Military Children – The World They Live In

Adapting to change is something we all struggle with, and we all know how change (and lots of it) can disrupt children and affect their wellbeing.

Military children are inspiring.

We waved goodbye to Daddy in our house for the 2nd time in 2 years. Last year, she had her 2nd birthday a month into his deployment and was barely aware that he was going. When she asked, I told her Daddy was at work (or on holiday!), but with little concept of time at that age, she didn’t know when he was coming back. That was probably made all the more confusing when his tour was extended, and he returned for 2 weeks R&R in the middle of it before heading back out to finish the tour off.

This time is different. It’s a much shorter tour for a start (just shy of 3 months as opposed to 8), and Olivia is older now. She’s 3.5 years old and much more aware that Daddy has gone away to work for a while.

It’s something she’s used to, though more from me being away at work than Daddy. In fact, she is used to both of us working long and unusual hours, having little routine in terms of who will be picking her up from the childminder, or who will be tucking her into to bed.

She takes it all in her stride, only occasionally being upset that either Mummy or Daddy aren’t around when she wants us. I am so immensely proud of how well she manages all of that change at such a small age. I suppose the big, independent and fierce personality (that she was destined to inherit from me and her Nanny) probably has a lot to do with it!

The other home truth about military families is that, usually, when one parent goes way, the other one is around to do everything. If they work, it’s part-time or in school hours or a normal job with normal dependable hours. The army mantra is still very much set back in the 1950s, expecting the ‘wives’ to do everything when it comes to childcare or managing a home. I’m not sure how this equates when the serving member is a woman with a husband at home, but, in our situation, Olivia is a bit of an anomaly in that respect. When Daddy is here, it’s him doing the majority of the home life, but in reality, neither of us are dependable because either of us could be away at the drop of a hat.

She didn’t choose this life, and no military children do, no military spouses do either, for that matter! We’re all lumped with it and have to make the best of it. But our children are certainly the most incredible little people, managing the change so well and with few complaints along the way.

Their voices are rarely heard. Spouses often feel overlooked when it comes to the respect and awe that their service member receives for ‘what they do’, because the people left behind dealing with the everyday are forgotten. If the spouses feel that way, imagine how the children must feel. Especially those like Olivia who are too young to really understand where Mummy/Daddy is other than ‘at work’ and wondering how long it will be until they’re back.

The cake we baked for Daddy after his last deployment!

Unfortunately for Olivia she has even more change to come. There is no support at all for military families needing childcare while one spouse is deployed, and so Olivia will be spending the weekdays with Nanny for the next 3 months so that I can carry on going to work.

Military life is so incredibly frustrating, and definitely better suited to single people who want to travel the world! Our family of four became two, and is soon to become one, whilst we wait for Daddy (and Kiera with him) to come back home.

I’m so proud of our ‘pad rats’ for adapting so well to everything that’s been thrown at them. But we certainly cannot wait to have Daddy back home!!!

Are you a military family? What’s your experience of military life?

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Mental Health Monday: Keeping up Appearances

Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, has been interviewed by ITV news recently and shared the stark reality of her feelings when she became a new wife and mother.

The thing is, how many of us recognise that look in her eyes? I’d be willing to bet we all do in one way or another.

But as she says, nobody has really asked her how SHE was doing. She’s been keeping up appearances, looking so incredibly strong on the outside, that it probably never occurred to anyone that she might not be feeling that way on the inside.

How many of us are guilting of doing that, too?

How many of us have a picture just like this one? Smiling and happy on the outside, but actually suffering a lot more than people would realise?

When you have a baby, you’re “someone’s mum”, and all of a sudden everyone is concerned with the new baby, how they’re doing, if they’re okay. It’s a lot less often that anyone is concerned with how YOU are doing, and if YOU are okay. It’s so easy to lose sight of the fact that you are your own person, especially in Meghan’s case, where she has the entire world watching her through the eyes of the press. I felt lonely and isolated enough after having a baby, that I cannot imagine how it must feel for her.

I recently had the strange experience of actually having some time off work, and decided, for once, to treat myself. I took care of ME for once, invested in myself a little bit, and felt so much better for it.

It’s important to remember that every “new mum” is still a person in their own right. It’s important to remember that YOU are still YOU, not just “so and so’s mum”, no matter how many people call you that.

Meghan, thank you so much for being honest about how you’re feeling. Being a parent is so hard, but if you’re only ever told how amazing it is, so that you’re never fully prepared for when it isn’t so amazing all of the time.

