Chapter 61-All American Boy

I found it trapped in the hinge of my suitcase, wedged between my pyjamas and a very small thermal vest.

“Why is your plastic sword in my suitcase Raffie?”

“In case I get bored in America Mummy. I’ve also packed my magnifying glass so I can see it better.”

Admittedly when pondering a ten hour flight to the USA followed by days with a pre-schooler and my octogenarian grandmother, a plastic sword hadn’t been on the top of my emergency list.

A DVD player, an industrial sized box of ibuprofen and just about every one of Raffie’s films I could carry however, were.

But to everyone’s surprise, a boy that can’t sit down for his lunch really enjoys long distance travel. Tucking into his pasta watching Big Hero 6 over the Atlantic he looked like he’d been doing it for years.

Our adventure took us to New York, Connecticut, Cape Cod and finally Boston. Raffie took a great deal of pain but then pride in his blood blister from a viewfinder at the Empire State Building, and was delighted to make a host of new friends at the St Patrick’s Day Parade in New York, where he received free cake and cookies.

high five

Meeting the NYPD.

Meeting the NYPD.

Connecticut was a winter wonderland, and he loved meeting our friends who so kindly finally let him do the cleaning and sweeping he desperately missed from home.

Cleaning the room in Cape Cod.

Cleaning the room in Cape Cod.

The weather got to Cape Cod before us, where the beach remained stubbornly under several inches of snow, and we set off early for Boston, via Plymouth, in a blizzard.

Plymouth Rock.

Plymouth Rock.

Despite the biting cold Raffie embraced Boston and loved the food, the museums and meeting fabulous friends who let him watch Scooby Doo, cuddle their dog and breakdance to disco lights late into the night.

Thanks to our tour of the wonderful Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum, I also ended up having to explain the American Revolution to a three year old, under the intense stare of our fellow tourists.

“So who was the bad guy in the American Revolution Mummy?”

“Erm…it’s a bit complicated really sweetheart, they didn’t want to be part of England any more,” I floundered, feeling slightly sick and very hot.

“So they were the bad guys then?”

“Um no. The important thing to remember is that we’re all friends now,” I stammered weakly.

And with this, and throwing several boxes of tea off the side of the ship to great delight, we left for the Children’s Museum and a well-earned nap followed by the long flight home.

Raffie slept through all of our connecting flight and woke up in Birmingham. “Can we go back to America tomorrow?” he asked as we got home. “I loved it there, it was lots of fun. Can we stay in a hotel?”

It will be quite some time before we go back to America. But although he might need his magnifying glass, with all the excitement it had to offer, I’m pretty sure he won’t feel the need to pack his plastic sword next time.

dunkin

Chapter 60-Flowers in the Rain

“If I was a flower Mummy, I’d be a stinging nettle.”

On some days this comes as no surprise. Happily most days, Raffie is more like his second choice of flower, the crocus. Small, colourful and welcoming the day whatever the weather.

This week we have been out in the elements come rain or shine, thanks to Raffie’s passion for gardening. And this week I learned the excuse of ‘it looks like rain’ or ‘it’s too cold’ no longer cuts the mustard.

Watering in the rain.

Watering in the rain.

“We’re alright in the rain, and I’ve got my hat on,” he beamed through the drizzle. “And you…” he said, watching the rain pour down my face, “well you’re OK-it’ll stop soon.”

We gardened in the rain for half an hour, and he still refused to go indoors. We then popped in briefly for a change of clothes (on the promise of a biscuit) and were then commandeered back into the mud for an hour of cleaning the sandpit and washing down the patio. Again.

Mud moustache.

Mud moustache.

We have also created a surreal stick garden (to warn everyone we are working there), a new pile of stones (‘because it looks interesting mummy’) and planted some garlic. Whether they survive the energetic watering they received remains to be seen, but at least they have garnered more interest than the tomato seeds Raffie lost interest in approximately 30 seconds after I opened the packet.

Pondering the next phase of the stick garden.

Pondering the next phase of the stick garden.

He is showing a little more enthusiasm now they are growing on the windowsill, but has chosen to totally ignore the potatoes quietly chitting in the dining room, as they are getting in the way of his cleaning.

