As Lily is getting older I find I'm having to get a bit more inventive with keeping her entertained at home. She started nursery/forest school in the new year, just a couple of mornings a week, so although we have less time to occupy she's so worn out I'm realising quite quickly that she can't necessarily manage with our usual soft play or walks on those days. And so, I'm having to make sure we're entertained at home instead!
I'm not going to pretend for a second that I'm the sort of parent who is really strict about screen time because despite my pre-parent assurance that I would be, I'm definitely not. Most mornings CBeebies or a Sago Mini game on the Kindle is the only way I get certain things done. In the afternoon though we love getting snuggled under a blanket and watching a film on Netflix or Amazon Prime. Our favourite at the minute is Coco; the story is beautiful (and despite watching 400 times I always cry at the end!) and the graphics are incredible. Without fail Lily always says 'woooooow' at the part where the camera pans out to the Land of the Dead! Our tv definitely doesn't do them justice and I can only imagine what they'd look like on something like the Oled Tv Panasonic.
Lily has never really played on her own for long periods of time so if I'm running on 5% or need to be able to get on with something else stickers are my go-to. Kids just bloody love stickers, don't they?! We used to get away with these reusable foam stickers and a bit of card which she'd happily go to town with and let me stick back on the sheets to reuse but she prefers a proper sticker book now. The Hey Duggee Super Stickers book and Peppa Pig Super Stickers book are fab, they've got over 1000 stickers including ones you don't have to use in the book plus activity pages and they're always under £7.99 on Amazon. I tend to pull the pages of stickers out of the middle, cut the page sections up and slot the right stickers into the right page so she doesn't stick 500 stickers on one page. (Top tip from a one of my Instagram followers; if your child is struggling to peel them off to begin with peel the background space off before you give them the sheet!)
Occasionally I'll try my hand at being a Pinterest mum and make an activity for us to do together that's targeted at a specific skill but to be honest the amount of effort that goes into it does not balance out the amount of time she's interested in it! The one thing I do always search for more of are busy bag ideas. I've put quite a few together and they've seen us through flights, train journeys, appointments and many, many lunches where Lily would rather be running around pinching everyone's cutlery. I always have at least one in my bag to whip out if we need it. Other than busy bags the only activities we've really loved doing at home are sorting ones. We have a stash of multicoloured pom poms to crack out for sorting activities and a big hit when Lily was younger was putting coloured ball pit balls into a cupcake tin! Here is my very optimistic and unrealistic board of kids activities if you want to have a go.
Baking is always something Lily is up for doing and fortunately having been a prolific baker in a past life, I am too! If I want to make it a longer activity we have a browse of my recipe books, find something she'd like to bake, write a list (I give Lily her own list she scribbles on) and we'll go to the local shop to buy the bits before coming home to do the baking. I won't lie, I do most of the actual baking, Lily is more in charge of spoon licking and sitting and watching the oven whilst asking me every three seconds if it's ready yet.
The final activity we do on a regular basis is a jigsaw puzzle afternoon. We get all the jigsaw puzzles out and do them on the floor. This is a lovely one because she doesn't always want me to be involved so I can be on hand to help if she needs it from the sofa with a cup of tea. Our favourite puzzles are the Melissa and Doug 4-in-1 wooden puzzles, Orchard Toys dinosaur puzzle and the Look & Find puzzles from M&S. The wooden ones are great but they last forever but she definitely prefers the larger pieces of the floor style ones.
Oh and whenever I need to put washing away or do something upstairs I make a den, shove some teddies and books in it and Lily can sit in there for hours!
When you become a parent there are so many things that were once important to you that fall to the wayside. One of these for me was general beauty maintenance. Pre-parent Elena regularly removed her bodily hair (although honestly that is mostly me realising I really don't care about it!), actually made follow up appointments when she had her brows done and got her hair cut every 6 weeks. Now I'm lucky if I wash my hair more than once a week and the only body hair I remove is that weird white one that suddenly appears two inches long on my forehead. Slowly, slowly I am trying to do more things for myself though so when Superdrug teamed up with the incredible group of badass, punky parents I've found my home in, I jumped at the chance to get involved. We were gifted a voucher to use against a treatment in a Superdrug Beauty Studio in exchange for an honest review.
My nearest Superdrug Beauty Studio is in Milton Keynes and to be honest I had no idea there was a beauty studio at the back of the store until I went onto their website to check! Thankfully it was empty when we arrived so the beauty therapist saw me straight away. I asked for a brow tint and thread, two things I've had countless times before so knew what to expect.
