A strange day…

Freeway Jam

Picture this: you’re all set for a normal day. Well not quite normal – normally I would wake up on a Thursday at 06.30am, get washed and dressed, grab my coffee and be out of the house by 7 on the road to start work at 8am. On this particular Thursday I had a different scenario. The hubster was down in Exeter yesterday running in a 10-mile race and stayed down there overnight. I was tasked with getting the children up fed and dressed and JJ to school for 08.45am which is what happened. Then I had to pop to the supermarket with EJ before transferring him over to the town where my in-laws live and I also work, dropping him there and getting myself into the office for 10.30am. So far so good…

Then we hit the main A road that links our two towns – a ten mile stretch – and almost immediately grind to a halt. Hmm. A little traffic I think to myself. Ten minutes later we haven’t moved an inch and I phone both the in-laws and my work to tell them that I’m likely to be a little late. I get out my coffee and EJ begins to demand I hand it over. When I don’t, he cries. I phone the hubster to tell him what’s happened and ask him where he is on his journey back east. When I hang up EJ demands my phone. When I don’t give it to him, he cries. Two ambulances and a police car pass us on the hastily carved out ‘middle track’ (there is no hard shoulder). Other people begin to reverse back down this track to attempt a u-turn at a suitable place (this is a dual carriageway divided by a hedged, grassy bank). I dismiss this notion as dangerous madness.

EJ begins to cry in earnest. It is that screaming, bored, frustrated crying which nothing is going to assuage. The muzzies begin shooting over the car like missiles. Even the precious dummy is flung with anger in my general direction. I phone my mum and tell her what’s happened (using the call to explain the mystery of EJ’s disappearing shoes (his brother threw them over the garden fence two days ago). EJ is happy to say hello and goodbye to Grandma.

By this point we have been sat still in the car for 20 minutes. I think, enough is enough, and attempt to reverse down the middle track which has somehow closed up a bit in the interim. A kindly lady runs up to tell me that I won’t be able to get round the U-turn as it’s now completely blocked. I pull back in to the left lane. Thinking on my feet I begin entertaining EJ with a game of ‘pop-up’ monkey – magicking his soft toy round the side and over the top of the passenger seat next to me. He thinks this is hilarious and begins flinging his muzzies over Monkey each time he pops up. This game lasts about 5-10 minutes before I can take no more. We are still in the same place on the road and have now been here for 40 minutes.

I switch on to the local radio channel and almost immediately find out that there has been a ‘serious’ accident about five miles up the road ahead of us, the road has been closed both ahead and behind us and we are now, essentially, trapped in the middle. A low-flying helicopter hovers above us. It seems we have hit the road at exactly the wrong moment.

I look in the rearview mirror and see other people behind making their way up round the u-turn and make the decision to attempt this course of action again. This time I am successful!! We are finally moving again, albeit in the wrong direction. I take a long route home as there is a lot of traffic coming off at the next slip road. Now I wonder, do I attempt an alternative route? But no, stuff that, the roads in to town will be jam-packed with people who have been diverted off and the thought of getting myself and EJ stuck in another jam – one we can’t escape from – is too much to bear.

I phone work – arrange to take the rest of the day off. EJ is obviously relieved to be out of the car and I get him a bowl of Shreddies and put on Cbeebies. He is happy. I am happy, but sad that my already squeezed annual leave is being siphoned off in this unpredictable way.

EJ is now in his cot, having a nap. And here I am. What a strange day…

Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com

In the beginning came the “holiday” blues…

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Ever since I gave birth to JJ in September 2009 certain things I took for granted before have changed radically and this has led to a major mental gear change. The first instance of this phenomena came as JJ’s first Christmas approached. I remember the Health Visitor’s survey asking “do you still look forward to things?”. I thought about Christmas and my heart sank. The only things really keeping me afloat back then were baby groups at the Surestart Centre, the Library, my NCT get togethers, and the thought of all those lifelines being whipped away for the best part of three weeks (at a time when every day seemed like a year!) was too depressing to contemplate.

Since the beginnings of parenthood I have noticed that days that I used to look forward to the most – Saturdays, Bank Holidays – are now approached with a sense of impending doom.

