Somewhere out there in the world, there is a man with Lysander’s big blue eyes. I know this because I have seen a photograph of him when he was a little younger than Olympia and Embla are now, and those eyes are all his donor’s. When he was small, he shared my daughter’s little button nose. Olympia’s Scandinavian pallor? That didn’t come from me. But the set of her jaw and that glint in her eye is all mine.

It is funny how nature and nurture both have their own part to play in the growing and raising of children. Our children are not related to Kirsty at all and yet her influence in their lives is written all over them; their expressions and mannerisms are all theirs, as are the things that they say and the very way in which they say them. Once, I thought it was sad that Kirsty would never have biological children, never see her face reflected in a small person. Now, I know that biology is such a small part of what makes a family a family, that a child can be one hundred per cent your own without sharing any of their genetics. I know that sperm and zygote makes a child a child, but sperm and zygote is not what makes a child your child. You are.

They may not share her freckles, her nose and the shape of her lips, but they share her smile, her kindness and her creativity. And they are one hundred per cent hers.

Families become families in so many different ways, and that is so beautiful to me.

Growing Generations asked me to talk with you about egg donation today. Everybody knows about sperm donation, it seems, but not so many people know that egg donation is possible. It involves one woman donating her eggs, which are fertilised externally of the body and grown into embryos, then transferred to the recipient’s uterus as though the eggs had been her own all along – thus, the recipient gestates the pregnancy rather than as in a surrogacy situation, where one woman gestates a child for another.

It’s a little complicated so explain, so Growing Generations produced this infographic to illustrate the process visually.

My friend Victoria recently welcomed a beautiful son by way of egg donation.  And my gorgeous friend Jules is still waiting, but I know that her time will come.  Egg donation is meaningful to me also for a personal reason, of which I can’t yet speak – it’s not my story to tell.  I wish that egg donation was more widely publicised; it is one of those things that people don’t talk about very much, and yet it is highly relevant for so many people.  And what a gift to be able to grant – the gift of life, the gift of the microscopic beginnings of a child.  What a gift to receive!

Every family should be able to expand, regardless of its make-up.  Single parents, two-mum families, two-dad families, women who do not produce their own eggs for whatever reason – they all have so much love to give, so much potential to realise.  I am so grateful to live in this day and age, where ‘family’ doesn’t mean one father, one mother and a handful of kids.  And I am so grateful to our own donor, without whom our children wouldn’t exist.

Love makes a family, but sperm, eggs and a functional uterus make a baby – and I’m so glad that science and kindness mean that children are an option for all.

If you are interested in IVF, egg donation or surrogacy, the Growing Generations website is a useful resource with plenty of information about the options that are available for expanding a family.

Many thanks to Growing Generations for sponsoring this post and for providing the infographic.

There is something so special about time with these two.

At the weekends, when the girls are sleeping, they are mine. Bundled up in the winter, four bright eyes blinking out between layers of jacket and hat, barefoot in the summer because we are always, always in a rush and toddler shoes seem to shrink to two sizes too small only when the bus is due any minute now. We turn, and wave to their mama in the window, and then we are gone.

They chatter almost non-stop. One runs ahead and the other dawdles, inspecting leaves, throwing stones, gazing up at the clouds until he trips and skins his knees and cries. We have few rules: stand at the kerb and wait for mummy, come back when you are called. Laugh a lot. Be kind. Often we find ourselves getting messy – paddling in the ford, splashing through the waves at the seaside. Little hands, faces, the dangling edges of clothes, they all end up in a bit of a state. Kirsty berates me; she finds it strange that I love their clothes so much, and ruin them so quickly.

At the seaside, Balthazar is my daredevil.  Lysander, hesitant, toes the waves, screaming as they wash over his feet.  He finds stones and hurls them into the water, laughing as they break the surface.  Balthazar, waist-deep, has my heart in my mouth as I hold his shoulders, as the waves break about us and I laugh into his damp, salty head.  We buy doughnuts, hot and sticky, or chips sharp with vinegar, and share them on our  walk.  They are quieter now, tired from the day; they ask for ‘cuddles’, they hold my hands.  And they feel so utterly, unspeakably mine.