I don’t think I’m alone in being in awe of how inspiring a woman Meghan is, all the more so for this honest and frank interview. But there are SO many other mums in the UK and abroad just like her, feeling like things aren’t really okay.

Rosey (@PNDandME on Twitter) is also one heck of an inspiring lady, working so hard every day to make sure parental mental health is taken seriously, and providing an amazing support network for new mums and dads who are suffering with their mental health. I 100% recommend her weekly twitter chat #PNDHour on Wednesdays at 8pm if you feel like you’re alone and could do with a supportive network of people around.

If you are reading this and could do with some extra support, check out these online resources to access help with mental illness:

  1. http://www.pandasfoundation.org.uk
  2. http://www.samaritans.org/
  3. http://www.papyrus-uk.org/
  4. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/4WLs5NlwrySXJR2n8Snszdg/emotional-distress-information-and-support
  5. https://www.nhs.uk/using-the-nhs/nhs-services/mental-health-services/how-to-access-mental-health-services

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Perfect Weaning Recipes for Busy Mums

When you start to wean your baby, the last thing you want to do is prep separate meals for the whole family.

The best kinds of meals are going to be ones that you can batch cook, and have plenty leftover to make up baby sized portions and that freeze easily!

When I started weaning Olivia, I still suffered with anxiety and had a particular fear around her choking. So baby led weaning didn’t work out for us very well at first. Instead, I prepped lots of (pescetarian) meals for her and blended them up.

These are my top meals (and quick recipes) that I used a lot while weaning Olivia onto solid food!

  1. FISH PIE
  2. BOLOGNESE
  3. LASAGNE
  4. PASTA BAKE
  5. LEEK AND POTATO SOUP

Fish Pie

Ingredients:

  • Frozen White Fish Fillets x 6
  • Frozen Haddock Fillets x 4
  • Peas
  • Plain Flour (25g)
  • Butter (25g)
  • Milk (1 pint)
  • Cheese
  • Baking Potatoes x 3
  • Chives
  • Black Pepper
  • Parsley
  1. Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 6 / 200 degrees C.
  2. Chop the potatoes and place them in a pan. Add boiling water to bring the potatoes to the boil and keep them on a medium heat. Stir regularly.
  3. In another pan, add the butter and flour. As the butter melts, whisk the butter and flour together to make a roux.
  4. Add a little milk at a time, whisking the roux into the milk. Whisk out any lumps and continue until you have used all of the milk to create the sauce. Do not let the sauce settle for too long.
  5. Sear the haddock and white fish fillets in a frying pan and remove the skin from the back of the fillets.
  6. Add cheese to the sauce and continue stirring. Add as much as you want for however cheesy you want your sauce to be!
  7. Add the fish and 2 cups full of garden peas to the sauce and stir regularly.
  8. Now add your herbs to the sauce. If you’re using ready chopped herbs, you need a pinch of black pepper, about a teaspoon of parsley, and a teaspoon and a half of chives.
  9. By now your potatoes should be soft enough to mash. Drain the water, and mash them using a splash of milk and a dash of butter.
  10. Pour the sauce, fish and peas into an oven dish.
  11. Gently scoop out the mash and spread it over the saucy layer into the oven dish. Use a fork to spread the mash so that it covers the dish evenly.
  12. Add more cheese to the top and put it in the oven for 20 minutes, or until the cheese has melted and browned.

This can easily make 6 portions, and is very easy to blend thanks to the sauce!

Slow Cooker Spaghetti Bolognese

Ingredients:

  • Mince / Quorn Mince (500g)
  • Chopped Tomatoes (2 tins)
  • Carrots
  • Brown Onion
  • Garlic (2 cloves)
  • Cheese
  • Spaghetti
  • Tomato Puree
  • Black Pepper
  • Basil
  1. Put a little bit of oil in the bottom of your slow cooker and turn the heat onto low.
  2. Peel and chop the onion and add that to the slow cooker.
  3. Crush the garlic and add to the slow cooker.
  4. Add the mince/quorn mince and chopped tomatoes.
  5. Stir the pot thoroughly.
  6. Peel and chop the carrots and add to the slow cooker.
  7. Add some tomato puree and stir the pot again.
  8. Add your herbs and stir again.
  9. Now you can leave your pot and come back to it later. I don’t tend to leave it more than 4 hours, even on a low heat, without stirring!
  10. About 10 minutes before you want to serve dinner, boil enough spaghetti for all of you. Then drain once cooked.
  11. Grate your cheese (cheddar or parmesan).
  12. Plate up and garnish with your cheese on top! The leftovers can be blended up for baby to enjoy with you, and are easy to freeze.

