A whitstable

So, as of last weekend, I am the mother of a nine year old. I wasn’t very well immediately after her birth, so the first time I saw her naked she was about 24 hours old. I cried because she looked so tiny and vulnerable, and I almost couldn’t bear that she was outside in a big scary world instead of still safe inside me. And now that tiny baby is halfway to official adulthood.

She may be a lot bigger now, but in some ways she is still just as vulnerable. The thing is, as a parent you can do a lot to control everything about your baby’s environment. In fact it is pretty much all you care about. I kept her warm and safe and fed and clean and cuddled, and there was almost no problem that couldn’t be solved by a cuddle and a breastfeed.

Of course I still do my best to keep her warm and safe and fed and clean and cuddled,  but it is no longer in my power to solve all her problems. Friendship issues, finding out about the all-important parts in the school play, struggling with a dyslexia diagnosis that makes some aspects of her school work very difficult for her – none of these things are within my gift to solve. Recently I discovered that a few weeks ago she had been upset about something at school, and her lovely friends had made a huge, and successful, effort to cheer her up. I felt pretty miserable,  though, feeling I had failed at mothering because I hadn’t been there for her. Then a very wise friend pointed out that, actually, having strong friendships where she feels comfortable and safe talking about her feelings is actually a really positive thing. At nine it is right and appropriate that my husband and I no longer meet all her emotional needs.

I know parents of even older children/teenagers (and adults!) will probably tell me that this is only the beginning of it. The list of things which will affect her wellbeing and happiness and which I can’t control is only going to get longer.

One of my favourite quotes is that we should give our children “roots and wings”. My lovely, clever, creative, thoughtful, sensitive and loving little girl is growing her wings. Our job is to maintain the roots so that she knows that whatever life throws at her she can always come home and find love and security with her family.

We celebrated last weekend with presents, chocolate fudge cake and a trip to Whitstable for some (rather chilly) beach frolics and a seafood lunch. On Saturday we have a pizza-making party with 10 of her friends to look forward to. Anna has definitely inherited my talent for making birthdays stretch.

Nine years into motherhood I am still waiting for someone to give me the rule book or instruction manual. I still feel like I’m winging it almost every day. But whether by good luck or (far less likely!) good management, we’ve got a pretty awesome nine year old daughter, and I’m very proud of her.


Literal sunshine and metaphorical showers

Social media mean that inspirational statements, or cliches, or truisms – I think the terminology depends on how cynical you’re feeling that day – are everywhere. Some of them are more than a little twee. Others I really do think we can learn from. And, of all of them, the one I really feel I need to apply is the one about life not being about waiting for the storm to pass, but learning to dance in the rain.dancing in the rain

This weekend, the warmest and sunniest May weekend on record, has involved a lot of dancing in the rain for me.

It started inauspiciously on Friday afternoon. I had just settled Sophia for her nap and was about to work my way through a huge list of jobs which would leave the house organised and gleaming and me free to enjoy the weekend. Then my mobile rang, and I heard the dreaded words “Is that Anna’s mum? I’m calling from the office at school…”

Anna had an infected toe, apparently. I wasn’t massively sympathetic at first, assuming that it would be a blister from her new sandal.Only after she got home and I peeled back the plaster to take a look did I realised that it probably was infected, and I needed to a) be a bit nicer and b) take her to the doctors. By the time of our appointment, two hours later, she couldn’t put her foot on the floor without extreme pain. I ended up wheeling her round to the doctors in Sophia’s buggy, whilst carrying Sophia in the sling. I really appreciated the warm weather that walk.

We were prescribed antibiotics, so I manoeuvred us all to the chemist, and then home. We dosed Anna up, and then made the most of the sunny evening and my husband being home early to have shop-bought pizzas and salad for tea in the garden. And I managed not to fret about the list of undone jobs or Anna’s sore toe, or the fact that I hadn’t made the pizzas myself from scratch, and just enjoy that experience. It helped that I couldn’t see the chaos inside the house.

