Babe in the woods – a magical family time at Center Parcs Ireland

Words are my currency so it’s not too often I’m stuck for them. However, I’m struggling to find the right adjectives to describe our three days spent at the newly opened Center Parcs in Longford Forest. We’ve made memories for life and it’s so special to share time as a family in such a magical place. Set in over 400 acres of willowy trees and lush landscapes, Center Parcs offers a wonderful woodland retreat. It has to be seen to be believed. As a permatired mum of a tenacious one-year-old, I’ve been daydreaming about our trip for ages. The danger with that, of course is that nothing can ever possibly measure up to your imagination but in this case, it did. Center Parcs is about a three-hour drive from Belfast, so makes the perfect stay-cay for families, couples and friends.

We live here now…
A room with a view.

I was like a giddy kid at Christmas when I saw the Center Parcs sign on the way into the resort. We picked up our wristbands that double as a lock for your accommodation and lockers – what a brilliant idea as I am terrible for misplacing key cards. One of the most exciting things about going away – for me at least – is where you are staying. I love opening the door, running my hand over the crisp white bed linen, admiring the gleaming surfaces of the bathroom and enjoying an invigorating power shower. I was not disappointed, the decor is muted with a relaxing forest scene as a feature wall. We stayed in an Executive Lodge which had ample space for a family of three. There were two bedrooms with en suite bathrooms, one with a bath and the other with a wet room. Our fluffy towels were beautifully rolled up on the bed which was a good size and passed the bounce test – that’s not just me, right? We had the most amazing view from our lovely, inviting lodge. There is nothing better than waking up to birdsong and forty shades of green. Sonny, who has taken a few tentative steps prefer crawling like a clockwork toy as his means of (rather effective) transport. He went about inspecting the lodge, stopping to vigorously tap various surfaces (it’s his thing), and he particularly enjoyed a luxurious bubble bath. The showers are amazing too and ladies, even the hairdryer works like a dream. There is even a vanity mirror with a shelf for makeup. I’d have been quite happy to spend the entire weekend in our lodge but I was also keen to experience the best of what Center Parcs had to offer and give Sonny the best time ever.

Life is a playground.

Everywhere in the resort is walking distance but you can hire bicycles with trailers for nippers so you can be where you want to be in a matter of minutes. Andrew and I had target archery booked so I could channel my inner Katniss Everdeen and Andrew, his inner Robin Hood. We dropped our little darling off in the amazing creche in the Sports Plaza. He immediately got distracted with a piano mat and didn’t even bother giving us a sideways glance as we wished him an emphatic goodbye. This was somewhat reassuring as we made our way to the Outdoor Activity Centre. I have never tried archery before but I fancied trying something new. We were given excellent instructions and it was time to try our hand at it. When you see archers in the movies, they make it look so effortless, it takes quite a lot of effort but it is very exhilarating when you release the arrow. I hit red on my first go, followed by the arrow missing the target completely. I soon got the hang of it and even managed to hit gold – not quite bullseye but I felt very accomplished. Meanwhile, my hubby, who has a competitive streak, did much better than me and even got a certificate for third place, which is going to take pride of place in his study. There are so many things to do, the difficulty is choosing what. You can try Laser Combat, Aerial Tree Trekking, and Stand-Up Paddle Board Tuition. For little ones, there is a Pirate and Princess Adventure, a Wizard Academy and a Chocolate Chef’s Academy – and so much more.

Can anyone hear Bryan Adams?

The weather was balmy too. I almost didn’t pack any sunscreen as the forecast was for heavy rain. The sun shone for the majority of our stay and even if I forgot anything, it wouldn’t matter as there is a brilliant ParcMarket in the village where you can buy groceries, baby essentials and mummy essentials, like wine and chocolate. There are great restaurants to cater for every taste too. I absolutely love that there are Ella’s Kitchen feeding stations in them – with free grub for hungry little infants and toddlers. We dined at Bella Italia which has a delicious array of food including thin and crispy pizzas, lasagne and risotto. It was so tasty and the waiting staff were so friendly. There is a play area for kiddies so you can eat your meal in relative peace. I got all dressed up as I rarely get the chance to anymore. So, I felt pretty damn good. My lovely bubble was burst when I glanced up from my menu and saw another mum wearing exactly the same dress. We studiously avoided each other’s gaze, even though we kept running into each other for the rest of the weekend. Thankfully, we weren’t twinning in The Pancake House the next morning. The pancakes, by the way, were absolutely unreal.

Meet The New Yorker.
Yum.

It is so difficult to condense our experience into a blog but I can’t not gush about the Aqua Sana spa. It is quite simply the best spa I have ever been too. Andrew, not one to dole out praise too often said it was “amazing”. Aqua Sana is inspired by the natural world and offers 21 hot, cold, herbal and meditative experiences across four zones: the Nordic Forest, Hot Springs, Volcanic Forest, and Treetop Nesting. Oh yea, and there are outdoor hot tubs, rain forest showers and reflexology foot spas. Upon arrival, we were greeted by a smiling lady who offered us a shot of Prosecco or orange juice. You can probably guess which one I chose. We were given luxurious robes and towels and we padded into this paradise of unparalleled relaxation. We bathed in the outside infinity pool and then enjoyed the views of the forest from the hot tub. I’d recommend the waterbeds. You could easily spend an entire day here, or life.

