Sneak peak at Twirlywoos season 2

Hello everyone, I am BACK. Back, with a paid review! It’s okay, before you start accusing me of being a media puppet, I should point out that 1) I really only got paid with a link to a video and this rather fetching headband for Herbie, and 2) I like free things.

Anyway, if you have CBeebies constantly on in the background like I do, you’ll know that when you finally pass from this world to the next it will be with the  Justin’s House theme ringing in your ears, and also you’ll be aware of the Twirlywoos.

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In case you’re not familiar, though, The Twirlyoos is one of the Anne Wood friendly-shapes-with-funny-names canon, like Teletubbies and In the Night Garden. It features a group (family?) of roundy, primary-coloured bird-like creatures (no beaks but webbed feet) who live on a boat, communicate in little trills and helicopter off every episode to spy on humans doing things in order to learn about new concepts (up and down, fitting together, ‘over’, etc.). Poldark it is not.

I must admit I am slightly perturbed by way Peekaboo lives on the boat, too, without the Twirlywoos’ knowledge. This makes me uneasy whenever I watch it, because I fear an eventual Captain Philips-style showdown. But generally I like it because

  • Herbie likes it
  • The theme song sounds like Ed Sheeran would sound if Ed Sheeran wrote sea shanties for children
  • It’s not bloody Baby Jake.

This morning Herbie and I watched the new episode of the new season of Twirlywoos, which airs on Monday 28 November, over breakfast. As you can see, he is having a terrible time.

Herbie hearts Twirlywoos.

A video posted by Robyn 🇬🇧(🇪🇸🇮🇹🇳🇵🇫🇷🇱🇷) (@orbyn) on

In this episode, the Twirlywoos visit a man with a magnificent sergeant-major moustache as he covers his car with foam to clean it (is this a thing? I don’t drive and also have no moustache). The Twirlywoos then get involved, and as you can imagine, FOAMY CHAOS ENSUES.

Herbie’s review:

  • ‘BOAT!’ (The Twirlywoos’ red boat)
  • ‘BIRDY! BACK BACK!’ (The quacky birds that sit on top of the boat actually get a look in on the action in this episode)
  • ‘BED! BOO! BEDDOW! BINK!’ (Various colours)

My review:

  • There was no reappearance of the wobbly jelly that once came aboard once, ate Peekaboo, and generally made Herbie a collection of hysterics, so I was happy
  • It was colourful and gentle and informative
  • It still isn’t Baby Jake, which is like a DRILL THROUGH MY HEAD.

Basically, hooray for the Twirlywoos! Did you know you can follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube? Well, now you do.

THIS WAS A NOT NOT-PAID BLOG POST. GOOD DAY SIR.

Guest post: Our patchwork fields, unravelling at the seams

In this special guest post – and in a departure from my usual ramshackle style – a fellow parenting blogger (who wishes to remain anonymous because of the nature of her work) writes about her fears for the future, and the present day, ahead of tomorrow’s EU referendum.

The night before Jo Cox was brutally murdered in her constituency I couldn’t sleep. My uncharacteristic insomnia was in no small part because I was in the midst of an incredibly tough week looking after my poorly one-year-old whilst also struggling with illness myself. But it was also because thoughts of the forthcoming EU referendum were swirling around my mind.

Until that night I really hadn’t given the referendum much thought – I would vote Remain and that would be that. But, having finally engaged my brain about it properly for the first time, I suddenly realised just how real the possibility of leaving the European Union actually was. I could sense an irreversible shift in our society was about to take place and felt incredibly uneasy about what could happen over the coming weeks and months. But I couldn’t pinpoint precisely what it was that I was so afraid of.

When I got up that morning after a night of tossing and turning, I was miserable and exhausted. I dragged myself through the first half of the day, looked after my son as best as I could and, in the snatches of time I found, jotted down the beginnings of a blog post on my iPhone to try and express whatever it was that was tugging away at the back of my mind.

Because my thoughts the night before had taken me back to the last time my sleep had been blighted by something other than a hungry baby, in the spring of 2015. When I had my baby that April I very nearly died. Cooped up in a sweltering hospital ward, my body was recovering from major blood loss and my mind was a tangle of hormones and fears about how on earth I was going to get over what had undoubtedly been the most traumatic experience of my life to date.

One sleepless night midway through my hospital stay, and at a particularly low moment, one of the night duty midwives came to do my observations and could see I was struggling. She perched on the edge of my bed as my baby squirmed in the plastic crib next to me and my husband tossed and turned in a chair in the corner and quietly told me a story.

