When I first starting writing these posts back in 2009 (ooh, this year is the tenth anniversary then!) I used to bosh them out in a hurry during the last couple of days of the year. Becoming a parent put and end to that so now I try to get them drafted up across the course of December. So I’m here on the 9th December starting to put fingers to keys are reflect back on the last 12 months of life. And honestly, this year has been tough; Not tough in bad way but there have definitely been some hard moments in amongst all the good and the great. Whilst last year held a truly life-changing event, this year has been littered with changes that have just pitched and swerved out life and routine round-and-about just as we were adjusting to the last change – Little Z starting nursery, me returning to work, Little H finishing nursery and then starting school. I’m naturally not very good at managing significant change and my biggest girl moving to school definitely hit me hard. But as we head towards the end of this year, I feel proud of how I, and my family, have handled everything thrown at us with plenty of laugh, smiles and cuddles thrown into the mix.
For all of my slightly ‘down’ talk, this year has also been wonderful. Our dynamic as a family of four has grown and strengthened. Little H is so grown up now and, if in the right mood, oh so helpful. Her sister meanwhile has moved from baby to full-toddler, walking, running, exploring and terrorising her way round the house with a cheeky grin that makes it almost impossible to be cross! Whilst parenthood is always going to require and investment of time, energy (both physical and mental!), it feels like things are slowly getting easier at home as Little Z doesn’t need watching like a hawk all the time. With any luck, by this time next year I’ll be able to finish a whole cup of tea of a Sunday afternoon without having to get up! But I digress. Before we can get into 2020, it’s time to reflect back on 2019 so here goes…January.
January is always a funny month of the year. After the hype, excess and expense of Christmas it always proves to be a quiet month. It also feels really dark as we’re in the depths on the short days but all of the vibrant Christmas lights get taken down. Following our annual trend, January was a quiet month. A number of Little H’s friends had birthday parties so most weekends involved Sam ferrying her to a different village hall with entertainer and party food whilst I stayed at home with Little Z. Then as the month reached it’s end, it was time for the birthday of the year – Little H turned 4! On the weekend before her birthday we headed over to Sam’s parents house in Old Malden (for the last time before they moved house) for the joint Nana-Little H celebrations. Then on her birthday proper I took her and Little Z out for lunch
February started with the Party of the Year! On a chilly and snowy Saturday lunchtime in a village hall a few miles from our house, we gathered 20 odd kids, their parents and Disco Danni to celebrate Little H turning 4. In the week leading-up to the party I spent most of free time during naps working on her cake and preparing party bags. It was a lot of work but definitely worth the effort seeing Little H and her friends enjoying themselves. Little H was talking about it for weeks which definitely showed the proof is in the pudding.
But after the cake crumbs were cleared away and the wrapping paper put in the recycling, there were a few tough weeks. There were two reasons: Little Z started nursery and I started phasing back to work. It felt very strange to be getting back to that routine. I knew it would be challenging having done it in 2016 but it was still difficult leaving Little Z and getting back into the commute again. As expected though, our smallest small settled into nursery really well so it was all down to me to adjust back. And even though it was hard, we got through it and the new routine started.
Another big event arrived with March – Little Z hit the Big One! It was wonderful to celebrate her birthday with her but a surprise that she had already reached her first birthday milestone. The first year really flies by. We had a lovely gathering with Sam’s side of the family the weekend after her actual birthday where I let her munch back a giant slice of her banana bread birthday cake!
We also went to London Zoo for the day towards the end of the month where we met Jen, Kev and Dad. London Zoo is always a little chaotic but Little H loved running around and Little Z enjoyed watching the animals from the comforts of her buggy!
As the weather started to improve, we found ourselves getting out and about a little more. I started to spend more time in the garden, getting the onions and potato sets in (or that could have been the end of March but either way it was around this time). The shrubs I’d cut back across the winter started to come into bloom and I supplemented them with some spring flowers.
