The Snow Queen: Review

snow queen

The Snow Queen was originally a classic fairy tale by  Hans Christian Anderson and has been the base for many a film since. It was, of course, the inspiration for the smash hit Frozen but even if your children have overdosed on that, then there is still a good chance they will enjoy this lower budget version.

The movie tells the story of the evil Snow Queen, whose ambition to freeze the world destroys everything, including the family of the glassmaker , Vegard. But before they turn to ice, Vegard and his wife are able to save their daughter Gerda and son Kai. When Kai is discovered to have survived, by the Snow Queen’s servant and is subsequently kidnapped, Gerda embarks on a journey across the icy wonderland, facing difficult obstacles and making new friends during her quest to set Kai free and defeat the Snow Queen.

Originally Russian, but now dubbed into English, The Snow Queen kept all four of our children, aged 6-12 years, entertained for around an hour and a half. DD2 was a little irritated by the slightly off-sync speech, and some of the animation feels a bit basic but the kids laughed, shrieked and covered their eyes during some scary bits, but no one had nightmares. They especially liked the characters of Gerda’s pet ferret, Luta and the rather odd looking troll, Orm, and thoroughly enjoyed the luge scene, although the older ones conducted a rather thorough risk assessment of this method of travelling down a mountain while watching.

The Snow Queen is an entertaining movie for children 10 and under which will buy you some peace and quiet over the coming half-term.

You can see The Snow Queen at selected cinemas from the 25th of October, and it will be  released on Blu-ray, DVD and other digital platforms on November 3rd.

We were sent a copy of The Snow Queen to review, but the opinion above is entirely my own.

Not Peas In A Pod

I can remember when DD2 was born, I was shocked that she had no hair. DD1 had been born with a head of almost black hair, so I was expecting DD2 to be the same. Instead I gave birth to a newborn with a very soft covering of blond fuzz. I never got another hairy baby, and have been weirdly jealous of mums who have one ever since!

DD2 didn’t even look much like DD1. She never has, although you can see the resemblance in some photos.

Sisters watching TV

I don’t know why I was expecting a carbon copy of DD1 as I am very different from my own sister, but for some reason I was. I was wrong and as they have grown, those differences have become more obvious.

sibling comparison

They are different shapes and sizes and have different temperaments. They have different strengths and weaknesses, although they still do a lot of the same activities. They are at the same secondary school, although we did consider sending DD2 to a different one for a short period of time. It’s quite difficult to make sure that life isn’t just one big competition, as they are only one school year apart.

 

One of the dangers of having a bunch of children quite close together, is that I have tended to treat them as an amorphous mass for years.I took them to the same activities, and to places that I thought all of them will enjoy. I had  no other option with a OH who works long hours and no childcare. And when they were young, it worked well.

But when they get to the preteen/ teenage years, kids really want to be their own people. And they actively look for ways of being different from their siblings. My two eldest don’t even seem to like each other a lot of the time which makes me sad, but I think it’s the way it’s supposed to before a while.

People always seem to be surprised about how different my older two are and when I feel annoyed at their sometime thoughtless remarks, I have to remind myself of my own unreasonable expectations all those years ago.

Peas in the pod, they are not and never will be. Unique works for us.

What about your kids? Are they more alike or more different? Has it changed as they got older?

peas-in-a-pod

 

Staying Healthy At School

This is a Germie.

Germie boots

It’s like a Selfie, but when Boots emailed me and asked me to get the kids to take a picture of themselves acting like a germ, this is what DD3 came up with. Germs have tongues apparently, and chocolate smeared all over their faces. Who knew?

Boots also sent us a nice bag full of useful bits and pieces to keep the kids healthy, now they are back at school. Multi vitamins, some antiviral hand foam, nit solution, a nit comb and a first aid kit that  has come in very handy already.

As a family, we don’t seem to come down with bugs very often. Although the common cold sometimes does the rounds, we usually manage to evade the nastier flus and tummy bugs. I am aware that I am probably invoking sods law just by typing that last sentence. I put our family’s general good health down to me being quite strict about hand washing at home and trying hard to encourage the eating of fruit and vegetables. We also have cats and dogs; I believe pets in the home stimulate a healthy immune system.

