Easter ‘break’

Anna breaks up for the Easter holidays today, and I am feeling slightly trepidatious! Usually I really look forward to the school holidays – lazy mornings free from the tyranny of the school run, the chance to travel or spend more time with family and friends, a more relaxing pace of life. But for some reason this Easter break is feeling a little bit ominous.

Possibly because this last half-term I’ve been well into the routine of Sophia going to pre-school three mornings a week, and I have really, really, really appreciated the difference that has made to my energy levels and sanity. This week I’ve missed out on two of those precious mornings, the first because there was an end-of-term pre-school trip to our local city farm which I helped out at, and then pre-school broke up yesterday, so there will be no Friday session this week. I really enjoyed going to the farm, and seeing Sophia’s face as she saw real live bunnies and pigs and even a genuine Baa Baa Black Sheep, but I have missed the me-time and the headspace I get when she is at pre-school, and it has made me slightly wary of the next few weeks, as the next time I have a period of child-free time is when she returns to pre-school on April 21st. Which feels a very long time indeed!

We do have some nice plans for the holidays. Tomorrow is an INSET day for Anna’s school, so husband is also taking a day off work, and we’re going to head to the Science Museum, which is normally unbearably crowded at weekends and school holidays, but we’re hoping will be less so tomorrow when many schools haven’t broken up. Then we’ll have lunch out somewhere, maybe al fresco if the weather continues to be so beautiful, and then spend the afternoon letting the children run free in Hyde Park. I imagine ice-cream will probably be involved as well.

On Sunday I am taking the girls up to Liverpool for a few days to stay with my parents. It will be lovely to see them, have a change of scene, and have another two pairs of adult hands. After that we don’t have any real plans, not even for Easter weekend itself. It looks likely that my husband will be working a lot of the time, and so I need to have a little think about what I do with the children. I’d like to make use of our National Trust membership and visit our most local property, Sutton House in Hackney, and perhaps Osterley Park in the far West of London if I’m feeling more adventurous. Heading to our local playground or park is also guaranteed to please both children.mini eggs

Then of course there will be plenty of down-time at home – making the inevitable Easter nest cakes, messing around in the garden if it’s nice weather, snuggling up to watch a film if it’s less so. And more mundane tasks like getting Anna’s passport photos taken and counter-signed and taking her glasses to an optician to be mended!

What there won’t be any time for, I don’t think, is sitting in a cafe writing, so there will probably be a quite few weeks on the blog! Happy Easter, everyone.

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The curse of the bunk bed (and other perils of modern parenting).

A friend posted on Facebook last week to say that if she’d known that changing the sheets on a top bunk would not only demand every atom of patience she possessed, but also risk serious physical injury, she would never have bought them in the first place. There was an instant flurry of responses from those of us who are the unfortunate owners of bunk beds or high cabin beds ourselves, with similar tales of woe from the parenting front line.

The general consensus was one of ‘if only we’d known’. It’s the kind of thing you don’t read in the ‘What to Expect’ books. About five years after having your little bundle of joy placed in your arms, the lure of the high sleeper will start to be cast out.  bunk beds of dreamsYou will think of the space saved, the practicality, the ease of siblings being able to share a room or having someone to stay over, the fun of an under-bed den or room for a bookcase or desk. Images of beautiful rooms in the GLTC catalogue will allure. Before you know what has happened, you are locked into a cycle of sheet changing which will take you to the very limits of your endurance and possibly beyond.

For those of us who have succumbed there is no way back. We have the choice of leaving our children to stew in their fetid sheets for years to come, or risking our health and sanity to ensure their hygiene. Or, as one savvy mum recommended on Facebook, bribing your children to change their own sheets.

In the interests of public service blogging I have also rounded up some of the other unexpected perils I have encountered in eight years of parenting. There were many things I expected to be difficult – sleepless nights, poonami nappies, tantrums – and they have not disappointed. But these are the hidden horrors, the things only discussed in whispers at the school gates or toddler group, but for which forewarned is forearmed.

Some time during your baby’s first weeks you will hear the phrase Tummy Time. It sounds like a children’s TV programme, and you don’t pay much attention to it at first. Then, suddenly, it is everywhere. Your health visitor asks you about it, it’s the only thing (other than shades of poo) discussed over coffee with your NCT pals, and you are bombarded with marketing emails flogging products to make tummy time easier.