In the middle of the month it was Sam’s birthday so we went out for a lovely family lunch as we were both off work. Eating out with both the girls can really go either way but on this occasion it turned out to be a really nice meal. Even now I remember how yummy my seafood skewer was!
We also found out Little H’s school allocation. It turns out that she was born in a high sibling year so we didn’t get a place at either of our first choice schools (our nearest had 41 siblings for 60 spaces!). Initially we were a little upset about the result – more because we hadn’t expected it than anything else – but I can say now we are a term into Reception that the result was actually very good and Little H is both happy and doing well in the school she was assigned to.
There was exciting news for the family this month when the girls became cousins and Sam and I became a proper uncle and aunt. We went over to see Little L just before she was a couple of weeks old (Little Z had a cold the weekend before so we couldn’t go sooner) and the girls both loved seeing their new friend. It also made Little Z seem enormous!
I also managed a rare event of going out one evening to meet my friends Lou and Anne-Marie who I used to row with. We meet-up together on average every 18 months we are so useless at a) starting discussions of a meet-up, b) finding a date can make and c) actually getting to the restaurant without illness (us or a child) causing us to have to postpone. We went for an Italian in Hertford and chatted our way through three yummy courses and all the way back to our cars. It was so nice to get out.
As the weather was also much nicer now the spring was in full swing, we got out our ZSL annual membership and headed to Whipsnade with Sam’s parents. They had a special exhibition of Lego animals which was excellent. There were some amazing Lego representation of the different safari animals. The girls both loved looking at the animals and exploring the zoo with Nana and Grandad to hand.
June was all about holiday. We finally had a long-awaited fortnight off and for the first week we went over to Center Parcs near Sherwood Forest. Whilst we unfortunately managed to have booked the wettest June week ever, we still had a wonderful time. We managed to get hold of the last rain suit from the on-site shop for Little H (by good fortune it was exactly her size!) so park activity was back on! We went swimming, I had a massage and we went for pancakes. Little H also went to a Crazy Science session with Sam, sailing with me and to do miniature crossbow with Sam. Towards the end of the week, my dad also came over for a visit and he and Sam went laser clay pigeon shooting – coming first and second respectively!
Center Parcs was amazing fun but looking after both the girls non-stop was definitely not a proper rest. So Sam and I were fortunate to have a week-off at home before returning to work and the girls were at nursery for three of those days! Us being us though, we filled our days with ambitious plans and when Thursday evening came around we were worn right out. But it was definitely a mental break to know we had caught up on a number of activities which had been playing on our minds.
One of my most favourite events of the seventh month of 2019 was two of my oldest friends coming to visit for the weekend – Carol and Jenny. We were a little saddened that the forth member of our gang, Helen, couldn’t join us but last minute family illness kept her at home. Despite that, the three of us had a wonderful weekend of food, chat and relaxation. Jenny came down on Friday afternoon and stayed with Sam and I. Then on Saturday, we met Carol from the train in town and went for a long lunch at Bill’s. The afternoon was spent chilling back at our house then the three of us went over for an amazing meal at an Indian restaurant Sam and I love in Hertford. What I loved about them visiting is we’ve known each other for 25 years so not only is it easy to just pick-up as though we just saw each other but we can say anything we want to each other. On Sunday we had a relaxed lunch back at home with Little H and Little Z before they both headed home. I miss seeing as we only catch-up every 18 months on average, but when we do catch-up it’s always such quality time,
The relaxing start to the month was well needed because a week after I got the letter telling me all about Little H’s school settle sessions. It was finally happening – eek. At the time I wrote a post about it because I was definitely not ready. But Little H loved finally seeing her school and being able to visualise where she was going after the summer was over. We made a calendar and wrote on when she was at nursery so she could count down to her final day. We also got some of her uniform for her to try so she could familiarise herself with her new identity.
One weekend towards the end of the month the girls and I always went over to a garden centre towards St Albans which I had been told had an excellent house plant selection. They also had a “celebration” garden to celebrate a milestone birthday of the garden centre (60 I think) which was amazing. It was full of beautiful plants and flowers. The three of us spent a good half an hour exploring!