She told me about how she’d moved to England from Italy to pursue her dream of becoming a midwife at this London NHS teaching hospital. About how she was horribly homesick in the beginning because she knew no one, and was finding the language difficult. About how she’d called her dad back home in Italy in tears because she was finding it so hard and didn’t know how she was going to get through it. About how her dad reassured her and told her that, one day, everything would suddenly fall into place, and the intensity of her current fears and worries would be nothing but a distant memory. And about how her dad had been right and how much she now loved her job and was so pleased she’d made that decision to come here to live and work.

She wanted me to know that it would be the same for me. And that, while my feelings and concerns and that moment were completely valid and important, one day they would somewhere in the background rather at the forefront of my mind, and I would be happy. And she was totally right.

Of all the amazing people I met in that hospital that week, it was her words which stayed with me the most.

That midwife was probably one of dozens of individuals who were involved in the care of me and my baby son who were born outside of the UK. Highly-skilled, caring and hardworking people who are able to work in our hospitals – and other institutions that care for our country’s most vulnerable people – because of the free movement of workers between the EU member states.

After I wrote this story down last Thursday, I went on to think about what might happen in our society if we did vote to leave the European Union. I mused that, in the short-term, there would probably be protests from the vocal and active community on the left who vehemently want to remain in the EU. About how this could all-to-easily lead to clashes with protestors on the right. The real potential for violence and unrest all around our country which could, in turn, lead to familiar scenes of looting, riots, disorder and all-round chaos.

Except this time we would have no stable government to steady the ship and get things back under control.

Because, chances are, Cameron would have had to resign, opening the door for the politics of this country to take a dramatic lurch to the right, legitimising the views of those who can’t seem to understand that our country – and indeed every country in the world – is built on the inevitable migration and movement of the human species. That’s how most of us ended up here, after all.

I was worried about becoming an isolated nation. About how the value of our currency and the solidity of our economy could plummet – indeed, the Bank of England have recently confirmed as much. And how the people at the very bottom of our society – those who are already struggling the most – could end up struggling even more.

I got all of this out of my system and, with a splitting headache, eventually sat down to watch England vs Wales with my sick child fitfully sleeping in my arms.

Little did I know at that point that the horror, violence and awfulness that I so feared had already begun on our streets. Because, over the next couple of hours, I barely watched a kick of the ball, as the terror of what had taken place in Birstall, West Yorkshire, unveiled itself on social media.

I can’t put into words my feelings over the coming hours and days. I felt sick to my stomach. A mother. A talented campaigner. An effervescent chink of hope and decency in a seemingly murky sea of cynical political manoeuvring. Snubbed out on the streets that she called home.

And, when it emerged that Jo’s killer appeared to be politically motivated, I suddenly realised what it was that had been nagging away at me. I realised that it wasn’t the prospect of apotentially unfixable division occurring between those who fall on different sides of the debate, it was the fact that the fragile stitches that knit our patchwork society together had all-too-obviously already begun to unravel.

Before last week I felt proud and lucky to live in a tolerant, open-minded and democratic country where we could freely express our views and openly exercise our right to vote on important issues.

But then Jo Cox lost her life because of these very values.

This referendum represents everything that’s gone wrong with our democracy. After all, the only reason it’s even happening is because David Cameron wanted to score a cheap point in his most recent General Election campaign. Cheap it may have seemed when he committed to it back in 2013, but now the true costs are making themselves known.

What do we really think we can achieve by leaving the EU? I don’t think anybody really knows. But what we would definitely achieve is political and financial instability, the real risk of more violence on our streets and a huge question mark over the future of this country.

That’s not the kind of future I want for my son. Or for that lovely midwife who took the huge personal leap to move here to follow her dreams and help people like me, and babies like mine.

But, above absolutely everything else, is the simple fact that two children have lost a mother. And, even if we do vote to remain part of the EU, and the complex but beautiful fabric of our society is mended over time, there is absolutely nothing in the world which will ever be able to fix that.

Seven products I swear by

Hello! Now that I have an (almost) 18-month-old I thought I’d write a quick post about the everyday products that help me to stop feeling as though I need to claw my face off at the end of a day dealing with work, a breastfed toddler, getting about without a car, and housework.

[NB: This isn’t a sponsored post – although *seductive eyes* if you are a big brand and would like to throw some money my way, I’m not going to say no – I AM DOING THIS OUT OF THE KINDNESS OF MY HEART and definitely not because this blog is shortlisted in the MADS awards for best preschool blog oh god I should have written a blog post about that I probably don’t deserve to win. Although PLEASE VOTE!]

