20 things to do with the kids this summer

School’s almost out for summer, and while the break from routine is welcomed here and the prospect of owning our evenings again very much appeals, there is a real need to find something to occupy the troops at least some of the time.

The biggest challenge for me personally is not actually the
numbers, but more the age span. Finding something to keep everyone occupied isn’t easy. So with “compromise” as our word for the summer, here’s a few suggestions of things that might help to keep your own troops busy and mean that “I’m bored” doesn’t become the soundtrack of the next nine weeks!

1.       Picnics
Make hay while the sun shines! The recent spell of good weather is enough to put anyone in the form for taking lunch off site. The reality unfortunately is that the weather in Ireland is never guaranteed, so when the sun comes out, you need to take full advantage. The picnic needn’t even involve huge preparation – Some croissants, fruit and maybe a couple treats picked up in the nearest supermarket for the last minute dot com parents amongst us, means that taking advantage of the weather can be decided on the day. If you’re lucky enough to live near a park with a playground, there’s a double attraction, but if not, there’s sure to be a green area somewhere that you can take advantage of. Food and an outing on one go – a double win

2.       Beach fun
This one needn’t be dependent on the weather, though of course it’s always nicer when the sun shines. Sea and sandcastles on a fabulous day are great fun, regardless of age but if grey skies come to play instead, then wrap up, bring old shoes or flip flops, skim stones through the waves and run to the edge and away again, playing the “don’t let the water touch my toes” game. Just as much fun, if you join in too!

3.       Childhood games.
It’s definitely worth teaching the kids to play some of the games that you enjoyed as a child yourself. If they manage to rope in some of the neighbourhood kids – there’s near guaranteed longer hours of fun. Rounders, bulldog, kick the can, “crocodile, crocodile”, What time is it
Mister Wolf, skipping, hopscotch.  The possibilities are endless – and free!

4.       Cinema clubs
 
      Many cinemas run kids clubs in the morning time, offering the opportunity to see relatively new releases, at a cheaper price. A good option for the very rainy days.

5.       Visiting time
 
      The summer hols can be the perfect time to visit relatives and cousins who live a little further away. My kids love visiting and while some recipients aren’t as good as others at hiding their horror at the prospect of our invasion , family ties mean they have to get over it, or at the very least have a lot of believable excuses ready. Persistence is the key here!

6.       Have visitors
And the counter side of that, is invite people over. Playdates, cousins, family friends. Invite people to yours. The troops here love having visitors and different playmates too.

7.       Go out for a treat.
 
      Another one that can be a good option for days when the weather is not so great. Take the kids for a bun, ice-cream, hot chocolate etc. It’s great “motivation” too and downright bribery to get them to behave ahead of the event. To make everything run smoothly, particularly if your numbers are up like mine or depending on the age of your kids, speak to them before you go. Lay down the rules about not running around, fighting etc. Take their orders, ahead of time where possible, so that no time is lost once you arrive and opportunities for “energetic” displays are limited. And remind them, that if they’re really good while they’re there, you might be able to do it again in the future.

8.       Swimming pool.
      
      Not dependent on the weather, but definitely one for consideration on those less sunny days, a trip to the pool has the advantage of exercise, excitement and tiring them out!

9.       Rookie Lifeguard training and Lifeguard courses.
      
      And speaking of swimming – one for the older children are the training and lifeguard courses that are run in many swimming pools, including throughout the summer. Something to do and a fantastic life skill to have. Another upside is the future summer job opportunities that will become an option.

10.  Visit to the pet farm.
      They’re everywhere, and some are cheap as chips for entry. Kids love animals and at pet farms they can often get that little bit closer.

11.   Build a fort
      Indoors or outdoors depending on the weather. The time taken to create the masterpiece is great. The time spent in it – even better. Cushions, blankets, basically whatever you used as a kid yourself. The same still applies!

12.   Home Baking
      My domestic goddess skills are sorely lacking but even I can stretch to fairy buns and rice krispie cakes – and the kids love doing it. What’s even better is, if you have older kids like me, you can defer responsibility for the creations to them. My eldest three love baking too, and are very happy to lead the charge with their younger siblings. Everyone gets to break an egg, or stir the mixture, or add the flour. Each child gets to add the most important icing at the end. A messy one, but an engaging one and dessert of all colours is the end result!

