Thursday, August 20, 2020

Our Dream Staycation Destination: Cornwall

 

At this time of year, we'd normally find ourselves on a transatlantic flight to Washington state - spending lazy afternoons on my parents' sun-drenched deck eating fruit-stand strawberries, strolling along the Tacoma waterfront in the early evening, and taking weekend trips to the stunning San Juan Islands. I'd been so looking forward to bringing our eldest back to my hometown, now that he's old enough to understand a little more about the world around him, and the twins are at an age (7 months) where they'd be content just being outdoors - primarily what the Pacific Northwest is famous for. 

With our international travel plans scrapped for this year due to the global pandemic, we're wistful for a restorative coastal break (well, as restorative as you can get with 3 kids under 3!), keeping in mind all the safety precautions we need to take at this time. The obvious choice for this? Cornwall: sun (mostly!), sea, and pretty coastal villages selling ice-cream and fresh seafood at dusk.

I've always been drawn to the coast because of my upbringing in the Puget Sound, but Cornwall is truly special - a glittering jewel in the south of England. The first time we visited was over a decade (!) ago now: John surprised me with a trip to Looe. We arrived after a 7-hour car journey, in the dark, and all I could make out from the window of our charming bed and breakfast was a blur of twinkling lights, which gave way to a sparkling blue sea and cloudless sky come morning. When we were much older, and before our eldest was born, we stayed in St. Ives, memorably hiking part of the Southwest Coastal Path in a pair of Stan Smiths (me!) and visiting the beautiful Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden. 



I have memories of the train slowly pulling into St. Ives and the sight of Porthminster unfurling before us - trees giving away to sand giving away to the tide. I remember thinking I'd been dropped into some sort of paradise as I shielded my eyes from the sun and made our way down the length of the platform. That night, we walked along the same beach before sitting down to dinner at Porthminster Cafe, clinking glasses of crisp white wine as the sun set beyond the picture-frame windows surrounding us.



Although the Southwest Coast is a far cry from the Pacific Ocean and the conifers that surround its shores, Cornwall remains one of my favorite places to visit in England - a place I can't wait to show my children. We're currently browsing for accommodation in Cornwall and thinking of all the ways we can travel safely in line with current government guidelines (e.g. only traveling together as a family in the car; making very few, short stops on the journey; washing and sanitizing our hands, and practicing safe social distancing measures at our destination).

The way we travel certainly looks very different in 2020, but the ability to revisit our favorite destinations here in the UK safely and responsibly isn't impossible. And that, my friends, is the light at the end of the tunnel.

This post was written in collaboration with Hotels.com. All opinions are my own.
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Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Top 5 Life Hacks For Living With 3 Kids Under 3

 


Someone reposted this image on Instagram yesterday and kindly described it as a "lived-in" room, rather than the chaos it actually is! But yep, accurate representation of what my toddler's room often looks like, although I actually unearthed these books from under his bed when I changed the sheets, so they were sort of "put away". Sort of. 

Anyway, the recurring refrain I hear these days when people find out I have a 2.5-year-old toddler and 7-month-old twins is, "Wow! YOU must have your hands full!" Ha. Ha. Ha. Like I haven't heard THAT ONE before. 

Yes, we often quite literally and figuratively have our hands full. But on the whole? It's not too bad. And that's partly down to the routines we have in place (and also because our eldest is with his nanny and her son during the day - a critical mention!). I thought I'd share some of them here, since I get asked about how we "manage" a lot! 

So, here are my top 5 life hacks for surviving - I mean, living with - 3 kids under 3:

Cook dinner in the morning - this is my favorite tip and one that I invoked when my eldest was a tiny baby. When I was on mat leave and my husband was working during the day (as is our respective roles now), I found it easiest to prepare dinner first thing in the morning, then re-heat it at night, as the evening inevitably always signalled cranky kids, fussy bed and bath times, etc. Ordinarily, my husband would cook dinner after work (since he's working from home at the moment) while I do bath time with the twins, but this way, he gets to spend some quality time in the evenings with our toddler (or I do, if we switch) and we aren't tempted by the Uber Eats or Deliveroo apps on our phones. So yeah, it's a little weird, but I tend to make dinner as soon as I bring the twins down after their first feed in the morning, which is usually around 6:30 a.m./7:00 a.m. 

