Top Tips From Toddlers

IMG-20140616-00230Yes, that’s right. From, not for. There are so many ‘here’s what you need to know about life, kiddo’ writings, aren’t there. Mine included. Always wear sunscreen. Get plenty of calcium. Dance.

The thing is, mine love wearing sunscreen (it’s an excuse for a massage). MULK is greeted with squeals. They can dance to anything. Even the hoover being switched on is worthy of a little shimmy. So who should be teaching whom? In fact, the girls are providing me with an excellent refresher course on how to be a contented member of the grown up race. For example…

Pants are an outfit.

Nothing exists apart from the big glorious now. The girls are a bit like very small mountains. Clouds drift pass. But just as the mountain isn’t sighing about that cloud that was there yesterday, nor fretting over the ones which may or may not loom later, so too for the girls yesterday and tomorrow are not obsessions. In fact, I’m not convinced they even understand the concept. They don’t endlessly ruminate over perceived past wrongs, done to them or by them. Nor do they get themselves in a tizz about tomorrow’s trials. All that exists is this, now. I cannot change the past. And the future is just an idea. Precious moments can be frittered planning a life away. It’s taken me to 40 to grasp what they know now. This butterfly, on that flower, the way they’re smiling at it, the sun in their hair, while one of them is dressed as a highland cow and the other a pirate bunny princess…this is everything, everything that is real in the world, everything that can be touched by my hand, and held in my heart. ‘Alive’ comes from the Old English ‘on life’, in the living. Life is now; now is life.

???????????????????????????????Everyone looks excellent in a hat.

Let it go and let it out. Their rages are truly astonishingly thunderous. But, just like a storm, BOOM, and then it’s cleared and we’re back to smiles. Resentment, bitterness, stewing, the endless picking over the scabs of life’s disappointments – it bubbles away and ferments and poisons. Whereas a shouted NO, THE PUSH (sic, this is what Charlotte calls a broom, appropriately enough) IS MINE results in it being handed over and not snatched again. In theory. And Charlotte doesn’t waste a day in a sulk in the corner perseverating on the rubbishness of life, and achieving nothing except missing out on the things which could make it un-rubbish.

Girls’ bottoms are dimply. That is just fact. I am going to take several close ups of their adorable posteriors for when and if they start whinging about cellulite.

IMG-20140616-00236Don’t stress over mess; it is a sign of a good time had. They are actually quite tidy little characters (occasionally worryingly so, Romilly is obsessed with putting things in the bin; sometimes this will actually be things that should be put in the bin) but any time the playroom has been post-apocalyptic it’s because we’ve had friends round or been opening presents or played a very complicated game which involves putting every single book we own on the floor. Same with us. Yesterday was a bit of a hand-on-hips, survey the scene, sigh and procrastinate with tea moment. BECAUSE WE HAD ALL THE NEIGHBOURS AROUND AND EVERYONE GOT A LOOM BAND AND ATE PAVLOVA AND WENT IN THE HOT TUB. Messy days are happy days.

Assume someone’s nice, and they will too. Like the Galapagos seal pups they swam with in my tummy…nothing bad has ever happened to the girls. No one’s been nasty. So everyone is approached with a smile and a chatty anecdote. And responds in kind, because we’re mirrors. Within reason, this seems to work with grown ups too. I don’t know whether it was the industry I worked in, the city I lived in, or insecurity masquerading as aloofness, but this is a new discovery for me. It transpires 99% of people on this planet are good eggs. And the 1% that aren’t, well, at least they’re of psychological interest! So I’m chatting away more, and it pays dividends.

No is a sentence.

Libraries are awesome. Here’s Mummy’s new happy place. Finding it was like slipping my feet into an old and much loved pair of University-shaped shoes. Why haven’t I been hanging out in libraries more? My trying to force myself into nightclubs was like a polar bear booking a mini shop ‘n’ sun break to Dubai.

Disregard beige. Rubbish for colouring in; boring to wear. COLOURS all the way. The brighter and clashier the better. Live a rainbow.

IMG-20140628-00243Take your lead from that modern day spiritual guru, Peppa Pig, and get muddy. It’s hard to think of a single occasion when coming home covered in mud wouldn’t be a sign of fun had. Whether it’s jumping in puddles or exploring a wood or camping or chasing chickens. ‘Dirt is good’ was the greatest advertising strategy never properly executed (you can take the girl out of marketing, but…)

Make more stuff. I was thinking what wonderful licence it was having kids to sit down quietly and indulge in the satisfaction of creation. Doh.

Acceptance. Of people, places, things, and the limits of your powers. You’re making us stay up till 1am flying back home? Que sera. Let’s just exploit the opportunity to run round an airport when we’re usually in bed.  There is very little the girls can do, much less change. So they have a wonderful ability just to get on with things.

Be a bit cheeky.

Wear your heart on your sleeve. One is never in any doubt which particular neurons are firing in the girls’ respective amygdalas. No muttering of ‘I’m fine’ and waiting for Mummy to guess. Laugh, and everyone joins in and it is perpetuated; cry, and you get a hug, and it’s stopped. It’s much easier to read a book if the pages are open.

Highland cows and pirate bunny princesses aside, why on earth would you want to dress like anyone else?

Be brave. Seeing Romilly at the top of a new slide, girding herself, the focussed gaze, the set lips, pushing herself off and then the grin as wide as the Mississippi when she succeeds…why would you deny yourself that?

