When we were thirty-two

Today is my birthday eve. I write this whilst consuming the last brownie I will ever eat as a 32 year old. Well, unless I go and order another one, they’re very good.

Thirty-two was a pretty significant age for me, in both positive and negative ways. And while I believe that New Year’s Resolutions are for September, I think that your birthday should be the opportunity to review and reflect on the year just gone. And now that I’m a blogger well, hey, why not inflict these musings on the world at large. It’s my birthday and I’ll indulge in self-absorbed naval gazing if I want to.

So, here’s my list, in chronological order, of Significant Things that happened to me while I was thirty-two:

1) I co-hosted my first children’s birthday party. Somehow, without my really being aware of it, the decision was taken that for a 4th birthday party, two children, some cocktail sausages and a cake wouldn’t really cut the mustard, and we were looking at something on a different scale altogether. Thankfully it was also decided that Anna would share her party with her best friend, and so there were two sets of parents to share the pain.

2) I discovered, to my delight, that I was pregnant. I had a scan, saw my baby complete with heartbeat, and everything seemed to be going well until…

3)…I had a miscarriage. Except I didn’t properly. A scan showed that that miraculous little heartbeat had stopped, but the pregnancy hadn’t ended naturally so I needed an operation charmingly known as Evacuation of Retained Products of Conception (ERPC). This was undoubtedly the worst day of being thirty-two, quite possibly my worst day ever. Yet I still think back almost fondly and nostalgically to it because, despite the pain, every day which has passed since that cruellest April has taken me further away from having my baby growing inside me.

4) I learnt, or re-learnt, just how lucky I am in my friends and family. While I felt like my world was crumbling, they stepped in and picked up the pieces for me and, most importantly, continued to provide Anna with the love and stability she needed.

5) I should have gone to Copenhagen, but was otherwise engaged (see above), and ended up going to Amsterdam instead for a bank holiday weekend. It’s a beautiful city, and we had a lovely weekend, but I suspect it will be a long time before I can think of it and not feel sad.

6) We successfully negotiated the school admissions system, and my daughter was offered a place at our first choice school. I have never known relief like it.

7) I had my first book, Two for Joy published. The launch was so special and memorable, it kind of felt like getting married all over again. And once more I realised how blessed I am with my family, friends and community.

8) We went to Nantes for a wonderful holiday with Anna’s best friend and his parents, and made the discovery that 4:2 adults to children is a very pleasing ratio, and one which allowed for a far more relaxed holiday than we’ve experienced of recent years.

9) We went to Corsica, just the three of us, and had a perfect, golden time. We ate lots of seafood, spaghetti and ice cream, went for gentle walks, swam in the sea and read lots of books. It was total bliss.

10) I waved my daughter goodbye on her first day of school. I’m still finding it hard to make the adjustment to the fact that this little scrap of a person who, surely, was a baby just yesterday, now has an independent life of her own. But she does, and I’m so proud of her for how well she has adjusted to it. And that her teacher described her as one of the most imaginative children she has ever met.

11) We adopted two kittens. It’s hard to believe that they’re only seven months old tomorrow, because it feels like they’ve always been part of our family. We’ve adjusted to eye-watering vet bills, ruined furniture, muddy paw prints on kitchen floor and the changing of litter trays. They’ve adjusted to our unreasonable refusal to let them eat our dinners off our plates (fish pie is their favourite) and to my daughter’s (and mother-in-law’s!) insatiable and determined desire to cuddle them whether they want to be cuddled or not. Like all the best relationships, compromise and understanding is always the key to success. Which leads me on to…

12) I celebrated my 3rd wedding anniversary, which was also the 14th anniversary of getting together with my husband. Mathematically able readers will spot that we’ve been together since we were eighteen, and, cliche though it undoubtedly is, I love him more and more each year. Becoming parents added a new and hugely positive dimension to our relationship as loving our daughter so much made us love each other all the more. And his extraordinary tenderness and caring has enabled me to cope, just about, with the loss of three pregnancies. I try not to plan for my daughter’s future too much because I don’t want to fall into the trap of living out my ambitions through her, but I do very much hope that she ends up in a relationship as happy as mine.

13) Concerned that even my ‘fat’ clothes were feeling tight, I decided to buy the first set of scales I have ever owned (well, first set for weighing me as opposed to ingredients for cakes for me to eat) and confront the horrible truth. It was pretty horrible. I have very mixed feelings about weight and dieting, and I deeply resent the idea that women’s worth is somehow linked to their dress size. However. I don’t want to put myself at increased risk of cancer, heart disease or diabetes through insensate greed, and my BMI and waist measurement were warning me that I was in danger of doing just that. So I joined WeightWatchers and have lost 18lbs. I’m now the same size as I was before having Anna (hello lovely leather pencil skirt I could never bring myself to throw away), and, although far from skinny, my BMI is now a healthy 23 and I feel absolutely great.

