Back to blogging

I’m pretty sure 3 months is the longest I’ve ever gone without writing a blog post since I first started blogging about six years ago. Where have I been? I wish I could list all the exciting non-blog related things I’ve been up to, but sadly it’s not been anything of the kind. The summer holidays are always tricky for me to find any time to write, and this year was no exception. In fact, the opposite, as it’s the first summer I’ve had two non-napping children, so it felt like finding the time to clean my teeth or brush my hair was a challenge, let alone commit my thoughts to cyber-space. That’s not all it is, though. The children went back to school and nursery respectively in mid-September, and yet I still haven’t managed to blog.

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So, what’s been going on? To be honest I’m not totally sure. I could, truthfully, say that I have been busy. I’ve had discussions and meetings with Anna’s school about getting the right support for her dyslexia, and we’ve been to Open Days for secondary schools as we start considering all the options (definitely a blog post in its own right!). We’ve had a new boiler fitted with all the upheaval that entailed, and I’ve been trying to catch up with all the domestic and administrative tasks which were utterly neglected over the summer. I had my handbag stolen, and have spent an inordinate amount of time on the phone to banks and so on cancelling cards and getting new ones and changing card details I have stored online, and replacing membership cards and so on. I’ve taken both children for eye tests (always a bit of an expedition as our excellent optician isn’t very local) and Sophia has had settling in days at nursery which I needed to be there for. Sophia has dropped her afternoon naps, so that is two hours, which I used to fill with domestic life admin, cut out of my day. She has also been quite clingy, uncharacteristically so, as she adjusts to a new nursery setting, new teachers, new friends.

But I think all these are probably excuses rather than reasons. My head just hasn’t been in the right place to write. Often I’ve found that writing helps exorcise my demons, but for some reason this autumn I haven’t felt able to start. We had some lovely times over the summer, but there were also some things I found very tough.

Sophia starting school nursery feels like such a big milestone, bringing the question of what I will do with my life when she starts proper school next September front and centre of my mind when I’m not really in a place to deal with all the emotional implications of it. One of the things that makes me saddest and angriest is that the PTSD and anxiety I have experienced since Sophia was born have robbed me of some of her baby and toddlerhood. It hasn’t been all bad, of course not, and I have lots of positive memories. But so much of my time with her has been over-shadowed by panicky what-ifs, and I want it back.

Even those feelings aren’t straightforward, though, and my mind feels like a heap of spaghetti I’m meant to be able to separate neatly into its constituent strands. Because while I am mourning my baby starting to grow up I am also well into my tenth year as a stay-at-home mum, and starting to feel I might be ready for something else. Obviously I have worked during that time – I’ve published 2 novels and a novella, as well as serving as a trustee for the NCT – but an awfully large percentage of my life has been lived in my head and in my house, and it is possible that I might be ready for a change.

I’m at a bit of a writing impasse at the moment. I have a completed manuscript of a new novel, and several chapters of another. What I don’t have is a literary agent, as she is retiring, or an editor at my publishers, as she got another job! There are options. I could throw myself into finding a new agent and discussing all my writing options with them, and sooner or later there will be a new editor at Hodder, but it all feels a bit over-whelming. I’m also conscious that writing is a brilliant job in many ways, but it doesn’t necessarily satisfy my new craving for interaction with the world outside my head and home and family.

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What this would look like opens up a whole new can of spaghetti. I don’t think going back to my old career in healthcare management is a realistic option. Should I look for a local, part-time role, paid or voluntary, and carry on writing the rest of the time? Or look for a completely fresh career, possibly complete with re-training? And how does any of that combine with my husband’s extremely demanding role running his own business, and the continual, and sometimes competing, demands of two young children? When Anna was a baby I thought that ‘starting school’ pretty much meant she would be off my hands and I could resume normal life! I now know better – 9am -3pm, 5 days a week, with time for assemblies and plays and reading mornings and maths workshops and parent-teacher meetings and coffee mornings and medical appointments and time off sick actually doesn’t equate to very much child-free time at all! Obviously many families don’t have the luxury of choice; both partners have to work outside the home and juggle all this just so that the bills get paid. But given I am fortunate enough, at the moment, to have a choice, I feel like there is a lot of pressure on me (pretty much entirely from inside my head) to make the right one for the wellbeing of the whole family.