You don’t need to be DOING anything. The girls don’t have that insane pressing sense that somewhere, someone is having more fun. You don’t need to travel. Their Dad and I are frequently trying to plot weekends, to cram in multiple activities before concluding that, frankly, they’d be perfectly happy pootling round the garden. A hose can provide at least an hour’s genuine amusement (on which note, we should all be in water more, it’s so lovely, we’re all only a few million years on from being fish, after all). So too with us. I love stretching my wings. I’ve visited some amazing lands. But the girls are opening my eyes to the adventures and contentment to be had in your own playroom. I don’t want to waste too many hours getting places in the car when actually the place we all should be is right here, right now.

Judging? What’s that? Does it get you more biscuits? No? Well, why the blazes would you then.

As we are innocent until proven guilty, so every thing, every one and every day is assumed to be FASCINATING and BRILLIANT. And therefore usually is. The girls are just excited about everything, because it all is likely to be a joyous adventure. The postman’s rung the bell! Yay! We run up to him and squeal so he lets us play with his signy electronic thing. Yay! Oo look it’s an ant. Let’s stay still and watch him. So we see a whole line of them carrying BBQ crumbs. Oo. Wow! A laundry basket! Let’s get in it. Now we’re pirates and baby ducks and Daddy looking for fish. I was feeling a bit twitchy in my new favourite library the other day (well, there’s only so long a girl can read about pseudodementia). Fine.  I went for a walk. I found myself in glorious countryside. There were different paths, so I tried the most adventurous looking one. A hundred nettle stings later, the ruins of Hawarden Castle. Brilliant! One magpie in the garden? Well, sooner or later you’re going to see another one. Maybe in the next 5 minutes. Maybe in 5 days. So that means two magpies. And it’s two for joy. One for sorrow? Pah. It’s just a sign that joy’s round the bend. It always, always comes.

IMG-20140723-00293There are exceptions to all of this, naturally. I have developed the ability, usually, to learn from mistakes. The girls have yet to grasp that if you throw your toys out of the pram, that means you no longer have your toys. Their idea of letting it out involves a bit too much hair pulling for my liking (and their sister’s). And I’m quite fond of my bladder control.

But on the whole I think ONE could do with being a bit more TWO.

Things to do with toddlers in Chester

It’s been ten weeks since we moved to Chester, and we have had a lot of Awfully Big Adventures, so I thought it high time to share what we have found so far to do with little ones in and around the city for those who’re new to, or visiting, the area.

Grosvenor Park Miniature Railway

???????????????????????????????Choo choo! We love this little train that chugs at quite some speed round the lake by the play area, and all visitors are dragged there, with us claiming it’s because the girls like it. Secretly Jon wants to apply to be one of the drivers. £1.50 for adults (though I recommend you go for the 3 ride option, as they won’t want to get off) and free for under 3s. It leaves from a proper little station with a waiting platform, and a shop packed full of Thomas goodies.

The play area next to it is fantastic, with a top area for tinies including swings and bouncy ladybirds, and a more adventurous section with zip wires et al down below. It’s carpeted in wood chip which reduces the amount of times Charlotte moans ‘my KNEES!’

???????????????????????????????Grosvenor Park itself is gorgeous. It’s where they hold the annual open air theatre. It’s just by the river and the footbridge, so we find the best parking is on Victoria Crescent and then strolling over the bridge, rather than trying to find a space in town.

The Meadows


The flood plain that forms one big bend of the river has been left as wild open space. Chester really looks jolly handsome from this vantage point, with all the Georgian houses cascading down to the banks. There’s something of Bath/Oxford/Durham about it. Again, park in Victoria Crescent (or anywhere close by in Queen’s Park/Handbridge) and walk; the kissing gates are JUST big enough to get a double buggy through. It’s absolutely idyllic, and a great place to take a picnic and watch life row past. Last time we were there we saw dragon boat racing, and there are various open water swimming contests. Just beware of the posterior evacuations of our bovine friends who share the meadows…

At some point, when my heart is no longer in my mouth, we’ll take the girls on one of the many river cruises that leave from The Groves (the esplanade with its generous allocation of benches and bandstands by the footbridge/Grosvenor Park, gosh Chester Council must be making a decent income from tourism). There’s one that goes up to Eaton, the Duke of Westminster’s humble abode. You can also hire canoes, pedaloes and small boats, though at eyebrow raising prices.

Allegedly there is also a passenger ferry in summer months (for which you make a small donation) that takes you the 10 metres or so across the Dee from the Meadows to Sandy Lane Aqua Park. If that brings up visions of a Cheshire Sea World, it’s actually just a playground that has a section with various sprinklers on a random programme, so the kids can strip off and have hoots of fun running through them and getting wet.

Westminster Park???????????????????????????????

Literally 5 minutes from our door, even for little legs, which is fantastic. The children’s playground is large and very well equipped and maintained, and there is also an open air gym for adults (which I, unsurprisingly, am yet to try), 9 hole golf course, bowling club, tennis courts and a Croquet Club, who hold the Advanced title for the North, woo! All the paths are marked with metre markers if there are runners in the family. Jon had to explain to me what these were; I thought it was measuring distance to the café and their exciting Sunday morning offer of a bacon buttie, cup of tea and two rounds of golf for a tenner.

If you walk south through the park you’ll get to the Westminster Park shops, where you’ll find Bebbingtons the butchers. It is a fine establishment but do NOT buy anything from there as I recently entered a ‘create a new sausage’ competition and was narrowly pipped to first place, so now face the shame and bitterness of seeing my rival’s sausage on sale. It hurts. This boycott will obviously be lifted when I win next year.