14) I signed a publishing contract for my second novel, To Have and to Hold, which will be published in June, and I wrote the first few chapters of my third book.

15) I hosted Christmas, and discovered that it’s all a lot easier when you’re not ill. I baked, cooked, cleaned, shopped, cleaned, tidied and even wrapped a little, and it was all very lovely.

16) I joined with the rest of the family to celebrate my dad’s 60th birthday. We had a great time, ate a lot of cake and, hopefully, made my dad feel a little bit spoiled as 99.9% of the time he is the one looking after the rest of us. My dad is a long-term and passionate supporter of Sheffield Wednesday Football Club and, incredibly, the weekend he celebrated his 60th birthday they won their match 6-o. That really was the icing on his cake.

So there we go. My year in a nutshell. I was going to come up with 32 things about being thirty-two, but, re-reading this list, I now feel that 16 is more than enough. The other things which have made up my year are the day to day activities, shopping, cleaning, cooking, reading, playing with my daughter, baking, curling up with my husband, a dvd and a takeaway, chatting with friends, writing, walking, gardening, tidying, days out in London and further afield, visiting my parents, eating cake…and if I have a wish for my 34th year, it is that none of those things change.

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Lost in Margate

This has been very much a week of two halves – summer’s last fling, and the definite beginnings of autumn.

At the start of the week, Anna and I had a couple of days in Margate, on the Kent coast, with my parents. Despite the fact that the weather very firmly decided to treat us to a preview of its Autumn/Winter Collection – complete with lashing rain, howling winds and distinctly chilly temperatures – we managed to have a lovely time. Some elements of the trip had a distinctly deja vu element to them, as I re-lived childhood holidays, eating a ‘car picnic’ to escape the driving rain, or sitting in the back seat of the car listening to my parents puzzling over the OS map, with maybe a little companionable bickering. The only difference was that instead of my baby brother (29 this week!) sitting next to me, it was my own baby.

We got hopelessly lost finding the hotel (famous last words – “It’s right next to the station, and that’s sure to be signposted…),but Anna was utterly unfazed by that or the weather, sitting contentedly in her car seat with an Usborne activity book to look at while we drove round in circles  trying in vain to distinguish grey sea from grey sky. When we finally found the hotel she was then in positive ecstasies at the never-before-experienced treat of watching CBeebies, with mummy, in a double bed. When the rain cleared slightly she and Granddad set off to explore, and came back to tell me and my mum about all the interesting things she’d seen. We ate dinner in the hotel, Anna  insisting on ordering her own food in a very grown-up little way, and then enjoying herself hugely when her sausage and mash arrived with its own miniature gravy boat. At one point it seemed as though everything in the restaurant was going to get a liberal covering of gravy, but she was happy.

One of the reasons for going to Margate in the first place was that my mum really wanted to visit the new(ish) Turner Contemporary Gallery there. The exhibition at the moment is on Curiosity, and, although not in any way aimed at children, Anna actually seemed to get a lot out of it, particularly enjoying examining some Leonardo da Vinci papers with a magnifying glass. To be fair, I think it was the magnifying glass which was the main attraction, but you’ve got to start somewhere.

Miraculously the sun even came for long enough for Anna, in her wellies, to get a little while on the beach in neighbouring Broadstairs with what she grandly calls her Corsican Sand Set (or bucket and spade bought in Corsica).

Then, thanks to the high speed rail line from Kent, just a couple hours after leaving the beach we were back in London segueing dramatically from the last of the lovely summer to the start of the school year and Anna’s formal education.

She started yesterday lunchtime, and although it’s very early days so far, seems to be taking to it like a duck to water. My husband took the day off work, ostensibly for Anna’s sake, but actually I suspect to hold my hand and try to avert any incipient nervous breakdown. When we picked her up we decided to go for a celebratory milkshake at a local cafe. She talked incessantly all the way there, paused for just long enough to slurp her banana shake, and the started again pretty much nonstop until bedtime. Being a thoroughly modern child she also insisted on sending text messages to Nanna, Granddad and Granny to let them know how she’d got on. When we took her in this morning she left without a backward glance.

