Serendipitous Summer

Ten days into the summer holidays and two children and one mummy are alive, well and on pretty good form. Still thirty-five days to go; so more than enough time for my smugness to come back to bite me on the bottom, but you know, celebrate the little wins and all that.

The previous few summers have been packed with plans for adventures home and away. We’ve had some brilliant times, but I was also left feeling a little bit like we’d missed out on time to just be. Hang out. Have pyjama days. Wake up and decide to go off on a trip impulsively because it’s a sunny day. Bake lots of cakes. Have picnics in our own back garden. So this year we have gone far more free range.

Anna is spending a few days with Nanna and Grandad in Liverpool, and a few days with Granny in Cornwall. Husband is overwhelmingly busy with his new business, but he is hoping to take a few days off at the end of August for a staycation when we will treat London as the world class, world famous holiday destination it is to people who don’t live here. The money we save on travel and accommodation will mean that we can easily afford to splash out on treats we wouldn’t normally indulge in, and that we can eat out, or have takeaways or posh ready meal/deli bits for Every Single Meal – no cooking, very little washing up!

That still leaves about four weeks free for all the other stuff. And it’s going brilliantly. I’ve had the odd pang of envy when my Facebook or Instagram feed show people off on their holidays to far-flung, exotic, sunny locations, but hey, the entire purpose of Facebook and Instagram is to engender pangs of envy, surely? And this morning, as we were on our way to the local playground and I got a text from one of our closest friends to say that he and his kids were at a loose end and could they pop over for lunch, the joy of being able to text back a resounding ‘YES’ was amazing. We had our session at the playground, popped into to the local shop to buy cheese, ham, bread, dips, tomatoes and fruit as our cupboards were totally bare pending the Sainsbury’s delivery this afternoon, and then home to enjoy the company of our unexpected guests. Nothing life-changing. The bigger girls played an elaborate game with Anna’s old Peppa Pig figures, whilst listening to a Paddington CD. The toddlers roared round the house on the ride-on toys scattering breadstick crumbs in their wake. We had five minute intervals of adult conversation interspersed with child control. I whizzed up a chocolate sauce to turn the boring fruit pudding into a much more interesting chocolate fondue. It was a relaxing, fun day of the kind we haven’t had many of in our last few scheduled-to-within-an-inch-of-their-life summers.

It’s not just today. Last week, for example, we went for a quick walk round the block, bumped into one of Anna’s closest school friends and her mum and brother, went for milkshakes at the local cafe, then to the playground where we came across more friends from school and their parents. The children ran around like crazy things, with Sophia desperately following on behind. The adults chatted, and gave into several requests for “five more minutes”, before heading home far too late to prepare the sensible fish pie I’d planned, meaning that the children (uncomplainingly!) had eggs, beans and potato croquettes for tea. A good time was definitely had by all.

I am absolutely not the most spontaneous person in the world, but I’m finding this manageable degree of spontaneity really relaxing. And there’s no denying that not having to spend half my time writing elaborate packing lists or living out of a suitcase is enjoyable as well. I love travel, and in future summers I very much hope we’ll be off on our adventures again. But for now, the stage Sophia is at and the busyness of our lives over the last few months means that chilling at home and letting our little mini-adventures serendipitously discover us feels like exactly the right thing to be doing.



End of an era

Well, in just over half an hour I will go and pick Anna up from her last ever day at Infants. Where did that time go? It feels like yesterday we took her for her very first day in Reception, and then husband and I went out for lunch afterwards to take our minds off worrying about her constantly until it was pick up time. And now it’s all done. That little girl, barely out of the toddler phase, has grown up so much, developed her independence, learnt to read and write and do fractions. Learnt to manage, and thrive, without mummy around for most of the day.

We couldn’t have asked for a better school, and she has loved pretty much every minute. Juniors is part of the same school, but on a different site, so moving up feels like a bigger deal than I think it might for some people. Anna is looking forward to it, mainly: “a bit nervous, but excited nervous if you know what I mean, Mummy”, and I know she will cope just fine. Better than fine, I think she’ll relish new challenges and new experiences. She is ready and eager to grow up and move on, and I’m so proud watching her, whilst also wanting to press Pause, just for a little while and keep my little girl little for a little bit longer.