Lasagne

Ingredients:

  • Mince / Quorn Mince (500g)
  • Chopped Tomatoes (2 tins)
  • Aubergine x 1
  • Courgette x 2
  • Brown Onion
  • Garlic (2 cloves)
  • Cheese
  • Lasagne Sheets
  • Tomato Puree
  • Black Pepper
  • Basil
  • Easy Mix Béchamel Sauce / Ready Made White Lasagne Sauce
  1. Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 6 / 200 degrees C.
  2. If you need to prepare your Béchamel sauce, do that now.
  3. Put a little bit of oil into a frying pan and turn the heat onto low.
  4. Peel and chop the onion and add that to the pan. Stir until the onion starts to go transparent.
  5. Crush the garlic and add to the pan.
  6. Brown the mince/quorn mince and then add chopped tomatoes and stir.
  7. Stir the pot thoroughly.
  8. Chop the aubergine and courgettes and add to the mixture.
  9. Add some tomato puree and your herbs and stir again.
  10. Leave the pan to simmer while you pre-boil your lasagne sheets.
  11. Lay as many lasagne sheets as required on the bottom of your oven dish, then pour about half of your lasagne on top.
  12. Pour some of your Béchamel / White Lasagne Sauce over the lasagne.
  13. Repeat no. 11
  14. Top off your lasagne with more lasagne sheets, and the rest of your Béchamel / White Lasagne Sauce.
  15. Grate your cheese (cheddar or parmesan) and sprinkle it over the top of your lasagne.
  16. Cook for 30 minutes or until the cheese has all melted and begins to brown.
  17. Plate up – the leftovers can be blended up for baby to enjoy with you, or for you to have on another rainy day.

Pasta Bake

Ingredients:

  • Fusilli Pasta
  • Chopped Tomatoes (1 tin)
  • Tinned Tuna Chunks
  • Cheese
  • Tomato Puree
  • Garlic Puree
  • Basil
  • Oregano
  • Sweetcorn
  1. Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 6 / 200 degrees C.
  2. Boil enough pasta to fill your oven dish when cooked. Remember that pasta doubles in size when cooked, so don’t do too much!
  3. Drain your pasta and put it back in the pan. Add your tomatoes, tuna and sweetcorn. Depending on how much pasta you’re making, you may need more than 1 tin of chopped tomatoes.
  4. Stir the pot and add your purees.
  5. Grate some cheese. Add about half to your pot and continue stirring.
  6. Now add your herbs and stir thoroughly before you pour the pasta into an oven dish.
  7. If you’re not making baby a portion, add some crunched up crisps to the top of the pasta to make it nice and crunchy once baked. If you are making a baby portion, it’s probably best to just sprinkle the rest of the cheese on top.
  8. Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes.
  9. Plate it up and blend/keep the rest for baby! Pasta is a great weaning food because it’s soft and easy for little ones to pick up with their hands.

Leek and Potato Soup

This one is one of my all time favourite recipes, so I’ve blogged it before! Check it out here.

This one is also great fun for babies because

  1. it’s already blended
  2. they get to munch on bread and butter with it

What are your favourite weaning recipes for your tots? Have you used any of these ones before?

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Introducing a pet to your family home…

After more than a year of threatening to wait until Daddy is away and bringing home a cat, Olivia and I finally managed to talk Daddy into letting us get one! I think he knew I was starting to get very serious about just moving one in while he was out one day…

So, off we went to our local RSPCA centre and found ourselves a lovely pet cat.

Meet Shadow:

Shadow is a black Domestic Shorthair cat, and she only has 3 legs!

When you adopt from the RSPCA you have to have a home visit from RSPCA staff. Ours came and went quite quickly and gave us a pack of helpful information and advice when introducing a pet to your home. It included tips like:

  • Isolate your cat to one room at first
  • Make a cat friendly room with a scratching post, their food and litter tray, and somewhere they can get up high
  • Keep their diet the same as what they’ve been eating in the RSPCA centre
  • Keep them indoors for 4 weeks

When we went to collect her, she came with her blanket and toys in order to help her settle. We were also given another pack of helpful information, and the RSPCA gave us 4 weeks free pet insurance, which was one less thing to worry about!

We moved her in and she was a bit nervous at first, but she has gotten used to Olivia’s pestering now.

Olivia was so excited to have a pet cat that she would not leave her alone (and she still doesn’t 2 months later). It was important for us to get a cat that was friendly with children, and Shadow was perfect – so chilled out, and a little older as well so she wouldn’t get too excitable around Olivia. She’s 7 in human years, which I think is around 44 in cat years, but she still has a lot of life left in her!

