You can have it all. It just might kill you…

Have you ever played that game where you imagine what your dream dinner party line up would be?

You know the one, where you can invite anyone you like to sit around ‘the table’. (A bit like a normal Saturday night must be for Amal Clooney.)

Well along with Lauren Graham, Bill Bryson, Tom Hanks, Nora Ephron (yes I know she’s dead) and Kirstie Allsopp, I’ve always thought mine would include Emma Thompson.

Because along with being brilliant, funny, just the right amount of bonkers and a great British export, she always comes across as nice, normal and someone who wouldn’t be above feeding crispy chicken dippers to screaming offspring.

But then a couple of years back she gave an interview where she spoke about the perils of trying to have it all as a mum. She talked about how hard it is to juggle career and being a parent, and how having it all at once might not be good for you.

What’s she on about?! I thought to myself.

Surely you should be flying the flag for working parents who are trying to have it all Emma, I muttered to myself. After all I’ve always thought of you as someone who does that.

I said the same to hubby who quickly became bored by the conversation…

Anyway, a while further down the parenting track, and I’ve come to the conclusion that Emma’s words were actually very wise ones.

You see I’ve spent the last two months trying to have it all and the plain fact is I’m bloody knackered, the laundry pile in the house is now so large that it is soon to be named a local landmark and quite simply it hasn’t brought me happiness. It’s made me, and most people around me, stressed.

I haven’t had the time in my life for all the little things I used to love, such as blogging, and what I’ve realised is that, at least for me, having it all at once has not been a good thing.

Don’t get me wrong, going back into an office has definitely had its upsides. Tea rounds, office banter and child-free lunch hours being three of them.

But trying to manage full-time hours with other freelance writing jobs, the school run, seeing friends and family, trying to have quality time with Mini-me and Blue-eyed boy and all those little bits of ‘life admin’ that you have to do to keep things ticking over has been really hard.

Plus on top of everything else Blue-eyed boy is facing challenges of his own (more of which another time), and I need and want to be around to give him all the help and support he needs.

So the upshot is that I’m going back to freelancing – for the next couple of years at least.

When I realised that this was the only decision that made sense for us right now I couldn’t help feeling like a failure. After all so many parents juggle much more than I do on a daily basis, and they manage, so why couldn’t I?

Fortunately a very good friend was around to mop up a few tears and give me some more wise words.

‘You tried it, it didn’t work for you at the moment and so you’re making a change,’ she said. ‘At least you gave it a go, and that’s something to be proud of.’

A much better way of looking at it – and another thing this whole journey has reinforced for me.

Like most mums I really rely on my friends, and I’m lucky because they are a bloody brilliant group.

In fact Amal really should invite them over…

It’s the little things really…

This parenting lark is strange isn’t it?

Without sounding too like a therapy session I can imagine Gwyneth sitting through, I think sometimes it makes you forget to look at the bigger picture. At least I know that’s the case for me.

I can also be more ‘glass half empty’ than I should when work and looking after little people is pushing up the stress levels, and that only adds to a certain sleep deprived, blinkered view of the world.

In those very early days of having children, when everything is all new and shiny (and you’re not too knackered yet) you can often spend literally hours just staring at your baby thinking: ‘How on earth did we produce someone so amazing?!’ and: ‘Every tiny fingernail is a miracle!’

You know, a tad cheesy. A bit like the script of a Jennifer Aniston film!

Then those 2 and 5am feeds start to stack up and you find yourself, through furrowed brow, wondering how you are, inevitably, going to mess them up!

Becoming a mum or dad is the point at which you’re supposed to really count your blessings – and of course you do.

But equally all the plate-spinning that comes with the job means you’re sometimes so focused on simply getting through the day that you can forget the daily wonder of it all.

I certainly know I’m guilty of fobbing off Mini-me on occasion, telling her that I’ll be there in a minute when in reality I’m furtively listening to the radio with a semi-hot beverage.

Sticking Beebies or a film on so I can get a job done when I really should have spent longer asking about what she enjoyed at nursery today.

Rushing through Blue-eyed boy’s bed-time book so the ‘bath production line’ can continue moving.

Bizarrely it’s been him coming out in chickenpox – not welcomed, but expected – that has given me a bit of a wake-up call in the Neat Freak household this week.

I’ve been so knackered that I’ve just let the laundry mountain, and other mind-numbing but ‘essential’ chores, continue to mount up. That’s given me more time to reflect on those little gems that are the things we really want to remember when they’re all grown up and don’t need us anymore.

