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.

 

 

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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.

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.