Blacon City Farm

Blacon is one of the less ‘naice’ areas of Chester but has this fantastic city farm come adventure playground come woodland activity centre come youth club. It’s run by a charity so you just make an optional donation. Donkeys, sheep, goats, the world’s fattest pigs, chickens, ducks, rabbits and occasionally a kangaroo (yes, that confused me too). This is pretty much where the girls learnt to walk in order that they could run away from me at speed towards a giant muddy puddle (damn you, Peppa Pig) or the donkey’s hooves.

Fun 4 All

The Sealand Road retail park (I know, living the dream) has got something for everyone. Our routine has evolved into – T K Maxx/Aldi, to feed my Bargain Addiction, Tesco to scoop up anything Aldi didn’t have, and then Fun 4 All for soft play for the girls. It’s vast, spotless, has a really decent area for under 5s, refreshments, and a ride on Magic Roundabout that costs £1 that I made the mistake of putting them on once so we now get tantrums at my Pol Pot level cruelty for not allowing repeat spins.

No shoes, so remember to wear socks. Otherwise they make you wear their hideous ones and charge you for the opportunity.

Christleton Duck Pond and Playground


Christleton is a picture perfect Cheshire village on the outskirts of Chester. Just gorgeous red brick cottages trimmed in wisteria and a splendid gastropub in the form of the Ring O’Bells who do excellent 2-4-1 burgers on a Monday. There’s a duck pond on Heath Lane which is ever-so-pretty and the ducks will come up to the girls for bread (I know we shouldn’t, but) and obligingly shed their feathers for collection. Further down the lane is yet another playground, probably the best we’ve found. It’s got a sit on digger for moving sand! The slide is built into a hill so no ladder to climb! It’s got a wobbly bridge! And the girls can exercise their need to escape me as it’s in a giant, fenced off field, so no dangers unless wolves are suddenly reintroduced to the North West.

Hawarden Farm


Going the other way into Wales, just past the giant Airbus factory, is this lovely farm which does pick your own strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries and blackcurrants, has a HUGE and very posh farm shop with their own butchers and deli (try the Dragon’s Blood scotch egg and the Welsh Oggy), a great café, chickens, and a wooden castle for the kids to play on, all surrounded by the rolling Welsh countryside. What more could you want? Oh yes, a September family festival with Cerys Matthews and chef Bill Grainger, that’s what! All very Boden/Lattetude.

Grosvenor Garden Centre

Bizarrely, this is a regular haunt, and not just because Jon has become obsessed with turning our pond into a cross between Fining Nemo and Monet’s Giverney. Great café, plants and fish for the girls to look at.

Finally, we are spoiled when it comes to toddler groups and activities. This is the pick of the bunch we’ve tried so far:

Messy Church at All Saints Church Centre, Hoole. First Thursday of every month from 3.30-5.45pm. Love, love, LOVE this! As it says on the tin, an afternoon of arts and crafts, followed by a crowd-pleasing dinner of nuggets or hot dogs and ice cream and jelly. The house is quickly filling up with the girls’ efforts including giant beanstalks, musical instruments and felt purses along with some slightly psychotic gingerbread men/angel/alien things which are currently staring at me from the pinboard, with some menace. I bet they come alive at night…

St Mary’s Handbridge, from 10am on Thursday mornings. Beautiful church with a well attended group from babies upwards, and very welcoming ladies hosting. Charlotte likes the toy iron best; Romilly the trampoline. Snacks and drinks for everyone. Outdoor singing on nice days.

Sparks at Hoole Baptist Church from 9.45-11.30am on Wednesdays. Great toys and crafts too.

Diddi Dance at Mollington Grange. Lessons throughout the week but we go on Saturday mornings. It’s a fun introduction to dance and everything is in 3 minute sections, which ties in perfectly to their attention span. Allegedly they’re learning Flamenco at the moment but that’s essentially just an excuse to play with ribbons, hoops, castanets, fans, stamp a lot, pretend to be bulls, and shout ‘Ole!’

So, that’s what we’ve found so far. Still on the list to try are:

Northgate swimming pool (we felt a bit guilty on holiday that the girls seemed to have regressed when it comes to swimming, which is entirely down to us not making the gargantuan effort that is getting two slippery little people changed for swimming, swimming without drowning, and then changed back again). Northgate’s meant to be the best of the local ones in terms of facilities and has a lagoon, though we’re also going to look into the pool at Christleton High, and then at some of the hotels and fitness centres.

Tattenhall Ice Cream Farm (yes, who wouldn’t relish the mash-up between making your own ice cream and petting farm animals, though I can envisage the slight brucellosis issues, Granny and Grandpa we will use antibac handwash, promise!)

Beeston Candle-Making Workshop. Mmm. Charlotte and Romilly and hot wax. Maybe later…

Beeston and Peckforton Castles. Beeston has bats! Cooool!

Delamere Forest

gruffalo This is a bit further for us so maybe one to save for when Charlotte’s a better traveller, but it’s a huge area and all the local schools seem to have orienteering/camping trips there. Wholesome, outward bound, Blytonesque heaven. Most excitingly, it has A GRUFFALO TRAIL with a seven foot carved monster at the end of it.

Nearby is Blakemere, which is a craft village with regular falconry displays and when they’re a bit bigger they can handle the birds. For bigger kids there’s a Segway trail.