I’m sure this phenomena is probably understood by about 50% of other parents depending on the personalities of both you and your children, and how much support and adult company you can expect on any normal “day off”. My children tend to be very demanding and expect my constant input into whatever they are doing. Right now, for example, I’m managing to write this whilst ostensibly being very involved in a particularly noisy episode of Raa Raa the Noisy Lion, interspersed with fielding questions and demands to help JJ colour in his toe-nails with a biro. Guess what? Its Bank Holiday Monday and the hubster is having a nice lie-in. Normally a Monday morning involves an early start for me – leaving the house before the children wake and taking my packed breakfast (coffee and a banana) to a little spot I know where I can read, write and contemplate my naval in peace before my work day kicks in.

Since the beginnings of working part time and having a completely re-arranged week, I have found that, when other people are slogging up the wrong side of that weekly hump (Monday and Tuesday) I am at my most productive and those few child-free hours have been invaluable. Thursday is the new Friday because, despite the fact that I know Friday is ‘Mummy Day’, we have places to go, people to meet and things to do.

As this particular Half Term approached I had already decided to cut back a bit on ‘blog hours’, join a couple less linkies, and thereby give myself a bit of a chance at crowbarring in a few different forms of entertainment and relaxation (I’ve so far managed another couple of chapters of my book and the first three episodes of a gripping BBC thriller/drama almost back to back!). But since the beginnings of my blogging journey I have become aware that when I have trouble finding the time and headspace to blog I am left feeling decidedly flat. When you don’t post a new entry for a few days it is sooo noticeable, it almost feels lonely, like an animated conversation has suddenly dried up and you’ve been left alone in a vast empty room. I guess this is why blogging is so addictive.

Yes, since the beginnings of parenthood, my working life has changed and my attitude has adjusted. Blogging has certainly added to the mix! Maybe towards the middle or maybe not til close to the end of this story, will those attitudes slowly revert as life gradually re-aligns itself with ‘normality’.

Linking up to this week’s theme game from The Reading Residence and Red Peffer with this week’s theme of ‘Beginnings’.

 

The Reading Residence

Word of the week: Limitations

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This week I have been attempting to work within my limitations. Here are some of them:

  • The weather
  • A mobile toddler under the age of two
  • Time
  • Money
  • A tendency to procrastinate
  • Fear of failure
  • A lack of forward momentum…

I have thoughts and plans and ideas – for the blog, for a family holiday, for things to do with JJ in the next few months before he starts big school – but there is always something holding me back.

Of course some limitations are external and there’s nothing you can do about them but some are internal and I need to work on that.

At the other end of the spectrum I have been spending my one day off running myself ragged these past few weeks trying to squeeze 101 things into a few short hours. This week I decided to give myself a break and just put one or two essentials on the To Do list. This made much more sense because, let’s face it, finishing your day with only three things checked off a list of ten feels like a bit of a failure! It also occurred to me that there is no real urgency on many of these tasks and if I concentrate on doing one thing at a time, and doing them well, then I will eventually reap the rewards.

(PS – I have of course finally prioritised booking myself in for a cervical smear and that will be a weight off my mind!).

 

The Reading Residence

Word of the Week…

And this week’s #WotW is:

Work

As I was contemplating how my week had gone I realised that, despite only working part time (I head to the office four days a week – one of them is a half day) – I really only see my children for a couple of hours a night Monday through Thursday. For this reason I generally always reach Friday and my week cannot really be summed up by anything central to my role as a parent or to my time with the kids without looking back to the previous weekend. Then I realised that I spent all last Sunday morning at work doing overtime.

On Fridays I take the children to our local toddler group in the mornings (although JJ has pretty much grown out of this experience and is only interested in the biscuits) and then sometimes we go out for lunch with Daddy if he’s got the day off (he works shifts so this is relatively frequent) before EJ’s nap and then an afternoon of Softplay with our lovely NCT friends. By Saturday we are pretty much all completely zonked!

This week I had it confirmed that I will be reducing my hours a little come April giving me an extra day away from the office. This is great for me but doesn’t necessarily mean I will see more of the children as JJ will still be at pre-school and EJ with our childminder for part of the day. However I am hoping that the extra time I have to get organised will free me up to be much more ‘present’ with them when we are together and to have more energy at the weekends. Less work, more play – hurrah!

