Sunday, February 19, 2017

Royal London - Chinatown and shopping time

On Saturday we crossed Westminster (along the 'Tower from Cars') and the royal parks where we searched succesfully for squirrels, up to see Buckingham palace (the palace from the queen from Cars).  Although not visible on the pictures, it was snowing big flakes of snow but it melted on the ground. Kabouter tried to touch, taste the snow and wondered why his gloves got so wet?


We took another much needed break to snack and warm up and try some trendy smoothies.

We did some shopping but gosh I find Oxford street stressfully busy and most shops there aren't that different from what we have.  So I was glad we went to have lunch in SOHO, crossed Chinatown and hang out in Jan's old professional area around Leicestar square. 

We got back in the hotel at the end of the afternoon, tired after a day of walking and very glad to just hang out in our room together to play and to dine in the hotel. 

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Tate modern with a toddler

I've listed in the past that I consider London a museum wonderland. I love the fact how the city center is filled with high quality museums with free access. It is heaven.

It also makes the threshold to visit a museum very low: you can hop in and since you didn't pay any entrance fee it doesn't matter if you stay 3 hours or just 20 minutes to absorb one hall.  When Jan worked at Leicester square in the past and I had to kill time for just a short moment to wait for him, I jumped into the National Gallery just around the corner.

Tate Modern is also a museum I've visited multiple times for short moments while passing by.  This time was no different: we were all frozen so it looked like a good opportunity to go and visit the museum. Yet it was the first time we were visiting with small children.

Most museums nowadays have child activities available, so we simply went to check with the Cole Learning Center inside the Tate Modern Museum.  We promptly received a fun little suitcase filled with seamingly all kinds of random objects, for Kabouter to take along to the 4th floor "Materials" exhibition.  He was so cute running around with his suitcase!   We had some activity cards to trigger him in different rooms. Not all activities were related to the art exposed in the room eg: open up your suitcase, put all the objects around it and put them in pairs where you think they are linked.  In other rooms there was a clear link however: eg try to build with the things in your suitcase a similar tower or do you find a similar material in your suitcase as the art displayed in this room.

Kabouter was too small to follow the instructions dilligently but had fun and also jumped in other rooms without assignment on the floor, often in front of the feet of other people, to open up his suitcase again and show off the weird collection of objects in it. I was happy to take him in the museum and try to tickle his curiosity and senses by the displays around him, even though they were really abstract, also to us.  But I don't think a museum visit is about rationally capturing everything but about emotions, discovery, senses, marvel, ... so I hope we managed to pass a little bit of that to Kabouter.

"the bandits have been trapped" art according to Kabouter

On different floors we had received a few post cards with art and we had to go and seek the image from the card.  The info on the cards was too hard for a toddler but we made up some tiny assignments as copying the pose from the photograph or ...

Finally we went to the drawing bar, which was a rather quiet room with comfy sofa's where Beertje enjoyed some freedom to crawl and explore while Jan and Kabouter were making digital art on the available digital drawing boards.   You could save them and then they showed up on a large dashboard in the room (and they were e-mailed to you). We spent quite some time here.

In the end I have truly enjoyed visiting Tate Modern with the children.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

With the Eurostar to the Thames

I started this week a double function at work (covering for the maternity leave of one of my colleagues on top of my own function) so I'll face a very busy time ahead with little opportunity to take some time off.  So I was checking the agenda 2 weeks ago and noticed that previous Friday had no meetings yet. Jan could also free himself . So I quickly decided we had to take this opportunity and get a long weekend away to escape and reload before I'd have to submerge myself into the busy madness.

After searching weather websites, flight prices, tripadvisor comments on different European cities etc... I decided London would be an easy and nice destination. Both Jan and I know the city very well since he's lived there for years but much to my amazement, I had not been there anymore in the last 5 years! Holy moly, time flies. Anyway the children had never been in London yet, so it was time to introduce them. (And I joked to myself that we'd better go now, before Brexit would require us visa applications to go across the Channel)

The great advantage of London is that you can get there by train in only a couple of hours.  The train is an ideal means of transport when travelling with little children: they don't need to be strapped up immobile for a long time;  they can eat, sleep, go to the bathroom at whenever moment, etc.  On top of that "high speed trains" that run under the sea are attractive to the imagination of toddlers. 