1. DRIBBLE MONSTERS DRIBBLE BIBS
Herbie didn’t have teeth for ages, and now he has about eight coming through all at once. To misquote the Stone Roses, he is a waterfall. These wonderful handcrafted dribble bibs, in addition to being amazingly funky, are backed with towelling made from bamboo, which stops the bib from leaking (Herbie gets eczema from dribble rashes…), and gets softer with each wash. I cannot recommend them enough – also, Gem, the lady who makes them, has also branched out into some amazing-looking leggings and dungarees. Check them out!

THE TONGUE RETURNETH

2. MY GRIFFIN SURVIVOR IPHONE CASE
I house my iPhone in a Griffin Survivor Case because Herbie is obsessed with stealing it, saying “Wello? Wabboo wabboo wabboo” into it, and chucking it as hard as he can at things that are made of wood and concrete. But this chunky piece of crap makes sure that my phone sustains no damage whatsoever. I have it in fluoro pink, because I am obnoxious.

3. MY PORTABLE PHONE CHARGER
Are you kidding me? I have an ageing iPhone 5S that has been bashed to buggery (before I bought the phone case, I should add), a serious podcast habit, no car, absolutely no sense of direction, and the attention span of a flea, which I have apparently passed on to my son. With the Teletubbies on iPlayer, podcasts and audiobooks to while away the long strolls alongside dual carriageways which make up 70% of my life, and constant checking of Google Maps, my demands from my iPhone outweigh my battery life. A portable charger is essential.

4. A BUGGY-BUMBAG
Literally a sort of bumbag you strap to the top of your pushchair. I fill it with drinks and snacks for Herb and me, plus my charger (obviously), my wallet, lip balm, tissues, etc. I also stick my iPhone in there for long walks in case Herb goes to sleep and I want to listen to an audiobook or podcast. Perfectly placed for earphones. And so reasonably priced! (You can get them for even less on Amazon if you’re not addicted to chevrons like me)

5. A BUGGY STEERING WHEEL
Herbie is short on patience and loves to twiddle things (ask my boobs) and I’ve been looking for ways to occupy his curious little fingers. I saw a woman pushing a buggy with one of these in Canterbury the other day, and I HUNTED HER DOWN until she told me where she got it. Mothercare, it turns out. The batteries don’t keep the lights or sounds on for more than a week but the buttons still depress and the wheel still goes round, which is all Herbie cares about, really.

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6. MY HYDRATEM8 BOTTLE
At 17 months, Herbie and I are still breastfeeding like the clappers; however, my main source of fluids is the endless stream of coffees I drink throughout the day until 7pm, when I switch to wine. Cue the HydtrateM8 bottle – a litre bottle with your allotted ration of water marked off for every hour between 8am and 12pm, then 1pm (when you refill it) till 6pm. It looks good, takes the sting out of staying hydrated, and if you have child’s tastebuds like me you can just dump a shitload of squash in there so it tastes nice. Or gin. Or pills. I don’t care. This is strictly a no-judgement mummyblog.

7. MY PANTONE COFFEE POT
Even though I, in a moment of extreme sleepiness, set it down on the countertop in our rented kitchen, and it burned a hole in the lino, voiding our deposit. Even though, nine times out of 10, I will make myself an instant coffee because it’s quicker. Even though I have let the bottom burn until the paint is all blistered and brown on the base, I still love it. Because it was a present, and because it’s so pretty, and because it’s a shrine to, like, the third most important thing in my life (coffee). I love you, pantone coffee pot. Never leave me.

Adventures in Japanese Nappies

[DISCLAIMER: REVIEW OF FREE ADVANCE PRODUCT]

Hello! Herbie and I have spent the last few weeks trialling some Japanese nappies, which are things that exist. In case you have an attention span like mine, here’s the TL;DR: Excellent nappies – better than anything we’ve bought in a supermarket – comfortable and leak-free, but twice the price of regular nappies: 5/10.

Here’s the longer version. Japanese nappies, ho!

APPEARANCE/GENERAL CHARM: 10/10
Jolly Winnie the Pooh characters adorn the nappies themselves, but the real design pull is the illustrated bright blue packages they come in. They are pink and sparkly and beautiful. Even the instructional diagrams are cute. Then there’s this guy – not sure what he’s supposed to be. A tooth? A little bit of human fat? A really solid wee? Either way, I’m all for him:

I don't mean to be all foregone-conclusion, but all nappies should be marketed by this guy. #moonydiapers

A photo posted by Robyn Wilder Heritage (@orbyn) on

EASE OF USE: 10/10
Herbie is up and running these days, and during nappy changes he likes to throw himself around like Jennifer Beals in Flashdance, so I opted for pull-up pants, as using regular nappies is like trying to origami traditional nappies onto a violent octopus. Luckily, Moony pants work in the same ways as Pampers etc. You just pull them up to put them on, and rip them down the side seams to get them off. (Apologies for image quality; once you remove Herbie’s clothes he basically WILL NOT STAY STILL.)