Have strict morning and evening routines in place - everything runs like clockwork at our house, because we keep an eye on the, well, clock and ensure that we're not more than +/-5 minutes off of schedule. For example, in the evenings, we have sole parental responsibility for our eldest after our nanny leaves (soon-to-be-nursery!) at 5:30 pm, which means we play and catch up with him together when one of us gets the bottles ready for the twins. The twins are fed at 6 p.m., in the bath by 6:30 p.m., upstairs having stories read to them by 6:45 p.m., and asleep by 7:15 p.m. in their cots. Dinner is ready by 7:15 p.m. and John, our toddler, and I will eat together then, before our eldest has potty time for 15-20 minutes in front of his favorite TV show (currently Blippi on YouTube - "I'm an excavatorrrrrr!"). Bathtime for him is at 8:15 p.m. and he's in bed by 8:30 p.m, down between 8:45 - 9:00 p.m. (he typically wakes at 7:30 in the morning).

Do 10 things at once - okay, maybe not 10. But at least three. While dinner's cooking, I also throw on a load of laundry, put something in the oven that I can batch freeze for the twins' baby-led weaning journey (yes, I just referred to their feeding as a "journey" - no idea why), and prepare our toddler's breakfast before he wakes so that it's ready when he comes downstairs and I don't hear, "READY YET, READY YETTTT?"

Prepare for the evening in the morning - as soon as the twins finish their morning feed, I make the bed and prepare their cots for the evening, ensuring that their sleeping bags and pacifiers are in each cot, the curtains are drawn, and that their towels are set out for bath time. It may seem a little OTT, but it is an amazing time saver at night and makes life just that little bit easier.

Bring in the troops - sometimes, it all gets a bit too much. And without family nearby to occasionally lend a hand, we can easily feel overwhelmed. There have been times when John's had to work late, and so, rather than try to be a "hero" (and invariably be faced with three separate meltdowns from three separate kids all at once), we've asked our nanny to stay later to help keep an eye on our eldest while I wrestle the twins out of the bath or drafted in a neighbor to babysit for a couple of hours. 

So, those are the best tips I've found that have helped our family so far. If you have 3 under 3 (or even 2 under 3), how do you survive? I'd love to know!

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Friday, March 20, 2020

Mother's Day With TK Maxx


Pre-kids, and when my trips home were a little more frequent than just once (or less!) per year, my mom and I would spend hours combing our local TJ Maxx and Marshall's stores for treasures. In fact, it'd been a favorite past-time of ours for years - dating back to my high school and, indeed, even junior high school years: nothing beat the feeling of emerging from the store triumphant, with a pair of designer sneakers or dress (I found my prom dress on the floor of a Marshall's store, dropped under a rack!) at a fraction of the price I'd usually see them for.

So, when TK Maxx reached out to collaborate with me this (UK) Mother's Day, it was a no-brainer - I have so many wonderful memories of shopping with my mom at the US version of the store, and I'm often at our local branches in East London searching for new books for my toddler, adorable sleepsuits for the babies, or chic storage solutions for our home.

There are so many lovely items to choose from both online and in store (I shopped online!) but here's what I bought my mom with my £100 TK Maxx gift card:


This beautiful designer scarf. My mom has quite the impressive scarf collection - and by impressive, I mean, giant tupperware-boxes-full type of collection. From Hermes to bargain market purchases, she almost always accessorizes with a scarf artfully tied around her neck, particularly when she's judging a piano competition or attending one of her students' recitals. When I spotted this delicate designer floral number at TK Maxx online, it immediately reminded me of my mother. I love the two-toned aspect of this gauzy scarf, and the fact that it works equally well in the Spring as it does in the Fall. We always love perusing the scarves at TK Maxx when she's over, so I think my mom will be pleasantly surprised with my find this time!


These gorgeous scented candles with tongue-in-cheek exclamations. I love going home, walking in the door, and smelling the gorgeous scent of whatever candle my mom has lit in our cavernous living room. It gives the house an incredible sense of warmth, especially in the winter months, and I think my mom would love these two soy wax candles. Plus, the glass votives are so pretty, they'll look great as small storage jars long after the candle's been exhausted. TK Maxx is the first place I go to for candles, as they stock some of my favorite brands and scents.