CHESTER ZOO! It’s annoying we haven’t done this yet as obviously it’s our local top attraction, but I am just struggling with the value:time equation. It opens at 10 and closes at 5, but the issue is ours still sleep from 12.30 to 2.30, so we’d only get a couple of hours…But as soon as they start dropping that we’ll be off, and I imagine will be buying an annual pass.

Blue Planet Aquarium. Ditto.

Cheshire Pony Experience. logoI am BEYOND excited about this one. From age 2, small groups of little people can go and pet and groom and feed the miniature Shetlands, and then get on their backs if they’re up for it. Their giant brother has enquired whether they also teach horseback archery. I think he has a vision of his sisters as junior associates of the Mongol hordes. He keeps trying to give them wooden swords he bought them that are currently confiscated, convinced as he is that some apocalypse is coming our way and they need to be able to slay dragons by their third birthday. Or perhaps he has just been watching too much Game of Thrones…

On that note, he and I are also keen to visit Gladstone’s Library by Hawarden Castle, his old ‘hood. I’d never heard of this, but he left his entire collection to the nation, which has now been supplemented. It looks stunning. You can be a Reader for free and they actually encourage people who work from home to do it from there once a month. They hold regular talks and seminars and offer a ‘Welsh in a Week’ course, which we may be brave enough to do at some point!general-building

We’ll obviously make use of the multitude of canals near us when they’re a bit bigger, and then there’s the whole of North Wales (including gazillions of castles, caves and the Thomas steam train in Llangollen) to explore when we feel confident about taking them on the boat we have at Conwy. But the thought of that just makes me feel a little bit tremulous at the moment!

For newcomers I’d also advise signing up to the New Mums in Chester Facebook page which I am finding invaluable when it comes to local nuggets, and there are regular meet ups too. If anyone has any other advice, or questions, feel free to post in Comments below.

I have to say, I am LOVING Chester. It just seems a pretty perfect place to bring up children, given all the above. It’s a city, so you have access to everything you need, but within 5 minutes we’re out in fields and, depending which direction we take, are en route then to mountains or the sea or forests or canals or rolling farmland. Not to mention, when they’re bigger, the whole Roman heritage, the City Walls, the rows, the fact its ancient name was Deva, which makes me and the girls official Devas…And don’t get me started on Cheshire Oaks, the UK’s biggest designer discount shopping village. This is unusual because most of Chester’s claims evidence a marked inferiority complex eg ‘the biggest M&S outside London’ or even Liverpool has ‘the oldest Chinatown outside London.’

But no, when it comes to cutprice Uggs, the birthplace of Hollyoaks reigns supreme. Who’d have thunk it…Hollyoaks_Filming_990916

Cracking fun, Grommets


Jack Spratt could eat no fat,

His wife could eat no lean.

But together they licked

The whole plate clean.

As both a Mum and an embryonic Brainologist, the girls’ twinness is fascinating. I have constructed a small table below to highlight what I mean.

  Charlotte Romilly
Condition Ears (glue ear) Eyes ( photosensitivity)
Aches and pains Knees Toes
Colouring Thick brown hair Fair and fine
Food Sweet Savoury
Pre-walking Crawled Bum shuffled
Core skill Talking Walking
Disposition Affectionate/clingy/attention-seeking Independent/calm/passive
Colour suited Pink Blue
Favourite word OK No
Build Cuddly Willowy
Favourite hairstyle Pony tail Bunches
Bravery level Zero Death wish
Potty training Nope Fascinated
Musicality Dancing Singing
Possessiveness (toys, me) MINE! There you go!
Maximum amount of cuddly toys that need to be carried around at all times 6 1
Best friends The cool, older kids Babies
Preferred animal Sheep Pigs


To the outside world, they are a unit, and I still get asked whether they are identical. To me, this is bewildering, as they’re as different as cats and dogs, and it’s almost as if they have made a conscious decision to force distinction. In a way, that’s a good parallel. Romilly, on the whole, has feline self reliance, whereas Charlotte has an eager puppy’s desire to be permanently next to/on/in you.



Medically they have their different peccadillos. I’d been worried for a while about Charlotte’s ears. I think she’s been doled out antibiotics SIX times by the GPs, and I wasn’t happy about that. On the last two occasions her eardrum burst, which must have been agony for the little love. I’d got myself into a tizz reading A Million Little Pieces, where the Fury that drives the author all his life and which he turns off with Crack is the result of the noisy agony he had as a baby from untreated ear problems that left him with only a third of his hearing. I naturally decided that if Charlotte’s problems weren’t addressed she would be on Crystal Meth by her tenth birthday. We’re still waiting for her NHS appointment to come through, some six months after asking (gnarr), but fortunately were able to use insurance to go private. Her hearing tests have been fine, which is unsurprising given her language is excellent (I got ‘look Mummy nice day’ this week when she came down to breakfast and the sun was shining; she’s also very adept at copying even my least thought through phrases, womanfully trying to get her mouth round ‘Jesus Christ on a bendy bus’). But they passed waves through her skull (technical, me) and the ‘bump’ revealed the blockage caused by Glue Ear. She’s just had blood tests as the hope is it’s because one of her baby immunisations hasn’t taken, so the solution is a simple booster. Else grommets beckon.

???????????????????????????????She’s been so good about it, compared to the screaming abdabs that every poor doctor used to be greeted with. We bought her a book about going to the doctor, and they each have a toy medical kit, which we routinely take along to appointments in case the doctor’s forgotten his stethoscope that day. In fact, she’s so into it that every time someone says they’re heading off to the car, she asks ‘ear?’, wondering whether it’s because they’re getting checked out too.