For the uninitiated, ‘tummy time’ is the practice of placing your newborn baby on their tummy for a certain amount of time each day. This apparently encourages the development of all sorts of muscles which are needed for sitting, crawling and walking. If you are negligent in this respect you will end up being the mother of one of those hordes of otherwise entirely healthy children who never manage to sit up or move by themselves…

All babies seem to hate tummy time (except when you want them to go to sleep – advice to avoid cot death is to place babies on their backs to sleep, and so of course they want to be on their tummies). Anna used to scream blue murder when I placed her on her tummy, and I would be alongside her on the floor crying too, panicking because she’d only done five minutes of tummy time instead of the recommended fifteen. Then I had a lightbulb moment, and stopped trying. Just like that. If she ever let me put her down at all (rare) I put her on her back, on her play gym, where she could see me and her toys and look around. She was happy. And despite my dereliction of duty she learnt to hold her head up, roll, sit, crawl and walk just fine. If your baby doesn’t like it, just don’t bother.

A cute toy on the market for babies and toddlers is a bright yellow egg box, filled with six eggs which crack into two separate pieces to reveal a little chicken in the middle. The chickens squeak. Utterly adorable, non? Actually, seriously, NON. eggsOnce this toy enters your home, you will never know another moment’s peace. Curating all twelve pieces of egg in the box simultaneously has been scientifically proven to be as likely as Donald Trump turning down a sunbed session. You will find half eggs everywhere. And even if your attitude to tidying is as relatively laissez-faire as mine, it will niggle more than you care to admit. Every so often your toddler will have a meltdown because they can’t find all their ‘neggs’, and you will spend the next two hours on hands and knees peering under multiple items of household furniture. Eventually you will triumphantly recover the missing four half eggs, only to discover that in the meantime your toddler has lost all interest in Project Egg and has taken advantage of your distraction to draw a beautiful flower for you. On the wall. And has lost the original egg anyway.

If someone gives you a set of these as a gift then this is what you must do. Smile. Thank them. Immediately walk out of the house to the nearest charity shop and donate them. Hesitation or deviation could be fatal. If the present comes from an older family member or friend, or one without children, then they were as deceived as you, and no blame can be attached to them. If, however, the gift is from someone with children under ten, then I am sorry to be the one to break this news to you, but they hate you.

Another purchase you will be seduced into, little knowing the havoc it will wreak on your back, shins and shredded nerves is the mini scooter. How cute will your toddler look scooting along? How lovely will it be to leave the pram behind but not have to tax little legs with too much walking? How bruised and battered will you be when your pre-schooler tires of scooting and you end up awkwardly carrying them on one hip with the vicious scooter in the other arm, relentlessly banging against your knees, shins and ankles? How mortified when your previously angelic little darling suddenly scoots off at the speed of light down a crowded high street, leaving a trail of devastation in his wake? How fast do you think you can move when your child spots something of vital interest at the bottom of the steep hill you are on? The hill which leads down to a main road…

If you insist your child wears a helmet, then it is yet another item to be found and coaxed into before you leave the house, and another item to carry (along with child, scooter, change of clothes, travel potty, snacks, drinks and toys) when the inevitable disenchantment with scooting occurs during your day out. On the other hand, if you let them scoot sans helmet you will be continually plagued by horrific mental images of A&E waiting rooms, x-rays, concussion and broken bones. Your choice.

Never buy glitter. As soon as glitter enters the house, nothing in it will escape unscathed. Shiny flakes will lurk at the bottom of cups of tea, on the cat, between floor boards, in the bath. glitterYou will never be free. Of course, even if you don’t bring it on yourself, there is a very high probability that some lovingly crafted and lavishly beglittered piece of art-work will make its way home from nursery/preschool at some point. My friend is a primary school teacher. When she got married, her class made her an enormous card, liberally bedaubed with multi-coloured glitter. Two years and a house move later, she was still finding glitter in unexpected places.

 

There are more of course. I could mention World Book Day, and all the other occasions which require your child to attend school in an imaginative fancy dress costume lovingly created with just 24 hours notice. Or the Class Bear, who arrives unexpectedly one weekend and demands not just 72 hours of top-class entertainment, but also that his exploits (educational, healthy but also fun) be documented for the perusal of your child’s teacher and all the other parents in the class. Or the party bags which surge in, filling your home with more e-numbers and plastic crap than you can shake a piñata stick at. But the thing about these, painful as they are, is that they are unavoidable, inflicted on you by outside forces. Bunkbeds, tummy time, toy egg boxes, micro scooters and glitter are all brought into our homes voluntarily, even enthusiastically, as we are ignorant of the chaos and misery they will leave in their wake. It is too late for me. But if I can save just one other family from their fate then I will not have blogged in vain.

 

#In Real Life

cocktails

Yesterday was a bit of a landmark for me as I met a woman I have been friends with for nearly five years for the very first time. Chiswick Mum blogs about her family life in leafy West London. Other than our East/West divide, we have loads in common – both born and raised Oop North, proud of those roots, but in love with our London lives, both Oxford English graduates, both passionate about reading and writing and books and making the most of the little moments of everyday life by blogging about them. Her son is only a little older than Anna, and so we are often at the same lifestyle stage with children as well. She also writes beautifully, and is one of a very few bloggers guaranteed to give me a little lift when a link to a new post appears in my emails.