This stunning photo frame. When my parents were visiting earlier in the year, I hired a professional photographer to come and take some natural, un-posed family photos, as I knew my mom would love to have some with her grandsons. TK Maxx always has an excellent selection of photo frames, and I think this one will take pride of place in our living room back home in Washington state.


This high-end body lotion, facial moisturiser, and body creme. My mom has amazing skin for her age - with hardly a wrinkle in sight! I'm always excited to see some of my favorite beauty brands at TK Maxx and thought my mom would love these moisturisers for some serious TLC, seeing as how she always pampers me with haircuts and manicures when I'm at home. I'm hoping this trio of skincare will inspire my mom to indulge in some self-care more often.

I can't wait to give my mom these gifts for Mother's Day - for now, I might have to arrange this over a WhatsApp video call until our next visit, but I'm most excited to tell her that I chose these lovely presents for her at the UK version of our favorite store, TK Maxx.

All items gifted by TK Maxx. All opinions are my own.
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Monday, March 16, 2020

Twins


Oh, it's been a while.

But for good reason: our darling identical boys were born on December 30th, and arrived home at a quarter to midnight on December 31st to a spectacular display of fireworks.

We've taken our sweet time getting to know them but even so, in the blink of an eye, the so-called "fourth trimester" has flown by and I've found myself putting away size 0-3 month sleepsuits and vest tops - forever.

The bony toes and ankles you see above have filled out into deliciously plump feet that I kiss every time I change their diapers; their saggy knees no longer the sharp obtrusions that jutted out below my ribcage but now round little mounds that dig into my postpartum belly when I lift them up to burp.

Although our house has remained inexplicably calm since their arrival (quiet, except for the indignant screams of hunger when I'm a second too slow in providing breast or bottle), for weeks I operated in a robotic survival mode: methodically changing diapers, feeding, and burping before gently laying them back down in their cot to sleep without so much as a cuddle.

"Don't!" I shouted at my parents who held them for a minute too long after burping. "They'll get too used to falling asleep on you!"

My mother obeyed me but looked forlorn putting Twin 1 into the cot; my dad almost always succeeded in making them fall asleep on him with his gentle, rhythmic pats.

I had trouble accepting them into our family life at first - it was an adjustment for us all. Their arrival was almost disruptive - a breaking of the bond between me and our eldest. At least, it felt like that to me. I wept as I watched my son play contentedly with his new fire engine, a "gift" from the twins, which felt deceptive and merely a tool to distract him from the fact that I was hobbling around the house, trying to stay on top of painkillers and night feeds.

And I worried. Oh, how I worried: that our eldest was having too much screen time; that we still hadn't been referred to the tongue-tie clinic and it had been nearly two weeks since we were discharged from the hospital (both boys were found to have severe ties, as was the case with my first); that my husband was fatigued and wrought with worry over work; that my c-section scar hadn't healed properly; that I wasn't bonding properly with the twins.

Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

And then, one day, I opened my eyes, and they opened their eyes and looked back at me, and in that moment, I knew, I knew. Suddenly, it clicked into place and they fit into me in this outside world just as they did inside. Our bond was complete.

They were born with heads full of jet black hair: a pair of little ravens, with cries that filled the operating room like squawks and sharp, pointed little fingernails that bewildered and freaked me out.

Our eldest took an immediate interest in them, gently stroking their hair and kissing their knees. That's changed a little now: the hair-stroking is interspersed with violent rocking of the bouncers when he thinks we aren't watching, and blankets snatched from their laps, followed by a cackle of laughter, especially after seeing our stern expressions and hearing our exclamations of, "No, gentle!"

But, here we are: a family of five.

And we just fit. Like so.
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Tuesday, December 3, 2019

To My Toddler: About To Become a Big Brother


Dear A,

In a short while, your world will change - my world will change - in ways we couldn't have imagined. And that makes me both happy and sad: happy that you'll (hopefully) gaining two healthy siblings but sad that our time together, just the two of us, is coming to an end.

