Countdown to summer (holidays)

path to beachIt feels like this summer has lasted forever already, and school hasn’t even broken up yet! I have a feeling that, when they do, the rain won’t be far behind – but maybe that’s just me being miserable and cynical. To be honest I wouldn’t mind a bit of rain to give the garden the good drink it so desperately needs. Maybe we could carry on having warm sunny days but cool wet nights?

It’s the final countdown this week. I’ve just been to Poundland and stocked up on craft stuff so I’ve got something up my sleeve for those inevitable ‘I’m bored’ moments, and of course the freezer is stocked to the gunnels with the essential mini-magnums. Tomorrow is Sophia’s school trip – we’re off to a farm plus soft play extravaganza which she will love – and then the following day is her last ever in preschool as she starts school nursery in September. We distributed presents and cards for the staff there this morning, but I volunteered to be class rep for collecting donations for Anna’s teacher’s present, and so I still have a few people to chase, and then the vouchers to buy. Plus, of course, Anna has also announced that she wants to make brownies for her class teacher and TA, and I can hardly discourage her from showing generosity and gratitude, so we need to factor that in this week as well.

We’re heading straight from pick-up on the final day of school to Euston to get the train to Manchester to stay with my brother and SIL for a couple of days, and then going straight over to Liverpool to see my parents, so I need to pack this week as well. I’ve also realised that I may have made a strategic error in planning to go straight to the station, as on the last day of school Anna normally comes out clutching approximately 703 pieces of work, ranging from lovely poems I want to keep forever through to scraps of ripped paper with a piece of lack-lustre colouring she did one wet play back in November, not to  mention a forlorn assortment of hats, socks, cardies, hoodies, water bottles and lone mittens, most of which I gave up for lost months ago, and a dirty PE kit. I have no desire whatsoever to carry these round the country with us (although the thought of accidentally ‘losing’ most of them in my brother’s house is rather tempting!), so somehow I have to extract these momentoes of the year the day before. Wish me luck with that!

A run of two weeks in which Sophia, then Anna then I, have all had tonsillitis has totally foiled my grand plans to be on top of the housework before the start of summer. I could be catching up now, but this is also my last chance for 7 or 8 weeks to sit alone in a cafe sipping ice cold freshly squeezed orange juice and eating a salted caramel chocolate brownie I don’t have to share, so I’m afraid there’s no way I’m passing that by in favour of hoovering under the sofa, however badly that needs doing!

What I’ll be doing instead is spending a couple of separate weeks in Liverpool with my parents, a week’s family holiday in Cornwall, swimming lessons for both children, and then a mixture of lazy pyjama days doing some craft or cooking, reading or Duplo, or watching one of the dvds I’ve squirrelled away over the year, local trips to Vestry House Museum or Epping Forest or the local park for a picnic and a game or two of hide and seek, and perhaps a couple of slightly bigger trips to museums or out to the coast if I’m feeling brave. Not forgetting the third year of our annual ‘Mummy and Anna Day’ when my husband takes a day off work to spend with Sophia and Anna and I head off on an adventure together. Two years ago we got the train to Birmingham and went to Cadbury World (my mothership!), last year we went to London Zoo and then for ice-cream sundaes, and this year we’re planning on a traditional seaside trip to Broadstairs for paddling, fish and chips on the beach and probably more ice-cream sundaes.

Nine and three are very different ages, and the children require very different things of me. Anna is generally extremely patient and loving with Sophia, who in turn adores her sister, but there are moments, on mornings when they are already screaming with frustration at each other and me by 8.20am that I have dreaded the summer holidays. Weeks and weeks of no break for me, and balancing everyone’s conflicting demands can feel daunting, even though I also love spending time with them both and look forward to long days without the tyranny of the school run. However, I hope I have managed to come up with a good balance of family activities, and of both girls (thanks to help from aunty, uncle and grandparents!) getting windows of 1-1 time with an adult. And if it all goes wrong, then you’ll be able to spot my house – it’ll be the one with CBeebies blaring out 12 hours a day whilst I rock quietly in the corner, chain-eating mini-magnums.