For Romilly, it’s all tied into her celestial fairness. She’s lacking a bit of pigmentation behind her eyes, which means bright sunshine is an issue as she’s photosensitive. There’s not a lot that can be done about it, as sunglasses never stay on, but it’s something to keep an eye on, boom tish. She had a bit of a lazy eye too but that seems to be disappearing. She has eczema, but has only really had one bad flare up. We’ve got steroid cream for if and when that happens, and have then just been using a generic skin emollient as she gets dry and bumpy skin on her arms and face, and a hypoallergenic sun cream and bath foam. We’ve just been sent some Oilatum Junior Lotionby the kind folk at GSK so will see how that works out. She also has a bit of cradle cap (Charlotte has a bit less, and hers is disguised by her unruly mop, whereas Romilly’s hair is still very fine). GOD it’s hard to resist peeling it off! But I have heard horror stories of infected scalps so I am keeping my fingers to myself. We’ve been using Dentinox shampoo, but it’s maintaining rather than removing, so I think it might be onto more traditional methods ie smothering her in olive oil of a night. She’s very snivelly at the moment, without having a cold, so I think she may have hay fever too. Romilly is definitely Little Miss Atopic.

???????????????????????????????And then there are the general aches and growing pains. Charlotte moans ‘oh, my KNEES!’, like an 80 year old with rheumatoid arthritis after a hard morning’s bowling. I suspect this is because she’s developing knee caps now she’s not crawling (babies aren’t born with them, for precisely that reason – hats off to Mother Nature and the way she thinks of everything). And Romilly goes ‘oh’ and ‘ah’ when she gets up or sits down, like an, er, 40 year old Mummy getting up off the sofa. She also gets blisters on her feet, but I think this is because she is obsessed with taking her shoes on and off, a task she managed magnificently in front of the Health Visitor at their recent 2 year development check. She actually slightly freaked me out. The HV had just asked ‘and how are her fine motor skills’ to which, unprompted apart from that, Romilly proceeded to thread her shoe strap through the buckle and put on her foot. Go girl! But what else is she understanding? There is a mole in our midst!

Mummy is not immune to aches and pains either, though sadly mine are not linked to growing. Well, not upwards anyway. Oh, my BACK! I am really bad about scooping them both up and not taking time to ‘lift with the knees’. Life’s too short and theirs are too precious; if they’re toddling towards the road I’m going to catch them. Upshot is I was gradually becoming immobilised with pain. But as luck would have it there’s a Chiropractor two doors down from us. Gosh that stuff is white magic! And how satisfying to hear the clicks! It’s only taken two sessions to feel normal again. And doing my exercise sheet, which the girls join in with, to amusing effect. We like the yoga on Waybulloo too. Charlotte now regularly scuttles sideways round the room like a crab, though has decided that crabs ROAR.

Hot Tub action. When in Cheshire...

Hot Tub action. When in Cheshire…

Romilly is a stuntwoman in the making. Turn your back for a second and she’s heading to the highest slide in the playground. She squeals with delight the higher you push the swing, whereas her sister cries if you suggest her even going in one.

Tied into that is the biggest difference of all – personality. Charlotte to the outside observer seems extrovert and dominant. She’s bigger, noisier, more ‘present’. But underneath she’s a little flower. Jon says he finds it heartbreaking when she insists on carrying all her worldly goods round with her (which often means she can’t actually move anywhere or do anything, weighed down as she is; it’s getting like Crackerjack – the other day she had her spider, her best label, two teddies, her juice, and then was trying to carry an entire tea set too). He says she looks like a war refugee. I wonder though how much of it is simply because she doesn’t want her sister getting her mitts on anything. Which is silly, because Romilly, in a striking display of maturity and altruism (which actually upsets me more) is always fetching things for Charlotte and knows exactly which labelly thing to give her whenever she’s crying.

I worry to what extent I am (and Romilly too!)  guilty of negative reinforcement with Charlotte (certainly their Giant Brother lectures me about this, thanks Joe). It’s very difficult though to ignore this little body wailing and hurling itself at your ankles demanding to be carried because – gasp – they have a crumb on their toe. And I have distinct memories of someone else doing exactly the same eighteen years ago whenever I was leaving for work…

But, yes, I worry. To what extent am I exacerbating the distinction? Romilly is just so much EASIER. But in letting her get on with life am I teaching her that she doesn’t matter as much? That she doesn’t deserve as many cuddles? Is she in Charlotte’s shadow? Does she think I love Charlotte more? Am I effectively pushing them into  high and low maintenance positionings? It’s bringing back memories of a heart rending book I read when I was young called Jacob Have I Loved, in which the healthy twin thought she was the black sheep and spent her time paddling alone through the creeks of Chesapeake Bay, when in reality it was simply because her parents had to devote more attention to her poorly sister. That cannot happen.

Sometimes I am reassured though. Romilly occasionally bares her teeth. There is a steely core to my willowy girl. Toys aren’t always handed over. Her favourite word is an emphatic ‘NO’, accompanied by a glare, and a turned back, and most often employed when Charlotte is suddenly interested in a toy she has forgotten about for weeks but sees Romilly playing with.

???????????????????????????????I think the solution, as I have said before, is to ensure we’re spending individual time with them. But that’s difficult to achieve as, by definition, there needs to be two of us there, and that is a rare occurrence. But it is definitely a stretch goal. A few times Romilly had woken up from a nap earlier than Charlotte and so had a Mummy and Daddy bedtime snuggle. This is now a regular occurrence. Doh. Of course she’s doing it on purpose because it’s Romilly Time!