To infinity and beyond.
Living my best life…

So, more fun stuff. The Subtropical Swimming Paradise is a jewel is Center Parc’s crown. It is Ireland’s largest water park and features an awesome family wave pool and rides for adrenaline junkies. I am a bit of a wuss when it comes to anything which could be deemed adventurous but recently, I’m developing an appetite for things I would not have previously considered. I knew I had to do something and wasn’t brave enough for the Tropical Cyclone – which Andrew tried and loved. I thought the Wild Water Rapids looked quite fun and something I could handle at a push. With Andrew on Sonny duty, I cautiously teetered over to the slide, the frothy waves waiting to engulf me. I ignored the ‘you can’t do this!’ voice, held my breath and pinched my nose, one down, I survived. About five to go. I saw the next slide. I can’t do it. An attendant saw my sorry plight. I really wanted to get out but I couldn’t. Meanwhile, youngsters a quarter of my age greeted me looking slightly bemused and threw themselves down the steep slide. I was half mortified, half terrified, looking like a stranded sea lion. The lovely attendant spoke to a lifeguard who told me I just had to go for it. I had to swallow my fears and swallow some water as it turns out. He offered to hold my hand, I reckoned that was way too pathetic, even for me. I went for it and it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. It was even quite enjoyable. There’s a life lesson in there somewhere. Sonny, meanwhile, adored the water, splashing and kicking, so happy he made lots of high-pitched squeaks. Memories of that sound and his toothy grin will stay with me forever.

On Saturday night, we dined at Rajinda Pradesh. Sonny was pretty zonked from the day’s activities so while he slept in his buggy, our taste buds were treated to mouthwatering Asian cuisine. Some menu highlights are satay-style chicken wings and Malaysian beef rendang. The service was impeccable and the food was superb. We rounded off the night at Huck’s American Bar and Grill with a few gins for me and Guinness for him. Sunday morning dawned and it was time to pack up, or rather, chuck things into bags. I (over)cooked a fry-up in the spotless kitchen, feeling a bit bad for using the gleaming oven. We had a little time before home so we took a rowing boat out on the lake. Sonny was not a fan of his life-jacket, even though he looked utterly adorable in it. Despite Andrew’s protestations that he could row, we hugged the banks for about half the time we were allotted. Thankfully, we were towed out into the middle of the lake and soon we were gliding, Andrew doing all the work while I tried my best to keep Master Sonny calm. Back on dry land, Sonny had a well-earned nap while we had frothy lattes at The Coffee House overlooking the lake. It was nice to reflect on our incredible time, in between batting away wasps. Meanwhile, Sonny enjoyed eating jam directly from the jar. Before hitting the road, we bought Sonny a little memento of his visit – a dragon soft toy from Just Kids.

Happiness is…
Having a barrel of fun.

As we made our way back to our car, my heart hurt a little. I really didn’t want to leave this magical place. I didn’t want to return to reality. But, all good things must come to an end and we made our way back to Belfast. We made some amazing memories which are safely banked. There is nothing better than seeing your little one smile and he did that a lot at Center Parcs. As my hubby said, “We’ll be back.” I will certainly hold him to that. I highly recommend a trip to Center Parcs whether you are a family, couple or bunch of mates. It’s special – you’ll never want to leave.

Row, row the boat.

13 months and 13 things that drive me mad about you Sonny, (I love you, I do).

This isn’t a mushy post. Having a baby brings a lot of joy but babies are also a massive handful. Here are 13 things about Sonny that drive me around the bend. Oh, this also coincides with Sonny being 13 months old.

Headbanging

This is a bizarre ritual he does when he is annoyed or frustrated. He arches his back and propels his head forward with such force that he’s nearly broken my nose several times. This usually means he’s tired but it’s very unnerving and yes, annoying.

Leave the cat alone!

You can kind of see how a walking ball of fluff might be of amusement to a baby. Sonny grins and gurgles when he sees Rex, our rescue cat that has been bossing our household for two years and treats our son with utter disdain. You can hardly blame him. Sonny pulls his tail and grabs tufts of his fur. I do hope these two can eventually see eye to eye, but for now, it’s furball v wrecking ball.

Sonny and Rex

Banging the shower door

Ah, the joys. When you’re a mum, getting an interrupted shower is a thing of luxury. The only times I can get a shower now without Sonny banging on the door is at the weekend. During the week, Sonny props himself up against the shower door, pressing in his little, adorable face, his tiny fists thudding. This is not conducive to a relaxing shower, however amusing.

Playing twister during nappy changes

I can only describe it as changing an octopus. Sonny flails his arms and legs when I attempt to change his nappy. This is much trickier than you might think, especially if he’s done a poo. On top of that, he screams. I mean, how dare I change his dirty nappy when he has important baby business to be getting on with?

Throwing stuff

Food, my phone (which now has a cracked screen), my laptop, his soothers, well just about anything he can get his little hands on. Banana is particularly irksome when dropped as it turns into yucky brown goo when you step on it – which I always do. It impossible to keep your home clean and tidy with an almost toddler so I just give up until I can’t stand the mess anymore. Another thing, why does he throw away his freshly sterilised soother one second after sticking it in his mouth? Arrrrgh.

Sonny investigates…

Playing with my makeup

Sonny loves getting his chubby little mitts on my makeup. I make the mistake of leaving my makeup bag unzipped in the bathroom. He takes out every single item, inspects and sticks in his mouth. He has broken my new MAC eyeshadow too. Sigh. I’ve also lost a beloved Stila cream blusher after he jettisoned it after becoming bored with it. At least this constant state of flux means I am much more vigilant than Davina pre-baby. Plus, I do have the most annoying habit of not tightening lids on jars, bottles, not closing cupboards, doors, etc. So, I guess, thank you Sonny!