I’m not sure if I have any followers left after a 3 month hiatus, but for anyone who is still reading thank you for bearing with me through this brain dump. I’m afraid there will quite possibly be more introspective posts over the coming weeks and months as I attempt to make all these decisions.

In the meantime, as we mark World Mental Health Day this week, not to mention Baby Loss Awareness Week, a reminder that it is ok not to be ok. I have been very not ok at times. Miscarriages and birth trauma have led me to dark places of panic attacks, intrusive thoughts, nightmares, crippling health anxiety, a leaden weight in my chest crushing the happiness out of what should have been my brightest moments. For eighteen months I was too ashamed of these feelings even to admit them, and that shame in large part led to the feeling of missing out on Sophia’s babyhood which I am now experiencing. Thanks to private therapy to deal with PTSD, and NHS funded CBT to help with health anxiety, and an awful lot of love and patience from my husband and family and friends I am getting there, and the sunshine is back in my life, a lot of the time at least. If anyone reading this is struggling then, please, try to open up to someone. It’s ok not to be ok.

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Return to routine

September has to be a contender for my favourite month of the year. Especially on days like this when the golden sunshine highlights the leaves which are just beginning to change colour, and there’s that hint of crispness in the air. September is a month of anticipation; I guess a hangover from childhood when you had that thrilling triumvirate of Hallowe’en, Bonfire Night and Christmas to look forward to. And as I was a fairly geeky and Hermione like child, I’m not at all sure that I didn’t enjoy the return to school, complete with shiny shoes and a lavishly stocked pencil case, more than breaking up for the summer in the first place.

We have had a very enjoyable summer. We’ve paddled and built sandcastles and walked on cliff tops. We’ve made good use of our National Trust membership with visits to Plas Newydd, St Michael’s Mount and Speke Hall. We’ve spent time with friends and family, we’ve been to the zoo, we’ve eaten a lot of ice cream. We’ve had busy days, and days where no-one moved very far from the sofa. We’ve played frisbee in the park and visited innumerable playgrounds.

We’ve baked, and cooked, and swum, and crafted. We’ve kept the sticker book industry in business on various lengthy train journeys. I’ve read a million stories, and also made good use of the wonder that is CBeebies. And though I might feel like I’m the only person in East London not now sporting a Tuscan or Provencal tan, we did make the most of the changeable British weather. But now, I’m ready to get back into our normal routine, and I think the children are too.

I love my daughters more than I can say, and I know I am extremely lucky to have spent the last seven weeks with them. However, I think I may love and appreciate them just a little bit more when I have some time to myself. The windows of time  when Sophia is in pre-school and Anna is at school, and I get to write, or catch up on chores, or go to the toilet by myself, are so precious and they fill me with renewed energy and enthusiasm for spending time with my girls when I pick them up.

I also love September for the feeling of (generally unjustified) optimism at how organised and efficient and productive I am going to be in the coming school year. How my children will gobble up the delicious and perfectly nutritionally balanced meals and snacks I have prepared for them. How our mornings will be be calm and smooth, ending in both children dropped at school with a loving kiss and no cross words exchanged. How our after-school activities will be fun and active and creative and hardly ever involve Peppa Pig. How I will hit the sweet spot of time management which will enable me to utilise my 10 hours a week of childcare to write, to exercise, to relax and to do boring but necessary household tasks. Obviously this is all very unlikely to happen, and in a fortnight’s time I will be, as a friend put it this week, ‘crying into my gin in the corner’ after we make it to the school gates after an hour of ceaseless nagging with only 20 seconds to spare, and both children reject anything which bears even passing resemblance to a vegetable in their lovingly prepared dinner, and I realise that I just spent an entire 2.5 hour pre-school session staring blankly at Facebook whilst eating a family sized bar of Dairy Milk because Sophia has a cold and I was up with her four times in the night. But just for this next week or two I can plan, and I can hope, and I can buy a lovely new notebook to make lists in, and I can enjoy the smugly serene conviction that this is the year I will nail it.

