The truth about the summer ‘holidays’…

So there we were enjoying a family afternoon out at the much-anticipated farm park.

We’d read all about the two large play barns, copious soft play, café with decent (and compulsory) cake selection and packed daily schedule of activities.

You can just picture the tranquil scene…

After hubby checking his much-loved rain radar website (I’m saying nothing) I’d been assured that those pesky TV weather people were ‘completely wrong’ and the predicted torrential downpours would have cleared away hours before we were due to head out.

So of course following a relaxing car journey of constant bickering (us) and kicking and screaming (them) we arrived to hammering rain-drops, hair slowly frizzing itself into a pudding bowl and hours of sodden fun ahead of us.

Having initially headed in separate directions with one child each, Blue-eyed boy and I spent the best part of an hour trying to find the other half of the family with me getting more and more drenched and he having a whale of time kicking his legs and shouting his approval safe and dry under the buggy rain cover.

Once we did catch them up Mini-me delighted in taking me on several tours of the tarantula house where I revelled in the fact that I’d paid £15 to be separated from my greatest fear by thin sheets of glass in near total darkness.

Then hubby and I watched open-mouthed as some poor mum tried to deal with her children having simultaneous panic attacks after they’d somehow locked themselves in the lift, while two engineers worked frantically to free them.

And the final insult? The café, if it can call itself that, told us they had stopped serving toasted tea cakes more than an hour before closing because: ‘We’ve already cleaned up…’

Ah six weeks of summer holidays. The time of year that can warm the cockles of your heart and also drive you to almost leaving your spouse on a daily basis.

And it’s not as if I can yet claim to have been fully immersed in the whole parental stretch with no child-care. That looms large for next summer.

Yes I probably sound like a right miserable bugger. And yes I do love spending time with my children, and my other half. But I know it’s not just me who will breathe a sigh of relief when the eldest starts school later this week.

Now I do have friends who claim to love every single thing about the summer holidays and planning twice daily outings with their offspring over more than six weeks.

They embrace the chance for total, uninterrupted family time without a single minute of peace for themselves. They say they wish the holidays could last ‘for ever.’

Are they, in reality, lying to me, themselves and having mini hourly breakdowns in the loo I ask myself? Or is it actually possible to not occasionally count down until those precious few hours a week you get to yourself when the kids are ‘spoken for’?

If so it is a parental skill I have yet to master.

I have oodles of sepia-tinged memories to look back on and treasure this summer.

Strolling down Southend Pier in the sunshine and watching Mini-me playing on the beach, celebrating my dad’s birthday in Chiswick Park (while pretending not to check out Declan Donnelly at the next table) and just enjoying watching my two gorgeous kids become even closer mates than they were already.

But just as Mini-me is so excited about school that she keeps requesting to ‘dress up’ in her uniform, I am excited about a bit of structure coming back into our lives. And a little more time for me to have the freedom to work, read, drink a cup of tea – or even finish a train of thought or an actual sentence.

And that doesn’t make me a bad parent does it? Hopefully just an honest one.

Welcome to the House of Pox

Today we hit a new low in the Neat Freak household. I ate a handful of wine gums for breakfast.

And before you ask no I wasn’t hungover, and it wasn’t simply down to my increasingly bad ‘Mummy eating habits’ – it was because we’ve been hit by the dreaded pox.

Yes that ‘mild’ – according to the NHS website – yet horrible disease, Chickenpox – or ‘pock pocks’ as Mini-me is calling it.

Many friends have recounted the weeks of woe when their poor offspring succumbed to the horrible crusty spots, but until my little girl woke up coated in the nasty blighters this week I have to say I didn’t fully understand the sheer grim-ness of it all.

I have vague memories of course of my own battle with the pox at the age of around eight. Copious baths filled with ‘bicarb’ and my mother recording just how many spots I had on camera so certain poor relatives could get the full effect. (Thanks Mum… and, Why?!!)

I also remember her ringing my gran in tears after my sister came down with it too, and Gran riding to the rescue and moving in for a week.

Anyway, it’s still early days here at the House of Pox, and I’m praying to the god of small people illnesses that Blue-eyed boy doesn’t also succumb. Probably wishful thinking eh!

After taking advice from the greatest parenting minds on the planet – my friends! – we have now taken stock of more anti-itch medications than the nearest chemist. Some of them, thankfully, seem to be working a little too.

Mini-me is being her usual brilliant self and is in surprisingly good spirits – probably buoyed by lots of presents to cheer her up including her beloved new Frozen PJs.

Hopefully ours will turn out to be a not-so-bad case. Certainly true if the various parenting threads Googling the pox has thrown up is anything to go by. This thing can be really, REALLY nasty it seems for some.

Without doubt one of my biggest parenting lows though was cuddling Mini-me last night in bed as she sobbed and squirmed in pain and discomfort that I could really do nothing to ease.

Makes me wonder how parents of little ones who are seriously ill cope with it all. I think they’re amazing.

Well I’d better be off for another ‘spot check,’ ahem!

Then I’m leaving hubby in charge for a few hours while I escape to the pub…

And as for you ‘pock pocks’, you can do one.

Spooked

Hello readers and fellow harassed parents, if some of you are in fact still out there.

Firstly massive apologies for the long radio silence. All work and NO play has recently turned Neat Freak Mum into a shadow of her former self. (Or to be correct one with slightly less sense of humour and massively bigger eye bags…)

I’ve probably mentioned that alongside my adventures in blog-dom I’m also a journalist and copywriter, and as well as tap, tap, tapping away on features and regular commissions, I’ve recently launched a new copywriting business venture.

