The ‘relaxing’ art of eating out with children

Last week some friends and I took the sprogs to our favourite local children’s café to sample lots of caffeine (us) and a spot of African drumming (them).

Yes mini-me, blue-eyed boy and I are very global in our choice of leisure pursuits don’t you know… (Not really, unless you count me shamefully watching Teen Mom 2 on MTV after they’ve gone to bed. Trash-tastic yes, but I maintain great entertainment with the added bonus of making you feel like the world’s best parent!)

Still the drumming sounded like a brilliant idea, something a little different and a good way to wear the rugrats out while we adults, hopefully, got to drink our still-hot beverages and catch up a little. (Otherwise known as having a good old mum moan.)

The trouble was that we’d forgotten that dining out of any description involving pre-school children can and usually does descend into total chaos. You know, of the food flinging, kiddie whinging, baby screaming, exploding nappy variety.

Now add an hour’s worth of percussion into the mix and you’ve got a recipe for something that’s anything but relaxing.

As usual my friends and I tried to maintain yelled conversations over the madness whilst wet-wiping various offspring, lifting luke-warm tea out of the path of marauding toddlers, doling out rice cakes to babies and averting potential toy injuries before they happened. I’m tensing up just thinking about it.

Then later we texted each other to say: ‘So nice to see you, sorry we didn’t get the chance to chat properly.’ And the fact is we never really do. In fact, the last time I really caught up with a friend was when Rachel, my pal from Light Monkey Photography came round – and that was only because the sprogs were playing nicely for the cameras!

Still, it doesn’t stop the other halves from casting aspersions on how we spend our days though, you know in those precious few hours between wiping arses, performing numerous household tasks and fitting work in as well.

‘I’d love to stay home and drink coffee with my mates,’ hubby has been known to mutter on various occasions to the soundtrack of me grinding my teeth in frustration.

‘God knows what they think we do at these meetings,’ one of the mum BFFs said in exasperated tones. ‘We ought to install ‘nanny cam’ to reveal the reality.’

Couldn’t have put it better myself.

As a mum I suppose you are just more used to the whole rigmarole of ‘café culture with kids’ so your tolerance level for dirty looks received from other diners and increasing numbness to treat bribery are naturally just higher.

(Incidentally my personal ‘treat equation’ for mini-me has been known to extend to three bags of pom-bears in the quest for good behaviour. Goodness, I do hope Gwyneth ‘mung bean’ Paltrow isn’t reading this – she’s bound to report me!)

Well, parental guru that I am, I say load yourself up with high-carb snacks, chuck some raisins in to make yourself better, and get them grazing.

With any luck you’ll manage to slurp down a cuppa and consume a chocolate biscuit in the space of three seconds and the outing can be declared a success. Hooray!

Never mind the indigestion pains. You’re used to it by now…

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Does anyone really work in their PJs?

At the end of last week I had one of those perfect ‘pick-me-up’ moments that are sadly becoming increasingly rare in the freelance feature writing game.

At least in my (recent) experience, when sometimes even actually getting paid for completed work can be an uphill struggle.

A lovely commissioning editor I work with emailed to let me know when an article I’d written for her magazine would be running and added that the editor apparently loved the piece I’d penned.

Isn’t it amazing how a two-line email can brighten your day?! And after a week when I’d been struck down by some dreaded virus from hell, making juggling work and the little people much trickier than usual, her timing couldn’t have been better.

Anyway all this, plus several days’ experience of trying to type cogent copy with a raging temperature and limited childcare, got me thinking about the big list of pros and cons that adds up to working from home.

It goes without saying that when you’ve always commuted to an office, the idea of running a business from inside your own house sounds incredibly indulgent. After all you don’t have to go out in the pouring rain and cold to get the bills paid, so just that fact alone should improve your quality of life, right?

Not to mention being able to get chores done at the same time, thus surely saving you time, having your fridge and Facebook on tap, plus the enviable ability to work in your grubby PJs without brushing your hair for two days, should you so wish.

This is certainly what I thought freelancing from home must be like – before actually taking the plunge into the self-employment game, with children.