 

Something old

There was a bit of an autumnal chill in the air this morning, so I pulled an old tweed jacket out of my cupboard to go over the ubiquitous skinny jeans and Breton top mumiform. Anna immediately commented on how nice I looked, and asked if the jacket was new. It most definitely isn’t, it’s just that she hasn’t seen it for a while –  last autumn it didn’t fit me post-Sophia, and the autumn before it didn’t fit me pre-Sophia, and I don’t suppose Anna can remember three years ago! tweed-jacket

When started to think about it, I realised it must actually be one of the oldest items in my wardrobe. When I bought this jacket, from H&M (who says they don’t make things to last!), I was 22 years old. Then-boyfriend-now-husband and I lived in a scruffy and extremely untidy rented flat in Moseley in Birmingham. I was still a graduate management trainee for the NHS, and Anna and Sophia were nothing but twinkles in my eye and a panic-stricken glint in my husband’s. I bought it to wear over a dress for the wedding of a university friend – said wedding was taking place in Scotland, in a marquee, and I have an intense dislike of being cold and a profound mistrust of Scottish weather. I then wore it with tailored trousers and heels for work, and now with jeans and a t-shirt on the school-run.

It’s not actually my oldest item in regular use, however. I have a very much washed, faded, oh-so-soft t-shirt which was actually my uniform when I helped out at a summer school when I was at university. tshirtThe summer school was designed to encourage bright kids from deprived backgrounds to consider Oxford as a university choice, as research had shown that such students were as likely as any other applicant to get a place, but far less likely to apply originally. It was a cause very dear to my heart, and I absolutely loved doing the summer schools two years running, even though taking responsibility, at the age of 20, for a group of eight 14 and 15 year olds, many of whom were away from home for the first time, was umm, interesting. A development experience, as they say. For some reason, the t-shirt became my adult comfort blanket. I only wear it to sleep in, and because it is now quite threadbare I save it for times when I really need comfort – when I asked husband to bring t-shirt and leggings to the hospital when I was spending the night on a camp bed next to Sophia, this was the t-shirt he brought.

But if we move away from clothes and onto jewellery, then my 15 year old t-shirt is suddenly the new kid on the block. When I was about 13 or 14, my nanna gave me some jewellery which had belonged to her mum. It was only costume jewellery – mostly rings. They were too big for my nanna, and my mum, so one thing I know I inherited from my great-grandmother is my chubby fingers! ringsI loved them right away, and although my tastes in almost everything have changed since I was 13, I still love these rings. I save them for special occasions now, as in my everyday life I spend too much time changing nappies/washing up/cleaning/wiping sticky faces and fingers/kneading dough to cope with big rings, but I still think they’re beautiful. And, as my nanna was born in 1921, and they belonged to her mum, they may well have broken the 100 years barrier to become not merely vintage but actually antique!

What’s the oldest item you regularly wear?

Back to School

After a warm and sunny summer it felt appropriate that we woke up this morning to grey skies and drizzly rain. And, of course, inevitable that the rain cover on the new buggy promptly broke. It was a bit of a squelchy school run, but that didn’t dampen Anna’s enthusiasm at all. She’s been a bit nervous about the big move up to Juniors over the summer, but then getting together with some of her friends at the park last week for a class picnic, and then again yesterday for a cinema ‘n’ Pizza Express birthday party seemed to remind her of how much fun she has at school with her friends, and excitement took over from nerves.

One of the children at the party who has an older sibling told everyone that they had to have their own fully equipped pencil case, so we had an emergency trip to Wilkos yesterday afternoon. I wasn’t exactly reluctant – I absolutely love buying new stationery, and in between the pencils and rubbers I also managed to sneak in a couple of pretty little notebooks for me. Ahem. Oh, and a full set of multi-coloured pens. Husband did question the necessity for those given that Anna isn’t allowed to write in pen at school yet, and when she does it will be with a specially approved ‘handwriting pen’, but I thought they might come in useful for, ummm, stuff. And they’re so pretty!

