The Adventure of Being Back

I am in Essex. Noah is in Essex. My husband is in Vienna. This is not an unusual situation. This has happened a lot over the past two years. But this time it’s different. Why? Because this time we are back for good. This time Noah and I are not staying with my Mum and Dad, we are living in our own house. Five days a week, I am a single parent. And don’t I know it.

I had forgotten how stressful it can be living in your own property. Every time we had a problem with our home in Vienna, we phoned my husband’s office and they sorted it out. It makes me wonder why people actually buy houses rather than rent for the rest of their lives. Since we took our house back over from the tenants, we have had it painted, completely replaced the kitchen floor, replaced the kitchen worktop and hob, bought a new washing machine that couldn’t be fitted, replaced the kitchen tap and had Noah’s bedroom door re-attached three times. Is it just me or is it impossible to find reliable, reasonably priced, skilled workmen who actually turn up when they say they will? Is it just me or is it reasonable to expect Currys to be able to fit a washing machine when you pay them £35 for the privilege?

I have become a nervous wreck about the paintwork and the doors. The doors are so old and crooked, I am worried that Noah and I are going to be stuck on opposite sides one of these days. We frequently have this interaction when he fools about running around upstairs trying to shut me out of rooms: “Noah, don’t play with the doors…Please don’t play with the doors…Don’t play with the doors!…STOP TOUCHING THE DOORS! STOP TOUCHING THE DOORS! STOP TOUCHING THE DOORS!” I brought the wrong kind of paint for the bathroom and it marks and stains when it is splashed with water. It looks a state already and it has only been painted for a month. How was I supposed to know this? What do I know about paint? So when Noah splashes around in the bath, we frequently have the following interaction: “Noah, don’t splash about because you are ruining the walls…Please don’t splash the walls…Stop splashing the walls!…STOP SPLASHING THE WALLS! STOP SPLASHING THE WALLS! STOP SPLASHING THE WALLS!”

I don’t even want to get started on what it was like unpacking all of our stuff and getting the house straight. Our house is small and we have a lot of stuff. I am never moving house again. Whenever we need more space, we will just have to build upwards. We’ll end up with a twenty storey house by the time we retire. A twenty storey house with a roof garden.

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Nightmare
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I must admit, I did a great job of Noah’s dinosaur bedroom

And then there’s Noah.

Noah is used to my parents’ house. He has five big boxes of toys there and a treehouse. Seventy percent of the Sky Planner is full of his programmes. To Noah, their house is more home to him than our own house. He has never minded leaving my husband in Vienna whilst we came back to England to stay with my Mum and Dad. He accepted that this was what his life was like. If we had moved back from Vienna and chosen to live there whilst my husband was away, things would probably be okay right now. But I made the decision to move back into our house. In no way, shape or form did I want to live on my own. I made the decision because I thought it would be best for Noah to be near his new nursery, surrounded by his things, to settle into his new home and his new life straight away.

What Noah doesn’t get is what the hell his father is playing at coming and going backwards and forwards to Vienna. Initially, I suggested to my husband that we just tell him Daddy was going to work during the week and leave it at that with no mention of Vienna. I quickly realised this wasn’t going to work because Noah would see he was in our old flat when we Skype.

Last week, he painted a dinosaur from one of the craft kits he got for Christmas and presented it to my husband at the weekend. On Monday morning, ten minutes after my husband had left for the week, I came downstairs to find Noah sitting in his armchair crying his little heart out. Clutched in his little paw was the dinosaur. My husband had forgotten it. Noah cried and cried and I couldn’t console him. I phoned my husband to see if he was still at the station but it went straight to voicemail. “I want daddy!” Noah wailed. His little heart was hurting and I couldn’t make it better. So I gave him a chocolate bunny. Yes, it was 8 o’clock in the morning, but it was a desperate situation: my little boy was feeling real, raw emotional pain for the first time in his life and I was helpless. When my husband found out what happened, he was a wreck too.

So Noah is confused. He is frustrated. He is angry. “I’m sad about Daddy,” he says two or three times a week. And what happens when Noah is confused, frustrated, angry and sad? That little strand of demon child which runs through his veins, rises to the surface.

