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…

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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!

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.

This Year’s New Mum Resolutions

This may be somewhat late(ish) in the day, but I’d like to wish everyone reading this a very, very Happy New Year!

Today has been a somewhat bleary-eyed affair as hubby, parents and I didn’t get to bed until 3am. And no we weren’t out clubbing, and for once I wasn’t working, no we were playing Articulate. Yes it’s life on the edge these days!

Although to be honest I’m very glad that my days of frequenting some sticky-floored pub I’d had to pay a tenner just to get into are over. Not to mention the sheer awful-ness of having to find some semi attractive person of the opposite sex to snog at midnight. Yes staying at home with a nice meal and a good bottle of something strong suits me just fine.

What I really love about bringing in the New Year though is that feeling of starting afresh, almost like sitting with pen poised above a perfectly clean, white piece of paper. I like the feeling of anticipation, thinking about what I just might possibly achieve over the coming 12 months if I put my mind to it.

I always seem to start off with a good list of resolutions too, although sticking to them is always harder than you think isn’t it.

Who knows though – with blue-eyed boy fast approaching his first birthday (how did that happen?!) perhaps I might have a little more time to invest in making sure they become reality rather than remain merely wishful thinking.

And to that end here’s my little collection of ‘New Mum Resolutions’ – good luck with your own!

*Blog more

I’ve loved launching Neat Freak Mum and having an outlet for my constant stream of consciousness. And according to my website stats some of you kind enough to read my ramblings (no doubt because you stumbled upon them) hail from pretty far afield, which is pretty exciting to ponder. And proof that parents get irritated by Gwyneth Paltrow the world over! Now it’s time to build things up.

*Make a start on ‘the book’

My biggest fear is being one of those writers who never get around to it. And the excuse that you have to wait until ‘the right time’ is basically just redundant.

*Expand my business

The fact that people pay me to pen things is still a source of joy and amazement after 15 years. Hopefully by this time next year this will also include more people who need help writing copy for their websites, businesses and blogs.

*Try to worry less

Whether the kids watch too much telly, whether I should do more ‘crafts’ with them, whether mini-me’s drama queen tendencies are inherited, whether blue-eyed boy is simply too chilled out to crawl, whether my tidying/other neuroses are rubbing off on the offspring. Gah! Enough!

*Spend more ‘quality time’ with mini-me

Rather than trying to finish an email and complete several household tasks at the same time.

*Read more for pleasure

And actual books too. Not just the latest issue of Grazia on a Tuesday accompanied by a large bag of Haribo Starmix.

*Brave more solo family trips further afield

Surely myself, the pre-schooler, the baby, the buggy and the London Underground don’t have to add up to anxiety?!

*Cook more

I used to love cooking, it used to be the thing I did to relax at the end of a long day. Plus I can’t keep make hubby eat pizza and salad. Or asking him to ‘cook’ it…

*Be a better friend

Moaning less to my two mum BFFs would be a good start. Also keeping in contact more with old friends – whether or not they have children – and remembering birthdays and important dates so I don’t have to keep sending belated cards and gifts but ones that actually arrive on time.

*Try to be kinder to myself

Occasionally I might need a self-inflicted pat on the back rather than dismissing something good I’ve achieved for the never-ending list of jobs. I must be semi-successful at this working mum/life juggling thing because mini-me and blue-eyed boy are: still alive, usually polite, mainly happy and smiling and loved by many.

Make sure you try that last one too, and have an amazing 2015!

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…