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…

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The (hopefully achievable) Mum Bucket List

So we all know that it’s a given when you become a mum that you fall spectacularly to the bottom of the pile.

And I’m not talking of the laundry variety – although come to think of it, making sure the other half has clean socks (while also juggling children, work deadlines, school commitments…) is obviously ‘more important’ than you actually getting the chance to eat lunch.

(I would like to point out here that hubby has never been the type to moan about this. He is very good at wearing dirty socks for a second, and even third, day. No, it’s usually me that ends up washing the socks instead of eating the sandwich due to that lovely thing known as Mum Guilt.)

But sometimes it’s nice – and healthy – to do something for yourself. The experts even say that watching that half hour of TV you’ve been saving up, reading a magazine or meeting a friend for dinner actually makes you a better parent because no one is capable of being totally selfless 100 per cent of the time.

In my case it’s more like 60 per cent, on a good day.

I’ve been pondering on this in the last couple of days because hubby and I took a few hours out last Saturday evening to watch The Godfather, accompanied by a rather large bar of Toblerone. And it was great.

It’s one of those films I’ve always wanted to watch but never got round to. And although there were numerous jobs I could have been doing, it was time well spent.

Now although I would like to go on holiday to Canada, see Lake Louise and take a trip on the Rocky Mountaineer, clearly – with two young kids in tow – this probably won’t happen any time soon. In fact we’re saving that particular daydream up for retirement.

But, there are little goals that as a mum could, and should, be realistically achievable in the near(ish) future. A Mum Bucket List if you will – although as I’m not planning on expiring anytime soon, fingers crossed, this may not be the best name for it.

Anyway, here goes:

 

  1. Watching The Godfather 2 without falling asleep (due to exhaustion, not film quality) and/or pondering over the fact that Diane Keaton, IMO, was spectacularly miscast.

 

  1. Watching the original Star Wars. I know – I just never got around to that film either.

 

  1. Having the discipline to actually write my novel. A good friend has just scored a two-book publishing deal and I’m very inspired by her determination and drive.

 

  1. Going back to my favourite city New York to celebrate my 40th. If in laws will babysit! And hubby will pay!

 

  1. Getting the chance in the course of my job to interview actress Lauren Graham (yes, the one from Gilmore Girls). I love her.

 

  1. Making sure that when one of my best friends moves away in January (sob, sob) that we still meet up at least once a month.

 

  1. Growing my business in 2016 and expanding my PR and copywriting client base.

 

  1. Biting the bullet and going to the dentist for the first time in four years. (I don’t even have a phobia, I just never seem to get around to it.)

 

  1. Going through all the boxes in the garage that I haven’t looked at it in over two years, discovering what’s actually in them and then selling or giving it all away.

 

  1. Starting piano lessons again for the first time in 20 odd years and seeing if Mini-me would like to join me.

 

  1. Purchasing a piano on which to play, badly.

 

  1. Going to the cinema much more often than I do. It’s one of the great joys of life.

 

  1. Writing more frequent, and possibly more gripping, blog posts!

 

What’s on your Mum Bucket List? I’d love to know.

 

 

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!

Smug Mums Incorporated

It’s been a rather stressful few weeks in the Neat Freak house.

A seemingly never-ending bout of illness finally culminated in a spell in hospital for blue-eyed boy, and although everything’s pretty much back to normal now it’s been a case of muddling along as best we can for a while.

My never-ending ‘to do’ list is now the length of a short novel and I’m actually getting genuinely scared of being eaten alive by the laundry pile.

Being a long-time convert to the philosophy that a tidy home equals a calmer, happier person, I think what I find hardest about being a parent – apart from the lack of personal space – is the lack of space in general.

The plethora of ‘toddler tat’ in our lounge often feels like my biggest bugbear, that and how my kids manage to leave their sticky fingerprints and footprints on everything. But hey, it goes with the territory.

What’s harder to admit is that sometimes I find it hard to remain serene in the face of mini-me emptying out every toy she owns. Or that I love the fact that she does cake making and potato printing at nursery so I don’t have to at home.

Personally I think the sanest thing you can do as a mum is to accept the fact that you’ll never be ‘perfect’, try not to feel guilty about the decisions you make and above all never forget to laugh at yourself – whether at home or in public.

After all being a good mum is many things, but it’s certainly not black and white.

So why do the smug mums brigade, Smug Mums Incorporated if you will, seem to feel it’s okay to look down their noses at the rest of us?

You know the type, the ones who wouldn’t know self-deprecation if it bit them on the arse and who recoil in horror at the thought of feeding their offspring anything that’s not locally sourced, organic and prepared from scratch.

Queen of the Smug Mums, or at least the celebrity face of the campaign, has to go to Gwyneth Paltrow, her of Goop, or as I prefer to call it Gloop fame.

You know that lifestyle website with ‘useful’ tips on the perfect capsule collection wardrobe, the importance of owning a black designer jumpsuit and hearty recipes. Chickpea soup anyone?

To be fair Gwyneth herself has waxed lyrical about how we mums don’t cut each other enough slack. But then she always goes and spoils it by dropping clangers such as how office jobs are easier if you’re a mum than being paid millions to make a film. Or how she only allows her children to watch TV if it’s in French or Spanish.

And while describing herself as a ‘working mom’ as she did recently at a political fundraiser – of course we all host these regularly where I’m from – might be technically correct, in reality she presumably has staff and nannies by the dozen on standby.

Oh Gwyneth if only instead of writing about the benefits of juice cleansing on Gloop you could recount that time when you broke wind in a baby sensory class and blamed your unfortunate offspring.

Or when you let your kids have cheese and a bag of maltesers for tea one night because you couldn’t get them to eat anything else.

Or when you stuck them upstairs for some ‘quiet time’ with the iPad so you could indulge in 30 minute’s uninterrupted trash TV.

We’d like you, and the other Smug Mums, so much more…