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Disney on Ice Frozen – a show with the warmest of hearts

Some things were just made to go together – fish and chips; salt and pepper; gin and tonic and of course Disney’s Frozen and ice dancing. You can imagine how delighted the production team behind the annual Disney on Ice tour were when the Frozen phenomenon first hit our shores – no Disney film has ever been more suited to an ice rink.

There was no shortage of mini Elsa and Annas (and a few Olafs) at Newcastle’s Metro Radio Arena waiting to see their heroines perform and they weren’t disappointed. Following a quick warm up and a tutorial on the snowman dance, Mikey, Minnie and the gang introduced a galaxy of dancing Disney princesses, stars of Toy Story, Finding Nemo and The Lion King for a big number about love. Then it was onto the main show, after last year’s dip into the Frozen story, this time we were treated to the whole tale- and what a treat! From the kooky ‘Love is an Open Door, the terribly cute trolls and an impressive inflatable snowmonster, to the show-stopping big number from everyone’s favourite snowman and a dancing reindeer – the show was an avalanche of entertainment. “Are they real?” asked four year old Henry “Of course” I replied!

The excitement was palpable as we all readied ourselves for Elsa’s big ‘Let it Go’ moment at the end of the first half. We weren’t disappointed as Elsa gave us a powerful and emotional dance backed by hundreds of tiny fans (and a few bigger ones!) screaming out the lyrics at the top of their voices. It was a real goosebumps moment and lovely to see so many children totally swept up in the moment.

Unlike in previous years, where we have been treated to snippets from other films in the second half, this time it was all about Frozen. The tiny fans, who had probably seen the film a million times before, reacted as if it was their first time – shouting at the baddies, cheering for the goodies and laughing in all the right places. The great thing about Disney on Ice is there is something for everyone and you only had to look around to see families from two to 92 having a great time.

The whole story was told at pace with great sets, beautiful costumes, perfect dancers and just the right amount of Disney magic to ensure snow in October in Newcastle! It was amazing how they managed to slim down the story, without losing the plot or any of the songs and they retained every bit of the excitement, tension and humour of the film. The principal dancers were the best I’ve ever seen, supported by an amazing cast of extras who did some impressive costume changes and didn’t put a foot wrong.

Every year Disney on Ice promises us the very best in entertainment, and yet again they more than exceeded my expectations. For my kids the countdown to winter (and more importantly Christmas) begins when we step out of the arena, still high on Disney magic, into the cold, dark night. This year was no different. We sang all the way back to the car, and all the way home – and the kids fell asleep with the biggest smiles on their faces – that’s the magic of Disney.

To buy your tickets for the tour click here.

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I attended Disney on Ice Frozen as a guest for review purposes.

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Don’t put your daughter on the stage Mrs Jones!

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Last week there was a segment on Simon Mayo’s Radio 2 show where parents were discussing the alcoholic drinks they had smuggled into various school halls to get them through the hell of watching another kids’ performance. It was all very light hearted and did make me laugh (there’s little more mind numbing than watching other people’s children) but it also made me a little sad.

You see my seven-year-old refuses to let me, her dad or anyone else she knows watch her on stage. I have crouched at the back when she has performed in the school nativity, hidden between pews during the harvest festival and been banished to the wings for her annual dance shows. Not been allowed to be included really hurts. I thought watching the school play, the choir recitals and the two left-footed dance shows would be all part of the joy of being a parent for me and my husband. We want to be a part of her new adventures and show how proud we are. Instead we have to drop her at the door and leave or is some cases literally turn our backs until she has finished (cue some very odd looks at the village fete when her hip hop class took it the stage).

This stage fright even extends to her swimming lessons – I am the only person allowed to sit on the side of the pool as she slowly but surely learns her strokes. If ever I can’t take her she will only get into the water if her dad or grandparents leave once they have handed her over to the teacher.

It sounds indulgent but I really don’t know what to do. One year we decided to be brave and me and my husband sat (unannounced) in the audience of the school nativity play. All was going well until she spotted us and then the tears started and her sobbing ‘we wish you a merry Christmas’ became the talk of the school gate! So now every year I have to explain to her teachers that we aren’t an unsupportive family, in fact we are giving the best support we can by not being there.