I can’t say I’m managing the transition with quite as much ease as she is. I’m very lucky to have a fledgling career as a writer, and  finishing my second book to focus on, but that doesn’t alter the fact that the last four and a half years as a stay-at-home mum has been the best thing I’ve ever done, and I don’t feel entirely ready to leave this stage behind. Watch this space to see how I get on…

The last day of Nursery

The clue’s in the title really. Today was Anna’s last day at nursery – we now have seven weeks of summer holidays before she starts ‘big school’ in September.

She is nothing but excited. She has absolutely loved nursery, to the extent that when she’s been too poorly to go in we’ve had tantrums, but she’s now undoubtedly ready to move on, and is really looking forward to school. That’s great, and a testimony to how well the nursery teachers have done their job. The one in emotional crisis is me.

It only seems like five minutes since we were preparing for her to start nursery; the year’s gone so quickly – it’s only when I saw the photo nursery took of her on her first day that I realised how much she has grown up and changed during the time. This has been the year that she’s taken her first steps to living a life independent of me. And that’s been ok, I’ve been so proud of how well she’s done, how friendly and sociable she is, her voracious curiosity about how the world works, her enthusiasm for ‘learning time’.

And the thing is, 15 hours a week has been about the right length of time – I’ve had some writing time, some cleaning time and even, occasionally, some me-time, but I’ve also had afternoons where we can potter around at home, bake cakes, go to the park, see friends, visit museums and just generally hang out together. Come September, those afternoons are going to vanish, as I suspect, at first, I’ll probably have a very tired and consequently grumpy little girl to collect at 3pm.

I almost held it together at pick-up time today, but being presented with her elephant undid me. Anna is in, sorry, has been in, Elephant Group, and every morning her first task on arrival at nursery is to find her elephant – a small cut out with her name on it velcro’d to the wall – and place it in the Elephant Group envelope. Every morning for a year I’ve followed in the wake of a small whirlwind who just wanted to get on with the important business of playing, reminding her ‘go and do your elephant’ – sometimes in honeyed tones, sometimes practically screeching, depending on what kind of a morning I’d had. Today we took permanent custody of a now redundant elephant. I gave up any attempt at a cool, calm demeanour and sobbed openly. I was far from being the only one – most of the teachers and several of the mums were in a similar state.

The last four and a half years as the stay-at-home mum to a pre-schooler have been exhausting, exhilarating, demanding, exciting, boring, fulfilling, frustrating and, above all, blissfully happy. Anna is undoubtedly ready to move on to the next stage of her life, but I’m not yet sure that I am.

Having kittens

Regular readers will know all about my mouse problem. It’s now over a year since they made their presence felt, and during that time we’ve tried traps, poison, blocking up all holes, nooks and crannies, and electronic bleepy things which emit a high-pitched bleep audible to rodents but not humans and which is meant to deter them. It doesn’t. We obviously have deaf mice, as opposed to the traditional blind ones. Actually, come to think of it, cutting off their tails with a carving knife is one strategy I haven’t yet tried.

Anyway, the long and short of it is that, sick of endless scuttling and sinister black specks on the kitchen worktops, we finally came to the decision to get a cat. It was the subject of much debate – I was more enthusiastic than my husband, but worried that the feline presence would scare off my highly-allergic-to-cats-sister-in-law, as well as the bloomin’ rodents. However, we reached our decision, and then serendipitously, a mere 48 hours later, a friend I did antenatal classes with but haven’t seen for a while, posted on Facebook that she had taken in a stray cat which had promptly given birth to four kittens, and she was looking for homes for them.

It seemed like it was all meant to be, and so, come September, we will be proud owners of two brand new kittens. In for a penny, in for a pound, as they say.

Anna and I went to see them yesterday. They’re a week old, and so haven’t even opened their eyes yet, and are just adorable little bundles of fluff, wriggling around, and almost permanently latched on to their mother. Two of them are black, and two tabby, and we’ve decided to have one of each (maximising the chances of telling them apart). We can’t even work out what sex they are at this point, so thinking of names is a bit tricky, but I daresay will provide hours of fun over the summer. Anna is beside herself with excitement, and wanted to tell everyone we met that we were getting kittens. And then had imaginary phone conversations with the entire cast of Peppa Pig and The Octonauts to let them know her big news as well.

Fortuitously, the kittens should be ready to leave their mother when they’re about eight or nine weeks old, which coincides exactly with Anna starting school, so I’m hoping that an additional benefit will be that they ease the trauma of my baby being grown up enough to start school, and give me a project to focus on in case I get withdrawal symptoms from having a small dependent creature to feed and clean up after and cuddle.

And my sister-in-law, thankfully, has promised she won’t eschew us completely, but warned that I might have to do some extra hoovering prior to her visits in future.