We sat outside the tent on a gloriously hot summer morning; the sun shining through the bluest of Black Forest blue skies, warming my skin and doing a very nice job of drying out the night’s condensation from the roof of the tent. H was writing up his travel notes, I was knitting, scribbling a few notes of my own and chatting to Pip as he pulled up on a tree stump, and the girls were off playing in the little play area a few feet away. Elma, as always, was on the roundabout, for once not surrounded by a group of older girls who wanted to make her their pet, just sitting, lazily spinning and looking up into the trees. And Kitty had made friends.
All through France the girls had very much kept to themselves, perhaps put off a little by some of the French kids’ tendency to march up to you and demand “what is your name!” (Kitty, telling me about it in the tent later turned with a conspiratorial glance, “I didn’t tell her Mummy!”), and perhaps happy just to be with each other when everything else felt new and different. But in Switzerland there were smiles and by the time we got to Germany it was lovely to see them falling in with the group games in our car free camping. A lot of the others were also English which probably helped but I went to find Kitty for supper one evening and found her sat quite happily with two other girls doing some colouring in. They didn’t have a single word in common but perhaps there is a universal language of sparkly glitter pens and pictures of unicorns.
The next morning she was eager to go and find her friends again, and we kept half an eye open as they played on the swings or piled on the roundabout. And then it was clearly time for the stream. The car free camping (truly a genius idea when you have small children) was the other side of a stream from the car park and while there was a bridge, the little brook and its stepping stones were oh so much fun and at most times you’d find at least some of the children jumping back and forth or wading in the cool water.
The leaders set off, and Kitty, walking alongside, suddenly realised where they were headed and looked back and over to us. And oh how I recognised that look and the silent entreaty that came with it. It’s the look and the thought that I remember from childhood all the way up into my teens, the “please Mum may I and also please be cool in front of my friends”.
I smiled back, and with the tiniest of hand gestures waved her on, down to the stream with her friends, and out of our immediate line of sight.
And then ever so coincidentally I just happened to need to get my scissors from the car, and on my way back, well it was just so lovely up on the bank above the stream that I thought I’d sit on a tree stump and drink it in for a while while I wrote a few notes. Far enough away that I wasn’t really there, and near enough that I was there if she needed me, or at least as a depository for wet clothes when the inevitable happened so she could keep on playing.
And saying yes and letting go suddenly made almost five years feel like it had gone past in a flash. The little voice in the back of my mind whispered “that’s your baby, wasn’t she just a few months old yesterday, isn’t she actually tiny and bumbling and so very young and fearless”. And so I looked and looked and my heart sang back “yay, look, she’s having so much fun. She’s strong and tall and surefooted and not bothered when she slips and lands in the stream on her bottom, and this is exactly the sort of experience we wanted her to have while we travelled! yippee!”.
I know that in a few years it won’t be memorable, and in a few years she and I will both have grown enough that I won’t even follow at a distance, I’ll have faith that she is big enough and has enough common sense not to get into too much trouble. But this was the first time we stretched that safety net a little bit, the first time that she wanted to run off and play and the first time that I’ve had to make good on my mental promise to myself to give her (and her brother and sister) the kind of freedom to explore that I had growing up.
And hearing her sheer joy and enthusiasm when she told us all about it later on, I’m so glad I didn’t bottle it. Now I just have to do it again, and again, and again.
Pip’s birthdayLinking up with Jodi with a portrait of each of my children once every week for 2015.
Kitty: you were so proud of your choice of birthday card for your brother you just couldn’t wait to give it to him, or tell him, and everyone else, all about it. I can understand why, you wrote it all by yourself, it had Thomas the Tank Engine on it, and it comes with a badge, which you were very very keen that Pip should wear on his pyjamas. You were incredibly exciting for his birthday, and now that the next birthday is a certain little girl turning five, you are very keen on “when it’s my five birthday” conversations. It will come soon enough I promise sweetie.
(Nikon D80, 35mm 1.8 lens – 1/100, f/2.2, ISO 800)
Elma: On the afternoon of Pip’s birthday we went up to the park for the first time since we got back from our trip. All the way around Europe you’ve been making a beeline for the roundabouts, especially at our last campsite where they were just opposite our tent, and it was funny to see how your usual favourite (the swings) were spurned in favour of twirling in circles.