Next Saturday is her annual dance recital – which is meant to be a chance for us parents to see what the girls get up to in class. There’s no costumes, no big numbers in fact it’s pretty low key but as ever we have been banned. It breaks my heart that we can’t be there with all the other proud parents but if it’s a choice between seeing her confidence grow a little by getting on stage and missing out or her refusing to take to the stage I know what we have to do. I do wish one day we will be able to stand and cheer with the other families.

Has anyone else experienced this situation – I’d love some advice or suggestions about combating it.

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Home alone…

 

 
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My youngest is having his first morning at school today. As predicted he ran through the door without giving me a second glance. His teacher even had to tell him to give me a hug before he darted off to explore. It was all in all the perfect start to his life at school but now here I am, home alone for the first time in seven years. Thanks to a juggling act The Moscow State Circus would be proud of, I have managed to get some more hours of work so I won’t be sipping endless cappacionos and lunching my way through the week, but for now as I sit at my computer it definitely feels strange:

  1. It’s deathly quiet. With only Ken Bruce to keep me company I am already missing the constant shouts of “Mummy” and just the general hullabaloo that comes with having a four year old in your house
  2. I have started talking to the pet rabbit! Not just saying hello but a proper (one sided) conversation!
  3. I feel like I should be keeping busy. I have a cup of tea in my hand but since I got in from the school run I haven’t been able to sit down. It feels wrong not to be on the move all the time, thinking about a thousand things at once. Turning on the TV and watching Phil and Holly would be like playing truant from school – what if someone caught me not rushing round like a whirlwind….
  4. I had prepped tea by 9.55am
  5. I have no intention of going anywhere today  – no running to play group, soft play, music class or swimming. The day seems very long without pre-school activities to fill it
  6. My ironing pile has gone and there are two loads of washing on the line
  7. I am up-to-date with my twitter, Facebook and Linked In accounts
  8. I may love my ‘hard as nails non-nonsence mum’ image but I miss my boy!

 

 

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A happier ending and a new beginning …

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Meet Doodles – our new rescue rabbit! She’s very nervous but we are showering her with love and affection and loving having her as part of our family. The kids still talk about Waffles A LOT but they are using what they learned from their first (short-lived) pet experience to give Doodles a great home!

Sadly she’s too young to have been spayed so I may have to face the dreaded visit to the vet in the future but for now we are just enjoying her! Where Waffles was bolshy, confident and independent, Doddles is shy, cuddly and apprehensive – two rabbits as different as my two kids! PERFECT!!

16/10/16 postscript – Sadly we have now lost Doodles too! I am not sure lightening is meant to strike twice and am starting to question the health of the rabbits when we got them as they both came from the same place. Needless to say that’s us off pets for a bit…..

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The love we lost…

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In April, for my daughter’s seventh birthday she got her first pet. A lop eared, albino rabbit called Waffles. The rabbit quickly became part of the family but as the weeks passed we realised it would be kinder all round if she was spayed. She was grumpy, she was nesting and my God could that rabbit dig! Anyway, a trip to the vet was arranged for a pretty routine op and then the unthinkable happened. Waffles had a reaction to the anesthetic and despite the superhuman efforts of the vets she died 24 hours later. So we are pet-less again but here is what the whole sorry episode taught me:

  • My sensitive, gentle seven year old is really quite tough – yes, she was sad when I told her that Waffles had died but there were no hysterics or hours of wailing. A few tears, a massive hug and she was happy to continue with her day. OK she wasn’t bounding about the place like Tigger but her quiet, reflective reaction made me realise Megan’s made of steelier stuff than I often give her credit for
  • Four year olds can be very perceptive – the day after we got the news, the classic song “The love I lost” came on the radio. Cue Henry, 4, “The love I lost was Waffles”. Out of the mouth of babes…
  • Mums get blamed for everything – the worst bit about breaking the news to Megan was when she turned on me. It was my fault Waffles was at the vet. I was the one who wanted her spayed. She was quite happy with her as she was (grief seemed to have erased from her memory just how moody, broody and uncooperative Waffles had become). As a mum, my shoulders are meant to be broad, and I wasn’t going to try to reason with an irrational seven year old, but I’d be lying if I said her accusations didn’t hurt
  • Pets can be replaced but it’s not the same – the decision was quickly made to replace Waffles when we get back from holiday but in no way has that lessened the sadness we are all feeling. The new rabbit will be loved and cuddled and be great – but it won’t be Megan’s first pet and it won’t be Waffles and I’m quite proud that in this age of commodity the kids haven’t regarded their pet as instantly replaceable
  • Vets and veterinary nurses are superhuman, caring professionals – throughout the unexpected 24 hours of trauma I had regular updates from the vets who loved and cared for Waffles as if she belonged to them. True heroes who went well beyond the call of duty.
  • I’m as soft as the next person – I like the world to think I’m a tough nut (although my close friends and family know the truth) but even now every time I catch a glimpse of the empty hutch I feel a stab of sadness. We only had her a few months but somehow that pesky rabbit had burrowed into our hearts. Damn!

