Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Porto - The Week That Was

“Lisbon?” Husband enquired, perusing the internet.
“Flight time?” I asked
“7.30 am”
“So, we’d be leaving for the airport at 5.30am? For a restful three day mini break? No thanks”
“Where do you want to go?”
“Anywhere we can fly to at a decent time that has a nice hotel.”

And so it was, that with these as our two key criteria for a mini break sans children, we found ourselves headed for Porto.

In the run up to our mini break, I did not worry, I did not feel guilty. I felt confident that Pip and EB would be happy in the company of their grandparents.  All I did was dream of sleep. Uninterrupted sleep, a full twelve hours, where neither of us were beckoned by the call of the wild one at 4am or found our bed invaded by the fidgety four year old.  Two mornings, when I could wake up naturally.  Two mornings when a lie in was not a pipe dream possibility but a cast iron certainty. Bliss.  Husband felt the same.  He even went as far as to suggest we didn’t drink too much (alcohol) on our nights away. ‘“We don’t want to be dehydrated, drinking water and going to the loo all night’. (He meant me.) 

Porto was covered in a thick cloak of fog the morning we landed. Rather like the state of my addled head.  In fact, each and every morning, the air was damp, a misty fog swirling around the old Ribeira. From our room overlooking the Douro river, I rather enjoyed watching it lift. A slow and metaphorical ‘coming to’, rather like myself; ungoverned - no rush, no routine, no racing to beat the school bell.

For a destination selected a random, we struck lucky. The Douro river estuary, flanked by many of the large port warehouses, is impressive. Crumbling old medieval townhouses sit aside restored buildings, their brightly tiled fascias with a patina of old world charm glistening in the sunshine.  A cable car runs alongside the river, a funicular railway up to the top of the cliff, where one can alight and wander along the higher plains to visit the cathedral and the Clerigos tower.  When the morning mists cleared, we rambled along the river, upwards, through hilly cobbled streets, taking the tram, enjoying long lunches with a glass of wine (or two) and eased ourselves into later afternoon with some cellar tours and port tasting. “But, it’s only 4pm” I lamented to my enthusiastic husband. "Yes, but there are a lot of Port houses to get round" was the response.  It’s fair to say, we did not follow our own advice, collapsing into bed each night after too much food and wine, but, thundering wild horses couldn’t have kept me from sleep. As 350 thread count sheets soothed me into slumber, I slept better than I have in the last five years.

Porto gave us a chance to rest, regroup and gather strength. It gave my parents a chance to spend precious quality time with their grandchildren, in a way that they never could were we also present. Time with my boys, only given to those I trust, a more precious gift than any other.  Equally, their gift to me, also one of time; to rest, to sleep, recuperate; for two days, my Mum, trooper that she is, bore the brunt of EB’s 4.30am rooster call.

There was something soothing about the crumbling imperfection of the place.  Something soothing about warm soft hands holding mine, and something soothing in the simplest sense, of being uninterrupted and able to finish a conversation.  We talked about our boys, but not incessantly. I missed them, but I was confident in the knowledge they were happy with their grandparents, as evidenced in the constant stream of photo texts.

In those few days I allowed my mind to wander beyond my children, beyond the house renovations. I took the opportunity to think about other projects and possibilities. I dusted down dreams and shared the thoughts germinating in the thick undergrowth of my mind that rarely get the oxygen to grow or develop. Those few days together alone reminded me of a life once lived. I don’t miss it, but like Cinderella with her glass slipper, I appreciated borrowing it for a couple of days.

And a couple of days was literally all it was; the pumpkin effect came approximately six hours after the plane landed.  EB, teething, was awake most of our first night back and was determined to start the day at 4am. The builder, aware we were back in Blighty, stopped worrying about his phone bill and started calling again. After operating at eighty miles per hour and dropping back to twenty for three days, Husband and I found it hard to rev back up to full throttle.  The kids put us through the masher for the next two days and suddenly back in a world of urgently required knobs, carpets and tile configurations the halo effect of Porto seemed years not days away.

