Amsterdam - Days 2 & 3

6/10/2016

The weather gave thunderstorms and Irish temperatures for the rest of the week so I was unbelievably thankful to wake up and see the sun shining (thank you God). We got out of our room quicker than you can say 'Reuben you aren't dragging that 2 ft dinosaur the whole way around the city'. 
I decided to ditch the pram and let Reubs roam freely. When I think about this in hindsight, I wonder if it's possible to get high just by being near smokers. Could I have been passively high? Is that a thing? Lets be honest, I'd have to be a whole new level of chill before I'd consider ditching the pram. When in Amsterdam, guess. 

We jumped on the first tram we saw (FYI, buy a 48 hr pass) and headed towards the Jordaan neighborhood where the Anne Frank house is. I took one look at the queues and then one look at Reuben banging on the door of some random house, and I decided to go to the cheese museum instead. We sampled our way around all the fantastically coloured cheeses until Reuben needed a nappy change (obviously) and we headed to find a coffee shop with a bathroom. 

N.B. 'Coffee shops' donot sell coffee. They sell marijuana. 'Cafes' sell coffee. I learnt this the hard way. 


We headed to museum square/museumplein, getting a few wrong trams in the process, much to Reuben's delight. With three of the best museums, I realised that this square must be the cultured person's dream. But for Reuben it was the opportunity to chase pigeons and get in other people's tourist photos. 


This photo is basically the reason I went to Amsterdam
We walked from Museum Square to the Vondel Park, stopping for a quick toilet break in the Van Gogh Museum and a short grocery shop. We didn't actually need groceries but the trolleys were cool so we got deoderant, cheese, crisps, olives, and pineapple juice. Exotic, I know.


After ANOTHER walk through the Vondel Park we stumbled across what might have been my favourite part of Amsterdam - the Oud-West. It doesn't have anything big and touristy, but it has lots of small hidden gems. The first being Koffie Acadmie where I had some of the best coffee I've ever tasted. 
It was so cute and rustic with the friendliest staff, none of which had beards.
 It was so interesting to find good coffee that wasn't served by hipsters.
This was one of my favourite moments of the whole trip.
We just sat and read books and watched the Amsterdam world go by. His
fascination with anything new, gets me every time.

Our next stop was a little mamas haven called De Boezemvriend which had a little baby/toddler shop attached to a cafe with mini tables for the kids to play at and drink their 'babycinnos'. It had everything you could dream of to amuse the little monsters - toys, play mats, high chairs, prams... It even had a sanctuary for breasfeeding with a little cot and toddler bed for naps. Reubs made friends with a dutch toddler called Beau and they shared the lego, and then both had to be disciplined for not sharing the lego. I considered moving to Amsterdam to raise Reuben just because of this one shop. 





Other great kids shops for both toys and clothes in Amsterdam were Big and Belg, GOED, and De Kinderfeestwinkel (google it, I promise it's a place). These were in the De Pijp area but weren't too far on the tram. I got Reubs a really cute pair of tracksuit bottoms and he got a really big and not-so-cute tractor. 

On the tram back to the hotel Reubs fell asleep so I stayed on until he woke up... approximately an hour later. But it was a great way to see more of the city in the peace and quiet, without having to actually move. Not moving is such a valued concept when you own a 2 year old. 

When he woke up we went for a quick outfit change and then had dinner (chicken nuggets & chips again) and cocktails at the Hard Rock Cafe. 



For anyone worried about Reubs, it was my cocktail. And for anyone
worried about me (i.e. my dad), it was non alcoholic.
Reubs once again ended the day in a perfect way - by attempting to
jump into a canal <3


We definitely wasted day 3.

Okay, we didn't waste it per say, but we really didn't make the most of our time. Here's a summary of the day;

We climbed up the steps of every house on every canal. We climbed on every bike. And we visited every park. Even the terrible ones, with little weed dens.

And by 'we', I mean 'Reuben'. I merely chased after him, doing what he told me to do. If that meant talking to the rock he pretended was a dog, then I talked to the rock. If that meant knocking on the door of a strangers house because that's where we were going to catch the 'bad guy', then I knocked on the door (thankfully they weren't home). And if that meant sitting on a motorbike and setting off the alarm, then I sat on the motorbike... and ran away pretty swiftly. Parents talk about 'baby-lead weaning' when they let the child decide when it wants to eat as it progresses off milk. So I call this 'toddler-lead travel' where I let Reuben decide when we progress. Not because I'm a really creative earth-mother, but mostly because I stupidly left the pram in the hotel and I can't be bothered fighting with that strong will of his when we're on holiday.