It’s also been really helpful having friends with cats to ask advice about things. For example, did you know that cats eat grass to help their digestion? Well, I didn’t! I am planning on getting her some cat grass that we can have in pots in the house, as Shadow mostly stays indoors.

What else have you found to help your pets settle in the first few months?

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Are daddies better than mummies?

We’ve all been there…

Your toddler is, quite frankly, being a bit of an arse. Whether they’re having a full blown tantrum or simply need an attitude adjustment, there comes a point where they’ll say those words: “I want Daddy”.

The last 3 weeks of Olivia’s life have been “I want Daddy”. She even told me she hates me, and constantly tells me “Daddy’s the favourite” or “I love Daddy, not Mummy”. I know she’s only 3, but it kinda hurts.

I’ve started feeling a bit bitter, which I think is no surprise, given that I carried her for 9 months, gave life to her, altered the appearance and functionality of my reproductive organs, abdomen, vagina, boobs, the works, all to bring something into the world that was only going to grow up to hate me.

It grates on me, just a tad.

Of course, she’s 3. So, she doesn’t know that I feel bitter. She thinks she’s being funny, or maybe she just actually does prefer Daddy when she comes out with it in the middle of screaming at me.

Is Daddy better than me? He’s the classic, laid back, fun Daddy. I’m the classic, mean Mummy. It’s frustrating, right?

The thing is, our toddlers do this because they love us so much. Sounds like a cop out, but it’s not. It’s actually a really good thing that they feel so comfortable to push those boundaries with us, because they know that we will always love them unconditionally.

So if you’re noticing that your little one is misbehaving for you and not for daddy, just remind yourself (and him, smugly) that it’s because they love you more!

And remember that it’s okay if they make you feel like poop for a while, because those tantrums are physically and emotionally draining to deal with! Just try not to take it to heart (easier said than done, I know).

How do you cope with toddler tantrums? Do your toddlers have a “favourite” parent?

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A great day for dinosaur lovers – York Maze review…

Olivia and I have just returned home from a lovely long weekend visiting our family in Yorkshire.

Living in army quarters roughly 200 miles away, and being ridiculously busy with work all the time, means I don’t get to see them as often as I would like, but we did manage a solid 4 days of visiting! As it doesn’t happen very often, we ended up being very, very busy and visiting lots of different places (so expect to see a couple of reviews in the next few weeks!) It became a little mini holiday for us which was really lovely, and I had some precious quality time with Olivia, too.

One of the places we went to was York Maze. We spent about 4 hours there in total as there was so much to do, but some little legs got the better of us. Never have I done so many piggy backs before this weekend! I will probably regret ever demonstrating what a piggy back is, I am sure…

What is York Maze?

It’s a fantastic, fun-filled day out that caters to the entire family. Although I only went with Olivia, who is 3, we could easily have had just as much fun if 9 year old Kiera was with us too.

It isn’t just a maze, but they mazes (plural) are of course the main attractions. Over the years, the maze has been shaped into a number of different characters/features from films/television, including Star Wars, Jurassic Park and Harry Potter. This year, the main maze was Lion King themed. You have 6 checkpoints to get to and answer some themed questions to get the magic word for the end of the maze. Olivia enjoyed shouting the secret word very loudly so that everyone could hear her!

On top of the main maze, there is also a separate Jurassic Park themed maze with 8 dinosaurs inside. Olivia insisted on stroking them all… but on the up side she was also able to name all but one! The spinosaurus evaded us, but there was a helpful list on the way back out naming them all so that you can see if you got them right!

The Jurassic Park maze is much smaller, but the classic theme tune can be heard throughout, and it’s great fun finding the dinosaurs. For my little dino lover, this was perfect!

Is it just a maze?

No, there are so many activities at York Maze aside from just the mazes, which is how we ended up spending so much time there.

As well as the maze, they have a sweetcorn themed obstacle course (which Olivia and I smashed) and meet and greets with the animals. You can hold a snake or a creepy crawly and the owls and reptiles are out for you to meet, too.

Is there much for little ones to do?

Yes! Olivia loved jumping on the popcorn pillow which had split sessions for little ones to jump together without the big kids. That worked really well and was much nicer for the children (and parents) not to worry about any big kids hurting the smaller ones by accident.

What can the big kids do?

There’s a lot of things for the bigger children to get stuck into, too! As well as all of the other activities, there’s a rock climbing wall and an adventure play park that’s suitable for big and little children.