We make it home, damp clothes on shivering frames or off and contained in a dripping bag.  We put the kettle on first thing – hot chocolates all round are always in order when we make it back from an adventure.  And whilst it comes to a hissing boil, it’s time to deal with our soggy clothes.

Persil Powergems, which has just launched in the UK, claims that ‘this revolutionary new product is proven to clean those stubborn stains family life throws at you through the triple action power which cleans, cares and freshens your clothes in one easy to use product.’  Available in Bio and Non-Bio varieties, Persil Powergems has finally been released after ten years of development, specifically designed to combat the sort of sartorial devastation that only children can wreak.  Persil Powergems promises stain removal, care and long lasting freshness in one small concentrated dose, using their patented new ‘gem’-format detergent.  Most importantly to us, Persil promises that Powergems will help to retain the colour in clothes – no more faded Scandi in the Meet the Wildes household!  

What did the toddlers think?  They declared them ‘sweeties’ and demanded a taste – which they were most disappointed not to be granted!  One point to Persil Powergems for fragrance and appearance, and the twist and lock closure system means that there is no chance of those boys ever getting into the ‘sweeties’ for real.  Our Indikidual playsuits came out of the wash looking good as new and smelling glorious; upon further inspection we couldn’t see any sign that they had spent a day at the seaside at all.

At £11 for thirty washes, Persil Powergems certainly isn’t the most budget-friendly option on the market – but if, like me, you invest in clothes that you expect to last, it’s worth spending a little more on detergent that will take better care of them than you do!  It’s been a thumbs-up from us.

Written in collaboration with Persil and Tots100, all opinions my own.

 

I predicted that this summer would be magical, I wasn’t wrong. We have eaten strawberries, warm from the sun, and chased across the commons, laughter ringing in our ears, the boys saw their first ever concert (In the Night Garden Live), visited the zoo, and we spent a day all together in Brighton. Every day they are growing and changing, and every weekend I am awestruck at the differences in them. It is bittersweet, and somewhat ironic – in an Alanis Morrissette sort of way – that it is in being away from them that I truly notice them, those subtle developments, those changes.

Every Saturday morning there is something that makes me catch Kirsty’s eye, makes me murmur “Did you hear that?!” over a small, sleep-tousled head. And every time, she has heard it fifty times over the course of the week, and yet she has the good grace to smile bright and be astonished and joyful with me.

As a working parent, sometimes I feel as though their childhood is pouring through my fingers and if I think about it too hard, about the milestones I’ve missed and the memories that I have failed to make, I start to feel sad and panicked that I’m doing it wrong and missing out and damaging my children in the process. Sometimes I feel as though the weekends are not enough, sometimes I feel desperate to step outside of the rat race between office work and house admin and just focus on us, the six of us, to build memories and laugh together and play.

And that is just what we did at Butlins.

Our stay was booked from Friday to Monday at the Bognor Regis resort; we were booked in to one of the Seaside Apartments at the Atlantic Bay. We arrived by train at about 14.45 and tumbled gratefully in to our waiting taxi to arrive just in time for our 15.00 check-in. Our initial impression of Butlins was a positive one; check-in was easy and everybody was so welcoming and friendly, from the staff who directed us (and redirected us when we got lost – this mama can’t read a map!) to the fellow holiday-makers who chatted with us everywhere we went. Our apartment was lovely, very clean and spacious, and largely toddler-proof. The boys did manage to lock themselves in the bathroom, but they were very easily rescued with a 10p coin and a bit of initiative!

This was our living room.  Olympia likes to say ‘uh oh’ and then knock the tripod over, which is decidedly less hilarious than she thinks it is!

We didn’t spend very much time in our apartment though, because there was just so much to do. Between the two playgrounds, soft play, the indoor tots fairground and the beach, every moment was crammed to the brim with excitement and adventure for the boys – and we didn’t even get a chance to explore the indoor water park – Splash – Plah Doh Live or Messy Time, all of which we were excited to try out. Both the boys and their baby sisters (eleven months old) enjoyed the Teletubby Show, which they had been eagerly anticipating and which didn’t disappoint! Everybody enjoyed getting up for a dance and the tunes were surprisingly catchy – in fact, they are still in my head now!