Untidying

As I mentioned above, Sonny has a thing about emptying the contents of the fridge, the cupboard, the coffee table drawer, the dresser cupboard. Just about anything you haven’t had the good sense to close or secure. Just about any mundane object is of interest to him. Toys are a waste of money!

Don’t mind me…

Taking (just one) shoe off

This phenomenon has earned him the moniker of ‘Sonny One Sock’. This also applies to shoes. He either hates having his feet being covered or he is just displaying a rather adorable if annoying idiosyncrasy.

Getting into the bath fully clothed

Bath time. You see pictures of adorable babies with suds on top of their heads having a right old time in the bath. Sonny hates being undressed and dressed so bath time is a constant source of conflict. He also hates the extremely short transition from bath to the towel. Of course, he doesn’t mind drenching me whilst in the bath. The other day, Sonny was positioned next to the bathtub while I turned my back to retrieve a towel. Next thing, Sonny is in the bath fully clothed. That was not fun.

Climbing, climbing, everywhere.

Rubbing food into his hair

I love when Sonny is bathed, his hair shiny and smelling gorgeous. This is a pleasure which only lasts for a few minutes as he has a knack of rubbing everything into his hair. If he has a runny nose, it ends up in his hair. If he eats a Farley rusk, it ends up in his hair, you get the picture.

Grubby handprints in every mirror

Our house resembles the scene from the creepy house in Blair Witch. His little paw prints can be seen on just about every mirror of the house. It’s worse if he has got hold of one of my lipsticks. I was pretty alarmed at seeing plum smudges on his fingers and feet. Yes, he got hold of my lovely Clarins lipstick. Well, it used to be lovely.

Oh, just casually lifted this from the shelf in Tesco mum…

Pulling off my glasses

Arrrgh. Maybe the most annoying. My beloved RayBan’s are knackered. I really, really need another pair but they’re also a luxury I can’t afford right now. He loves plucking them from my face when I’m working on my laptop. Next thing, the lenses are covered in smudges and I can’t see a thing. He, of course, finds this hilarious before firing them across the floor. Sigh.

Who needs an Andrex puppy?

Toilet roll. The source of endless fascination for babies. I can’t count the number of times he has unraveled a full roll before crawling away with it trailing behind him. It is of course, bloody adorable but again, really annoying when he’s made off with the last few pieces and you really need the loo.

I love you, I do.

Of course, I wouldn’t have it any other way for all the tea in China – but maybe all the wine in France? Just kidding. All the above is forgiven when I gaze into his huge deep blue eyes, his fibre optic lashes, his luminous, chubby cheeks, his utterly cute bottom two teeth, his squeak/grunt when I pull him really close. OK, so it has become a mushy post but I’m not sorry. He is truly amazing, an angel, if a really annoying one.

A wONEderful year of Sonny

It’s hard to believe how much my life has changed in just one year. There’s no question that becoming a mother changes you, your priorities, your life. It’s a heady mix of sleepless nights, frustration, anxiety and unequivocal joy. For the first time in a long time, the stars are perfectly aligned. The trajectory of my life has changed. I know good things are coming.

He’s a star boy.

There’s a saying that children keep you young. I’ve always wondered how that can be, surely having children ages you?! That may be the case but when you have a baby, but certainly, you see the world through different eyes (albeit with bags under them).

Everything is new to a baby, everything interests them. They have no fears, which is why they often do themselves a mischief – on a side note, Sonny is a little headbanger – he should really wear a helmet. Yes, there’s much you can learn from little people. They see the world with wide-eyed innocence – free from any constraints, social or otherwise. I think you have to see the world through a child’s eyes – to truly appreciate life. Yes, we all have our war wounds from heartache and disappointments but it’s so exhilarating to look at the world with fresh eyes, excited for the future.

My little love.

Over the past twelve months, I’ve seen my son (it still feels so strange and so lovely to say that still) transform from a tiny baby to a gregarious, fun loving little boy. Every day is a big adventure for him. There is something so joyous about seeing your beautiful baby smile, eyes clear, wide and bright. You look forward to the future, seeing your child grow up and become a strong, confident woman or man. It’s been 373 days since I became a mum and I have a million reasons to be happy, to be the best mum I can be and to achieve everything I want in life. By far, Sonny is the best thing to happen to me and I want to make sure he gets everything he wants in life too.

My love, my life.

I really hope you are enjoying my journey into motherhood and parenthood. It’s been lovely having you to share my thoughts with. I hope you will stick with me while I navigate the early years, the terrible twos (and threes and fours). I’m learning each day, just as my baby is. And I know the best is yet to come, for both of us. It really is a wonderful life.

Looking to the future…

I’d love to hear your feedback, or anything you’d like me to write about. Just let me know. Davina xx

Photo credits: Trazanne Norwood @experienceboudoir

Settle your petal with a stimulating sleep workshop

One of the most challenging obstacles of parenthood is getting your baby into a bedtime routine. For the most part, it’s trial and error, but establishing good sleep hygiene early on will make you and your little one’s life a lot easier (and happier). It really is a lottery as to whether you get a ‘good sleeper’. Some babies can sleep for 12-hour stretches, while others can wake up every hour. Speaking as a first-time mum, my little boy Sonny took about eight months to get into a routine. As a newborn, Sonny was a very noisy sleeper. He was also a colicky baby and used to writhe around his cot, body popping. He fed every two-three hours. As someone who loves their sleep, and would regularly be in bed for 10.30pm before having a baby, this was a major shock to my system. Still, I coped with coffee, napping during the day when Sonny slept and just knowing this phase would pass, although it didn’t feel like that at the time. However, if you already have a toddler or older children in the house, I know naps will be nigh impossible. But, you cope. We’re superhuman like that.

