Feeling thankful for the ties that bind

Well we’ve reached that ‘weird bit’ in the middle of Christmas and New Year again.

When you stop feeling festive, may be working and try to kid yourself that it really isn’t possible to put on half a stone of flab in a week.

(It is of course and the only way to deal with it is to demolish another box of chocolates and curse the person who gave them to you. It’s all their fault that your skinny jeans no longer fit – obviously!)

When you wake up thinking you must have a night off the booze and find yourself downing a G and T by 7.30pm.

Usually this time of year my thoughts turn to New Year’s resolutions. The ones I didn’t keep last year, the ones I hope I’ll stick to this year and the ones that will probably always be wishful thinking.

It’s also a time for family and good friends of course and how, despite occasionally driving each other bonkers, pondering just how crucial they are to keeping you sane.

Someone wise once said to me that really close friends are often a second family, the family that you choose.

Not that this means you wouldn’t choose your actual family you understand, just that the people you know you’ll always be able to rely on aren’t limited to the ones you’re related to.

Since becoming a mum I’ve realised just how true this is. When we started our little family with Mini-me friends that I’ve known for decades became even more important to me – even if having kids in tow means that literally years can go by between us meeting up.

I know that should I ever need them they’ll be there, no matter what different directions life has taken us in.

But also the new friends you make as a parent, especially when thrust into the scary world of becoming one for the first time, are some of the most important of your life.

There’s no pretence or glamour about discussing the perils of labour, breastfeeding and which bits of you have gone irreversibly saggy, but that’s why the bonds you forge are so quick and so strong.

It’s been less than five years that I’ve known many of my mum friends, but they’ve seen me through not only those sleep-deprived, blurry, wonderful early days, but also a heart-breaking miscarriage and the darkness that followed, a difficult pregnancy and then adapting to life with two and keeping both offspring alive without losing the plot completely.

I really don’t know what I would do without them now and I say a little prayer for them coming into our lives every single day.

So whether they’re living next door to me or hundreds of miles away I think this is probably the perfect time of year to say a massive thankyou.

Thanks for understanding when I want a glass of wine and not a cuppa at 4.30pm on a playdate.

Thanks for picking up Mini-me from school for me when I’m poorly.

Thanks for listening when I need a protracted, disjointed, barely comprehensible rant.

Thanks for pointing out all the good things on days when I can only see the grumbles.

Thanks for making me laugh until my bloody pelvic floor lets me down again.

Thanks in advance for sticking around for the next five years. And the forty after that!

And Happy New Year, of course, to you and yours.

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.

 

 

The Primary School, Parental Exploding Brain Equation

I’m supposed to be working, but I’ve just spent the last 20 minutes frantically googling ‘neon children’s outer-wear’…

No Mini-me isn’t off to an ‘80s themed birthday party (although it would make a change from Frozen come to think about it, and involve better music), no this is just one of the new daily challenges my parental friends and I are facing. Those of us with reception class age children, I should say.

The second half of Mini-me’s first term at primary school kicked off this week, and I’m still not used to the rapidly expanding pile of paperwork, various important diary dates (non uniform, slight variation on uniform, fund-raising, special events etc.) and homework and project related stuff I need to be on top off.

Yes apparently I am now Mini-me’s PA – on top of being her personal chef (yes fish fingers and baked beans count), social secretary, style advisor, washer-woman and maid. And as it turns out I’m not very good at the job.

So far today I have forgotten that tomorrow is her class group’s show and tell day and that it is ‘Be Bright Day’. Namely where she needs to be decked out in some kind of luminous coat, scarf and hat combo that drivers and cyclists can see should she be walking to or from school with me in the dark.

Yes I know it’s a very worthy idea, I just wish I’d remembered so I didn’t have to spend time locating day-glo ear muffs at a shop that’s convenient for hubby to ‘swing by’ on the way to Euston Station. Because no one in their right mind would go late-night shopping with a knackered four and one-year-old in tow.

Hopefully Mini-me’s resident pink hat will do the job. I could ‘customise’ it with a bit of silver foil I suppose.

Yes we’re all still adapting to the ‘primary school chapter’, but the good thing is I know we’re not alone. My brilliant school mum friends are keeping me sane and laughing and long may this last.

So two months along here’s a few new things I’ve learned. Maybe some of them will sound familiar.

  1. You used to think you were late for school in the first couple of weeks, but now you know the real meaning of ‘cutting it fine.’ It involves bringing the car to a screeching halt most mornings, sprinting down the road towing poor offspring behind you and other (more well prepared) parents quickly getting out of your way in the playground as they register the panic in your eyes.
  1. You know NEVER to turn up to school pick-up without a snack of some kind for your child about your person. And if you forget, prepare for whinging, crying and them trying to grab a biscuit out of their best friend’s hand.
  1. You are pathetically grateful to your child’s class parents Facebook group. Without kind reminders from your peers you would be DOOMED!
  1. Your child’s ‘hair repertoire’ is now limited to bunches because they are easy. If Mini-me ever requests a French plait I may have a breakdown.
  1. Forget skinny jeans or heels, the best clothing purchase you have ever made is a decidedly untrendy but useful rain jacket with hood. Looking stylish is now even lower on the list of daily priorities than it used to be.
  1. A good ‘morning routine’ is a day which doesn’t involve shouting from you, shouting from offspring and hubby shouting down the stairs about all the shouting.
  1. That the fact that Mini-me can now read books to Blue-eyed boy is AMAZING. Admittedly the plots are a bit limited so far, but he doesn’t seem to mind.
  1. That you now do more washing than a small hotel. And if the machine packs up you cannot be held responsible for your actions.
  1. That when Mini-me says innocently that she’s ‘looking forward to homework’ it fills your heart with joy. And wonder over how long this is likely to last.
  1. That no matter how soon after lunch you ask, your child will NEVER be able to remember what they ate that day. But they will always remember if they got a sticker for eating it all.

Phobias and Parenting

Rain aside, I love this time of year. When the air gradually starts to feel cooler, then crisper, the leaves start to change and you can sometimes smell the wood smoke from fires when you step outside.

There’s something about early autumn that makes me think of fresh starts, new possibilities, something really good being just around the corner, and not just Christmas.

But there’s one tiny, or increasingly big this year as it turns out, thing I really, REALLY hate about it – and that’s spiders.

I’ve always been terrified of the eight-legged scuttling hairy monsters, with their ability to leap out at you from nowhere scaring you ****less, the marathon speed at which they run, their horrible beady eyes on stalky antennas. Just describing them is making me feel anxious and my skin start to crawl!

And yes I’ve heard all those ‘helpful’ comments about how much bigger I am than them, how much more scared they are of me, blah blah etc – but quite frankly I just don’t buy it.

It’s the one thing I disagree over with one of my oldest and closest friends. She actually feels sorry for the spiders and, wait for it, scoops them up in her bare hands no matter how enormous the beast. It’s just not normal!

I used to get her to come round to my flat many years back, pre hubby, to dispose of them for me. Pathetic I know.

It’s not as bad as my other oldest and closest friend though. She once slept in the communal hallway outside her flat to avoid a huge spider specimen. She was also known to hoover them up at 3am which, as you can imagine, made her hugely popular with the other residents.

Anyway every year I hope (and pray) that I’ve gotten away with it, before they start migrating back in. But this year the menace has grown to unprecedented levels.

Firstly there’s millions more of the buggers, and secondly they all seem to be on spider steroids because they are bloody massive!

And I know it’s not just me because there have been various stories in the nationals about super-sized spiders on the rampage. How reassuring!

Thing is though, when it was just me to worry about I could choose to have a minor panic attack at the sight of one and lock myself in the bathroom until hubby got home. But now there’s Mini-me and Blue-eyed boy to consider.

Mini-me is actually a world champion ‘spider spotter’. She has a sixth sense for their malevolent lurking and will scream reports up the stairs until I come running armed with rubber gloves, pest spray and a super-sized saucepan.

Yes like her mum she isn’t a fan. Although she was fine until the day, several years back, when I had a screaming fit having found one of the fat little beasts crawling over her in her cot.

Yes I am to blame for her (apparently unhealthy) fear of them. Something which the other half hasn’t let me forget, and which I do feel very guilty about.

This is why I am now trying to employ new spider tactics – namely attempting to swallow any shrieks of terror, maintain a calm speaking voice and trying to rapidly and efficiently dispose of them. After all the last thing I want is for Blue-eyed boy to start being scared of spiders too.

It’s got me thinking about those everyday phobias most of us parents have – whether of heights, lifts or other enclosed spaces, wasps or even clowns – and how tricky it is to ensure we don’t pass them onto our offspring.

After all you don’t immediately shrug off every fear you’ve grown to have over a lifetime, no matter how ridiculous, just because you’ve started a family.

For me the facts are simple. I hate spiders, I will always hate spiders, and the best I can do is try to live with my irrational feelings while protecting my kids from developing the same.

And if I can trap the little sods under something, weigh it down with a couple of books and leave for hubby to get rid of when he gets home at night then hopefully I’m not doing too badly.

Starting School (For The Second Time)

So you know the time trick of not fully realising you’ve entered a ‘New Family Phase’ until you’re actually immersed in one?

I’m not explaining it very well (blame the frazzled brain matter) but those of you with kids will hopefully know what I mean.

It happens when your beloved offspring start consuming actual food and not just milk, when they begin taking tentative steps and before you know it are running amok and when you head back to work and start putting them in childcare on a regular basis.

All things that you can prepare for as much as you like, but don’t really get in the swing of until you’re doling out pureed carrot, sprinting after escaping children and struggling with the ‘guilt’ of having to hand them over so you can earn money to feed, clothe and provide them with plastic tat.

Well so far it’s only been 10 days of real time and seven actual ‘school days’ but, as it turns out, starting school is the biggest parental culture shock so far.

The Neat Freak household, like so many up and down the country, has gone through what feels like a tidal wave of change in a really short space of time, and personally I feel like I’m just about treading water but still gasping for air.

So while Mini-me takes it all in her tiny stride, here’s just a few of the things I’m still trying to adjust to. Maybe some will strike a chord with the rest of you.

  1. How proud I feel seeing Mini-me all shiny and smart in her new uniform, carrying her book bag. How did she get to be so grown up?
  1. How amazing children are to just adapting to a new situation. Every morning we’re barely through the classroom door before Mini-me has put her book bag in the right box, got out her water bottle, said good morning to her teacher and is off to play like she owns the joint.
  1. How brilliant they also are at socialising with friends old and new. As it turns out I could learn a lot about ‘productive networking’ from my four-year-old.
  1. How, try as I might, I will always be the parent making her poor child jog along the pavement to get to school on time. Hopefully school will teach her better time management than I can.
  1. That some serious hair envy goes on at school, at least on my part. Every morning I marvel at the mothers who have managed to tease their child’s hair into a sleek French plait, while carrying their baby around in a sling, while I can barely get Mini-me to stand still long enough to manage a lumpy ponytail.
  1. How quickly you forget how blimmin’ tricky ties can be. Good job I also bought one of the ones on a string.
  1. That Mini-me will soon have actual homework that hopefully I won’t have to nag her to do. Is this the start of officially turning into my mother?
  1. That I’m really excited about becoming a reading helper and joining the PTA. Once a geek and all that…
  1. How I’m loving that Mini-me starting school is also a great excuse for me to meet new friends, and spend more time with old ones.
  1. That I’m also already excited about my little girl being in the school nativity, assuming they have one, and other productions.

(Ah the memories, of my sister being cast as a snow fairy – while I was a plain old boring snowflake – and then, to my horror, as the wicked witch in Gobbolino. It’s all coming back to me now…)

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.

How many plates can you carry?

I’ve come to the conclusion that, on certain days, parenting is a little like one, long waitressing shift.

Except for the fact that you don’t get paid and the only ‘tips’ on offer are stroppy about-to-start-school ones along the lines of: ‘Mummy, I need more blueberries,’ and ‘You need to buy more chocolate biscuits.’

I know – I can’t believe it took me this look to make the connection either.

Maybe it’s something about turning four, but Mini-me’s diva demands are definitely on the rise. And considering that her favourite ‘hobbies’ include picnics (garden, park and woodland based naturally), frequenting cafes and seeing how many snacks she can wheedle out of relatives and close friends, I’m starting to feel like a plate balancer as well as spinner.

I suppose I shouldn’t complain, after all ‘waitressing’ these days keeps me constantly on my toes and thus provides at least a grudging form of exercise, and I don’t have to wear short skirts like I did ‘back in the day.’

And actually Mini-me requesting that I pause the TV so she can take a quick ‘snack break’ has been the cause of much hilarity. (I know, I need to get out more to somewhere without swings and buggies.)

But let’s face it, fetching, carrying, raising voice when perfectly capable offspring is just being lazy, and wiping up spills with one foot whilst clearing dirty plates with hands is bloody knackering.

I have fairly painful memories of my pre-children waitressing ‘career’ – which actually constituted the revenue source of one university summer.

I was a pretty awful ‘restaurant attendant’ as I recall. I could only carry two plates at a time, would forget to put some meals through the till and then blame the chefs for their lateness and objected to having to plaster on a huge smile when I was quite often massively hungover.

Also I wasn’t shagging one of the managers which, if I remember correctly, was the only way to bag yourself decent tips!

Now of course I can cater to numerous demands in minutes and am brilliant at anticipating the customers’ needs.

Time for your bottle of milk sir? Here’s one I microwaved earlier.

More carrot sticks madam? Of course, here are some extra ones I prepared just in case.

You’d like a third custard pot of the day you say? You must be joking!

At least I’m not alone in this business of order taking and continual washing up.

One of my best friends now enjoys the delights of her child shouting ‘rubbish!’ when he’s finished consuming something on an outing and needs the remains disposing of.

Another has crisp packets thrown at her when her kids have finished munching. Obviously they are incapable of putting them in the bin themselves you understand.

Personally I’m looking forward to seeing what Mini-me tries to get away with at school mealtimes.

I’ll bet we’re the only parents called in because their child wishes to dine atop a blanket in the playground with her teddy bears.

And due to concerns over worrying custard pot addiction…