The therapist was really efficient with the threading which helped me to relax because there is nothing worse than unsure, unsteady threading! I was a bit apprehensive when she didn't ask what shape I wanted as I've had a negative experience with someone going off-piste before, but I needn't have been because she followed my natural shape beautifully. She tweezed and trimmed to finish before moving onto the dye. I loved how neat she was with the dye, all the fine hairs were picked up and there wasn't a speck left on my skin. The whole process took no more than 15 minutes and I was so, so pleased with the result.
My brows are generally a bit rubbish, especially towards the ends where I have about four hairs on a good day. After my treatment though they looked flippin' amazing! The shape was perfect and colour had really defined them. I genuinely couldn't have been happier with them.
I personally don't find threading painful but my skin isn't such a fan and tends to go quite red afterwards. I took this about ten minutes after my treatment (whilst having my boobs fitted under a really good light!). The beauty therapist didn't give me any aftercare advice to follow but having had threading done before I knew what to expect. The redness and soreness went down after a few hours and now I'm just left with really good eyebrows!
It's such a handy set up, being able to just pop in when you're passing with a spare few minutes. However I think with it being such a fast service it has the potential to feel a little impersonal. My therapist was highly skilled and I have no complaints with the results of my treatment but she didn't really talk to me during or explain what she was going to do. If you'd not had threading or a tint before that could be quite unnerving. I think if I was in need of a quick tidy up I would use the service again but would definitely prefer a more personal experience, especially when my toddler ravaged time is precious!
One of the biggest (no pun intended...) turning points for me in my body acceptance journey was attending my first plus size fashion event in 2012. Being surrounded by women who looked like me who were enjoying fashion whilst actively celebrating their bodies unapologetically was honestly life changing. Since then I've jumped at any opportunity to be part of events like that knowing I'm going to walk away with an incredible buzz. I've been slightly preoccupied growing small humans for the last couple of years so unfortunately I missed the first two Curve Fashion Festivals, watching them unfold on social media instead (and feeling some intense FOMO!). This year however, mama is swapping her changing bag for a probably still as huge but less nappy orientated handbag and is going to be there with bells on!
The Curve Fashion Festival is the UK's largest plus size fashion event with over 30 brands taking part to showcase their fashion, beauty and accessory offerings. There will be catwalk shows, pop up shops, industry seminars, celebrity meet and greets and a How To stage! Debenhams, who are one of the sponsors of the event, will be there to save your boobs with bra fittings as well as showcase their plus size clothing on the catwalk. They'll also be bringing along one of my favourite blogging pals, Callie Thorpe, to talk all things confidence. Other amazing plus size babes such as Felicity Hayward, Danie Vanier, Hayley Hasselhoff, Lucy Vixen and Michelle Elman will also be there on the day to give advice on the How To stage and walk the runway.
Last week we were very kindly invited to visit London Zoo as a family and I honestly couldn't type my reply fast enough. The fact it fell during the week of Lily's 2nd birthday was brilliant because it meant we could draw out her birthday festivities. And draw them out, we did! It was such a fantastic experience, one of those days where we all trundled off to bed straight after dinner with aching legs, smiling faces and happy hearts.
I know I had been to London Zoo as a child but I can't remember much about it other than it being huge, and that part definitely hadn't changed despite me growing to be quite huge too! I couldn't believe how big it was, with beautiful architecture that housed the aquarium and other exhibits, quiet picnic spots and plenty of open space to walk about without feeling as though you were on top of everyone. Which considering we went on a Friday during the summer holidays is quite a big deal!
There was so much to see and do, I had expected Lily to be a little too young for a lot of it but amazingly she was just as involved as we were. Aside from the animals there are regular feeding displays and live talks throughout the day as well as a carousel, face painting, a playground with bouncy castles and plenty of places to stop for a snack throughout the park. Lily and I had a go on the carousel but even though she's been on them before and loved it, she was not a fan! To cheer her up afterwards we went and watched people having their faces painted. At 2, and as a child who literally never stays still for longer than three seconds, I didn't think she would be very interested in having hers done but as soon as she saw the board with the different options on her little eyes lit up! We went through all the animals with her but she liked the flower fairy the best despite our gentle encouragement for something more suited to our adventure. Amazingly, she sat perfectly still to have it done without even twitching or recoiling at the cold paint. She closed her eyes when she was asked and seemed to be completely enchanted by the whole experience. She did poke her face once she stood up which smudged a tiny bit but once she saw her face in the mirror she was besotted! I remember the first time I had my face painted so this felt like such a special moment for me and it was wonderful to watch her experience it for the first time. Although I do wish I had had mine done too!