From the moment he wakes up, he is a challenge. He either wakes up during the night or wakes up before dawn. Seeing as the prospect of getting up and getting Noah through breakfast before 6 a.m. makes me want to throw myself from the roof tops, I allow him to watch YouTube on my phone. By the time I have reconciled myself to the fact that the day must begin, Noah won’t get off the phone. Once this struggle is over and we are standing downstairs in the kitchen having a discussion about breakfast, Noah demands pancakes. If pancakes are not on the menu either because (a) we have no eggs (b) he had pancakes yesterday or (c) I really can’t be bothered to make them, a full-on screaming fit ensues. Once he has calmed down, I have to coax him to eat more than 30% of his breakfast. A month ago he was a vitamin addict. He relished the moment when he got to eat his Bassets chewy vitamin every morning. Now, he refuses to eat them. He doesn’t like them. Urgh. Yuck. They are disgusting. I got him a different flavour; the response was the same. I find slightly sweaty, slightly sticky gummy vitamins under the sofa, by the front door, on his train set etc. etc.

The day continues in this vein. Getting washed, getting dressed, putting his coat and shoes on, lunch, dinner, tidying up, bathtime, bedtime. Every time we’re in the car, Noah insists on winding his window down for “fresh air” even when we’re on the motorway. Every time we’re in the car, Noah takes his shoes and socks off and refuses to let me put them back on. We’re late for absolutely everything.

It’s all one big challenge. It’s a battle. And I’m the one that’s losing.

It was the vitamin fiasco that kicked off events last Thursday. For the purposes of this blog post, I will refer to it as Black Thursday. On Black Thursday, I lost the plot. Noah has had a cough and cold hanging around for over a week so I decided I was going to make him eat his bloody vitamin. He refused. I cut it up and mixed it in his porridge. He refused. I paused the TV and told him I’d turn it off if he didn’t eat his vitamin. He poured his drink all over the floor. He wouldn’t sit on the naughty step. He wouldn’t stay in his room and think about what he had done. I didn’t know where to go next. He was hitting me and pulling my hair. He refused to get washed and dressed for nursery. He took things off of the sides in the kitchen and threw them on the floor. So I lost it. I went berserk. God only knows what the neighbours thought of me, screeching through the walls at my three-year-old like a demented banshee. In the end, he didn’t go to nursery. We sat on the sofa, both of us emotionally exhausted and held each other. All over a vitamin. I never want to be like that again. I have always been one to choose my battles with Noah. I often let things go. Isn’t that better than finding yourself pushed over the edge of your patience?

Noah is not responding well when he doesn’t get his own way. Today, he tried to show the postman his lightsaber and the postman only gave a fleeting response before continuing on his way to deliver the post to the rest of Brentwood. Noah threw himself to the floor, kicking and screaming. Yesterday, I bought him a little packet of Star Wars cupcakes. He had one and asked for another one. I said no. “You’re not the Mummy I love,” he said. My heart stopped dead in my chest. “What?!” I asked, aghast. “Only joking,” he said quickly. “You are the Mummy I love.” But still…

The end is in sight. My husband moves back to England in three weeks’ time. Life will calm down for Noah. For all of us. I am home. I am where I want to be. I repeat this to myself like a mantra.

On the plus side, Noah has taken well to is his new nursery. He has lots of friends and has already been invited to a birthday party (where he was the only boy). I felt sick in the lead up to his first day. I took him in there and had to stay for ten minutes whilst I signed some forms. He was subdued. He stood silently beside me. When it was time for me to kiss him goodbye, he was pale faced and miserable but he didn’t cry. He didn’t tell me not to go. I left and watched through the window as he went to join the others for circle time and sat there quietly whilst they were singing. He would one hundred percent have rather been going back to his old nursery in Vienna with his old friends and familiar surroundings. Being in a situation where you don’t know anyone is hard for adults, let alone three year olds. I hate changing jobs and having to get to know everything and everyone all over again. But sometimes we have to do these things. And as I stood there watching Noah through the window, I realised that he saw this too. He was feeling a little bit apprehensive, a little bit lonely, a little bit lost. And he just got on with it. I have been proud of my Noah since the day he was born – he is mine and he is a marvel – but as I stood and watched him through the window that day, I saw that rod of iron strength inside him that some people have and some people don’t. I admired him. I respected him. People who have this iron strength will be okay, no matter what life throws at them. When they get knocked down, they can get back up again. It’s a gift. My job as Noah’s mother is to make sure he never loses it.

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In his new nursery uniform

P.S. I have not tried to force Noah’s vitamins on him since.

P.P.S. He still isn’t doing a thing he is told.

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The Adventure of Saying Goodbye (to Vienna)

Three more sleeps.

