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.

The ups and downs of summer

Well, we’re one week into the summer holidays I was ever-so-slightly dreading. Is it proving as difficult as I expected? Well, that’s a hard one to answer.

In some ways, no, definitely not. It is lovely to be more relaxed in the mornings. A couple of days ago I looked up from stacking the dishwasher after breakfast to find both girls contentedly snuggled up on the sofa, still in pyjamas, reading five year old Peppa Pig annuals. On a school morning I would immediately have had to switch into sergeant-major mode, and start organising them into a state where they could leave the house, but in the holidays I can just leave them to it.

reading peppa

We’ve already had some nice summer treats as well. On the day school broke up, the mums of a couple of Anna’s schoolfriends and I took the children to a local ice-cream parlour for some ludicrously over-sized sundaes, followed by a trip to our local playground (somewhere I feel I have spent more than enough time in the least week!). We met up with more friends there, and I truly love the ‘school’s out for the summer’ atmosphere that prevails in our local park at the end of term, with both parents and children giddy with relief and slightly high on sugar.

We’ve had one of Anna’s friends round for tea, and spent a lovely day with two of my NCT friends and their kids. We don’t live particularly near, and the demands of school and work mean that we don’t get to see each other very often, but it was really special to catch up, and to see these 8.5 year olds, who have known each other since they were a few weeks old, figure out a way of getting along now, and of involving their young siblings as well.

I also made a window of time when husband was at home to take Anna out to Pizza Express for a mummy and daughter lunch, which was very lovely and civilised. We have been to the library to register for the summer reading challenge – which my little bookworm then completed in 24 hours flat.

The reason she managed to read 6 books in 24 hours brings me onto one of the less good bits of the last week. Sophia developed some kind of virus which meant she wasn’t well enough to go anywhere except an emergency 7pm visit to the local out-of-hours doctor when her temperature spiked to nearly 40 degrees, and she refused to eat, drink or take calpol and became all limp and floppy. That was fun. Luckily husband was off work – we’d planned a family day trip, but he wasn’t very well either, and Sophia certainly wasn’t well enough, so the silver lining was that we all hung out at home together in a way which is quite rare and was very nice and relaxing. Anna read a lot of books, and we did some cooking and baking together. A fair amount of telly was watched, and there were lots of sleepy sofa cuddles, and some fun play in the garden once Sophia was feeling a bit brighter.

co-operation

The thing I find hardest is the lack of a moment to myself, and I really need those moments to keep sane and calm. Both children are chatterboxes, and don’t always (ever) respect the other’s right to finish what they were saying before launching in with their own anecdote. Sometimes they get on very well, and Anna is incredibly patient and loving with her little sister, but inevitably the moment comes when Anna’s patience is pushed too far, or one of them gets a bump, and then everyone is crying for mummy. I dispense cuddles, kisses and reprimands as necessary, and calm is restored…until next time. On a repeat cycle for 12 hours straight it gets a little bit wearing.

We’re off on holiday with my parents tomorrow, which is eagerly anticipated by both children. Sophia has been telling everyone who will listen that she is going to the seaside with Nanna and Grandad to build sandcastles. Unfortunately husband can no longer join us as planned, as he has hd unavoidable work commitments come up, and so I am having to pack extremely light as I have to manage both children, the buggy and all the luggage on a train by myself. There’s also the little matter of entertaining the ferociously energetic 2 year old all the way to North Wales. I’m armed with sticker books galore, and am about to go and pack an enormous array of snacks, which will range from the downright virtuous (cucumber sticks, cherry tomatoes, raisins) to the moderately acceptable (dry cheerios, crackers, plain biscuits) and then by Chester I fully expect to be doling out chocolate buttons with gay abandon.

Packing has had its own challenges, as Sophia is determined to help. Unfortunately her definition of ‘help’ (trying on everyone’s sunglasses, putting on swim nappies over her clothes and scattering round the house the objects I had just carefully assembled) doesn’t totally correspond with mine. Anna is now round at her friend’s house for the afternoon, and Sophia is having her nap, so I should be making the most of my free time to finish the packing, get the snacks ready, make a batch of soup to give everyone a healthy tea tonight and use up all the odds and ends of vegetables languishing in the fridge, and tidy the house, which currently looks like a bomb has hit it. However, I am ignoring all those things in favour of a sanity-saving hour writing my blog, and scoffing a chocolate muffin.

choc muffins

 

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.

