Scary but true fact – babies and toddlers grow up. And as their world expands, so do their ideas, their needs and their opinions – all of which can be tricky (not to mention extremely frustrating!) to grapple with.
My PFB (Precious First Born) is a girl and in my eyes still a being so brand new and unique that I may as well have called her Unicorn (her real name isn’t far off this, to be honest!) – but the truth is that she’s ten going on teen. I’m 100% certain that I wasn’t as ‘adult’ as she and her friends are at the same age, but that’s not really the point. What matters is that she’s growing up fast – and if I want to still spend quality, bonding time with her that we’ll both enjoy (by which I mean, something that won’t leave me feeling that we’re doing something more ‘grown up’ than I feel is appropriate but which, equally, won’t leave her humphing about its babyishness) and which will hopefully help to pave the way for our relationship as we navigate our way through her teens, I need something … more.
Although I’m based in London, many of the ideas that I’ve tried and tested in recent times can be enjoyed almost anywhere, give or take a few tweaks, so don’t be afraid to ask similar businesses in your region if they can accommodate you.
Mad Hatter’s Afternoon Tea at the Sanderson
Your tween will no doubt be familiar with Alice in Wonderland, even if they haven’t read it, and its much-loved absurdness provides the perfect excuse to get dressed up in your best (the hotel stipulates no fancy dress, which would in any case be considered by many pre-teens as ‘lame’) and eat cake together. It’s just gimmicky enough to delight, with menus concealed within vintage books and thematic crockery, plus macaroons crafted to look like pocket watches, dinky bottles hung with enticing “drink me” labels and Oreo chocolate Queen of Heart soldiers. The perfect setting to indulge in some quality girl time – and maybe even encourage a spot of reading…
It’s the age where all of those body issues can potentially start to take root and as much as we can teach our kids about healthy eating and lifestyle, one of the most positive things we can do is to lead by example (see the Dove Beauty Legacy campaign, in which my daughter and I appeared as an example) Not only does that mean not self-critiquing as we stand in front of the mirror and eating together as often as possible, but also including your kids in your own ‘keep fit’ routine.
My daughter loves the cool kit that running involves – H&M do an affordable range for girls – but also, the sense of togetherness and achievement that she gets from participating in a sport that I love is palpable. Walking the line between teaching children to be “their best” as opposed to “the best” isn’t easy, so we tend to only to participate in organised events occasionally: Park Run is ideal as it’s open to everyone and provides a manageable distance plus a fun, supportive atmosphere.
Park Run – free, locations across the UK.
All Star Lanes Bowling
“Bowling but MUCH cooler – it’s like Grease!” was how my daughter described an afternoon session at All Star Lanes, where glossy Americana meets good old fashioned fun. Alas, no Kenickie (my loss, not hers) but classy bowling, great music, stonking diner-inspired food ranging from ribs to burgers to hotdogs and mmmmf-style fries – plus cool decor and proper milkshakes, as well as cocktails if Mama is so inclined. We had heaps of fun messing about in the Photomatic Photo Booth at the Brick Lane branch; I know that the arrival of the “take selfie, add filter” phase is probably inevitable but for now, I was heartened by this nostalgic form of photo-taking, not to mention the fact that it made me look halfway worthy of a selfie of my own …
All Star Lanes , London & Manchester
The Bar of a Swish Hotel
Oh, we love this one: going to the bar of a 5-star hotel, whether after shopping, cinema, theatre or free fun like sightseeing, and ordering a drink. That’s it, really. A cocktail or a glass of fizz for me, a mocktail or a soda for her, the chance to watch people, admire sumptuous floral displays and be treated like a young lady, with deference and attention. The luxe loos always get the thumbs up too.
This is another area that I’ve approached with caution: I’ve not been keen to get my girl too enthused about ‘beautifying’ or makeup use, but at the same time, I know she holds a completely normal interest in it all. Most high street nail bars are a bit joyless and grotty, while the more upmarket ones are just a bit too upmarket to make me feel like they’re providing a realistic environment for a 10 year old – so finding that middle ground, as with almost everything “tween”, is as vital as it is difficult!
Fulham newcomer Blush + Blow has provided the answer, with Mama + Bambino treatments, which hit just the right note between luxury (the decor, from the colour scheme to the copper bowls in which you soak your feet, is divine) and family-friendly – organic polishes and a pared-down pedicure for junior feet are the order of the day. Fantastically soothing and luxe for mama, and a big-time, big-girl treat for daughter.
Clip + Climb
We’re all about #thisgirlcan in this household but that’s not to say that some of the larger climbing walls don’t leave us feeling a bit overwhelmed. Clip + Climb, with locations worldwide, is absolutely brilliant for building climbing (and of course, physical) confidence, with full induction, a range of walls to explore and an automatic belay system that literally ‘floats’ you down to the ground. Everest for her 18th; sure, why not!??
Chin Chin Laboratories
I admit it, we peaked too early on ice cream. We held off until our daughter’s first birthday – and even then, we were only at a pizza chain – before letting her have her first lick of the spoon. Oh, her face! Can anything compare to that first sensation of icy, creamy, sweetness? For a long time, it seemed not: ice cream was less ‘treat’ and more ‘given’ – until we discovered this Camden gem, where ice cream is made to order in plumy clouds of liquid nitrogen to rival Puff the Magic Dragon’s breath. Yeah, we’re too cool for Frozen – but not when it’s served up like this.
Of course we still love making daisy chains, but when your daughter has been to multiple weddings and visited Columbia Road Flower Market it’s likely she’ll have bigger ideas. We both adored going to a flower arranging workshop, where we indulged in unashamedly girly faffing, creating our own bouquets in our own styles – a lovely way to do something together, individually. Inviting another mother-daughter pair of friends added another layer to the experience, allowing us mamas to see our girls interacting and allowing our girls to witness a positive and close female friendship. We went to The Fresh Flower Company, which runs a range of courses, but ask your local florist if they’re able to accommodate a similar request.
Written by, Sarah Rodrigues. Originally from Australia, Sarah is now settled in London with her English husband Dave and three children Phoenix, Cassian & Leon (plus the Zeus, the Greek rescue dog!) She travels as often as possible and writes between drop-offs and pick-ups. You can follow her on Instagram at @justtwenteen