Friendship after children

 

I’m up against it again this week, with husband once more away for work for a few nights, and the toddler full of cold and so even more demanding than usual. I haven’t found time to write one of my usual blog posts here, but I have just published this piece on friendship after children for Selfish Mother blogline, if you fancy a browse.

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On the Jumble Trail

I have always loved shopping. As a child it was a real treat to go into town with my mum on a Saturday, just the two of us while my dad and brother did ‘boy’ things. She’d treat me to a fry-up in the C&A cafe (showing my age now), or delicious cakes in our favourite little cafe on a side street. My favourite shops then, aged about ten were good ol’ C&A and Tammy Girl.

Then when I was into my teens I’d still spend Saturdays hanging out in town with my girl friends. A Spicy Bean burger and a milkshake in Burger King, and longing looks at the clothes we couldn’t afford in TopShop, River Island and Miss Selfridge, before buying a new brightly coloured nail varnish and getting the bus home.

When I had my own pay check to spend and was working in Central London I could sneak out at lunchtime or after work to browse the shops and Oxford Street, and I had the money to treat myself sometimes. I will fit into that much-beloved size 10 leather pencil skirt again one day…

After having children, actually going to the shops could be less pleasurable. Tantrums and sticky fingers and cramped (or, heaven forbid, communal) changing rooms made it more chore than pleasure. Luckily for me I became a mum in the age of internet shopping. It’s a great way to pass the time when you’re pinioned to the sofa under a breastfeeding baby, and you can try the clothes on in the privacy of your own bedroom. Preferably by candlelight for that flattering glow. I also discovered some new favourite brands for my dress-like-a-mum style – hello Boden!

yellow dressFor me, though, there is no shopping experience more pleasurable than hunting down that elusive bargain. I’ve blogged before about my fabulous local Sell or Swap group, and how much I love combining local community with the chance to acquire some lovely new treats. Yesterday was one better than that with a local Jumble Trail. Around one hundred local people put a stall outside their house, selling off their unwanted goods, and the rest of us enjoyed the very British experience of a jumble sale in the pouring rain. I took the money I’d recently made on Sell or Swap to spend, and for the grand total of about £30 managed to get Anna a huge pile of books in the Rainbow Magic series which she is obsessed with at present, a beautiful turquoise gravy jug which looks lovely on my dresser and can even be called in to service for gravy dispension as required, a yellow chiffon dress, a White Stuff skirt with a cute bright pink bird print, an Orla Kiely scarf and a stunning navy blue silk top embellished with silver sequins for me, two pretty dresses for Anna, and a gorgeous wooden rocking horse for Sophia. rocking horseOh, and some home-made cakes, of course! I was on a total high at my lovely haul of stuff, but also at the chance to catch up with local friends, and meet some more. My idea of a perfect Sunday!

Twenty-Fourth Day of Advent: Christmas

xmas cakeWell, I had to end with Christmas, didn’t I? Regular readers of this blog and my Advent posts in particular will probably have picked up that I absolutely adore Christmas. I don’t want anything Christmassy to intrude until December because I feel it spoils it, but from 1 December, bring it on. I love the carols, the candles, the cooking, the eating, the choosing gifts and receiving them, the little family rituals, the cheesy Christmas tunes, Anna’s palpable excitement (which is about to shoot off the scale). Everything.

I also love the message of Christmas. I blogged before about my ambivalent relationship with Christianity, but equally how can I not warm to the message of Peace on Earth? One of my absolute favourite carols is It Came Upon the Midnight Clear and I can’t hear it without crying. Partly because it was my Nanna’s favourite and so reminds me of her, and partly because of the verse

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing.

Somehow Christmas brings alive the possibility that we might hush our noise and listen to the angel song. There is so much redolent symbolism. Stars and candles giving light, angels giving messages of peace and love, the evergreens with which we decorate our home reminding us even though the days are the shortest and darkest new life will return.

I love spending time with family and friends. Of course that isn’t, and shouldn’t, be confined to Christmas. But life can get so busy that it’s great when Christmas forces us to pause and take time away from work and day to day responsibilities and worries. In fact, Christmas brings together almost everything that makes me happy which I’ve blogged about this Advent. Family, friends, husband, daughters, food, home, baking are all crucial to making my Christmas special.

Thank you for reading my blog this Advent. I’ve been so touched by all your comments and the positive feedback I’ve had. I’ll be back after Christmas, but in the meantime I and going to turn on the TV for Carols From Kings, and wish you and your families a very happy Christmas however you are celebrating.

Nineteenth Day of Advent: My home

Since I had Anna, one of the elements of the Christmas story which really resonates with me is Mary wandering around Bethlehem, knowing that she was about to give birth, but not knowing where, or having a place to keep her new baby safe afterwards. I can’t imagine many things worse. It wrings my heart to think of how many parents across the world are still in that situation today.

However, this blog is focussing on the positives, and the things I personally have to be grateful for.

My house, the warm, cosy, comfortable, secure home, where we can bring up our daughters safely is very high on the list.

our houseThis house has felt like home since the first moment I stepped over the threshold. We had been looking to move for a while, feeling that, with an almost three year old and the possibility that we might have another baby at some point, we were outgrowing our tiny two up, two down terrace. Anna and I came to view this house one cold, snowy February evening not long before her third birthday. She was grumpy because the only time I had been able to schedule the viewing clashed with her teatime. We both had cold wet feet from wading through the slush to get here. And yet, the second I walked in, these minor irritations vanished and I knew we had found our forever home.