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COMFORT: 10/10
Presumably because of willy placement and wee diffusion, there are different Moony pants for girls and boys (incidentally, the sizes aren’t the UK numbered standard, but listed by weight). These nappies work in the same way as any other, but they seem more… architecturally padded. The concertina pleats at the waistline are dense, and there are more folds at the hip than your standard pant, allowing for all sorts of movement. They’re quite clever, really.

DURABILITY: 10/10
These pants have been with us to Finland and back.

Don't Look Now.

A photo posted by Robyn Wilder Heritage (@orbyn) on

They have seen us through several delayed train sojourns across the country, and have even accompanied us through Herbie’s brief stint of weeing non-stop through the night, and a very bad-parent-day when I left him unchanged for about 10 hours.

They have only leaked once, overnight, and I suspect it was because I didn’t put them on properly (it’s okay, I washed the tea towel afterwards):

Also, nappy waistlines can aggravate Herbie’s eczema on his abdomen and lumbar region, but so far the Moony pants have been the least harmful out of all the ones we’ve tried (mainly Pampers and Tesco’s own).

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AVAILABILITY: 5/10
UNFORTCH at the moment they’re only available through Amazon, or the Best Baby website (with a £2 discount). Which you will need, because they are…

COST: 3/10
£22.50 for 38 nappies, which is pretty ridiculous, even with a discount. That said, each nappy can last an entire day without leakage or discomfort. Hopefully if they start importing the nappies into the UK wholesale the cost will come down. I genuinely love them and am very sad to have to go back to stupid regular nappies now.

THE GAME-CHANGER
Hold onto your hats, THEY MAKE MOOMIN NAPPIES NOW.

HOLD the PHONE.

A photo posted by Robyn Wilder Heritage (@orbyn) on

I picked some up in a Finnish supermarket, and they worked equally as well as the Japanese nappies, which is now one of the major reasons I want to move to Finland. Hopefully they’ll start importing to the UK. In the meantime, Japanese nappies get my thumbs-up, but only on payday.

I mean, just look at how happy Herbie looks after a Japanese-nappy-nap:

#nap

A photo posted by Robyn Wilder Heritage (@orbyn) on

if you vote for me all your wildest dreams will come true*

Someone(s) has nominated this blog as ‘blog of the year’ in Tots 100’s Mad Blog Awards!

Despite this clear lapse of judgement, I am right chuffed, for the following reasons:

1. I was nominated in the ‘lifestyle writer’ category for a Words by Women award, and not did I not win, I was too poorly to go to the awards ceremony and show off my losing face:

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2. I’ve heard the Mad Blog Awards events are basically piss-ups of bacchanalian proportion, rammed full of raging mums on the lash, and I think it’d be an interesting social experiment to see, now that my alcohol tolerance has dropped to half a glass of prosecco, how I’d fare in that environment.

So, please, vote for me in the ‘blog of the year’ category, and all your wildest dreams will come true. Specifically, those dreams featuring me in an ill-fitting dress tripping over my ill-advised shoes on the way to the podium, then blurting out the worst possible expletives during my speech because I’ve exceeded my half-a-glass-of-prosecco limit.

So don’t delay – vote now! (When you get to the page, it’ll ask you to nominate a blog for ‘blog of the year’; nominating is voting in this case – if I get enough nominations I become a finalist. Please and thank you)

Tots 100 Awards

*Sorry, typo. MILDEST. Your MILDEST dreams will come true.

12 unexpected joys of new motherhood

1. Pyjamas
I have lived in pyjamas since Herbie was born, and I love it. To the point where I feel overdressed in leggings. To the point where I am considering having “day pyjamas” and “night pyjamas”. To the point where, when Herbie eventually goes to nursery and I have to wear human clothes again, I’ll probably need therapy. Because pyjamas are comfortable, forgiving on a biscuit-filled belly, and SO easy to breastfeed in. Sitting in the bay window. Which juts out onto the street. Hey, I wonder why those Mormons never came back.

2. I feel more at home in Starbucks
No longer am I the lone weirdo with a soy latte and a laptop. Now I am the neglectful parent with a soy latte and a laptop.