So while I dream of a visit to the chiropractor to fix my aching back, Raffie is already planning his next job in the garden, which involves cleaning his scooter with the hosepipe.

“Where do I get all my energy from Mummy?” Raffie asked me while attempting to use my garden fork to weed the strawberries. “I’m not sure,” I said. “Never mind,” he chirruped, “I’m going to keep working, but you know Mummy, a garden is never finished.” And with those words of wisdom, he may be muddy and I may be aching, but at least we’ll never live in fear of a dull moment.

Time for a rest. But not for long.

Time for a rest. But not for long.

Chapter 59-Food for Thought

“It’s not Chef Raffie Mummy, I’m Chef RAMSAY!”

It’s been a while since this has been yelled across the kitchen. And, like his alter-ego, there’s nothing this pre-schooler enjoys more than putting people straight-including professional chefs.

That's Chef Ramsay to you.

That’s Chef Ramsay to you.

Despite his eagerness to keep an eye on the chefs, this week he has surprised us all by managing to eat a meal in a restaurant. This is a milestone for us-no screaming, no throwing, and no running off.

Raffie’s passion for cooking is flourishing, from baking biscuits to making something I cannot put a name to with tea leaves, macaroni and rice.

But restaurants have never been his cup of tea. In the hope of one day being able to go for a coffee, or even lunch with friends, we are persevering.

Thanks to the team at Ed’s Diner’s generosity of spirit, and a jukebox full of rock and roll music, we were able to get through the meal without having a meltdown.

Old school rock and roll.

Old school rock and roll.

Discovering the jukebox was the first step, and after selecting Great Balls of Fire he drank his milkshake and interrogated the man in the next booth about whether he was enjoying his dinner.

The aftermath of a lemon.

The aftermath of a lemon.

After managing to eat he was able to go and watch some other chefs at work, with his free hat and a bucketful of advice which was patiently received on a busy Saturday evening.

Little chef.

Little chef.

The next morning was spent playing chef, though none of us have been brave enough to sample the slightly dubious concoction of flour, pear, stock cubes and gravy.

Remembering to clean up.

Remembering to clean up.

And just like Chef Ramsay, he is setting his sights high. “I want to be a chef Mummy, I want to spend all day in the kitchen.” He may not be ready to spend 12 hours standing in the kitchen just yet.

But for the first time we’ve been to a restaurant without Raffie making a meal of it. And now he’s looking forward to showing us all how it’s done a lot more often.

Chapter 58-The Art of Surfacing

“Of course in my day, we just used to chuck them in the water and waited to see if they’d sink or swim,” said my Grandmother, with an unnerving twinkle of nostalgia in her eyes.

I am sure there were many enjoyable aspects to being a child of the 1930s. In my mind’s eye they include blackberry picking, lemon curd sandwiches and playing Pooh sticks.

They do not include being thrown in the river after the Pooh stick to see who could learn to swim fastest.

Thankfully, Raffie’s swimming teacher is a modern woman and is not keen to see them flounder. But after taking a break over Christmas it was not a happy start to the day. Raffie was very disappointed to hear that we hadn’t given up on swimming after all, “but WHY do we have to go again?” but knows better than to complain to the teacher’s face.

Trialling the swim hat, as a bath is much more fun.

Trialling the swim hat in the bath as it’s much more fun.

Over the months his confidence has been improving, and he is tolerating being splashed at times, but we were still having tears at the thought of going under the water. Until this week.

We had tears at the thought of it, but eventually he shut his eyes and mouth and under he went. Putting his head under the water may seem insignificant but it has been like climbing a mountain for Raffie, who has never been entirely convinced about the benefits of swimming.

Raffie's response to his first ever lesson, having fallen asleep half way through it.

Raffie’s response to his first ever lesson, having fallen asleep half way through it.

And most weeks we have tears at going under the water, being sprayed with water, and generally doing anything he doesn’t want to do.

For some reason, splashing outside of the pool is perfectly acceptable.

For some reason, splashing outside of the pool is perfectly acceptable.

But perseverance has paid off, and the look of satisfaction on his face has made all the moaning worth it. While I was wrestling with our locker which had swallowed my £1 coin, he watched another swimming lesson in the big pool, transfixed. “I want to do that,” he said, and if he keeps persevering, perhaps one day he will. And much as I love my Grandmother, I think we’ll stick with our swimming teacher to help him get there.