Sonny with his two favourite things.

Like any new mum, I hovered over my little bundle, listening for his gentle breathing, placing my quivering hand on his chest, watching it rise and fall. You imagine every worst case type scenario there is. I was hyper-sensitive, worrying about SIDS, questioning every sound. “Is he too warm? Too cold? Is that a rash?” Still, babies survived before guidelines even existed so you do your very best and if you’re not sure, always ask for help. Although those days with my eyes on stalks are a blurry memory, I got through it and could maybe even do it again.

Recently, I brought Sonny to a Settled Petals sleep workshop. It was somewhat fitting, that he dragged his bedtime bunny. Now, a plucky one-year-old, he is sleeping 12 hours at night. Yes, I’m very lucky (for now) but his daytime naps are irregular and some days he doesn’t nap at all. While he goes down anytime between 6pm and 8pm, I would like his bedtime to about 7pm. In our house, Sonny’s bedtime routine begins with drawing the blinds, a warm bottle, a bath (not every night), a book, and then popping Sonny in his sleeping bag and putting on Ewan the Dream Sheep, which we’ve used since the first night he came home. It also has a red light, which is supposed to remind baby of being inside the womb. Sonny also can’t sleep without his beloved Jellycat grey bunny. It’s recommended you don’t put any toys in your baby’s cot before they are six-months-old though.

Doing bed head in style.

Certified Sleep Consultant Susan Wallace is incredibly knowledgeable and the workshop was full of mums, a dad, beautiful babies, and curious crawlers – Sonny being the worst offender. Tea, coffee, and buns are offered at the start, the latter was snatched from my hand by Sonny and promptly disintegrated into a thousand crumbs on the yoga mat we were sat on. He spent the rest of the class, being a little nuisance, wrestling me for my notepad and pen. I still picked up on some of Susan’s many excellent points. Susan set up her business just six months ago and has since worked with 231 families who have booked into the service for either sleep, baby yoga or massage.

Susan began the class explaining how are our modern sleeping patterns mirror how our ancestors slept. When we slept in groups, individuals would wake up at 1.5 hourly intervals to check for danger and tend to the fire. Susan says we enter light sleep frequently throughout the night and do a full body ‘scan’, this is to check if we are too hot, too cold or if we need the toilet. If all is well, we’ll just drift back to sleep. Little babes, of course, will scream the house down until their needs are met.

Susan says that we, as adults, use ‘sleep props’, the most obvious being our duvet. It would seem very strange to us to lie down in bed without pulling something over us. Babies need props too. Strategies that we employ include feeding and rocking to sleep. It can be very difficult for a baby to self-settle if they are used to either of these, nonetheless effective strategies. Self-settling is the holy grail. It’s worth pointing out that babies don’t make melatonin for six to eight weeks. And when they do, breastfeeding mums will want to avoid feeding their baby milk containing cortisol at night and milk containing melatonin during the day. Another thing to be aware of is ‘sleep pressure’. And I’m not talking about the pressure we feel to get our babies to sleep! Sleep pressure is an unconscious biological process that makes us want to sleep. without enough sleep pressure built up, we (and babies) won’t be able to settle or sleep for long. This is were nap time comes in. The first nap of the day is the easiest as there is enough sleep pressure built up from the night before. However, if a baby has a really long morning nap, there won’t be enough sleep pressure for an afternoon nap, resulting in your baby getting overtired, making them even more awake come bedtime. It really is a quandary. With that in mind, a shorter morning nap is to be encouraged so baby has enough sleep pressure for an afternoon nap. Susan says the last nap of the day predicts when a baby will wake up.

As well as understanding the science, there are practical things you can do to help boost your baby’s melatonin. Susan says that night lights aren’t the best idea, especially the ones that emit a white or blue glow. A red glow, she says, is “less detrimental” to sleep so choose lights and light up toys with care. Buy blackout blinds for the nursery and your own bedroom if necessary, play continuous white noise and remove stimulating toys. If you breastfeed, you can buy a Meemoobaby Meelight that attaches to you for night feeds.

If you have a colicky baby, add the bedtime bottle to the start of the routine and keep baby upright for at least half an hour. If you use formula, stir the milk, don’t shake it. This might sound obvious but I always shook the bottle, thinking I needed to do that to mix the formula. You don’t. Susan says to hold your baby over your right shoulder to get gas up.

For the first three to four weeks, Susan says to hold and touch your baby as much as possible – and keep it up. She says that slings are brilliant for keeping small babies close to you. Swaddling is also beneficial for the newborn days – although getting the technique right is very important. A fascinating article by Green Child Magazine highlights a 2017 study published in Development and Psychopathology. It found that infant touch “can affect babies at a molecular level, and the positive results can last for years.” The article also states that babies who do not receive adequate human interaction and especially the loving touch, can become depressed or anxious and are prone to anti-social behaviour in later life.

Creating an environment that is similar to being in the womb is key – which for an adult is like being in a hammock (nice). For the first six months, nothing should in the crib or Moses basket other than a sheet over the mattress, to reduce the risk of SIDS. If you choose to co-sleep, ensure there are no pets in the bedroom and do not drink or smoke. Also, never fall asleep with your baby on a sofa. After six months, you can place a comforter, toy or just a t-shirt you have worn for a few days and tie it up in a knot. Your baby will be immensely comforted by your scent.

You can also look out for sleeping cues like rubbing eyes and looking away, which babies tend to do when they are feeling overwhelmed. Also, Susan says, batting your baby’s bum is a good way to comfort them as it reminds them of bobbing about in the womb.