How have you and yours coped with the death of a pet? Any advice? I’d love to hear your stories…

 

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Something old…something young!

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This may be controversial but, I don’t like children at weddings. In my mind, christenings are for children and weddings are for adults. Weddings involve a lot of hanging around, listening to grown ups and having to be quiet – not a recipe for fun in most children’s worlds. When we got married we asked everyone to leave their kids at home – there were a few raised eyebrows but the vast majority of parents were delighted to have the chance to spend a whole day (and night) child-free. Since we have had kids we have always left them at home when we’ve been to weddings, even if they have been invited – kinder to them, kinder to us and kinder to the bride and groom (who can have our full attention).

So having said all that why have we just returned from our first wedding as a family? Well, my cousin was getting married in Wales and invited us all along. We aren’t a close family geographically so the chance for us all to get together for one day seemed too good an opportunity to miss. There would also be children involved in the wedding party so we wouldn’t be the only ones dragging out little ones with us. Once I’d told the kids we might be going there was no turning back – they were so excited so off we went for a 10 hour round trip in the car for a great family celebration. The wedding was lovely and having the kids there wasn’t too bad so for anyone else planning on taking the plunge here’s what I learned about young children at weddings:

Wearing your best clothes doesn’t stop you wanting to roll down hills. The wedding was in the club house at the fabulous Celtic Manor Resort. A mass of rolling hills onto a Ryder Cup golf course. A perfect attraction for kids who see grass stains and mud streaks as a badge of honour.

You can’t make your kids look smart if they don’t want to. A little girl sat behind us in the ceremony refused to wear her pretty hairband for the service or the photos. Once the formalities were over, she grabbed the offending article from her mum stuck it on her head and refused to remove it until bedtime! Typical….

It’s hard to keep children quiet during the ceremony. To be fair mine were really good (we had a big chat about it beforehand so they knew they had to keep stum) but I was at a wedding once when a little lad piped up “Who’s that monster?!” when the bride walked in – not the reaction she was after

Disposable cameras are a great distraction on the tables but don’t expect too many high quality shots. Once mine had figured which way round to hold it, how to roll it on and dealt with the fact they couldn’t instantly see the shots they’d taken, the camera on our table was full in seconds.

You’ll need a smart mummy bag (or rucksack) – for previous weddings I have invested in a little clutch bag, something sparkly and impractical that just about fits my bank card and lipstick. Not this time, I needed something big enough to fit in changes of clothes for the four year old (the potty training saga continues), the whole range of Jake and the Neverland Pirates characters, a pen and paper for the artistic seven year old, snacks, a water bottle, cardigans and their massive Vtech cameras! A bin bag would have done but in the end I managed to find something that looked slightly more attractive, that was big enough for all their stuff and my lippy!

Favours are a great snack – wedding breakfasts are always served at odd times. You wouldn’t normally sit down to a three course meal at 4pm on a Saturday afternoon and most guests miss lunch and are starving by the time the food arrives. I made sure the kids had massive breakfasts so they wouldn’t whine too much about their stomachs but the moment we sat down to eat they wanted feeding.  Whilst we were waiting for the bread rolls to come round, they spied the favours – personalised M&Ms with little pictures of the gorgeous bride and groom printed on them. My kids didn’t notice the pictures, or the pretty organza bags. All they saw were sweets – within 2 minutes every bag on the table had been devoured! They were definitely enjoyed but maybe not appreciated in the way that had been intended.