13.   The Zoo
A slightly more expensive one potentially, but who doesn’t love the zoo?

14.   Get creative
 
      Another rainy day activity. Get all the kids to draw a picture of themselves or each other and make a collage.

15.   Home cinema,
      Rent a movie. Draw the curtains.
Get some microwave popcorn and snuggle up on the couch together. Bliss

16.    Trip to the library
      I’ve a few bookworms here and few who are not quite as enthusiastic but everyone loves to go to the library to choose a new book. A cheaper alternative for the ones who practically devour books in rapid succession and a great way to encourage those who need a little more persuasion. Even those who can’t yet read, like to choose one for their bedtime story. It’s also worth checking out the local library for events that take place there over the summer hols.

17.   Give everyone a choice.
      Let everyone suggest a “reasonable” idea of something they’d like to do over the summer. As long as it doesn’t break bank and is practical and manageable, have an individual child’s suggestion day. If everyone has their turn, there’s less risk of complaints and resistance from the other children.

18.   Bring a friend along.
      The same activity on a different day, with a friend this time – effectively means it’s a different activity in your child’s eyes and everything is so much cooler and more fun with a friend. That goes for adults too. Consider teaming up with a kindred spirit and hit the park, playground or beach.

19.   A water fight.
      Fill the water guns. Stock up on water balloons, and take your position. Everyone loves water fights and even more if they have the opportunity to soak their parents too. So join in the fun, not because you’re an overgrown child of course –but because you’re trying to keep then kids happy 😉

20.   Board game marathon
      Another rainy day activity – though they can be taken outside if the sun shines too. Get out the board games and set up the teams and let the battle commence!

Holiday Dramatics

A few days home and the kids still can’t quite get their heads around the fact that it’s back to reality time. All talk is about how cool it was to have a swimming pool in our “back garden” (we stayed in a complex), how great it was to have ice cream after breakfast and how awesome it was to meet lizards on our walks – not all of us were as convinced of this awesomeness.

The adventure began very early in the morning with a little after 3am drive to the airport. Teeing us up nicely for the holiday, it was lashing rain. Orders were dished out en route about staying close to each other and the need for assistance from older children to get suitcases and troops safely to the check in desk. At the desk the attendant painstakingly went through nine passports (definitely sniggered at mine) and we gratefully handed over our scaled down but nonetheless, significant amounts of luggage. Then it was onwards through security where my confused 12 year old was randomly chosen for swab testing.

And then the fun began, shops to browse, planes to view out
the window and excitement levels soaring. Squeals of delight were heard from our rows as the plane took off and the children were finally flying. Ever the pragmatist, the curly haired one wanted to know “how does the plane stay in the sky – it’s not flapping its wings”? My aeronautical skills a little rusty, I placated him with “the engine goes very fast”.

Thankfully, the younger two children fell asleep for a few hours on the flight, making the journey a lot more pleasant for everyone. “This is so cool” may have mentioned, once or twenty times by the eight year old and a game of musical seats mid-flight meant that everyone got a chance to look out the window. The approach to Lanzarote was surreal. The island seemed to appear out of nowhere and it looked as if we might land in the sea. Once we were down, excited kids couldn’t wait to explore their new surroundings.
The heat, accompanied by a warm but refreshing breeze was lovely and was in complete contrast to the conditions we had left behind in Dublin. A short coach trip later, during which the three year old made himself known to  everyone on board, we arrived at our destination – a lovely, though, worryingly quiet, resort that was alerted to our arrival within moments.

Within minutes, cases were parked in the apartments, swimwear was located, and previously “starving” children, suddenly felt a dip in the pool was more of a priority than lunch. As elderly couples sunbathed by the side, several of my troops launched themselves into the pool, cannonball style.

I worried that the older residents might not appreciate the invasion of so many enthusiastic and excited children. My worries were unfounded. Curiosity turned out to be the main reason so many sat up and watched the children at play – “are they all yours?”, was a question that I heard frequently.

So with a three year old keen on notoriety, we came to know many people over the course of our stay. On the day of my son’s birthday, one couple stopped by with sweets for the birthday boy. Another arrived with a giant chocolate cake to assist the celebrations. The kindness and thoughtfulness of others, just made our holiday even more special.
But there were plenty of typical and atypical moments too. I can’t pretend – in many regards it was just chaos in a different location, but that different location made all the difference.