One of my favourite moments from our stay – and one of the most surprising – was watching my sons run up to Billy and Bonnie, the Butlins bears, and stop dead in front of them, just to gaze at them in awe. And then, when they were invited, they flung themselves at those bears for a cuddle. From that moment on, everything we did at Butlins was flavoured by the bears: their second visit to Billy’s Playground was actually the more exciting for the two of them, because the bear sign at the entrance had meaning for them. We meant to go to Billy and Bonnie’s disco on our final night there, but a little misunderstanding as to the location which was ENTIRELY my fault – should have looked on the app! – meant that we missed it.  Whoops!  We did catch a few minutes of Bonnie’s cooking show, which they loved, but by that time of night they were half-asleep on their feet and we ended up having to carry them back to the apartment in our arms.

Speaking of the app, if I had one piece of advice for anybody planning to visit Butlins, it would be to download the app. I loved that it showed what was happening and where, in real time. There is so much to do at Butlins that you really need to plan your day if you want to find time for everything – or alternatively, if you just want to take each day as it comes, that is fine too. There will always be something on and somewhere to go, after all.  My second piece of advice would be, if you have early birds like ours, to try to reschedule them in the days leading up to your Butlins trip so that they sleep in and stay up a little later.  Ours wake at 5am and sleep at 6pm, which didn’t quite align with the Butlins schedule where most activities open at 9am or later and there is still plenty for toddlers to be doing at 7pm.

If I had to improve upon Butlins, it would be that the 18 months – three years age group is more than adequately catered for, and the slightly older children have everything beyond their wildest dreams, but my eleven-month-old ‘toddler’ would have loved to be able to join in and there wasn’t much for her there. Embla, our more sedate baby twin, was very happy crawling about our apartment and spending the rest of her time in her mummy’s arms, in the carrier or the pram, but Olympia really wanted to be down and exploring. This was tricky as she obviously couldn’t ride in the tots fairground without assistance and adults are not allowed to ride, and the playgrounds and soft play were developmentally appropriate for her in all but accessibility – she was simply too short to navigate the ladders!  It would have been fab had soft play had a larger ground level with some slides and climbing equipment so that the smaller toddlers could play with their parents too.

We are already planning our next Butlins trip, as I don’t think that I can rest until we have had a chance to explore the Splash Waterworld. I think that it would be an excellent holiday retreat with extended family or with a group of friends and their children, or on the opposite end of the spectrum as a single parent – there is so much for children to do that really, one can get away with just ferrying them about and watching them whilst nursing a coffee. Kirsty and I loved sharing in new experiences with the boys – a dip in the sea, a chase on the playground – but equally, it was wonderful to just hold hands at the fairground and marvel together as the children we made whizzed around on the caterpillar ride, or to laugh together over a Costa cappuccino whilst the boys bounced around soft play. And if our children were older?  It would only be more perfect.  I can just imagine our foursome in three or four years’ time, exploring the main fairground, the climbing walls, the adventure playgrounds; seeing the shows, disco dancing, staying up late for dinner with their mothers.  And that would be magical too.

We will one hundred per cent be back.  I have no hesitation in recommending a Butlins trip to anybody looking for a fun, active holiday with their small folk.

Of course, words and pictures only tells so much of a story, so we recorded our experience at Butlins Bognor Regis too.  We would love for you to give it a watch and subscribe for more Wilde family content.

Many thanks to Butlins for collaborating with us for a blog review and arranging our stay.

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.

She sings to them, one in each arm, rocking, bouncing, cradling, soothing, and their howls become cries become whimpers, snuffles, and slowly, slowly, they are asleep, chests rising and falling and faces peaceful at last. She lays them down and we look at them, she with fondness and I with bewilderment: how can people so small tangle us into such knots? It is dark outside and the window is turned away from the moon; our energy-efficient bulbs are dim and shadows flicker and jut, jagged, across the walls. And they are our sunshine, and we are watching them sleep.

It is summer, and their sisters are here. And we are incredulous that it has been so easy, two boys and two girls, four in two years, and the toddlers are rocking the moses basket as the babies sleep. We sit holding hands, watching our family, our family, and it occurs to me that I am the happiest that I have ever been.