A busy month for activities on top of some more warm weather. Sam was well into his marshalling season and on top of that he went off to his friends wedding in The Midlands. So, Little H, Little Z and I decided to enlist some company for that whole weekend without him and went over to Whipsnade with Sam’s parents. It was a really fun day and the girls, as always, enjoyed mooching about with their grandparents. They then came back to our house afterwards to help me with the girls through to bedtime before treating me to a Chinese meal for dinner.
As the month progressed we had a lovely family gathering at Sam’s parents when his sister, her partner and their little baby came over for the day. It was wonderfully sunny so we enjoyed the garden. Although I did keep having to get up and loiter near the stone steps to stop Little Z falling as she just. wouldn’t. sit. still. Toddlers. My dad also went away on a trip from Heathrow so stopped into see us for a few hours on the way to the airport – the girls always love their Grandad time.
We whiled away many an early evening playing in the garden with the slide, scooter and water tray. As with every summer, garden picnics became a firm favourite for tea again. Little Z didn’t really relish sitting still though and would often get a mouthful of food on every lap round the slide. Again, toddlers. We were also starting to yield an excellent crop from the garden with the courgettes and green beans giving generously. The onions also proved tasty but didn’t give much crop for the space so are probably not something I will try again next year.
The the big day finally arrived as we entered the final week of the month – Little H went to nursery for the final time. A few of her friends had already finished in the days and weeks preceding her. She knew the change was coming and she was excited about the next step. She was a little sad to leave a place she’d known since she was 11 months old though and when she went to bed that night she said “I miss my nursery.”. It was sad to hear but I explained that things always change in life. A strange end to the month for us all though.
September was consumed by one thing and one thing only – school! The first week of September it dominated because it hadn’t started properly. Little H had an entire half-week free before she needed to venture into Reception life followed by only two short morning sessions. So goodness did she make the most of the free time. Obviously Mondays was the same as always with me and Little Z. But Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoon she was spoilt to bits. On Tuesday I took the day off and, after a brief teacher visit to our house, took her to soft play, for lunch and then to buy new keyring for her book bag. On Wednesday she had a full day with Nana and Grandad where she was treated to a day at the zoo. Then on Thursday, Sam picked her up just before lunch and took her on a train ride to go for lunch (only to Stevenage but she wanted to go on a train!). Friday was then the first taste of a “new normal” morning for Little H, Little Z and I as we got her to school on time for her final morning session. She loved it and desperately wanted more. There were no complaints about going back the following Monday morning, although as the days and weeks progressed there were slightly more grumbles getting out of bed.
Whilst Little H was at school, Little Z and I were getting into a new routine on our At Home days. It was wonderfully calm with just the two of us after drop-off. I had never fully appreciated back before Little Z was born how easy it was to look after a single child. On Mondays we started doing Music Train but switched to the baby group. Then on Fridays we just did whatever we wanted – usually coming home for a cuppa, light telly and some hardcore playing. It was a wonderful compensation for the hectic nature of our new routine. I had to up my game getting lunch ready so Little Z was down for her nap in enough time to make school pick-up without a cranky toddler in tow. The double pick-ups were also a shock, especially as no single working day is the same for me any more. But slowly it got easier as the days went by.
The start of the month was quite quiet, although we did head out one Saturday to take the girls to Hatfield Park Farm. They both loved running around and looking at the animals. Little Z was desperate to stroke the goats though which meant we were on high alert as those cheeky creatures could well try and munch a little hand I’m sure.
Little H had her school Harvest Festival so I went along to watch which was great fun. The Reception classes sang a song on their own and they all looked so tiny in the school hall; it was strange seeing Little H as the small one after her being one of the oldest at nursery, The following week was then half term and I took the whole week off look after Little H for her first holiday. It was nice having non-rushy days with both girls on the Monday and Friday. Then on the other days Little H and I did some fun stuff: trampolining, lunch out and then a trip to the garden centre to go on the little train. I enjoyed having some one-to-one time with her.
