Manchester summer’s Bucket list for toddlers
Well summer is here and as such a summer’s Bucket list for toddlers is in order, so here we go:-
- Go to the Zoo
- Play in a paddling pool
- Have/go to a BBQ
- Have a picnic
- Play with bubbles
- Build sandcastles at the beach
- Ride a miniature train
- Draw outside with chalk
- Go strawberry picking
- Go on a boat ride
- Run through a water fountain
- Go to a fair
- Go pond dipping
- Visit a new farm
- Ride a pony/donkey
- Go for a bike ride
- Go to runway visitors park
- Visit the Monkey forest
- Fly a kite
- Go see a summer movie
- Make nature art
- Jump on a trampoline
- Make ice cream/try a new flavour
- See the summer flowers at Durham Massey
So far we have been to the zoo (See the Problem with Bank Holidays), played in the new paddling pool, visited Durham Massey, jumped on her grans family sized trampoline and went to the cinema for the first time to see Cinderella. There have been other ideas that I have already dismissed, mainly because I don’t like them – for instance I am not a fan of camping so sleeping in a tent is something she can do when with Brownies. While other ideas I feel she can enjoy more when she’s older, including visiting a new city (she’s never been to Liverpool) going to outdoor theater production and a music festivals.
The Problem with Bank Holidays
Oh the trouble with Bank Holiday Mondays – there is probably a ye olde English Ballard sung somewhere in a long forgotten children’s play centre with two exhausted parents slowly strumming a lute and the low whistle of a flute as a sugar hype child cries out with boredom!
In April this year me and my partner W ventured out of our comfort zone and decide to embrace the Easter Bank holiday by engaging in the social norm of celebrating this free day and taking our family out of the house. We decided to keep it local and go to a little farm that we love, just ten short minutes’ drive away. We decided to beat the queues by getting up early and arriving as the doors opened.
But as many parents know if you want to make God laugh tell him your plans.
Needless to say we arrived 30 minutes late by which time the car park was packed, meaning we had to drive a mile uphill and find a place to park in the local village. After we trekked back down to the farm we were met by a long snaking queue in which we had to wait with a not so patient three year old. Once inside our small magical farm had been turned into hell on earth! Usually we buy a bucket of carrots to feed the larger animals, pet the smaller ones, have some fun in the large wooden play ground with zip wires and tyre swings, get our face’s painted as bright butterfly’s, have a ride on the tractor or pony’s, grab some lunch in the small cafe and be home within three hours.
But not this time.
The usually lovely farm yard animals were stuffed to the brim with eager children who had over fed them to the point of bursting, the smaller animals looked frightened out of their wits and backed away into the corner of their small dens, there was queues for everything, children were running wild, parents abandoning them to the elements while they sneaked off for a cig and a rummage around Facebook. Those of us who decided to play (or at least watch) our children were now expected to act as baby sitters for everyone else’s, making sure the big kids didn’t bully the small ones and no one got too muddy or ran into a high flying pair of swinging legs. After an hour of trying to make the best of it me and W bundled a frustrated J – overwhelmed by the crowds as much we were-out of the door and staggered back up the steep hill. By this point none of us were in a great mood. After this m and W swore we would never go out on Bank Holiday again.
However we are a gluton for punishment and as the May Bank holiday rolled around we again felt the peer pressure to embrace life and do something. This time we picked Chester Zoo. We thought this was a brilliant idea. As although it would be busy Chester zoo is so huge that you surly would not feel the crowds too much and if there was a queue for one thing we could always just walk to the next. Or so we thought. We also decided to make it a group outing and brought our new family friends and their two young children with us, with the idea that the children could all play together and the parents could help each other.
