#In Real Life

cocktails

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.

Being Kind

Last week was not a good week. It kicked off with Sophia ill with a high temperature and a cough. The cough was worst at night, so we were getting woken up every couple of hours by  distressed little girl. Then I discovered Anna had nits (again), and so we had to add daily assaults with the nitty gritty comb into our daily routine, which was popular with everyone. The weather was cold, grey, foggy and, it turns out, poisonous. Air quality in London hit a record low, and it felt impossible to get properly warm. Then Anna fell off the climbing frame at school and hit her head, and then vomited, and then complained her vision was blurry, so we ended up at the GP and then being sent off to A&E. She only had a mild concussion, and is fine now, but it was fun at the time. Then Sophia fell downstairs, top to bottom – she was totally unharmed, but this was the morning after the night in A&E, so my nerves were pretty shattered. The week was rounded off by Sophia falling off the bouncy castle at a party on Sunday and having one of her seizures. And this is before even thinking about the terrifying and depressing political developments in America.

But yesterday, even though it was Monday, and (still) January and (still) cold things suddenly felt better. I had a text message telling me that some friends of ours had had a baby daughter at the weekend, and baby news always makes me happy. I took Anna out for a hot chocolate and some quality mother and daughter time whilst my MIL looked after Sophia, and was reminded how lucky I am to have this bright, funny, imaginative girl. I went out for dinner with my closest friend from those early, blurry, sleep-deprived first baby days and we had a proper catch-up and marvelled at the passing of time which means we are now parents to nearly-eight-year-olds. And after pre-school, Sophia asked if she could sit on my knee to have lunch instead of going in her high chair. I agreed, and she leant back into me, snuggling her head against my chest, and said contentedly “Love you” for the very first time.

Someone I know from years back posted on Facebook this morning that protests against Trump’s policies or against Brexit, are utterly pointless, and instead we should be directing our efforts to loving our friends and family, volunteering at church, supporting colleagues at work and taking the time to be nice to people who we come across in daily life. I couldn’t agree, or disagree, more.

Being kind to the people around us is what we should be doing anyway, and all the more so when there seems to be such a dearth of kindness in high places. And the only way to get though these dark political times is to take time to appreciate and value the little things – sharing a meal with someone you love, the sleepy weight of a child on your lap, a conversation with a friend. But right now I also think those of us who believe in hope not hate should try to do a little more, go a little further, and make our voices heard just as clearly as those I firmly believe are far fewer in number but shout much louder.

This morning I have followed More United‘s advice as to what we can do to fight the horrendous ban on Muslims from certain countries entering the US – a ban which is going to tear families and friends apart. I donated some money to the American Civil Liberties Union, which is fighting the ban. I posted a supportive message on my MP’s Facebook page, as Stella Creasy is being very vocal in encouraging the British Government to speak out, and MPs who are taking this stance need our support, just as those who are not speaking out need to know that this is something their constituents care about. And I co-signed the letter which Hope Not Hate are sending to Theresa May, asking her to unequivocally condemn Trump’s actions.

None of this took very long out of my day, and none of it stops me also continuing to try  (even though I don’t always succeed) to be a better wife, mother, daughter, sister, neighbour and friend. Love and hope are stronger than hatred and fear, and we can, and must, prove that.

be-kind

Ten things I love about parenting

My last post was a grumpy but fairly therapeutic rant on the things I hate about parenting. Yesterday someone posted on my author Facebook page to say that it sounded like I shouldn’t have had children. I’m sure it was a joke. I hope it was a joke. Nonetheless it got to me. Mainly because of the constant guilt which was point 10 on my most hated list. I love my children more than anything in the world, and can’t imagine life without them, however irksome the day-to-day practicalities can sometimes be. To think that I have written something which makes it seem as though I might regret having them feels like an utter betrayal. I’d planned to write this post at some point anyway, but in view of the Facebook comment I felt an urgent need to redress the balance. So here is a list, not an exhaustive one, of some of my favourite things about parenting.