After having her face painted we stopped for an ice cream then made our way to Butterfly Paradise. I've always loved butterflies and remember having an amazing experience at a butterfly farm when I was a child but since losing Aneurin butterflies feel all the more magical to me now. (If you're wondering why, butterflies are thought to be one of the little signs you get from your baby and there is a beautiful poem called 'A Butterfly Lights Beside Us' that many of us relate to our babies.) So, stepping into the tropical paradise to be surrounded by masses of huge, colourful butterflies was oddly moving. Lily was just as enthralled as I was and couldn't take them in quick enough. She kept holding her arm out wanting them to land on her and muttering 'butterfly'. One did land on my head for a brief moment but Haydn wasn't quick enough with the camera! I honestly could have stayed in there for hours (although I might have needed a shower afterwards due to the humidity!), it was magical. There's a video on my Instagram stories of Lily and I in awe if you want to check it out!
Despite the zoo having a lot of larger, more exotic animals I was surprised by how much I loved the smaller exhibits like the Butterfly Paradise. The other two unexpected joys were the Reptile House and B.U.G.S. (which stands for Biodiversity Underpinning Global Survival and also, y'know, bugs). I did have to do my best coaxing to get my husband in to the Reptile House because he absolutely hates snakes but even he ended up really enjoying it (whilst refusing to linger around the snakes long enough to take a photo of me by the Harry Potter tank!). As expected Lily was enthralled by all the different turtles but wasn't too convinced by her first crocodile encounter outside of a book. When we reached the B.U.G.S. area Lily was desperate for a nap so Haydn took one for the team and walked her around outside whilst I went in. I was a bit disappointed I didn't get to share it with them but it was actually quite nice to have the time to read about the conservation side of the exhibit and see some of the keepers behind the scenes. I also saw the biggest stick insect I think I'll ever see in my life, I kept trying to convince myself it was a branch because I couldn't quite believe it!
We tried to wander about slowly so Lily wouldn't miss too much but she was in a mega snooze so we decided to carry on. I'm a bit sad we didn't wake her up for The Land of the Lions though because it was absolutely the best part of the zoo. Influenced and based on Gir National Park in Western India it really is like stepping into another world. On the ground level of the three walkways is a replica of Sasan Gir, the village on the edge of Gir with vibrant shop fronts, a heavenly smelling street food stand and fun little areas to explore. It's not just the village that was designed to replicate Gir but the environment the lions are in too. With the three walkways covering such a vast space you get a really good look at the entire space. Having that connection to the conservation projects actually based in Gir National Park was a big draw and it all felt far more authentic and closer to their natural habitat than any other lion enclosure I'd visited.
The lions were snoozing as we walked round which was a little disappointing as we didn't get a really good look at them, however as we were leaving the enclosure the most incredible thing happened. One of the lions had wandered down to the stream that runs through their space for a drink and was literally two foot away from the barrier. She stood and lapped up the water for a few minutes whilst everyone in the vicinity fell silent. She was so close and calm, it felt like such a privilege to witness.
Lily woke up just as we had decided to take pity on our sore feet and call it a day so we decided to have a second trip to see the penguins. We had been earlier in the day to listen to the Penguin Live talk which was brilliant but obviously quite crowded. In the afternoon though it was much quieter and we all enjoyed it far more. The penguins came right to the glass barriers and one actually followed Lily as she walked up and down which she thought was hilarious! There was a fantastic little inverted dome under the pool you could get in and see the penguins swimming under the water but she was a little apprehensive about it so we stuck to the top deck. She was desperate to get over the barrier and waddle about with them but settled for pressing her face up against the glass for a chat.
Our final stop was the gift shop and I know as an adult I'm probably meant to groan at having to exit through them but I love it! We asked Lily if she wanted to choose one toy to take home (within reason!) and she took ages sorting through all the rubber snakes and various bouncy balls before settling on a long, cuddly shark. We then had to endure her shouts of 'baby shark doo doo doo doo' all the way home!
We will absolutely be paying to go back in the future not least so Lily can see the bits she snoozed through. It was one of the best days out we've had and I honestly don't know who enjoyed it the most, Lily or mummy and daddy!
Disclaimer: We were invited to visit the zoo as part of a paid collaboration but as always this post is an honest review and all words are my own!