This time we did get there as the gates opened and although there was a lot of people Chester had prepared for it, there was plenty of staff to help us near the front, we got through the gates quickly and there was enough toilets to get in and out without too much fuss. However the crowds where still annoying, with people queuing to see every animal in the place, and narrow passage ways making getting from one place to the next very cramped, the indoors enclosures also have very small doors with a thousand buggy’s, rallying to get in and out at the same time, making entrances and exits a real obstacle course.
But the real problem was the heat. The weather report had said it would be overcast with a light drizzle in the afternoon. Instead it turned out to be one of the hottest days of the year. The indoor spaces to see animals such as monkeys, snakes and jaguars where baking, we had to stop constantly for cold drinks, frozen fruit and ice-creams, we kept trying to give the kids a rest by carrying them or taking turns on the buggy board, but they were soon shattered too.
Taking friends with us was helpful in some ways as J behaves better around strangers than me and her dad. W and I also could not be snappy with each other as we wanted to be pleasant companions for our new friends. However when J inevitably did start acting up and running off I did feel more embarrassed than usual as I was hoping she would be on her best behaviour in front of our new friends, and it did not help that in comparison there children where absolute angles.
The biggest struggle through was not J but her father W. After four hours of walking around J was pooped and started throwing a paddy while we were in yet another long and tight queue. I scooped her up and headed off to a quiet area where I gave her some water and kisses and calmed her down. She told me she was tired and didn’t want to see anymore animals and wanted a nap. I told W this and he was not happy. He had paid a lot of money to come to the zoo (typically Yorkshire man) and we had still not seen all of it, he was also blaming himself as he had thought of hiring a buggy on the way in, but hadn’t and now he believed if he had J could of lay in it for a cool nap and we could have seen the rest of the zoo. Along with this was he constant sobbing and desire to go home which also made him feel like the day had been a huge let down and we should never have come in the first place. So while calming down a hot and bothered toddler I know had a disappointed father to convinced that J had enjoyed herself, she had loved the butterfly park, eating chocolate ice cream and standing on one leg like the flamingos, that although we had not seen all of the zoo, we had seen a lot, and that was fine. We could now go home, pick up a chippy tea, relax and we would all sleep well tonight. On the drive home (and after some name calling) he finally came round to my thinking, however we have both agreed that next Bank holiday will be paddling pool in back garden and a BBQ!
Fun day out for less than £10
Entertaining our little ones, while keeping costs low can sometimes be a challenge. It does seem a little easier during the warmer months with the options of picnics, sand pits and bike rides. But come the colder months, house play can sometime appear to be our only cheap option-however too much of this can bring on cabin fever for parent and child alike. So this morning when I awoke to find yet another cold, grey, wet day the prospect of coming up with more indoor fun to entertain my active 3 year old was more than a little wearing. Instead I set myself the challenge to see if I could entertain y toddler for less than £10!
The rules where I could only take £10 with me to spend and this had to include entertainment, travel and food. I had to be out of the house for as long as possible, get some fresh air and exercise all without either of us turning into Popsicle! However I did have a few things to consider. Firstly JKD has no buggy (at about 2.5 years old JKD suddenly decided to hate her once adored buggy and refused to get into it without a turning into a screaming and kicking ninja. So after 6 months of it standing empty we decided to sell it.) Also I do not drive, so anything I did with her could not involve too much walking for her little 3 year old legs and had to be reachable by public transport. Lastly JKD is currently potty training and although she is doing very well I never like to be too far away from a (clean) public loo-accidents do happen.
With all of this in mind my first job was to pop in a few nibbles and drinks in JKD back pack, these included little angles organic puffs, a bowl of chopped up grapes, a handful of raisins and some carrot baton’s with a small tub of hummus. I then added two bottles of water.
Next I told JKD we were going on this bus, this turned into several renditions on “wheels on bus” while I “helped” her with her shoes and coat. Out the door all we had to do was walk round the corner to our local bus stop. Now what would usually take me 2 minutes, take 5-10 minutes with a toddler who wants to jump in every puddle and has a fascination of jumping off our lovely neighbor’s door steps. But we were in no rush so I let her enjoy some of the fresh air.
