emotionally and physically. We had not slept a full night since they joined us in our home, jumping up from our bed at the slightest sounds from their bedroom next door, lying awake for hours considering the day we had just had and worrying about what the day ahead would bring.

In addition nothing could have prepared us for the sheer magnitude of the emotional roller coaster ride we found ourselves on and just how weary that would make us.

From the moment our son woke that morning we knew it was going to be ‘one of those days’, there is a look in his eyes, a little extra swagger and attitude in his interaction that we were already able to spot and identify, but to this day we have no idea what determines that mood. It was not a good start to the day and with my partner and older son leaving early we were left alone. My gentle reprimanding of our sons constant challenging increased, and as he and I sat down after breakfast to play together it was clear that all of what I was saying was falling on deaf ears.

Gradually my anger was growing and getting more and more difficult to control as he persisted in his mis behaviour and his determination to ignore my attempts to bring it to an end. Finally a very stern warning that one more time and he would have time-out (a last resort then and of course eliminated completely now) which predictably was immediately followed by the action that spurred the warning.

With far too much anger he was lifted from the floor and stood in the time-out spot, from here on in the situation just deteriorated totally out of control, with my anger continuing to grow – and the volume of my shouting increasing with it – as he refused to stay for time-out, the more I shouted the worse he got and we were in a vicious cycle going absolutely nowhere.

With time we were to learn that he gets worse as we get angrier as of course it destabilises the security we are building, but way back then we were a long way off that realisation and I just saw a defiant and naughty little boy determined to ‘get one over on me’. How crass and ignorant that statement sounds now.

He was refusing to stay on the time-out spot and I was sure that giving into that would be the beginning of the end and that he would never listen to me and my discipline from that moment on, so I repeatedly lifted him back into place. His anger continued to build and soon it was completely out of control and there I found myself, on my knees, face to face with my 4 year old son trying to hold him in place, his face blazing red from absolute fury and his spit covering my face as he simply stood and screamed at me.

And then that moment.

I gave up. I accepted defeat and realised that I couldn’t do this. I had failed. I was not a parent and could never be, which of course meant only one thing – he had to go back. Back into Care.

That briefest of moments.

And then thankfully it was gone and I pulled myself together. Could this 4 yr old really get the better of the 50 yr old me? Of course not – that is NOT what this is about. Then the realisation that this was in fact all about me, not his naughtiness or his anger, but my handling of it. I didn’t know the answers, but I knew it was about me finding them.

Totally ashamed at the thought that had run through my mind and with my heart breaking for him – my beautiful SON – for even thinking what I had, the anger drained from my body. I let go of him and I stood up and he of course immediately ran from me and he hid under the table. Calmer now, I lowered my voice to little more than a whisper and told him that ‘under the table’ was the new time-out spot and his 4 minutes were starting from now.

He stayed – thank goodness he stayed – I am sure it was because he was as relived for the ‘out’ as I was. The – very long – 4 minutes passed and I attempted to calm him and to get some kind of order back in place. He was having none of it and refused to move from his spot where he stayed for quite some time. When he did finally come out he would not come to me or allow me to hug him, which of course I desperately needed to do for my own sake as much as his.

He stayed angry, hurt, upset and distant and then finally my partner arrived home. Initially he resisted my partners efforts to console him, but he was in such need of comfort that he did eventually allow himself to be picked up and I stood and watched as our little boy crumpled into my partners shoulder and sobbed his heart out.

This had been tough on me, but my goodness it was now very clear to see how tough it had been on him and I was responsible for that.

Things had to change – and they did, or should I say WE did.

Nearly three years on we still have an angry little boy, but episodes as extreme as this are now rare and we are hopeful that they will soon be eliminated completely. We have learnt how to handle him much better and in doing so we have became more like the parents he needs and my goodness so deserves.

Far more importantly though, there has never been a repeat of my thoughts in that moment, but as a parent those thoughts will always haunt me and shame me.

We are a forever family and families come as they are – for good and bad – and one thing is for sure – being adopted does not make you any less forever than a birth child and to even think so for the briefest of moments is surely unforgivable.