The Adventure of Starting Primary School (And Being A Butterfly)

Today marks the end of an era. Tomorrow I am going back to work full-time. I will become a FTWM. How do I feel about this? Don’t ask me. I try not to think about it. When I do, it’s incomprehensible to me. How am I going to manage it? My days will go something like this:

6.30 a.m. get up, get washed and dressed and have breakfast. Get Noah up, washed and dressed.

7.25 a.m. coax Noah out of the house by any means possible

7.30 a.m. leave Noah at Breakfast Club

7.35 a.m. arrive at work, then work solidly without time to come up for air

4.00 p.m. (if I am lucky) get home, cook dinner, force dinner down Noah’s throat, play with Noah (more likely to involve us both flaked out on the sofa watching TV)

6.30 p.m. Noah’s bath and bedtime (my husband shares this if he is home in time)

7.30 p.m. work

10.00 p.m. admin for the next day and getting ready for bed

10.30 p.m. bed

Where is the time for sitting down and reading a book? Where is the time for series 12 of Grey’s Anatomy? Where is the time for writing blogs and baking cakes? Where is the time for going to the gym? Plenty of women live with this daily routine so it must be possible. But how? How will I do it without being broken?

And to top it all off, Noah has gone and grown up into a school boy.

Back in July, Noah had an induction morning at his new school. Parents had a two-hour lecture in the school hall and the kids were ferried off to their new classroom to meet their new teacher. The Head Teacher met everyone at the door. She asked Noah his name, ticked him off the list in her hand, and passed him over to an older pupil who took him down the corridor to his classroom. This was a significant moment for me. First of all, it is the first time he has ever left me without me stealing a kiss or a cuddle. I was unprepared. I wanted to run after him and squeeze the life out of him. But I am far too frightened of the Head Teacher to do anything like that. As I watched him walk away, I realised that Noah was taking his first steps into the world by himself. And he didn’t look back.

Hot on the heels of his school induction was his graduation from nursery. Parents were invited to sit on chairs in the garden whilst the children were all inside. The Principal of the nursery welcomed us and made a joke along the lines of, “I hope you’ve all got your tissues ready.” I laughed politely. Ha ha ha. I didn’t have tissues: I wasn’t about to cry. Then the children filed out and sat in a circle and started to sing: the Graduation Song, Butterflies, I Can Sing A Rainbow, He’s Got the Whole World in his Hands. During all this, one of my eyes – just the right one – leaked continuously. I couldn’t make it stop. And then one of the kids arrived late so they did it all over again. It’s the Butterflies song that gets me the most. I don’t know if it’s an official song or if it’s something that this nursery wrote because it’s called Butterflies. It’s a song about them being caterpillars when they start at nursery and butterflies when they leave – “time to fly”. The metaphor is as old as time, but as I watched Noah mouthing the words and making a half-hearted attempt at the actions, I realised how true it was. Noah is going to school. It’s time for him to fly. I can help him, I can guide him but I cannot control him. It’s up to Noah now. Not that the choices you make at four years old define you, but the whole school experience goes a long way towards defining you and that’s what this all represents.

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What about me? I am starting a new job. I am picking up exactly where I left off three years ago. Career path back on track. Am I a butterfly? Is it time for me to fly? It doesn’t feel like it. It feels a little bit like I’m an ant in a production line, carrying my own little scrap of bread back to the nest. We need my salary to buy a bigger house in this area. Noah is going to be at school so there is no need for me to be at home. In truth, being at home would kill me. I would die of boredom and lack of direction. I am an experienced and skilled teacher. I like many things about teaching and I am not cut out to be a Housewife. What else am I supposed to do? It’s a no-brainer.

But still.

I am not taking Noah on his first day of school. I have been there for 99.9% of Noah’s firsts in his short life so far. But not this time. My husband is taking Noah to his first day of school. And why shouldn’t he? Noah loses nothing by me not being there. But his first day of school is just the first in a long line of things that us FTWMs* have to miss out on. I can’t go into the school and hear children read like some parents do; I can’t go to the parents’ tea afternoon they have once every half-term; I can’t go to Noah’s class assembly. I don’t even know if I will be allowed to go to his school play at Christmas. It’s a loss and I feel it right in my core.