Poor Anna’s foot got worse and worse, and she had a really horrible night. Of all the plans we’d made for Saturday – husband had work to get done, we wanted to make the most of the weather, I still had all the housework to do – two of the family spending the morning in A&E wasn’t even on the short-list, but that’s what Anna and my husband ended up doing anyway. I tidied up a bit, and worried a bit more, and then realised that there was no point Sophia and I being stuck at home for the sake of it. I had missed breakfast in all the kerfuffle, so I decided that Sophia and I would walk round to our local cafe together. She enjoyed the walk. I enjoyed the freedom of being out without a pram. And we both enjoyed the babycino, apple and rhubarb juice and chocolate muffin. Yes, I know, she shouldn’t have had any chocolate muffin, but it was only a little bit. I was still worried about Anna, and felt sorry for them being stuck in hospital, but I also enjoyed a little window of self-indulgence with Sophia.

That evening my friend was due to babysit while husband and I went out for dinner. I agonised over whether Anna would be alright, but she was so exhausted after her broken night the night before that she was asleep as soon as her head hit the pillow. We were only going out locally, so decided to risk it, and I left my friend with a cup of tea and lots of admonitions to phone us if she was at all worried.

Husband and I enjoyed a glass of prosecco in the evening sunshine, and had just placed our food orders when my phone rang. Anna was still fast asleep, but it was Sophia who had woken up, inconsolable and seemingly in pain. I raced home to administer Calpol, breast-milk and reassurance, before sprinting back to the restaurant once she’d settled to sleep once more. We managed to finish our dinner and get home before she woke up again a couple of hours later. An unconventional model for a romantic night out and, given that I wore heels for the first time in months, I could have done with a bit less running, but I’m still glad we had that blissful hour sitting together in the sunshine.

By yesterday it was clear that Sophia had an ear infection. Anna’s sore toe had already put paid to tentative plans for a trip to the seaside in any case, and so we settled for a quiet day at home. Husband finally got his work done. Sophia was feeling so poorly she had an epic three hour nap, and Anna and I got to watch an episode of ‘Just Add Magic’ – her new favourite TV programme, and bake a cake together. Then with everyone Calpolled to the max, we put the littlest one in the pram, and the bigger one in the buggy, and wheeled them round to the garden of Vestry House Museum – our favourite local spot, and where we held our wedding reception – for a picnic. It was blissfully peaceful, and Anna lay and soaked up some sunshine, Sophia toddled happily on the grass and tried to eat daisies, even though she’d refused all other food all day, and I ate lots of grilled aubergines stuffed with goats cheese from our fab local Italian deli.

My tendency is to think that I will relax and enjoy myself as soon as. As soon as the house is tidy. As soon as I’ve lost a stone. As soon as Sophia is sleeping through the night. As soon as the weather gets better. As soon as whichever child is poorly at that moment gets better. This weekend I spent Friday afternoon carting a sick child and a grumpy baby to the doctors. Friday evening and night looking after a sick child who was in so much pain it made my heart ache for her, and debating with my husband if/when we should take her to hospital. Saturday looking after baby and tidying house while worrying about sick child. Saturday evening, which I’d been looking forward to for weeks, was interrupted by sick child #2, giving me someone else to worry about. Sunday was at home with two poorly girls whilst everyone else in the whole world (or on my Facebook feed anyway) was at the seaside.

But I actually managed to enjoy the windows of time between crises, and appreciate them all the more for their brevity, rather than writing the whole weekend off and planning to have fun next weekend, as soon as. Learning, in fact, to dance in the rain.

Fifteenth Day of Advent: Walthamstow

Eight years ago this week husband and I became homeowners and Walthamstowers. To say we’re lucky with where we live would be the understatement of the year. I assumed that I would have a choice – live outside London in a small town/village/suburb and enjoy a sense of community and neighbourliness, or live in London and do without. How wrong could I be. Walthamstow is in Zone 3, 22 minutes to the West End and 17 minutes to the City, but it is the strongest community I could have hoped for.

