#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.

Ups and Downs

The last week or so has been a mixed one. This time last week, Friday afternoon, I got a call from school asking me to pick Anna up because she wasn’t well. The poor baby was in such a state, with a headache so bad she couldn’t move without crying, a stratospherically high temperature, and so drowsy she was drifting in and out of sleep mid sentence. Being a mother and a worrier and a consumer of one too many public health campaigns I immediately thought ‘Meningitis!’ and rushed her off to the doctors. He agreed it could, possibly be viral meningitis, but was pretty confident it wasn’t the ultra-nasty bacterial one, and thought that most likely it was just one of those generic viruses kids come down with, and the only prescription was Calpol, fluids and rest.

We had a very bad night with poor Anna, and then, inevitably, her sister developed a high temperature the next day. That night they averaged a wake-up every two hours between them, and husband and I were like crazed jack-in-the-boxes jumping up and down to look after them. The following night Sophia got croup, which is so horrible for baby and parent. We finally got her sorted and to sleep at 2am, and of course Anna woke up in tears at 5.45am. Add the cumulative lack of sleep to days spent pretty much entirely in the house with two (understandably) grumpy and whingey children, and to be frank you get a grumpy and whingey mummy as well.

However, focussing on the positive, there have also been some lovely bits this week. Sophia is never normally still for more than a second, but being under the weather meant that she was willing to snuggle on my knee for two whole episodes of Charlie and Lola. My parents came down for a brief visit so I was able to have a proper catch up with them, and my dad drove us to our local Mothercare  and Early Learning Centre superstore, which also has a Costa, and after three days entirely in the house this trip felt pretty much as exciting as my first inter-rail round Europe!

By yesterday Anna was back at school and Sophia was well enough to leave with my MIL for a few hours, and so I had a fantastic writing session. #Book3 is about three quarters complete now, in draft form at least, and I’m really pleased with how it’s going. puddlesPlus, having that time away from the children to do something just for me recharges my batteries immeasurably, and yesterday afternoon I felt like Super Mum; booking appointments for both children at opticians and dentists, putting Sophia’s wellies on and taking her out to splash in the puddles, getting both of them to eat salmon, cauliflower and leeks for their tea (a cheesy sauce and some mashed potato can hide multitude of superfoods!), and then helping out a mum friend by picking her daughter up from after school club and looking after her for a while because she and her husband were unavoidably delayed.

I am slightly prone to getting despondent when things start going badly, and this week has been  good reminder that I should try and see the cup as half full more often, and realise that some things going pear-shaped doesn’t necessarily mean that everything else will do likewise.

muffinsHopefully this weekend will be more enjoyable than last – I’ve just kicked it off by making a batch of a friend’s favourite muffins for his birthday, and doubling the quantities so we get some too! The house smells warmly chocolatey and there is cake to be eaten, so we’re off to a good start!

All Change

Although it’s only been a couple of weeks since we got back from our Easter holidays break in France, it feels like several months because so much has been happening.

The main change relates particularly to my husband, but has had a big impact on the whole family. Some time ago he had an idea for starting his own business. For a while it was just that – an idea. Then as it took hold he began to work it up a little more in his spare time. He chatted to friends who either worked for themselves or had relevant experience, and the consensus seemed to be that it was a good idea. He started to work on it a little more seriously during the evening or at weekends. Eventually we realised that this was a concept we both whole-heartedly believed in, and the time had come either to forget the whole thing, or put our money where our mouths were, and for him to quit his (steady, well-paid, secure!) job in order to pursue it properly.

We ummed and ahhed – it’s not a decision anyone can take lightly, but when you have a large mortgage, two small children and a wife whose writing career is yet to keep the family in anything other than a few extra, occasional treats, it really needs thinking about.

Then another university friend suggested that husband did some part-time, freelance consultancy work to pay the mortgage and the bills and put food on the table while he spent the rest of the time getting his start-up started. That made us feel a lot more secure than simply him quitting his job, and us living off our savings while the new business (hopefully) got going, and so that is the option we went for.

It has big advantages – the main one obviously being to keep the money coming in, but also for husband to keep in touch with an industry he has spent most of his working life in, and is still deeply interested in. It has also meant, however, that he has effectively been setting up two new businesses – one as a consultant, and one as a fledgling entrepreneur – and so life has been pretty busy.

Since we got back from France, he has been working two days a week as a consultant, and the remaining five on starting to get his business off the ground. The consultancy days don’t feel any different to me as he still puts on a suit and tie, leaves the house around 8am and gets back roughly in time for Anna’s bedtime. The other days, however, are totally different. For one thing he is working from home. In practice that often means working from a cafe round the corner (for some reason he doesn’t find a Weetabix-smeared dining table and a marauding one-year-old round his feet particularly conducive to work), but he might pop home for lunch, or be around at the children’s tea-time for an hour or so. The payback for this is that he is equally likely to be working at 10pm because he needs to make a phone-call to someone in America, or on a Saturday morning because at 5pm on Friday he promised to get some figures back to someone first thing on Monday.