We had breakfast at the 'Carousel Pancake House' opposite the Heineken Experience, and I can't tell you a whole lot about what I've learnt in Theology this year, but I can tell you one thing; dutch pancakes will be in heaven.


The restaurant is made out of an old carousel and there's a little mini carousel in the middle of the room. It's perfect for kids to play on whilst parents finish both theirs and the kids pancakes. 



Not only did we have my favourite pancakes of the whole trip, but we also found my favourite park of the whole trip right beside it (who cares about Reuben's favourite park). The whole park was built on a gigantic sandpit with trampolines in the ground, which were very convenient for Reuben when he stole another child's ball and then just proceeded to bounce away with a smug grin. I think most of my dutch friendships stemmed from me having to apologise for my toddler falling out with their toddler/harassing their toddler.


In the midst of our explorations, we did manage to check out 'The Nine Streets', with lots of quirky vintage shops. It broke my heart to walk past all the boutiques but I tried on and purchased one top whilst Reuben sat in the shop owner's kitchen eating sweets. Once again, in hindsight I've a feeling I was a little too chilled out on this trip. Reuben made a friend for life though, and we've been invited back whenever Reubs fancies it. 

We also accidentally wandered into the Red Light District and did a little U-turn once I caught on where we were. Its one thing I wish I could have seen but I think I'll leave that for a time when Reuben isn't with me. i.e. probably never. 


Later that evening, before heading back to cry over the amount of packing I had to do, we headed to the Artis Zoo... but didn't go in (another unfulfilled Pinterest idea), ended up renting a bike, nearly died, returned the bike, and got churros instead. After fighting over the last nutella-smothered churro, I realised we were both pretty hungry. So we got two Happy Meals to go and dangled our legs over the canal, and watched the sun set. Well, I watched the sun set. Reuben basically face planted his nuggets. 



The next morning we both absolutely konked out on our very early flight home, after a pretty traumatic airport wait. And by that, I mean it, was traumatic for fellow travellers. For me, it was just embarrassing. As we were waiting to board in that gate area with the seats that make you think you're nearly there but in reality they make you wait another 45 mins, Reuben was a little bit disorientated with his lack of sleep. Actually, I'm not even going to defend him... He was a little bit of a brat. And he was throwing tantrums because he didn't want to wait in line. Just as this was happening, one of the staff decided to ask me to fill out a questionnaire (why would you choose that moment?) And as I took my eyes off Reuben, he bolted under the retractable belt barrier and ran outside. Just as I was filling in the question 'Are you travelling for business or pleasure?', someone shouted 'That kid is on the runway', and I thought to myself, 'Most certainly not pleasure, that's for sure'. One of the guys in a reflective jacket grabbed Reubs and brought him inside. Although, I would like to point out to the panicked stranger that a runway is where the planes take off - Reubs was merely heading for the wee 'parked up' bit where we board the plane. No biggy.  

Okay, kind of a biggy. But as soon as we boarded our butts onto our seats and got a swig of milk and calpol, we were out like a light. And for once I wished that we'd had a longer flight. 
Amsterdam - you were great... Until next time. Kidding, I'll probably never be back because there's so much more I want to show Reubs. But I look forward to some Dutch pancakes at the Christmas market. 










Toddler On Tour - Amsterdam

6/08/2016

As we arrived in Amsterdam, I abandoned my bags in line at passport control and prayed that the guy behind wasn’t a thief who wanted to steal my identity, money, and cheese puffs. I sweatily bounded after Reuben who was climbing UP the downward escalator and screaming ‘NO BAD MUMMY GO AWAY’. The security guard greeted us and told me it would be greatly appreciated if I could keep my child under control, to which I replied ‘yeah that would be lovely, wouldn’t it?'

We finally got to the front of the queue after a 45 minute wait in line. And as the immigration officer turned to me and asked his very first question, 'Where is the dad?'.......... I did begin wonder why I do this to myself.