Once on the bus I paid £4.50 for a day rider ticket. This now left me with £5.50. On the bus we played eye spy and chatted to the other kids. The bus ride took us about 15 minutes.
Off the bus and we had a 15 minutes’ walk (toddler time) to our local IKEA. I had previously only took JKD there with me and W when we were doing some household shopping, however I had always seen how popular it was with family’s and so thought I’d give it ago. On the walk JKD found a few low walls she wanted to walk along and practice her balance (while holding my hand) and we had a large main road to cross-which was a good opportunity to remind her of her road rules. JKD particularly loves pressing the button and waiting for the green man.
Once in the store JKD wanted to have a little wander. She loves exploring the different rooms and likes to pretend they are her house and invites me in to “take and seat” while she gets me a “tea and biscuit”. After a while I directed her to the toilets (clean toilet option 1) and then onto the child play area in cafe. These play areas are small but fun. They are semi-circle shaped with seating around the side for adults to eat and observe. Above are mock green and brown trees, while the floor is painted bright green, making the child feel they are in a magic forest. Inside there are several wall games to play with, including a sand wheel and computer screens with different electronic games to play-such as jigsaws and build the Ikea flat pack! JKD enjoyed playing with the painting screen and quickly figured out what buttons to press to get different colors.
Ikea was packed but only a few of the children came to the play area and those that did said a polite hello to each other then would carry on playing. I sat at the edge and offered Josie her juice and grapes. I did feel a bit guilty about not being able to buy anything but we are moving house next month and I already have a list a mile long of what I want to buy from IKEA so I will make up for it on my next visit.
I let JKD play for as long as she wanted-which was close to an hour, at this point I asked her if she wanted to go swimming, to which I got a resounding YES!
The swimming baths where only 15 minutes’ walk away and at the leisure center I was told it was £4 for an hours play in the small pool, leaving me with £1.50. (I used £1 on the locker but got this back.)
I use the website www.activetamside.co.uk to find out about all of the times and activities in our local leisure centers. The website is easy to navigate and there is some information available, however I have to point out they never update it if anything has changed. So we have shown up in the past to be told the small pool is closed due to staff shortages. Here is the point where I am supposed to tell you to call up in advance, which by all means you can try-however the leisure centers are extremely under staffed and because of this the phone is hardly ever answered. I appreciate this is not the staffs fault and it is due to under funding and I do fully support these local institutions, as I would be lost without them. But my advice would be to always have a backup plan just in case.
Going to the swimming baths is lots of fun for JKD. She particularly loves her float suit, which allows her buoyancy without the use of rubber rings or arm bands. That way giving her more freedom to practice swimming and allowing her some independence. With this in built protection JKD loves jumping into the water and likes to play rescue-this is where she grabs hold of a large float and tries to collect all the toys that are scattered around the pool-such as balls, watering cans and ducks. She is getting very good at holding onto the float and kicking her legs and I hope to sign her up for some swimming lessons this year. However the pool is not for everyone and my partner W refuses to take her. He finds the rough and tumble of some of the other children disturbing, however I see this as kids being kids and the life guides are always on hand to calm any of the more rowdy kids down.
Back in the changing rooms after the baths I quickly get JKD dressed then give her the packet of puffs to keep her occupied while I change. But I knew this would only hold her over for so long and we needed to get home for some warm food and relaxing time and soon!
The walk from swimming pool to our bus stop brought an unexpected joy when we found two of the hidden Tameside rocks. If you have not caught on to the fab new trend Facebook search TAMESIDE ROCKS. The idea is you sit down with your little ones for a bit of art and craft time by painting some stones any way you please. Then you take the kids outside for a game of hide and seek. Hiding the stones you made and seeing if you can find any others. If you do find any then you either leave for others to find or take with you and re-hide elsewhere-the further the better. Taking pictures and uploading them of the FB page makes this a great community game as well! JKD was very excited at her find and we decided to hide them tomorrow-giving us another excuse to get outdoors!
