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