Juggling with Melted Balls

We’ve reached the ‘Holiday Hump’ in the Neat Freak Household.

As in everyone is in one and not only are some of us counting down the days until school starts, it’s now officially okay to mention this fact in hushed tones to parenting friends on the same wavelength.

After all nothing makes you feel more guilty as a mum than to hear someone say they are embracing the sheer joy of every single precious family moment, while you’re ‘cooking’ (hiding) in the kitchen furtively watching Gilmore Girls on the Kindle.

(The iPad is of course being monopolised by pint-sized family members.)

And nothing makes you feel better – or perhaps it’s just me – when another mum tells you: ‘I cannot bloody wait until September 5th!’

Anyway the mood has soured a little more this week with the arrival of soaring temperatures.

Now don’t get me wrong I like sunshine as much as the next person, but personally I prefer warm to sizzling, and slowly melting while fighting with Mini-me over the need to slather her in sunscreen at 8am isn’t my idea of a good time. Or hers.

Bless hubby though, he bought me a lovely family calendar for the kitchen – you know so I can keep on top of four peoples’ schedules like an (unpaid) PA and (most importantly) his beloved West Ham fixtures.

I may have slightly overreacted when I noticed that it was made by a company called ‘Organised Mum’, with a fetching logo of a smiling mother juggling a large number of balls.

‘FFS!’ I texted BFF. ‘Are men incapable of writing on family planners?!’

To my mind it’s the same flawed pigeon-hole thinking as those ridiculous toy manufacturers who assume that all girls like pink dolls and would never want to play with racing cars.

Now clearly men are not incapable, and the other half would probably happily take charge of the family schedule.

It’s just that I have nicer handwriting and actually know important dates that don’t involve a team of overpaid footballers doing battle with Scunthorpe United, or whoever it is they are playing this week.

No it’s the Holiday Hump coming into play.

That and the fact that hubby sent me a ‘helpful’ email itinerary for departing on our much-needed cottage holiday earlier, along with a delightful text reminder to pack everyone light layers…

All too soon I, and all the mums I know, will be back to having to stay on top off a multitude of dull daily details, such as whether there are enough clean socks to last the week, what inanimate object Mini-me has chosen to talk about in show and tell (‘No! Not another Shopkins!’) and when I need to start stapling silver foil to something for the probably quite likely occurrence of ‘Space Mufti Day’.

And that’s a good thing – after all it means we’ll all have survived the summer holidays in one piece.

It would just be nice if someone could turn down the heat a little and remember to chuck a super-sized bottle of Gin for me in the car tomorrow along with the rest of the packing.

Advertisements

Compare, Contrast, Combust

You might have noticed (or more likely you probably haven’t) that it’s been a fair few weeks since my last blog ramblings.

It’s been a hectic time, juggling a busy, varied and ‘just the right side of stressful’ workload, the school holidays, other mini life niggles such as a delightful infected wisdom tooth and accompanying balloon face (attractive) and what I have been referring to as ‘family health issues’.

A few posts back I hinted that Blue-eyed boy is currently battling several health and development challenges, and recently the worry surrounding these has started to ramp up. Mainly because I find myself brooding on things more.

Blue-eyed boy has always been a fighter right since his conception.

There was the miscarriage, the awful scan where we were ushered into a private room and told that he might have a chromosomal condition, possibly one that could be life threatening, the invasive tests to find out whether this was the case or whether his heart was weak, the scans at the specialist hospital department and then the ‘all clear’.

Although this was followed by the caveat that in such cases as ours there is always a slightly higher chance of the baby being born with a health issue than what they refer to as ‘the general population’.

Even after this there was the nagging worry that followed us up right the day of his birth and the sheer joy at his arrival that followed.

Now considering I know people whose children have bravely battled cancer, others who have taken rounds of IVF in their stride and others who may not be able to have kids at all, I don’t for one minute think that hubby and I had to cope with that much – but I have always privately felt that Blue-eyed boy is my miracle boy.

And this means that, I suppose, we’ve wrapped him in more virtual cotton wool than we did with Mini-me.

When he was late to sit and walk and never really crawled we worried lots.

When we realised he couldn’t hear and had suffered with bad glue ear for most of his first two years we stressed out loads.

And when he used to cling to us and sob furiously in unfamiliar social situations we were concerned he might never find his feet.

But when he finally took his first tentative, wobbly steps at 19 months we whooped furiously.

When he had grommets fitted and we were told his hearing was now, probably for the first time, back within the ‘normal range’ we celebrated.

And when he started to babble, grow in confidence and even say the odd word, we were almost beside ourselves.

I guess because he has been through a fair amount, it makes every little milestone hurdled that little bit more special.

So now he, and we, are facing the next set of challenges.

The fact that Blue-eyed boy is a fair few months behind in terms of development. The fact that there is a long road ahead when it comes to him learning listening and conversational skills and, hopefully, catching up with his speech.

And the fact that there may be something else to contend with – possibly an autism diagnosis, possible a motor or sensory deficiency…

The good news is that he is doing amazingly well, continuing to battle like he always has. In fact I couldn’t be more proud of my little boy with the big eyes and the beautiful smile.