The first weekend of November was the end of half term. Since Little H didn’t have swimming, we headed down to Kent to stay with Sam’s auntie. She has lots of space for us to stay and the girls love to see her so it was nice to have a couple of nights away. We went to Port Lympne Safari Park for on outing on the Saturday which was nice but the weather was awful so we got very damp on the safari truck.
The rest of November was quite tiring. The new school routine was taking it’s toll on us all – our stamina for the to-ing and fro-ing is still not there. Then Sam went away with work for 4 days which left me doing both ends of the drop-off around work. Fortunately I am able to work at home most of the time when he’s away but I did take a day off so I had some time to myself. It was our 9th wedding anniversary though and whilst we didn’t go out for dinner, we did enjoy a quiet evening together at home.
Little H had her first non-uniform day at school which she though was great. She also had a long weekend over the last weekend of the month. Sam took the Friday off and we went over to Whipsnade for a visit. It was a chilly day but we enjoyed getting out and seeing some animals for a few hours. Little Z and I also trialled a new class – Tumble Tots – for her to try in the New Year. She enjoyed the active nature of the class as she doesn’t like sitting still enough for Music Train!
As is the case every year, I always feel a mix of happiness and anxiety when December arrives. These days I am never prepared with presents so when I realised it was 1 Dec I had a proper panic. Fortunately we’ve really cut down the number of presents we need to buy over the years and this year many friends and I agreed we would only presents for one another’s children for their birthdays. Once I got a handle on the present and card situation I felt much calmer and was looking forward to the two week break over the Christmas holidays.
Before I could switch off from work though there were a number of key school events to get through – Christmas Jumper Day, Christmas Raffle with non-uniform day, Christingle (with the “admin” of bringing in an orange) and the long-awaited nativity – The Wiggle Nativity – where Little H was a star. Sam and I went along together to watch and it was almost tear-jerking to watch them all in their little costumes singing and dancing on the stage. Despite the play having almost 60 participants, everyone got their time in the spot light.
In the middle of December, Sam took Little H to the children’s Christmas party at his office which she very much enjoyed. Then the following day she went to see Father Christmas at John Lewis; she selected a stationery set for her gift and it kept her entertained right up until Christmas Day. Little Z was desperate for it too but in the end she grew attached to some little monkey shaped rubbers that came in the pack so Little H let her play with those!
The weekend before Christmas we went over to my sister’s house to see her, her partner and my Dad for our Christmas celebrations. We went out for a nice lunch together and then the girls played with their gifts and generally ran around trying to wreak havoc all over a non-toddler proofed house. It was a really nice visit though.
Then Christmas Eve / Day arrived. Little H was very excited on Christmas Eve and was positively buzzing with anticipation. Before bed we put out the traditional mince pie, milk and carrot. Overnight poor Little Z was very unsettled and a little unwell due to some horrible congestion so we were all a bit weary when Little H burst in at 7am. But we went down stairs and the girls opened their Father Christmas stocking gift (Little H a S’well Olaf water bottle; Little Z a Melissa and Doug water drawing pad) before having breakfast. Then we opened the rest of our gifts. One of the top gifts they each got was a cuddly bunny each! Then later that day we went over to Sam’s parents to see the wider family and get the rest of the girls presents. They were both wiped out by the time their heads hit the pillow – Little Z was falling asleep on my shoulder!
So since then we’ve been taking it easy and trying to enjoy the time through until 2020 arrives. We’ve had some good family time, a quieter visit to Sam’s parents, I had some time with just my girls and some relaxed evenings with Sam. It’s been a reminder that I, or in fact both Sam and I, need to slow down a little more. It’s something I have known for many years but is something easily forgotten. But that’s not a topic to muse over right now.
With that, and in the nick of time (I’m finishing this at 8:30pm on 31/12/19!) I bid farewell to 2019. At times a tough year but overall a wonderful one. See you on the other side and in another new decade!