From nine to 12 months, your baby may experience separation anxiety. You can help combat this with sleep training using ‘The Chair in the Room’ and ‘The Kissing Game’. There is also the ‘Wake to Sleep’ method, which encourages infants to self-settle if they are early morning larks – of which 10% of babies are.

I hope this blog is helpful to new mums or mums who are experiencing sleep issues with their little ones. Susan offers a wealth of information in her workshops and I’d highly recommend them. Susan works closely with families who need a little extra help too. She also offers baby massage, baby yoga, and children’s yoga classes, all of which are known to increase sleep quality in children.

I learned an awful lot from the workshop, it was absolutely fascinating. Yes, all babies are different and unpredictable but having knowledge is very empowering and it’s also comforting to know that you aren’t the only mum or dad going through a rough time.

Sonny and me.

Get in touch with Susan:

susan@settledpetals.com

Visit

https://settledpetals.com/

Sonny takes his first haircut in his stride

This blog post will be short and sweet, much like my son’s new haircut. Sonny was born with a shock of black hair. I had really bad heartburn but I don’t know if that’s related or just an old wives’ tale. I thought this fluffy ‘baby’ hair might fall out to be replaced with new hair but it didn’t. It just got lighter. Both my husband are both follicly blessed. I have thick, coarse hair that needs a professional blow-dry to look shiny and bouncy while my husband – now a silver fox – has healthy, thick hair. I too was born with lots of dark hair. As a child, my hair was my crowning glory – or so my mum says. But, it’s been through a lot since then, from bleaching, colouring, ironing (yup – a clothing iron!), then various straighteners until I bought my first pair of GHD’s – a complete godsend. I love getting my hair coloured and see it as a real treat. But, I can understand why little ones might be frightened by someone coming at them with a pair of scissors.

Sonny loved his trip to the hairdressers.

I remember as a young girl going to a hair salon for a ‘trim’, as opposed to a ‘cut’. The instructions from my dear mum was to get it trimmed, I should point out. But then, somehow, I ended up with most of my thick, chestnut mane lopped off. I’ve no idea how this came to be but I went from feeling quite grown up to feeling traumatised. Sure, it would grow back but I still felt like I’d lost a limb. I think as adults, we get our hair cut to signify a new chapter in our life, much like the song ‘I’m gonna wash that man right out of my hair’, you cut out whatever negativity is going on in your life, such as an ex, for example. Women are emotionally attached to their hair, they wear it like an armour. You’ve heard the phrase, having a ‘bad hair day’. You feel good when your hair is done, my mum would testify to this – her hair is always immaculate, and so would most of the women I know. Most days, my hair is scraped into a top knot, but when it’s done, I feel my best.

Looking pretty chuffed…

Sonny, unfettered by traumatic experiences in the hands of a hairdresser, took his first trim like a man. He seemed completely unfazed by his locks being snipped off at my regular salon Paul Meekin Hair. I looked at Sonny, propped up in the barber’s chair, feeling teary, proud and totally in love. I brought a little bag to collect his tawny hair clippings, which I’ll keep in a little memory box. Later, I came across an article online of things you should do to prevent your baby’s first haircut being a ‘traumatic’ experience. It hadn’t even occurred to me bring an iPad or snacks or some of the things suggested. So, either I got off very lightly or maybe going to the hairdressers isn’t so bad after all. My husband goes to the barber every four weeks while I’m lucky if I get my hair cut and coloured three or four times a year. If Sonny’s hair grows as fast as mine, I’m going to have to sell a kidney… but, finances aside, Sonny getting his first hair cut was a stress-free experience for us both. It did help that Paul’s two cute little dogs were running around at his feet, fascinated by my squealing with delight, grinning baby. They say the first cut is the deepest, but for us, it was the sweetest.

Our Italian getaway, a lost bunny, a drenched sun hat and almost getting thrown off a train…

There’s no place like home. But, sometimes you can imagine yourself living elsewhere. For me, that place is Italy. My husband and I visited Florence and Tuscany a few years ago and I fell in love with the place, the delicious food, the beautiful architecture, the musical language, the chic style, and of course, the climate. We spent our days wandering cobbled streets, basking in the warm sunshine, cooling down with gelato, sipping on Chianti and gorging on pizza and pasta. We made a promise to return so instead of buying presents for each other last Christmas we booked flights to Venice. It would also be Sonny’s first foreign trip. I was quite nervous of how he’d deal with the flight and just being in new surroundings. The flight to Venice, which I imagined I’d be pacing the aisle the entire way, was almost without incident. We ended up chatting to an American bar owner called Ben and the two and a half hours flew in, so to speak. Sonny got a little grouchy when he got tired, and it isn’t easy to get comfortable on a budget airline, but eventually, he fell asleep cradled in my arms.

As with all trips away, organisation is key and something which doesn’t come naturally to me. I’m the kind of person who loves having a diary but rarely uses it. Although we were away for just under a week, we ended up with two large suitcases, a rucksack, and a small sports bag. I wrote a list which looked like I was moving abroad. As well as all the obligatory cute outfits for Sonny (and sun hats he never wore), there was a zillion nappies, formula, wet wipes, a sleeping bag, bodysuits, soothers, teething gel, teethers, Calpol, snacks. The list goes on. Then there was my case full of new purchases from ASOS, Topshop and Boden. I love having new clothes for holiday, it’s part of the enjoyment. For a week or so, you can be someone who eats out every day, has a Mimosa for breakfast, Chianti every night and two changes of clothes every day. Or is that just me?! Something I wasn’t expecting was to sail through security. We were ushered to fast track both in Belfast and Venice. Me and my husband shared a smug moment, there are perks to having a baby after all. Heh.