3. Watching Herbie change
Every day, he wakes up a new and slightly different person. He has Stu’s colouring and my face, and he shouts “OLLY GOLLY GOCK!” at anything that moves. His eyes are perfect in ways I can’t describe. His mouth makes me want to cry, for reasons I don’t understand. His feet are tiny and fat and edible. I see my husband’s grin ripple across his features when he’s happy, while in the evening, my own grandmother’s crumpled sleepy smile emerges. When he is older he will ask me why I stare at him so much, and I won’t know what to say.

4. Naps
“Don’t let your baby sleep in your bed,” they told me. “You’ll never get a full night’s sleep,” they told me. Well, HA! In your face, THEM. Now that I’m an (almost) full-time mother I get to spend the odd afternoon curled up around Herbie, making up my sleep deficit. It’s basically like cuddling a hot water bottle that squeaks and giggles in its dreams.

5. Netflix

The comfiest way to watch Making a Murderer.

A photo posted by Robyn Wilder Heritage (@orbyn) on

6. No one expects me to go anywhere
When I was young, my favourite part of staying out all night and doing dubious things was the 6am retreat, when we’d all pile into someone’s house, pupils the size of saucers, to get comfy and drink tea. Similarly, when I used to go out to pubs and parties and drink so much that my stomach burned, my favourite part was the next day’s hangover, when I’d spend the day under a duvet with my flatmate watching movies, eating carbs and gently snoozing. Now, that’s how I spend most of my non-work, non-active parenting time, because I live 90 minutes away from all my friends. And, although I miss them awfully, notice how I’m not complaining.

7. I get extra potassium in my diet
Because Herbie gets bored after a half a banana.

8. Dressing my son up like a tiny haberdashery
Right now Herbie is wearing grey leggings with Dia de los Muertos skulls on them, a raglan T-shirt, a stripy cardigan with Fairisle-patterned pockets, and a bib covered in Russian dolls. And a trapper hat. And fur-lined hi-tops. Meanwhile, I’ve spent precisely three seconds on my own appearance, and look like a homeless man. But it’s okay, because my toddler looks like a Gaga album cover. And yes, that was the look I was going for.

9. I have something to put my shopping in
Hooray for prams! And hooray for accidentally shoplifting from M&S. Oh, don’t look at me like you haven’t done it.

10. I get to relive my own childhood
I mean, not literally my childhood. I went to a country primary school where we had to curtsey to the headmistress every morning, and brambling was a legitimate classroom activity, and I wasn’t entirely sure what century was. And when Herbie was about two weeks old (this is completely true) I tried reading him my childhood staple, The Children of Green Knowe, and got a bit confused when he showed no interest. BUT I get to crawl around on the floor all day, growling and building Mega Blok towers for Herbie to rampage through like Godzilla. I also have a legitimate reason to watch Despicable Me 2 now, because he was recently mesmerised by the Minions. Meanwhile, Antichrist is available on Netflix now. No, thanks. We’re going to watch Inside Out again.

11. Oxytocin
Jesus, have you ever had a hit of this stuff? It’s amazing. Boobfeeding half-asleep, grabbing Herbie for a 0.00005-second cuddle as he zooms through the house, just looking at photos of him – it all makes this stuff thrum powerfully through me. It feels like The Force, but for mums. I wish I could bottle it.

12. Everything is an adventure now
No matter where I go or what I do – whether it’s shopping for toilet paper, picking up my antidepressants prescription, or bundling Herbie up and heading off somewhere on the train – I always feel like a superhero, because I have a sidekick, and it’s this guy:

Teeth!

10 steps to the perfect first birthday party

1. Reflect on the past year
As your baby’s first birthday approaches, look back on how far you’ve come, how utterly, utterly changed you are, and how you know instinctively that there will never be a time when your baby doesn’t come first.

2. Be flexible with your plans
Accidentally arrange to go shopping with the delightful Susie Verrill on what turns out to be your baby’s actual birthday, because lack of sleep has stopped you from understanding calendars, or the basic concept of time. Still actually go shopping, though, because his birthday’s on a weekday when no one’s free for full-on baby stuff, and besides, babies love shopping, right? Erm.

3. Knives
Meet the delightful Susie Verrill and her wonderful son Milo in town while the universe throws Storm Jonas at you for being so selfish. Spend most of your trip hiding out in Prezzo, wringing out your wet hair while the staff frown at you for letting your children play with knives.

