How to be good?

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What does living your best life mean for you, and how do you go about it?

One of the blessings, or possibly curses, of approaching middle-age is that I am suddenly much more able to see both sides of an argument and to realise that things are rarely black and white. Nowhere does this trouble me more than in working out how I try and balance the competing demands to live my best life.

What does that mean for me? Well, I want to be family-focussed, trying to be the best mother, daughter, sister and wife that I can possibly be. I want to be a good friend, someone that my friends can have fun with, but also turn to for support when they need it. I want to take care of myself, both so that I can live as long and healthily as possible, but also because I am slowly working out that if I feel better about myself then I am better able to take care of other people. I want to be a successful writer – defining success as giving pleasure to other people through my writing, making a modest amount of money from it, and where appropriate using it to highlight causes I care about. I want to live frugally and with as light an environmental footprint as I can reasonably achieve. I want to live ethically, mindful of the effect that my choices and actions have on the lives of others, and trying to make that effect positive wherever I can.

So far, so good. As a set of vague aims it works. But they’re so contradictory. Food, for example. Do I buy the healthy avocados I love, or do I resist because of the air miles and over-farming issues? Ethics and health dictate that I should buy organic dairy – better for the farmers, better for the cows, and no nasty antibiotics and growth hormones, but when you get through as much milk, cheese and yoghurt as my kids do, then it really isn’t a frugal option. I can see a diet plan which promises fill me up with super-foods and micro-nutrients galore, increasing my energy levels and vitality, but many of the ingredients won’t be fair-trade and the air miles will be horrendous.

I can be sitting with my children while they have their tea, when I get a whatsapp message from a friend having a bad day and needing some support. Do I ignore my children while I reply, setting them the bad example of being a slave to social media, and the not-so-subliminal message that they are less important than this metal box, or do I ignore the message for a couple of hours until after their bedtime? By which time I should either be pursuing a healthy life by doing some exercise or cooking a nutritious meal, or having a relaxing bath, or being a caring wife by chatting to my husband about his stressful day.

Three mornings a week my children are at school/pre-school, and I have a 2.5 hour window to myself. Do I use it to do some exercise? Or to work on my writing? Or to clean and declutter our home to make it a nicer and calmer environment for all of us? Or to batch cook some healthy food so that I have more time to spend with my family in the evenings, but we all still get well fed? Or to walk to the budget supermarket 30 minutes away to stock up on a wide range of healthy food at frugal prices? Or to visit the local, independent butcher, greengrocer, fishmonger, baker and cheese shop (all a 20-30 minute walk apart) to buy organic, fair-trade produce with generally lower food miles, but at budget-busting prices? Perhaps I should use the time to phone a friend I never get to catch up with, and have a proper, uninterrupted chat with her. Or have a coffee with a local friend. Or write to my local MP about one of the many political issues which trouble me at the moment.

I can get so over-whelmed by the decision making process that it is all to easy to end up slumped on the sofa, staring vacantly at my phone, my mind churning, and realise that 30 minutes have gone by without any productive activity at all.

Is this just me? How do other people find a balance between all the competing demands of ‘being good’? Am I over-thinking it? Am I missing an obvious solution, or do I have to decide on just a couple of priorities which are most important to me and focus on those? I am so interested to hear your views!

Fear of summer holidays – FOSH

saltwatersI first heard the term FOMO (fear of missing out) a couple of years ago. Referring as it does to social butterflies who have so many exciting invitations that they get stressed over which ones to accept or turn down, it doesn’t really speak to my current life stage.

No, four letter acronym I am suffering from is FOSH (fear of summer holidays). And if no-one else has coined it yet, then they bloody ought to have done, because it’s a real thing, people.

It’s fair to say that I usually approach the long summer holidays with mixed feelings. Part relief and excitement at the freedom from school runs, homework and forgotten PE kits, and actually spending time with my daughter without having to scream instructions at her every thirty seconds (Eat your breakfast! Clean your teeth! Wash your face! Don’t forget your book bag!), and part trepidation at what I’m actually going to do with her for six weeks. My husband points out that my response to this has generally been to manically overschedule, with a plethora of breaks away, day trips, playdates and planned activities at home, meaning that come the end of August I look back wistfully and wish I’d left more time for us to just hang out.

