Splash!

Last June when Maggie was just two days old, a two year old girl called Isabelle Byrne fell into a dirty canal when she was out feeding the ducks with her family in Manchester. She didn’t panic as many of us would; instead she calmly paddled to the edge and waited to be lifted out of the water. She had been taking water babies swimming lessons ever since she was eight weeks old and her mother is convinced that this is what saved her. Little Isabelle’s natural instinct – learnt and reinforced at Water Babies – was to roll herself over onto her front and kick her legs.

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Little Water Baby Isabelle

At Water Babies lessons, babies are submerged in water at a very young age with the safe knowledge that their natural instincts will kick in – known as the ‘diving reflex’ and the ‘swimming reflex’. The diving reflex causes babies to hold their breath and open their eyes when submerged. Until around 6 months, the swimming reflex means that babies placed in water tummy-side down will move their arms and legs in a swimming motion.

Isabelle’s mum concluded that teaching your child to swim is essential in life.

The story of Isabelle was in the national newspapers and one of the girls from our NCT class had heard about it. Her mum had read the article and phoned her straight away. ‘Get your baba to swimming lessons…now!’. Having a newborn is traumatic enough, never mind when it is coupled with the acute anxiety that something awful could happen to your precious bundle. We knew what we had to do. We enrolled immediately in the first term of London Baby Swim.

London Baby Swim based in Osterley only use private purpose built swimming facilities located rather bizarrely in the gardens of a semi-detached house. The pool is used only for babies and toddlers, the water temperature is a constant 33°C and the water chlorine levels are very low. All these make it perfect for newborn babies. All you need is a willing baby and double-nappy system: a regular swim nappy and then a Happy Nappy on top. The Happy Nappy from ‘Splash About’ is like the bottom half of a wetsuit; it looks and feels very secure and is the only nappy which is compulsory in UK baby swim schools. One of my friends did complain about the fact that the nappy gets quite heavy when wet, but I must say I didn’t think the nappy inhibited Maggie’s movements at all, neither in nor out of the water. It also offers SPF 50+ sun protection, which is an added bonus if the balmy weather continues in the UK or if you are planning a sunny holiday. You can choose from dozens of styles, or if you are feeling patriotic in this Jubilee and Olympics year you can choose the new Union Jack version!

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As we all know swimming makes you ravenous so, along with your baby and a Happy Nappy, don’t forget to pack a warm bottle for after the swim if you are bottle feeding and a little snack if your duckling has started solids.

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Of course the other piece of clothing required for baby swimming is a fabulous swimsuit. We were lucky enough to receive two swimsuits as presents and had great fun modelling them prior to our first swimming lesson. But the truth is, you don’t really need them at lessons and after a week or so Maggie stopped wearing hers. It was difficult enough to get Maggie dried and dressed while standing in a wet swimsuit dripping wet without any extra complications or layers.

Maggie attended swimming lessons from the age of 3 months but babies can go swimming any time from the age of six weeks old. Now to all those regular readers of BLP you will know that Maggie is generally a very happy, very contented, very smiley little girl. But I can honestly say that she has never been happier than when in the water, splashing about and squealing at the top of her voice. For babies water is such a familiar environment and you can just see Mother nature in action when you observe how calm and comfortable little tots seem in it; water was their very first home after all. They have a natural affinity with it and the ‘diving reflex’ which allows them to hold their breath under water without even thinking about it means they are born natural little mermaids and mermen. I watched with horror from the viewing gallery the first time John ducked Maggie under the water, but it was incredible how easy and comfortable she was swimming underwater.

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Maggie and her friends at Baby Swim

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Having a laugh with her da

Getting our little ducks used to water early in life makes sense from a safety point of view as little Isabelle’s story illustrates. But swimming is also great fun and good exercise too for mums and dads. Next step on our baby swim journey is to get an underwater photo of our little water baby. Too cute!