His work-life and our home-life have suddenly become much more entwined. Apart from my writing, we’ve both only ever worked at management level for large organisations, and so it is a shock that suddenly the support systems you take for granted in that environment – HR, IT, Finance, Procurement, Legal, your own PA – just aren’t there. Anything that needs doing we either have to do ourselves, or pay (and at the moment that means out of our own pockets) to have someone else do it. Quite a learning curve.

And as if life with two new business and two young children wasn’t complicated enough, something about seeing my husband all fired-up about his exciting project has inspired my own creative juices, and I have started work on my third novel. You know, in my spare time.

So, there we are. Life is currently busy, exciting, demanding, chaotic, challenging, fulfilling, stimulating and somewhat exhausting, but it very much feels like the right thing to be doing, right now. Wish us luck!

train

Out of Hibernation

Perhaps it is just the lighter mornings that make the difference. Forcing myself out of bed for the day when it is still dark just feels SO wrong. I’m a morning person, more or less, but the dark cold mornings of January and February really get me down. The weather is (shh, whisper it) slightly better this last couple of days as well, and there is definitely a certain softness in the air. I know, I know, it will probably be snowing before the week is out.

Whatever the reason, I feel like I am coming back to life. Participating in life rather than standing on the sidelines of other people’s.

I don’t know if it’s just me, but I find my horizons shrink when I have a baby. To a large extent they have to, because keeping a tiny and totally dependent human being alive is fairly demanding, and doesn’t really allow much headspace for anything else, especially when you have an older child to take care of as well. But at nearly fifteen months, the umbilical cord is no longer tying me so closely to Sophia. She is toddling, feeding herself and starting to communicate –  I think ‘talk’ would be putting it too strongly, but she is getting very good at conveying her opinions! She doesn’t need breastfeeding during the day any more (let’s not talk about nighttime), which is another thing which frees me up considerably.

Suddenly I discovered that I wanted to get some kind of life back which didn’t totally revolve around the children. After my husband sensibly talking me down from the massive wave of guilt which overcame me at that realisation (“How can I want anything other than my precious babies? Am I really selfish? What about women who can’t have children and would give anything to have their lives limited in this way?), I decided to make a few changes.

laptopThe most significant is that my MIL has agreed to babysit Sophia sometimes so that I can start my third novel. The first of these sessions was last Thursday, and it was absolute heaven. I met my MIL at her local station, handed Sophia over for a play at Granny’s house, and ensconced myself in a cafe with my laptop. I already had a plot all worked out, and so actually managed to get a chapter and a half written in the time available. It felt amazing to be writing again, and as an interesting but positive side effect, I noticed that I had so much more patience and energy with the children that afternoon after having a bit of time for me.

I am also trying to make plans to see people. I know, radical.  Friendships have been on a back burner over the past year as all my time and energy has been focussed on my nuclear family, but I am missing my friends, and I am determined start seeing them again. We kicked this new resolution off on Friday by visiting a really good friend who I met through NCT classes when we were brand new first-time mums. We (and our babies) were inseparable for that first couple of years, but then life started to move on. She had a second baby, and then went on to set up her own business. I started writing. The children started different schools and evenings and weekends started to get eaten up with their social lives with their new classmates. Suddenly, from seeing each other several times a week, we were text message buddies. It made me sad on Friday to see how uneasy the children were with each other at first. Luckily it wasn’t long before they bonded over a ‘pizza picnic’, and were soon charging round the house having one of the noisiest games of hide-and-seek I’ve ever witnessed, and my friend and I munched chips and dips and gossiped, if not to our hearts’ content, then certainly a lot more than we’d been able to for a long time.Sophia bus

I’m also going to get out and about with Sophia a bit more during the week. This week we went to the London Transport Museum where she totally ignored the attractive and colourful toddler area in favour of toddling as fast as she could from one vintage bus to another and back again. She loved it, and I had really enjoyed my walk from Liverpool Street Station to Covent Garden – and we both enjoyed having lunch with husband afterwards.

So, that’s how I am dragging myself out of hibernation and back into the world. Working on a new book, trying to see friends more, and getting out and exploring the world again. What about you? Are you starting to feel those spring-time vibes, and does it inspire you to make some changes?

Selfish Mother

I recently discovered a fantastic blogzine called Selfish Mother. It’s a collection of blog posts from cool, clever, funny, interesting, inspirational women who happen also to have given birth. The posts frequently, but not exclusively, focus on some aspect of motherhood – often those dilemmas which are close to my own heart of how best to balance being the best possible parent whilst also retaining a sense of self and a place in the world which isn’t just “Anna and Sophia’s mummy” – even if that will always be my most important role.

maman_grey_scoop_sweat_with_red_grandeThey also have an on-line shop selling super-cool sweatshirts and t-shirts with ‘Mother’ or ‘Maman’ slogans which raise money for various women’s charities. I love ethical fashion which gives me an excuse to buy more clothes in a  good cause, and I adore my cosy yet stylish Maman sweatshirt.

For a while I was a lurker; I read, but lacked the confidence to contribute. A friend who also follows Selfish Mother encouraged me to post, and so I have dipped my toe in the water, and yesterday published this article about where my time disappears to. I hope you enjoy!