Mini-me and I decided to go on a bear hunt around the garden as we couldn’t inflict poor ‘spotty baby’ on the outside world – with me sporting a fetching PJs and wellies combo – and we enjoyed it so much that we’ve now decided to make it a daily thing.

I’ve re-discovered that Blue-eyed boy really does enjoy a waltz around the living room. And that it makes me dizzier than it used to!

The point is that I had forgotten just how lucky I am to have more time with them while poor hubby contends with his daily three-hour plus commute.

I hope once the ‘pock pocks’ are finally faded and I’m fully back in the world of permanent multi-tasking that I don’t forget to stop a few times a day and just soak it all in.

Before they’re both stroppy teenagers who want nothing to do with me!

The things I (sometimes) think as a Mum – but don’t say

I’m pretty sure this little lot don’t only apply to me…

Hopefully not anyway!

  1. On being handed a sticky, slightly dog-eared, ‘hand iced’ biscuit from nursery…

‘Oh goody, I could really do with another row with my daughter about her wanting to eat this in the car when she can have it in two minutes when we get home…

‘And no, I don’t feel lucky to be handed the second half to eat as a ‘special present’ after you’ve licked it!’

  1. On being handed Mini-me’s sixth ‘artistic masterpiece’ of the week from nursery…

‘Oh goody, another piece for the ‘very special art folder’ – otherwise known as the filing system before the recycling bin…’

  1. When telling Mini-me at bedtime that I’m just on my way up (again) with water/ to deal with miniscule and possibly imaginary insect/ to read third book of the evening…

‘Will you PLEASE just go to ******* sleep! I want to down a glass of wine and watch Teen Mom OG!’

 

  1. When debating with Mini-me the likelihood of her being given her third custard pot of the day…

‘Where the bloody hell does she put it all?!’

 

  1. When dropping off both my kids at nursery…

‘Hooray! Some actual time to myself to work/ read Grazia/ watch some crap on TV!’

 

  1. When dealing with yet another exploding nappy…

‘Brilliant – more sodding poo-stained laundry…’

 

  1. When promising to do yet another jigsaw with Mini-me…

‘Can’t I just sit here with my hot drink and watch MTV?! Please!!!’

 

  1. When trying to immerse myself in art projects and/or cooking with Mini-me…

‘Isn’t this what nursery is for?!’

 

  1. When trying to do my daughter’s hair…

‘If you don’t stand still for one minute while I try to make these bunches look semi decent I may have some kind of breakdown!’

 

  1. When greeting hubby and kids after a trip running errands…

‘How the **** can the house get this messy in just two hours?!’

 

  1. When negotiating with either/both the kids over teeth cleaning…

‘I haven’t got the energy. Are their teeth really going to drop out if I leave it just this once?!’

 

  1. When watching the other half dress one or both of the children…

‘I can’t go out in public with them looking like this!’

 

No doubt more to follow…

Not getting better with age…

They say a fine vintage only improves with the passing years.

Probably not the case with buying whichever white is on offer in the supermarket eh?!

Anyway, wine consumption aside, it’s been a ‘prop those eyes open with matchsticks’ sort of week in the Neat Freak household.

Mini-me has valiantly fought, and scratched, off ‘the pox’ and we now wait with anticipation (more like total dread) for some sign of the small, itchy little sods blooming on poor blue-eyed boy.

Hubby’s friend, who has children almost exactly the same age as us, regaled him with a heart-warming tale yesterday of how they thought they’d got away with it with bubba number two. Until the pox re-appeared, like some sort of scary Jim Carrey sequel, when enough time had passed that they’d allowed themselves to relax.

‘Now he’s been exposed he’s bound to get it,’ said the voice of doom.

Oh goody!

More lack of shut-eye and passing out on the sofa because I’m so exhausted then, before blearily staggering up the stairs at 2am.

Last Sunday I woke up on the sofa at 4.30 in the morning. It was light outside. Birds were singing. Ridiculous!

So you can imagine how thrilled I was to read a news article about how, if you get by on only six hours of sleep a night, this will play havoc with your health.

Think dark circles hovering like bean bags under the eyes and skin a flattering shade of grey.

One expert said six hours of snooze time was the equivalent of driving your car over the same pothole every day. Apparently we should be getting eight or nine!

Now, correct me if I’m mad, but I thought six hours was pretty good when you have pre-school age children?!

And it’s even worse news for hubby, as when I finally do lumber into bed I’m a notoriously heavy sleeper, so more often than not he ends up getting up first with the kids.

Yes even kicking me in the ribs doesn’t work so I’m told…

I’d never really worried about obvious signs of ageing until mini-me approached her first birthday.