Every morning, when you stir around 6 or so, and I try to get you to stay a little longer in your cot, telling you softly, "Down down, please", while fishing for your dummy or handing you some water, I chide myself under my breath for relenting too easily, too quickly, and picking you up - hefting your legs over my 33-week-pregnant-with-twins belly and carrying you to the guest room, where we both cuddle for half an hour or so in bed. As you immediately turn into me and run your little hand up and down my arm, or tuck it into my robe for comfort, I worry, "How will I do this when the twins arrive? How will I do this when I'm recovering from birth?" And I feel your small, warm feet dig into the tops of my legs and I think, 'I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.'

Because right then, right there, I don't care. Whatever the future brings in tantrums and tears and screaming fits, it's worth it: those precious 28, 29, 30 minutes I get to spend with you in the darkness of early dawn; the stillness.

On Saturday, you climbed up into your Montessori learning tower and helped me make sweet potato casserole for Thanksgiving dinner. I handed you marshmallows, one by one, and you carefully placed them on top of the mixture, exclaiming, "Oooh!" each time. I never imagined I'd have a child one day to share my Thanksgiving traditions with - and the sudden realization that it was actually happening shook me to my core.

On Sunday, I was tired from cooking, and I got down on the floor with you to watch Carl's Car Wash on YouTube, which I had never done before. You love that show, with its catchy tune, friendly characters, and assortment of vehicles going through the car wash. I laid on my side and felt the babies stretch, then kick and punch - the walls of their world getting smaller and smaller as they grow. I nestled my head into your side and wrapped my arms around your waist, expecting you to be too mesmerized by your show to notice. But you leaned into me: your head gently resting on my arm, your cheek collapsing into the crook of my elbow. Tears pricked my eyes then, because I knew you loved me too.

My firstborn: I love you so fiercely, it hurts. There isn't a moment from your childhood so far that I don't want to claw back: your gurgles, your first carrot puree, your first smile, your first steps, your first haircut, your first, your first, your first. You first.

I will understand in the coming months if you sleep worse, eat worse, act worse - want/need me more. You won't understand why I can't lift you as much or cuddle with you in the dark or lie on the floor to watch Carl's with you. At least, not immediately. But I promise you, we will have one-on-one time together each day, whether it's for 5, 10, 20 or 60 minutes - because I can't bear not to.

You are going to make the most wonderful big brother; we know it.

And we love you. To the moon and back.

Love,
Mama x
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Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Gestational Diabetes


When I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes in this pregnancy, I was relieved - then resentful. I had suspected undiagnosed gestational diabetes as the underlying cause of my son's premature birth (and his abnormally large birth weight, plus low blood sugar and jaundice), despite the fact that I'd been tested at 28 weeks and told by my midwives that the outcome was "normal". Looking back, I had so many classic symptoms of diabetes - symptoms that I repeatedly reported to hospital consultants, GP, and midwives, with each one dismissing them as "normal" in pregnancy.

This time, at a different hospital and with a monochorionic (identical, two babies sharing one placenta) twin pregnancy, I pushed the consultant to test me sooner for GD. She said it was unusual to test so early, but agreed to at 21 weeks.

And my blood sugar readings were raised - to everyone's surprise but mine.

From there, the diabetes team moved quickly: scheduling a meeting with the diabetes nurse, who gave me a blood glucose testing kit to use once in the morning and one hour after every meal, and another meeting with the hospital dietician, who helped come up with a meal plan in an attempt to lower my blood sugar levels.

Initially, we tried to control my GD through diet and exercise. But despite being extremely restrictive (at one point, I was eating zero carbs, which was neither healthy nor sustainable) and going out for a walk immediately after every meal (not the easiest when you're pregnant with twins, especially as the pregnancy progresses), my glucose levels remained high - and I felt like such a failure. Like I hadn't tried hard enough.

The diabetes nurse was incredibly kind, and assured me that it had nothing to do with me - typically, GD develops during pregnancy and disappears after birth (though, given my family history of diabetes, it's likely to stick around permanently). It occurs when the body cannot produce enough insulin to support both you and the baby - or, in my case, the babies (apparently, twin pregnancies have a higher rate of developing GD).

The nurse suggested I start on Metformin, a pill, but I asked if I could move directly onto insulin, as I'd heard the Metformin caused stomach upset, which I really couldn't deal with when I was working and looking after a toddler in the evenings. They immediately agreed and prescribed Novorapid before meals and Humulin, before bedtime - so, four injections total, per day.