1) Their faces when they’re asleep

Obviously I love their faces awake as well. But the exquisite vulnerability of a sleeping child is one of the most beautiful things in the world.

2) Holding hands

The feeling of your child slipping their little hand into yours is a perfect summary of the trust they place in you to protect them and guide them and get it right for them. Sometimes it is a responsibility which feels overwhelming, but undoubtedly the most important thing I will ever do.

3) Sharing things you loved as a child

From favourite books, to classic childhood experiences like paddling in the sea or feeding the ducks, to treats like fish finger sandwiches and fairy cakes, re-living elements of your own childhood and watching your children’s pleasure in their turn is one of the most enjoyable parts of parenting.

4) How efficient I have become

Free time might now be in short supply, but my goodness when I get it I can make the most of it. An hour’s nap time gives me the opportunity to hang out a load of washing, put another load away, clean the bathroom, hoover downstairs, wash up and prepare our evening meal. A couple of hours when my husband takes the children out on a Saturday afternoon and I can have a restorative nap, bake a cake, write a blog post and catch up on my emails. My first novel was written in a year’s worth of Thursday afternoons when my MIL took care of my eldest daughter.

5) The sense of perspective

I might have lost my sense of perspective in once sense. A missed nap can sometimes seem like a catastrophe and adverts on the Tube can leave me in floods of tears. In other ways, though, I have gained one. Things which would once have really upset me – my jeans being too tight, a nasty book review, a snide comment – can now generally be put out of my mind just by looking at my children and reflecting that while I have them and they are ok, nothing else can really be that bad.

6) The cut-the-crap world insights

My seven year old is getting better and better at these. My longwinded explanation of something I consider to be a complex adult issue she will summarise in one pithy sentence. This has the effect of making me wonder exactly why we complicate our lives so unnecessarily.

7) Nurturing

I might moan about the relentlessness of it, but I also love the feeling of nurturing my children. Whether it is watching my youngest sleepily suckling as I give her her bedtime feed, or seeing two empty plates and happy faces after they’ve enjoyed the meal I made, or bestowing the  consolatory kisses and cuddles after a bumped knee, baking cakes for a weekend (or weekday) treat, or even folding and putting away a pile of freshly washed brightly coloured little clothes all ready to be worn again, I find the physical act of caring for my children deeply satisfying. I was browsing Mumsnet this week, and came across this lovely quote on a thread:

I think we should coddle them all while we can, life is short and I want mine to think of home as a place of unconditional love, safety, chats and belly laughs, dry towels and a full fridge

This is my new motto, because it is exactly how I want my girls to think of their home as they grow up.

8) The parenting community

I have made some fantastic friends since, and because of, becoming a mum. Whether it’s my NCT buddies who helped me adjust to the brave new world of motherhood and were always happy to conduct an in-depth analysis of sleep cycles, feeding patterns or nappy contents whilst eating a lot of cake, or the school-gate friends who’ve been there as our children have started to find their independence, allowing us to rediscover ours a little bit too, to the nameless mum in the park who lets me use her suncream when I’ve forgotten ours, or the one on the train who smiles sympathetically rather than sighing huffily when my baby kicks off on the train. I have also discovered new levels in friendships I had BC (Before Children) as we exchange panicked texts about the symptoms of croup or dehydration, or Facebook messages throughout a sleepless night.

9) Enhanced relationships

I love seeing my husband as a father, and my parents as grandparents, and my brother and sister-in-law as uncle and auntie and it makes me love and appreciate them in whole new ways.

10) Watching them learn

I find it inspiring how both my children are on a constant quest to learn, and as soon as they have mastered one skill there is no resting on their laurels, it is straight on to another. At eighteen months, my youngest is working on walking up and downstairs unaided, jumping with both feet off the ground, and her first words. The seven year old is concentrating on her three times table, handwriting and spelling that other people can actually read and an in-depth understanding of the issues underpinning the EU referendum debate. Watching them is a reminder that learning and self-development shouldn’t be a chore but a way of life. It’s a huge privilege to be able to help teach them at the moment, but also to learn from their determination, optimism and courage.