After recomposing, and repeatedly chanting in my head, 'Grace. Show him grace', I made it through to get my luggage without headbutting the officer. And as soon as we got into the taxi and Reuben hung his head out the window like a dog and squealed down the motorway (with the driver telling us off in dutch), I remembered why I do this to myself;

It's an adventure. Exploring a new place through Reuben's little hyperactive eyes is the perfect recipe for valuable memories. Of course he's still the same violent toddler no matter where we are, but it is so freeing to check out of life for a few days and have quality time together. Sometimes at home I can be spending time with Reuben but in my head I'm figuring out how C.S. Lewis portrays temptation in Perelandra and wondering if I have time to write a paragraph whilst simultaneously hoovering every surface of my house (for the record, the answer is no). But when we go away there's no excuse; I can be all Reuben's. Travelling with a 2 year old boy isn't for everyone. If it's a relaxing beach holiday you're after then wait a few years... 25 years to be exact. Then you can leave them behind and know for sure that they can feed themselves.

I've been asked by a few people to write a post about Amsterdam and how to do it with a child. And being the 3am Pinterester that I am, I can tell you aaaaallll of the best places for kids. But I can also tell you that I did not go to any of those places. Instead, we ate lots of pancakes, wondered aimlessly, and then ate some more pancakes. I've professed my love for to-do lists more than you probably care for, but I want you to know that it has massively pained me in the past when I haven't been able to see everything on my to-do list when I'm away with Reubs. So I decided to just go with the flow - Reuben's flow. I mean, we got lost multiple times, but we were getting lost somewhere other than Belfast and that's the main thing.

So here's what we got up, what I wish we got up to, and probably what we shouldn't have got up to:

Day 1

2 minutes after this photo was taken and I reassured my mum that we'd be safe. I pranced off with my head held high like the strong independent woman I pretend to be... Only to accidentally catch the pram sticking out of the trolley on a pole and send Reuben flying onto the ground. At this point I decided to abandon the trolley, putting my trust in Reubs to wheel his own suitcase whilst I wheeled mine. If he wheeled/ran off in the opposite direction to catch a flight to Malia then I'd just have to deal with it. 

If you're looking at my bounce-off-the-walls-crazy-child and questioning how I take him through an airport (and also questioning my sanity) then you should check out an article I wrote for Closer recently (N.B. this isn't a shameless plug. Okay it's a little bit of a shameless plug. But I just can't be bothered to write about it again). Everyone seems to think that it's harder to fly with a baby, but I've found that once they can run, that's when the real trouble begins. But if you are prepared and aren't easily embarrassed then it's totally doable. 


The last time we flew, Reuben's plane obsession was only beginning. But this time it was in full swing, with him torturing every poor soul who walked past us at the airport and shouting "PLANE. MUMMY AND WEUBEN PLANE. ABIMSTERDAM. PLANE". I was worried that he'd have heart failure when we went outside to board, but he was simply stunned into silence. I'm considering saving up for a plane. 

Amsterdam is a very short flight (more parent brownie points) and I have to give credit where credit is due, Reuben was an absolute delight. Of course I booked the cheapest deal possible, and I mean cheap. Reubs spent most of it with his legs on the lady beside us and I'm pretty sure he dribbled down the neck of the guy in front with his cheese and onion Pringle breath. Thankfully we were blessed to have seats beside some extremely tolerant flyers. Reuben repeatedly showed everyone his special 'plane bag' and shared his collection of cars, dinosaurs, snacks, juice, stickers, and Calpol. I was just glad that the eyesore of a bag, which comes everywhere with us, was being used for something other than popping out to get milk. 

We stayed in the Hotel Kooyk on Leidseplein, really close to the Rijkmuseum, Heineken Experience, and Van Gogh Museum - none of which we went to... but we went to a playpark right beside the Heineken Experience and we used the toilets in the Van Gogh Museum, so I don't think we missed out on anything. Leideplein is a good place to sit down and just soak up the atmosphere. It's a little bit touristy but when chicken nuggets and chips are the only food on your child's palette, then it's your best bet for a family restaurant. 

I had been a little worried about our hotel/hostel/I'm not quite sure what it was, as I usually am when I book the cheapest place going. But the service was amazing, and they made Reuben so welcome. I'm starting to realise that little family-run places are the best. Our only issue was on the last night when Reubs couldn't get to sleep because someone was vomitting outside our window. But had it been a few years earlier, I probably would have been that person outside, and to be honest there's just as much chance of that happening outside our house in Belfast... so I can't complain. 

One last thing, if you aren't trying to save every penny then I'd recommend not getting the shared bathroom. It was unbelievably clean but a little cramped. I obviously had to bring Reuben every time I went to the toilet (you know what my bladder is like) and, well, it looked like this...


We spent day 1 getting lost in the pouring rain and going from one pancake shop to the next, trying to figure out fun things to do INDOORS. This caused a bit of an issue with Reubs who was ready to combust if he didn't get running around.