We stayed in a simple, bright and clean apartment in Padua. The location was key as we wanted to take day trips to Venice and Verona. I’ve always dreamed of taking a gondola trip and visiting Juliet’s balcony. After a day acclimatising in Padua and paying for an expensive lunch because we were tired and went into the first restaurant we saw, we went on a day trip to Venice. It’s another world. You step off the train and a few steps away and you’re on Grand Canal – a bustling waterway with working boats, vaporettos and the more garish of the gondolas. We walked a little, stopping for a gelato on the way of course (which Sonny devoured), taking in the sights, joking at how much a tall, broad man wearing a Breton top looked a lot like a Bond villain. I spotted an empty, slightly less cheesy gondola and approached to get a price for the three of us. “Ciao!”, I said cheerily to the gondolier, who turned out to be said Bond villain. Some 80 euros later and we were being rowed under the most beautiful bridges feeling (at least me) amazing. Although I couldn’t help myself capturing the moment on my phone, I felt completely in the moment. I loved it. I clutched Sonny tight, while he clutched his new bunny (as I left his beloved Jelly Cat bunny in our car in Belfast). After our trip, we had a glass of vino frizzante by the canal and realised we were one down. The bunny was gone. We retraced our steps but bunny was nowhere to be seen. I still wonder what became of the little toy. I hope it found a good home and didn’t end up in the canal…

Pit stop in Venice

Our journey home was memorable for all the wrong reasons. My dear hubby forgot to validate our tickets but we boarded our train, hoping we wouldn’t get caught. We were approached by a sullen, po-faced jobsworth, who delighted in pointing out that we hadn’t validated our ticket and were therefore subject to a 60 euro fine. My husband, stubborn at the best of times, refused to pay, citing that we were foreigners with a screaming baby. Sonny, as if picking up on the tension, proceeded to have a meltdown. The ticket man stood beside us, refusing to budge until we paid the penalty, while hubby stood his ground. Eventually, he got back up in the form of a formidable, extremely brusque manager (who was annoyingly attractive). I slipped on my sunglasses to hide my rabbit in the headlights eyes and politely explained the situation. We got no sympathy. Our options were to pay, give up our passports or get arrested. I didn’t fancy any of the options but I knew I just wanted to get off that train. We were left with no choice but pay the fine. While hubby was raging, I was determined not to let this spoil our trip. It didn’t. But, at least we’ll have something to talk (and laugh) about for years to come.

Boy on a train…

On the third day, we braved the train again to go to fair Verona. Sonny, it turns out, loves the train and spent much of his time waving at other passengers, especially the female ones. It’s a short walk from the train station to the historic part of the city. As well as being beautiful, it’s a shopping mecca, although you’d need credit cards with no limits to buy anything. We followed the throngs to Juliet’s House, the gothic-style setting said to have inspired Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. It felt very surreal to watch tourists take selfies on the balcony. My heart fluttered, the kind I get when I’m shopping. It was just 6 Euro to wander around Juliet’s house and get the perfect Insta pic. My poor hubby was left with instructions and I joined the queue of people all wanting the perfect shot. The girl in front of me was pulling silly poses for what seemed like an eternity while I patiently waited for my chance. Finally, the balcony was mine. I walked out and scoured the crowd for my husband, camera ready. All of the poses I had in mind went out the window and I ended up leaning on the balcony grinning, feeling a little silly. But, I checked another thing off my bucket list – and got evidence.

O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore are thou Andrew?

The next day, we made a perhaps ill-advised trip to Lido de Venezia, it was a train journey and a trip on a ferry. It took a while to get there, but I was optimistic that it would be worth it. Husband got a little grumpy as he hates boats, but I was absorbing the experience like a sponge. A kind Italian woman approached me with a ribbon to attach Sonny’s soother, as he kept throwing it away. I’d forgotten the Baby & More Pacigrip we take everywhere with us. In fact, I was quite struck with the kindness of the Italian people. They just love babies. Some stopped to offer us directions, others offered their seat to me. Aside, from the nasty train man, I was really touched by all the little acts of kindness shown to us. Eventually, we reached Lido and there wasn’t a beach in sight. Husband and I bickered, having made quite a long journey and facing the prospect of yet another bus or taxi. However, the beach was a short walk away, thankfully. The ocean breeze beckoned and we walked barefoot in the warm sand towards the sea. Sonny had his very first paddle. It was a little too nippy for him but it was so amazing for him to have his first experience at the beach. On the way back, we stopped off the most gorgeous little restaurant called Parco delle Rose. It was perfect because while we needed shade from the sun, we were still outside in a lush, verdant space. One of the older male waiters was particularly taken with Sonny and the two played peek-a-boo while husband and I indulged in incredible food and a tipple. Fed and watered, and a nappy change and we headed back to the ferry terminal. We were feeling a little sleepy from being in the sun and day drinking and figured we could probably get a disco nap in. As the ferry left the terminal, the sea was pretty rough. I wasn’t bothered and with Sonny haven drifted off already, I closed my eyes, the motion of the vessel lulling me to sleep. The next thing I knew, I took in a mouthful of salt water, I spluttered, gasping for breath as a huge wave came through a small window, that hadn’t been shut. Me and husband were drenched, as was Sonny who squealed. The next thing we knew, towels were being ushered our way and I quickly wrapped our screaming bundle in about three large white towels. He was soon chattering and smiling while I resembled a drowned rat, my lovely sun hat destroyed. We somehow managed to see the funny side. We alighted and got Sonny changed into dry clothes – for some reason I’d packed another outfit that day. We made our way to our apartment, picked off the seaweed (true story), showered, dressed and headed out for supper at Ham Holy Burger. They were heavenly.