(Nikon D80, 35mm 1.8 lens – 1/200, f/7.1 , ISO 100)
Pip: You spent most of your birthday wreathed in smiles. Well why not, there was Mama and Daddy and your sisters and aunt and your cousin and our friends to play with. We’d tucked your presents up in playsilks and tea towels (not because of a lack of wrapping paper but because we’ve found babies can’t open wrapping paper so they ignore it but they will explore tea towels with enticing corners poking out) and you pulled and pulled to find wooden animals, a snuggly dolly, and other treasures. But I think the highlight may have been the helium balloons tied to your chair and your big silver 1. You spent ages pulling them down, patting them and then giggling when they popped up again and it was so much fun for us all to watch.
(Nikon D80, 35mm 1.8 lens – 1/80Pictures , f/2.2, ISO 800)
The yarn pulled through the hole on the button, round two turns around the base and was fastened off. And with that, somewhere near Bussy Raputin in the middle of France, Pip’s birthday jumper was finished. Even with all of my traditionally ridiculous levels of optimisim I’d known it wasn’t going to be finished before we went, no matter how many times I snuck in a couple of rounds on car trips for camping stuff, so I packed all the wool, two choices of buttons, and a couple of other knitting projects for when it was finished.
And while my dreams of sitting outside the tent sharing a cider with H and watching the sun set while the children slumbered peacefully behind us very rarely came to fruition, I often found I was the first up in the mornings and there’s something very special about sitting in the cool of an early morning watching the world come to life with a little yarn for company. And when you add in the long transfer days (five hours of driving down a very long very straight very flat road to get from Paris to Annecy) I probably knit more than I do when I’m at home.
So by the time it was finished it had been knit in Normandy, knit on the way to Monet’s Garden at Giverny, knit by the banks of the Seine outside Paris, and knit heading south. It was washed and blocked in the Black Forest in Germany, and I realised when we got home that the pattern designer is Swiss, so it has ties to all the countries of our adventure.
The pattern is Livingston, after Jonathan Livingston Seagull (awesome book) knit up in one of my go to yarns for little ones; Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino in Mist. It’s soft, it rarely pills or breaks, it comes in some lovely colours and most importantly, it machine washes.
And yes, it is technically grey, albeit a steely blue sort of a grey. But I think it works. I love to dress the children colourfully and I love to knit with beautiful colours, which usually means vibrant rainbows. But red didn’t seem quite right, and none of the yellows were quite golden sunshine, and little boys already wear quite a lot of blue and I kept coming back to the grey, holding the ball up to Pip, squinting at him a bit and holding it away again until finally I gave in to gut instinct and just bought it.
Apparently I could have saved myself several minutes because I love how it’s turned out. It’s such a great colour on Pip, and, and I am turning into everyone’s mother when I say this, it goes well with everything. I can’t believe I just said that, but it’s true, and with a wee boy who grows an inch every time you take your eyes off him for a second, it’s a very good thing as unfortunately I don’t have quite enough time to knit a jumper to match every pair of stripy trousers. Not that that in any way shape or form happned with his eldest sister or was handed down to his middle sister. Poor third baby.
But best of all, better than the colour, or the fact that it fits despite my not swatching, or Pip’s superb jumper modelling poses, he is just so so snuggly when he’s wearing it, you just don’t want to put him down.
Roll on the autumn and even more baby cuddles.
It’s still alive! If there’s one thing you can have absolute confidence in it is of course the British Summer’s ability to water your vegetable patch while you galavant around Europe in a tent for three weeks. It may have rained on us in the French Alps and snowed on us in the Swiss Alps but back home as far as I can gather we’ve had the drippy damp kind of summer that vegetables love. And love it they have. Well some of them.
Most notably the blackcurrant bush which not only has not died (phew) but is now covered with an aura of leafy green so that it both looks and faintly smells blackcurranty. My instructions tell me that next summer I have to prune away to make a central crown of branches and as they’ve got me this far I will be instruction following to the letter in the hope of a nice crop of currants next autumn.
The beans are also happy; all the shoots have flowers and apart from a couple of rebels who went for the netting, most of them are spiralling up my bean wigwam. Before we went away I took the netting off the beans, blackcurrant and courgettes; it struck me that while the netting is performing superbly in keeping the cat out of the garden it might also be keeping away the bees. And while it’s been a while since I studied biology, even I can remember that you need bees to pollinate. Judging by the results the gamble paid off, we have no sign of the cat and there are some teeny tiny little beans.
I think the netting may have done for the courgettes though. The plant that had the flowers that fell off has now produced some small green yellow courgettes that also fell off in a squishy brown sort of way and I think we can all agree that my two courgette plants were clearly just not that into each other. I do love courgettes though so roll on next year and we’ll have another go.
