A few weeks ago, just before Christmas, the kids got up as usual, had breakfast, puttered around the house a little bit, and then Chris and I informed them that they were not going to school that day, and instead we were going into the city. We did something like this last year, although it was arguably a little more exciting last year because Jayce had no idea what was happening then. But he was immediately surprised that morning and then eager to start our adventure.
Why do we take our kids out of school for Christmas fun when they are about to start a two+ week Christmas break? There are two main reasons.
1.) Christmas time in London is absolutely incredible. The city goes all out with it’s decorations, there are literally hundreds of things to do ranging from free to very expensive, so you have a lot to choose between. It gets dark early, but everything is decorated in a variety of twinkling lights and elaborate holiday displays, so you don’t mind it as much. It doesn’t matter if it’s a little chilly out, because just around every corner is a little Christmas market with hot food, and hot coffee, mulled wine, and hot chocolate to keep you going. I find myself wandering around with a silly grin on my face saying things like “It’s so magical!” I know, I know, cliche as it sounds, you would say the same thing.
2.) That said, you can imagine the sort of crowd that these areas draw. There are all of the people who work in the city every day, plus people who live elsewhere but are in the city for Christmas shopping/events, plus tourists from around the world, literally. It can be a madhouse like nothing you have ever experienced before. Trying to move through the crowds with two small kids can quickly turn what is supposed to be an enjoyable and special outing into stressed parents and unhappy children.
Chris and I are very aware of our limits. This outing works best for the ages of our children and our patience if we tackle it at non-weekend times so that is what we did. 🙂 We won’t always do this, but this time we did.
There was an enormous and elaborate lego Santa and reindeer display at Covent Gardens so that is where we headed first.
This is what 700,000+ legos in a Christmas display looks like. Cool, right? I feel sometimes like we have 700,000 legos in our house, but it turns out that we need just a few more sets before we’re there.
The kids even got to sit with the big guy on his sleigh, also made entirely of legos.
Last year a part of the surprise was that we were headed to the infamous Hamleys toy store where Jayce was gifted a bit of spending money to splurge with. I didn’t want to do that again this year, knowing that he would go straight for legos and already had a few different sets coming at Christmas time. So we ended up at Build A Bear.
I know that Build A Bear is not necessarily a “London thing” or a “Christmas thing.” But our goal for the day was to spend some time with the kids doing some Christmas-y things, and also something different and special. I had set some of my Etsy money aside planning to use it to say yes to some of the things that we typically say no to. It turned out that this was it.
This is the sort of place that they always ask to go to and we always say no, so it was really fun to see their faces light up when we said that they could both make bears. They were like, “Really? We can make one?! Yaay!” There was lots of jumping up and down.
Jayce has done this once before a few years ago, but Hannah never has so it was all very exciting. Jayce was really serious about each step and Hannah was very wiling to follow all of the necessary instructions.
The kids weren’t allowed to get sounds in their bears, (Employee: We have one that plays ‘Let It Go!‘ Me: No way.) but they were allowed to get clothes. Jayce went pretty simple, with just a pair of jeans. Hannah’s got a Cinderella dress. Obviously.
Jayce named his Fluffy and Hannah named hers Hannah.
We wandered around the outdoor market area a little bit and looked at the decorations, listened to some music, and then went for lunch. It was warm outside, mid-50s, so we ordered our food from Shake Shack and ate in the outdoor seating area just behind where this violin group was playing.
After lunch we watched the street performers for a bit and then made our way over to Hamelys on Regent Street. We only stayed there for about ten to fifteen minutes though, because I started having a panic attack.
Yeah. Fun, right?
By the time that we had finished lunch and headed towards the toy store, the city was packed. Chris and I were trying to make our way over to the shop, each with one of the kids and those Build-A-Bear boxes. I was also carrying my purse, with normal “purse things,” plus some snacks and water for the kids, and my 10+ pound camera.
These are the times that I miss having a car for our trips. It would be really handy to throw some things in the trunk, instead of having to physically lug around anything that you brought or bought. Hannah is normally in a stroller which both keeps her contained/protected, and serves as a small trunk since we can store some things in the bottom. I think that the literal weight on my shoulders from my bag, camera, and the random stuff, plus Hannah being out and about in this crowd on the very busy street is what made me so much more stressed than usual.
A short note on panic attacks. This is only the second time I have ever had one in my life. I don’t know what I thought they were before I experienced one for myself, but probably someone acting really dramatically, eyes wide, while screaming about not being able to breathe.
In my experience the “not breathing” part is key. Apparently sometimes when I am in an stressful crowded situation, I’ll start taking really shallow breaths or holding my breath without realizing it. It takes about five or so minutes for the effects to kick in, but it feels like your face is covered by a thick blanket and you are only getting a small percentage of the air that you are trying to breathe in. Once I realize that this has happened, I start taking large breaths of air, but the effects of the big breaths also take about five to ten minutes to kick in.
Which means that for about five to ten minutes I feel like I am suffocating. It doesn’t really matter that I know that I’m not, my body is reacting to that lack of oxygen. Afterwards, I’m just shot. I was a little shaky and tired. So we went home.
Luckily this was the end of the day anyway so we jumped on the train home. Chris and Jayce did some open-mouthed sleeping as did Hannah in my arms. I stayed awake and made sure that we were awake for our stop. Hannah never woke up, however. She fell asleep in my arms, and stayed dead on my shoulder as we walked out of the train station to the bus stop, on the bus ride and the walk home. No stroller for the day had really worn her out as well.
Chris and I talked about this later, and why our day didn’t go like we had hoped that it would. I think the biggest thing was that we didn’t have a stroller for Hannah, and while it meant that things were easier on the tube/train/escalators, it was much more difficult in the actual moving around part. Also I had taken my camera so that I could get some good pictures of our day, but this added extra stress (and weight) because we really need to have our eyes or hands on the kids at all times, and I can’t take pictures and keep tabs on them. This is also why there are’t lots of (non-phone) photos other than at Build A Bear where the kids were contained.
Overall it was a good day, but it was also a learning experience as every day seems to be. When we headed out for ice skating and crepes a few weeks later it was better. Hopefully our kids will still be kids by the time that Chris and I figure out the best way to be good parents for them. 🙂