On Monday, the packing company came and packed up eighty boxes of our stuff with minimal disaster. It is now half way to England. My main concern is that the new Christmas decorations I bought will be smashed in transit. But they, like most things in life, are replaceable. Noah took the packing up of his toys fairly well. He grasps the fact that his toys are too big to take on the plane and will be at our “little house” in England when he gets there. There was a minor issue that went like this:

9 a.m. Sunday Morning. I am piling up Noah’s toys along one wall of his bedroom.

Me: Noah, do you want to keep Aylan here or do you want him to go in the big lorry with the rest of your toys?

Noah: In the big lorry.

Me: Are you absolutely sure?

Noah: Yes. In the big lorry with the rest of my toys.

Me: You won’t see him until we get back to England.

Noah: That’s okay. I want him to go in the big lorry.

Aylan, in case you were wondering, is a large teddy bear brought for Noah on our last trip home by my Mum and Dad. My Dad named him Aylan after the three year old Syrian refugee who drowned. He liked the idea of Noah looking after a refugee. Anyway, I put Aylan in the pile to be sent back to England with the rest of Noah’s toys (a) because he would take up a lot of room my suitcase, (b) because it’s stressful when Noah is carrying an enormous teddy around the airport, not least because we are always losing toys at airports and (c) because Noah seemed pretty adamant that Aylan should be packed with the rest of his toys…

4.30 p.m. on Monday, 10 minutes after we had waved the lorry off with all our stuff inside (including Aylan)

Noah: Where’s Aylan?

Fifteen minutes of wailing ensued.

 

Moving abroad for two years is many people’s idea of a dream. Usually, when it comes up in conversation that I live in Vienna, I’m met with responses such as “Wow! How exciting!” And I am the miserable cow who shakes her head and says, “Not really.” For me, it was never going to be easy. My husband knew that when he applied for the job. I am a home bird if ever there was one. Back in May 2013, the job came up in Vienna and my husband presented me with a written proposal listing all of the benefits of going for it. It wasn’t the first time he had broached the subject of doing a foreign posting. I phoned my Mum up and read her out the proposal. Because my Mum saw the £££ signs and (reluctantly) said go for it, because I had just gone back to work after maternity leave, because I wanted to work part-time and couldn’t, because it was a good opportunity for us financially, because it was my husband’s heart’s desire, I agreed. We formed a pact: I would try living in Vienna as long as Noah and I could come home for one week every month and stay with my parents. Last year, every single time I waved goodbye to my Mum and Dad at the airport, every time I waved goodbye to them here, it was with tears in my eyes. I am not given to public displays of emotion but, quite honestly, I felt like my heart was breaking. My husband’s posting shouldn’t actually end until next October, but I knew with absolute certainty that I couldn’t do another year here. Have I cried myself to sleep every night for two years? Of course I haven’t. Have I been depressed? No. Although I’ve eaten a lot of chocolate and drunk a lot of Gruner Veltliner to see me through. Have I made my husband’s life a living hell? Probably. Sometimes. Do I regret agreeing to come here? Actually, no.

Over the past six weeks, I have felt an over-whelming sense of relief every time I thought about how close I was to moving home. I felt as if I was crawling towards 19th December on my knees. I even planned what I would put as my last Vienese Facebook update at some point in August.

And yet…

I would be lying if I said that I don’t feel a sense of loss. And actually, it’s quite a strong sense of loss. How can this be? I’m flabbergasted by it. I should be excited. I should be deliriously happy.

It all comes down to change. I don’t like change. I don’t embrace it.

 

Last week, I was washing Noah’s sand toys in the bidet (what else is it for, after all?), when I had a bit of a moment. I looked at his buckets and spades and diggers lined up to dry on a towel on the bathroom floor and I felt winded, I felt bereft. The sadness I felt surprised me. Where had it come from? I am not sad to be packing up our things and moving back to England. As I took a deep breath, I realised that I was sad about what those sand toys represent. They represent a part of Noah’s childhood. The park that we live on represents a part of Noah’s childhood – all those hours we have spent there being cooked by the sun or being frozen solid in the winter. I felt the same when I got his pram and his highchair out. These things are obsolete. My Noah is done with them. He is not my baby anymore: he is my clever, strong minded, curious little boy. When we moved here, Noah was 20 months old, he spoke in nouns, he beat up any child who came within a mile radius of him, he had a little white rabbit comforter called Booby that he took everywhere, he couldn’t scoot or ride a bike. Now he is nearly 4, he loves Star Wars, he doesn’t know who Booby is, he wants to have conversations about what happens when you die. The fact is, Noah has spent more of his life in Vienna than he has in England. It feels a little bit as if, when I get on that plane on Saturday, I will be leaving a part of Noah’s childhood behind. Ridiculous, I know. But sometimes emotions are.

