Back to blogging

I’m pretty sure 3 months is the longest I’ve ever gone without writing a blog post since I first started blogging about six years ago. Where have I been? I wish I could list all the exciting non-blog related things I’ve been up to, but sadly it’s not been anything of the kind. The summer holidays are always tricky for me to find any time to write, and this year was no exception. In fact, the opposite, as it’s the first summer I’ve had two non-napping children, so it felt like finding the time to clean my teeth or brush my hair was a challenge, let alone commit my thoughts to cyber-space. That’s not all it is, though. The children went back to school and nursery respectively in mid-September, and yet I still haven’t managed to blog.

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So, what’s been going on? To be honest I’m not totally sure. I could, truthfully, say that I have been busy. I’ve had discussions and meetings with Anna’s school about getting the right support for her dyslexia, and we’ve been to Open Days for secondary schools as we start considering all the options (definitely a blog post in its own right!). We’ve had a new boiler fitted with all the upheaval that entailed, and I’ve been trying to catch up with all the domestic and administrative tasks which were utterly neglected over the summer. I had my handbag stolen, and have spent an inordinate amount of time on the phone to banks and so on cancelling cards and getting new ones and changing card details I have stored online, and replacing membership cards and so on. I’ve taken both children for eye tests (always a bit of an expedition as our excellent optician isn’t very local) and Sophia has had settling in days at nursery which I needed to be there for. Sophia has dropped her afternoon naps, so that is two hours, which I used to fill with domestic life admin, cut out of my day. She has also been quite clingy, uncharacteristically so, as she adjusts to a new nursery setting, new teachers, new friends.

But I think all these are probably excuses rather than reasons. My head just hasn’t been in the right place to write. Often I’ve found that writing helps exorcise my demons, but for some reason this autumn I haven’t felt able to start. We had some lovely times over the summer, but there were also some things I found very tough.

Sophia starting school nursery feels like such a big milestone, bringing the question of what I will do with my life when she starts proper school next September front and centre of my mind when I’m not really in a place to deal with all the emotional implications of it. One of the things that makes me saddest and angriest is that the PTSD and anxiety I have experienced since Sophia was born have robbed me of some of her baby and toddlerhood. It hasn’t been all bad, of course not, and I have lots of positive memories. But so much of my time with her has been over-shadowed by panicky what-ifs, and I want it back.

Even those feelings aren’t straightforward, though, and my mind feels like a heap of spaghetti I’m meant to be able to separate neatly into its constituent strands. Because while I am mourning my baby starting to grow up I am also well into my tenth year as a stay-at-home mum, and starting to feel I might be ready for something else. Obviously I have worked during that time – I’ve published 2 novels and a novella, as well as serving as a trustee for the NCT – but an awfully large percentage of my life has been lived in my head and in my house, and it is possible that I might be ready for a change.

I’m at a bit of a writing impasse at the moment. I have a completed manuscript of a new novel, and several chapters of another. What I don’t have is a literary agent, as she is retiring, or an editor at my publishers, as she got another job! There are options. I could throw myself into finding a new agent and discussing all my writing options with them, and sooner or later there will be a new editor at Hodder, but it all feels a bit over-whelming. I’m also conscious that writing is a brilliant job in many ways, but it doesn’t necessarily satisfy my new craving for interaction with the world outside my head and home and family.

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What this would look like opens up a whole new can of spaghetti. I don’t think going back to my old career in healthcare management is a realistic option. Should I look for a local, part-time role, paid or voluntary, and carry on writing the rest of the time? Or look for a completely fresh career, possibly complete with re-training? And how does any of that combine with my husband’s extremely demanding role running his own business, and the continual, and sometimes competing, demands of two young children? When Anna was a baby I thought that ‘starting school’ pretty much meant she would be off my hands and I could resume normal life! I now know better – 9am -3pm, 5 days a week, with time for assemblies and plays and reading mornings and maths workshops and parent-teacher meetings and coffee mornings and medical appointments and time off sick actually doesn’t equate to very much child-free time at all! Obviously many families don’t have the luxury of choice; both partners have to work outside the home and juggle all this just so that the bills get paid. But given I am fortunate enough, at the moment, to have a choice, I feel like there is a lot of pressure on me (pretty much entirely from inside my head) to make the right one for the wellbeing of the whole family.

I’m not sure if I have any followers left after a 3 month hiatus, but for anyone who is still reading thank you for bearing with me through this brain dump. I’m afraid there will quite possibly be more introspective posts over the coming weeks and months as I attempt to make all these decisions.

In the meantime, as we mark World Mental Health Day this week, not to mention Baby Loss Awareness Week, a reminder that it is ok not to be ok. I have been very not ok at times. Miscarriages and birth trauma have led me to dark places of panic attacks, intrusive thoughts, nightmares, crippling health anxiety, a leaden weight in my chest crushing the happiness out of what should have been my brightest moments. For eighteen months I was too ashamed of these feelings even to admit them, and that shame in large part led to the feeling of missing out on Sophia’s babyhood which I am now experiencing. Thanks to private therapy to deal with PTSD, and NHS funded CBT to help with health anxiety, and an awful lot of love and patience from my husband and family and friends I am getting there, and the sunshine is back in my life, a lot of the time at least. If anyone reading this is struggling then, please, try to open up to someone. It’s ok not to be ok.