We walked along paths admiring trees “that looked like giant pineapples”. Lizard watch, was another favourite pastime and when we encountered one, the excitement was unreal. They’re smaller than I imagined, but they fascinated the children nonetheless. I think it’s a “macheleon” (chameleon) the six year old said. The three year old meanwhile, thought we really should try to catch one, because Miss Sharon (his Montessori teacher) would definitely love it.

Back in the apartment, my underwear avoiding son, bounced starkers on the bed, waving at poor and unsuspecting passers-by, because some things stay the same, no matter where you are. Another child alerted all pool siders to the change in his bowel habits. “I haven’t done as many poos on this holiday, but I have had lots of ice cream” he loudly declared.

But on the final night, there was murderous intent – and murderous activity. My eight year old is a gentle soul, who takes the phrase “wouldn’t harm a fly” to a new level. During a game of charades, something moving caught our eye to the side of our apartment. It was a cockroach – and a bloody big one.  My brave husband set about ridding the apartment of it, but the eight year old was in the cockroach’s corner. “Run away cockroach, run – quick get away, he called” as my hubby plodded after it.

The cockroach lost, and the floodgates opened. Devastated the eight year old sobbed, and spoke of the cockroach’s family who would be wondering where he was. Inconsolably he took his father to task over his cruel and unnecessary actions. I did as any good, and extremely relieved that the cockroach was dead, mother would do – I agreed with my son.

“He shouldn’t have done that love, you’re right”, I said. “I’ll make sure that he never kills another cockroach again”, I added, desperate to stop the tears flowing. “It’s too late for that one though” he sobbed “he can’t come back to life”. The curly haired one put his arms around his brother in comfort “Only Jesus can come back to life”, he explained – “and only if it’s Easter”.

 

The last morning saw final goodbyes to those we’d met and a sadness about leaving a place which had been the source of so much fun and happiness for the week. In true “us” style though, we left in much the same manner we arrived. As we made our way to reception with fully packed cases, to board the transfer coach, our eleven year old splodged towards us, having been pushed into the pool fully clothed, by his three year old brother. Never ones for a quiet entrance, it seems we weren’t ones for a quiet exit either!

Reaching the end.

 

It’s finally arrived. A day that the last few months and weeks have all been about reaching. A day that I think my children have been looking forward to even more than me. A day that means I won’t have my head buried in the laptop at every available moment, night and day – to the same degree anyway. A day which means that I can start to join my kids at the park again, rather than over enthusiastically waving them off with their father, to the chimes of “don’t rush back” just so that I can get a chance to work in
peace.

It’s book deadline day!

A few months ago, I was given this wonderful opportunity to write a book, all about my favourite topic – parenting. In my delight, I pushed the workload to the back of my mind, and focused on the fact that I had loads of thoughts on all things parenting and plenty of inspiration in the forms of mini and not so mini-mes, who were as varied in their personalities as their views on underwear and its necessity. I just needed to get it down on paper– how hard could it be?

Very – is the answer. Life kept getting in the way and in spite of the important and significant sized project that I had undertaken, the kids insisted that I continue to look after them, feed them, bathe them, help them with their homework, attend one’s confirmation, another’s school musical, and a child had a stint in hospital for good measure.

But now, today, I HAVE FINISHED MY BOOK!!!! I have pushed the send button and the electronic copy is winging its way to my editor. As I typed those immortal words “The End” – I felt like Daddy Pig as he contemplated the muddy puddle before him. I was and am at one with the world again.

So if you’re looking for me, you will find me sitting on the couch with a celebratory glass or several of wine, eating copious amounts of chocolate to compliment it and beaming like that proverbial cat.

 

And who cares if tomorrow is a school day because I have finished my book – until my editor comes back to me at least.

Happy days!! 

 

When the three year old tells you, he has news…..

 

The Easter holidays have been a very different affair this year. Normally when the children are off school, we try to go somewhere each day, just to get out the house.These trips can vary dramatically in terms and ranges of excitement, but once they know they’re going somewhere and once cabin fever isn’t allowed to set in, I tend to have more civilised children on my hands.