I was glad to see some of these things covered in Boots’ latest recommendations about how to keep your children germ and creepy-crawly free, now the winter term is well underway.

boots

But while my kids may be relatively germ-resistant, they are terribly accident-prone.

I  can illustrate this point with DS’s Germie.

 Boy germie

Earlier that day, he fell over his own feet in the school playground and grazed all around his eye, cheek and chin. It looks pretty bad but after he got over the shock, he went back to class and was fine until I told him that a plaster wasn’t really an option.

Three days later and his face is healing nicely, but it goes to show a good immune system isn’t everything.

Boots sent us a ‘Back To School’ pack  in return for this post, but all thoughts above are my own. Except for the branded infographic, of course.

Am I Fighting A Losing Battle?

Can I start this post by saying I don’t think children should be given smart phones before secondary school? If they need to stay in touch with you for some reason at this age, a bog-standard text and call phone will do the trick. 10-11 is just too young to be handed the internet.

I accept not everyone will agree with me. In fact, it seems that most Y6 children have a *smart* mobile phone these days so I’m obviously not in the majority. Two years ago, when DD1 was in Year 6, there were a few kids who had smart phones but they were in the minority. Last year, when DD2 was in Year 6, she was very much in the minority in not having one. She did have ‘a’ phone, but it wasn’t a smart one and we put up with months of complaining and whining about how it ‘wasn’t fair’. Sound familiar? Then you are probably in the Phones Are For Secondary School camp too.

DD turned 12 in December, so we sent her to secondary school with a ‘brick’ and told her she could have a smart phone for her birthday. One week into the term she was in tears nightly over how she was missing out by not having a smart phone. All of her friends had one, she said. AND they all had Instagram/WhatsApp/ Facebok/ Twitter too. I told her she would not be getting All The Social Media when she got a phone. What’s wrong with texting? Text messages would have to do.

After a couple of months of sniveling , and DD missing out on invitations and get-togethers, I finally relented and bought DD1 a smart phone 3 weeks before her birthday. She was ecstatic. For about 5 minutes. Then she started gunning for Instagram.

When you are a kid with a smart phone, social media is where it’s at. That’s how they communicate. Kids at secondary school do not think ‘Oh, so-and-so doesn’t have [insert currently popular social media here] so won’t know what’s going on. Ill just drop them a separate text’. It’s like if you have to take time out of class at secondary school; you don’t get the work you’ve missed out on given to you easily, you need to make an effort to catch up.

DD used to spend a lot of time sending texts to different people trying to work out who was doing what, with who, and when. Allowing her to have Instagram definitely made things easier for her. She felt like she was part of the group that her friends were in. But soon Instagram wasn’t enough..

‘Muuuum’, she said earlier this year.’ I’m the only person in the WHOLE SCHOOL who doesn’t have Snapchat. Pleeeeeese can I have it? Or if not Snapchat, can I have WhatsApp?”

She’s probably not exaggerating too much; I am amazed at how many well-educated, intelligent parents seem to have no knowledge about what their offspring are up to on social media. Most of them don’t even care that they have no idea. Very few of DD1′s friends have any social media restrictions at all and she’s at an over subscribed. academic, partially selective girls’ school.

The trouble is that for all of these Apps, you are supposed to be at least 13. For WhatsApp, you are supposed to be 16! DD was 12. I said no to Snapchat as I don’t see what messages kids that age need to send to a friend that need to be deleted. But, despite the higher age limit, we said yes to WhatsApp; I’ve gone all over it and used it myself and it seems relatively harmless. I have her passwords and check up on her accounts regularly. Now and again I ask her to remove something or we have a discussion about how something might come across to others.

After getting WhatsApp, phone contentment reigned for at least a couple of months.  But now she wants Oovoo. I’m not keen on video as I don’t want her phone in her bedroom and there is always someone kicking off in our house, and I hate the idea of me yelling, or someone’s tantrum being transmitted unwittingly to her friends as she chats. It seems too invasive for our household, you know?

DD2 is just 11 and has benefited from being the second born for a change. To her older sister’s fury, we bought DD2 a smart phone for her 11th birthday and I let her have Instagram straight away, as I now know that that’s how a lot of them communicate. But DD2 ramped up the social media requests much faster than her older sister; two weeks into Year 7, she’s wheedling for WhatsApp. And despite me saying no, she downloaded it, used it then lied about it. Now she’s got a phone without any social media at all. But am I fighting a losing battle?