It doesn’t help that Facebook is kindly throwing memories at me every day of my Noah as a baby.

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Like this one…
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…and this one

Of course, I need to woman up. I need to get over it. Having three years out of full time work to raise my child has been a privilege, not my right. And my child is strong, he is clever, he is confident and he is good (for everyone on the planet except me…and sometimes my husband…and occasionally my parents…). He is ready for school. I believe in him. I believe he will fly.

It’s the end of an era.

Good luck my Noah.

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“What if I fall?” “Oh but my darling, what if you fly?” – Erin Hanson

 

*Mum, in case you haven’t worked this out yet, FTWM is Full Time Working Mum

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The Adventure of Toys, Toys, Toys and Treehouses

Christmas.
I know. It’s 14th October. It’s far too early to be thinking about Christmas. And yet, it’s difficult to avoid it. Vienna does Christmas in style: renowned for its Christmas Markets, it has a reputation to uphold. Advent calendars and decorations are in the shops already. Noah’s eyes boggle in excitement at the shiny red and green splendour of it all. And it’s still 10 weeks away.
Noah’s Chirstmas list is all written, decorated and ready to be posted to Father Christmas next week when we are in England (because Royal Mail will send a reply). This year will be the first time he has asked for things himself. To be honest, I am a bit dismayed – I had so many good ideas for what he’d like! But my baby is growing up and God knows he’s got his own mind, so this year, it’s over to him.

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About a month ago, we had the following conversation on the way to nursery (thanks to a certain episode of Peppa Pig):
Noah: Mummy, please can I have a treehouse?
Me: You can’t have a treehouse. We haven’t got a garden so we haven’t got any trees.
Noah: In Nana and Papa’s garden, I mean.
At three and a half years old, the boy sees exactly how the land lies. Noah went straight to the heart of the situation: if anyone was going to get him a tree house, it would be my Mum and Dad. So my Mum commissioned me to make Noah a star chart. She had a long list of things Noah had to do to get stars. At first, she told him he would need 300 stars, but she later changed it to 100. To add to the confusion, she was calling the stars “brownie points”. This Skype conversation mostly went over Noah’s head. My Dad would get Noah a treehouse tomorrow as a just because present (just because you are my Grandson).
Anyway, Noah now has a star chart with a skewered picture of a treehouse and Father Christmas (drawn by my own fair hand) at the top. He gets a star every time he does something good, but a red dot goes over one of the stars when he does something naughty. When he is threatened with a red dot, he says, “I don’t really want a treehouse. I was only pretending.” He is mostly being good at the moment, which is just as well because the treehouse has already been sourced, payed for and delivered. I just hope it doesn’t snow this Christmas, otherwise we’ll be spending a lot of time outside freezing ourselves to death whilst Noah delights in his new treehouse.
My husband and I have already bought Noah a Playmobil farm house, tractor and some animals to go with it. Playmobil is quite big over here. I bought it on Amazon.de because it worked out £30 cheaper than buying the same products in England. However, as I paid for it, I realised I had somehow signed up to the German Amazon Prime. I went to cancel it but realised I’d actually been a member for 6 months and the €49 had come out of our account in May. Damn and blast bloody Google Translate! How had I missed that?! Now I am desperately racking my brains to think of things I can buy to make use of the free delivery before we move back to England.
Thankfully, Noah doesn’t watch children’s television channels because we live in Austria, so Noah hasn’t seen any toy adverts. He has, however, been watching the Toy Genie on YouTube, and for the past two months has been saying, “Oh! I wish I had all these Paw Patrol toys!” in a small, hard done by voice, as if he doesn’t have a palatial bedroom crammed with toys as it is. So another thing on his list is Paw Patrol toys and I am having a bit of an issue with these. Firstly, he wants all of the pups with their vehicles. When he was dictating his letter to Father Christmas, he expressly reminded me to write down the names of each pup, just in case Father Christmas didn’t know what they were called. Each pup with their vehicle should cost about £13. Oh, if only life were that simple. It appears these fairly reasonably priced toys are being discontinued. What is replacing them? Super-duper lights and sound Paw Patrol trucks which cost £25 each. There are six pups and Ryder, the boy who looks after them. If Noah’s wish is to be fulfilled, that’s £175 on Paw Patrol toys! Some shops still have the old ones, although on Amazon they’ve put the prices up to £20+. So I am doing what any concerned mother would do: trying to buy up the old ones whilst they are still around. What does this mean? It means we have already blown our budget for Noah’s Christmas presents. Oh, yes, and he also wants the Paw Patrol “house” as he calls it.
My husband and I have conflicting philosophies surrounding Christmas presents. My husband’s stance is thus: Noah has a room full of toys, many of which he never plays with. Noah does not need a lot of toys for Christmas. If people want to give him something for Christmas, they should buy him something small and then give him money for his savings account if they so wish. My husband is a sensible man. He is a practical man. He is not a material man. He thinks of the people in this world who have nothing. And he’s not wrong. I am sure many readers would agree with him. Last year, Noah got so many presents, he got fed up of opening them. My head tells me husband is not wrong…

