A Promise Kept: The Great Outdoors

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Do you ever make a long term plan to do something with your kids.  Well long term is not the right word, but something in the distant future? You know, maybe buy them some floats with the thought of going to the pool, or buy a tent so that you can “in the Future” go camping.  Which is grand, you can prepare to do these things at “some-point-in-the-future” with no specific time frame in mind and you can spread the cost.

Which is all great until the kids find out; because then it’s “when can we go camping?”, “Can we go camping tonight?”, “Are we going camping this weekend?” and on and on and on…

For the last few months I was able to fob them off with we’ll do it “during the summer”. Then it as we got to the summer holidays it was “the tent is too big for our back garden” (it is) “We’ll have to wait till we’re in Granny & Granda’s or Donegal. Now it wasn’t a sudden aversion to camping which made me stall, but the knowledge that they would not settle well in the tent till late at night, likely would be up early and then cranky the rest of the following two days. I didn’t want them being tired and cranky, along with the school term.

Finally a few weeks ago in mid July, I packed the tent and new sleeping bags into the car to go and visit my parents. I did inform the kids that camping this weekend could only happen on the 13th July, depending on the weather and how things were going outside the garden (12th July in N. Ireland)

The 13th came along and it was dry and the streets were quiet, so the tent was pitched, mats rolled out and sleeping bags readied. My Mum seen it as her chance to mind Tomás for the night, but I argued that he’d be fine and that I wanted to see how he did sleeping in the tent before we tried taking him else where.

Camping out in the Great Outdoors

Camping out in the Great Outdoors

Aoife and Aidan were very excited. They were changed for bed and out in the tent long before I was going to put them down for the night. So stories were read,prayers said and they were left out there for a bit on their own to chat. There was no point me staying with them at that point, I’d get no peace and still had Tomás to get ready for bed.

Someone had already beaten me to giving him his bottle before bedtime, in fact they had given him two! As I settled down on the couch with his PJs and a clean nappy he clambered over to me with that look which can mean one of two things. Either he was very, very tired or he was not feeling very well and wanted a cuddle. Unfortunately it was the latter.

After a few minutes contently sitting in my arms he stood up, to climb on to me and promptly brought the whole two bottles up all over me. My dad fortunately was there to run and get some towels to clean up the sick off the couch and off my clothes. Dad then took Tomás to get him cleaned down while I went and changed into my PJs. Of course Tomás was now full of energy and wide awake again. So I got myself a bowl of cereal for supper, which I had almost finished when a well aimed swing of his arm and Tomás sent the bowl of cereal all over me.

So as soon as I was changed again, we were out the door for me to try and settle him in the tent, and miracle or miracles after tell him his story, he settled quickly in my arms. I was able to transfer him to his own sleeping mat and sleeping bag with out disturbing him. Aidan was still chatting and messing but gradually getting quieter and eventually asleep.

Tomás slept soundly all night

Tomás slept soundly all night

Eventually Aidan slept soundly

Eventually Aidan slept

Once asleep everyone slept well a part for an early morning run to the bathroom (Great Outdoors one) by one early riser.


But she settled back down quickly and it was after 8:30 before anyone started to waken.

Aoife had a great sleep too

Aoife had a great sleep too

The camping trip was a great success, everyone slept well and the kids had a great time. Much to my mothers disappointment Tomás slept better than he had when he was inside the house in the travel cot. Just goes to show you can’t always tell what they prefer.

So my only regret is that we didn’t go camping sooner. The fears that Tomás might not settle or that the kids would want to go back into the house as soon as it got dark didn’t materialise. So I’m all encouraged to go and take the kids to one of the many great camp sites around the country. That’ll be the next hurdle to cross.


Ducking Sunday

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For the 12th weekend we headed to Belfast, not a normal trip for most people from Northern Ireland, the majority usually head the opposite direction. We had good reason, as it was our anniversary and we’d planned to abandon the kids with my parents over night on the 14th for some well deserved rest.

We arrived up a few days early and after a quiet, secluded and rainy 12th the Sunday was bright and sunny. Time for us to get out and do something.