This Easter things had to be different. With barely any time left,  until my book manuscript needs to be submitted, everything is on a very tight schedule. The sort of schedule that hyper children and snot filled babies and threenagers, don’t care much for – and that “wingers of it” , like me, struggle with.

Spotting the rising chaos and recognising the challenges in hand, I managed to convince my mother to take three of the older boys for a few days. Younger children are more content with shorter outings and with a teenage daughter still here, I knew that we could manage the resulting change to dynamics a little more easily. Everyone stood to benefit, except my teenage daughter, according to her. My undying gratitude isn’t sufficient it seems, but we’re finding that feeding her coffee slices at random and frequent intervals over the course of the week is helping to cushion the blow.

With three of the boys missing, the house has seemed so much quieter. As child number five, stepped up to the role of “biggest boy in the house”, we realised that it’s a role that he quite enjoys. It hasn’t made much of a difference to child number 6 though. He knows the power of the dark side.  He remains very happy in his own personal role as “destroyer of things”and “family streaker”.

This morning as my hubby loaded the car and prepared to take the remaining troops with him, to collect their brothers, a very “peachy” smelling three year old entered the dining room. As I sat at my laptop, typing away furiously, I heard the words that every mother dreads to hear –especially from the mouth of a threenager.

“I have some good news and some bad news, mum”, he said. I looked up in a panic and could see immediately that there had been an incident.

“What’s the good news?” I asked, “Eh, eh, – oh yes, I found a charger” he replied.

“And the bad?” I followed, swallowing in fear.

“This, eh, fell on my head” he said, producing a now completely empty bottle of conditioner from behind his back, and looking at me in staged shock with his green eyes aghast.

“But I smell really, really nice” he added for consolation.

Much later than planned, my husband left to collect my other children.

Week two should be interesting…….

When Man-Flu strikes!!!

Winter is well and truly here. Along with the usual festivities in the build up to Christmas, it has brought to this house a dose that strikes fear into the heart of any parent of boys. Man flu has arrived with a bang.

Man-flu is making its presence felt with a vengeance. Much as I love my darling sons, I’m afraid there are no warriors among them.  My daughter managed to catch, just a cold – lucky her, but the boys have been struck down so badly with this cursed dose, that any attempts to encourage movement from their slumped position on the couch brings about the sort of whines and moans that are associated with this terrible, prohibitive illness.

According to the six year old, it’s my fault that he’s sneezing because I gave him peas instead of beans yesterday.  I’m also responsible for his teacher having caught his sneezes because of my insistence that he bring a tissue to school – apparently the mere sight of it set her off “astishoo-ing”.

I’m trying not to take any of this to heart.  Confusion is one of the side effects of this illness. The three year old, also suffering – and definitely not in silence, has become confused as to how the sponge ended up down the toilet.  The ten year old has no idea why his dirty socks keep piling up on the floor of his bedroom, even though he DEFINITELY put them into the wash basket. The seven year old is confused as to how he has managed to come home in a pair of school shoes that are three sizes too big for him and have laces – which he can’t even tie! The twelve year old is confused as to why he must go to the school having sneezed twice at this stage and so obviously therefore, very much in the throes of it. The one year old is blowing snot bubbles from his gorgeous button nose at a very impressive rate.  He’s not confused at all – he knows he’s miserable and he’s letting us know all about it.

Begone man-flu– leave my poor boys alone. I’m not sure how much more of their “suffering” my female self can endure!

 

You know you’re a parent of a larger family when…

 

1.   Every day is laundry day, several times a day at that, and what the bottom of your washing basket actually looks like is a distant memory. Furthermore there is a real and very likely possibility that whatever clothes are actually stuck at bottom of this basket have been outgrown by the child they belong to and in all probability the one that comes after him/her too.

And it’s not just dirty clothes that you’re drowning in. As the washing machine works overtime, the mountain of clean, fresh smelling clothes builds up in your, wherever you store them, until you get a chance to put them away.  Building, building, building waiting for your toddler to sneak past  you in his mucky wellies and recreate that scene from Peppa Pig “jumping up and down in muddy puddles (of clean clothes)” minus the part where Mammy Pig rolls on the ground laughing .