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Sizzling Heat, a Shoreditch Haircut and a 99

As a lover of high summer, the scorching heat of the last week which arrived out of the blue has been welcomed with open arms. But it has left the Muzza household completely unprepared. I have been despairing about having NOTHING to wear, which is almost true as I spent last summer in a variety of oversized tents. Maggie hasn’t fared much better. She has little t-shirts and leggings but no appropriate ‘baking hot’ summer clothing like playsuits or vest tops. All week she has been collected from nursery wearing nothing but a vest! And her toys aren’t blistering-heat-friendly either. They’re a bit indoor-sy: all cuddly toys, books and flashing plastic things. No sandpits, no slides and no paddling pools. So until we got time to do a spot of emergency shopping we improvised by wearing nothing but a size 4+ nappy and bringing the bath outside for a splash about.

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Exactly this day last year Maggie was due to make an appearance but held off on the big event for another 2 weeks. It was a strange time as it turned out to be the hardest days of my pregnancy thus far- those 13 long days after Maggie was due but before she arrived. I had waited very patiently for my precious bundle to arrive, over three years in fact, but now it seemed my patience had finally run out. I had two membrane sweeps hoping they would show that the baby was ready to come (or that I was ready to be induced). But no – on both occasions I was told that I had an ‘unfavourable cervix’ which would suggest I just keep waiting. Unfavourable? The worst score I’d ever had in my life was ‘satisfactory’ so I wasn’t too pleased about being ‘unfavourable’ to start with. But joking aside I surprised myself by getting so worked up that I was a quivering mess for most of that time. I found myself becoming so jealous of mothers on the street with their little babies and wondering, completely irrationally, if I would ever get to see mine. Of course, everything changed on the 9th of June but that good news is for another day and another blog post.

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It’s easy to think that I still have a newborn baby as sometimes I’m sure Maggie has only just come into our life. But she’s definitely growing up. This weekend – along with a new summer wardrobe – Missy got her first haircut at Toni & Guy. Her da insisted on it; I had suggested I give her the same DIY bowl cut we all had growing up but he was having none of it. I wasn’t convinced that she would sit still for long enough but she surprised all of us by indulging the hairdresser for long enough to allow her to cut a fringe and trim the rest of her hair. The hairdresser told us that Maggie is blessed with not one but two cows’ licks, and proceeded to give her a hairstyle that wouldn’t look out of place in trendy Shoreditch. It also makes her look about six months older which in baby terms is a long, long time. Afterwards, we took a walk along the river at Kingston and celebrated with a 99, another first for Maggie.

Now the planning starts in earnest for baby’s first birthday party. It’s going to be a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party on Barnes Green with her best cousin Nancy and all her friends. We can’t wait !

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The good, the bad and the ugly truth about going back to work

4 weeks back at work and this is what I have learned:

1. It has been an absolute joy being able to go to the loo whenever I feel like I need to go, and with the door closed. I’m sure I have done some kidney damage by holding it in for hours at a time for the last 13 months.

2. I have not sat down in one spot for so many hours in such a long time. I was in the car in traffic on Tuesday morning for over three hours and today I sat hunched over a computer updating PowerPoint slides for eight hours. My arse is killing me.

3. I’ve been quite surprised that colleagues are full of compliments about how svelte I look. This is probably because the last time they saw me I resembled a beached whale.

4. Not much has changed in the grand picture. Funhouse Dawn still works cheerily at the panini counter in the canteen and Scary Rob still saunters around the building delivering parcels. But there does seem to be a wave of colleagues leaving the business and I can’t quite work out why.

5. My heart starts to feel heavy around four o’clock when suddenly the panic sets in and you fear that you won’t get to leave the office in time and you might get stuck in traffic and then your precious babe will be left sitting on the steps of the nursery, waiting. The Queen was in Richmond this week and because of the traffic I sat in my car about 2 miles from Maggie’s childminder for 50 minutes. I was practically shaking by the time I picked her up.