Our love for our baby swimming lessons with Turtle Tots is well documented on my blog and social media so I am incredibly excited to share with you that we are the Turtle Tots Northamptonshire ambassadors for the class of 2018!
We started classes when Lily was 11 weeks old and it's been amazing to see her skills develop over the last 18 months. We're fast approaching her final term after having completed five baby levels and the two of the three toddler levels. I'll really miss our weekly swim with TT but if we're ever lucky enough to add to our family that will definitely be the first thing I sign up to!
I'm normally very apprehensive about discussing things that come under the umbrella of abortion/termination, termination for medical reasons and antenatal testing because we chose to continue our pregnancy knowing our baby had Downs syndrome. I worry people might assume I feel a certain way about the subject and that the decision we make extends to the world around us. However, our journey to that decision was not straight forwards. I'm still trying to process our experience three years later and although this may not be terribly coherent I really wanted to put some words down today as Ireland vote to repeal the 8th.
We chose to continue our pregnancy knowing our baby had Downs syndrome. That was the right decision for us, for me, for our life. However, I am passionately pro-choice and although I'll admit I do sometimes struggle with the knowledge that 99% of pregnancies affected by Downs syndrome are terminated, I really believe that informed choice is vital and everyone is entitled to access safe, basic healthcare. My discomfort with knowing so many DS affected pregnancies are terminated does not come from a place of believing those parents are making the wrong choice, it comes from a far more personal place. The undertone of so much change surrounding antenatal testing which again, I am in full support of because everyone has the right to an informed choice with no judgement, is that a life with Downs syndrome has no value and and a person with Downs syndrome has no place in our society. That my son's life had no value, that he had no place in our society. That the fact he died was probably for the best.
I'm sure the number of people who truly believe that are very, very far and few between but they are still there. There are some in my life, albeit on the outskirts but they still exist. I've had healthcare professionals say to me in as many words that his death was nature's way of making our life easier. I've had people close to me suggest that 'perfect' babies do not deserve to die but my baby wasn't perfect so maybe it was 'for the best'. As you can imagine that is incredibly painful to hear.
This is why I tend to step backwards around the topic of termination but with Ireland voting to decriminalise abortion and make full reproductive healthcare, including abortion, available to everyone today feels like the very best day to step forwards, because our story wasn't as simple as that one decision to continue. Infact, the week before, we had made the decision to end our pregnancy.
If you've been following me for a while you might have read our diagnosis story (if you haven't, here is part one and part two) where I went through the process of finding out Aneurin had Downs syndrome. Before we had the results that showed the extra chromosome on pair 21, we were told he had a different chromosomal condition, Trisomy 18, Edwards syndrome; one that was incompatible with life. Downs syndrome was never mentioned, only Edwards. And the way it was laid out to us, three years ago tomorrow, was very, very bleak. We were told if our baby survived birth he would die shortly after. That he would be very, very ill with no quality of life and if by some miracle he lived longer than a day he would never make it to childhood. We were told that we had a decision to make and in the three excruciatingly long days we spent at home waiting for the results, we made that decision. We decided we would end our pregnancy.
I'm not sure I've ever talked about this part of our diagnosis process before. When I wrote it all down three years ago it was still so raw and so intense that that part of it didn't seem to matter. It had paled into insignificance to the diagnosis of Downs syndrome and the utter whirlwind of the weeks that followed. It feels like it matters now though. Not just because I am slowly learning to accept the impact these episodes of trauma have had on me, but because today Ireland are voting on whether or not women will get that choice of making the decision no mother ever wants to make. Terminations happen whether they're legal or not. Nobody should be forced to continue with an unwanted or very wanted but not viable pregnancy. We decided that with the choice of ending the pregnancy, our baby feeling no pain and being able to spend time with him or continuing, having longer with him but knowing that if he were born alive there would be no time frame for his death, that we would just have to wait for it to happen, the latter just felt too difficult and too painful for us. That was our informed choice and had we have had to follow through with that choice, it would have been respected and our wishes carried out with dignity and respect for us and our baby. The idea of being forced to carry a baby for months knowing the outcome is never going to be the one you want is horrific. Nobody should be made to do that.
It might feel as though you cannot do much if you're not eligible to vote in Ireland but there are a few ways in which you can help. You can donate to the Abortion Support Network, support the Together4Yes campaign, share information about the campaign or write to your local MP to urge them to support the change for the abortion laws in Northern Ireland where it is still incredibly difficult to access safe abortion.
Here's hoping today is the start of a new chapter for the women of Ireland.