Returning to London, I found myself in the odd situation of feeling more tired than before we went.  I felt like weeping with exhaustion. Husband looked equally browbeaten. Where had the Porto positivity gone? Had we mistakenly left it hanging in the fine Douro mist?

At the weekend we visited Faulty Towers as a family. In just one week significant progress had been made. The boys' rooms finished, they joyfully whooped their way round them in excited frenzy, opening every cupboard and door.  In the kitchen, they hid inside the box sized compartments of the unfinished sideboard, chuckling and playing peekaboo.  In the garden, a complete mud pit, they roared and raced around, finding all manner of sharp and unsafe objects in their wake.  Their enthusiasm was infectious and rejuvenating, and a stark reminder of why this year of hard work will all be worth it in the end.

We have handed in our notice on our rental property. We will soon cross the finish line. We may be limping to the end of our project, but by mid April, we will be home.  Porto was a reminder of life with head space, life with time to think. That’s what I’m holding on to. 

*PS. If you're ever headed to Porto, I highly recommend The Yeatman Hotel. Wonderful.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

11 Things I'd Forgotten About Toddlers

It’s been ten weeks since EB took his first baby steps.  Life has changed completely now I am mothering a little man in motion. It’s been a rude awakening. I don’t remember any of this from first time around.

Based on my recent experiences of my fourteen month old, here’s eleven things I’d forgotten about toddlers.

11. The mess at mealtimes 
Oh the mess.  EB refuses to be fed by me. He will only eat something he can feed himself.  I look back at Pip’s babyhood and his table manners were exquisite compared to the sight that greets me three times a day now.  Like a medieval trencherman, EB gnaws at his food then lobs what he doesn’t want over his shoulder or at the wall. If using cutlery, successful journeys from fork to mouth weigh in on 50% of occasions. The remainder of the time, said instrument is used to catapult food all over the kitchen. This is before the grand finale of Britain’s strongest toddler, whereby EB attempts to remove his bowl with suction pads from the table and hurl it across the room. Post event, the clean down begins, the job of dealing with an encrusted trip trap chair, chiseling Weetabix from the sides or using one’s fingernail to remove dried porridge from the straps. One of my least favourite jobs - ever.

10. They’re health and safety oblivious
My hygeine OCD is in overdrive right now. EB likes nothing more than a rummage in the kitchen bin; raiding it on average, twenty times a day.  He loves to try and put his hands (and anything else)  down the toilet - no matter whether there’s someone sitting on it or not. Chewing the floor side facing part of the thong on Daddy’s flip flop is another favourite past time.  Thankfully he seems to have a good immune system.  

9. Kings and queens of little things
The smaller, the tinier, the better to practise their pincer grip with or to put in their mouths. I find myself constantly enquiring, "What's in your mouth?".  I’d forgotten how much toddlers like putting things in things. Potatoes in and out of a saucepan, crockery in and out of the drawer. Lego in the toilet. Loo rolls in the toilet.  And, if there aren’t little things, they can make their own. EB can perform an Andrex puppy confetti shred on a loo roll in a couple of minutes.

8. They're fixated with the machinations of daily life
Removing the hair trap from the shower, (yes, that dark watery hole seems a good place to stick one's hand), attempting to use the loo brush *shudders*. Sticking their head in the washing machine or placing other household items ( like the remote control) which do not require washing, in there. All very helpful.

7. They are adept at Hide and Seek
They hide stuff. You seek it. The new remote control for my camera - gone. Possibly hidden inside a small toy car, somewhere in a sea of plastic. My bedside table is no longer safe.  Each morning it is swept of it’s accoutrements. Lip gloss, hand cream, the alarm clock, are all hidden in an unannounced game of hide and seek.  The baby monitor is disconnected and the cradle hidden.  Just a little bit of fun to keep me on my toes at 8pm when I’m exhausted and longing for a glass of wine. 

6. Mother becomes a walking snack machine
I'm now unable to leave the house without a stash of raisins, rice cakes or biscuits in BPA free Tupperware. Food placates a crying toddler. In an effort to get on with life when faced with a person who walks far too slowly, you end up carrying a small stash of snacks wherever you go. The buggy you paid a small fortune for now ingrained with sawdust like crumbs from biscuits made with fruit juice and sticky spots from half chewed raisins. 