Meanwhile in the back garden my lone tomato plant has been thriving. We have lots and lots of green tomatoes just waiting for some sunshine, and as a welcome home present, three perfectly ripe ones to add to supper.
And while not technically veggies, the sunflowers have been going up up and away, and I’m so pleased we’re home in time to see them. They are just so cheerful to look out onto, sunshine even on a rainy day.
The Pocket Handkerchief Garden so far:
Oh my lovely boy. A year ago today I sat in the post natal ward, holding in my arms a very long, still pink and slightly scrumpled looking brand new baby. The noises of the rest of the ward ebbed and flowed around us and I just sat, staring, drinking in every inch of you, and falling more and more in love by the second. I remember those moments like they were yesterday, they’re so strong in my mind, despite the sleep deprivation (then and now) and there’s a little part of me that just says that no that really can’t have been a whole year ago. Or perhaps just doesn’t want it to have been a year ago. I set out to cherish and treasure this first year of yours, knowing from experience how fast the days turn to weeks and months, and I think for the most part I have done that, I just want time to slow down even more, to have even more time with my lovely baby before you become all little boy.
But the evidence is incontrovertible; I looked at you yesterday evening as you tucked into your mash, wielding a baby spoon in one hand and the fork which you’d purloined from H’s plate and thought how much the baby is fading and the little boy coming through. It’s lovely and wonderful and exciting and happening so very very fast.
So before I blink and you’re two, what can I tell you about you at one.
Well you may be one, but you’re wearing either 18-24 month clothes or age 2. I keep joking that you’ll have caught up with Elma soon, but then when I was searching for clean pyjamas I put a pair of tartan reindeer jammies on Elma, looked in your rather empty cupboard, decided that half a centimetre of wrist showing meant she’d grown out of them and promptly put them on you, and they fit. We’ve had to add squishy corners to tables that never needed them before and move everything that isn’t little boy friendly higher and further back. You pull up against the side of the desk in the lounge and try to pinch my phone or the keyboard, against the sofa in search of the knitting and yesterday I found you climbing into the basket of trains to reach a wooden pirate that Kitty had put on the windowsill.
You’re getting pretty good at climbing the stairs whenever we’re not watching, though I’ve only found you on the half way landing once, but then again, once was quite enough. You love to roam around the ground floor of the house to come to find us or watch the washing machine and though you’re not walking or even really cruising yet, you’ve got a high speed crawl and the rest won’t be far off now.
I keep thinking that you’re teething too but so far it’s always turned out to be a cold and you still have the most gorgeous gummy grin. It’s probably a good thing too given that you give kisses by trying to take a nice bite out of someone’s cheek. It’s very affectionate and very slobbery.
You do love your food though, teeth or no teeth, especially mash, pasta shapes and sausages, along with cucumber sticks and just about any type of fruit, and you get very cross if you see someone else eating and they’re not offering you a bite. No amount of substitution or distraction is going to work, you want what we have, which means Mummy and Daddy may have been slightly more relaxed with their third baby than they were with their first when it comes to the question of feeding the said baby tiny morsels of cake.
You love to chatter; you have a good “Amamama” for me and a “Dada” for H but your favourite word is “Da!” which generally means yes. No is a big shake of the head and backing away.
In looks I see so much of your biggest sister as a baby; the two of you are very alike in colouring, especially now that your hair has gone full on blond in the summer sunshine, and in expressions, and I think you’re all three very easily identifiable as siblings.
I think it’s fair to say that you are happiest surrounded by your family. You’re not terribly keen on new people or places until you’ve had a chance to warm up to them, and many of our visits to family and friends have involved you climbing into my arms and staying put for the duration or until you decide it’s safe to come out. I loved that when we were camping you became comfortable with the tent so quickly, and you loved that you slept every night curled up in my arms. You love your Daddy and your Kitty and your Elma, but just right now, Mama is the favourite and you’re quite happy to shout at anyone else who tried to comfort you until I appear.
You have your moments when you’re not impressed with the world; when I take a phone or the computer keyboard back off you, when you realise that I’m in the room but not actually holding you, or when someone shuts the lounge door to save having to retrieve you from the stairs for the umpteenth time that day, but on the whole you are a sunny little boy, with an ever ready smile and a gorgeous giggle.
And after a year of being a family of five it feels like it has always been this way; Mummy, Daddy, Kitty, Elma and Pip. I can remember what life was like as a four, but mostly by remembering specific occasions or activities, the sense of rightness about being a foursome has gone as if it never was. Instead it feels as if you have always had your place in our family ready and waiting for you, that five has always been the right number. You have made that jump from four to five feel so very natural and easy, and now it is our wonderful everyday ordinary.