And there certainly are big, BIG pros to ‘lap-topping’ your day away at the dining room table.

The inclement weather factor is certainly true, and that many means many fewer frizzy hair days too. A vain point maybe, but still worth considering (especially when you have hair like mine that looks permanently as if I have just inserted my finger in an electrical socket.)

Quickly ‘grabbing’ lunch is literally as easy as walking into the kitchen and slapping two slices of bread on a plate.

If not too busy I can catch up with a TV programme on planner without the soundtrack of mini-me asking a million questions, or the risk of me falling asleep on the sofa because it’s past 9pm.

I can even make a start on dinner so hubby and I actually get something of an evening after getting the rugrats to bed.

I’m not distracted by office gossip or chatting to colleagues or those meetings you have about other meetings, so my productivity level is bound to be higher.

And finally I don’t have to remember complicated hot drink orders for a large number of people.

Now for the cons:

On a lovely sunny day I often long for the chance to get out, but if snowed under with deadlines the only ‘outings’ factored in are nursery drop-off and pick-up related.

Sometimes it’s really nice, and necessary, to have a quick break from your desk, even if that’s only picking up a bite to eat. Sadly walking five metres to the next room really doesn’t count.

There’s no defined boundary between ‘work and play’ when you run a business from home, and that means you can feel guilty most of the time for doing other things when you should be working. Even when that’s folding laundry at 10pm on a Saturday night.

I often miss sparking off other people in an office environment – it’s hard to brainstorm with yourself after all! Joining a couple of Facebook groups with like-minded journos has really helped with this, but again you get the guilt factor when chatting over social media.

And being part of a tea round of one is rubbish!

I suppose what it comes down to is that home-based freelancing is like most things in life, on certain days you’ve got the world at your feet, and on others the grass is always greener on the other side.

I would like to point out that I’ve never yet stayed in dirty PJs for two days without brushing my hair. But I’m not ruling it out…

There’s nothing like a good read

For my birthday hubby bought me perhaps the best present ever – if you’re a Harry Potter geek that is. And I’m a fully paid up member of the club.

He took me for a tour of the Harry Potter Studios at Leavesden, and it truly was magical. I was arguably more excited than half the children there.

(And in awe of the parents who’d brought babies and toddlers with them and were managing to keep them both in good humour and under control!)

You get to see all of the famous sets, The Burrow, Number 4 Privet Drive, The Great Hall, Malfoy Manor, as well as thousands of props and special effects and even the three-decker Knight Bus – it was all just amazing!

We were particularly taken with the door to the Chamber of Secrets, which they actually designed so all the snakes move to unlock it just as described in the book and seen on camera. Brilliant!

We also returned home with a cushion in Gryffindor colours that says ‘Hogwarts Express, platform 9’ – what do you mean we were conned in the gift shop?!

Now I apologise if most of the above means nothing to you whatsoever, because you are not an ‘HP’ fan, but the point (and there is one I promise) is that there’s nothing like a great book to feed and fuel the imagination.

Whether the later HP books are actually more suited to adults than children is debatable, but the fact they’ve enchanted kids for two decades now says a huge amount about their power.

Mini-me loves to be read to, and to ‘read’ to us, and definitely has her favourite books, even at the age of three. Hopefully this is something that will long continue.

I have very fond memories of reading certain books as a child, and have even been known to flick through some of them in recent years too.

Little Women and the Little House on the Prairie Books had me fascinated with American history from a young age and were an early influence that led to me studying the subject at university.

The Anne of Green Gables books are the reason I’ve always wanted to visit Prince Edward Island, Judy Blume’s particular line in New Jersey-based teen angst was the reason I ended up getting a disastrous perm and my ears pierced, and I Capture the Castle is still one of my favourite novels to this day.

(I also used to curl up by a warm radiator with Enid Blyton’s St Clare’s and Malory Towers books and a packet of ginger nuts, but the least said about that the better!)

But enough bookish rambles down memory lane, here are just a few of the children’s titles mini-me and I like to read and re-read together. And I’d also love to hear any suggestions you might have to add to her little ‘library.’

