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…

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…

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!

Things I’ll never get used to as a parent

I’ve just had one of THOSE mum mornings.

You know the type, where nothing, and I mean nothing, goes right. Where you’re running stupidly late, again, and trying to speed up somehow only results in everyone moving even slower.

Where your semi-decent, moderately coordinated, mostly stain-free, outfit is soon drenched in sweat as you start to overheat wildly at the effort of shepherding offspring out of the house while trying very, very hard to not lose your temper.

(At least you hope it’s that because otherwise you must be suffering from the hot flushes of early onset menopause.)

When your need for caffeine is so strong that you wonder whether you will actually be able to cope physically with the toddler whinging currently ringing in your ears until you reach the rendezvous point where you can access some.

It paints a pretty picture doesn’t it?!

Today I also spent 20 minutes huffing and puffing over trying to install the new ‘easy fit for all models’ foot muff to our buggy whilst poor blue-eyed boy broke his heart sobbing because, funnily enough, Mummy couldn’t cuddle him at the same time.

Clearly I’m just crap though because while fiddling with the stupid stroller straps constituted some kind of Krypton Factor challenge for me, BFF calmly sorted the whole thing in about two minutes at soft play. Show off!

Anyway the point of all this rambling, and there is one I assure you, is that there are some things I think you never really get used to as a parent.

For me the biggest one is being able to get out of the house calmly and on time. No matter how much I plan and pre-pack, no matter how much time I allow it just never happens.

Friends have assured me it ‘gets easier’ but mini-me is almost three-and-a-half now and frankly I just don’t believe them.

The person who articulates best what a nightmare vacating home can be in the mornings is comedian Mike McIntyre.

Google his ‘people with children just don’t know’ sketch and I promise that you will soon be crying with laughter. It’s basically my life.

Here are a few of the other things I don’t think I’ll ever quite adapt to.

*Clearing up other people’s poo

There’s no nice way of saying it is there. I remember at 17 babysitting for some children round the corner and realising with horror that I’d have to wipe a three-year-old’s bottom. Things have never really improved from there.

My personal poo highlight is when it goes up your fingernails mid nappy change. You may try to deny it but you know what I’m talking about…

*Never having a lie in

I have dim memories of weekends long past when I didn’t have to get up before 8am. And no staying in bed with a toddler and large baby sitting on your head doesn’t count.

*Missing the cinema

Hubby and I used to love going to see a good film whenever we liked. Of course we can still go now but planning a night out at the flicks can constitute a military operation so it’s just often easier to wait for the DVD.

*Lack of personal space

Three year olds really don’t care if you need a little time to yourself do they – and I’m only talking about thirty seconds trying to restore your sanity while hiding behind the kitchen door here. Is it really that much to ask?

*The endless questions

‘Mummy, Mummy, Mummy, Mummy, Mummmmmmaaaaayyyy….’ (Add your own screeching sound effects here. And the optional banging – yes, that’s your head against the wall.)

The Mum-slide into middle age: The top ten signs you’re ageing

Today is a ‘go slow’ day in the Neat Freak household, but for once not of the toddler variety.

Last night was a rare night out in London catching up with old friends and colleagues where more than one drink was consumed.

Don’t get me wrong I didn’t hoik up my dress and dance on any tables or anything – in fact the ‘wildest’ thing I did was to almost snooze through my station on the train journey home – but I’m still feeling somewhat jaded today.

You know what it’s like when you have a rare taste of the social speed life used to move at – before the West Wing box set and an M&S dine-in deal became your idea of an ‘exciting’ evening. (Especially if you manage to stay awake until the end of the episode!)

I was never what you’d call a party animal, have always preferred a nice meal, few glasses of wine and a good chat to anything that might constitute wild clubbing. But still it’s amazing how a good night out can remind me just how much life has changed, and frankly just how many grey hairs I now have.

As (slightly younger) hubby loves to remind me, it’s not that long until the big FOUR ZERO… But what’s even scarier than the thought of turning 40 is how it doesn’t even feel like that big a deal these days.

So in the spirit of mums everywhere growing old disgracefully, here are the top ten signs that I’m officially, almost, middle-aged.

My love affair with Radio 2

Other ‘trendier’ mums I know listen to Radio 6 Music. I on the other hand love Graham Norton on a Saturday morning and Sara Cox’s Sounds of the ‘80s on a Saturday night. I knew my listening habits had hit the ‘grey factor’ when mini-me started singing the station’s jingle. She now frequently bursts into song with: ‘Bee bee ceee, radio tooooooo.’ Tragic.

The fact I’m turning into my mum

It used to really bug me when she’d say: ‘I’m just sooo exhausted.’ Now I do it too. At least I can still laugh at myself though – one of my mum’s best qualities.