My objection to my kids downloading every social media app ever heard of is that not only are they under age, but that social media takes time. DD2 was bad enough with just Instagram and we’ve had to set clear limits about when and where she can be on her phone. My girls are busy with school, activities and homework and don’t have time for social media addiction!

But no matter what I say, it’s not going to stop here is it? Once DD1′s 13 , she can (legally) use whatever Social Media she wants. How am I going to stop her?

I know that some of you will be thinking ‘Doesn’t she trust her kids?’ and I’ll answer truthfully. No, no I don’t trust them entirely. Look at the trouble that some adults get into on social media. I’d be kidding myself to assume that my children were incapable of doing something stupid or mean without guidance.

I’m really a bit lost here and would love to know how other people deal with the social media dilemma and how it’s worked out for them, especially if they have children in secondary school. No offence intended, but if you only have children at primary school, you probably have all sorts of good intentions. The reality is so much more difficult and so I’m asking more experienced parents for advice.

How do you handle social media on your child’s phone?

Smartphones

Kids In Rural Southern Sweden

After we left our houseboat in Copenhagen, we headed south for an afternoon at the beach.

We ended up somewhere near Ishøj and parked near the art museum. We found toilets/ changing rooms, sandy beaches, lifeguards and a pier to trip-trap along and climb down into.

Ishøj beach

There was a bit of seaweed around, but plenty of sand and the kids decided it was too cold to swim ( others did though) but they paddled and made sand castles for an hour or two.

Finally, hunger drove us off the beach. We expected to find somewhere nearby selling food but there was nothing, so we got on the motorway east and before we knew it, we were driving across the Øresund Bridge (The Bridge!) into Sweden. Another new country for us!

 Driving across Øresund Bridge

By now the kids were ravenous and we pulled in at the next Burger King.  Luckily our car fitted under the drive thru height restriction AND they understood our order and we just sat in the car and wolfed down our lunch.

Our accommodation for the next four nights was a rural farmhouse near Visseltofta, in southern Sweden. We found the house on Airbnb and rented it as it was available on the dates we needed and was en route to Stockholm. We had quite an adventure trying to find it and once we did, we realised how very rural it was; despite being only 11 minutes drive to the nearest supermarket, it took us an hour to find the place!

But this wasn’t a problem, we had our car with us, and we used Google maps and Trip Advisor to investigate any places of interest nearby. Sweden was a bit end-of-seasonish, especially in the rural areas, but we managed to find stuff to do for the 4 nights we were there.

So in case you find yourself looking for things to do in Northern Skane county in Sweden, these are our recommendations.

DDs 1 and 3 wanted to go horse riding, so we rang the closest stables we could find, Stall Stingson. They spoke English and offered the girls a supervised hack through mossy woodland while the rest of us drove to Osby in search of a supermarket. Both the girls had a super exciting time as they’ve only every ridden in arenas before and they got to tack their ponies up and groom them afterwards. The owners were happy to talk to us about their stables and had a yard full of friendly cats and dogs. They also recommended we check out the next place, when we asked if they knew of anywhere to eat.

Ponies at Stall Stingson
We ended up at Denningarums gård ( farm) for lunch. They did a fantastic, and reasonably priced, smorgasbord and even super-fussy DS found something to eat. But the best bit about this place is that just across the very quiet lane, they have a kids play area with adventure playgrounds, a sandpit, trampolines and animals to feed. So we sat and ate lingonberry waffles in peace, while the kids squabbled cheerfully far enough away not to bother us.

Denningarums gard

Discovering new places like this are the reason we take road trips, and we came back here for lunch every day for three days as it was so relaxing.

According to TripAdvisor just 15 minutes away from our accommodation was an Elk Safari, so we had to see that. You can drive through the enclosure yourself, but we took the ‘train’ ( wagons pulled by a tractor) . Our children seemed to be the only ones who weren’t blond!

Elk Safari Train
We were handed branches of a tree to feed the Elk (or Moose) when we came across them, so the whole thing looked like some sort of jungle camouflage vehicle.