2.   You count how many children you have with you when you leave the house and as you enter and leave all shops, parks and elevators. You in all likelihood quickly check you have predominantly the right gender and do a quick scan on hair colour

3.   You feel completely justified in not remembering all of their names and believe your children should know who you mean when you call “you” “whatyamacallit” or “whateveryournameis”.

4.   People count as you go by and frequently ask “are they all yours? What do you drive? Have you not got a television? Are you done?” and slightly less frequently (but have asked all the same )“are you Miriam O’Callaghan?”and declare “you must be devoutly Catholic”.

5.   You have to motivate yourself to load them all into the car because that task and locating the necessary, shoes, coats and underpants takes longer than the reason you’re actually leaving the house.

6.  You have to label the toothbrushes because toothbrushes only come in so many different colours and duplication is necessary.  This is especially important if you need to identify which toothbrush the three year old used to fish the breakfast waffle out of the toilet.

7.   You watch reruns of the Waltons and find yourself looking for tips on how to make mealtimes run more smoothly.

8.   You find that’s not the only thing that you’ve taken from the Waltons and as you kiss them all goodnight you add in “Goodnight Mary Ellen. Goodnight John Boy” just for good measure.

9.  No-one is quite sure how many children youactually do have – just that you’ve “a load”

 

10.  In spite of the noise, mess, relentless workload and constant battle with certain family members to wear underpants, when you see them all together in a rare tranquil moment – you just can’t believe your good luck.

Time flies when you’re having fun!

Fifteen years ago tomorrow, I became a mother for the first time when my beautiful baby girl came into the world, informing it of her arrival with lungs that Shirley Bassey would have been proud of. She turned my life as I knew it, on its head and if I’m honest, in the weeks that followed, made me wonder what on earth I’d done.

In spite of the shock to the system that was first time motherhood, I fell completely and utterly head over heels in love with this gorgeous bundle of pink and my parenting journey began. Twelve years later to the day, my sixth child, her little brother and Godson was born.

 At the time, his arrival made my daughter seem very grown up by comparison, as she approached the end of her primary school time. He seemed so dependent in every regard while she was about to start an exciting new chapter in her education, one she couldn’t wait for. She strived for independence and he couldn’t live without me. The different needs were stark and challenging.

The first child gets to be the guinea pig in so many regards. I was she myself, so I can appreciate the frustrations but now I’m viewing it from a different perspective. This week as my daughter takes on her Junior Cert I’m like most mums I imagine, and I worry that she’ll get enough rest, not stress too much and hope the paper goes well. I’m trying in the little ways that I can, to make home life a little bit easier for her so she can do what she needs to do. What I really want to do however, is actually go in and take the exams for her.

As I type, my nine month old son is bouncing to the tune of “In the Night Garden” and my “one day away from 15” year old daughter is taking Irish Paper 2. How she gets on will be totally down to her. I can’t influence or affect the outcome of the exams, save maybe for helping her to be in the best frame of mind possible and discouraging the pointless post mortems after each paper. In contrast, I can pick up my bouncing nine month old and feed, change and do everything he needs done for him.

As I walked back from the school today many parents stopped to admire my littlest dude. They said they couldn’t believe how he big he is now and everyone agreed time goes so fast. It certainly does. As if birthdays aren’t enough of a reminder, state exams certainly hammer that home!

 

Dinner dramas

We try to eat dinner here as a family, as much as possible. The idea behind this is that we can all sit down together and have a chat about our day, and the added bonus is that I’m not standing over the cooker all evening as I would be, if meals were staggered. The disadvantage is, that in spite of adequate snacks, my kids are fading by 4:30, declaring their starvation and in whiny monotone drawn out voices ask me constantly “how much loooonnnngggger to dinnnnerrrr”. The constant questions start to grate after a while and I find myself watching the clock until my husband walks in the door when I thoughtfully suggest that they go and annoy their father instead while I dish up dinner.

I usually call the older kids to set the table and my reluctant helpers argue over who is to bring in the knives and who is to bring in the forks.  It appears in my children’s minds that this should be a two person job.  All the while, we try to keep the table setting operation a secret from my only enthusiastic helper, my “not yet three” year old. Any help from that terror, involves a massive clean up and a larger than usual dinner for the dog! Once dinner is served, at least two drinks have been knocked over and a row has taken place over who is drinking from which colour cup, we get down to the nitty gritty of eating and chatting.