6. My entire outlook on life and work and the work-life balance has changed. While I expecting Maggie I applied for a post within Coke working at the Olympics. I couldn’t see how I could ever give up the opportunity to work at the Games; after all, I’d been talking and dreaming about the Olympics ever since my Da brought home a Misha bear from the 1980 Games in Moscow and promised me he would take me some day. We never did make it, but this time I thought I could take him. The job involved a 4-week secondment from normal work with two weeks’ training and two weeks at the Games. I would be based at Eton Dorney, home of the rowing and canoeing events, and would spend 12 hours a day, 6 days a week working at the venue, stocking fridges full of Coca-Cola and Powerade. At night we would all gather at the Team Hotel for a debrief and a beer. It sounded so wonderful and fantastic and frivolous and fun 13 months ago when I applied. Now it just sounded frivolous. One week back at work and I pulled out and felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. The work-life balance definitely tips in favour of life.

7. Lunchtimes have definitely improved. I savour my Pret-a-Manger falafel wrap with tahini sauce and wash it down with a hot decaf cappuccino or a wee cup of tea. No more left-over gravy mash and cold discarded broccoli florets for me.

8. Mornings are MANIC! On Monday Maggie woke up at 5.15am and we still struggled to get out the door at 7.45am. On Tuesday I left the house to go to my first very important meeting with my new customer and my car wouldn’t start. I thought ‘To Hell, I’ll abandon it’ and phoned a taxi. But because the battery had drained the car wouldn’t lock. I had to cancel the taxi and miss the meeting. On Wednesday I left to go to a meeting and realised that Maggie had been playing with my car keys that morning and they were now in her pram at the childminders 1.5miles away. I always have the sinking feeling, “Didn’t I forget something…?” – and I usually have. On Thursday I forgot my security pass and had to go through the rigmarole at the security desk where I had to convince them that I was an employee, making me late for a meeting – again. On Friday I was able to work from home – hoorah! – but got up early to prep for a call from my customer which was due at 8.30am so couldn’t help Johnny with the morning routine. The call didn’t come until 6pm. Aaagh!

9. I had a complete blow-out at a work ‘do’ on my first week back and I remembered how much fun work can be and how great my colleagues are. I absolutely took full advantage of the free drinks, free taxi, free food and free hotel room. I think the free bottle of Veuve Clicquot was probably a bad idea though.

10. I regret going back to work full-time. Weekends just aren’t enough.

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Bring on the weekend – Maggie at Battersea Park Zoo last weekend

Run Rabbit Run

2012 is a special year for Belfast. At the start of the year the Northern Ireland Tourist Board launched a new campaign: ‘ni 2012, our time our place’, with the belief that it was time to confidently put Northern Ireland on the global tourism map. This year not only sees Northern Ireland host its part of the Olympic & Paralympic Games 2012 Torch Relay, it also marks the 100th anniversary of Titanic’s maiden voyage, the famous liner built in Belfast’s shipyard. But 2012 is also the 30th anniversary of the Belfast marathon, an event that has run since 1982 at the height of the Troubles. It physically and literally crosses the peace line of Belfast, bringing together over 20,000 people from all walks of life in a collective positive surge through the city.

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And so it was that this Bank Holiday Monday I ran 3.5miles as part of the Belfast marathon relay race. I had chosen to do the shortest leg of the relay, unaccustomed as I am to public displays of fitness. In fact, my only race preparation was to do a short jog around the block on half a dozen occasions over the last few months, just to make sure that I had it in me to run at all. The day before I settled any race nerves with a glass of Rioja, and my warm up on Monday morning involved running up and down the stairs in my sister’s house in a bit of a tiz as I hurriedly got ready to take up my post at Bridge End.

I was the second runner in our relay team and my route included crossing Queen’s bridge, running up High Street and Castle Street, up Falls Road, past Clonard, through the peace line over to Shankill Road and finally pass the baton to my team member (and previously unknown friend of a friend) at Hillview Road. It was a blustery, rainy day but the sun came out just before I started.