5. REPEAT is one of their favourite things 
Opening and shutting the kitchen drawers is EB’s favourite hobby. Get pans out, put back. Ad infinitum. Tinnitus has nothing on this audible torture.  Never mind, let’s go read some books. Dear Zoo, my favourite. Ah, that was nice. Something else now. Oh. Only Dear Zoo..? An hour later we have read it twenty times.

4. They’re Early Risers
They are very happy to get up at 5.30am and don’t understand why no-one else is. And the bad news is- they don’t even like TV yet so you’re stuck putting the same shapes in the shape sorter and reading Dear Zoo until breakfast time.

3. They are trying to grow teeth
Twenty of them. Which as well as being painful and causing them to wake regularly during the night also causes vast amounts of dribble. This can be found in slug like trails all over one’s clothes. Kissing is wet and slobbery and rather like being licked by an over exuberant dog. 

2. Even when you think they’re occupying themselves nicely, they’re probably up to mischief.  
As I watched EB rearranging the shoes on the rack in the hall the other day I thought to myself; finally - some stress free amusement (flip flops removed). At the weekend I found he had possetted a secret sick inside Pip’s trainer, now dried into a cementy mess. Even I didn’t want to use my fingernails on that.

And the trump card?

1. They’re adorably cute
Their curiosity of the world around them makes them so endearing. They’re honest; either something is funny or it isn’t. They won’t laugh if it isn’t.  Every hug, kiss and smile is genuine and as a result, they’re great photographic subjects. They revel in every small achievement, whether it be clapping their hands, walking, or pulling off their shoes for the umpteenth time that day.  And when they're not executing items 11-2 above, they're fabulous to hang out with.

It’s almost enough to make me want another one.

Toddlers. I love them.

* I said almost.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

The Week That Was

It’s been a wet, grey week in the metropolis.  A week of wind whipped hair and bare concrete streets. 

In search of new adventures, EB and I found a new indoor play area.  EB revelled in the new experience and not for the first time recently, I thought how quickly my baby is growing up. 

We rebuilt Pip’s Playmobil castle after it had received a serious mauling courtesy of his younger brother.  Pip’s imagination reignited, I was called upon more often than I had anticipated to role play my designated parts as the Princess or Penelope, defending the castle against the ‘dark knight’ who flies... or the skeleton who sometimes disappears in a recycling truck or the Octopod. (There’s no rules when you’re four - right?). As a result it  was very hard to get any housework done. Shame.

The house project caused me much angst this week, the builder pressurising us daily for decisions. This week it was paint colours (again). The relationship is strained on both sides, we are trying hard to make it work so we can get to the end. It’s not been easy.

EB was teething. Crying incessantly if he wasn’t asleep. I found it very hard to take him to the house to try and make decisions or see progress.  Letting him unload the washing machine was without doubt, the best way to cheer him up all week. It’s his new favourite thing.

With the rain, the builder and EB being off colour, there were times when I felt low.  Yet, there were some silver linings to my rain cloud.

At the local bakery we were gifted some free gingerbread after an Easter biscuits photo shoot. I was very touched that they wanted to give us some - clearly there are some benefits to being a regular. The boys were thrilled, and the gingerbread tasted delicious.

Pip and I finished reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and then began reading it all over again. I think he’s enjoying it even more the second time around. I treasure the moments we spend tucked up reading in his bed each night.

I picked up a superb Kate Spade jacket at an absolute steal. 80% off! Not something I'd normally consider, especially at full price. But it looked rather lovely in the shop and was such a bargain. I bought it knowing I had twenty eight days to change my mind. I wondered when I might wear it. And then...

After months of bills, I received some exciting post at the end of the week. An invitation to the Royal Enclosure at Royal Ascot. Oooh la la. I’ve got the jacket, now all I need is a superb hat and to work on taming my inner Eliza Doolittle. (Easier said than done.)

How was your week?

Linking up with the lovely Hannah at Make, Do and Push and #TWTWC