This year, however, FOSH has reached new levels, because not only is my 8 year old on holiday from school, but my 2.5 year old is on holiday from preschool! At the moment she goes to preschool on a Monday, Tuesday and Friday morning, and my MIL looks after her on a Thursday morning. This gives me a chance to do some writing, some household chores and a much needed break from the 24/7 demands of a toddler. I value these breaks like you wouldn’t believe, and generally feel I am a more patient, more creative, and more relaxed mother because of them.

Yesterday was Wednesday, our full day together. The day kicked off with a little light regurgitated-mouse-innard removal from the dining room floor before breakfast. To be fair, that was the cat’s fault rather than the toddler’s, but it set the tone for the day. Half an hour later I was picking up pieces of squidged orange and banana from under the high chair, with toddler still in high chair (schoolgirl error, when will I learn?), when she decided to grab a large chunk of my hair and pull. Hard. I couldn’t physically stop her, as my hands were covered in half-chewed fruit. I tried the voice of sweet reason, to absolutely no avail. I tried my best stern and forceful tone. Nuh-uh. In the end I had to just pull away, leaving a chunk of my hair clasped in her chubby little fist.

We went to a drop-in session at a local nursery, which was fun (lots of interesting toys, outdoor space and other children), and then back home to recommence the combination of coaxing, cajoling, bribery, threats and straightforward physical force to get her to do things like eat lunch, stop the kamikaze furniture surfing, wash her hands after using the potty, let me wipe her bottom after using the potty, have suncream applied, go down for a nap etc etc.

By the time she fell asleep at about 1pm, I was also exhausted. I had a quick break to eat my lunch and look at other people’s beautiful and organised lives on Instagram, and then cracked on with prepping some food and clearing the kitchen. When she woke up we played with her Peppa Pig toys and dolls house, and all was going well until she (more or less accidentally) whacked me in the eye with the sharp corner of a wooden doll’s house sink. In any other work place this would be a trip to  the First Aider, an entry in the accident book, and possibly an early finish. In SAHM world you just thank goodness the weather justifies sunglasses on the school run to hide the tear stains and the swelling!

After school we’re back to the cacophony of voices chattering away to me simultaneously, neither giving any acknowledgement that the other is speaking, or cutting me any slack if I don’t respond instantly and in full.

This is interspersed with the coax/cajole/bribe/threat/force routine in order to get tea eaten, bath taken, teeth cleaned, etc. And a bit more floor wiping, when, in excitement at having done a poo in her potty, the toddler jumps round the room, oblivious to fact that I haven’t yet cleaned her up, and every leap send another little splatter of excrement across the room.

Finally, it is 7.30pm, and the moment I heard husband’s key in the door I was off out of it, desperate to escape the four walls of the house and the ceaseless demands, and have a little walk by myself. By the time I got home, husband had miraculously got the small one to sleep and the big one showered and to bed. All that was left to do was pour a, frankly well-deserved, glass of wine, and cook our dinner, safe in the knowledge that today is a MIL day, and I would get three blissful hours of sanity saving time alone with my laptop.

But in the summer holidays, every day will be a Wednesday. Except that I will have both children and their competing demands with me all day, all the Under 5 activities are close, and when the toddler naps I will feel duty-bound to give the big girl some undivided attention, rather than flaking out and catching up on jobs. Excuse me while I scream rather loudly, please.

We didn’t plan an almost six year age gap between our children, but by and large, it has worked out pretty well. However, I fear that these holidays are going to test us. There aren’t that many things that an 8 year old and a 2 year old both want to do. And those that there are (playground, swimming, baking) require me to give all my attention to the 2 year old, in order to ensure that she doesn’t destroy herself/anyone else/the house, leaving the 8 year old feeling a bit grumpy and neglected, and me feeling more than a bit guilty. When you throw in the demands of potty training, and the fact that toddler only really naps well in her cot, and if she doesn’t get her nap, certainly if she doesn’t get it for a couple of days on the run, then she becomes unmanageably grumpy and difficult, then we’re more than a bit limited in what we can do.

It’s not all bad. We’re spending a week on holiday with my parents, and another week away with my MIL, plus almost a week of other family visits. That will be a change of scene (don’t think about the 6 hour train journey. Repeat after me, DO NOT think about the six hour train journey), and some extra pairs of hands to share the load. At the moment husband is working 12-14 hour days, but he is hoping that things may calm down a bit in the next few weeks, so he might be around a little more too.

As long as I firmly suppress any thoughts of Pinterest worth craft activities, wholesome outdoor fun as they play contentedly together, any nutritional intake over and above mini Magnums, or actually anything beyond basic survival, then I’m sure it will all be fine.