A well-earned rest after splashing around.

A well-earned rest after splashing around.

Chapter 57-The Fun of the Potato Fair

The fortunes of the day can turn on a sixpence, especially when you forget to use the right word at the right time. “Does the potato fair have a slide? Does it have rides? I can’t wait to get there!” said Raffie, champing at the bit to get out of the car.

“Er no, it’s where they sell lots of special potatoes to plant for the new season,” I said. Desperately wishing I had used the word ‘sale’. Or ‘event’. Or even ‘market’. Anything but ‘fair’.

“Oh,” he said, a look of disappointment darkening his face. I got into the brace position. But, remarkably, he took it extremely well-a great achievement considering how excited he was about the funfair he was convinced we were going to. No tantrums, and no screaming.

After a start like this it can only get better, and thankfully it did, as despite the garden centre not having any rollercoasters or candy floss, Raffie could not contain his excitement.

Getting into the spirit.

So very exciting.

“I didn’t realise potatoes could be this exciting,” said a very nice lady watching Raffie run amok through the nursery, looking at the seeds and trying to bag up onions. On discovering some ducks taking a bath in a pothole he ran around in circles and joined them splashing around in the sunshine, before heading off into the garden area to see if he could find any chickens.

Making himself at home with the potato bags.

Making himself at home with the potato bags.

Having bought more than 60 potatoes we should have plenty to keep him occupied, and he can’t wait to get started. It will take more than a hot bath and a glass of wine for me to recover digging over the allotment this week but for Raffie, the fun (and the chitting) is just beginning.

And with his growing love of gardening, he should know more than his onions by the end of the season.

Concentrating.

Lost in seeds.

Chapter 56-Where there’s muck there’s brass

Having waxed with a weekly wave and smile, Raffie’s fascination with the bin men is now on the wane.

Where once he screamed with glee at seeing them stopping outside the house, this week’s anticipation has taken a more sombre tone.

“Can you send a message to the bin men Mummy?” Raffie asked. What could it be? To wish them a Happy New Year? Or ask if we can have our bin back this week? No. “Can you tell them not to take the rubbish this week as we’re keeping it. All of it.”

And so, it appears that one Mummy’s trash is a pre-schooler’s treasure.

For months Raffie has been turning into my nan, pulling things out of the recycling bag while shouting “You’re not throwing this away are you?” We have been finding new uses for bits of rubbish with varying degrees of success, inspired by ideas of all shapes and sizes-not least the enthusiasm of CBeebie’s Mr Maker.

There was the octopus crafted from the remainder of the bubblewrap. Then we have the fire engine created from two cardboard boxes hoiked out of the recycling bin and decorated with Fireman Sam stickers and a toilet roll ladder.

Bubblewrap tentacles.

Bubblewrap tentacles.

And I am still pulling bits of paper out of the carpet thanks to the ‘Mike in a snowstorm’ winter wonderland work of art.

Mike Wazowski in a snowstorm. Thankfully only a temporary exhibit.

Mike Wazowski in a snowstorm. Thankfully only a temporary exhibit.

We also have autumn leaves, fashioned in the image of his Grandma’s wallpaper and applied to the kitchen wall. This morning we made something shiny out of cereal box which I had tried to sneak into to the bin after breakfast.

Something sparkly on a cereal box.

Something sparkly on a cereal box.

“Have you spoken to the bin men yet?” as he caught me red-handed trying to put a toilet roll in the recycling bag. “No not yet, but they will need to come and take some of the rubbish-especially what they can’t recycle,” I sheepishly.

“OK, well don’t worry I’ve put a big bag of it in the back room so it doesn’t get mixed up. There’s all kinds of things we can keep, plastic bottle tops, boxes, cardboard and paper.”

So while the bin men have a break, Raffie has plenty to be getting on with while the rain lashes down outside. And although we’re awash with rubbish, every rain cloud has a silver lining. We can only be thankful that Raffie has almost the same enthusiasm for cleaning up afterwards, and with any luck he’ll be happy to see the bin men again soon for all the right reasons.

Tidying up.

Tidying up.

