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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New Year, New Food

shakshuka recipe

No, don’t be silly, of course this isn’t a diet or detox post. I hope you know me better than that by now. There is a time and a place for healthy eating, but I’m not sure that it’s January. This is actually about a little New Year challenge I have set for myself.

My calendar this year is a free one I got with the (free) Waitrose magazine. And I am challenging myself to cook the recipe of the month every month this year and then blog about it. I’m not stupid, I have been through first and checked that they all look edible (and manageable), but of course they do, this is Waitrose!

I love cooking, and I love browsing through my numerous recipe books, but very frequently I seem to be rushing to plan a week’s menus, and I get stuck in a rut and can only think of the things we ate the week before. This will hopefully be a prompt to try new ingredients, new combinations, new techniques, and maybe shake things up just a little bit.

January’s recipe is Shakshuka Egg Flatbreads. I absolutely love Shakshuka, or a variation on it, and it is a regular evening meal at our house. I have on occasion (when cooking for a visiting vegetarian) even made my own flatbreads to go with it, as opposed to sticking a couple of pitta breads in the toaster, which is what I tend to do on an ordinary Tuesday evening. But I had never thought of combining the two.

The recipe is for four, and I am pretty confident that there’s no way my children are going to be eating these (even if I lie through my teeth and tell them it’s pizza!), but I reckon that I could make the full quantity and then freeze two before the eggs go on, and then I’ll have a quick evening meal for another busy day.

So, all I have to do now is get on with making it!

When life gets in the way

Wow, it’s been three weeks since I last blogged, which must be one of the longest times ever between posts, unless I’ve just had a baby. And I promise, I definitely haven’t had a baby.

I’ve had a half term, with lots of lovely relaxingness (that’s a word, right?); first of all staying with my parents for a few days in Liverpool, visiting the fabulous Museum of Liverpool, and our favourite Speke Hall, and then a weekend at my MIL’s, all the way on the other side of London, when we went for a long family walk and were very proud of Anna managing 7.5 miles, and Sophia at least half of that out of her buggy.

Husband and I also managed to get out for a sneaky pizza one evening, and I escaped for a whole day’s shopping, cocktailing, lunching and, most importantly, chatting in Cambridge with one of my closest friends.

I actually went back into the school routine feeling relaxed and recharged, but then spent all my ‘free’ time in the first half of the week attending Occupational Therapy with Anna, and organising a mini Halloween party for her and a couple of friends, before the second half of the week being totally confined to the house with a poorly Sophia.

I also got to the point where I couldn’t cope with the clutter in Anna’s room any longer. It was making it impossible to clean properly, and it always looked messy even if it had just been tidied. Its such a cliche for mums to berate their children about the state of their room, and I’m sure my parents would say this is karma, because I wasn’t, ahem, the tidiest of children myself, but it really was ridiculous. On Saturday we spent a backbreaking two hours, while husband was working and Sophia was napping, being ruthless. Anna was actually very good about detaching from the various ‘interesting’ leaves and pebbles, pieces of artwork and plastic crap from party bags which she has picked up since my last blitz. We filled a black bin bag to the brim with things to throw away, and a sizeable cardboard box with things to either sell, donate or pass on to Sophia. I hoovered and dusted, she cleaned the windows, and it now looks reasonably civilised once more! If you can ignore the pen marks on the desk which are now clearly visible with the clutter removed!

 

We’re now heading into one of the busiest, albeit most enjoyable times of year. The older the children get, the more their seasonal activities seem to increase, and of course there is shopping and general preparation for the big day. Despite this, I’m making a commitment to myself to blog at least once a week for the rest of the year, because taking the time to reflect on and write about what’s happening in our lives gives me the chance to actually appreciate it, and one day be able to look back and remember it, rather than everything disappearing in a whirl of busyness and activity.

#In Real Life

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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.