Kids can bond over anything. During the speeches (which were funny but longer than an episode of Hey Duggie so lost on the kids), my two went outside to play. Before long they were playing hide and seek with some of the other kids from the wedding, sharing toy cars and picking daisies. They kept each other entertained and had a great time whilst the grown-ups could concentrate on the important bit.

The disco will keep them entertained – once the lights flashed and the DJ started, all the kids were happy. They took over the dance floor not letting anyone over the age of 12 get a look in. The only bad thing was just as mummy and daddy were finding their mojo and busting some moves (?!) the little ones hit a wall and we had to head off to bed – having your style cramped by a seven year old hurts!

When I asked both of mine what the best bit of their first wedding experience was the answer was a resounding “staying in a hotel” – the two nights in a Premier Inn was the highlight for them which kind of reinforces my theory that the romance, fun and gravitas of a wedding is lost on anyone under the age of 15.

 

 

 

 

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(Not) working 9-5…

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Before I had kids I was a career woman – OK I didn’t rock the shoulder pads and kiss ass attitude but I moved around the country to further my journalism and PR career with little thought for anyone but me.

Obviously that all changed when the little ones came along and I took the decision to cut my hours. It wasn’t an easy decision and I’ve struggled with it practically every day since.

I’ve watched my peers progressing careers I would have killed for and had to turn my back on some amazing opportunities because, despite what people say, true flexible working is pretty much a myth and if you want to be there to watch your baby’s first steps or do the school run you have to put your career on hold.

I have battled with jealousy, anger and tons of guilt –I have two amazing children and many people would kill for that, but there’s just something in me that wants to do well for myself.  So now the youngest is setting off for school you’d think I’d be dusting down my CV and starting the slow climb back up the career ladder but, much to my amazement, something has changed.

Despite loving my job and having a wealth of ideas to grow my own PR company, I have discovered I don’t want to be at my desk five days a week. I see the joy on my daughter’s face on the days I can pick her up from school and despite moaning about being a taxi service I love taking both kids to their various evening activities and being on hand to host play dates. Working 9-5 (or even 8.30-4.30) every day means I would miss out on too many little things that mean more to me than I first realised.

I want to be able to make a fool of myself in the mothers’ race on sports day and fight for the front seat at the nativity play, and so I am letting go of my entrenched view that I will be heading back to full time work in September. I still have my part time hours (which I love) and with the extra time I will have when both kids are at school I can start really selling my PR consultancy and doing more of this blogging stuff!

I am already finding myself networking at playgroups (chatting over a cup of coffee and play dough can be just as productive as a formal meeting) and looking for opportunities in unusual places rather than relying on my old career path.

As an aside, one thing chatting with other mums has shown me is that businesses across all sectors are really missing out by not being truly flexible.  There’s an army of professional women (and men) out there who have some exceptional skills but because they can’t fit into a ‘normal’ work structure they have had to turn their backs on their careers. Many of these parents could do more in five hours a day (when their kids are at school) than most do in an eight hour day but because, in the main, our business culture is based on time and not productivity they don’t get the chance to shine.

In this day and age we shouldn’t be travelling hundreds of miles for meetings (which automatically rule parents out who can’t organise childcare), everything should be done remotely and to suit everyone taking part. Is it that unreasonable to suggest that as long as the work gets done and the business doesn’t suffer people should be treated like adults to come and go as they need to? I understand the need for flexibility on both sides but you won’t find a more flexible army of people than working parents. Daily they juggle 100 things without taking their eyes off the main prize, but so often they are just not given the chance to prove themselves and are seen as a burden or even worse ‘taking the pi**’ if they don’t fit the traditional workers’ model. Job adverts should be more creative – the terms full time and part time should be made obsolete – the main question should be ‘can you get the job done?’

Like many parents the route my career is about to take is not what I would imagine ever happening and is not what I would have chosen but the last seven years of mummyhood have taught me that you can’t plan life and the most surprising of decisions can have some fantastically unexpected results. So here goes….

How have you found the return to work? I’d love to hear your stories and please do give a shout out to any truly flexible companies out there who are understanding our worth.

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