As the estate agent showed me round I abandoned my little notebook with lists of all the things husband and I had considered ‘essential’ or ‘desirable’ in our new house and which I usually ticked off, as I looked round. Instead I was mentally decorating and arranging our furniture. At the end of the 20 minute viewing I made an offer of the full asking price, even though my husband had never seen it. Our marriage doesn’t normally operate like that; the opposite, we normally talk and discuss at length until we reach a consensus. This time though, rather like when I met husband himself, I just knew it was right.

This being the London property market there were quite a few ups and downs before we actually exchanged contracts (by which time husband had actually seen, and luckily loved, the house!). During the process we got to know the couple who were selling it quite well. They are artists, in their late fifties or early sixties, and were taking early retirement to go and live down on the Kent coast. At the moment our solicitor phoned to say we had completed, husband and I were standing in their (now our) dining room, drinking champagne with them. Having had that friendly relationship with them adds to the warm and positive vibes I always get from our house.garden1

I love my home in all its guises. When it is being trashed by Anna and her friends playing ‘landslides’ (all the sofa cushions, pillows, blankets etc in the house piled up in the middle of the living room so they can throw themselves off the denuded sofa onto it), or when, as now it is calm and quiet because husband has taken Anna to her swimming lesson with Sophia in tow so that I can have a blogging break. And make macaroni cheese with pancetta, spinach and sweetcorn for tea when they get home. I love it when it is full of friends or family eating and laughing and enjoying themselves, and I love it when it is just me and my husband sharing a quiet dinner together or Anna and I having a hot chocolate after school, or Sophia determinedly learning to climb upstairs and down again with me shadowing her protectively.  I love it in summer when the doors stand open and we can eat in the garden, and I love it at Christmas when it is full of fairy lights and holly from the tree in our front garden. I love that both my girls have their own room with their own soft warm bed and space for their own little treasures. But I also love that one of the rooms is big enough that, if they wanted to, they could share it when Sophia is older. fireplace

I love the feeling of peace and security which envelopes me here, even if things in other areas of my life are going wrong. I love that the house is a constantly evolving reflection of our changing lives. The spare bedroom became a nursery. Husband has had a lot of work to do at home lately, so a corner of our dining room has become a home office (aka totally disorganised pile of papers with a laptop teetering on top). Baskets of baby toys are now in the corner of most rooms, and are about to be joined by a bright yellow, plastic, ride-on duck. Ahem. Anna’s toys take up less room now, but her shelves of ‘chapter books’ are continually expanding. There is an ongoing tension between my need to at least attempt to keep things relatively clean and tidy, and my family’s need to leave as many of their possessions as possible scattered over the floor. Luckily, though, I am not a real neat freak (stop laughing, Mum), and so generally we have a slightly chaotic but cosy and comfortable home which makes us all happy.

Seventeenth Day of Advent: Friends

I did say at the beginning of this series of posts that they wouldn’t be in order of priority, and the proof is that it’s taken me seventeen days to get to friends when, after family, they are by far what make me happiest. In some ways, in terms of pure, simple happiness friends might even have the edge at times.helen and jen Families can be that bit more complex; you have guilt, worry and responsibilities which sometimes go hand in hand with the deep love you feel for your spouse, children, parents. Whereas friends are where you go to kick back, relax and have a laugh.

I have friends from school I only see infrequently because we no longer live in the same city, but when I do, I feel like I am fifteen again. I have other friends who I see pretty much every day on the school run, and having a quick gossip with them at 3.10pm can transform my mood after a day spent solely with an adorable but largely non-verbal little person.

There are the local friends who I have relied on heavily over the past couple of years when I seem to have spent far too much time going to hospital for tests, treatment or investigations connected with miscarriages or pregnancy, who have picked Anna up from school at short notice or had her for the day when I was unexpectedly kept in hospital, or turned up with home-cooked food, chocolate, sympathy and hugs when I was recovering. I am so grateful.

More recently one of my local friends had a hysterical phone call from me when Sophia fell and banged her head. She turned up 3 minutes later with her own little girl, calmed me down, phoned me a taxi to go to the hospital and took Anna home with her until husband was able to get home and collect her. I don’t want bad things to happen to my friends, obviously, but I hope that I am able to return all the favours by helping them out when they need it.

I have friends from different life stages – school, university, workplaces, NCT, baby classes, school gates. Many of them I don’t see as often as I would like – life, work, geography, children all get in the way at times – but a quick text exchange or Facebook message can brighten my day, and I know that when I do get to spend some proper time with them the pleasure of catching up properly will be enormous.

Like everyone, from time to time I get low or angry or anxious or hormonal. I have a few go-to solutions which generally make me feel better, many of which I have discussed in this blog series. Baking a cake, a long, hot bath (glass of wine optional but preferable), curling up on the sofa for a cuddle and chat with my husband, a comfort read, a brisk walk. One which I tend to neglect because it’s harder to put into operation than the others is going out for a drink with a friend. I can live without fancy bars or cocktails (although happy to discuss), but a couple of my girlfriends, a pub and a bottle or two of Chenin Blanc are pretty much guaranteed to make a new woman out of me.