We had left on the late Thursday evening train so we were all ready straight for bed when we arrived in the hotel. But this way we had the luxury of sleeping in (to the limited degree the children allowed us to do so), having a lazy morning without rush and enjoying a full day in the British capital. The alternative of getting up really really early on Friday morning to get on one of the first trains seemed way less relax. And the point of this trip was relaxing and having fun without stress.

Good morning London!

It was freaking cold to explore the city: a foggy mist, simmering rain/snow and an icy cold wind. We needed hats, scarfs and gloves and were all whining from the cold after a while.

We explored the Jubilee walk along the Thames between Westminster and the Tower Bridge. We passed by the London Eye, the Southbank center, The OXO tower wharf, the Tate Modern Museum where we really had to warm up again, Shakespeare's Globe , the Borough market , ...
Kabouter enjoyed Big Ben "the tower of Cars!!!", the "pirate ship" at one of the wharfs, the boats on the river, etc...

We had just eaten before visiting Borough Market, which was a good thing since the temptations for so much delicious food at the market were invading all our senses. At the same time it was a pity as we were not to be able to try all these delicacies. But it was simply too cold to have a lunch outside on the market so I was glad we had opted to have a seated lunch in one of the traditional pubs with the children.  Nevertheless I hope to come back to Borough Market once on a warmer day at lunch time with empty stomac. I envied the people that worked in an office nearby.

Borough market

By the time we reached the tower bridge we had 2 sleeping children with us and we could speed up our walk a bit to keep warm. However we had promised Kabouter to take the river bus to go back to Westminster and he had whined with every passing boat when we'd take the we had to wake him up again at the Tower of London to ensure he'd experience the promised boat trip awake.  

I must say I was really impressed by the comfort of the boats and I fell in love with this way of moving around through the city: much nicer and more comfortable than taking the bus, metro or cab. Too bad there are not more rivers crossing the city to allow more river bus itineraries :). 

Monday, February 13, 2017


Since Kabouter's birth, I treasured 2 things most while bonding with my newborn: breastfeeding and co-sleeping. None of them I had planned consciously beforehand but I discovered them in the first days and I valued them quickly essential experiences of early motherhood.  When both had stopped for Kabouter, I really was looking forward to start over again with Beertje.

For Kabouter, there was a fully equipped baby room waiting for him one month ahead of time, but I had no facilities for him to sleep in our room when we came home from the maternity.  I was in the illusion I'd only feed the baby at night during the first week or two....hahahahaaaa what a joke.  On the first day home with Kabouter, Jan and my midwife managed to arrange a co-sleeper however and it had become the most essential piece of furniture for us while the fully equipped baby room remained idle for another 9 months.
For Beertje, there was no fully equipped baby room waiting, but the co-sleeper returned into our bedroom well in time. It felt so unreal but exciting that there would soon be a little tiny baby snoozing in there right next to me again: to see it peacefully asleep, to feel its skin, to hear its breathing right next to my ear.

As of birth, Beertje responded to human touch very strongly. I could feel him relax instantly and doze off in my arms in contrast to when he was put in his crib.  I had learned to value every single moment of sleep with Kabouter so I decided not to waste any minute on battling with Beertje to get him in sleep in his crib if he'd sleep immediately in my arms.  While the official hospital policy on the wall still warned against co-bedding, the nurses (who in 3 years time had clearly become way more breastfeeding minded and lactation educated) were really charmed when they saw us sleeping together.

And so Beertje came home and we were mostly co-bedding in the first weeks/months and only slowly evolved to co-sleeping. Usually Beertje fell asleep next to me and once sound asleep I moved him into his crib next to me.

I was often amazed on how anatomically a baby has a perfect fit, belly to belly, feeding at your breast and drifting off in your armpit. It is impossible to describe the feeling when waking up and staring in the big curious eyes of your smiling baby under your arm. You'd get pregnant just for that moment. It's so great to be able to calm your baby just by the touch of your hand on its cheek when it's sleeping restlessly.  In fact, Beertje had the lovely habit to grab my hand when falling asleep, so we were often laying there, hand in hand next to each other. 