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All quiet on the blogging front

I realised this morning just how long it is since I blogged here. Life has very much been getting in the way. Some of that has been positive – I’ve done a bit of decorating and enjoyed a beautifully relaxed half term with my family, and some hasn’t been quite so good as I’ve had some ongoing health issues. There is also the undeniable fact that it is really easy to get out of the habit very quickly!

So, this is a bit of a round-up post.

Anna had an INSET day at the beginning of half-term, so we thought we would take advantage of a day when lots of schools were still in to head to Brighton when it would hopefully be quieter. Brighton is one of my favourite UK cities (others, if you’re interested, being Liverpool, Oxford and Edinburgh), and we always have a lovely time there. Unfortunately I was feeling incredibly tired. I have a kind of inflammatory arthritis called Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS), and fatigue is one of the symptoms. Thankfully it isn’t all the time, but when it hits it is that kind of stop-you-in-your-tracks exhaustion that  is normally associated with a bad attack of flu or early pregnancy.

What that meant in practice, however, was that I was forced to sit in Choccy Woccy Doo-Dah’s amazing cafe (a place so awesome I had to include a scene set there in my first book, Two for Joy), and imbibe a mountain of melted chocolate with delicious dippy bits while my husband took the children to play on the beach.

chocolate extravaganza

It’s not often I am defeated by chocolate, but I couldn’t manage to finish this, much to the children’s delight when they came back to meet me and got to hoover up the remains! We had a laid-back meander through the Lanes, some Lebanese flatbreads for lunch, and then Sophia fell asleep in her buggy and napped while I sat with her on the pier and gazed at the sea, and husband took Anna on the fairground.

The next day wasn’t quite so pleasant, as I spent a large part of it in Moorfields Eye Hospital A&E. Another delightful element of AS is that it can cause serious eye problems which need immediate treatment to avoid your sight being damaged in the long-term. I had had a niggling ache in my eye for a few days, which suddenly got worse, and so off to A&E I had to go. Thankfully it was only a relatively minor infection, but it took a while, several examinations and some rather painful eye drops to reach that conclusion.

After that we were off to Liverpool to stay with my parents for a few days. For once, heading Up North meant that we got the best of the weather, escaping the horrendous thunderstorms and torrential rain in London, and getting some lovely warm sunshine. We had a really nice few days, taking the children to Southport to the miniature railway village and to the newly refurbished playground and soft play extravaganza at Otterspool, and going out for a proper afternoon tea, as well as just hanging out in the garden. I also got the chance to have dinner and a catch-up with two of my lovely school friends.

S water play

We came home to have a fairly quiet weekend relaxing at home and doing some gardening, and then it was back to school for what is always one of the busiest half-terms of the year. The few weeks before Christmas are always chocca, but I think this half term with its school trips, sports days, summer fairs, and so on gives it a run for its money. Anna has a fortnight of daily swimming lessons with school, so I actually feel like I’ve spent most of my time in the last week washing and drying towels and swimsuits!

I’ve also seen my rheumatology consultant, and there is a possibility that I could be suitable for a clinical trial of some drugs which he believes could really help with my AS, both in controlling symptoms now and also mitigating some of the longer term effects it can have. It’s a bit nerve-racking, and I might end up spending rather more time than I’d like going back and forth to the hospital for blood tests and so on, but it is also potentially very positive.

I’ve had quite a few people ask me recently what is happening with my writing, and when my next novel is coming. There isn’t really a short answer. I have been working on a book, the first draft of which is now finished, parts of which I love, and which has characters whose story I really want to tell. However, it needs a lot of work and editing to get it where it needs to be, and at the moment I am in a kind of limbo as my literary agent is retiring soon, so I will need a new agent, and my editor at Hodder has a new job, and her replacement won’t be starting for a while. I’m definitely at the point where I need some team effort with my book, and so I am hanging on until my new agent is in place and can give me some strategic (and hopefully metaphorical) kicks up the backside. In the meantime my brain is teaming with ideas and stories, and my biggest problem is  finding the time to actually write them down. Writing, and therefore working for myself, is in many ways an ideal career for combining with looking after the children, but the downside of no fixed working hours is that it takes an awful lot of determination and focus to carve out protected time for writing and then stick to it come hell or high water. I have struggled with that a bit recently, and my mission for September, when Sophia starts nursery, is to well and truly get myself back in the writing saddle.

And in my final, and possibly most exciting, piece of news: My peony plant flowered! Aren’t they just exquisite?

peonies

So that’s where I am as we approach the halfway point of 2018!

#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!