On the cusp of a year. Almost three. The boys are overtired wrecks and Olympia is teething, and an adventure will do them good, will distract them from the small niggles that turn them inside-out and leave them writhing like small demons on the floor. They don’t care where we’re going, only that we are going together, and that they are going to ring the bell on the bus and outside, the sun is shining.

The grass is taller than my toddlers in some places, and studded with flowers. We love living in this part of London because I can get to the office in less than an hour, but we have so much green space on our doorstep – not just cultivated parkland but the commons and woods and a nature reserve where the dog darts after wild rabbits but never quite catches them, and we laugh as we remind her that she wouldn’t know what to do with a rabbit anyway. We set out a picnic and make an afternoon of it, baby Embla sitting beside us as the boys and Olympia launch themselves down the slope and chase across the grass. These are the sounds of their babyhood, of my motherhood: the rush of cars off in the distance, the breeze through the grass, and laughter.

Everything is beautiful. I wish that I had my video camera with me, because I would like to capture this, to remember this afternoon in detail always. We take pictures instead. They stand still for a smartie – click – and then they are gone, and I follow subtly to document but not to interfere.

Clashy socks. Balthazar loses a shoe…

… and Olympia snatches it up, and runs. She loves shoes and desperately, desperately covets a pair of her own. She has been walking for months now and we must fit her for shoes, but shoes make her a little girl, and this one – this one is my baby.

Little Green Radicals offered to dress my babies for a day, as  a continuation of a collaborative series that I’ve hosted on Meet the Wildes since the boys were small.  Long-term followers of my blog might remember that Little Green Radicals dressed the boys for their first festival when they were smaller than the girls are now, for a Christmas card photo in the woods with Josephine-dog and gingerbread men, a bluebell photoshoot (I will treasure these photos, especially, forever),  and they sent tiny sleepsuits for the girls when they were almost new and practically hairless.  Fairtrade and organic – and with the nicest team behind the scenes – Little Green Radicals are a brand that I can get behind morally.

Aesthetically, Little Green Radicals ticks many of my boxes.  Often I find that the boys’ clothing offerings on the high street are not to my taste, particularly now that my sons are outside of the 0-24 months age range and are wearing clothes from the children’s, rather than babies’, range.  I’m fond of their whimsical designs and colour palette; the pastels on the boys are quite gorgeous, and I find that they often offer beautiful bright clothing for boys and girls as well.  Their cotton clothing is incredibly soft to touch, with no scratchy labels or uncomfortable seams that a little one might find irritating.  It looks expensive and most of their clothing is fractionally more costly than one might find on the high street, so I try to shop ahead and stock up during the sale – which, somewhat conveniently, is on right now.

My friend Kaye over at Hello Archie has been reviewing the Little Green Radicals range too with her sons, so pop over and take a look at what her boys are wearing and how she found Little Green Radicals as a brand.

Do you like what they’re wearing?  Thank you to Little Green Radicals for sending these outfits in exchange for a mention on the blog.

When you were small, I was so anxious all of the time. Not because of anything that you had done or had not done, were or were not, but because my mind was in some strange other place, because I was behind a glass and couldn’t reach you, could barely reach myself. It took me some time to fall in love with you, to feel connected to you. My memories of you as babies are hazy and often fraught with worry; for every sun-bright splash in the river or trip to the beach, there was the sensation that I was interacting with you and with the world as though through bubble wrap, and the creeping, insidious suspicion that I was a bad mother.

You were easy babies. You were full of the joy that I couldn’t mirror and I was afraid of you, afraid of how hard it was to love you. I was afraid of the children you would become; if it was so hard to feel connected to my plump, laughing babies, surely it would be impossible to relate to shouting toddlers, to children. I dressed you in bright clothing that made me smile and silently dreaded you growing up and developing personalities and minds of your own.

How wrong I was. And to think that it took me the whole of your babyhood to fall head-over-heels in love with you, to know you and to love you for the humans that you are.

You are my best little friends. You are sunbursts and fireworks and you turn a room upside-down just by flinging yourselves, headfirst, through the door. You never. stop. talking. Not ever. Even in the middle of the night we hear your little voices chattering, laughing, calling, crying, demanding water, demanding a cuddle. You fill up every space with the sheer force of your presence and that can be hard on undercaffeinated days, but I never stop feeling lucky to have such charming, charismatic little boys.