The quiz in the main maze is probably more geared towards older children too, although Olivia still managed to have lots of fun!

Have you ever been to York Maze? Let us know what theme the maze was and whether you enjoyed it!

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8 lessons I won’t be teaching my daughter

Mothers of daughters have a tough job, and a much tougher responsibility. As a feminist myself, I will of course raise my daughter the same way, meaning I will not subscribe to some of the more traditional parenting ideologies and styles.

I want my daughter to be fearless and strong, and emotional and kind, all at the same time. I want her to grow up knowing she deserves the world and more, especially now where we have a number of people (particularly in the political spotlight… AHEM… no names…) who think it is still acceptable to treat women like they are a lesser species. My daughter will NEVER be made to feel like this.

So, here are 8 lessons I won’t be teaching my daughter, in the hope that she grows up to be that fearless princess dinosaur that I already know she is on the inside.

1. Children should be seen and not heard

This is outdated and completely limits children’s imagination. I want Olivia to be comfortable in her own home, and everywhere else, to speak her mind and to be sociable. I will obviously still be teaching her respect for others and patience (waiting her turn when someone else is talking), but that doesn’t need to go hand in hand with mandatory silence.

2. Don’t get your clothes dirty

How else do you measure a child’s enjoyment if not by the amount of muck they manage to get on themselves in a day? My daughter WILL play outside and she absolutely WILL NOT be afraid of mud.

3. That’s a boy’s toy/not for girls to play with

Ugh, gender stereotyping. If she wants to play with a football, she can. If she wants to wear a princess dress while playing football, she can. If she wants to dress up as a dinosaur and do ballet, she can. The point is, again this is another silly social construct that limits our children’s imaginations. I don’t ever want her to feel that she can’t do something because she’s a girl, and that starts even at the youngest age with telling them they can’t have certain toys, games or clothes!

4. Don’t be bossy

Firstly, it’s not “being bossy”, it’s leadership skills. I am HATE the word bossy and I will never use it to describe my daughter. She is strong-minded, strong-willed and incredibly confident and independent. She is a handful at times. She likes being in charge and having people follow her lead. She is not bossy. A boy is never described as bossy, because it’s somehow a demeaning word, and I don’t want to suppress all of those amazing qualities Olivia has into that one word.

5. Be more lady-like

My daughter is funny and gross at times, but I don’t care. She’s a kid. I’ll teach her to be polite, kind and courteous, but not to be more lady-like. Plus, boys should be showing those qualities too!

6. Ladies first

I hate this. It makes me cringe. I’m all for holding doors open for people, but I have a particular disdain for someone holding it open and saying “ladies first” as I walk through. JUST WHY? Why and how did that even become a thing?

7. Respect your elders

Nope. Respect is earned. Not everyone deserves your respect purely because they were born before you. As above, I’ll teach my daughter to be polite, and respectful, but not that a certain class of people can demand respect from her. It’s hers to give!

8. You have to hug/kiss [insert relative here] hello/goodbye

Her body, her rules. I respect her autonomy. I never force her to give hugs or kisses if she doesn’t want to. She is an affectionate little soul and if she wants to show affection she will. If not, I don’t really care who it upsets. Everyone needs to respect that SHE decides whether she wants to hug/kiss them.

What other parenting rules are you breaking? What will/won’t you teach your children and why?

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Wonderful Women: Raising Children in Germany

This week’s Wonderful Women Wednesday is featuring Sarah, a full time working mum and army wife who has lived abroad for … years and is now adjusting to life back in the UK with her three kids!

1. Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do for a living.

My name is Sarah and I am 44 . I have changed jobs recently during to moving back from Germany after 7 years away. I now work selling animal feed, garden bits and the boots department is my bit.

It’s good to be working with people, but hard work to start at my age .

2. You’re a mum of three kids, how old are they and what are they doing?

I have Taylor who has just turned 18 and graduated from boarding school. It’s good to have her home. Shes a little emotional right now as failed medical for Army and didn’t quite get the great results she needed or was hoping for from her IB exams.

Blake-Louise is 8 and just last week was diagnosed with autism. She struggles with emotional and social situations, and she is also being assessed for a bleeding disorder as she suffers from prolonged nosebleeds quite regularly. She’s holding her own at school and tries to make friends.

Then theres little Paolo who is 5 – he is the sweetest of the bunch. He suffers with allergies, and he carries an epi-pen as he’s had two episodes of anaphylaxis. He also spent his first years in and out of hospital with bronchitis.

Both the youngest only really know Germany so it’s taken time for them to get used to the UK.