Each Peach

*Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet and Allan Ahlberg

This is more suited to blue-eyed boy’s age than to mini-me these days, but she still loves to go on the journey of discovery with traditional nursery rhyme characters who end up eating plum pie in the sun together.

Perky Pukeko

*Perky the Pukeko by Michelle Osment

I’d imagine this book is pretty famous in New Zealand where it was written, especially as there’s apparently four in the series, but mini-me loves it because ‘Nanna and Popsie’ brought it back for her from a recent holiday to the land of the Kiwis. Perky is a plucky little bird who overcomes farmyard bullies to find where he belongs.

Mog Book

*Mog the Forgetful Cat by Judith Kerr

This is one my own mum used to read to me, and the tale of the slightly dim yet honourable moggy still tugs on the heartstrings. Plus Judith Kerr’s illustrations are just brilliant.

Tiger Who

*The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr

Perhaps the author’s most famous book, written when she was living in London. Judith Kerr’s family actually came within hours of being detained by the Nazis after they came to power in Germany in the 1930s. Terrifying to think what might have been and how so many children may have missed out on enjoying her wonderful and iconic books.

Sugarlump

*Sugarlump and the Unicorn by Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks

Maybe one of Julia Donaldson’s less well known collaborations and a really lovely book about learning to be happy with what you have, with gorgeous illustrations.

Queen's Knickers

*The Queen’s Knickers by Nicholas Allan

A bit like watching an episode of Ben and Holly this one, in the sense that it’s really funny with lots of jokes for adults chucked in too. Mini-me chose to take this to nursery for World Book Day last year.

Bear Hunt

*We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury

The only trouble with reading this to pre-schoolers on nights when you are knackered and craving a glass of wine is that it you have to sort of act it out which can be tiring – but also highly amusing! Another classic first published in 1989.

When you know you’re done, children-wise.

I turned 38 the other day. Yes, the big THREE, EIGHT. Not quite the big FOUR, ZERO.

I thought my BFF’s lovely boy summed up the situation pretty well when he asked: ‘Mummy, is Auntie Sarah older than a dinosaur?’

Answer, probably! Even if just those plastic copies from the Natural History Museum.

Don’t worry this latest blog (rant!) isn’t another nostalgic look back to my ‘youth’ or further confessions of Eighties music addition, actually I’m feeling pretty happy in my own skin right now.

It might have something to do with the fact that 38 is just a nicer number than 37, or that my lovely friends and family really spoiled me this year, but a large part of it is about where we are with mini-me and blue-eyed boy (who by the way can now say ‘Ello Dada’, a huge achievement, even if it does come out with an accent somewhat like a Bond villain!)

I’ve probably mentioned it but blue-eyed boy will turn one in a matter of mere weeks. This means that our horrendous food bill should hopefully start going down as he leaves his formula days behind him and starts chomping on what we eat, but more importantly that he’s inching ever closer to being a little more independent.

Of course there are massive pros and cons to this, but as it’s a fact of life you can’t really do much but embrace it. A little like when they start opening the kitchen cupboards and pulling everything onto the floor.

Mini-me has been feisty, driven and carving her own path since the age of about five months so we really didn’t have any choice with her. While other children wept and clung to their parents as they were left with a child minder or at nursery, mini-me used to race off to play giving hubby and I barely a backwards glance.

By contrast blue-eyed boy is endearingly clingy. And he’s so cute that hearing him sob when I leave a room still hasn’t got frustrating, yet.

He’s also a much slower developer than mini-me was and isn’t crawling yet, just slowly shuffling, and dancing, on his bottom, happily playing with his toys or ‘exercising’ in the Jumperoo.

But while we have walking, running and then the terrible tantrums to come, he’s still much more self-sufficient now, can amuse himself for a time and loves to ‘chat’.

I think this is why I really love this age. By ten months, or so, babies tend to be really responsive, a joy to be around and also you can see the little person they are quickly turning into shining through.

Although I loved the constant cuddles of the very early days with him, I know I don’t want to go through all that pregnancy and breastfeeding malarkey again. And fortunately hubby agrees.