Me, Sonny and the sea.

Italy wasn’t without its hiccups but overall, it was an incredible trip. I got to do things I’d dreamed about and most of all, we shared the experience with our little son. It’s pretty magical sharing new experiences with a little human you have created. We certainly plan to see more of the world with our boy. I loved everything about Italy. It wasn’t perfect, more perfectly imperfect. Of all the places in the world I’ve visited, I feel compelled to return. Aside from the climate, it’s the beautiful buildings, the morning cappuccinos in the sun, the older women wearing silk scarves around their neck, young women with perfect red lipstick and DM boots. The rich food, the incredible wine. Italy owns a little piece of my heart. Grazie, Italy. Life is a rich tapestry, made up of the memories you make with the people you love. At the end, that is all that matters, not the clothes you wore, or how many likes you got on social media. Memories with people that matter. Italy… arrivederci.

mumofsonny was here!

The importance of being honest… I chat with blogstar Vicki Psarias aka Honest Mum on her Mumboss tour

It’s about 7.30pm and I’m sitting with professional blogger and mum-of-two Vicki Psarias before she goes on stage to a full house of creative women to promote her empowering book Mumboss at The Black Box in Belfast. Since hitting the shelves last year, it’s become a No. 1 Amazon bestseller and has been noted in the top ten business books written by women in The Independent. In it, she encourages readers to embrace her mumboss manifesto, explaining how we can balance our work, our passions and, our parenting. Despite sounding a little hoarse (no doubt down to her hectic schedule), effervescent Vicki cuts a striking figure and fizzles with excited energy. She is chatty, confident, honest, funny and just really, really nice. She’s the kind of person that makes you feel better, just by being in her company. Conversation flowed, and I even shared some anecdotes from my short tenure as a mother myself to which she smiled warmly and nodded. She offered me vegan pizza and garlic bread, which I accepted having just come from work, resulting in tomato sauce splashing all over my notes. There’s a first time for everything. This will definitely go down as one of my most fun interviews to date.

The beauty of being a writer is the people that you are lucky enough to meet. I do believe that everyone crosses your path for a reason. As a relative newcomer to the blogging world, it’s taking every ounce of my self-confidence to put my voice out there. I started blogging when Sonny was just nine weeks old. When I think back on those bleary-eyed days, struggling to string a sentence together, I wonder how I even got a chance to sit down at my laptop. But in truth, it was cathartic. It was my therapy. I’ve put myself off starting a blog for many years, for many reasons. Motherhood offers so much content, that people can relate to and I’ve really enjoyed sharing my story as a first-time mum on the cusp of turning 40. Meeting Vicki has come at a time of big change in my life. It’s very serendipitous. So often I doubt myself, I’m a procrastinator, I can be listless at times. But sometimes, you meet someone and you just know what you’re supposed to do. For me, that person is Vicki.

Vicki Psarias aka Honest Mum has a two million reach each month on her blog and social channels. She is a multi award-winning screenwriter, director, filmmaker, best-selling author, professional blogger and mum to two young, gorgeous children Oliver (9) and Alexander (6). You will most likely have seen her commenting on parenting issues on the likes of Good Morning Britain (most recently debating whether parents should drink alcohol) as well as Lorraine, BBC Breakfast and Sky News. Vicki has also featured in Vogue, The Guardian and written for Grazia and Closer to name but a few.

The importance of being honest.

Vicki says her mum, husband and closest pals are honest with her. “It’s the only way to be with the ones you love. Considerate but candid.”

How does this entrepreneurial mum juggle work and family life? “My kids are both at school so I work when they’re there, and stop at pick-up where I run around like a headless chicken getting them to and from lessons like swimming and helping them with homework (bloody love it to be honest) and then if I’m on deadline, I work for a while again when they sleep. My husband and I share the load but having a freelance career gives me flexibility. It’s why I left directing and I feel grateful I can be so hands-on, my kids are my life.”

Being a mum defines me but it doesn’t limit me. It makes me better at my job. Through weakness, you discover your strength.

“We all have important stories to tell. Sharing what matters to you. Like a painter with strokes of a paintbrush.”

Vicki started writing her blog in 2010 when her son Oliver was ten months (incidentally the same age as Sonny now). “I had a traumatic birth and I wasn’t being honest about how I felt. I was under a black cloud and was pretending to be strong.” Her blog was light-hearted to begin with. “I wasn’t strong enough to write about it.” Then, at Christmas, she spoke to her parents about how she felt and moved to Leeds and started CBT. “With my blog and being close to my parents, I was able to start healing.” Nine years on and her family live in Windsor.

Being honest is in Vicki’s DNA. She says: “I’m tactful, or I try to be. I’m thick-skinned. It’s the Greek Cypriot in me, we’re culturally honest – and I’m also a Yorkshire girl. It’s not about keeping up appearances.

Therapy helps you unlearn negativity. It is such a gift.

Being honest isn’t always easy though. “It took five years before I could write about my traumatic birth and five months before I could talk about my thyroid operation.” The latter, she describes as the most painful experience she has suffered to date, despite enduring a crash c-section (in part) because of her high pain threshold.

When you’re not well, you need a village.

Talking about those who try to take her down, she says: “I don’t engage with trolls. I’ll maintain a dignified silence. There was an incident in which I wish I had spoken up but I didn’t have the strength as I’d lost my young aunt Zak at the time and was overwhelmed with grief. You have to pick your battles anyway. Therapy teaches you to take a moment before reacting.”