But my heart says otherwise. I can’t agree with him: it’s just not me. It’s not what I come from. When my husband declared that Noah doesn’t need “sacks and sacks” of presents this year, my family were aghast. What? No sacks? He usually gets a sack from us, a sack (treehouse sized) from my Mum and Dad, a small sack from my sister and a sack from my Aunt and Nan. It was my Nan who actually started the sack tradition. My Nan was a single parent at 20 years old with twins. She had no family around her. It was the 1950s and she was a housekeeper. In other words, she was skint. But she saved hard to make sure my Dad and my Aunt had a sack of presents every Christmas. Despite my husband’s moral barometer, my family will not be deterred from buying lots of presents (sorry dearest). My husband’s family get Noah lots of presents too so I really don’t know where he gets it from.
How much should children get at Christmas? It’s a controversial matter. Out of curiosity, I googled how much do you spend on your children at Christmas and was taken to a handful of parenting forums. I discovered that it really varies. Some parents were saying £50, some £500. There is no right or wrong answer. Partly, I suppose it depends on how much you have. I think we have spent enough now, but I keep seeing things and thinking Noah would like that.
Also, should Chirstmas be about getting lots of presents? What is Christmas really about? I’m a Christian: I know what Christmas is about. I’ve also heard sermons on what it shouldn’t be about.
But this is my stance: treehouses are built for children. There are websites full of different treehouse designs for children. So if some children in this world are lucky enough to be born into a family who can afford to buy them treehouses, why shouldn’t Noah be one of them? Part of the magic of Christmas for children, is wishing for something and then getting it. Dreams coming true for three year olds is all about toys and treehouses.
My husband worries Noah will be spoilt. His theories are noble and perhaps mine aren’t. But as we were growing up, my sister and I had everything we could possibly wish for. We are nicknamed “The Princesses” by the rest of my Mum’s family. Although I have been privileged, I don’t come from a wealthy background; I come from a very hard-working one. My Mum is 64 and frequently works 12 hour days. My Dad is always crusading around the country for the greater good of mankind. My sister and I may well be Princesses, but we are good people and we work hard and we value everything we have ever been given. Being spoilt is not always about how much you are given in your life, it is about what you think you are entitled to. We are living in a material world and I am a material girl. And I want to give Noah what I can.

Noah and his sacks last year
Noah and his sacks last year

The Twinkle Diaries
Mami 2 Five

The Adventure of Salzburg

I fancied going to Salzburg before we leave Austria in December. There is a direct train from Vienna that takes two and a half hours. It is under €50 for a return ticket and Noah can travel for free. City breaks are never easy with small children (I can only assume based on my own experience) but we were feeling brave…

Getting the 9.38am train out of Vienna should have been simple seeing as Noah rarely wakes up after 6am. Unfortunately, Noah woke up in a terrible mood. It was our own fault (it was mostly my fault). We took him along with us to a retirement party the night before, meaning he went to bed two hours later than usual. It is very rare that we allow him to stay up past his bed time. When you have a sleep demon, it’s best to stick to a strict routine for everyone’s happiness and sanity. However, I decided I didn’t want to spend the night sitting indoors on my own, so I dragged Noah along…

From the moment he opened his eyes at the crack before dawn, he was miserable. Every breakfast suggestion I made was met with wailing and an onslaught of tears. Seeing as we had a schedule to stick to and I needed him to calm the hell down, I told him he could eat his breakfast at his little table and chairs in the lounge, watching Bob the Builder. But he refused to eat his toast and refused to sit in his chair and the wailing started up again. Eventually, the television was switched off, porridge was made, he was transported kicking and screaming into the kitchen and was force fed his breakfast sitting on my lap. After this ordeal, we only had 20 minutes to get washed and dressed.