3. Did you find it difficult having such an age gap between your eldest and the next two?

Oh boy yes did I!

It was like starting over again and I had to ask my sister things as I’d forgotten some bits! I felt old with the other two and my energy levels now are awful.

Taylor doesn’t (and hasn’t for a while) come on days out with us as a family, as she’s not interested in the same things and often finds it boring.

4. Which stage is harder: toddler or teenager?

Toddler is so much easier I think. As a parent of a toddler you get to have fun, take photos and be a kid yourself again. Don’t always worry about a tidy house , just make memories.

I share quite a bit of stuff about kids on social media and I do think we need to remember in this day and age that they are little and learning all the time.

Teenagers are another ball game! You have a younger adult there who is trying to find their way with your rules. I have brought Taylor up to stand up for herself and now she’s doing it with us.

5. Your husband worked with the PWRR and was posted in Germany for quite a while! What was it like bringing the children up in a different country and how have you found it coming back to England after such a long time?

When we first moved to Germany, I was in a bad place.

My father has passed away in the March 2011 and we were due to move in the July with a 7 month old and a 10 year old. Neither my eldest daughter or myself had been to Germany before.

I felt so down and practically cried on and off for the first 4 months. My husband started work and had the car so that left me to walk everywhere with a pushchair and my 10 year old daughter in tow.

Thank goodness the German people are so kind! Many helped with speaking English when we went shopping. It took a while to make friends as all I did was stand at the bus stop, but I met a lovely lady who came from the Isle of Wight like myself. We remain friends now 8 years on!

Our first winter in Germany was a bit of a shock – the temperature dropped to -21 degrees! Christmas in Germany is amanzing and the culture there is very family orientated.

I soon settled and went to a singing group with the baby, Blake, in the end I was running it for 5 years.

The healthcare in Germany is amazing, too, and they have a separate hospital for children. I had another baby while in Germany and it was the best of all my C-Sections. We spent so many months on and off in hospital with my little boy as he has allergies.

My husband did a tour of Afghanistan while we were in Germany which I found very hard, especially not having any family near. But the friends I made helped me get through it.

Coming back to the UK after such a long time was a wrench. Germany was our home and all my youngest children knew.

My eldest came back early to go to boarding school, so she was used to living back in the UK by the time we came back!

6. Being a mum of three and an army wife must be difficult – do you spend long periods of time managing yourself, the kids, and your job on your own? What have you found helps you to cope with all of that by yourself?

Short tours away I think are harder as you don’t get used to them being away. 8 months with him away with a 4 month old, 3 year old, and 13 year old was tough and I really struggled at times. My husband’s mum and sister came to visit, as the Army paid for them to come to Germany.

No-one, and I mean, NO-ONE, understands how it feels and what it’s like unless you are an army wife, and I stand by that. My sister who has been an army wife gave me great advice…

Count the weeks, not the days. Have one thing to look forward to each week, whether it be treats, or a nice day out. Don’t panic if you miss a call from your man, he will call again. You can’t run your life waiting by the phone.

Claire, Army Wife

Chocolate helps, too, girls!

7. What do you find most rewarding about having three wonderful children?

Hahahahahaha

8. And the most challenging?

Everything is challenging!

Paolo, the youngest, has allergies and we carry an epipen. I have had to use it and it was frightening. I have done a paediatric first aid course, but seeing him have a seizure was heartbreaking. He has spent a lot of time in and out of hospital in his first 3 years of life.

Blake, the middle one, has bleeding issues and we are still trying to get answers. Taylor is my wing woman, so to speak, as it was just us two, butte has been through it, and we have both had mental health issues.

They are all lovely kids, though (when asleep)!

9. You’re also currently going through the motions of getting an ASD diagnosis for one of the kids – how do you manage her additional needs?

Miss B is 8 and a half now and we have had thoughts there’s something not quite right for a while. We started by speaking with our GP as B, after our two pet cats passed away, became obsessed with cats, said she wanted to be a cat and said she wanted to die so she could be with her brothers (the cats).

When speaking with CAMHS and the doctor it became apparent that there were other emotional problems. She also liked to collect things – from a young age she carried around batteries, eggs, and tomatoes. I seem to cope better than my husband does as he is far more short-tempered than I am.

She does not like surprises and so we need to make sure she knows what’s going on at all times. We have, since being in the UK, got her Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) done and are due to get paperwork confirming her diagnosis, which, even though we expected it, came as a shock, as none of our family thought there was an issue. They said she was just naughty, or rude, or it was just a phase.