 

 

 

Children and choices

Anna went horse riding for the first time on Saturday afternoon, as part of her friend’s birthday party. She absolutely loved it, and has talked of very little else since. Seriously. What I don’t know about the beauty of Poppet’s long-lashed eyes, the velvety texture of her nose or the all round angelic sweetness of her disposition is surely not worth knowing. Although I suspect that won’t preclude me being told more about it anyway.

anna riding

When she was a baby, horse riding was a bit of an in-joke for husband and me, because our antenatal teacher had a daughter aged 10 or so, who was obsessed with horses, and  the teacher joked that she basically had to remortgage the house to afford the lessons. She advised all of us parents to be to keep our offspring well away from the stables if we wanted to avoid a life of equine induced penury. So, on a country holiday when she was six months old we would dramatically shield Anna’s eyes if we passed a field of horses, and I haven’t introduced her to any of the series of pony books I devoured at her age. Luckily for my parents I am allergic to horses, so they were saved from that potentially expensive hobby.

It’s made me reflect more, though, on something I’ve pondered before. As parents, husband and I want our daughters to fulfil themselves and to reach their true potential in whatever gifts they have. But, how the hell do we know what these are?

The thing I was good at was reading, making sense of what I read, talking about it, and then writing things myself. It set me up nicely for a degree in English Literature, a career in healthcare management (umm) and most recently becoming a blogger and novelist. How did I know this was my talent? Well, my parents were both librarians, and our home was filled with books. I gravitated naturally towards them, and of course the school system is well set up to deal with children who like reading and writing!

But how to discover and nurture other talents in our children? There is so much choice these days, such a plethora of weekend and evening and holiday activities available, but I am firm in my belief that it’s not a good idea to spend too much time in organised activities, as children need time to just be. We’re very lucky that Anna’s school runs some fantastic and affordable after school clubs, and so she has been able to try lots of different things. I am strict about no more than two activities a week, but that has still given her scope to try out French, art, running, choir, and drama, and she’s about to start football this week. I don’t think any of them are going to be her lifelong passion. She hated French, and dropped it very quickly. She loves choir and singing, and it has been brilliant for her confidence, but I don’t see her as a professional singer.

Obviously in many areas you can discover a passion as a teenager or adult and pursue it independently. But in other areas – ice skating, ballet, horse riding, music – my understanding is that if you don’t start young enough then you will never be able to reach your full potential. Which feels like an enormous responsibility as a parent!

If we respond to Anna’s wave of enthusiasm for riding by booking her a course of lessons, then we might just be setting her on the path to a place in the Olympic 2028 British show-jumping or dressage team. Or we might be wasting time and money which should be spent on piano lessons to nurture our little Eileen Joyce.

Some parents get round this dilemma by signing their child up for every conceivable extra-curricular activity, theorising that this gives them the chance to see where their talents and interests might lie. I can see why this approach might appeal, but I can’t help thinking it is also quite likely to result in a jaded and exhausted child who wants nothing  more than to spend their teenage years lying on the sofa staring blankly at the television and eating Wotsits.

So, what do we do? Do we wait for the children to express an interest and encourage them to follow that? But what if their fancy lights on an expensive trombone, only to wane a few weeks later? Do we just encourage them in our own interests? Well, yes, to a large extent we already do this, and Anna is perhaps already more interested in history, architecture, books and politics than a typical eight year old. But that approach seems a little narrow, not to mention narcissistic. Is the manic activity drive the answer after all? But how can children develop independence and creativity if they never have any time to themselves?

We will probably continue to bumble along much as we are now; sharing our own enthusiasms with our daughters, supporting them to try new things which cross their path, taking advantage of the opportunities provided through school, allowing a healthy amount of down-time and keeping our fingers crossed!

What do you think? Is over-scheduling a problem for modern children (and parents!)? When does supportive become pressurising? Or does our duty to help our children fulfil their potential mean that we should expose them to as many different opportunities as possible?

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.