4. Choose your venue wisely
Decide to throw a birthday party at the weekend, but to keep it small by only inviting family. When the RSVPs come in, realise your family’s too big to fit in your house. Eventually settle on hiring a back room up some rickety stairs in your local pub. Ask the publican about accessible entrances and baby-changing facilities, only for him to look at you like this:

giphy5. Keep the theme consistent
As the party approaches, walk around with a vague party shopping list in your head containing items like “goody bags” and “party hats”. Then look at Pinterest and have a heart attack. Rush into Wilkinson’s and panic-buy bunting, balloons, face-paints, and piñatas until you have a party theme, and that theme is pirate-Frozen-Mexican wrestler-murderous clown.

7. Cater for all diets
Leave the baking to your husband, who creates three cakes – one gluten-free option, one “cake for the adults”, and one magnificent M&M-filled rainbow cake that’s covered in e-numbers; delicious e-numbers that you absolutely cannot eat because you’re super-allergic to them. Eat some, obviously, because you have no willpower, then run around town trying to find industrial-strength antihistamines as your face gently swells like an inflating balloon.

The inside of Herbie's birthday cake, and also the reason why I can currently see through time

A photo posted by Stuart Heritage (@stuheritage) on

8. Be on top of the party prep
On the morning of the party, head to the venue with your list, decorations, and triple-checked party goods. Arrive and immediately realise that you’ve forgotten the changing bag. Come home to fetch it. Return to the venue and discover there is no music in the room. Return home to fetch a BlueTooth speaker. Fail to find a BlueTooth speaker. Return to venue resolving to play Musical Chairs by beatboxing your-fucking-self. Grimly put up bunting and pick at the catering.

9. Be on top of party games
After a single glass of wine, get distracted by guests, and completely forget how to play Pin the Tail on the Donkey. Do your best, but then find your shirt being tugged by one of the younger party guests. “Robyn, will there be any good games at any point?” He asks you. Your baby then falls asleep for the duration of the party. Give up, scatter face-paints among the children, and drink more wine.

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10. Keep a note of who gave which gift
Come home after the party, at which point your baby wakes up and wants to play. Pour yourself a) more wine, and b) the contents of your handbag, which happens to contain the considerable leftover catering. Eat curly fries and allergy-cake while your baby rampages through his birthday presents and you swear never to throw another birthday party again.

Herbie vs presents

A photo posted by Robyn Wilder Heritage (@orbyn) on

Happy first birthday, Herbie. Sorry your mum’s an idiot.

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Postnatal Retreat, Manoir la Croix de la Jugie

At the end of summer 2015, when Herbie was seven months old, I was struggling with sleep deprivation, depression, and an expanding Bourbon biscuit-based waistline, and Stu was lamenting what little time he got to spend with Herbie every day. So when we were invited to a (disclaimer: free) week-long postnatal retreat in France, we jumped at the chance.

Although the notion of being stranded in the countryside with a bunch of strange families sounded at first like an ITV2 reality show, the retreat blurb said it focused on rebuilding post-natal fitness and wellbeing, with exercise classes for the mums, quality dad-time for the dads, and hearty living for everyone. Plus we live right by a Eurostar station, so it almost seemed rude not to go.

Here’s our first ever family Eurostar selfie:

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The Manoir
La Jugie is an ivy-strewn 18th Century farmhouse with its own bergerie (converted sheep shed), pool, and apple orchard. It sits deep in the green hills of Limousin, a 30-minute drive from Limoges (you can fly there or get the train from Paris). Inside it’s all exposed beams and graphic rugs thrown over stone floors, with delicious cooking smells coming from the cosy kitchen.

It turns out hosts Clio Wood and Bryn Snelson redecorated the manoir in their unique style when they bought it; it was only after having her own baby in 2014 that Clio founded &Breathe Postnatal, when she couldn’t find a retreat that suited her.

The house sleeps 16, so we basically had a floor to ourselves, which was great for shushing Herbie to sleep, relaxing after an exercise class, or just to bury your nose in a book when communal life got a bit too communal – there was even a delightful book-filled reading nook for this very purpose.

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Fitness
This is the bit I wasn’t looking forward to. In adult life I have basically been super-thin but horribly unfit (thanks, cigarettes!), or sort-of fit but kind of chubby (thanks pizza/running!). I took up competitive biscuit-eating during pregnancy, though, and hadn’t stopped, so the notion of sausaging my post-C-section bulk into lycra didn’t really fill me with joy. However, La Jugie’s own buoyant trainer Caroline Bragg allayed my fears.