Elk food
Elk are big and keen on their food and basically come sprinting out of the woods to yank the offered branches out of your hands. I was surprised about how enthusiastic they were about it but most people had a stroke of them while they were eating and no one got hurt.

feeding elk in sweden
We also saw some bison, who were much less enthusiastic about being hand fed than the elk, and there was also a separate, smaller goat pen where two-legged kids can mix with the four-legged variety.

Mostly, the weather was kind to us but we had one rainy day while staying near Visseltofta. On that day we visited the nearby Brio museum. This place was a bit like the Tardis; bigger on the inside!

DH and I enjoyed looking at the display of toys from over the years and the kids appreciated the toys put out for playing. DS especially loved the enormous train track. It was glued down and he had stiff competition from several other boys of around the same age.

Brio Museum train track
The museum also had a Christmas-themed ‘elves’ workshop’ basement with a huge Brio Builder table and a couple of railway carriages next door containing a model railway, a few old sega games, some board games and a display of Barbies and Kens. There was enough there to keep us out of the rain for a couple of hours at least.

Toy horses brio museum
We found 4 nights/ 3 days was the perfect amount of time to spend in the area at this time of the year. We visited in the last couple of weeks of August which is no longer high season, so things were starting to wind down and some attractions were no longer open.

Despite our stay in Visseltofta acting as a stopover on our way to Stockholm, we enjoyed our time here and would recommend it as an area full of things for families to do, if you just happen to be driving around southern Sweden.

Copenhagen With Kids

So; here we are 11 days into this summer’s road trip. We’ve enjoyed 4 nights in Copenhagen, followed by 4 in Osby (aka middle of nowhere #1). Today we are moving on to Stockholm for 4 nights.

Getting to Copenhagen

We took our own car through the Euro tunnel into France, then drove to Belgium and stayed in Bruges for a night. Once we’d found somewhere to park a people carrier with a roof box, we managed to get out of the hotel and explore the cobbled streets and eat dinner in a tourist trap in the main square.

The next day was spent driving through Holland where we looked out for ‘real’ windmills. We don’t even notice the modern ones any more. After the Netherlands, we drove along German motorways and sat in German traffic jams while admiring the road works. That night we stayed in Hamburg, and had a German Hamburger for dinner.

That’s how we got to Copenhagen, where the plan was to spend 4 nights on a house boat.

We booked the boat through AirBnB and waited around on the road beside it for a good half an hour before trying the front door, which proved to be open. The owner turned up to explain things the next morning. So, it’s worth checking that you are actually going to be shown around/ let in or will just be allowed to work things out yourself.

Access to the boat was via a rather wobbly gangway over an algae infested stretch of water. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t imagine falling in every time I used this entrance, and insisted that only one person at a time go over. Once inside, there were 4 bedrooms (7 beds), wifi, a good sized kitchen/dinner but only one bathroom/toilet. We mainly ate out, but it is always useful to be able to cook pasta at the very least.

Our accommodation was a short water-taxi ride to the city centre and the first day, we almost missed the boat, literally. The Danes like to be punctual!

Things We Did

1/ Boat Cruise.
We went on an hour long, very touristy, boat cruise along the canals and around the harbour. Some are more expensive than others, so shop around. Ours left from Nyhaven ; it’s also worth visiting the public toilets there!

The boat cruise had an English part to the commentary and took us out to the infamous Little Mermaid statue, which saved us a trip later because there really isn’t much to see.

We got a good close up view of a big ship, saw a few places we wanted to visit later, went under loads of bridges, waved to loads of strangers and learned a very little bit about the history of Copenhagen.

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2/ Tivoli Gardens
This has to be done if you are in Copenhagen and we all had a good time. There were enough different rides here for everyone in our family, even DD2 who is our thrill seeker. We spent 9 hours wandering around, going on rides, eating, looking at various stalls and just chilling out. It’s not that expensive if you are used to London theme parks!

People were friendly, the queues weren’t long and ice cream was good. The kids enjoyed the chance to stretch their legs, liked the live performances and enjoyed having dinner on the pirate ship.

Stay until dark if you can, as the gardens are beautiful all lit up. Also buy a multi ride ticket if possible and agree on an allowance that the kids can spend on games before entering the park!