10. Is there anybody else you’d like to nominate for our wonderful women feature? Anyone who inspires you?

My sister. Even though sometimes I’d like to kick her up the butt, or shake her and say “get a grip”, she has come through so much. Army wife, break up, and her husband had PTSD. She is a fighter – even though she wants to give up, she doesn’t.

10 things to do with the kids in North Hampshire and Surrey

  1. Gruffalo Trail at Alice Holt Forest
  2. Ceramics Cafe Farnham
  3. Gravity Force Trampolining
  4. 360 Play Farnborough
  5. Coral Reef Bracknell
  6. Aldershot Lido
  7. Birdworld
  8. Hampton Court Palace
  9. Chessington World of Adventures
  10. Farnborough Vue

1. Gruffalo Trail at Alice Holt Forest

Alice Holt Forest is situated in the South Downs National Park which spans a vast area covering Hampshire and Surrey. Alice Holt itself is local to Farnham, a mere 15 minute drive from the centre of Aldershot, and is FREE OF CHARGE! That’s right! You can spend the entire day there and the only money you will spend is for parking and petrol.

Alice Holt boasts a fantastic wooden play area, bike hire and trails, walking trails (including the infamous Gruffalo Trail), and GoApe! for the older kids. We have been many times to Alice Holt and never grow tired of it!

2. Ceramics Cafe in Farnham

Whether you have little babies doing handprints on plates or older children, a quiet afternoon of pottery painting is a great way to spend time with the family.

Ceramics Cafe in Farnham is situated less than a 5 minute walk from a large car park (next to Sainsbury’s) and is in the centre of Farnham, which is a beautiful place to visit in itself. There is a £2 session fee on top of anything you paint, and the pottery prices are very reasonable. The staff are always on hand to help, and they will happily cater for parties too!

Image may contain: 1 person, sitting, table and food

3. Gravity Force Trampolining

This fantastic trampoline park in Camberley is where we have spent many a weekend morning!

Gravity Force have a brilliant timetable which caters for all ages, with dedicated sessions for younger jumpers and a family jump session which makes it much easier to have fun with all of the family. We love it there so much that we’ve been annual pass holders since last summer, for the very good price of £8 per month. This park also hosts Gravity Fit sessions and they have a holiday club for older children!

4. 360 Play in Farnborough

This is more than just a soft play… This is an M&S soft play… KIDDING OF COURSE!

But this soft play is really something else. It is absolutely huge for a start, and there are loads of different areas and activities for the children to do. The staff are very safety and security conscious and you have a photo ID card so that they know exactly who is in the building in case of any emergencies or lost kiddies! (Not that we have ever had to seek assistance for this, thank lord!)

360 Play is a hidden gem in Farnborough, just past the Sainsbury’s in the town centre. They have a carousel, a dressing up area, a huge soft play structure for the big kids, and smaller soft plays for toddlers and babies. They have also begun Gymfinity clubs there which are gymnastics and ninja classes for children of all ages – we are trialling those very soon and can’t wait to bring you a review!

5. Coral Reef Waterworld in Bracknell

This one is a bit further afield, but definitely worth the travel! Coral Reef is an amazing indoor water world famous for it’s slides. Again there are lots of different areas in the pool for children of different ages. They often have a professional photographer there too to capture pictures of your babies’ first swims!

Just up the M3 and probably a half an hour / 45 minute drive from Aldershot, this is a brilliant day out for the family. Booking in advance is usually recommended as it can get quite busy, but equally if you arrive for when it opens you won’t end up queuing for too long either.

6. Aldershot Lido

Following on from the swimming theme – Aldershot Lido is a great local day out and a fantastic way to cool off in the summer sun! It’s also relatively close to Aldershot Park so you can combine the fun!

Tickets are half price after 3pm if you don’t get there until later in the day.

7. Birdworld in Farnham

You will drive past Birdworld on the way to Alice Holt Forest – it takes about 10 minutes in the car to get there from Aldershot town centre.

Birdworld often have special exhibits and events on during school holidays, and military families may be able to secure a discount on entry! Speak to your local welfare service if this is you. You also have the opportunity to feed the penguins which is just amazing!

8. Hampton Court Palace

Hampton Court Palace is a bit further afield, based in Moseley, but a truly wonderful day out with the family. The Palace itself is magnificent, and the gardens are an extra something special!

Hampton Court Palace’s Magic Garden is a wonderful area for the children, and the Palace itself hosts lots of extra events such as music festivals and outdoor cinemas throughout the summer months!