Itching to be going, Orla checked out possible places to visit for an hour, looking for things that would interest the kids and be fun for us too. Eventually she settled on the Waterfowl and Wetland Trust’s bird reserve at Castle Espie, just outside Comber.

€19 in for the family was possibly a little steep, but since the centre is a conservation project, we don’t mind making a charitable contribution once in a while. Special bird food can also be bought to feed the birds around the main pond.

The guide map brings you first to the main pond where the resident waterfowl can be fed. This was the best bit of the day for us.

"Can I have more food for the Ducks"

“Can I have more food for the Ducks”

A part from one overly hungry bird who tried to have one of Orla’s fingers, all the birds were very friendly, relaxed around the visitors. Orla had them eating out of her hand which just goes to show that it’s not just me and her class who she has the power to enthral.

Orla gets the birds on side.

Orla gets the birds on side.

The kids loved it too. Tomás spent the whole time wandering around saying “duc” and trying to make a honking noise to mimic the particularly friendly Eurasian white fronted geese which we had feeding from our hands.

The Geese wanted fed too

The Geese wanted fed too

We walked on then, visiting the different hides looking out over Strangford Lough and activities for the kids to get involved in.

Aoife the maiden of the prehistoric boat

Aoife the maiden of the prehistoric boat

Next we stopped in the adventure play ground to play on the climbing frames, balance logs and play hut. As always they made their presence felt, despite our best efforts to get Aoife to stop shouting instructions to Aidan.





Kids enjoy the play ground

Kids enjoy the play ground

The Duckery was the last port of call on the walk to see the newly hatched ducklings. The kids were disappointed that they couldn’t handle the ducklings themselves. Unlike a lot of countries swans are very common in Ireland during the year. But locally these tend to be Mute, Bewick and a lot of whooper swans. Castle Espie now has 2 Black Neck Swans who had chicks this spring. `Rather than the dull dirty grey cygnets we all know from the story these were small white fluffy balls.

Black necked Swan at Castle Espie, photo from Castle Espie's FB page

Black necked Swan at Castle Espie, photo from Castle Espie’s FB page

A great afternoon was had by all with a tea, scone and some treats for the kids before heading home. I’d recommend a trip to Castle Espie for the kids. You can take annual membership, as I’m sure there is also plenty to see in the winter out in Strangford Lough as well as the birds in the main pond.

Should I stop the baby playing with his siblings?


Any of us with kids know that they are all different. I’ve one academic at the moment and another who gets bored writing their name. They know who they are.

My daughter while adventurous is a bit nervous and not inclined to take big risks, but she’ll stick at something and work her way up to it, content to take her own time and do it herself. My big lad is different, much more adventurous and inclined to take risks but rushes to do stuff. He can work out how he can get what he wants. If he can’t get what he’s looking for he’ll cry and complain and say that he can’t do it… but only when you’re watching. Left alone he’ll work at things till he gets there. I fear for when I have to do his homework with him. He doesn’t like being watched as he does things as if performance anxiety somehow eliminates all his capabilities.

I always have tried to encourage my kids to explore and push their limits, as David Lesser wrote in Time online I do keep the play and exploration reasonably safe. My kids will get the odd bump or scrape but that’s how they learn for themselves rather than me instilling a fear in them of unknown consequences.

The kids being adventurous in the garden

What could possibly go wrong?

The youngest, he’s loveable, everyone he meets is so amazed at how smiley he is and how independent and content he appears. One did notice the devil in him thankfully so we share a rye smile when someone comments on how lovely he is. We know the truth.

Where my daughter is knows her limitations and fears consequences but generally gives things a go and likes showing off what she can do, my older son hides his capabilities but knows no fear of the consequences. The youngest has no concept of consequences, no understanding of limitations and just wants to do what his older siblings are doing. If they are in the back garden he wants out there with them; if they are on their bikes, he wants his; if they are playing on the climbing frame…

"I will get up there"

“I will get up there”

Not the safest but at least if he slips he’ll slide back down (which he does, repeatedly, to his immense amusement.) But then this morning he did this..

I know I shouldn’t laugh.

Dashing Dad

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