Note the rain outside. It looks like we never left South Belfast
After having to take him into one too many toilets to have a 'stern word' for throwing cutlery at me, I decided enough was enough (again beginning to wonder why I had done this). Our options were a boat tour or the NEMO museum. NEMO is a big science centre where kids can set up experiments and probably set each other on fire. Reuben seemed a little young and quite frankly, the thought of hundreds of kids in a confined-sciency-space on a rainy day was my worst nightmare. So we opted for the boat tour, and strategically chose a boat with a roof. It's a fabulous way to see the city if you aren't there for long. It's also fascinating for kids who are well behaved. Mine, on the other hand, tried to repeatedly climb out the window. But hey, we all bring something different to the table, don't we?


The tour guide told me that if Reuben didn't sit down on his seat then I'd be asked
to get off the boat. By this stage I was ready to jump into the canal with him anyways. 
When we eventually got off the boat, the rain had subsided, so I grabbed the opportunity to head to the Vondel Park where they had the mother of all kids parks. We could easily have spent the full three days here. It seemed to have something for everyone, whether you are there to explore, have a picnic, work out, or smoke weed. I guess it depends what type of person you are. In my case, it involved coffee and pastries in between slide races and roly polys on the grass. Outside the park there's a great cafe called the Kinderkookkafe where the kids are the chefs. I regret more than anything that we didn't go. But considering Reuben climbs inside our oven at home, I was in no hurry to allow him to start cooking meals.



That evening we had a romantic dinner at the Wagamamas near our hotel. Reubs gave me a full run down of his day. There were stories of the plane, the boat, the alarm that he set off on a motorbike, his run from the police (there were no police), the ducks that ate his hand at the park (there were no ducks), the tram that nearly ran us over (that actually happened), and how the guy at the table next to us eating with chopsticks was the 'bad guy' (he was a perfectly lovely man). We went all out and had ice cream for dessert, and made friends with the waitress who helped us when said ice cream went all down my dress. You can always count Reubs to be a conversation starter. That dinner date was the perfect end to a very unperfect day. 

Surviving Exams AND Parenting

6/01/2016


I've made sure to write this post as soon as possible after my last exam to ensure that the joy of freedom hasn't overclouded my ability to write honestly. I donot, for one second, want you to think that exams were easy. It's very easy to brush it all under the (coffee-stained) carpet and declare that exams were an absolute breeze, and all you have to do is try your best and everything will be fine.

NO. Everything will not be fine. Everything will be the opposite of fine. And if one more person tells me all I can do is try my best then I'll probably have to dropkick them. I wanted to make sure that the pain of being in the dark revision/exam hole would be fresh in my mind, the wounds of sleepless nights and pro plus overdoses still evidenced on my face. In saying that, I've left 24 hours in between, because lets face it, on the evening of my last exam I fell asleep naked on my bed with my hair still in a towel, shower water still running, and I don't even remember taking the shower. I woke up at 3 am to Reuben looking at me as if to say 'Mama, get it together'.

I've had quite a few people asking me how I do exams and 'do' Reuben at the same time. Usually I just say 'I don't', whilst I walk away because they're wasting my revision time and I'm trying not to cry in their face. I mean, I'm no stranger to doing exams with Reuben in tow. I'm the gal who repeated A levels for 2 years and stupidly took on a counselling course as well as part time work because I want to provide for Reubs. I'm clearly no quitter... but I'm certainly a little crazy. However, this year has been a whole new ballgame. Imagine the worst ballgame, where everyone gets injured and no one wins - that kind of ballgame. Thankfully first year is worth so little, but it doesn't stop me giving it stacks. They might be wasted stacks but we wont focus on that. I'm still not quite sure what approach to take to uni exams, but I do know my capacity to hold information has dwindled to the point of not remembering my own name, never mind remembering what that scholar said about general and special revelation. Mum brain is a thing, okay? It's a very real thing where all of your brain/memory cells are passed on to your child as it makes it's jolly way out of your cervix.

Not really. But it's definitely a result of sleep deprivation, multitasking, stress, bad diet etc etc. So here's how I somehow manage to make it through exams without dropping out of uni and hiring Reuben out as a child model to pay the bills.