Our friendship grew organically, if ‘organically’ is the right word for something which is purely a product of the digital age. Firstly commenting on each other’s posts, then following each other on Twitter and Instagram, and then eventually sharing email addresses. The honesty of her writing meant that I felt I knew Chiswick Mum better than many of the mums I see at the school gates every day, but with whom conversation doesn’t really progress beyond the weather or this week’s spelling list.

A New Year’s Resolution we both felt we could get behind was to meet up IRL (In Real Life).  Not easy when you’re juggling between you three children, a full-time job, two blogs and live on opposite sides of London, but last night we managed it, meeting for cocktails in a bar in Central London. It was bizarrely like a blind date. Or how I imagine a blind date must be; husband and I have been together since we were eighteen, so the dating world is a bit of a closed book to me.

I felt incredibly nervous. Would she actually recognise me from my profile picture? After all, that was taken about four years, 1.5 stone, 1 baby and a whole pile of stress ago, and real life sadly lacks soft focus filters.Would we really have anything in common? Would it be horrendously awkward? Would she actually like me?

I’m so glad we were both brave enough to take the plunge, because we had a brilliant evening, and she was every bit the warm, funny, interesting and engaging woman her blog led me to believe she would be. We got through three drinks each and a platter of bar snacks (got to love a girl who loves pork crackling) with no awkward silences, and the only reason we quit at three drinks was because we both had to be up at about 6am, her for work, me for Mummy Duties.We have, however, planned to meet up with children and partners for a picnic this summer, and another round of drinks whenever our respective commitments allow. Amongst other things she even helped me come up with a plot and title for my fourth novel!

Blogging and social media gets a lot of bad press at the moment. I read many articles implying that if you love Instagram/blogging/Twitter/Facebook then you must be disengaged from ‘real life’. Like many things, I’m sure you need to be careful to maintain a balance. A virtual hug will never replace a real one, and I know that I can be guilty at times of posting about how adorable/annoying my children are rather than actually playing with them! However, I do think that the wonderful world of blogging and social media enhances my life, and yesterday I made a brand new real life friend I would almost certainly never have met any other way. ‘Only connect’ said E.M. Forster, and so many more connections are made possible for me by my life online, and my real life is the richer for it.

A day in the life

vintage-exhausted-woman-photo

By the time husband arrived home at about 7pm last night I was almost crying with exhaustion. At first I couldn’t really understand why, because Sophia had (miracle of miracles) actually slept through the night before, therefore I’d had the Holy Grail of an uninterrupted 8 hours sleep. Then I reflected on the day. Lots of it is actually fairly standard stuff in the life of a SAHM – which actually goes some way to explaining why I haven’t managed to stay awake long enough to watch the 10 o’clock News in eight years.

Preparing for school was the normal fun. Anna now gets herself ready, by and large, but every single morning she seems astounded at being asked to do so. She finishes breakfast sinks onto the sofa with her book, still in PJs, and when I ask her to go upstairs, wash her face, clean her teeth, get dressed, brush her hair  and so on, she looks at me with the not unwilling but startled and slightly sceptical air of someone who has been asked to borrow a giraffe from the zoo and teach it to play dominoes, rather than someone being asked to perform the same standard routine she does every single weekday. If I forget to mention a stage, hair brushing for example, then it is not carried out. Looking at her tangled bed-head I ask “have you brushed your hair?” and she gazes back all wide-eyed indignation “but you never told me to brush my hair”. Well, no. Maybe this morning I didn’t specifically mention it, but I’ve never yet let you go to school without your hair being brushed, so it perhaps wouldn’t have taken a super-human level of ingenuity to see that one coming.

Whereas Anna’s ultra-passive approach to the morning routine might irk, I still find it infinitely preferable to her sister’s very strong desire to play an active part in proceedings. The exclamation “No, Fia do it!” rings round our house from morning until night. We are barely permitted to do anything for her, regardless of whether or not she is capable of performing the activity for herself.

With teeth-cleaning I have the twice-daily choice of standing helplessly by while she contentedly chews her toothbrush for a few moments, or attempting to put her in a headlock whilst jabbing the brush in the vague direction of her mouth as she screams and writhes and kicks. As fast as I fasten one side of the nappy, she is unfastening the other side. I’m going to try potty training very soon, not because I have any evidence that she is ready, simply because I’m exhausted by the ongoing struggle to get a clean nappy onto her bottom. Getting her dressed is my morning workout, as she sprints from one end of the house to another in between each stage. One arm in vest – and she’s off. Chase, catch, other arm in vest. And she’s off. Chase, catch, one foot in tights…etc etc etc. I’m really looking forward to the warmer weather when there are fewer clothes to worry about.