When we got off the train in Salzburg, we needed to go and dump our bags at the hotel, but we didn’t know how to get there by public transport so we walked. Noah, already dead on his feet, was not happy. I had booked the hotel (as my husband reminded me once or twice as we were walking down a strange, dark and seemingly deserted alley). One of the problems with staying in a hotel with a three year old is that when they go to sleep, you have to either go to bed too or sit silently in the dark for a couple of hours. We needed accommodation with two separate rooms. My husband found us a self-catering apartment with two rooms for €75 for the whole weekend. I considered the price and glanced at the photos of this place and decided it was a dingy, flea-ridden hovel. I found us a suite in a mid-range hotel (at about five times the cost). To my relief (because otherwise I’d never have heard the end of it), our hotel was fine. My husband liked it enough to buy himself a pot of their homemade jam to take home with us. There were only two real issues with the room. Firstly, it stank of stale cigarettes despite the no smoking signs everywhere. Secondly, the curtains were in metre long strips which you had to line up across the window in order the close. In other words, it was broad daylight in the room when I was trying to get Noah asleep.

Our hotel was a five minute bus ride to the old town. I had planned some activities with Noah in mind. We went to the Natural History Museum. I tried to psyche Noah up by telling him we were going to see some dinosaurs. Although Noah claims he wants to be a dinosaur when he grows up, he wasn’t very interested in spending time with his ancestors. In fact, we mainly got him around the museum by playing hide and seek…

Where's Noah?
Where’s Noah?

After the museum, we went to a café for tea and cake. As we were waiting to pay the bill, an Australian couple sat down at the table next to us. I gradually became aware that the man was complaining about something quite strongly. He sounded disgusted and I heard his wife say, “Let’s go somewhere else” so I pricked my ears up and listened in to see what the problem was. The man was complaining about the smell. I sniffed the air. Yes, there was a bit of a pooey whiff. I hadn’t noticed it before…And then I realised that the smell was my very own son. His bottom, to be precise. He had done a “botty pop”. He had farted and it was a stinker. Noah was oblivious, but my heart felt a little bit sore for him because of the man’s reaction. Okay, so he smelled a bit but it’s life. We all do it. (Actually, I don’t…). “Is that Noah that smells?” I asked my husband in a loud stage-voice, hoping to make the man feel ashamed of his over-reaction to a three year old’s fart. Moron.

Who's done a botty pop?
Who’s done a botty pop?

The next day, fortified by a good night’s sleep, we were still feeling brave so we embarked on The Original Sound of Music Tour. My husband has never seen the film but enjoyed the scenic views from the bus. Noah slept for most of it, including when they played the soundtrack CD and the only people singing along were me and an enthusiastic Welsh man sitting behind me. The tour ended at the Mirabell Gardens where the Do-Re-Mi scene was filmed. I couldn’t resist dancing along the pathways singing the song. Oh, I had a great time on that Sound of Music tour.

Doe, a deer, a female deer...
Doe, a deer, a female deer…

Later that day, we went to the Speilzeugmuseum (toy museum). They had lots of different toys out that children could play with. For €4, I’d go there every week if they had one in Vienna. The next day, we went on a Salt Mines tour. We crossed the border into Germany and went into a mountain which has been used to extract salt for hundreds of years. It sounds like a laugh a minute, but actually, it was really good. We had to put mining overalls on (or space suits if you listen to Noah). A little train took us through the dark tunnels into the mountain and then we had to go down a great big slide to get to the next level. I am not a fan of slides. I stood at the top and peered over the edge. “I’m going to take the walkway,” I told my husband. “Don’t be ridiculous,” he replied. I knew that there was a camera set up to take a picture of you half way down and I really, really, really wanted a family photo of us on the slide. So I swallowed my fear. In the photo, I have my eyes closed and I’m gripping my husband so tightly round his neck, it must have felt like I was strangling him.

Do you like my space suit?
Do you like my space suit?