You are two-point-five and you are hilarity and rage, empathy and frustration, simmering, simmering, and you boil over fifteen times in an hour. You are constantly tugging at that invisible umbilical cord that connects us, testing us, pushing us away and pulling us back again, back again, your warm, soft, small bodies curled into us as though you could will yourselves back into the womb. Even now, in the height of summer, I cannot doze in my dressing gown without you declaring yourselves to be cold, without you demanding to be tucked up in my clothes with your soft, knotty heads poking out of my neckline like baby kangaroos. And you are so fearless. You will climb anything and leap from any surface: table tops, window sills, landing on your toes and then sprawling, face-first, across the carpet. Your sisters think that you are the funniest things, and you are.

I love the way that you never fail to thank the bus driver, and to wish them a “NICE DAY, BUS DRIVER!”. You are so polite. Balthazar, you will talk to anyone and you strike up random conversations with complete strangers, introducing your siblings one by one and sharing the minutae details of your day. Lysander, your imagination is a little bird soaring. You tell us that the xylophone is a birthday cake and make us blow out the wooden blocks balanced on as ‘candles’, threaten turn us into frogs, and you like to be called Sasha Rabbit as you squeak at us and giggle.

When you were small, I dreaded the typical ‘boy’ obsession with fire engines and tractors, police cars and diggers, trains and buses. I tried to fight it, and to mould you so that your hearts would mirror mine. I was wrong. You are one hundred per cent individual, neither ‘typical boys’ nor little reflections of myself, and falling in love with you has meant falling in love with your loves. I have found joy that I never thought possible in a motorbike zooming down the street, in facilitating in ringing of the bell on the bus, in purchasing clothes that reflect your interests and watching your faces light up with pleasure. We are finding common ground. You indulge my photography obsession in exchange for smarties, and we share a mutual interest in exploring. You love to feed the fish, to count the fish; Balthazar, you race around the pond whilst Lysander stares, transfixed, into the glimmering water. “Oh! Hello, fish!” You greet them like old friends.

At the weekends, you are my little buddies in adventuring. We give your mama a break by going out together, to the duck ponds or the woods, or further afield yet – you love to ride the train in to London and meander about the South Bank, and recently I took you to an In the Night Garden Live concert. Lysander, you are a little old man in a toddler’s body, but Balthazar, you are a horror. You wander off or else actively escape, and nothing contains you for long. Even at the Peppa Pig Singalong, you were the toddler chasing shadows at the back of the cinema: I am waiting patiently for you to grow into your fidgets. It is hard to be angry with you when you strop so politely – “Zaza no want it, PLEASE MUMMY! Zaza go hooooome!”. Your eyes are the eyes of a baby owl; I could sink into their depths.

Balthazar, your favourite food in the world is chocolate cake, and you both love to bake with me. We have a no-licking-the-spoon rule because you insist on mixing, and I find it hilarious that you give me the side-eye and then carefully pick the mix from the spoon with your fingers – how is that any better?! Sometimes we take my mother to the garden centre and have sit-down cakes and pink milk in the little restaurant and you seem so human and so grown that it takes my breath away. I feel as though I could smile at you and glance away, and when I look back you will be forty. That’s silly, isn’t it, except that I am sure that the mothers of the forty-year-olds would swear that just the other minute, their forty-year-old baby was their baby, and they were sat in a garden centre eating cake. The glimpses of adult-you are intriguing; they make me smile. I think that I will like you. I hope that you will like me.

Two-year-olds are strange, and you are no exception. In the mornings as I dress for work, sometimes I threaten to smack your bottoms with the hairbrush if you are particularly loud or distracting, and you come running over eagerly for your ‘mack’. You make us laugh every day, and most nights we fall asleep chatting about the silly things that you have said and done. Your mama calls you ‘her joy’ and you really are, we love you so very much and being your mummies has made us happier than we ever knew that we could be.

Thank you for being my little boys. You have exceeded all of my hopes and dreams, and I hope that when you remember your childhoods you have cause to feel as proud of me as I am of you.