The thing I’m struggling most with at the moment is all down to my own issues and actually a trap that many parents fall into – the curse of comparison.

I hate myself for doing it, even though it’s only human, but sometimes I can’t help brooding on the fact that other children the same age as Blue-eyed boy are toilet trained, sleeping in proper beds, no longer using high chairs and chatting away with the best of them.

I worry, even though it’s far too early, that he may never get the chance to go to mainstream school or enjoy all the opportunities that Mini-me undoubtedly will.

I wish for a clear diagnosis of his condition so we know exactly what we are dealing with, but other days I dread the thought of it.

Personally I think that no good ever comes of comparing your child or yourself as a parent to others. In my experience it only leads to negative brooding and madness.

Do my children have too much ‘screen time?’

Do my children eat enough fruit and vegetables?

Do my children behave as well as their friends?

Do they spend enough time outside?

Do I shout too much – or too little?

Am I patient enough with them?

Will I ever get the work/parenting balance right?

Blah, blah, blah, blah, bleurgghh…

What I’m going to try to do instead is focus on all the good bits, with none of the lining up against stuff. And not look too far ahead.

And also take the good advice a friend of mine gave me today…

‘Look, if they’re still alive at the end of the day and you haven’t gone insane I consider it a good sign!’

Sounds a pretty good parenting motto to me.

 

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…

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.

Please, Please, Please, Judge. Off.

I love reading other mum blogs. Especially those of the ‘honest parenting’ variety that I hope Neat Freak Mum peddles. Or tries to anyway.

It can be a bit overwhelming trying to juggle work and small people and blogging, but having a good ‘ole vent on here is indeed therapeutic stuff. And I love it!

Anyway, this particular blog is called ‘Mama Said’ (http://boganette.me/) and one post ‘Mama’ penned recently really struck a chord with me. It was all about those times in the wee small hours of the morning, where you’re sharing your bed with several offspring, someone needs a bottle, someone needs (another) change, hubby needs a good kick in the shins so he’ll stop snoring (and farting) and, well, you just want to SCREAM!

For a few minutes your yearning for your pre-child life is so overwhelming that you can almost taste it, and you just want one good night’s sleep and to wake up to 30 minutes’ of uninterrupted bathroom time.

So, being as it’s the middle of the night, you pen something to the above effect on social media – only to be greeted by comments from ‘well meaning’ people about how you should be grateful for this time because it goes so quickly. (As if you weren’t aware of this yourself.)

Now, I’m not looking to make a new career out of cribbing other peoples’ blogs I promise you! This just got me thinking about all those ‘well meaning’ comments I’ve had from people about my freelance career.

These have ranged from queries as to why I don’t simply give up my job ‘for my own sanity’. (Do they know me at ALL??!) To whether I should be turning work down, spending more time doing laundry, to ‘helpful’ input about the amount of childcare I’m using.

The childcare thing in particular really, REALLY gets my goat – mainly because putting my children, particularly blue-eyed boy, into nursery a couple of days a week already drives me insane with guilt.

I feel guilty literally all the time. Guilt about whether I put them in too much, guilt that I can’t devote as much time to work and that looming deadline as I should on a particular day, guilt about wanting to work, guilt about needing something in my life that’s mine other than being a mum, and major, major guilt about still being driven and inspired by my job even though I have now also procreated.

The thing is that these comments, however kindly intentioned, are a form of passing judgement on me as a mum, and believe me they can make the daily juggling act of working and parenting even harder than it already is.

I know for a fact that good friends who are stay-at-home mums are also on the receiving end.

I think most mums feel like they come under the microscope at some point – and who wants to be analysed?!

This is precisely why I try never to pass judgement on how other people choose to parent. Because we’re all different and what works for you may not for me, but good luck to you.

After all some days it’s about just getting to the end.

Now the above ramblings would have come in very useful during our Mother’s Day lunch out. If I could have packaged them into a perfectly honed yet concise argument that was just acerbic enough to slightly sting.

The recipients would have been a table of pensioners sitting across from us who tutted, raised their eyebrows and unsubtly and loudly talked about hubby and I behind the backs of their hands throughout our entire meal.

And the reason for their disgust? The fact that we put Night Garden on hubby’s iPhone to keep blue-eyed boy entertained while we ate for 20 minutes because he’s currently teething, miserable and very, very clingy.

Yes being judged for being a ‘bad’ parent throughout the meal made me feel great. And I probably should have said something to them, but I didn’t.

Well I am now.

Anyone reading this who likes to post ‘helpful’ comments on social media about their golden days of parenting… Judge Off.

If you feel the need to give me your ‘top tips’ for how to cope with freelancing whilst being a mum… Please Don’t.

And if you have strong views about the occasional use of ‘technical’ products to entertain my pre-school brood and keep me sane… Keep Them To Yourself.

In fact blue-eyed boy is at this precise minute watching Night Garden in his cot while I finish this because he woke up early from a nap…

And so ends my Party Parent-ical Broadcast!