3/ Experimentarium City
This exhibition is situated on the waterfront opposite Newhaven, and is basically a huge science museum. There are hundreds of experiments set up for you and your children to enjoy playing with and you are all virtually guaranteed to come away having learnt something.

Our kids enjoyed trying their hands at the different winter sports, playing with bubbles, racing each other on the stationary bikes and ergonometers, trying their voices at commentating and enjoying various optical illusions.

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You can buy snacks and drinks here but they also have a picnic area, so you are welcome to bring your own.

There was a street vendor market right next door, so we ate there.

4/ Go For A Walk
We walked from Nyhaven to Tivoli and stopped to look at various buildings, bridges, statues and other temporary works of art.

We especially liked the Happy Wall, where all the kids got to add their very own bit of graffiti.

The only shopping we did was for our traditional fridge magnet but we saw a lot of familiar London high street shop names while wandering around, so it’s safe to assume that you’ll be able to buy pretty much anything you leave behind.

5/ Copenhagen Zoo.
Despite all the bad publicity over the killing of Marius the Giraffe, earlier this year, we decided to visit this zoo anyhow. The kids wanted to see the polar bear as they hadn’t seen one before and although I’m not that keen on zoos in general, I thought it would be okay.

And it was, mainly. But the enclosures didn’t seem very big, or very clean, and the polar bear and big cats were exhibiting that awful stereotypical pacing seen in so many captive animals. I couldn’t help feeling a bit miserable for them.

I’m not sure I’d really recommend it.

6/ Go To The Beach.
If you have the time and your swimming gear, go and visit the beaches south of Copenhagen.
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There are miles to choose from, with flagged areas, swimming piers and showers and toilet facilities spaced along the dunes.

Places to buy food seemed lacking, so it’s probably worth taking a picnic. The sand was quite fine, but there were a few wasps around as well as lots of seaweed.

7/ Eating And Drinking
As we were self catering, we made a few supermarket trips and maintained a well stocked fridge. But at night we went out to eat. There are plenty of restaurants to choose from, but if you have fussy kids and want to make sure they eat *something *, then visit Jensens Bøfhus. The steak is good, they do chicken nuggets and offer an all the software icecream you can eat option for dessert.
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A couple more tips; they are digging up the city atm and creating an underground railway, so there are roadworks every where. If you are driving, a satnav will be very helpful but don’t expect to be able to park anywhere. Car parking is almost impossible, especially if you drive a bigger than normal car.

After getting one ticket while unloading our stuff onto the boat, then failing to find anywhere to park the first time we tried to visit the zoo, we gave up driving and took cabs instead.

We loved Copenhagen and would like to come back, maybe during winter next time?
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Sleeping Arrangements

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The first night of our holidays is always the worst.

Apparently expecting kids to actually sleep in unfamiliar rooms, in strange beds and with siblings, who usually sleep in different rooms, is completely unreasonable and unrealistic.

The first night of one of our holidays usually involves tantrums, arguments,  tears and protests against unfair bedtimes and lack of screen time.

Friday night was no exception. On Friday morning, we headed off on our summer holidays and spent the evening in a very nice hotel in Bruges. We weren’t exactly slumming it,  but we had two rooms; and herein lies one of the problems of holidaying with a ‘larger’  family.

When you are a family of 6, it is very rare to be able to find a hotel room that can sleep everyone together. Even interconnecting rooms are quite hard to guarantee. So mostly we end up with 1 room with 2 beds and one with 4, or two bedrooms of 3.

Of course the big question becomes ‘Who is going to sleep with who?’

Someone much cleverer than me must be able to come up with an equation that can answer this question,  taking into account who last fell out with who,  and how long ago, who shared a room/bed ‘last time’ and what is ‘fair’ .

Btw ‘last time’ appears to be one of those things that kids remember
effortlessly even though your last family holiday was 12 months ago and you can barely remember where you went.

On Friday we decided on a girls’ room and a boys’ room. Simples. The 4 beds came in the form of two doubles,  which  proved to be only mildly traumatic for everyone and ended up with 3 of us in one bed for part of the night.

Then on Saturday night we had two rooms of 3; a state of affairs requiring negotiation skills and patience far beyond what I could muster after an 8 hour tour of German motorway roadworks.