Fighting Stereotypes

Vicki hates the notion that women need to be ‘ruthless’ or ‘difficult’ to thrive. “Successful women are so often painted as being ruthless or tough to work with, which is for the most part, complete and utter sexist nonsense. That doesn’t mean that some successful women aren’t difficult or ruthless, the same applies to men, but this stereotype, for the most part, is untrue and massively unhelpful. The majority of successful women I know are incredibly generous and sisterly. We are living and working in a limiting, unequal society and workplace where these dated, biased preconceptions need to change – and thankfully, are.”

As women, we have definitely drawn the short straw when it comes to the workforce. We need to unlearn what society has taught us.

“As a film director, I had a meeting with top producers and they assumed I was an actress auditioning for a part. While there’s nothing wrong with acting of course, I was a director. As a woman, you’re expected to be a certain way and look a certain way. When I went to a locum GP about my anxiety, I was told, “you look fine”. “I’ve perfected looking fine,” she quips. “Oprah said that being undermined led to her becoming wealthy and strong.”

Being honest is a key to success.

So why should we buy Mumboss? “Writing Mumboss was like having another child and it was a big relief to get it published. I wish I had had it when I started my blog. Money was never a driving force. I always wanted to work in a caring profession and used to teach. It covers everything from the imposter syndrome, finding your voice, purpose, juggling and self-care. Know your story matters and that everything takes a little time. I remember when I had 200 followers on Twitter and I was blown away. That’s as many people that were at my wedding. The followers I’ve had from day one are still with me today. It is a gift and a privilege to do what I do.”

Vicki is only human, so how does she deal with self-doubt and procrastination? “I talk my worries through with my husband and therapist. I’m learning to trust myself more and to be more compassionate with myself. I don’t really procrastinate that much. I like to be busy! She says she has had writer’s block a few times but she describes herself as a “doer”. “I’ve spent most of my life being creative and being consistent about that creativity.

On a personal level, I find myself hot-wired to catastrophize but Vicki doesn’t believe this is a universal trait of women. “I’m not sure we are built that way to be honest. Many women I know are incredibly calm. I worry less about worst case scenarios these days.”

Vicki says that her family keeps her motivated and doing what she loves. “My family and friends are my roots. My mantra ‘don’t believe the hype, don’t believe the shite’ bodes well. I believe in equality. We’re all human and equal. I hate hierarchy or those driven by ego.

Vicki with her husband and children

Vicki’s advice to someone wanting to begin a blog but not knowing where to start is to buy Mumboss. “It’s a bit cheeky but I’ve shared everything I know about blogging in it. It’s easier than ever to set up a blog now. You simply need the confidence to start. To trust that your voice matters. Twice a week is ideal when it comes to SEO and building your brand. Also, around 600-800 words minimum per post. Don’t forget to share on social media too.”

So, can wo(men) have it all? “I think men or men have to compromise whatever they do, because that’s life but I do think it’s possible to have a family and a career. You just have to be realistic about your expectations and know that things take time. So, lower your standards when it comes to the home being perfect and share the school run/childcare with your partner and friends and don’t spread yourself too thinly.”

The day you plant the seed, is not the day you eat the fruit.

Vicki likes to relax by practicing yoga, eating dark chocolate and watching reality TV. “I also love getting outdoors with my family as much as possible.”

The Juggle

“Motherhood is a heady mix of joy, unconditional love and frustration,” she smiles. “The most difficult thing is ‘the juggle’. My blog creates experiences but we have a super normal life.”

You don’t need to be a writer. You just need to be brave.

Vicki says: “Unfollow people that don’t make you feel good. I’m lucky that my mum always champions me. Protect your space.”

You need to know that seeking others’ approval will never make you happy.

“I accidentally created this job. But ask yourself, are you having fun? My brilliant manager Jack Freud was the first to ask me to use that question as a barometer, to ask myself if I’m happy doing x, y, z. It’s important to say no to things too.

“The best thing about this job is the creativity. You have to live life to write about your life. It’s not always easy. Just work smarter.

“I do let TV babysit where I have a pressing deadline here and there. Guilt is futile. Cut yourself some slack. Self-care is so important. Go on a night out and enjoy some guilt-free fun with your pals.”

I think we’re bloody superheroes. We have peripheral vision. Our maternal instinct is strong.

“Don’t be afraid to ask for help and accept help. It is a job and you’re not going to be great straight away,” she grins. “Kids are really pure joy.”

The future is bright for Vicki but she likes not knowing what’s around the corner. “That’s the beauty of what I do, it keeps me on my toes. Every day, something new pops into my inbox but it’s not magic, it’s the product of hard, hard graft.”

Although I only met Vicki for a short time, she’s left a lasting impression on me – and given me a much-need confidence boost.

I’ll leave you with this quote Vicki has posted on her blog.

By doing what you love, you inspire and awaken the hearts of others.

Satsuki Shibuya
When mumofsonny met Honest Mum…

Quick fire round!

Coffee or tea? Coffee

Wine or Gin? Wine

Cat or dog? Both

Night out or night in? In mostly but love a night out. I’m rubbish at this game!

Heels or flats? Flats but I prefer how my legs look in heels.

Sweet or savoury? Sweet

Primark or Prada? Neither, can I have Zara please?

Morning lark or night owl? Night owl but in training to be a morning bird.

Visit Vicki’s blog at

https://honestmum.com
https://honestmum.com/5-ways-to-overcome-writers-block/

Order Mumboss here:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mumboss-Honest-Guide-Surviving-Thriving/dp/0349416699