But if any of this gives the impression that they’re deadly rivals, that’s not the case. Well, not all the time. Again, from a developmental perspective, it’s like they’ve fully clocked each other now. They play together, probably a quarter of the time. ‘Row, row, row the boat’ is a favourite, where they sit opposite each other holding hands. They’ll serve each other pretend tea and biscuits, and will conduct complex transactions involving actual food at the dinner table (this is mostly Charlotte giving Romilly all her healthy food in exchange for anything that resembles pudding). There is some very detailed game involving rushing round the car tent which is allegedly HILARIOUS – they are doubled over and shrieking with laughter – but I am still to grasp the rules or even objective.

There are snatched cuddles. Concern and ‘aw’ when their twin is sad or poorly. Or when they’re absent; helpfully I always get reminded by Charlotte to put ‘Momree’ in the car too. And most toe squidgingly cute of all, they always hold hands when they go through the nursery door. They haven’t  developed the secret twin language that some multiples have. Maybe that will come later. But I listen to them each evening and morning on the monitor chuntering away to each other. This usually involves Romilly telling Charlotte to shush. I am SO going to leave the monitor hidden in their room until they are, oo, about 18. I think eavesdropping is a perfectly legitimate parenting tool.

Right. I must dash.  Jon is on his way back and I need to hide the small mountain of emptied Phish Food ice cream cartons that stands in for him in his absence. He’s been circumnavigating Anglesey for a whole week and allegedly is returning with PIRATE TREASURE. Hopefully he’s got something for the girls too.


Two’s never enough…

…when it comes to bottles of Calpol to take on a fortnight’s holiday with twins (not when it comes to toddlers. I genuinely have no idea how triplet parents leave the house. Which is why we are never breeding again).You would think half a litre of Calpol was enough, wouldn’t you. But Charlotte took it upon herself to take part in the grand Walsh tradition of getting crook at Martinhal, though luckily it was just flu this time, rather than the hospital dash we had to make last year with her sister.

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So, second time at the self styled ‘finest luxury family resort in Europe’ at the very southern tip of Portugal, and it was even better than the first. It would be marvellous to have the money just to spend every holiday there henceforward. It’s not exactly a voyage of cultural discovery but, to be honest, with toddler twins I’d rather a steady supply of blueberries and rice cakes  than yurts and yaks and yeti hunting.

DSC06267 DSC06247I’ll spare the nuts and bolts of the review – see here (and scroll down for my review entitled ‘soooo close to perfect’) if you’re interested – but suffice to say, it just WORKS when it comes to kids having a great time, and their parents being able to relax. Occasionally. By about halfway through Week Two when your kids have finally settled into their two hour Kids’ Club slot, are both not-dying, and you’ve finished doing work emails!

???????????????????????????????DSC06263 DSC06281Two moments for me really summed it up. An elderly Portugese chap was laboriously cleaning all the plate glass of the main restaurant in the Village Square. He kept winking at Romilly, who chose to repay him by running up to the window he’d just cleaned and licking it. Not only did he not scowl, but he tipped over some of his water to make a puddle for her to splash in. The same kept happening at dinner. The girls aren’t naughty, but they’re two times two, and they can make noise and mess, especially when chocolate mousse is involved. But not only are the staff incredibly generous, but also, importantly, there are FIFTY OTHER CHILDREN ALL DOING THE SAME. No one bats an eyelid. Though I spied several parents starting on the all inclusive sparkling wine at breakfast; Calpol for grown ups…

DSC06293 DSC06271 ??????????????????????????????? ???????????????????????????????The second involved a large fox. Rafi is the kids’ club mascot and dances with his girlfriend Rosita to ‘I’m a Gummi Bear’ (no, no idea either) at 6pm every night in the main square. The twins got super excited by this. That kind of delicious shaking, scrunched up face, grinning, jiggling excited when it’s just going to bubble over or turn into some sort of emotional seizure. We’d have to leave dinner at whatever stage it was at (their love for Rafi evidenced by the fact they’d even abandon pudding for him) to go and boogie. By the final week they’d sussed which door he’d emerge from and we’d have to get into prime position ten minutes early so they could high five him. And then on the very last night, Charlotte dashed to the front and took his hands/paws and danced the Gummi Bear in front of the whole resort. Jon was all choked up, which set me off…she danced with the fox! She danced with the fox!

DSC06302??????????????????????????????? DSC06308Just a lovely, lovely holiday. I think one of the real benefits was Jon being able to spend a really goodly amount of day-to-day time with the girls as he’s missed out so much recently with crazy work travel. Talking of which – that was the only low point. Our flight back from Faro (possibly The Worst Airport In Europe) was delayed till 10pm. Yep. 10pm. With 2x2s. Who were awake for the duration despite our frequent buggy sightseeing tours of the terminus. I think I self-hypnotised myself into some sort of trance state – fixed grin, faraway look – as otherwise I can’t explain how I didn’t pop.

DSC06275???????????????????????????????DSC06200They were angels though, bless them. They didn’t even act up when we got on the plane (I caught the ‘oh sh*t’ look from the two single male travellers who realised as they walked down the aisle they were going to be sitting either side of our two). In fact Charlotte in particular was super friendly, offering the nice man who was trying to sleep her comic, her snacks, her teddy (the honour), the safety information (in case he hadn’t read it, I assume) and then finally started trying to massage him.

