During that first year when, on top of the huge changes that motherhood brings, the reflux, intolerances and sheer exhaustion of never sleeping in more than 10 minute snatches brought me to my knees, I thought ‘One day I will get me back, when she goes to school.’
What I didn’t realise, what I couldn’t realise back then, was that when that time eventually came, I wouldn’t want to let her go.
People told me ‘it won’t always be like this’ and, a personal favourite, ‘you need to make the most of it’. That’s easier said than done when my baby was crying in pain 80% of the day and night, refusing to feed, losing weight, not wanting my comfort but refusing to be put down – and no one was either willing or able to help. The only thing I could do was hold on and wait for it to be over.
I know it could have been far worse but it was still hard. I’m not going to pretend otherwise, even though I feel guilty about it.
They were right about one thing though, it did get easier. At nine months the reflux settled down, at a year I saw glimpses of what was to come. The fun, the laughter. Yes, there were also tears and tantrums – and a continuing lack of sleep – but by then we were bonded. She was my sidekick, my little shadow or, as our postman described her the other day, my co-pilot.
He was used to bumping into us, off on some sort of mini-adventure.
“Where’s your co-pilot today?” He asked, not realising she was now at school full time.
The truth is, for the last couple of years she’s been much more than co-pilot – quite often she picked the route, made the announcements and was flying the plane. Our days together, when I wasn’t working, were dictated by the journeys she wanted to take. Now she’s handed back the controls but after an initial rush of euphoria where I got a hot chocolate (and sat and drank it in the shop without having to colour anything in or make conversation about My Little Pony), had a henna tattoo and got my hair cut, I’m…directionless.
I miss our outdoor adventures, exploring new places, visiting somewhere on a whim – even going to the local playground.
I. Miss. Her.
While I don’t miss endless hours of playing games that make no sense, the four-year-old rage or the constant commentary on anything and everything, I do find myself counting down to 3.30pm.
I realised on her first day that my fears about her starting school had nothing to do with her – she loves it, can’t wait to get in each day – and everything to do with me. My role as a mother to a baby, a toddler, a small child is over. There are no more babies for me and Freya will spend the majority of her time with other people now.
Early motherhood is… done.
And, as bad as of some of it was, I’m not quite ready for it to be over. I’m not quite ready to be flying solo again.
It’s going to take some getting used to, just as motherhood did – although hopefully with more sleep this time.
“And when I turned to look, Freya was trying to wash her hands in the bidet,” I laughed, as I explained what happened to my mum on the phone.
That wasn’t even the worst part.
My goodness, what a weekend. My brother, sister-in-law and nephew came over from America (on a ship) and were staying with my parents in Ipswich, which was absolutely wonderful. I haven’t seen my sister-in-law (in person) for probably 10 years because she doesn’t like flying (completely understandable) and I was last able to hug my nephew and brother three years ago. It was a lovely, happy reunion – especially for Freya, who was delighted to see her only cousin.
As the house was full up, I booked me, Mark and Freya into a hotel in nearby Felixstowe, a seaside town we used to visit all the time as children, so we could be close and spend as much time as possible with them.
I used my birthday money to treat us to a night at The Orwell Hotel, one of Suffolk’s oldest and best known seaside hotels, so it felt like a little holiday for us too.
The hotel was designed by the influential architect John Shewell Corder and built in 1898 to cater for the influx of visitors who came by train to the fashionable resort.
I’ve been lucky enough to travel fairly extensively, staying in every sort of hotel you could imagine – from the five star St Regis Grand in Rome to a no star hostel near Gare de Nord in Paris.
The Orwell reminded me of a much-loved stately home; one that had seen generations of the same family happily grow up within its walls. Somewhere along the line, the family fortune was lost – probably gambled away by a drunken heir – and now the present generation has to overlook that it’s all a bit, well, frayed around the edges.
I was completely charmed by it.
The communal areas had an almost otherworldly elegance. I felt like I should be dressed in period costume (certainly not jeans) to step into the library, let alone sit on one of the chairs and read.
Our room was huge and had the added bonus that all the fixtures looked like they were older than me (or certainly Mark who was born in the ’80s). It was great. Like stepping back in time.
So often these days, hotel rooms are boringly uniform. Not so at The Orwell (although it was sold earlier this year and I believe it is being gradually refurbished).
While the furniture was “traditional”, shall we say, the sheets, towels, carpets etc were spotlessly clean (as was the room itself) and the toiletries rather lovely.
But, just as I was happily soaking in the atmosphere… (ok, using the free wifi) the music started.
I can’t even claim ignorance. Not only are you warned when you book that the hotel hosts functions and some guests might be disturbed by the entertainment but there are multiple signs up when you arrive at reception too.
How bad could it be? That was my thought at the time of booking.
As it turns out, pretty bad.
Our family room was on the second floor and I can only assume above the wedding reception. All we could hear was thumping base. When 9pm came and Freya was still wide awake, I rang down to reception to ask when it might go off.
Maybe 11.30pm but probably nearer midnight, the very nice lady said (in fact, all the staff were polite and as helpful as can be).
I’m not sure if I groaned but she must have sensed my displeasure because she said: “We are almost fully booked but we do have the honeymoon suite available.” She assured me this would be quieter so, dressed in our PJs, with Freya wrapped in a blanket, we all trotted along the corridor to the new room. The alternative was going to be leave and sleep on the living room floor at my parents house, which I would have been so sad about (not least because I would have wasted all my money).
Thankfully, it was blissfully quiet… but only had a double bed. As Mark goes to bed later than Freya and I, he volunteered to stay in the old (party) room while we took the new one, which was bathed in a glorious orange light from the setting sun.
The nice lady said there was no extra charge, which was a relief.