So it was with great relief that on Sunday, we arrived in Copenhagen for a 4 night stay on a house boat. Here we have 4 bedrooms,  so two of the kids have to share, but the other two can have some space. Surely this is a good thing?

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But no, apparently not. The two little ones were happy to sleep in a double room as the beds are built into little houses.

This meant the older two could have their own rooms if they wanted. Of course, they didn’t. They have spent the entire time here sharing a double bed and fighting bitterly about who is on whose side.

And tomorrow, we move somewhere else and the whole thing starts again.

Wish me patience. I’m going to need it.

I Love/Hate The Summer Holidays

It’s Tuesday evening and the first week of the summer holidays is over. The kids have mainly had a good time and the bar has been set high.

We have picked our own fruit, walked the dogs, eaten too many ice creams, had swimming parties, camped in the garden and had a massive sleepover. The school run seems an age ago and the kids have slipped into later bedtimes and lie ins with very little encouragement.

The weather has been lovely; mainly hot and sunny, punctuated by some awesome electrical storms. We have had some truly lazy days of summer so far.

On the downside we’ve also had sibling squabbles, tears, boredom and reluctance to continue with their piano practice.  None of them have much homework to do apart from a bit of reading and writing, but I have learnt not to let them neglect their music. Trying to get children back to regular music practice after a long holiday is not easy; it’s much better to just keep them ticking over if at all possible.

I d0 miss having some ‘me time’ during the holidays. I work part time and am self employed so do very little ‘work’ when the kids are at home demanding food, clean clothes, craft material and the Netflix pin number. Instead I police screen time, referee disagreements, provide entertainment suggestions, ferry children all over the place and try and make sure my offspring don’t develop a nutritional deficiency.

Can I just tell you how much I HATE feeding my children over the summer? At least while they are at school I can be reasonably confident that they get one balanced meal a day. but when they are off school they seem to think that all they need to eat is junk.

I know some of you will be reading this and wondering what on earth I am whining about, especially if you are working and would love to spend the summer with your kids. But hopefully some of you will understand how full on the holidays can be if you have no childcare, and can sympathise with my mixed feelings.

This time next week we will have had two weeks of summer and will be preparing for our Scandinavian road trip. Panic will have set in and I will be pouring over lists and itineraries and worrying if we’ll be able to fit everything in the car, as well as making sure none of the kids kill each other. Next week is going to make this week look like a walk in the park.

I need to stop stressing and make the most of the rest of this week, don’t I?

jumping in

Would You Go Back If You Could?

I’m feeling a bit maudlin this week. This year has flown by, hasn’t it?

DD2 is enjoying her last few days of primary school. Discos, school plays, assemblies and parties instead of lessons and tests.

Y6 disco

I’ve been looking at photos of her starting school, and wondering how much she will change  between now and the end of secondary.

And DD1 has just finished her first year at secondary school.

I worried so much about her going into Y7.  Had we  made the right choice of school? Would she cope with the work? Was the commute going to be too much for her?

It’s all been good. The school is lovely and I feel so lucky that we had it as an option. She’s done really well academically but she has also thrown herself wholeheartedly into all aspects of school life. The commute has been a complete non-issue. I’m anticipating a slightly rockier road with DD2, who is going to the same school, but I remain hopeful that I will be saying similar things about her this time next year.

DD2′s last day at primary isn’t until next Tuesday and while looking at photos of her 7 years ago, I came across this one of her and her sisters on her first day of school.

School starters

DD1 was going into Y1, DD2 was starting reception and DD3 ass about 18 months old but insisted on being in the photo too. I would have been pregnant with DS. Life was mad.

They all look so small, my babies. So cute and dependant on me. These days they are much more independant  and I said goodbye to nappies, daytime naps and buggies a long time ago.

I asked myself if I would go back to those days, if I was miraculously given that chance and decide probably not.  I loved being able to be at home with my kids as babies, toddlers and preschoolers but I really appreciate that they are all at school. I have some me time now.

I’m glad I took loads of photos of them when they were small so I have something to look back on, now life is really complicated, but I’m enjoying my older children at the moment ( most of the time) and never feel broody for the baby days again.

What about you? If you could go back in time to when your children were small, and do it all again. would you?