- I remember exams are coming, and they are coming soon. All year I keep reminding myself that just because I suck at them doesn't mean I can avoid them. It motivates me to do well in assignments. Exams will pull my marks down appallingly low and I need whatever fall-back cushion I can get. Of course it is soul destroying when you get a 1st in an assignment and that's brought down to a 2:2 by your exam mark, but that's life. You win some, you lose some. Sometimes you sleep all night, waking up once to fall in love with your angelic child, and then you eat eggs with avocado for breakfast. And sometimes you're up every hour with a hyper toddler smearing milk on the walls and you have calpol for breakfast hoping it will sedate said toddler. No one ever said it would be fair. But they said it would be worth it. (Probably the same people who said you can only try your best in exams).

- I accept that I will live in a bog ground for approx. 2 weeks and probably wear the same underwear multiple days in a row. (I'm not going to say how many days in a row because whilst I want you to know I'm honest, I don't want you to know I'm disgusting). There comes a stage when Reuben has just gone to bed and I can decide to tidy the house or I can decide to revise. Of course, there are multiple times I choose to clean, inhaling enough bleach fumes to forget the reality of looming exams. But usually the week before, I give up on the cleaning/laundry and use that time to study or sleep in preparation for another full day in the library. There also comes a point when I stop apologising to people for the mess and I just look at them with bloodshot eyes and mutter 'No time'. Thankfully Reuben doesn't judge, because he made the bloody mess.

- I'm aware that I'm probably going to be passive aggressive but this too shall pass. Stress and panic make me moody. I'm not going to pretend I'm a delight. I'm horrific. One minute I'll be laughing hysterically and the next I'll be crying because I ran out of ink in yet another pen. I'm not one of those people who sits in the library shushing fellow students (I'm usually the one being shushed), but I do have a lot less patience. Most likely with the people who are eating loudly or have already finished exams. Or the one guy in McClay who forced me to move up a floor because if he didn't stop breathing so loudly I was probably going to headbutt him. I'm quite good at keeping my mood to myself but I'm definitely a lot shorter with those I'm closest to. But that's not okay and I've apologised profusely. Poor Reubs has received many a snappy "WOULD YOU JUST GO TO SLEEP NOW!!!!"

- I bare in mind that Reuben's creche is there for a reason. The creche is usually open from 8.30 am to 5.30 pm, but earlier in the semester I quite often leave him in just before a 10 o'clock class or pick him up early when I can. Some days I just avoid all responsibilities and don't leave him in at all and we go spend the day at the beach or watch 101 Dalmatians 101 times. But coming up to exams I leave him in the whole time. And the guilt eats me alive.

There's a constant conflict between knowing that the ultimate goal is to provide a life for him, but simultaneously wanting to spend all of my time with him now. If we were a two-parent family and Reubs was spending time with the other one whilst I was at the library, I don't think I would feel just as guilty. I have to remind myself that this is our normal. I have to remind myself that Reuben LOVES creche and he is advancing more and more every day. The biggest comfort is reminding myself that I'll have nearly 4 months off with him over Summer and I can make up for all the lost time, even if he's sick of me by the end of it and asking to be back at creche - Tough luck Reubs, I want aaaaaallllll the cuddles.

N.B. Friends will be neglected too. When every spare moment is spent revising and keeping Reuben alive, I end up having to say no to offers to meet up or spend time together. I also forget to reply to messages and emails - if they aren't Theology related then they can wait until Summer. So if you're reading this, and you know I've been really terrible at replying, you can probably expect a box of chocolates and an 'I'm sorry' balloon at your door any day now.

- I suck it up and ask for help. I have had to put pride aside and admit that I can't do it all alone. I've had to admit that I generally haven't been coping very well. My mum and dad took Reubs for 24 hours and my friend G (i.e. from Three Men and a Baby, which has gotten more views than any of my posts but lets leave that rant for another time) looked after him the night before each of my exams. So I could just go to the library until a disgusting time and not have to worry about anything other than my dismal memorising skills. I'd have been totally lost without them. Although, next time round I will have to suck it up a little earlier than I did. I'm usually just a tired person in general but during these exams I just couldn't fight the exhaustion. I ended up feeling very sick for a few days after washing down multiple pro plus tablets with multiple coffees. Never again. I can feel my mum's horror from here.

All of the above, along with a lot of prayer and a lot of perspective, is how I get through exams. Considering I booked a holiday to Rome during my exams last year, the odd little tearful breakdown doesn't seem as terrible. I'm just hoping that the next 2 years will get easier, or I'll learn how to cope better, or I'll have a better memory, or Reuben will be less exhausting.

Kidding. There's more chance of Reubs sitting the exams for me.

Hope everyone's exams have went well!

The end product - That's me passed out in the corner. Cute, I know.