The Reading Residence

Buying time…

time-precious-commodityIf you could have the choice between time and money which would you choose? I’m genuinely interested to know if people without children would go for money because its not until you have children that you realise that time is actually the most valuable resource in the world and, as the song goes, you only need the light when its burning low, only miss the sun when it starts to snow…and ‘spare’ time when you realise you have just signed up for a mammoth 24/7 job for X years (add the number yourself depending on subjective opinion)…

So yes, right now I’ve opted to buy some time and I am genuinely thrilled that I will finally have a few precious hours a week to snatch back a little bit of that precious resource in a couple of months time. I have so many thoughts whizzing about in my head about what I want and need to do –  a lot of short term stuff like cleaning and tidying, but also some long term projects too which I should be able to approach in a methodical way once I know that I have a specific chunk of time in which to work. The most important thing to remember (and place to start) will be getting organised. Specifically, managing and controlling a budget a lot better than I do right now as I will have less money to work with. But also planning to plan if you see what I mean – for example I need to be organised about how I approach present buying throughout the year but in order to do so I need to have a rolling plan in place, I just haven’t had the time to make that plan and therefore the situation remains a haphazard arrangement.

Since reading Time Management for Manic Mums at the beginning of the month I’ve found myself able to act on the ‘think positive’ side of things, but the actual practical steps of striving for a more organised way of living are still alluding me as I have this little voice inside telling me not to start something I can’t finish and I never have the time to finish anything with only a few short evening hours to myself at the best of times.

I have lots of ideas for blog-related projects – or at any rate projects which will be great to feature as blog posts. I am desperate to try my hand at cooking for pleasure – particularly baking. I want to be able to use the lovely new bicycle the hubster got me for my birthday last year and which has since lain dormant in the shed collecting dust. I look forward to being able to visit a few of the many charity shops which my town boasts and browse in peace (I’ve never been interested in spending hundreds of pounds on clothes and often pick up cheap items in places like supermarkets, New Look or H&M but I can imagine that finding a second hand gem for a knock down bargain will be very satisfying!) . I also attempted my first bit of crochet recently but it was late, I was tired and just couldn’t get the hang of the second stage so I intend to find the time to get my head around this too.

I also have a great idea for a linky which I would be excited, if a little nervous, to offer up to my lovely blogging community.

And I have just started wondering about supplementary income and if there is any way I could find something easy and flexible to fit in for a few extra pennies but this one is probably the bottom of the pile right now as there is clearly no real point in buying time just to…make money!

SAHM vs. WM…

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I’ve been thinking alot about this lately, probably because I have found that the blogs I am drawn to (barring that of the lovely Zoe Ashton who I discovered through the WordPress Reader) tend to be written by stay at home mums who manage to do the most amazing craft activities, enviable child-friendly projects, plus managing to organise a massive amount of super ambitious blogging projects and achieve fabulous goals all whilst fitting in the mundane tasks of cooking, cleaning, and bog-standard childcare in the unseen background.

So what I want to know is – this Stay at Home Mum lark – is it the key to having the freedom to do these things? Or is it just the personalities of those who do it well – people who would be pushing themselves to high achievement whatever the situation? Because I can’t see it happening for me primarily because my children demand almost constant attention. I might get an hour or two once or twice a week when JJ is at pre-school and EJ is napping, but that doesn’t seem like enough…

I work part-time and this is always the way I wanted it to be. It means I get glimpses into both worlds but there is never any real ‘down’ time. I enjoy being in the workplace for the most part and I do believe it brings some balance to my life – I rarely feel that experience of boredom – there is always somewhere I have to be and its not always the same place! I don’t feel like I am stuck in the rat race the way I once was – commuting to and from the same place five days a week. And yet I have nothing to show the outside world for anything work-related. I spent five hours at work today on one task and its not a creative thing that I do but it involves making a lot of decisions which impact on many people’s lives.

Still I can’t help but crave some creative outlet and writing this blog is helping me to achieve that. Now if I just had time to create something beautiful to photograph and display I’d be a happy woman!