Overall, I really liked Salzburg. It is a lot smaller than Vienna and not as grand. It seems more touristy which is a funny thing to say seeing as in the centre of Vienna, you can’t move for tourists. Vienna is more about museums and Opera and palaces. Salzburg reminded me a bit of a toy town. The mountains and lakes around there are spectacular.

And Noah was a good boy. That’s always puts things in a positive light.

Well done, my Noah.


The Adventure of the Day Trips: Dinosaurs and Dürnstein

This weekend we hired a car and got out and about a bit in Austria. And it was good. It was a good weekend. But since becoming parents, a good weekend inevitably involves a lot of hard work, a little bit of bickering and leaves us absolutely knackered for the week ahead. C’est la vie.

A couple of weeks ago, I went into the local shopping centre and was confronted by four gigantic, green, scaly feet with claw-like toenails. I tilted my head back, craned my neck around and discovered a dinosaur reaching up the entire three floors of the building. But what is this? I wondered excitedly. Is something dinosaur-themed coming to our very doorstep?! Something new to entertain Noah with?! Hooray! I noticed some information on a placard near the dinosaur. It was an advert for something called Dino Live. I snapped a picture of the info on my mobile and hurried home to put it all into Google Translate. I went to the website and discovered it was a dinosaur exhibition, but, alas, it was about 45 minutes outside of Vienna. So when we decided to hire a car for a weekend of excursions, I naturally thought about going to the dinosaurs.

So on Saturday morning, I crammed Noah’s lunch bag full of snacks and Noah duly packed himself some toys in his Postman Pat rucksack and a felt watering can (which is actually mine and is supposed to have Peter Rabbit in it…). I packed Noah the following snacks: a pot of grapes, carrot sticks, a cheese and pickle sandwich, raisins, dried apple chips, a kipferl (sweet, horn-shaped bun), a packet of 3 plain biscuits, a yogurt, a babybell, a peach, a Humzinger, a cereal bar and some cheesy breadsticks. Noah packed everything on the surface of the table which his train set is on apart from the track (several trains, cars, a runway, roadsigns, a crane, a helicopter, a boat…) and odd bits of Playmobil which were so tiny I will probably never be able to find them again. All this would come in very handy at the dinosaur exhibition.

Noah has recently become a bit (okay, a lot) whingey. I very much hope it is a phase because it absolutely does my head in. He started on the way there. Having eaten his grapes, raisins and kipferl within the first ten minutes of the journey, he then wanted one of the choc chip buns that my husband was eating in the front seat. I didn’t have one for him. He couldn’t possibly be hungry. The whinge started up, loud and relentless. “I’m switching my ears off! I don’t listen to whinging!” I declared and pressed an imaginary button on each ear. Noah then took offense to the music on the radio station and started up with, “I don’t like that song. Turn it off. I want another song.” Repeat times 100. Unfortunately, despite having turned my ears off, I could still hear him.

I thought the dinosaur exhibition would be quite good. I surmised this for the following reasons:

  1. The dinosaur I saw in the shopping centre was impressive and, presumably, expensive. Impressive and expensive advertising usually means an impressive and expensive event. Right?
  2. The Arena Nova (where the exhibition is set up) looked gigantic on the website.
  3. The website showed pictures of children inside dinosaur eggs so I imagined it was going to be quite interactive.

When we pulled up to the Arena Nova, we were directed to a small building alongside it which looked like a cheap hotel… nay, it was a cheap hotel, designed by someone who had a liking for corrugated iron. It was in the middle of what looked like an abandoned industrial estate. The exhibition was okay. It consisted of various large models of dinosaurs. It was a bit like a dinosaur Madam Tussauds, but the dinosaurs weren’t made of wax. Not like Madam Tussauds then. There was also a room playing a short film about dinosaurs, some rows of tables where you could colour in a dinosaur (I did) and a tightly packed row of four dinosaur rides (the type you get outside a shop). We paid 5 euros to get our picture taken on a dinosaur but there were no dinosaur eggs for Noah to climb in and create mischief. Within 20 minutes we were done, but we decided to go around another time and eek an hour out in there. Basically, it was okay. Noah enjoyed it well enough. But it was underwhelming.