So have a very Happy Very First Birthday my darling little Pip Squeak. We love you x
This time last year, the girls and I had gone for a walk with my Dad to get out of the house despite the pouring rain. And one good march around Upton, a golf buggy ride back up the bumpy drive and with some words of encouragement from his biggest sister, Pip was on his way. I know I say this with every child and every birthday but it’s true; time is passing faster and faster and I simply cannot believe that my snuggly tall little baby is about to be one. And that can only mean that it’s time for a little look back on everything that has happened in Pip’s first year, everything that happened before you were one…
We’re home. Back to walls and carpets and comfy chairs and flat surfaces, to sturdy furniture, beds that don’t deflate overnight and a lot more space than we’re used to. It’s so strange, the house seems too quiet; for the first time in weeks we can’t hear the birds or the trees or the stream or in one case, the commuter trains to Paris, and the electric lights are too bright for people used to sitting out under the stars.
We have had the most amazing adventure; travelling through Normandy, to Paris, down to Annecy (south east France), over the border to Switzerland, up to Zermatt to see the snow if not the Alps, up on into Germany and the Black Forest and finally back to Cherbourg again, a beach, and the late ferry home. It has been amazing, breathtaking, exhilarating and exhausting. There were moments that felt like some of the toughest we’d worked through as parents and moments when H and I would look at each other as if to say “can you believe we’re here! This is so awesome!!” It was one of the best decisions we have ever made.
We could easily have stayed away another few weeks, and we kept joking that we’d be the parents turning up with Kitty just as school started, hustling her out of camping clothes and into her uniform in the car park, while tent poles and sleeping bags spilled out of the car, but what we really wanted was a time machine, a chance to travel longer, but still arrive back in the UK with the same length of time before Pip’s birthday and Kitty’s start date, and the elephant in the corner that is my own restart. It was the right time to come home. To come home and start planning next year anyway.
I have so many stories to tell you; postcards home of the wonderful places we visited and the people we met along the way, thoughts on camping and travelling and a few of our top tips and tricks, and hopefully all fingers crossed I might even have some pictures too; my camera memory card, with all of the 1300 photos I’d taken up until that point, went all CHA error on me in Annecy and I have all my fingers and toes crossed that we’ll be able to recover them.
But that will have to wait for a little while at least. Our car is as fully laden as it is possible to lade a car. There isn’t a cubby hole, hidey place or niche that doesn’t have something squished in it, and unpacking it is going to be an adventure itself. There are bags full of laundry long overdue an appointment with the washing machine, a tent to clean and air and in the practical sorting out, a chance to let my brain process it all. And sleep. Sleep would also be good.
Thank you so much to everyone who visited and left comments while we were travelling, I loved reading all of them, I was just sorry that having very limited data meant I couldn’t reply, but I am so looking forward to visiting everyone’s Siblings posts, and catching up on at least some of the 1,000 plus posts in my feed reader!
Oh and there’s just the little matter of someone’s first birthday tomorrow too!
Living Arrows: a little moment of the week to pause, savour and treasure
Never has waiting for a ferry looked so good; we drove out of Cherbourg and along the coast until we found a beautiful beach, sandy with seashells, a view of the ferries coming in and out and lots and lots of sandy shallow rock pools just perfect for our baby zebra. I posted a couple of pictures to Instagram yesterday and couldn’t resist sharing another one here.
Linking up with Jodi with a portrait of each of my children once every week for 2015.
Kitty: throwing snowballs at the top of Gornergrat. Yes it may have been August and yes we were still in the northern hemisphere but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t snowing. And while it might have been nice to see a mountain or two, you absolutely adored playing with the snow. On a snowy Wednesday in the summer there was still more snow than in the whole of an English winter, it was brilliant!
Elma: one of the dreams I had for this trip was the morning walk down to the bakery and finally nearly three weeks after we started we were camping near enough to the village to make it happen, in the beautiful golden light of a Black Forest morning.
Pip: there have been times on this trip when I’ve really really wished our tent had an integral groundsheet for the outer tent. But then again the sight of you appearing around the corner of the tent flap, or out the side, or suddenly popping up in the washing up is just too cute for words.
– you rode carousels in Honfleur, Paris and Annecy and you loved them. The Honfleur one was the prettiest.
– you’ve made friends that spoke English and friends that “I didn’t know their words Mummy”.
– you threw snowballs on the top of Gornergrat while more snow fell around us.
– you didn’t see the Matterhorn.
– we’ve never found a playpark you didn’t like!
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