Stay at Home Mummy bloggers – please let me know your thoughts on this – do you feel you have more time to do your own thing (as well as your Mummy thing) than you would have if you worked? Or are you just a high achiever and feel like the job’s not done unless you can think of it almost as a work-based project which is to be held up and measured on the scale of perfection (or maybe ‘brilliance in blogging’)?

Linking to PoCoLo at Vevivos.

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Coffee Attitude Adjustment #ThriftyThursday

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Well this is new! I’m linking up to #ThriftyThursday over at Cold Tea and Smelly Nappies which is a fun way to share some tips and ideas on how to live a bit more frugally and save some money.

The picture above shows my new(ish) Starbucks cup on the go. I was talked into buying it by the amazing persuasive powers of the Starbucks ‘youves’ who assured me that it was a bargain at £6.50 (a third off!) and I would “make my money back” by using it instead of their paper cups when I came in for my skinny lattes from that point on (you get 25p off if you use your own cup).

I should explain that, since returning to work from my maternity with EJ, I have become a bit of a coffee shop addict, treating myself to expensive lattes four mornings a week as some sort of self-imposed ‘reward’ for putting up with all the exhausting madness of motherhood the rest of the time. Once upon a time I was obsessed with my finances and listed every purchase meticulously in a notebook adapted for the purpose. Since having children this has long ago fallen by the wayside and my unrelenting coffee habit has taken me to a personal nadir financially – pretty much bleeding money from my modest part time income leaving a trail of Guatamalan coffee grinds in its wake.

I am hoping to reduce my working hours even further come April so I’ve taken the initiative to actually use my pretty new cup and have now successfully introduced a whole new coffee experience. OK so I’ve treated myself to a small tin of Nescafe Azera:

nescafe azera

which, whilst not the cheapest at £3.29 (but currently reduced to £2 in Tesco!) is still a whole lot cheaper than the £40 or so I’ve been spending on coffee in the average month *hangs head in shame*…

I am quite fussy so I’ve got my own Demerera sugar and I boil up some hot milk to add before I leave for work in the mornings (the microwave is just too too noisy and I do hate waking JJ and having to reason with him about why Mummy has to go to work – Money I say, Money!) and its actually very enjoyable and incredibly satisfying to know that I’m clawing back some kind of control over finances which have been washing down Costa’s nearest drain with the leftover dregs.

Thrifty-Thursday-Badge

Mindfulness and the Slow Movement #PoCoLo

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I recently read a post by a blogger I haven’t come across before (found through the Britmums My Best Post of the Week linky) called Josie, who’s post on managing and coping with motherhood (primarily, I feel aimed towards a complete newbie who hasn’t yet had a chance to get their head round the life-altering change a baby brings) got me thinking about mindfulness and how to live more ‘in the moment’ in general.

Anyone who knows me well will tell you that I tend to be quite an anxious person and often find myself worrying about one thing or another. I get stressed out quite easily and having a child exacerbated this no end! Having two children has cranked it up to stress volume overload! I even began developing a ‘stress rash’ – a small area on my left arm which flares up into an angry, itchy, raised rash the day after a particularly stressful, angry or overwhelmingly negative experience. Its a classic example of the mind alone bringing  something that’s not really real into full physical existence.

In the last few weeks I’ve had two or three really stressful experiences and my arm has been flashing itchy red like a demented traffic light.

A few years ago I wrote my Masters dissertation on the subject of Information Overload – another experiential stress zone. I now remember that while I was researching this piece of work I stumbled across Carl Honore’s paen to something called the Slow Movement, “In Praise of Slow”. (I’ve just discovered he has a website www.carlhonore.com) He talks of the way in which our culture teaches us that speed is the key to everything – from fast cars to multi-tasking and earning a fast buck. I love the fact that he was inspired to write his book after reading a newspaper article encouraging parents to condense well-loved classic children’s stories into minute-long soundbites in order to get out of the nursery quicker and pick back up on all those must-do adult activities.

At first glance, the One-Minute Bedtime series sounds almost too good to be true. Rattle off six or seven “stories,” and still finish inside ten minutes – what could be better? Then, as I begin to wonder how quickly Amazon can ship me the full set, redemption comes in the shape of a counter-question. Have I gone completely insane?