If you are a member of the Historic Royal Palaces Society you can visit Hampton Court Palace (and the other 5 palaces that are included in that membership) for free, but otherwise tickets are free for under 5s and roughly £10 for children up to 15 and £20 for adults. There is also car parking nearby (just across the road from the main entrance), and the whole palace is quite accessible if you’re having to lug a buggy around with you!

9. Chessington World of Adventures

Again a bit further afield, but where we are we are lucky to be living on the doorstep of this and other incredible theme parks! I would say that without any horrendous traffic we live roughly half an hour away from Chessington, which of course boasts a children’s theme park, a SeaLife centre AND a zoo!

It’s no wonder that many of the families living in Aldershot invest in Merlin passes while we live so close to Chessington and other Merlin attractions. Chessington however is the best one for young families as the rides accommodate a range of age groups. Our tall 9 year old and our only just 3 year old love going to Chessington, and the SeaLife centre and zoo are frequented during the day! The penguins are a particularly great attraction. You can also feed the giraffes and the elephants if you get there at the right time!

10. Farnborough Vue

If the weather isn’t good enough for a full on outdoor day trip, the Vue cinema in Farnborough is a really good way to spend a few hours with the kids without feeling like you’re stuck at home. Farnborough Vue offers any film at any time for £4.99 per person, so even if you’re a big family, you can have a cinema experience without breaking the bank!

This year is set to be a brilliant one for Disney films with Dumbo and Aladdin, Lion King, and Toy Story 4 having already been released, and Frozen 2 due to come out later in the year as well!

Are you local to Aldershot? Would you add any other attractions to the list? Let us know if you have been to any of these listed here!

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Mental Health Monday: Deployment-Related Depression and Anxiety

When Jamie was away in Afghanistan, I was already in a bit of a low place. I was still studying my Bar course full-time and working part-time, and the stress of it all got to me quite a bit. It really didn’t help that, at the time, I was still not able to drive and so I felt really alone and isolated throughout the first 4 months. Plus, does anyone actually enjoy being home alone? Or is it just me that feels really creeped out by it?

My closest family support was my husband’s uncle and their family (who were amazing help) and my mother-in-law, but they weren’t exactly around the corner!

It’s no surprise that I started to feel low, especially given that my recovery from PND was still relatively recent at that point.

So, off I tottered to the GP to talk about it and to make sure I was okay.

The GP wasn’t particularly helpful and kept talking about himself and how his wife copes with him working long hours (NOT THE SAME BRO). But… I was advised to self-refer to TalkPlus, so I did that and I engaged in CBT which you can read more about here (spoiler alert: it was really helpful!)

But actually the most helpful things to me when I was going through that deployment weren’t medical-related at all!

Firstly, the other SWAGs (Soldiers’ wives and girlfriends) and I had a WhatsApp group – where we mostly chatted about rubbish – but it was nice to have that group of us from up and down the country connected in some way, and taking our minds off the deployment! I’m still really good friends with some of them and try to keep in contact with as many of them as possible (if you’re reading this, sorry I’m so terrible at staying in touch!)

One of Jamie’s friends who had left the army by this point was also a big help – he would drive me places if I needed a lift or just pop round for a cuppa. Again, it wasn’t much but it was nice to know that I had someone there who could help me out or just take my mind off things with a chat. He’s been through his own mental health struggles with PTSD so he definitely understood the importance of not being alone!

I was obviously forever anxious that something was going to happen to the husband abroad, but regular phone contact was possible for us so I am really quite lucky. Even so, I put a lot of effort into sending shoeboxes of goodies and drawings from Olivia and Kiera and writing letters too. It gave me something positive to focus on and helped entertain the kids!

I also forced myself out of the house despite not driving! I went to uni, I worked part-time, when I finished uni I got a full-time job (that literally started 3 days after I finished so I had no time to dwell on anything). At weekends I tried to go to places with Olivia, I made use of the Welsh Guards Welfare Service and the amazing days out they had planned for their families during the deployment! I went out on my own or visited Jamie’s family (involving a lot of train rides – thank god for the HM forces railcard!)

The evenings were definitely where I struggled – I was finding it harder to sleep and just hated being alone. That’s mostly where the CBT came in to help with my motivation and routine.

Just talking to other people about how I was feeling – not necessarily medical professionals – was one of the best medicines.

So if you know someone whose partner is deployed, give them a shout. Check they’re okay. Go round for a cuppa and let them know you’re there. It can honestly be the most lonely time and just knowing you have a friend who cares can work wonders to help someone feel a little less down about it.

Have you experienced any deployment-related mental stress? What did you find helped you through it the most?

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army wife