The recommendation has recently changed to sleep with your infant in the same room from 6 months up to 12 months, however when co-bedding it is important to keep a few security measures in place. In the first months (fortunately summer) I had to be careful not to lay with him under the duvet as he's incapable of removing the mass from his body, neither can they regulate their body temperature sufficiently.  So we both slept under a little fleece while my great duvet was tucked against my back until Beertje moved into his co-sleeper.  And obviously it is out of the question to drink alcohol while sleeping with your baby, as your instincts and reflexes that help you to sleep with your infant will be troubled.

The big advantage of co-sleeping and co-bedding from a breastfeeding mother point of view is that you can feed your baby, without getting out of bed. We just rolled from one side to the other and back. And the proximity helps you to react much quicker...and let him latch on before he, yourself or other persons in the room are really quite wide awake and upset.  The closeness + the nightly breastfeeding (and the linked release of oxytocine hormone) also aligns the sleeping cycles so the baby does not seem to wake you up from your deepest sleep. I notice the difference in fatigue the next day if Kabouter or Beertje has woken me up.

Of course it's not all pink clouds.  There's nights I simply couldn't find a comfortable position because Beertje was holding my hand or because his head was leaning on my arm, making my limb go numb entirely etc... If he was sleeping restless, I was awake etc...

And as he grows, that seems to become more frequent. It was our experience with Kabouter that at 9 months he had become too big for the co-sleeper and also too mobile. He had surprised us a couple of times in the middle of the night by standing up at the edge which is too low to protect him in that case (as a co-sleeper is designed to be leveled with the mom's mattress). Rather abruptly we had to decide to move to his own room and while that didn't seem an issue for him, I was mourning his absence. It really took me weeks to get used to.

Since the fall, Beertje also mastered to crawl out of his spot and it was no longer possible to leave him alone in his co-sleeper for a longer period (even when we entered the 4th side to secure him) so napping during day-time was out of the question. As he was turning and twisting more in his sleep he bumped into the sides of the co-sleeper or rolled onto my mattress and woke-up more frequently. However he didn't seem to have the desire to stand-up at night and start a party as long as I was sleeping next to him. However, he did get into the habit of waking up at night and crawling against me as surely he considered sleeping in my arms much more desirable than sleeping in his own spot. We seemed to evolve back from co-sleeping to co-bedding.

At one hand, I was, once again, really not ready to let him go out of my sight and I was secretly thankful for our house renovations that forced us all to sleep in one room with no option to "move him to his own room" at 9 months.  My little Beertje would have to sleep with me longer than his brother had been allowed to do. But on the other hand, we both lacked sleep severely at the turn of the year.  Colds, teething, other virusses ...there was always a reason for a restless night and a restless night translated itself into crawling onto me a dozen times a night, smacking my face with his hand, babbling, crawling himself to the other side, crying when he wasn't comfortable etc... We seemed to be in a constant bed fight with each other, hushing for silence while hoping we did not wake up Jan and Kabouter in the room etc. I walked up and paced the room for hours with him in my arms trying to rock him to sleep. Jan kept saying we had to put him in his own bed and I tried to postpone, because I was convinced that an additional baby bed really wouldn't fit into our room anymore (since Kabouter had already moved in with us as well) but also because I knew it would be the end of the co-sleeping.  Surely the bad nights were just a phase, we'd manage. There were moments we were both sleeping together like little angels. I did not want to miss that yet.

But being member of #teamnosleep and being at work full-time was too hard, so in the end I was relieved to see we managed to fit in another travel baby cot in our bedroom. As I had feared, it seemed the end of co-sleeping since he has not slept in his co-sleeper next to me anymore since ...but as I had hoped, he seems to sleep more stable blocks in his own bed where he has room to turn around without hitting me or the edge.  For a month now he's in his own bed and we still have horrible nights as the virusses, teeth etc continue to visit us.  Compared to his brother, Kabouter was a much easier sleeper.  But now on average it's a bit better manageable. And the transition from the co-sleeper to the travel cot isn't so big as he only moved from my arm to my toes, so to speak. (and sometimes after feeding we still snooze a bit in each other arms early in the morning). My baby is still quite close to me so I'm dealing with the transition much better this time.

Yet I was not ready to pull out the co-sleeper out of our overcrowded bedroom. It's hard to emotionally admit what you rationally know already a long time: I will not sleep with a little infant at my side anymore. After 4 weeks of non-use, it's time to create some moving space again but it's so hard to accept that your children grow up too fast.  And so furniture becomes a symbol of the difficulty of letting go.