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Having been really looking forward to Anna going back so that I get that golden nap-time window all to myself each day and can start to try and organise the chaos that our lives and home have descended into over the summer, inevitably Sophia fell asleep in her (damp) buggy at 9.10am just after dropping Anna off. Grr. There’s no point fighting it, so instead we splashed down to Boots and I cheered myself up with a new nail varnish (Rimmel, ‘London Bus’ – a girl can never have too many red nail varnishes). Of course she then wouldn’t settle in her cot for an afternoon nap, so I ended up letting her amuse herself playing with a feather duster and a handful of fridge magnets while I hoovered, before setting off with the buggy to walk her to sleep for another little nap to prevent an evening meltdown. So much for time to myself for organising everything!

I really missed Anna as well, and the house felt very quiet with just Sophia and me in it. Thanks to my MIL looking after Sophia, though, I got to go and pick Anna up by myself and take her for a milkshake at our local cafe so that she could give me a proper debrief on her first day without interruptions from her little sister. It all seemed positive, with the highlights being a reading corner they are going to decorate themselves with covers of their favourite books, and the news that for the first time since Reception there is a class bear who will come home with different children over the course of the year. I’m hoping we’re fairly early on before the competition intensifies and we end up having to take Humphrey to Euro Disney or book a box in Covent Garden in order to show him a good time.

Anyway, tomorrow is another day. I have now at least made a list of all the jobs I need to do should I manage to get Sophia to have a nap in her cot. And we have crisp mornings, opaque tights, sausage and mash, cashmere cardies, and after-school hot chocolates and crumpets to look forward to over the coming months. Not to mention the fact that Anna just announced that now it is September she feels it is acceptable to start getting excited about Christmas…

Summing up Summer

I’m a bit slow off the mark with the obligatory summer in review post. I could blame the back-to-school rush, or the poorly catten, but I think my own disorganisation would probably be fairer.

For the past couple of years, when confronted with a six week summer holiday, I have scheduled, scheduled, scheduled in a desperate attempt to avoid boredom and cabin fever. This year was a little different. We had one week’s holiday in Cornwall planned, and I spent a few days with my parents in Liverpool right at the beginning of the summer, but otherwise we had a blank slate. I was a little bit nervous, but it turned out to be just what we all needed.

This was the summer that Anna learnt to ride a bike, Sophia learnt to crawl and I learnt the true meaning of multi-tasking. Feeding the baby her porridge, bidding on Ebay, eating my own breakfast and joining in a spirited Sound of Music singsong?No problem.

The weather wasn’t brilliant, but we had fun anyway, and spent time doing a lot of the things that just get squeezed out in term-time as weekends have so many competing demands. We had a pyjama day, took a selection of soft toys to the playground, made pizza, chilli, spaghetti sauce, butterfly cakes, chocolate cake and Smarties cookies (not all on the same day), did some gardening, started reading Famous Five, had some cycling practice, and got messy with paints and crafts. We spent a lot of time babyproofing and looking round for objects which could be dangerous to Sophia, and even more time removing the ones we’d missed from her mouth.

Mornings without the pressure of the school run were sheer bliss, and time didn’t hang heavy at all. There were days when I felt like I’d taken up a new, unpaid career in catering but generally it was a lot easier than I’d feared. There was a summer hero though. By about 4.30pm my nerves, patience and creativity would be stretched fairly thin and I still had teatime, bathtime and bedtime to get through. That was when the wonder that is Cbeebies came into its own, giving me breathing space to sit down for ten minutes and then cook tea with only one small person, who could be contained in her bouncy chair for a while, to worry about. Telly which is safe, fun, educational, perfectly targeted to young children and free from advertising is an absolute godsend, so I was more than a bit panicstricken today to learn that the BBC are thinking of scrapping it as part of their enforced cost-cutting measures. Frankly I would pay the license fee for Cbeebies alone, so I rushed to sign the petition against the cut. If you and your children, nieces, nephews, grandchildren have also benefited as much as we have from Cbeebies then I’d encourage you to do the same.

And now we have shiny new shoes, warm coats, school bags, PE kits, GBBO on telly, leaves turning colour…and the unbroken blue skies and blazing sunshine which were conspicuous only by their absence in August.