All very exciting but quite stressful too, so if anyone has worked out how to pack 30 hours into a 24 hour day I’d be very grateful for some tips!

The good news is that should I get totally fed up of penning features at 2am and throw my laptop out of the office window I now have another employment option to turn to.

Yes apparently a parliamentary report – don’t zone out just yet, Ed Miliband wasn’t involved in this one – has declared that spy chiefs at MI5, MI6 and GCHQ should start recruiting spies from Mumsnet.

Apparently the drones of middle-aged men ‘secret agents’ are causing an uncomfortable sounding condition, ‘permafrost’, and we mums would bring a new breadth of skills, intuition and more emotional intelligence to the job.

Where they think we’re going to find the time to jet off to some dark, dingy (because they always were dark and dingy on Spooks) former Soviet state and crack a code, infiltrate a criminal gang and free some hostages or defuse a bomb I don’t know.

Hmm, perhaps I could fit it in after sticking on the fish fingers. If hubby was around to turn off the grill and turn on the saucepan of spaghetti hoops that is.

Neat Freak Mum, double ‘Oh no not another bloody nappy change, blue-eyed boy!’ Sounds good doesn’t it.

One thing’s for sure, our supreme multi-tasking, general juggling and ability to clean up poo at the same time as fixing a bottle would certainly give us the edge.

Thinking back to Rupert Penry-Jones in Spooks I seem to remember certain qualities were required of ‘good’ spies.

*Keeping unsocial hours – Well that’s hardly going to be a stretch is it. Once you’ve got to bed at 2.33am having finally finished a piece of work only to be raised again at 2.35am by a teething baby, working through the night isn’t going to phase you.

*Always being on call – ‘Mummy, Mummy, Mummy, Muuummmmy, MUMMMMAAAAYYYY…..’ Need I say more?

*Able to respond in a flash to the messiest of emergencies – Yes once you’ve simultaneously mopped up ‘the trots’ at the same time as baby sick, or had to soak those grubby items of clothing nursery send home in a little plastic baggy, even Lisa Faulkner having her head shoved in a pan of boiling oil would probably all be in a day’s work.

*Always being prepared – Mums are famed for their ability to think ahead.

Whinging pre-schooler? Whip out the notebook and crayons you’ve brought to the restaurant, and if that fails the iPad.

Permanently hungry baby? Yes hubby of course I stashed a second bag of rice cakes in the change bag.

Other half falling asleep in his dinner? Where’s that can of Diet Coke I threw in earlier.

Yes this is sounding more attractive by the minute. Especially if RP Jones is still on the job too.

What’s that you say? We’d have to do this spy malarkey on top of the supermarket shop, nursery run, cleaning pen off the wall, washing hubby’s pants and fishing toys out from under the sofa.

And we’d be expected to make most of the tea rounds for the ‘permafrost’ gang.

Oh, s** off.

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…

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.)

Nice toes and naughty toes

Ah ballet class, the place where all parenting life meets looking slightly harassed on a Saturday morning.

Since mini-me has been prancing around pretty much since the day she could stand (actually from memory she sported a mean bottom wiggle before this too…) hubby and I reasoned that turning three was probably a good time for her to start a proper dance class.

We’ve heard from friends with slightly older children about the ‘joys’ of ferrying various offspring to football, drama, choir, gymnastics etc. etc. after school or on a weekend morning, a la an unpaid taxi firm.

Fortunately for us this is still ahead – which is just as well as weekly one of us still ends up careering into the village hall car park just after the one class we have to make it to has started. But we’re never alone thankfully, which I find nicely reassuring.

In fact sitting outside mini-me’s beginners’ ballet half-hour is a really good way to remind yourself we’re all in this parenting malarkey together. And you don’t even have to talk to anyone to draw this conclusion – merely pretend to read your book while actually eavesdropping.

(Am I the only one who does this?!)

There’s always at least one of us with ‘mum flu’, that is spluttering into a tissue trying to convince yourself and others that you’re not ill, just a bit grumpy.

There’s the usual array of children hanging off parents’ legs and demanding snacks, the ‘dulcet’ tones of Peppa and her pals playing on a loop on someone’s iPad and the sound of someone coaxing a small person to ‘please do a wee.’

Last week one of the dads was loudly telling his friend how glad he was that his son hadn’t yet professed a desire to start ballet with his sister, as it could have been quite awkward having the only boy in the class.

A mum was picking out tiles from a catalogue while discussing the merits of various colour options, and several of us were gazing with amazement at the pint-sized ballerina with hair her mother had clearly slaved over for the best part of half an hour.

We’re talking not one solitary hair out of place, a curled ponytail, colour-co-ordinating ribbon in exactly the right hue of purple and feathers for crying out loud.

I’ll bet I wasn’t the only one thinking I really must allow time for more than just brushing mini-me’s hair next week.

But the other thing we all have in common, and this to me is the sheer joy of my lovely girl’s ballet class, is the visible pride in watching our offspring practise ‘nice toes and naughty toes’, waiting patiently in line to show the teacher their butterfly run and tippy-toeing around the hall to classics such as ‘I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside.’

I love watching mini-me twirl and whirl with a delighted smile on her face as her little tutu floats behind her. I love her teeny yet perfect ballet slippers, and I love her uniform that has Royal Academy of Dance embroidered on the label.

Do I think she’ll grow up to be the next Darcey Bussell? Of course not, but it’s still nice to daydream for a few minutes.

Along with the other parents that is.