Noah and the dinosaurs. He wasn't really glowing, I just have no idea how to use the settings on my camera.
Noah and the dinosaurs. He wasn’t really glowing, I just have no idea how to use the settings on my camera.

On Sunday, we drove to Krems, a little town on the Danube, about an hour outside Vienna. From there, we got a boat along the Danube to a picturesque little town called Dürnstein. On the way, my husband showed me a picture of some ruins of an old castle on the hill at the top of the town and informed me there was a pathway leading up to it from the centre. I agreed to have a look, thinking Noah would be interested in looking around an old castle. It was also the castle where Richard the Lionheart was kept prisoner. Unfortunately, as soon as we got off the boat, Noah decided he wanted to go home. He refused to walk or scoot and further. “We’re going to an old castle to look for a dragon,” I told him. He was suddenly much more willing to move.

We walked up the cobbled streets of the town, past various shops selling tacky souvenirs, and eventually happened across the pathway to the top. Except, I really wouldn’t call it a pathway, it was more like one long, uneven, ancient, broken set of continuous stairs. Some of the steps came up to my knee. Noah was having none of these stairs so my husband put him on his shoulders. He also had a rucksack on his back and carried Noah’s scooter. What possessed us to bring the scooter? I have no idea.

When I was 6 months pregnant with Noah, I was diagnosed with a problem with my pelvis called SPD which affects 1% of pregnant women. It was uncomfortable when I walked. I had a couple of sessions with a physio and was assured it would go away once Noah was born. It didn’t. It was far, far worse. The birth also resulted in a small tear in my hip. Noah was 7 months old before I could walk normally, without feeling any pain at all. Three years later, it hardly ever bothers me apart from when I (a) attempt to go for a run (b) do any kind of high impact/high resistance exercise or (c) as I discovered yesterday, climb up an ancient set of stairs for 20 minutes in order to see some old ruins.

Half way up, my left hip had stiffened and that leg decided it wasn’t going to support this adventure up the stairs any more. The top of both legs ached the whole way around my groin (sorry, I hate that word but I put it into the thesaurus and nothing else came up!). I stopped for a little rest on a boulder and rooted around in my bag for my drink. It wasn’t there. I must also mention that it was 30 degrees. The following conversation ensued:

Me: (to husband) Where’s my drink?

Husband: I don’t know.

Me: What do you mean you don’t know? I asked you to put it in my bag.

Husband: You didn’t.

Me: I did! When we were on the boat, I put it in your hand and asked you to put it in my bag which was around your side of the table. You took it and said okay.

Husband: I didn’t hear you!

Me: Well, that’s just typical. What did you do with it?

Husband: I poured it into my water bottle. If you want a drink, have some of mine.

Me: (enraged) I will not! When have you ever known me to drink out of anyone’s water bottle?!

Husband: If you really need a drink, there’s one here. Don’t cause an argument over a bottle of water.

Me: I’m not causing an argument. You are!

Husband: That’s it! Let’s go home! Let’s go and get on the next boat! The day is ruined!

Noah: (voice of calm and reason) No, Daddy. Mummy hasn’t ruined it. We can’t go home, we still haven’t found the dragon! Mummy, have some of Daddy’s drink!

Three years ago, I would have abandoned the quest to get to the ruins and stormed back down the stairs. My husband would have stormed down after me. We would then have spent the next twenty minutes in a stormy silence until I had some wine and/or chocolate and my husband had some food. Then we would have made up. But it was not three years ago, and Noah would have been upset if I stormed off. The boy wanted to see the dragon so I carried on up to the top, walking like a crab (i.e. sideways) with my right leg leading. By the time we eventually got there, Noah’s own mood wasn’t too hot either. In his eagerness to refuse to do anything he was told, he forgot about the dragon entirely, which is fortunate because I’m not sure what story I would have had to concoct in order to explain why the dragon wasn’t there.

Naturally, when we got to the car at 4pm, Noah was knackered and promptly fell asleep. Naturally, the knock on effect of this was that he went to sleep an hour and a half later that night. By the time I was eventually able to extract myself from his toddler bed, my whole body had ceased up.

But, still, it was a good weekend, my Noah.

Being strangled on the boat (just before my bottle of water bit the dust)
Being strangled on the boat (just before my bottle of water bit the dust)