The randomness of my children’s thoughts, feelings and resulting conversations never fails to amaze me. Yesterday at dinner the “not yet three” year old announced that he thought he had a chicken in his willy – and it was really making him need a wee. The five year old attempted to establish and confirm the fact that if his father and I died, his sister would be his new mammy and she’d probably need to marry her twelve year old brother because they’d need a dad too. The ten year old announced that he and his friends had set up a new band called “chicken in sticks” in which he is the lead singer. One friend played the tambourine, another the violin.  Obviously they needed security too, ahead of their destined fame , so, two nine year olds had been recruited as “heavies”.

The fifteen year old still gagging from the suggestion that she would marry her twelve year old brother nearly choked with laughter on hearing of her ten year old brother’s new musical direction. Too cool to be scoffed at, he continued to describe their musical genre – “ we do a bit of rock , a bit of rap, bit of oprah (no that’s not a spelling error, he was talking the Winfrey, while obviously referencing the classical). Apparently, we were informed, if they get really good, they might be allowed to perform at assembly.

In the meantime the “not yet three” year old returned from
the bathroom and confirmed he was actually poulty free, but he thinks he might have missed the toilet bowl a bit. Dinner can be a very informative experience here…..

 

Larger Families

I read today that Jools Oliver, the wife of chef Jamie Oliver, is expecting her fifth child. I love hearing that someone is pregnant. I am always hugely excited when I hear that one of my friends or family members are expecting a baby. I love to hear about scans, check-ups, birth details, everything. It’s one of my favourite topics. Impending parenthood is a very exciting time. To hear that someone is fortunate enough to be expecting a child – well there is nothing better. I was especially interested today to hear that Jools Oliver was pregnant, not because I’m a big celebrity fan, but because this is baby number 5. They can now prepare to have to defend their family size!

Families have gotten smaller, this is undeniable. People are having less children for many different reasons, some by choice, some by circumstance. A third child tips the balance in the children’s favour. For the first time ever, you have more children than hands. It’s unchartered territory and you’re relying on someone to behave! Four children and you’re going against the norm. Logistics and practicalities come more into play and you may need to consider a mom-mobile type car. On the plus side you’re already used to the lack of hands so the transition can be sometimes smoother. Five children upwards – people start wondering, “what’s wrong with you??!”

I’ve heard all the jokes from “haven’t you figured out what’s causing it yet?” to “you need to get a television”. I have received plenty of positive comments about having a big family from the “they’ll have friends for life” type remark to people sharing happy memories of having grown up in large families themselves. I’ve had parents say their children have had great fun when they have come on a playdate with one of my children, only to find when they get here there is a readymade army of willing participants available to play most games imaginable.There have also been plenty of negative comments too, and sometimes they come from the most unexpected sources. My daughter has felt uncomfortable during a geography lesson when a cause of global warming was laid at the feet of large families. She tried to explain that we tend to holiday in Ireland, our mom-mobile rarely travels anywhere with a free seat (at this stage I’m close to putting children on the roof), we don’t eat much meat and because we’re fortunate enough to live close by to their schools, the children all walk there each day. She discussed how much we recycle, how clothes can be handed down and how when the house is heated nine people are kept warm, whereas in some houses the same amount of heat might be used for just one person. She suggested our carbon footprint might not be quite as big as was possibly thought! During another lesson, however, they learned how big families were generally born to the uneducated. It can be sometimes hard to deal with the sweeping generalisations.

I have had all sorts of questions put to me as to why I have worked my uterus so hard. Two people asked if it was driven by religious beliefs. It is not. Many more have suggested it’s because of my uneven gender balance. I’ve explained here that had gender been the driving force, I’d have stopped after two. I had a much more socially acceptable “gentleman’s family” then. The reason I have such a large family is much more simple. It’s because I love children and I’ve been fortunate enough to have seven. Getting there and the journey since hasn’t all been plain sailing. Rearing children is very hard work, we all know that, but I never take my good luck for granted. I count my lucky stars every day that this crazy, hectic, exhausting, life full of love is mine. Being a parent is a privilege. A privilege that I have been blessed with seven times. A privilege denied to many.