DSC06218DSC06273Other highlights included Romilly nicking an entire roast octopus tentacle from my plate, complete with suckers, and munching on it like a breadstick; Charlotte not being travel sick AT ALL (the wonders of drugging one’s children); Romilly’s heart-in-mouth bravery on and obsession with all four slides; me dazzling Jon with my slightly shady ability to get BBC iPlayer abroad by cloaking our IP address (a veritable cyber Harry Potter, me); the girls achieving Juggling Level Two with certificates and everything (the mind boggles about Level One given neither of them can really throw, much less catch!); Romilly doing an impression of me driving in the decommissioned campervan in the surf bar, which involved jiggling to imaginary Radio 2, hauling the steering wheel violently and shouting something which sounded suspiciously like ‘you n*b!'; capitulating for the sake of peaceful munching and letting them make their own selection from the breakfast buffet, which turned out to be, for Romilly: watermelon, serrano ham and sausages and, for Charlotte: donuts and a bowl of beans. In a way this is no more eccentric than their father who would create an approximation of a Full English on his plate, and then add some lettuce, because it’s healthy. Innit.


GOD I love holidays!

On Wee and Willis

Love each other really

Love each other really

The twins’ ability to find an excuse for a tantrum amazes even me sometimes. Picture this scene. We are playing with the Big Boy (he’s 3) next door in his Wendy House. The merry trio are sat in a row sipping imaginary tea. All very civilised. I then offer them a plate with cake to share. Again – and this is important – the CAKE IS NOT ACTUALLY THERE. IT IS IMAGINARY. IT IS CONCEPT CAKE. They each put their hand out and then Charlotte’s lip begins to quiver, she screams ‘More! More! My go!’ and then bashes the plate away in what their giant brother tells me gamers call ‘RageQuit’.

It’s IMAGINARY Charlotte, my sweet love. You can have as much cake as you want, as many times. But no, she is literally spitting at her own brain’s decision as to how much imaginary cake she was presented with.

???????????????????????????????Ah the terrible twos time two. I don’t know whether it’s my advanced age, or having been through this before with Joe, or whether it’s another case of twin pragmatics (it is simply impossible to wrestle two writhing bodies, so no point even trying), but I am (famous last words) finding it relatively easy to detach from tantrums at the moment. In fact the main thing that is hard is not to laugh. As in CakeGate.


One day, one distant day, our hair will be longer than our Giant Brother’s

But there are other areas of difficulty. As predicted, after fretting for months about their lack of walking I now wish they’d never bloody learned. They’ve gone from 0-60 in the blink of an eye. It’s getting very difficult to go anywhere on my own with them unless they’re strapped into the buggy or on reins. I’m not convinced even straitjackets would help that much. At soft play I had to make a split second decision about whether to save the one who was screaming for her life frozen halfway up a ladder, or the one who was screaming for her life who’d caught her ankle in the netting and was suspended above the ballpit. RageQuit was not an option. Or at the local duck pond, do you dash to the child toddling at speed towards the water, or the child who’s laughing at a very large, very angry and very close swan?

Language is coming on apace. Charlotte has mastered the possessive. There’s a surprise. We have ‘mice’ for my/mine. ‘My go’ gets trotted out frequently; strangely, ‘your go’ is yet to be uttered. Romilly shouts ‘you’ and points, slightly accusatorily. It’s fascinating though because they’re moving from simple mimicking and nouns to the basics of grammar, and prepositions and adjectives, and the putting together of words, with obvious understanding of what they mean. On the whole (and that’s a very generous ‘on the whole’) they can accept logic. If I explain something to them, for example that seeing who can do the loudest impression of a squealing pig outside their brother’s bedroom isn’t very kind when he’s trying to sleep (tough life being a student on your summer hols), they usually nod and I get ‘okay’ in unison.

???????????????????????????????Okay is by far their favourite word. Along with bagel, der (for spider) teddy bear, ‘mulk’, MUMMMMEEEEEE now, there you go, here you go, bump, crash, o-oh (strikes dread into me whenever I hear this), Dave (they’re very attached to our builder), knees (they may well have early onset arthritis the amount they moan about them, I’ve pointed out that if they concentrated on not falling over more then they wouldn’t get sore), snooze, Joe, miaow, DADDEEEEEEEE, pear (this is for their hair detangler spray), bobble, baby, no-MY-do-it, bath, toast, juice, poo and wee (more of that anon), more, kiki (for kiwi) and nice, said much the same way as Ray Winstone might say ‘sweet’. This is used especially when they are given pork pie. Oh and ‘label’. Charlotte has developed an obsession with satin labels on cuddly toys, clothes, blankets, anything. She strokes them between thumb and forefinger against her cheek whilst sucking the other thumb. It has miraculous de-tantrumming properties, so I now carry a stock of emergency unattached labels in my bag.

???????????????????????????????We love music and dancing. Romilly sings to herself as she plays, which is adorable. She’s got rather uncannily good rhythm, and will correctly beat the time, even doing it conductor-style in the air. Her memory for a tune is strong too and we get perfect renditions of ‘ee-i-ee-i-o’ and ‘baa, baa’. Just we can’t go quite beyond that yet. A bit like ‘two’ stands in for all numbers, so 1-2-3 becomes 2-2-2, although with the right inflections, and the rainbow is entirely blue.