As he says a healthy and happy one of either sex is a pretty winning combination, and we were also both one of two ourselves.

That’s another reason I feel lucky I suppose. We see friends umming and ahhing over whether they’d like a third, but know absolutely that we’re done.

And that means starting to our get lives back a little, as blue-eyed boy hopefully starts sleeping through the night on a regular basis and I can turn my attention a shade more to building up my journalism and copywriting business.

Which, bringing things back to the recent birthday, is why this pressie from another BFF was so perfect.

NeatFreakPhotoJan6th

Yes everything seems exciting, new and full of possibility at the start of my 38th year. Long may it continue!

*When did you know you were ‘done’? I’d love to hear any reader’s thoughts!

This Year’s New Mum Resolutions

This may be somewhat late(ish) in the day, but I’d like to wish everyone reading this a very, very Happy New Year!

Today has been a somewhat bleary-eyed affair as hubby, parents and I didn’t get to bed until 3am. And no we weren’t out clubbing, and for once I wasn’t working, no we were playing Articulate. Yes it’s life on the edge these days!

Although to be honest I’m very glad that my days of frequenting some sticky-floored pub I’d had to pay a tenner just to get into are over. Not to mention the sheer awful-ness of having to find some semi attractive person of the opposite sex to snog at midnight. Yes staying at home with a nice meal and a good bottle of something strong suits me just fine.

What I really love about bringing in the New Year though is that feeling of starting afresh, almost like sitting with pen poised above a perfectly clean, white piece of paper. I like the feeling of anticipation, thinking about what I just might possibly achieve over the coming 12 months if I put my mind to it.

I always seem to start off with a good list of resolutions too, although sticking to them is always harder than you think isn’t it.

Who knows though – with blue-eyed boy fast approaching his first birthday (how did that happen?!) perhaps I might have a little more time to invest in making sure they become reality rather than remain merely wishful thinking.

And to that end here’s my little collection of ‘New Mum Resolutions’ – good luck with your own!

*Blog more

I’ve loved launching Neat Freak Mum and having an outlet for my constant stream of consciousness. And according to my website stats some of you kind enough to read my ramblings (no doubt because you stumbled upon them) hail from pretty far afield, which is pretty exciting to ponder. And proof that parents get irritated by Gwyneth Paltrow the world over! Now it’s time to build things up.

*Make a start on ‘the book’

My biggest fear is being one of those writers who never get around to it. And the excuse that you have to wait until ‘the right time’ is basically just redundant.

*Expand my business

The fact that people pay me to pen things is still a source of joy and amazement after 15 years. Hopefully by this time next year this will also include more people who need help writing copy for their websites, businesses and blogs.

*Try to worry less

Whether the kids watch too much telly, whether I should do more ‘crafts’ with them, whether mini-me’s drama queen tendencies are inherited, whether blue-eyed boy is simply too chilled out to crawl, whether my tidying/other neuroses are rubbing off on the offspring. Gah! Enough!

*Spend more ‘quality time’ with mini-me

Rather than trying to finish an email and complete several household tasks at the same time.

*Read more for pleasure

And actual books too. Not just the latest issue of Grazia on a Tuesday accompanied by a large bag of Haribo Starmix.

*Brave more solo family trips further afield

Surely myself, the pre-schooler, the baby, the buggy and the London Underground don’t have to add up to anxiety?!

*Cook more

I used to love cooking, it used to be the thing I did to relax at the end of a long day. Plus I can’t keep make hubby eat pizza and salad. Or asking him to ‘cook’ it…

*Be a better friend

Moaning less to my two mum BFFs would be a good start. Also keeping in contact more with old friends – whether or not they have children – and remembering birthdays and important dates so I don’t have to keep sending belated cards and gifts but ones that actually arrive on time.

*Try to be kinder to myself

Occasionally I might need a self-inflicted pat on the back rather than dismissing something good I’ve achieved for the never-ending list of jobs. I must be semi-successful at this working mum/life juggling thing because mini-me and blue-eyed boy are: still alive, usually polite, mainly happy and smiling and loved by many.

Make sure you try that last one too, and have an amazing 2015!