Chapter 55-A Clean Sweep

“A fox in a cage so it can’t escape, a penguin, a cat, a dog and a cuddle.” Thanks to pre-school, Raffie’s Christmas started during the first week of November. But faced with such a list, even Santa would have met his match getting this delivery down the chimney, apart from the cuddle of course.

But we needn’t have worried, as after we struggled to close the groaning boot to take his gifts and him away for Christmas, he was pleased with his presents. Despite the lack of a fox in his stocking, he was particularly overjoyed with a broom he received from his auntie and uncle on Boxing Day.

A boy and his broom.

A boy and his broom.

And not just any old broom. This, we were reliably informed, was the mast for his new ship.

“Where are you going?” I asked enthusiastically. “To the land of the dinosaurs Mummy,” he replied, with the kind of withering look suggesting this was blindingly obvious. “And I have to hold on tight so I don’t fall off.” Sensible advice for any prehistoric traveller.

All aboard for the land of the dinosaurs.

All aboard for the land of the dinosaurs.

On returning home, Raffie then decided to head to the kitchen by Moon buggy, but apparently, and despite bringing plenty of useful supplies including an ark, it wasn’t quite the same without the broom.

The first outing of the Moon Buggy.

The first outing of the Moon Buggy.

Happily, Raffie’s festive adventures have been a little more successful. From the letter to Father Christmas, to staying the whole way through a pantomime without having to leave, Raffie has loved every minute and despite this he still took having to take down the Christmas tree in his stride.

The serious business of taking down the decorations.

The serious business of taking down the decorations.

And even though it has meant watching Mr Peabody and Sherman at least once a day ever since, we are relieved that he has enjoyed all of his presents great and small.

The coming year is one of great change. Now the party’s over we are, like thousands of other parents, still agonising over the school application form. We have no idea of where he will actually go to school in September and like everyone else, once the form gets sent off, all we can do is hope for the best.

But with his new broom Raffie is cheerfully sweeping out the old. And having steered a steady course through the land of the dinosaurs, he’s hopefully heading for more great adventures promised by the new year.

Chapter 54-Blasting off in Brussels

Apparently a change is as good as a rest, but as any parent knows there’s precious little of this on holiday with a small child. And I usually mean holiday in the loosest sense of the word.

While some head off for sun, sea and sand, we headed for some freezing festive fun in Belgium with Raffie who is becoming something of an explorer, and is full of surprises.

Leaving on the ferry at an unspeakable time in the morning with the car loaded to the gunnels, Raffie took the ocean wave like a duck to water. I have never been so pleased to see a play area, and neither had he, spending the next two hours making friends and running around a small but very entertaining space on the DFDS ferry.

Ferry face, all at sea in the play area.

Ferry face, all at sea in the play area.

When we finally arrived in Brussels we were met by freezing temperatures but Christmas lights, drunk Santas and more mulled wine and baubles than you could shake a stick at-something for people of all ages and full of cheer for a small child.

After two weeks of trying to practice eating at a restaurant, he didn’t do too badly although ended up sitting on the very accommodating lap of a lady next to us after he decided their table looked far more interesting.

Usually Raffie eats and sleeps on the move. But he was so taken by blasting off in a rocket on a carousel he surprised us all by queuing patiently for half an hour so he had the chance to be strapped in and sent up and away.

Ready for take off.

Ready for take off.

A rocket man's view.

A rocket man’s view.

And the following day, a pony and trap ride around Bruges, wrapped up in blankets and followed by a hot chocolate, made the stress of packing, travelling and trying not to throw cutlery in restaurants momentarily melt away.

A combination of over-excitement, late nights and refusing to eat as much as normal meant Raffie was duly exhausted by the end of the trip, but managed to surprise us further with his first ever picture of a person, with a face, arms and legs.

First person picture.

First person picture.

And as we headed home, we all had much to be proud of. Not least his first queue, his first portrait, his trip on a big ferry and his foray into horse drawn transport.

So it may not have been particularly relaxing, but maybe a change is good as a rest after all when it comes to surprising us with new discoveries and abilities-whatever the weather.

*I’d just like to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas! Thank you so much one and all for taking the time to read my blog and post your comments-I really appreciate each and every one.
Wishing you plenty of festive cheer and looking forward to catching up after Christmas! xxx

Chapter 53-School Daze

“Look, people here pick their noses too!”