By then the inherent exhaustion that goes hand in hand with parenting had set in, and since then there have been (many) more grey hairs, more crinkly lines on my face and more ‘middle-aged spread.’

Yes, I’m clearly transforming into exactly Bradley Cooper’s type of woman. (Probably only if he actually was the Elephant Man… and even then he’d trade me in for someone younger, and firmer.)

The good news of course is that hubby will have to get over his Jessica Alba fetish as well!

The final insult hit home though, like a verbal punch to the chops, when mini-me was playing ‘families’ with her dolls and stuffed animals.

‘I’m the mummy, Mummy,’ she explained. ‘Baby brother is the baby and Moo Moo Cow is the daddy.’

‘Lovely. Who can I be?’ I asked.

She pondered for a few seconds.

‘You can be the granny,’ she beamed.

Fan-bloody-tastic.

If anyone could send me the number of a reputable face lift surgeon I’d be much obliged.

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.

Things aren’t how they used to be

I’ve been thinking a lot about my lovely Gran recently.

Easter Sunday was the fourth anniversary of her funeral and on June 3 she would have been celebrating her 100th Birthday. Very sadly she’s not here to of course but I’ll no doubt raise a forkful of cake in her honour.

In some ways it’s good that Gran departed ‘while she still had all her marbles’, as she used to say. She once told me she had no desire to stick around for a telegram from the Queen if that meant she was no longer able to look after herself, be in her own home etc.

She was a straight talker my Gran. Having lived through some very tough times she told you like it was. She didn’t suffer fools gladly and that was one of the things I loved most about her I think.

It was Gran who first told me she believed I’d make a great writer one day, that she knew I ‘had a book in me.’ Well hopefully the elusive novel will emerge from the various notes I’ve scrawled over the years and half-finished ideas I have rattling around in my head and make her proud.

I hope at least that she was right about the writing thing – not that I’d ever use the label ‘great’ to describe my ramblings. If I can make a couple of people laugh that’s enough for me.

The reason for all this reminiscing is that I’ve also been thinking about how very hard the early years of being a parent must have been for Gran after having her first daughter, my mum.

My granddad left soon after she was born and was fighting in Burma during World War II. He didn’t come back until Mum was nearly four I think and at first was a complete stranger to her.

All this sprang to mind t’other day when I was trying to deal with a whingeing mini-me, a hungry blue-eyed boy, a sink full of dishes, piles of ‘plastic tat’ filling the lounge and several pressing copy deadlines humming dangerously at the back of my mind where I’d tried to stash them until later.

It was one of ‘those’ days where I was feeling a little bit sorry for myself, finding the juggling a little harder than usual – you know what I’m talking about.

I stuck a Night Garden on Beebies with promises to mini-me that she could watch the Wizard of Oz for the 15th time that week straight afterwards, fetched her the iPad and a snack, started heating up an Ella’s Kitchen pouch, called Mum to see if she could help me out the next day with the kids and then poured myself a glass of wine.

Then for some reason Gran popped fully formed into my mind tackling her own pre-school meltdown with what would have been my Mum as a small child.

She didn’t have a TV, was my first thought, and how on earth did she cope without one? In fact she had three kids before she had a television – the very thought makes me need to lie down for a few minutes.

Of course she didn’t have an iPad, or anything like it.

She wouldn’t have been able to afford anything like as many toys as we have now. There was no such thing as organic, pre-made baby and toddler food – she would have made everything from scratch and this while rationing was going on.

She wouldn’t have had much family help with Mum seeing as everyone was probably working.

She lived in Greater London during the war, so while she wasn’t in the heart of the bombing it must have been something that affected her. It must have been terrifying.

She must have had to seriously budget to make money last, she couldn’t have allowed herself many treats and perhaps she couldn’t afford that many for Mum.

She must have felt really isolated at times, scared about Granddad, missing him constantly and just plain lonely.

Perhaps she was desperate to get out to work at that time (she always worked in later years) and felt like she needed something for herself other than being a mum. After all we’ve all been there.

Yes I thought of all this as I sipped my wine and listened to Iggle Piggle jangling on the TV while blue-eyed boy laughed and I counted my blessings.

Because ‘tough’ as I have it on some days, I really don’t have it that tough at all.

Of course if she was here for me tell all this to she’d brush it off and say something like: ‘Pah, I got on with it because I had to and so would you.’

After all this is the woman who when Granddad tragically dropped dead of a heart attack six months after retiring said: ‘I managed without him once, I’ll do it again.’

I miss you Gran.

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.