Crying at reality TV

Supposedly you start sobbing at everything after having kids. And when not breaking down over the ever-breeding laundry pile, I can now be found tearing up over Frankie and Kevin performing on Strictly.

Coveting everything in John Lewis

Picking up some new cotbed sheets followed by coffee and cake in the JL eatery is now my idea of a happy Saturday afternoon. Mini-me concurs on all things café of course.

Checking sell-by dates in the supermarket

I really must stop this immediately. But isn’t it amazing how the dates at the back of the shelf differ?!

Checking for wrinkles

Counting them is becoming depressing. I find applying make-up in bad lighting works wonders.

Having hands like sandpaper

This is a weird one but I have a vivid early childhood memory of feeling how rough my mum’s hands were compared to my own and how much this surprised me. Now my hands are rough, dry and covered in nicks and scratches from washing them so much. Maybe mini-me has even noticed.

Turning off Geordie Shore

I’m a little ashamed to admit that I used to find watching this quite entertaining but now I just wonder how people could happily live in such a filthy house. I’d rather tune into Question Time.

Making sure mini-me is wearing a vest

It used to really annoy hubby when my mum-in-law would ask his vest status, well into his twenties I’d like to add. Now we ask each other if mini-me is layered up against the cold. At least we’re not wearing them ourselves I suppose.

Realising I fancy people young enough to be my son

Hubby informing me how old Aaron Ramsey was t’other day was a real low point. I do draw the line at Harry Styles though – hasn’t he heard of shampoo?

 

Parenting Wars: Battle of the Sexes

There’s a ‘fun’ little game hubby and I never seem to tire of. In fact we often seem to play several rounds in any given day.

You might be familiar with it yourself? It’s what I like to call the ‘my life is harder’ game. Yes, that’s the one.

You know where you’ve barely had a minute to sit down all day, have been dreaming of supping even a semi-lukewarm beverage, and then the moment you’ve finally got the rug rats into bed your other half calls to say he hasn’t had the chance to eat since breakfast and what’s for dinner.

You then proceed to mutter to yourself as you stomp around the kitchen wondering exactly how many tea rounds there were in the office today, whether he enjoyed having time to read something other than the back of a baby food pouch on his commute and cursing the fact there’s bloody football on the telly. Again.

Of course you choose not to recall the fact that hubby had to trudge to work in the pouring rain, that you did get to catch up with a friend (if that’s what you can call a snatched conversation as you try to rescue various offspring from the bacteria-soaked ball pit at soft play) and that other half is babysitting at the weekend so you can go out for a drink.

But that’s a given with parental bickering – especially of the mid-week, getting really knackered now variety – isn’t it? The whole point is that on particularly sleep-deprived, vomit-fuelled days your life is DEFINITELY harder than theirs.

Several bones of contention spring to mind at this point. All of which my mum friends would sincerely back me up on. I know because I’ve done my ‘mum market research’, otherwise known as having a good old bitch over coffee!

Firstly who wrote the rule that as a mum you’re the one person in the family who is never allowed to get sick? Or, if someone actually acknowledges that you have a slight sniffle – usually full-blown flu – as mum you are not entitled to a single snippet of sympathy.

No, your job is simply to get on with it. Or ‘man up’ as hubby so charitably described it the other day.

This when I was recovering from a sickness bug that would proceed to take down everyone we know while coping with both kids and he headed out for a poker night. Hmm, yes he did pay for that one. Mostly with hangover + screaming baby = tough, deal with it sunshine!

Second, the dad misconception that when you meet up with friends, with numerous offspring in tow, that a lovely ‘relaxing’ time is had by all, consuming vast quantities of afternoon tea and debating the news of the day.

To be fair hubby does admit his mistakes here when faced with a coffee shop and a plethora of small people at the weekend, but it’s all conveniently forgotten by Monday.

Third, since when did I say that I was happy to become some kind of housekeeper, chef, dry cleaner and professional ironer? Oh that’s right, it was allegedly a given when I got the first bun in the oven. Having been a career girl since my early 20s it’s only natural that the majority of household tasks should all fall to me.

After all who doesn’t love washing other peoples’ pants and cleaning up poo?!

Yes I like things neat and tidy. Doesn’t mean I clean the kitchen floor for kicks.

Anyway, I realise I sound rather bitter and twisted here. But hey it’s the end of the week and I had three hours sleep last night.

The good thing about the ‘my life is harder’ game is that it usually ends in laughter and an admission that ‘sorry, I’m being a bit of a dick.’ And bickering – of the largely good-natured variety – keeps you both on your toes.

Just don’t expect me to iron you a shirt okay?!