Before Juniors, though, we have a summer to look forward to. She has eagerly anticipated trips planned to see and stay with both sets of grandparents, and I’ve been making a list of activities and day trips which work for a 7 year old and a 19 month old. It’s quite short so far, but actually if the weather carries on like this then they’re both pretty happy playing various very splashy games in their tiny paddling pool in our tiny garden with an ice-cream every so often.

Here’s to some lazy, hazy, crazy summer days which contain no school runs. Here’s to making the most of both children at the lovely ages they are right now. Here’s to me remembering to keep the freezer stocked with Mini Magnums and the fridge stocked with post-bedtime white wine. And here’s to my patience not totally deserting me by the middle of next week, leaving me desperate for Anna to go back to school, any school, just as long as I get some peace and quiet! Happy Summer, everyone.

summer fun


School’s (almost) out for the summer!

In just under an hour I’ll be collecting Anna from school for her six week holiday, and I Just. Can’t. Wait. This has been such a long half-term, at the end of the year which has seen the biggest change in her life, and she is exhausted. Absolutely on her knees. I’m longing to have her at home to cosset and cuddle and just hang out with. Six whole weeks when I don’t have to spend the first ninety minutes of the day barking instructions – “Eat your porridge, finish your milk, clear your dishes, clean your teeth, wash your face, get dressed, find your sunhat/bag/water bottle/hoodie/gloves/bookbag/homework folder, put your shoes on.” And, above all “Hurry up, hurry up, hurry up!”.

I’m quite proud of myself, though. A whole school year during which I have been at various points, heavily pregnant, recovering from a c-section, recovering from a broken foot and looking after a newborn baby, and Anna has only collected one late mark (caused by a last minute poonami from her sister which required a full change of clothes for me and her. Don’t ask.) The rest of the time, come hell or high water, we have screeched through the school gates at 8.50am. Other than the days when my parents have been here. “I don’t have to run the last bit when Grandad takes me to school, Mummy”, Anna informed me the other morning.

After our adventures last summer and at Easter we’re keeping things fairly low-key this summer. A trip up to Liverpool to stay with my parents next week, a week at my mother-in-law’s flat in Penzance later on in the summer, and then a couple of days in North Wales with my mum and dad again at the end of the summer. This is partly because my husband has a busy autumn coming up at work and so can’t take much time off, and partly because Sophia is seven months, eating solids and desperate to crawl, and therefore not a particularly rewarding travelling companion at present. I think it also works out really well for Anna, though, as she needs some time to just be.

No doubt a lot of her time is going to be spent reading. About two months ago, she suddenly ‘got’ it, and went almost over night from painstakingly sounding out the fascinating (ahem) adventures of Chip, Kipper and Biff in the school reading books to devouring chapter books as quickly as she can get her hands on them. Roald Dahl, Francesca Simon’s ‘Horrid Henry’ books, the Worst Witch, My Naughty Little Sister, Enid Blyton – her tastes are pleasingly eclectic, and, like mother like daughter, she is more often than not to be found with her head in a book. I’m loving re-visting my own childhood favourites with her. At the moment we’re reading the Ramona books, by American author Beverley Cleary, together, and I think I might almost be enjoying them more as an adult than I did as a child.

Anna journalWriting is still more of a challenge for Anna, although she is making good progress. We were chatting to her teacher about how we could encourage her to keep writing in a fun and enjoyable way over the summer so that she doesn’t lose her mojo, and she suggested we got her to keep a diary. Next thing I know, yesterday morning Miss M handed me a beautifully wrapped parcel. When Anna opened it, inside was a personalised decoupaged journal for her to use over the summer. Anna is so thrilled and excited, and I am incredibly touched and impressed. One of my closest friends is a teacher, and I know from her how difficult and stressful and exhausting the summer term is for teachers. Yet in the midst of organising school trips and sports days, and writing reports, she has found the time to do this because she wants to encourage Anna to keep up with her newly developing skill. Teachers are amazing.