Finally everyone is dressed and abluted to a halfway acceptable standard. We leave the house. It is pouring with rain. School is only a five minute walk away, but by the time we get there we are all drenched. Undaunted (well, only a little bit daunted), I press on with my plan to take Sophia to the library. Uncaged from her sopping wet buggy (she refuses to have the rain cover on and kicks it off if I am unwise enough to make the attempt), she proceeds to completely ignore all the books and treat the library as her own personal Olympic training ground – climbing, bouncing, running, jumping. In the split seconds between trying to coral Sophia, I managed to choose two picture books for her, and two chapter books for her sister. One of Anna’s books even tied in with her history topic for the term, so I think I get some extra mummy points for that. Even though I’m in minus points for allowing my toddler to use the little sofa in the children’s library as a trampoline.

Thankfully the rain has stopped, so I abandon any attempt to get Sophia back into the buggy and we walk home together, exclaiming at marvels like diggers and vans and puddles and discarded Happy Meal boxes as we go. If I’m not in a rush to get somewhere on time, I genuinely enjoy being forced to slow down to toddler pace and observe things I wouldn’t otherwise notice.

We get home, and I am about to prepare lunch when there is a knock on the door. Thankfully not an insatiably greedy tiger, but a charming man from Thames Water who wants to talk to me about the new meter that has just been installed, check the property for leaks, put water-saver things in our toilet cisterns and do a questionnaire on water usage with me.

“Shouldn’t take more than half an hour, Madam.”

Quickly insert Charlie and Lola DVD, and attempt to focus on all the Very Important Things being imparted, as well as ensuring that Sophia is still contentedly zombified in front of the telly, and not attempting any of her extreme gymnastics moves or tormenting the cat. Absorb fact that we’re going to be paying between £100 and £200 a year more for our water, and crack on making lunch.

Put Sophia down for her nap. SHE DOESN”T SLEEP! She’s quite happy playing in her cot, calling me back every few minutes for a little chat, but she is determinedly awake. Until ten minutes before we need to leave for the school-run when she falls into a deep and impenetrable slumber from which I have to almost shake her awake. She is tearful and grumpy, but we’re running late, and I’m also collecting two of Anna’s friends to come round for tea and play, so I have no choice but to dump her in buggy and dash off to school. It’s pouring down again, inevitably. Mid-sprint my dodgy hip joint decides it is not happy, and I have to limp-run the rest of the way.

Get home with Anna and her two friends, B and L. They have snacks and then go into the garden to play (it’s now stopped raining). I am reading to Sophia when I hear splashes and muffled giggles from the kitchen. I go to investigate and find the kitchen floor awash with muddy water and the three girls standing round the sink.

“What are you doing, girls?” I ask in the faux-honied tones you have to adopt when dealing with other people’s children.

“We’ve found some rocks in the garden, and are washing them in case they have silver or gold deposits in them.”

Right.

“Well, perhaps you could wash them outside, what do you think?”

Off they go again. Peace once more, until Anna and B arrive back.

“L is upset.” they inform me.

“Why is L upset?”

“Because she’s stuck.”

“Where is she stuck?”

“On the shed roof.”

Yes. Of course she is.

I abandon Sophia to their tender care and go to the rescue. Enquiries as to why L was on the shed roof are met with an eye-rolling world-weariness at my stupidity.

“Because we’re the Top of Roof Gang! So we have to be on the roof.”

I gently suggest alternative activities. One of which, heaven help me, is a continuation of rock washing. Inevitably they decide to use the hosepipe. Inevitably they are all drenched. I despatch them upstairs to get dry whilst I prepare dinner with a now exhausted and clingy Sophia clamped on one hip.

B and L’s dad arrives to collect them, just as Sophia (still surgically attached to me) does an enormous poo. Uncomfortably aware that she, I and indeed the whole house, now stink of human excrement I nonetheless make polite small talk and proffer an explanation as to why his daughters are now entirely clad in my daughter’s clothes. I manage to keep off the topic of shed roofs.

We then have the evening version of the morning wrestling match, this time to get Sophia out of her day clothes, cleaned up and into pyjamas and a sleeping bag. Then stories and into bed. Downstairs to do Anna’s nit-combing (she had them again recently, and while they seem to have cleared, I am so paranoid that I attack her with the Nitty Gritty comb and Vosene deterrent spray at every opportunity), before hearing the blissfully welcome sound of husband’s key in the lock. I delegate Anna’s bath and bedtime story to him, pour the vinegary remnants of a bottle of Chenin Blanc left over from the weekend into a glass, and sink down on the sofa to try and work out why I am so bloody exhausted.

No Going Back

I’ve recently written another post for fabulous blogzine Selfish Mother about my decision not to go back to work after Anna was born 8 years ago. I’m including the link rather than the full text here, but do link to it and comment if you’re interested!