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The whole experience was a joy. It felt exhilarating to run alongside fellow second-leg runners who no doubt, like me, had chosen the shortest distance as they too were unfit and unprepared and thought they could surely manage the 3.5miles. It was clear that many of them were struggling early doors as a group of second-leggers stumbled to the water station merely half a mile from the starting point. But we were united in our efforts and, as we pounded up the Falls Road, I felt invincible.

I had a giggle to myself when I saw the placards and heard the banter from the supporting crowd. ‘Fair play te ye’, ‘Keep her lit’ and my favourite – ‘Run like you’re being chased!’ It was like a scene from Fr Ted. Even better was the sight of the old man I passed at Clonard who had set up a trestle table beside his car and was giving out cups of Holy Water. As I came up towards Hillview Road a lone DJ in his DJ box shouted, ‘That second wind’s comin, I promise ye!’ But I didn’t need a second wind; the first one was still keeping me strong. It was impossible not to be caught up in the euphoric atmosphere of the day. Too soon I was at the third relay changeover point. Because I had never met my team mate before I shouted ‘Stevie’, ‘Stevie’ constantly as I ran alongside the 2,000 or so runners who were waiting to take up the baton. A few comedians shouted back to me ‘I’m Stevie, love’ and ‘I’ll be your Stevie’ but finally I found the right man and he was on his way.

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Our team was made up of myself, my sister Mairead and her three friends Rebecca, Emma and of course Stevie. We completed the 26.2 miles in 4 hours 30 minutes, a mere 80 minutes behind my husband John who ran the whole thing himself. But that didn’t stop us bringing out our supporters club including 11 month old cousins Maggie and Nancy, and celebrating with a glass of bubbly afterwards. What started simply as an easy way for myself and Mairead to help lose the baby weight had ended up so much more. It was a great day to be in Belfast and I felt so proud to have been part of this wonderful event in the city with the thousands of other competitors.

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Mairead running like the wind on the fourth leg of the relay

Nursery Design Ideas

Last year when I was pregnant with Maggie I spent hours on the web and reading magazines looking at nursery room designs to get inspiration for our little bambino’s room. Never mind that the duck wouldn’t sleep in the room for at least another six months, I still wanted it to look pretty and be a relaxing space for both of us during feeding, changing and playtime.

Here are some of my favourite nursery designs that I used as inspiration for Maggie’s room:

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Nursery 1

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Nursery 2

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Nursery 3

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Nursery 4

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Nursery 5

Here are the 5 key pieces I think make the perfect nursery:

A statement nursing chair
I searched high and low for the perfect nursing chair that would 1. Look the part 2. Be practical, comfy and good for feeding 3. Not cost the earth. All those I saw in magazines were very expensive and I was almost tempted to buy one (as an ‘investment’ of course) when I spotted my perfect chair at The Pine Box in Coalisland. It was covered in ugly velvety material and was a bit scuffed, but Fergus from The Pine Box arranged to repaint and reupholster it in the fabric of my choice.

I splashed out on material from Harlequin which wasn’t specifically for kids but was bright and beautiful and just what I wanted! It was neither too girly nor too blue, as it included little pink and green flowers, and I fell for it. The company who upholstered the chair had a bit of material left over so he also made me two cushions to match. Result = a designer-looking nursing chair without the price tag.

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The Pine Box,
44 Market Square, Coalisland
BT71 4LN
028877 46031

Baby chair
If Mummy Bear is allowed her very own chair it goes without saying that Baby Bear must have one too. Again, Fergus at The Pine Box comes up trumps, selling cute wooden chairs and painting them in any colour you wish (you just provide the paint). But it’s a very personal service so unless you are near Coalisland, Northern Ireland it’s not much good.

The child’s heart chair below by Rose & Grey is available online from notonthehighstreet. My little niece Anna used hers in different ways as she got older – first as a pram to push about the floor when she was learning to walk, then as a seat to sit and cuddle her doll and then to sit at the coffee table and draw her pictures. Her brothers Fionn and Daniel now have one too so the three chairs sit side by side just waiting for Goldilocks to turn up.