Our ensemble twice-daily sessions took place in the bergerie or the covered terrace, and incorporated circuits, pilates, cardio, and even resistance training with our babies in carriers – but all carefully modified for postnatal bodies (did you know you shouldn’t do crunches after a C-section? Nor did I), and at our own pace. Despite myself, I enjoyed my sessions, and have kept up (sort of) with the bespoke training plan Caroline gives you at the end (although I do it too sporadically at the moment, and mainly for Herbie’s amusement. MUST DO BETTER).

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Food
Honestly, when I heard I was going on a ‘fitness’ retreat I expected to be on a diet of celery, and said a tearful farewell to ‘real food’ before I left. But I hadn’t reckoned on Clio’s amazing hearty fare and love of long, boozy dinners. Breakfasts were a smorgasbord of fruits, oats, cheese and bread, lunches were chunky soups (my favourite was the curried apple) with huge hunks of bread, and dinners were giant pots of cassoulet and pots au feu with salads (and pudding!). Everything tasted fresh and fabulous. Plus, the fact that all the families came together every evening, chatting and eating with our babies on our laps, added to the sense of bonhomie, and made dinners all the more delicious.

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Relaxation
Part-and-parcel with the week came an hour-long in-house professional massage for everyone. Mine was so good I passed out within minutes and shelled out for an extra session later in the week. Hot showers, late mornings, fresh air, good food, and getting your heart rate up all contributed to an overall sense of wellbeing, and on good days Bryn even ferried us out for trips to the village, shops and even the zoo. It was a bit rainy for the pool, but we explored the grounds and even scrumped a few apples (don’t tell Clio). And, as we all know, theft is very relaxing.

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Was it worth it?
Oh my god yes. The entire week was a much-needed series of deep breaths after the panic of early parenthood, and left me brimming with a sense of wellbeing I hadn’t realised I’d lost. Meeting other new parents was a bonus to this; we all put a brave face on to begin with (I was horribly intimidated by everyone) but slowly we came together and realised that we were going through very similar struggles. I honestly credit Clio, Bryn and Caroline with saving my sanity, a bit. The retreats are a wonderful idea generally, but I think few people could run such events with the warmth, welcoming and sense of fun that they possess. I’ve made some friends for life here. Thanks so much, you three.

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If you’re a new mum and you’re dithering over your summer holiday, take a look at the 2016 retreats – they might be just what you need. If you can’t commit to a week, keep an eye out for the day retreats that are coming soon to London.

Oh, and if this review sounds overly enthusiastic, it’s because I am. In fact, to paraphrase Victor Kiam, I liked it so much I joined the company! I now help with &Breathe Postnatal‘s social media and content, because I found my retreat so valuable in terms of recovering my equilibrium after the drama of becoming a mother.

If that’s not a ringing endorsement I don’t know what is.

Oh, and here’s a final note from Herbie:

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Sorry about all the spit.

 

Some thoughts you may have when your baby turns one

  • ????
  • ??!?!?!
  • ??!?!??!?!?!!!?!???!?!!!!?!?!?!?!?!???!?!??!?!?!!!?!???!?!!!!?!?!?!?!?!?!!!?!?!?!
  • One? He’s not one. I just had him.
  • *Counts on fingers* Oh god, he’s one.
  • He’s got a full head of hair and he can talk. He’s definitely one.
  • (I mean, he only shouts “Google Doodle” at the furniture and calls me “Len”, but that’s talking, right?)
  • That means I haven’t had a full night’s sleep in a whole year.
  • Which would explain why I look so much younger and more charismatic in these birth photos.
  • Remember when he was born, and they handed him to you, and you stupidly said “Oh, it’s a baby,” as though you’d been expecting a washing machine delivery instead?
  • Remember how you couldn’t understand that there had been a person living inside you for nine months?
  • Remember how much like a removed internal organ he looked when he first came out?
  • And also my grandmother?
  • Remember how small and fragile he was, like some intricate artwork made of rice paper and air?
  • Remember his snuffling, and his long, elegant fingers, and the tiny grunting noises he made?
  • *Inarticulate, maternal, hormonal oh-god-my-baby-waaah emotions*
  • *Brief pause while your one-year-old charges at you and bashes you about the face with a spittle-soaked Sophie the Giraffe*
  • Am I a terrible mother for missing the newborn version of this?
  • We shouldn’t have a party. He won’t remember it.
  • We should have a party. I want some booze.
  • We should have a party featuring all the things he likes.
  • Wait, he only likes cardboard boxes, remote controls, heights, cords, cutlery, my phone and my boobs.
  • We should have a party with big foil balloons, instead.
  • Big foil balloons that say “001”, because “1” on its own is too lame.
  • Jesus Christ. A year.
  • That’s a year of nappies, a year of rocking him to sleep, a year of breastfeeding, a year of only showering every other day.
  • A year of waking up to a slightly changed baby. Smiling, laughing, crawling, standing, walking. A year of firsts.
  • Pretty soon he’ll stop breastfeeding. And he’ll have to go into his own bed.
  • It won’t be long before he’s too big to cradle.
  • He’s already a toddler and shedding his baby habits.
  • He’s already crawling away from me to explore the world.
  • I’m already missing my baby.
  • *Tears*
  • But what will the next year bring?
  • Reading together?
  • Hearing him say my name?
  • Splashing in puddles?
  • Having conversations about dinosaurs?
  • Pushing him on the swings?
  • Being told that he loves me?
  • And potty training?
  • Oh man, I’m feeling too many emotions.
  • I think I understand why people have first birthday parties.
  • Bring on the booze!