I’m not sure how much time I’ll get to blog over the next few weeks, but hopefully I’ll have my girl’s diary to look back on as a record of our summer.

The long and short of it

It’s a bit of a funny time at the moment. After a few months of pregnancy-induced exhaustion, where not very much at all got done, my energy levels are starting to rise again. That’s probably just as well, because my third book isn’t going to write itself, I still want to promote To Have and to Hold wherever and whenever possible, and in a moment of madness I suggested to my agent that possibly writing an e-book short story might be a good idea. She and my editor both agreed, so now that has found it’s way onto my to do list as well. Over and above work things, I also want to try and catch up with friends I’ve pretty much ignored since April (apologies, by the way, if you’re one of those), and it turns out that being mum to a Reception age child at the end of the summer term is pretty much a full-time job as well.

In the next three weeks I am helping out on the Reception school trip (120 five year olds going by bus to the park in forecast temperatures of 26 degrees. What could possibly go wrong?), attending Sports Day, Parents Evening, Reception Strawberry Tea, finishing the Family Literacy Course I’ve been attending for last 8 weeks, and very possibly having the pleasure of an extra day of Anna’s company if the NUT strike as planned next week. Hard on the heels of all that is a six week summer break, when, with the best will in the world, I can’t see much writing happening.

I reckon I have eight days of Anna-in-school time, when parents are not expected to attend for any reason, left before the holidays. Chances of me knocking out a 20,000 word short story in that time?

Summer holidays

chateau-de-pornic-201-1A couple of months ago the seven weeks of school holidays loomed very large in my mind. Don’t get me wrong, I love my daughter to bits, but now she’s used to the stimulation and companionship of nursery I was worried that seven weeks home alone with mummy would prove rather wearing for both of us. In my panicked efforts to avoid this, and to catch up with various friends and relatives, I seem to have inadvertently organised the Helen & Anna Summer Roadshow.

Two weeks into the holidays and we’ve already clocked up a day trip to Cambridgeshire and a week in Nantes. Tomorrow we set off for the North West leg of the show – a weekend in Manchester with my brother and sister-in-law, and then five days in Liverpool with my parents, sans husband as he doesn’t get a seven week holiday. There’s then two days to catch our breath before we set off for a week’s family holiday, another home exchange, in Corsica. After that we have ten days at home before rounding things off with a couple of days on the Kent coast.

Our day trip to St Neots gave me the opportunity to catch up with my best friend and her husband and baby son, and then (almost as exciting) a trip to the Cath Kidston Factory Shop which is a 10 minute drive from hers. I acquired a red spotty tray, some baby blue melamine salad servers, a retro luggage-label style travel first aid kit and a strawberry print purse. Very restrained, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Nantes is a really vibrant city, which actually reminded us quite a lot of East London, and my Liverpool home, with its self-confident reincarnation of an old dockside economy into an artistic and cultural hub. It’s also only a half hour drive from the seaside – beautiful stretches of sandy, salty beaches. This meant I could indulge my passion for swimming in the sea which was fabulous, but had a downside in Anna’s throwaway comment of “Isn’t it funny the way wearing a swimming costume makes your tummy look like there’s a baby growing in it, Mummy?”. In an older child that might have been cheeky, but this was said with complete innocence and, thank God, a complete lack of consciousness that a rounded stomach might not necessarily be a positive thing. I’ve decided to take comfort from the fact that this observation clearly means that I don’t look pregnant the 98% of the time I’m not in swimwear, and to renew my resolution to do more exercise once Anna starts school.

We went with friends whose little boy is Anna’s best friend from nursery, and they had such a lovely time playing together:

“Daddy, when me and S are staying in the same house, it’s just like we’re twins, isn’t it?”

Add that to the fact that the home exchange family whose house we were staying in had left us with custody of their two cats, two chickens, two fish and one bunny rabbit, not to mention sandpit, paddling pool, trampoline, swing and slide, and you begin to see why we’re developing a miserable conviction that no other holiday we take Anna on will ever quite match up to this one. Although I was reassured yesterday when she confided, “Mummy, I really, really, really like holidays, but I like our house most of all.” Phew.