Before we were able to jump on the bus, our walk took us past a local arcade center which had a £1 musical ride along machine beloved by all children. At dinner that evening her daddy asked JKD what her favorite part of her day had been she had said the “ice cream truck”-thanks kid.
So all in all I spend £9.50. I was out of the house for a good three hours and brought home a very tired 3 year old who had enjoyed some fresh air and exercise and slept like a rock that night!
Relationship Advice: There is no happy every after
Like many children I grew up listening to the fairy tales our parents told us of beautiful princess and dashing princess overcoming all odds to be together and believed that this would one day happen to me….and lucky for me it did. But the typical ending of “they lived happily ever after” has been a curse on many real life couples.
While recently listening to a friend discuss his recent marital problems I advised him of a fact I had learnt long ago-marriages are not easy. They take work and are not all smiling, all dancing 100% of the time. While this to be seemed quite an obvious statement to make, it blew his mind and made him start re-thinking his entire outlook on his marriage (for the better thankfully).
Luckily as a child I had some real life examples of what marriage really is in the form of my parents and grandparents who both stayed together for their whole lives. Watching them I saw and heard many ideas on love and relationship but two incidents stand out the most.
The first happened with my parents. They met in their teens through a blind date and married in the early 80s in their early 20s. Within 7 years they had 3 children, a mortgage and careers. As you can imagine this put a lot of strain on my parents and I often saw them argue. I didn’t like seeing it and when they would start I would walk out of the room. It would upset me especially as many of my friend’s parents were going through divorce and I was worried that this would happen to my family. One day when I was about 10 and I quietly tried to slip out of the room during another of their meaningless fights my mother stopped me and asked where I was going. “I’m going upstairs as I don’t like it when you and dad fight.” I said slipping out of the room. It was like a bomb had dropped, my parents went deadly silent, then I heard my mum call for me to come back. It was then she told me they were not fighting they were having a loud discussion! Fighting would be throwing pans at one another. The loud discussion was their way of trying to resolve a disagreement. They both held strong opinions and they were both trying to make the other see their point of view.” She then went on to tell me that when I grew up she did not want me to be a weak mild woman who would agree to everything her parent said but would stand up for her beliefs
The second is my grandparents. They met at a friend’s wedding in their early 20s and married soon after, they have 4 children and multiple jobs and homes. When I was 16 my wonderful grandfather died at 65 and my gran started her new life as a widow. About 2 years after his death I began to speak to my gran about their marriage and she told me how at times it had been hard, but how they always worked through it. Sometimes when the fighting got really bad my gran would pack her suitcase and walk out the door. My granddad yelling after her if she went further than the garden wall she could never come back. To which my gran would sit on the wall. Her back to my granddad calming down and thinking things over until she would eventually return. I was beyond shocked when my gran told me this story. To me they had been a happy loving couple who were just as comfortable joking around as they were sitting in silence with each other. Now here I was told they had blazing rows and my gran (who I’d always seen as head matriarch of the whole clan) had actually thought about leaving!
Both of these stories would lead me as an adult to my own ideas about love and marriage, which I’d would like to share with you now.
- Marriage is two people sharing a life with each other. Life is hard and people change. The hope for any marriage is that the couple will be there to help each other through the hard times and the changes they will face
- Neither of you are mind readers. If you want something ask, talk, often and be honest, brutally so. Hiding your opinions and feeling will only hurt the relationship and will eventually surface and not always in nice way.
- Don’t be afraid to argue. It’s your right to have fight. If your worried they will run a mile the minute you fall out you are only hiding your true self and this will only hurt you.
- Nobody is perfect. Both you and your partner are only human (after all) and both of you will make mistakes, but with love and understanding you can help each other.