Sad Ladies’ Club

I haven’t updated this blog for almost two months – I had some ideas for blog posts, but very little time to write them. More importantly, I didn’t have time to make them perfect.

And perfection is really what I was aiming for. In all things – parenting, work, being a human, wifery. Over the last few months it’s become imperative that I do everything perfectly, and the irony is I have fallen further and further short of perfection every day.

Suddenly freelance commissions were taking three all-nighters in a row and a crying fit to perfect, rather than a couple of days. Piles of unwashed dishes would reduce me to tears, because I didn’t know where to start, and everyone else seemed to manage housework. Every time Herbie played happily with someone else, even his father, my stomach would curdle with bitter self-loathing. 

I’d try (and fail) for hours at the dressing table, attempting to look less beaten-up by motherhood. Some days I wouldn’t leave the house. Some days I’d avoid contact with my friends, and repeatedly ask Stu if he was angry with me, because I couldn’t understand how he, how anyone, couldn’t be. Some days I only made it out of bed to change the baby.

It didn’t even occur to me that I was depressed.

I’ve lived with anxiety my entire life – in my very early twenties I was housebound with panic disorder and agoraphobia – but waking up with this deadened feeling then progressively losing hope as the day went on was something new. Luckily I was quite open about it (and the disturbing flashbacks to the birth I’d been getting) with my GP and health visitor, and they diagnosed me with PTSD and postnatal depression.

Briefly I tried intensive CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), but after every session I was sent home with multiple pieces of homework, none of which I could complete with a needy baby hanging off my boob (and not being able to do my homework perfectly sent me into a negativity spiral). So instead I went with antidepressants and a weekly visit to a place I like to call ‘Sad Ladies’ Club’.

Sad Ladies’ Club is actually a crafts group for women with postnatal depression. It sounds awful, but isn’t. At first I wasn’t on board with such a wacky scheme (crafts? For depression? That’s like ponies for asthma), but I’ve since grown to love it.

We get together once a week, put our babies in creche, and go mad with the glitter glue for two hours. People make us tea and gesture generously towards the tin of Celebrations in the middle of the table. Nobody talks about depression. We talk about Christmas jumpers and whose baby is the shoutiest and who’s got the staple gun, please.

When I first heard about the crafts aspect, of course, I pictured orange-jumpsuited basket weaving, but it’s better than that. We make memo boards. We do decoupage. We make Christmas cards and paint giant acrylic letters for our homes. And I am so far from perfect at any of it. In fact, I am horrifically shit at it all. My Christmas cards are wonky, my giant letters are smeared with glitter glue. Don’t even talk to me about decoupage. Don’tcoupage, more like.

Sad Ladies’ Club hasn’t cured me of my perfectionism, but it’s helped. It’s legitimised my depression, and shown me that other, normal people have it. It’s given me a couple of hours a week out of my head, and out of constant mothering, and it’s got me out of the house (watching three days of The Killing in my pyjamas with an increasingly restless baby was doing no one any good).

The antidepressants have kicked in, therapy is on the horizon, I’ve risen above that negative mental feedback loop a bit, and I can see that I need help. Now I’ve sorted a part-time nanny and a fortnightly cleaner, and I’m trying not to judge myself for not being able to do it all myself.

Plus, Herbie has been nicely socialised in creche and, as shit as I am at it, I may have caught the crafts bug. I may take up crocheting, because the world needs more wonky woolly cobwebs. This week was my penultimate Sad Ladies’ Club. A very nice woman came and showed us how to make Christmas wreaths out of bits of hedgerow.

My effort is imperfect. I love it: