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…

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!

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!

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.