 

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January 2014, at our park

The other thing which makes me sad about leaving is that I am taking my Noah away from the life he knows. I am taking him away from the kindergarten he is happy at, from the friendships he has formed, from the enormous flat he can ride a bike around. Of course, even if we stayed until the end of my husband’s contract, we would still have to take him away from these things. I think I am seeing this through my own eyes rather than a three year old’s. I know what it feels like to leave your home and I am projecting those feelings on to Noah.

“How do you feel about moving back to England?” I ask him frequently.

“Alright,” he says. “I can’t wait to go to my new nursery! It’s great!”

I realised just how often I must have spoken to him about this when he turned to me yesterday and said, “So, Mummy, how do you feel about moving back to our little house?”

Noah is 3 years old. His language is developing every day but it is by no means advanced. He isn’t capable of telling me how he feels about moving back to England. He isn’t capable of understanding it himself. He pooed in his pants every day last week which is something he never, ever did whilst he was potty training well over a year ago. Is that relevant? Is he channelling his uncertainty about moving back to England by pooing in his pants? Or is he just being a sod? He certainly isn’t doing very much of what he is told at the moment. Even phone calls to Father Christmas and threats of him losing presents doesn’t seem to hold any sway with him. He’ll be okay. I know he’ll be okay. I know this experience won’t damage him in any way. But I still feel sad on his behalf, especially when I see him running home from kindergarten every day, hand in hand with his best friend.

 

A few weeks ago, one of my friends asked me, “What are the top five things you’ll miss about Vienna?” “There aren’t five. I will miss absolutely nothing about Vienna!” I exclaimed. But that’s not true. I will miss living on the park, I will miss my husband being home in time to play with Noah, I will miss the wine, I will miss the Sachertorte, I will miss the public transport, I will miss that most things are within walking distance, I will miss the space we have in our flat. I will miss the lifestyle we have been able to afford. I will miss my friends.

 

I know I am doing the right thing going home; I couldn’t bear to imagine the alternative. I have had a hard year in lots of ways. We all have them. Going home is faced with its own challenges: unpacking, cramming all of our stuff into a two up, two down cottage, finding myself a job. I am surprised to realise that I will have to adapt, to settle back in. But I am looking forward to starting up my life again in my beloved Essex. I have not liked living in Vienna but that doesn’t mean I don’t like it as a place. There is a grace and a grandeur about it. I respect it. But there’s no place like Essex.

Auf Wiedersehen Vienna, from my Noah and from me. Over and out.

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There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.
My Noah and Me

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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)


Ten Tips for Travelling with a Three Year Old

  1. When packing, don’t leave your suitcase unattended. I made this mistake yesterday. I returned to my half-packed suitcase and discovered two rubber ducks, fresh from the bath, dripping all over the neatly folded, ironed clothes. I also found a photograph of Noah and me in an “I love my Mummy” frame. There wasn’t room for it in his own suitcase, apparently, because he had packed every book on his bookshelf.
  1. Don’t be ready to leave for the airport earlier than necessary as this provides an opportunity for mischief to occur. We were all packed and ready with shoes on at 9.50 a.m., waiting for my husband to arrive to help us to the airport. Five minutes later, when he hadn’t turned up, I checked my phone and discovered he had texted me an hour before telling me we were leaving at 10.30 a.m. instead. What to do with the extra 40 minutes? I let Noah watch television. He claimed he was hungry. The only snack I hadn’t packed for the journey was a chocolate croissant. 30 degrees heat plus chocolate croissant equals an almighty mess on his clean clothes. Unfortunately, I didn’t realise until I was strapping him into his car seat.
  1. Your child will need to go to the toilet at the most inopportune times. I was at the self-check-in booth printing our boarding passes, gripping both passports and a notebook containing the booking reference. I had keyed half the details in, when Noah announced he needed a wee, grabbing his willy to accentuate the point. Every day without fail the boy holds his wee for over three and a half hours whilst at nursery, but that doesn’t mean he will choose to hold it when I really need him to. I abandoned the check-in and proceeded to the toilets. Again, five minutes before boarding, Noah did several stinky “botty pops”.