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Child’s Heart Chair by Rose & Grey £39.50

Nursery Furniture
There are lots of options available to suit your taste and your budget.
We originally looked at the Hemnes nursery range at Ikea, as we currently have the Hemnes bed. Their 8 drawer dresser is apparently a good choice as a changing table as it is wide enough for a changing mat and has so much storage but it was too big for our needs.

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Ikea Hemnes dresser £199 shown here being used as a changing table. There is also a Hemnes wardrobe available to match at £299.

Mamas & Papas have an extensive range of nursery collections, in pine or painted white depending on your preference. Individually the pieces tend to be more expensive but they often do reduced nursery collections when you buy the cot, dresser and wardrobe together. Their Fern white range is currently on a deal at £599 for all three pieces, which is a saving of £400.

The fifth Nursery picture shown above is from Chic Shack, a wonderful but pricey furniture shop in Putney. If you have spare cash to invest in your nursery then you won’t baulk at their prices like I did, but what I ended up doing was trying to replicate their nursery designs with slightly cheaper items.

A wooden shelf with pegs makes a nice feature on the wall – again there are lots out there at a variety of prices. I found a very reasonably priced one at Benardout Interiors in East Sheen – just ask Rob for his furniture catalogue and pick your favourite!

A Bed
Maggie slept in her Moses basket in our bedroom for the first three months and then upgraded to her cot while she was still with us. But if you plan to have baby’s crib in her own nursery, and you have money to invest in a truly statement piece that wouldn’t look out of place at Buckingham Palace, then check out this incredible willow crib from Natural Mat. It is truly fit for a prince or princess.

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Handmade willow crib including crib, coco mat and stand £275

We opted for a cot bed for Maggie, as we thought it would be a more practical solution in London where space is a luxury. The first night she slept in it she was completely lost – although she is a big baby, there was room for 6 Maggies in the huge space. But it’s quite incredible how quickly she has grown into it and how she now loves having all that room to wreck about.

Cot Mobile
I had a frustrating search to find the perfect mobile for Maggie’s cot which would look the part but still keep her engaged. A few years ago I bought a beautiful hand-crafted wooden seagull for my niece Anna that gently flapped its wings when you pulled the cord. It was similar to the one in the the Nursery 1 picture. She was transfixed by it and it looked beautiful in her room. I had found it in a small toy shop in the south of France, and I just never again found something as pretty. Until now. Natural Mat stock a range of interesting and quirky handmade wooden mobiles including the Dinghy Regatta one that lives in Maggie’s room.

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They are quite fragile and they tend to be more pricey than the ones on the high street but they make a gorgeous and unique gift and they are just beautiful to look at.

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Sheep Mobile from £16.85

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Dinghy Regatta Mobile from £30.65

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Hedgehog mobile from £17.50

A Rocking Horse (or other animal)
Ok, so we all know that full size rocking horses are hugely expensive, often thousands of pounds. But there are some very cute baby versions out there.

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This handmade mini version complete with carved wooded nose is available at Kiddisave has been reduced to £117.
We were very lucky to get our Moulin Roty ride-on wooden horse as a gift from Auntie Mairead and the Macs. It is an adorable piece of furniture and takes pride of place in Maggie’s nursery with its little wicker basket at the back for storing toys or bunnies or stones. We also have a mini Steiff rocking horse that sits on the window, something I won at an auction and had always planned to give away as a gift. I’m so glad I kept it.

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Of course the modern-day rocking horse is the Magis puppy shown in the second nursery picture above. The plastic dog is often used as an ornament but it can also used as a kids seat. It comes in a range of colours and sizes; the small costs £46 and the medium size costs around £78.

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I have to laugh. So much effort and thought, and yet the little monkey still sleeps most nights in our bed! I’m sure some day she’ll appreciate all the effort.

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