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Flying solo

ducks

My husband is away with work this week, from Sunday afternoon to late Thursday evening, so it is just me and the kids. First of all, massive hats off to single parents! I’m finding this quite tough enough when I know it is just a temporary thing; coping day in, day out on your own must take such guts and determination.

I’m fairly used to time on my own, as husband has always worked in public transport, and the nature of the work is that when you’re moving other people round the country you can’t always stay in the same place yourself. Normally it is only for a night or two, but there are a few techniques I’ve learnt to help me cope:

  1. Be strategic about washing. Seriously. Do whatever it takes to avoid having to bathe and wash the hair of two children by yourself on the same evening. And plan your own showers in advance, begging/bribing older children to look after younger ones while you attempt a level of basic cleanliness.
  2. Get the treats in. I bought some maple syrup and raisin pancake in Marks and Spencer’s yesterday, and we had them for breakfast this morning with chopped up strawberries and yet more maple syrup drizzled (alright, poured) over, and it definitely brightened the start of our day. Plus, I’m pretty sure maple syrup has some kind of super food benefits, non?
  3. FaceTime doesn’t really work for us because when husband is away he tends to be working long/unpredictable hours, but I make little videos of the children talking to him on my phone, and he videos himself replying, and they can watch those over again when they’re missing daddy.
  4. Eat things your other half doesn’t like. On the sofa. With the gas fire on high.
  5. Get the children to sleep (I know, I know, those five little words conceal a world of pain), and then head to bed yourself with a good book. 9 or 10 hours sleep, while not entirely compensating for the absence of the love of your life can be an excellent consolation.
  6. Get all your female friends round, blow the housekeeping budget on prosecco and book a group of male strippers. Or alternatively, put your dressing gown on as soon as you’ve done the afternoon school run and curl up on the sofa with a cat and a vat of hot chocolate to watch GBBO. I’ll definitely be doing one or the other of those this evening…

I am looking on the bright side. I live in an age of readily available dry shampoo and Kindles, so I can get away without washing my hair if WWIII seems likely to break out in my absence, and I am guaranteed not to run out of things to read. Also, I get to really look forward to seeing my husband at the end of the week, and really appreciate how much easier things are when he is around (even though I frequently moan about how tough they are), and realise that, despite his inability to make a cup of coffee without covering 85% of the kitchen surfaces and floor with coffee grounds, I do love him very much, and miss him very much, and am very lucky to be in a marriage where that is the case.

Living Well

live well sign

I was all set to write a post about how tough life is at the moment. How tough adulting is. I feel like we’re juggling and balancing so much right now, between family responsibilities, my husband’s business (which is going very well, but is extremely demanding), some health problems I’ve been having, and then all the usual day to day domestic stuff which persists whatever else is going on. It has all culminated in a big flare-up of the anxiety I have suffered from intermittently for the last year or two. Oh, and I have toothache.

But then I was scrolling through photos on my phone, and I came across this one, of a poster in a little beach cafe in Lligwy Bay on Anglesey where we spent a week in the summer. It resonated with me at the time, in my care-free, sun kissed (and wind-blown!) holiday mood, but it is probably back in workaday, unseasonably chilly, and unreasonably stressful London that I really need to heed its message.

Take time to live well 

Often this feels like time I simply don’t have. And clearly we’re not going to manage all of those every day – that really is what holidays are for. But how often am I frittering the time I do have messing around on Facebook, instead of doing something which might be genuinely relaxing or enriching?

Before the summer holidays my husband suggested, in order to help my mental and emotional health, that I took two ‘time-outs’ every day. The first is in the morning. Just before we sit down to breakfast – the one meal which we make every effort to all eat together as a family, chatting about the day before and the day to come, I step out into the garden. Just for a minute or two I breathe deeply, smell the morning air, look at the plants and observe the subtle changes which herald the passing seasons. I come back into the chaos of our school morning routine just a little bit calmed and refreshed.