And so after weeks of looking at Ofsted reports, calculating preferences, and phoning around schools, it became vividly apparent that Raffie’s criteria bears no relation to ours when it comes to choosing a school.

We have been to five schools already but on the sixth visit he needed to come with us, and he loved it. We were shown around by a very nice pupil and our tour incorporated most of the classrooms. As he charged into each and every one Raffie relished nosing around at their work, testing teachers and asking lots of questions to some very patient staff.

Practising what he does at pre-school.

Practising what he does at pre-school.

While we chatted to other parents he burrowed around in the sandpit before having to be almost dragged out when it came to leaving. “Maybe we’ll see you next year then” said the serene head teacher who didn’t seem phased at all by a very, very overexcited pre-schooler.

After some of his pre-school friends left for school this September it has been something of a mystery for Raffie, who was confused as to why he wasn’t joining them. They are trying to prepare them for school and have been spending a lot of time on letters and numbers.

Practising with Fireman Sam.

Practising with Fireman Sam.

This week we’ve been using the CBeebies app on my phone and he is now getting more interested in spelling and sounds, and the Alphablocks part of it has done wonders for getting him used to putting letters together.

We’ve been trying for months to encourage him to hold a pen for writing, as well as drawing. It’s been a long haul in fits and starts, but finally he produced his first written word-cat.

First written word-and something Raffie wants for Christmas.

First written word-and something Raffie wants for Christmas.

So while I continue to fret about filling out his school preferences, Raffie is full of excitement about his visit, and his previous trip to an after-school club where the big boys let him play football with them.

Seeing other people pick their noses was the icing on the cake.

“I love it Mummy!” he yelled as we got into the car. Only time will tell if he recalls this enthusiasm next September, but for now, we’ll just keep reminding him of his happy school day memories, and to keep his fingers out his nose.

Chapter 52-London Loves

Showing me the world through his eyes is second nature for Raffie.

And while for some of us, struggling through London with a pushchair can fade its charms every now and then, for this little beholder there is no beauty quite like it. And every moment is magical.

Raffie has been asking for weeks to go on holiday, to either the beach or London, so we chose the latter and headed to the big smoke. Despite a flat tyre his trip on the Saturday started well, only to be interrupted by tears when leaving Charing Cross station.

“But I want to stay in London, I don’t want to go home!” he sobbed from his pushchair. Having explained that the city was much more than just the station we set off and to his delight found two Paddington Bears which were promptly clambered over and cuddled. There are 50 of them around London to celebrate the new Paddington Bear film which opens on November 28, and you can find more information here http://www.visitlondon.com/paddington/

Cuddling Blush, by Nicole Kidman.

Cuddling Blush, by Nicole Kidman.

Meeting Paddington the Explorer by Ripley's Believe it or Not! London

Meeting Paddington the Explorer by Ripley’s Believe it or Not! London

Our tiny tourist sponge revelled in Trafalgar Square, with its living statues, huge lions, fountains, and enormous blue chicken. He loved the busy streets, the bridges and the buskers.

But all Raffie really wanted to do was to return to the Science Museum, and rave about it at every opportunity. “It is my best place in the world. There’s the water table, the bean bags and the big blocks,” he gushed before we even got there. Hopefully as he gets older we can interest him a bit more in some of the other areas of the museum, but for now, he is happy enough playing around with a gagillion other pre-schoolers followed by eating ice-cream in the café.

Swinging London. Or the Science Museum to be more exact.

Swinging London. Or the Science Museum to be more exact.

On the way home the following day we drove into the London to see the poppies. Raffie was unfazed by an enormous but good-natured crowd while we crawled along with the pushchair. We haven’t broached the subject of war with Raffie, but he had lots of questions after making a poppy at pre-school and we have explained that the poppies are to remember people who were, and are, very brave.

Even before we’d left London, he couldn’t wait to return. According to Samuel Johnson, “He who is tires of London is tired of life”, and Raffie couldn’t agree more. So from now on I’ll be taking a leaf out of their books and exploring the capital with fresh eyes, enthusiasm, and in Raffie’s case, plenty of ice-cream.

There's always time for an ice-cream.

There’s always time for an ice-cream.