The day we moved in was as busy and stressful as moving days usually are. Finally at about half seven we realised we were starving hungry and had no food in the house. We popped out to buy a pizza. As we rounded the corner, we heard the sound of distant singing. We walked along, and it got louder and louder, until we came across a group of people, lanterns aloft, standing round the Christmas tree in a small square singing Christmas carols. There was free mince pies and mulled wine, which gave us enough energy to join in the singing before we went to grab a pizza in the friendly little neighbourhood Italian. There and then we knew we had made the right decision in moving to Walthamstow. The carol singing round the tree is an annual tradition, and in fact Anna and husband are there this evening as I type this, glass of wine next to me and sleeping baby upstairs.

Some of the community spirit is online – I have blogged before about the wonder that is Walthamstow Sell or Swap, but equally amazing is Walthamstow Parents where people share parenting highs and lows, get advice about schools admissions, sleep routines or breastfeeding, or seek support on coping with a fussy eater, parenting a child with special needs or managing toddler tantrums. Walthamstow Food and Drink Society is the go-to place for restuarant, or more likely these days, takeaway reviews, advice on recipes, or sharing allotment gluts!

From William Morris Gallery and Vestry House Museum, to the Wild Card Brewery and Mother’s Ruin Gin Palace, Epping Forest to Walthamstow Marshes, a fortnight long Art Trail to some original and unique neon, there’s always something to suit your mood here.walthamstow

But it is the people who live in this amazing place which really make it so special. Back in September, Anna and I held a cake sale to raise money for Syrian refugees. Saturday was spent in the kitchen baking as much as we could, on Sunday she set up shop in the front garden and our neighbours flocked to support the fundraising effort. I ended up frenetically baking muffins which were selling as fast as I could make them. In two hours we raised over two hundred pounds thanks to the amazing generosity of our community. When someone posts on a Facebook group that they know of a mother-to-be who doesn’t have any money to buy things for her baby, or an elderly neighbour who doesn’t have warm clothes for the winter, or someone’s parent who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness and needs a wheelchair the response is always instant and overwhelming.

Walthamstow made the national news a week or two ago because our local MP, Stella Creasy, voted in favour of the military action in Syria, and many of her constituents were very unhappy with that decision. There was a bit of nastiness on social media, but the main protest took the form of a peaceful candlelit vigil to which many people took their children, and with which local religious leaders from a number of faith backgrounds were involved. Walthamstowers were motivated by deep concern at what the air strikes might mean for innocent civilian Syrians. Stella Creasy took the time to write a long and detailed letter, hold several public meetings and engage extensively on social media to explain why she felt compelled to vote as she did. On balance I am not convinced that the military action is a good idea, but I do respect the thought Stella clearly put into her decision and then the effort she made to explain it. I also respect the many people who protested peacefully and entered into intelligent and informed debate on the subject, online and in person. Although it was an issue which divided Walthamstow, I felt it is more evidence that this is a community where people care, and engage, think and debate, which is one I am proud and happy to be part of.

Plus, there are a lot of cafes which serve really excellent cake!


Twelfth Day of Advent: New York

new york 1A bit of an odd one this. Unlike Cornwall, where I have been every year since I was nineteen, I have only had one ten day trip to New York in my life. But I just had to include it, because I love the city so much that just thinking about it makes me happy. If the Cornish seaside means calm and peace, then New York means exhilaration and excitement; the champagne cocktail of cities.

Our trip to New York was probably the highlight of our DINKY life. We went for my twenty-sixth birthday. It was just before we bought out first house, but after we’d both progressed fairly well in our careers, so our disposable income had never (and never has since) been higher. We spent the first week in a fairly bland Uptown hotel. Being New York, though, we were on something like the thirtieth floor, and three sides of the room had floor to ceiling plate glass windows. Obviously the view was incredible, but the windows were actually something of a mixed blessing. My birthday is February, and New York was having a cold snap, so it was -8 degrees celsius outside. On our journey from the airport we quickly learnt that cold in New York means a whole different thing to cold in London and, even though I thought we’d packed sensibly, our first stop was still at Bloomingdales to buy thermal underwear and (fake) furry hats. Glamorous or what.