The second is in the evening. As soon as husband gets home from work (within reason, sometimes he’s not home until gone 11pm) I go straight out, leaving him to pick up on stories/baths/bedtime while I go for a brisk 15 minute walk. It is a chance to let my thoughts run free, to walk at my own pace unencumbered by buggies, scooters, book bags or changing bags, to get some fresh air, and to place a semi-colon between the manic day and the (hopefully) calmer evening.

After school one day this week I just curled up with my girls on the sofa. A Charlie and Lola DVD went on for the smaller one, and the bigger one and I read our books companionably, me with a daughter snuggled under each arm. It was blissful. And for a while at least, I quieted the internal voices telling me I ‘ought’ to be doing something useful, or taking them to the park, or playing a game, and just enjoyed being. And let myself believe that, although we can’t spend our entire lives on the sofa (can we??), actually what they sometimes need more than hoovered stairs or an educational activity is simply to be with me and with each other. It was one of the nicest hours I’ve spent all week.

It’s great to be able to let off steam and have a good moan about the difficult things. I’m part of a WhatsApp group with two very good friends which is a lifesaver for just this kind of thing. Often a sympathetic message and the renewed realisation that I’m not alone in this is all I need to give me the energy and strength to carry on. However, I want to balance that with a focus on the positive stuff as well. Counting my blessings, as my poster-guru has it. I read somewhere this week that “where the attention goes, the energy flows”, and while being realistic about all the stresses and strains, I want my attention and energy to go on the good stuff in life.

I started this blog because the every day moments slip by so quickly and I wanted to capture them. On the way it has also become a place I have a rant when I need to, but I want to stay true to my original aim of having a record of these chaotic, frustrating, exhausting years which reminds me how magical and amazing and filled with love they really are.

 

 

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.

 

Beside the seaside

Predictably, despite my panics, the summer holidays are absolutely flying by. Only just over two weeks to go, and then we’ll be back in the school-run routine again. I’m taking advantage of a very rare window of peace and quiet when Anna is round at her friend’s building a den to hold the meetings of their secret society (“I think ‘society’ sounds much more grown up and important than ‘club’, doesn’t it, Mummy?), and Sophia is having her nap. Aannnnd breathe…

The lovely thing about this summer is the amount of time we have been lucky enough to spend at the seaside, first of all in Anglesey and then in West Cornwall. I love the sea. Somehow gazing out to sea, breathing the tangy saline air, feeling the sand between my toes manages to calm and energise and inspire me all at the same time.

path to beach

It’s also been brilliant watching how much fun the children can have with a good old bucket and spade – damming streams, digging holes, building sandcastles.

One of my worries about these school holidays was that the disparity in ages between Anna (8) and Sophia (2) would make it really difficult to entertain both of them at the same time, but a beach really is a happy place for all of us.

Of course, it has also helped having lots of family around. We were in Anglesey with my parents and, for half the time, with my brother and SIL, and my MIL was with us in Cornwall. They were around to give me a chance for a solitary walk along the beach of an evening, to teach Anna to play French cricket, to pass a rainy afternoon in reading stories or teaching origami, to take care of Sophia for a few hours and enable us to have a lovely long cliff path walk with Anna. Thank heaven for grandparents and aunts and uncles!

looking at the view

Just looking through my photos as I prepare this post has given me a renewed sense of calm and tranquility. The challenge now is to maintain that in the hustle and bustle of daily life a long way away from the sea. The little cafe just off the beach at Lligwy, where we stayed on Anglesey, had this poster up:

live well sign

Yes, it’s a little bit hippyish, and yes, these things are all easier to achieve on holiday by a beautiful beach than they are on a grey November morning when you have to do three loads of laundry, clean the loo and pay the credit card bill. But despite this, it actually feels like pretty good advice. I suspect that when my life starts to feel overwhelming and out of balance it is because I haven’t been spending enough time doing some of these.

It can’t always be sunset over Penzance Harbour or Lligwy Beach, but I really want to retain some of the magical peace of these beautiful places now I’m back home in East London.