- No one has a perfect marriage and you never know what happens behind closed doors. Although some people like to portray themselves as incredibly loved up and solid that may not always be real. So never compare yourself, only you know your own truth
- Have a friend that you can bitch to about your partner’s short comings. This is so you can get it all out and not let the fact he can never find the washing basket be the reason you split!
- There will be times you or them will want to walk out. You will hate each other and wish you had never met and storm off planning on how to take revenge upon them. Understand this is normal and it will pass.
- Always let them know what you will not accept. If they cheat you will leave. If they lie to you, you will leave. Whatever it is let them know where the line is and what the consequences are if they ever cross it.
- Have a backup plan. If they cross the line you have to be ready to act on your threat. Know what you would do and how you would protect yourself. For instance where would you live, would you be ok with organising your own finances, what would you do with work, child care? This may seem like tempting fate but I told my partner what my plan was and he wet himself. He knew I wasn’t just offering him empty threats to his bad behaviour-instead his comfortable life would no longer exist and I’d be ok.
- Don’t take your partner for granted. They give you something know when else has and that’s why you married them. Maybe it was because they take care of you, or make life easier or more exciting or they are the shoulder you cry on or they think you’re amazing even at your most crazy. They would not be easy to replace and your heart would break if they were not there
Weekend without kids
J is away at her nannas this weekend, leaving me and W all alone. When I have told this to people I have been met with mainly 3 different responses…
1. From parents with young children, ‘Ah you get to sleep!’ Yes me and W have slept in a little more than usual, but we normally do get eight hours sleep as we worked very hard when J was born to help her be a good sleeper. Also I like getting up early, I feel like I get more done and when I have a lie in I feel like a lazy slob!
2. From new couples without children, ‘Now you get to have some romantie time!’ Me and W have been together for 7 years, so when I asked him what he wanted to do with our time alone, I was hoping he’d suggest a long drive in the countryside and a cosy little B&B. Instead he said it was a great opportunitiy for us to go through our pensions and got some DIY done! As you can tell W is a practical man and, to be fair, he was right, it was a great time to do those things, espically while we are on a budget and do not have the money for romantic getaways.
3. From my 20 year old friends, ‘Yeah you get to go nuts!’ I’m 33. I have been going out partying since I was 15 and over the years I have partied like a rock star and loved it. But now I am well and truely over it! Instead me and W ate alot of very unhealthy carbs at my best friends house. I drank a half bottle of red and had 3 shorts of Bailey’s (not a great mix), went to bed at 11 ( an hour later than my usual bedtime,) and woke up at 9 with a hangover!
However I did get one response that did truly reflect how I really felt and this came from my 84 year old gran, who said, ‘Oh no that’s too long…what are you going to do with yourself?’
And there’s the truth!
I will admit there has been time over the last few weeks when I have wanted a few more minutes in bed with W or to have some time to go to gym or have a night out with friends. But now that time is here I miss J deeply. The house feels cold and too quiet and I feel a little alone and lost.
If she were here my whole weekend would be about her. Giving her the time I don’t get to give in the week (as I work full time). And trying to make that time as fun (and cheap) as possible.
A typical weekend would consist of me smiling from the minute I see her face in the morning, and getting excited by the idea of spending time with her. Till at the end of the day when it’s time for bed and I like to talk through with her all the great things we have done and which we liked best (if she is still awake).
However I am a positive realist and I realise some time away is good for us both, she gets to do different fun things and form a deeper bond with her other family members and I get to give more attention to the other important aspects of my life.
Also if I do my job right there will come a day she will leave home and start her own life. When I think of this time I hope me and W will be able to embrace it and see it as an opportunity to lovingly develop ourselves and our relationship again. And I also don’t want to begin that phase of our life from point zero.
So instead I want to use this weekend without J as a preparation for a very distant but hopeful future.
For more information on how I tried to accomplish this please see my next installment of ‘Life without kids.’