The resentment came in when I realized that, despite the insulin, I'd still need to follow a strict Keto-like diet, which was the last thing I wanted to do when pregnant. I constantly craved pasta and missed cakes; I was angry that I felt deprived and hungry a lot.  

Now, in my 32nd week of pregnancy, I can honestly say that this diagnosis of gestational diabetes has been a blessing in disguise. I've never felt healthier and better in myself: less sluggish, more fit, and just generally healthier.

Of course, I have moments where I'm annoyed because I would love to have a slice of cake for dessert instead of Skyr, a handful of raspberries and one square of 90% dark chocolate, but once I got used to the diet, I found that I stopped craving a lot of sweet things (though I find myself missing carbohydrates, for sure).

What surprised me was how many misconceptions people have about diabetes. A lot of friends volunteered to bring me "vegan cake" or "savoury muffins", which was very sweet and well-intentioned, but vegan cake still has sugar (natural or refined) and is high in carbs, and savoury muffins are (unless made with a flour alternative), also a total carb-fest.

I did have a few dreams where I was stuffing my face with bread and endless bowls of pasta (oh, how I miss pho and ramen! AND WHITE RICE!), but ... at the end of the day, I want to give these twins the best chance of being healthy at (and after) birth.

And the fact that I feel better for it all after this lifestyle change is the figurative icing on the cake.
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Friday, September 20, 2019

Frankly, I'm Terrified



The first thing the midwife said to me when she read my file and saw that I was expecting identical twins (and that I had an 18-month-old at home) was: "You'll need to let some things go."

She was kind, but firm in her advice. And what she meant was: I won't always have a clean home. I won't always have time to put my son to bed and massage his legs after bath time and read three stories after dinner. I won't always be able to head out into the world with a full face of makeup and a chic, put-together outfit (not that there's much of that these days anyway, unless I'm heading into work!).

John has been gently reminding (read: nagging) me to start by letting some things "go" now - for example, stop making separate meals for our son (one weekend morning, I found myself simultaneously stewing apple, oranges, prunes and cinnamon to help with his constipation and preparing a slow-cooker chicken soup with four different types of veggies so I could freeze it and ask his nanny to give it to him for lunch).

"Your perfectionism will destroy you - or us," he said.

And he's right.

At the very root of the anxiety and depression I've struggled with for years is this obsession with "being enough". Doing enough.

And after the recurrent miscarriages I experienced, together with my son's difficult birth and subsequent hospital stays, the way I dealt with the trauma was to do my best to provide the best for my child.

To me, this meant breastfeeding him exclusively for nearly a year (until his interest naturally waned and he became fully weaned), even if it meant I was waking up at 3 or 4 a.m. to pump when he was asleep; even if it meant I bled from over-pumping; or that I couldn't get my hair cut for months because I was so anxious about getting back in time for a feed.

And when he transitioned onto solid foods, it meant preparing meals from scratch for him (luckily, his nanny does the lion's share of this now and she is an excellent cook), ensuring he had a fresh supply of whole fruit replenished every week, and that I was baking sugar-free cakes and waffles that I knew he'd love as snacks.

It meant creating the perfect nursery for him: with perfect Scandi-inspired decor, the perfect breathable pillow to rest his head on, the perfect sheepskin mattress topper to "keep him cool in the summer and warm in the winter", the perfect organic cotton cot sheets, and the perfect hand-knit doll that I felt would best comfort him at night if he were to wake.

He doesn't need any of these things - I know that. I know it. (Though - can I just say - his bed looks insanely comfy?)

And I know I've been doing all these things for myself, more than I've perhaps been doing them for him. Reassurance. Insurance. An apology for those terrible first days and weeks. Because somehow I still see it as my fault.

Because each four-layered muslin blanket and soft toy is a whispered, "I'm sorry."

And I know what he wants more than anything else - more than any green garbage truck replica (his current favorite) - is for me to play with him; to hold and cuddle him. Which I do. As much as I can.

And so, I'm scared. I'm scared that I won't know how to cope when the twins arrive and I literally can't "do it all".

Because doing it all - or attempting to do it all - is what keeps me sane, even when it's driving me to madness.

My goal in the next few weeks and months is to try to gradually begin to find a balance in all of this ... and to find time for myself and my husband too.

But it may be the biggest challenge I've ever faced, and I'm terrified of this journey.
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