While Mark and I were talking about what bags needed to be transferred to the new room, Freya had put herself to bed and was already nearly asleep.
Knowing she gets up at 5am no matter what, I tried to get off to sleep myself – even though I really wanted to explore the suite. It was set across two main rooms plus a bathroom and separate toilet with the same faded glory apparent in the first room.
As it happened, I found it hard getting used to the new noises (including the lift next door going up and down). I’m the same in every hotel. The strange thing about this one was that I didn’t hear another person. No voices in the corridor, no doors closing. I’m not sure whether the walls are just thicker or the guests more considerate.
Freya woke up with a tummy ache at 1am and then she needed to use the bathroom a little while later before, as predicted, waking for the day just after 5am.
It was as I was attempting to work the shower (“turn on the cold water first and then gradually add in some hot” sounds simple enough but turned out to be a fine art) that she said she was going to wash her hands…and I turned just in time to see her turning the taps on the bidet.
“Noooooo!” I screeched, before trying to explain what a bidet is. She looked really confused, as well she might.
Once we had finally showered I took her to a very nice play area by the sea before returning to meet Mark for the buffet breakfast in the decadent restaurant at 8am.
Would I stay there again? If there wasn’t an event on, sure. I guess if Freya was older and we stayed out later it wouldn’t have been as much of a problem – although it really was loud.
Was it worth the £128? For the two rooms we had, definitely. For one on its own, especially with the noise, I would say no.
As I only seem to pick noisy hotels, I’m going to let Mark do the booking from now on.
Still, all was well in the end – and it’s probably the only time I’ll ever stay in a honeymoon suite!
“I don’t like the beach,” Freya said, as I pulled out of our road.
Driving us to the last minute holiday I had booked.
At the beach.
“Since when? You spent all last summer asking to go to the seaside. What don’t you like about it?”
Ah, her new favourite word.
When the email with the holiday deal popped into my inbox I was immediately tempted – the fact that neither Mark nor my parents could come probably should have been a deterrent.
It just seemed like such a good deal; three nights in a deck house at the Haven Holiday Park in Caister-on-Sea, a place we have been to and enjoyed on several occasions, for about half the normal price.
My imagination went into overdrive; after long, warm days spent playing in the sand Freya and I would walk, tired but happy, back to our house. Perhaps we would eat tea on the deck, smiling at each other across the table, with the distant sound of the waves gently lapping at the shore as the sun set. It would be a wonderful mother/daughter bonding experience. An adventure.
With the dream still spinning in my head, I booked it.
“First Norfolk, next Nepal,” was my exact thought – although, as I loaded up the car with enough stuff for 60 people, I decided I needed to get better at packing first.
We arrived just after 1pm with the sun shining brightly. The ground floor deck house was everything I had hoped for, lovely and clean, beautifully decorated, all the amenities and more.
“Yes!” I thought, relieved that I hadn’t wasted what was still a fair amount of my dwindling savings. “We are going to have a fab time.”
We went for a swim in the site pool. Freya loves the water and is so confident (although because she smiles the whole time she swallows loads of water so I have to keep telling her to close her mouth).
Singing a happy holiday song, we made our way back…and then things took a turn for the worse.
Now, we live in a flat so I’m more than used to noise and while I couldn’t hear the people who had moved into the deck house upstairs speaking, what I could hear was their thundering footsteps running up and down.
“It’s ok,” I told myself. “They’ll have to sleep at some point.”
And they did.
Up until then it sounded like there were a dozen people circuit training.
While they could have had a bit more respect for the people below them, I think the main problem was with the flooring. It seemed really bouncy, maybe because of the soundproofing (ironic)? I’m no expert, obviously, but I’m not exaggerating how loud it was.
I was almost in tears at one point because Freya gets up at 5am, no matter what time she goes to sleep (believe me when I say we have tried every combination). She’s also not the sort of child who will ever sit still so I really needed my rest – not just to try and keep up with her but I wanted to enjoy it too.
On Saturday, despite feeling pretty tired, I was determined to make the most of it so we were on the beach just after sunrise (because I didn’t want other people to be woken up by a small child running about).
I figured she would forget about her new dislike (hah!). We managed about 20 minutes, with the aid of The Lion Guard and the lure of making them a rock cave. After that she refused to step foot on the sand again and at one point wouldn’t even look at it, hiding her face in the side of her buggy.
Luckily there are lots of other things to do on site, which she did like, including more swimming, soft play, the nightly disco (turns out I’m raising a party animal) and playing with the many other children who swarmed over the play areas.
We hardly stopped all day and I was really ready for my bed but, of course, we had the same noise problem. Freya also developed a hacking cough so when one eventually stopped the other carried on.
On Sunday we were both tired and a bit grumpy but we got out early again and joined a bug hunt (while everyone else collected ladybirds and snails we found a slug). We definitely needed a nap, and afterwards I decided it was time to head home. It was a night early but I was worn out (not quite the happy tired of my dream) and couldn’t face the noise for another night.
I thought about complaining then but what good would it have done? I wanted to be on the ground floor so Freya had easy access to the outside, which she doesn’t have at home, and unless they had a deck house with no one above (which from what I could see was unlikely) we’d have the same problem.
After lunch on Sunday we came home.
It’s not really a big deal and maybe the holiday wasn’t a complete disaster but I felt like I’d not only wasted money but also that I’d failed to give her the amazing mother/daughter bonding trip I had planned.
In reality I know she had fun, despite being a bit poorly, and she has no idea we left early. I also know I should be grateful that we were able to get away at all (and I am) but the reality was so far from the dream, I guess I’m just a bit sad.
I’ll definitely be leaving Nepal for a few more years (she’d probably announce mountains are boring at the moment).