“Do you need a poo?” I asked.

“No.”

“Sure?”

“I don’t need a poo-poo!” he informed me indignantly, as if I were a simpleton.

Boarding was announced and he needed a poo. We rushed to the toilets. He didn’t do a poo.

  1. Avoid taking your child in the Duty Free Shop. Avoid this at all costs. This is difficult when a bottle of water costs €1.90 in the Duty Free Shop and €3.50 in the café. No matter how hard you try to steer your child away from the sweets, his beady little eye will seek them out. He will pick up a giant Toblerone. You will say no. He will pick up a giant tube of Jelly Belly. You will say no. He will pick up a clear plastic bag full of mini packets of Mentoes. You will say no. He will not take no for an answer and will refuse to put them back. An argument will ensue. He will flee the scene, still clutching the Mentoes. The shop has no walls, therefore your three year old will see no boundaries. You will have to chase him as he flees the scene of the crime, casting worried glances over your shoulder to check if any security guards are running after you, before rugby tackling him to the ground to retrieve the Mentoes.
  1. No matter how many activities you pack for the journey, your child will be fed up within an hour of boarding the plane. We had a colouring book and pencils, a sticker book, story books, a puzzle, his Vtech Innotab and a portable DVD player. The DVD player is the most handy (see point 8) but the volume does not go very high so he gets fed up of straining to hear Peppa on a plane, far sooner than he would if he were sitting indoors.
  1. Accept your child will eat far more sugar than they normally do. What else is there to do between check-in and boarding apart from bribing him to sit in a café and eat cake? On the flight, you will be offered a sweet (i.e. chocolate) or savory snack. If your child is paying attention and you choose the savory option, he will put you right in front of the air hostess, and inform her he will have the chocolate. He will also have undiluted apple juice. Also,if your parents, his loving grandparents, are picking you up from the airport, they will bring some sort of treat food (e.g. a muffin) for your child to snack on. There will also be promises of choc-ices after dinner. Which leads me on to…
  1. If your parents haven’t seen your child for a while, expect excessive behaviour. Yesterday, my mother outdid herself by greeting us in the arrivals hall by shouting our names whilst surrounded in a cloud of bubbles from a bubble gun. The bubble gun was Noah’s, of course, and he was absolutely delighted with it. I didn’t realise it at the time but the bubble gun was actually a godsend (see point 8). Apart from the bubble gun, my parents had bought Noah an array of garden toys: a trampoline, a new tent, a swing ball, a football and goal and a bug catching set (?!). Whilst they didn’t bring all of this to the airport with them, they did describe it to Noah in great detail, making his face a picture of rapture as he imagined it. He won’t miss the park this time we’re in England: he has his very own adventure land in the back garden.
  1. Your child will never fail to surprise you. On the way home from the airport, we got stuck on the M25 for four hours between junctions 24 and 25. When we eventually did get off, we were still miles away from home. Noah occupied himself with his DVD player and the bubble gun. To my delighted dismay, the boy was an absolute angel. He asked, mildly, a few times, why we weren’t moving. My back ached, my legs ached, I was mind-numbingly bored, I was hungry and thirsty and I needed to go to the toilet. I certainly felt like throwing my toys out of the pram, but my Noah completely put me to shame.
  1. Your child will be willing to wee in an empty apple juice bottle but under no circumstances will he poo by the side of the car. Noah took great delight in weeing in a bottle and claimed to need a wee every ten minutes or so until the novelty wore off. Later, he really needed a poo. He was a bit distressed by how much he needed a poo. We pulled out of the traffic, stopped beside a grassy bank and got him out of the car. He was unable to poo. He did wee all over my shoe, though.
  1. Sleep will be disrupted. Even if you set out with all the best intentions, booking flights in the middle of the day so you avoid early starts or late bedtimes as well as rush hour traffic, sleep will be disrupted in some way. Noah finally fell asleep in his car seat at 9pm. That’s 10pm in Veinna, three hours after he would normally be asleep. Then he kept waking up on and off until we got home and I carried him up to bed. He woke up this morning at 4.45am demanding breakfast. Seeing as he’d only had a series of snacks for dinner last night (a goodies bar, a satsuma and half a packet of biscuits), I had to allow him to get up and raid the kitchen cupboards at that unearthly hour.

I’m proud of your behaviour yesterday, my Noah.

Two cartridges were used on the journey home
Two cartridges were used on the journey home
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