Even though having the blinds in our hotel room down would have conserved heat, I couldn’t bear to lose that view for a second. Instead we layered up to go to bed. Thermal vest, thermal long-sleeved t-shirt, thermal long johns, flannel pyjamas and a jumper over the top. Never let it be said I don’t know how to woo my man on a romantic holiday. It was so worth it, though, just to lie in bed with that living canvas spread out before us, and be able to see it every time I half woke in the night. I have never felt so alive. One morning we went down to the market in Grand Central station and bought muffins and freshly squeezed orange juice for breakfast, bringing them back to eat in by Our View. Another evening we bought takeaway pizzas on our way back to the hotel and ate them at midnight in bed in all our layers.

We took a carriage ride round Central Park, went to the top of the Empire States Building, had brunch in Bloomingdales, bargain-hunted in Macy’s, window-shopped on Fifth Avenue, ate cupcakes from the Magnolia Bakery, walked over the Brooklyn Bridge, saw a Broadway show, had pizzas in Little Italy and pancakes with crispy bacon and maple syrup in a diner, took yellow taxis and the subway, and rode the Staten Island Ferry. Every touristy thing you could imagine. We also spent our last three nights in the original and best of boutique hotels, the Soho Grand, and had cocktails in the lounge and room service breakfast in bed.

I am desperate to go back to New York, but I can’t see it happening any time soon. I don’t enjoy flying at the best of times, and transatlantic journeys with two young children can’t really be said to be the best of times. I also know that Anna is only just getting to an age where she would begin to appreciate it, and Sophia is still a long way off. Not to mention the cost of taking all of us to New York; these days we do have a mortgage and only one salary. So, for now, New York is somewhere I daydream of, gaze longingly at when I watch re-runs of Friends or curl up with Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and long to visit again one day when circumstances allow.

Summing up Summer

I’m a bit slow off the mark with the obligatory summer in review post. I could blame the back-to-school rush, or the poorly catten, but I think my own disorganisation would probably be fairer.

For the past couple of years, when confronted with a six week summer holiday, I have scheduled, scheduled, scheduled in a desperate attempt to avoid boredom and cabin fever. This year was a little different. We had one week’s holiday in Cornwall planned, and I spent a few days with my parents in Liverpool right at the beginning of the summer, but otherwise we had a blank slate. I was a little bit nervous, but it turned out to be just what we all needed.

This was the summer that Anna learnt to ride a bike, Sophia learnt to crawl and I learnt the true meaning of multi-tasking. Feeding the baby her porridge, bidding on Ebay, eating my own breakfast and joining in a spirited Sound of Music singsong?No problem.

The weather wasn’t brilliant, but we had fun anyway, and spent time doing a lot of the things that just get squeezed out in term-time as weekends have so many competing demands. We had a pyjama day, took a selection of soft toys to the playground, made pizza, chilli, spaghetti sauce, butterfly cakes, chocolate cake and Smarties cookies (not all on the same day), did some gardening, started reading Famous Five, had some cycling practice, and got messy with paints and crafts. We spent a lot of time babyproofing and looking round for objects which could be dangerous to Sophia, and even more time removing the ones we’d missed from her mouth.

Mornings without the pressure of the school run were sheer bliss, and time didn’t hang heavy at all. There were days when I felt like I’d taken up a new, unpaid career in catering but generally it was a lot easier than I’d feared. There was a summer hero though. By about 4.30pm my nerves, patience and creativity would be stretched fairly thin and I still had teatime, bathtime and bedtime to get through. That was when the wonder that is Cbeebies came into its own, giving me breathing space to sit down for ten minutes and then cook tea with only one small person, who could be contained in her bouncy chair for a while, to worry about. Telly which is safe, fun, educational, perfectly targeted to young children and free from advertising is an absolute godsend, so I was more than a bit panicstricken today to learn that the BBC are thinking of scrapping it as part of their enforced cost-cutting measures. Frankly I would pay the license fee for Cbeebies alone, so I rushed to sign the petition against the cut. If you and your children, nieces, nephews, grandchildren have also benefited as much as we have from Cbeebies then I’d encourage you to do the same.

And now we have shiny new shoes, warm coats, school bags, PE kits, GBBO on telly, leaves turning colour…and the unbroken blue skies and blazing sunshine which were conspicuous only by their absence in August.