A & S Merton

 

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.

Ninth Day of Advent: Social Media

“Only connect” said E.M.Forster, and the connections which are made possible by social media are something that make me very happy. This is not a fashionable point of view. There are several prevalent attitudes to social media. One is that it actually makes people unhappy, because they are constantly comparing themselves to others, and Facebook, Instagram et al put an unrealistic gloss on the mundanities of life. Another is that the ‘traditional’ social media, like Facebook which I love, are now totally over, and the world has moved on to heaven knows what. I don’t know, and probably won’t until my daughters are teenagers and can patronisingly explain it all to me. Others worry that social media stops us connecting in real life, and that we are having relationships with our laptops and smart phones rather than our family and friends.

There is probably some truth in all of these, but I don’t let it worry me. As a stay-at-home mum and writer – both fairly solitary jobs – social media is a total godsend to me. This blog lets me get things off my chest with a good old rant, and records day-to-day moments for me to look back on. A paper diary could also do this, of course, but I love the sense of connection which I get from sending my thoughts out into the blogosphere, the lovely comments and feedback I get in response to my posts, and the ways in which my life is enhanced by other people’s blogs. Chiswick Mum has become a blogger friend, and I look forward to her beautifully written and photographed posts about her West London life and adventures with her young son just as much as I might look forward to coffee with a Real Life friend. Mostly Yummy Mummy  is a full-time mum-of-four in Yorkshire, and she’s like my online life coach for beauty tips and fashion inspiration. Local (to me) mum and blogger Katie is a fantastic source of brilliant recipes to tempt my occasionally fussy big girl, and, hopefully, to instil a love of good food in my little one. Holly Bell’s blog is also fab for this, and I love her chatty and breezy writing style. Through blog posts I’ve been privileged to gain a small insight into how it feels to parent a child with special needs, live with cancer, move your family onto a narrowboat, emigrate to Australia or cope with infertility. I feel that access to the blogosphere widens my world and horizons just as much as traditional media, and I am certainly no more likely to be distracted from my real life and long-suffering children than I would be reading the newspaper, and less likely than when I’m in the middle of a good book!

On days when, as this Monday just gone, things are feeling a bit of an uphill struggle, Facebook gives me a chance to moan and offload, and get some realtime feedback which makes me feel I’m not totally alone with my grumpy teething baby, attention-span-challenged 6 year old and the sticky bits of 500 paper chains, which are not on the paper chains or in the packet, but stuck to me, the children, the cat and every surface as far as the eye can see. I also like the little uplift I get when I see someone I was at school with has had a baby, or announced their pregnancy, or got a new job or met a new bloke. Yes, I know people put a positive spin on things, and I can see why if, for example, you had just had a miscarriage someone announcing their pregnancy would hurt you. But then it probably would in real life too. Even on bad days, I generally feel that someone else’s good news will cheer me up as I can be happy for them even while feeling sorry for myself.

Social media has practical benefits too. What do a set of Miffy books, some doll’s house furniture, a vintage sideboard, an apple slicer and a wicker Ikea children’s chair and some Joules wells have in common? They’re all things which I have got either for free, a couple of quid or a packet of biscuits on Walthamstow Sell or Swap Facebook group in the past few months. I’ve also made a couple of hundred pounds myself, selling baby gear Sophia has outgrown, or clothes I have (sob) outgrown. Brilliant bargains, less stuff going to landfill and the chance to make real, live connections with neighbours I wouldn’t have met otherwise. What’s not to love?Anna astronaut

A panicked Facebook plea when Anna announced she needed an astronaut’s costume for school led to my next-door neighbour coming round with the loan of the (amazingly creative) jet-pack he had made for his son’s space party a few months ago. Silvery grey leggings and tshirt, a pudding bowl, a roll of insulating tape, some foil and a bit of swearing and some pink moon boots I picked up on Sell or Swap, and Astronaut Anna was ready for take-off!