Jon wanted me to find him a weekend activity that he could do with the girls on his own, so I jumped at the opportunity to exploit this for comic purposes. He has therefore just started taking them to Flamenco lessons. Olé! They do Diddi Dance which is a national franchise with a branch in Chester. Highly recommended. The girls took a while to settle in but love ‘Daddy Dancing Club’. They do short 3 minute bursts of activities like dancing with ribbons, or galloping, or pretending to be bulls, or Flamenco stamping and twirling, which is really well designed because that’s about the maximum of the two year old attention span. And they get stickers. Gotta love a sticker. Next term is Country and Western. The mind boggles…

Our EXCELLENT new Wendy House

Our EXCELLENT new Wendy House

So, yes, poo and wee. We are very interested. We are going longer periods dry. We know what we’ve done, and when, and will announce it, especially when we’re on the bus. We are very curious about what our twin has produced. And the adults in the house. If I dare to leave them for a microsecond to go to the loo myself I get bombarded with questions when I return. Poo? Wee? Loo roll? Well, thank you for asking.

What all this spells is Potty Time draws nigh, but so far I am successfully procrastinating. When I eventually get round to it the sun will probably have disappeared so I won’t be able just to let them run naked round the garden. Still, looking on the bright side, at least I’ve ripped out all the downstairs carpet…

Wirral-20140408-00179Ah, the joys of property renovation with twin toddlers for whom a drill left out must be a new musical instrument and the builder’s ladder obviously leads to a new slide. Seriously though, they have been angelic. It could have been an absolute nightmare, and it was only a severe one. They amazed me by being able to have a lunchtime nap whilst walls were being demolished above them.  But I would add this to my increasingly long list of don’t-do-what-we-did for expectant parents of multiples, along with moving roughly ten million times.

Right, I had best sign off now. Hopefully now that the move and (most of the) renovation is out the way I’ll be back on here more, work permitting. For, yes, I have my feet under various desks now. I have a placement in the Acquired Brain Injury Unit at the Countess of Chester, another with drugs charity Addaction in Liverpool, and with HIP (Head Injured People in Cheshire). I am on cloud nine, to be frank. It is a complete joy to be learning again, though I am deeply disturbed by some of the Neuroanatomy I’m studying, especially the ‘Circle of Willis’* below. That THING, that little freaky man thing, IS IN MY BRAIN!



*there are some seriously cosmic names for stuff in our heads: the Acqueduct of Sylvius, the Island of Reil, the Foramen of Monro and the Sulcus of Rolando being but a few. Maybe one day I’ll reach the dizzy heights of naming the Fissure of Bichard, which is where twin Mums’ brains have literally been ripped apart trying to decide which child to prevent from shoving a fork up their nose first.


Twins pearls of wisdom

Agree, agree, agree!

In particular the point about developing at their own pace. A pace which, despite having been womb-mates, will perforce be different. After all the worry and should-I-call-the-Health-Visitor dilemmas, Charlotte and Romilly are now Olympian walkers. In opposite directions. At speed.

Ditto toilet training. I have optimistically bought two potties…and then I thought, why am I pushing this? My house is messy enough as it is (we have builders in) without adding little deposits everywhere. I’m sure they’ll let me know when they’re ready.

Anyway, that’s it for now. Apologies for being off grid – we moved house (note to other twin parents, DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCE MOVE HOUSE THREE TIMES IN THEIR FIRST TWO YEARS!) and are doing renovations and also went on a delightful but stressfully timed two week holiday AND I’m now back at work!

But I will blog again, fear ye not. If nothing else to share the horror comic strip that is fiercely independent but manually challenged toddler twins trying to feed themselves chocolate mousse…

Twins in the Sticks

Just a quick one: can you sign this petition please?

Rural bus campaign

This poor twin Mum has come under a load of flack for this campaign, mostly by City Folk who don’t understand, or the disabled, who are mistakingly thinking this is a Minority A vs Minority B battle. Being disabled and trying to use public transport is sh*te; having infant twins and trying to use public transport is sh*te. If we joined forces, given we have the same request – physical and emotional accommodation of our needs, in order that we don’t become housebound and our mental health suffers accordingly – then things might actually change.

I have every sympathy with her. I had no idea how tough things would be when we moved up to the Wirral, which ain’t exactly the Faroes…

There have been a lot of quite London/big city-centric comments in the criticism of her campaign, with people ‘helpfully’ suggesting she walk/fold her buggy/get a smaller McClaren/wait for the next bus/ask passengers to help. But out in the sticks, if we get turfed off a bus, you sometimes have to wait 24 hours for the next one! There aren’t necessarily loads of people on board to help. I often share the bus with a couple of elderly ladies with walking sticks. I can’t use footpaths as they are narrow and not continuous. The roads are hedged, twisty, hilly, country lanes, not the South Circular. And yes I have got a McClaren too – for when we’re in town on flat roads. The 360 Nipper, which the petitioner has, copes much better with country terrain. The McClaren just gets stuck, or you can’t push/turn it, and it is impossible on hills when you’ve also got the twins’ weight to deal with. The 360 ‘folds’, but still takes up an area roughly the size of a small village, so it’s hardly worth it.

And that’s not to mention the sheer logistical danger of trying to hold two wriggling babies/toddler heffalumps whilst folding the buggy which, unlike a single, you can’t do one handed.

I’m very lucky in that I can now drive, which has revolutionised our lives (and I’m not exaggerating) but before then we were often housebound, and that’s really hard, both logistically, and also in terms of your mental health.

So, please sign. Let’s try to get it over the 1000 threshold today so that people have to take notice.