I think this thought captures what so many of us think and feel on a daily basis. I want to be a good parent, but do I have the time? And then there’s “I want to be a good partner, but do I have the time?”. Life with small children can not only be a stressful experience in itself, but can also make you feel like everything else you do that doesn’t involve them has to be done at breakneck speed in order to make the most of this precious little time. Hence if I find myself with one day off while they’re both in paid childcare I must squeeze in a house-clean, cook two casseroles, fill out a passport application, do two loads of washing, write a blog post, have a cervical smear, etc, etc, ad infinitum – sod relaxation and escapism! And fitting in the needs of a relationship on top of this? Forgive me for the utter selfishness but if I find myself with ten spare minutes I’m going to want to pick up a good book/soak in a bubbly bath/research some fun activities that I like the look of and help me remember who I am and who I want to be.

I feel that sometimes I’m on the edge of a minor breakdown and something has to change. I need to slow down, live more in the moment, let go of this constant need to “keep up with the Joneses” (which is exacerbated no end by the cult of social media one-upmanship) and learn to live on less and value more of what I’ve got.

Linking up to #PoCoLo over at http://vevivos.com

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All cluttered up

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Recently we have been contemplating a potential house move. Not because we don’t like our house or the place we live in general, but mostly because we would like to live somewhere with both decent, off-road parking and the potential for expansion. We don’t want to move too far (and to be honest can’t afford to move to anywhere more affluent with better schools anyway) or spend any more money or raise our mortgage from its current level either.

On Monday this week the hubster arranged for an estate agent to come and value the house and he was already finished by the time I got home from our friends’ house with the boys. It quickly became apparent that, if we want to stand any chance of buying any half decent house that may come on the market, then we need our house to be on the market too (preferably under offer) so that we don’t miss out. I think the sentence “I can have your house on the market by the end of the week” came up which put me into a state of some panic and shock I have to say. Although we had been discussing the matter and brainstorming about our options, the stark reality of picking up all our worldly belongings and being out on our ears – possibly into a smaller home, maybe losing out on some character (our house is a Victorian red brick and full of charm in my opinion) really freaked me out!

But probably the one really frightening thought about getting our house on the market was the fact that this would mean the dreaded ‘de-clutter’ operation that we have been putting off for years.

I am ashamed to admit that I clutter. There should be a support group “Clutterers Anon”. The hubster himself is just as bad – actually worse to be honest. Neither of us does DIY. I try my hardest to keep the place to a certain standard (for example, the kitchen and bathroom are priorities and get cleaned on a rolling basis for hygiene and my sanity!) I also tidy up where possible within my own framework of acceptability and the clutter is generally hoovered and sometimes even dusted when time and opportunity allows.

But I am reminded of those reality programmes about hoarders and “How Clean is Your House” – not because we live like that at all, but because the people who do crossed a line at some point beyond which they were unable to get back to normality without a huge operation, or series of operations. I feel like I need to tackle a series of operations (and this is not just de-cluttering but attending to all those little tasks that we have let slip over the past five years – re-papering the dining room where damp had peeled the paper away; binning the crappy old curtain in the kitchen which my mum always likens to a tarts knickers; removing the unsightly old plastic bathroom cabinet (the doors of which fell off years ago!) – you get the picture).

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One very cluttered kitchen surface

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Another very cluttered kitchen surface…

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My attempt at a de-cluttered kitchen surface.

My nemesis in this (purely conceptual) drive to achieve the home of our dreams is Time. I work four days a week (varying hours) (plus sometimes a bit of overtime at the weekend) and when I’m not at work, I’m mostly trying to feed, dress, entertain, educate (?) (jury’s out on that one!), police, and just generally mother my four year old and 15 month old. In the little squeeze of “me” time that rears its head once in a blue moon, I dust the clutter. Or I cook a batch of food for freezing. Or I blog.

I have had one day off (both work and kids) in the last two months and that day was after we came back from our week in Cornwall so there was a huge amount of washing and organising to do. I also spent a couple of hours on one of my long-intended ‘operations’ filling 6 full black bin bags with old unwanted clothing (both mine and the boys) and took it to our local Cash4Clothes (brilliant idea, not only do your old clothes go to charity but you get a few quid back too!).

However, this demonstrates just how squeezed my time is. I feel like all the ‘jobs’ can’t be done without the initial de-cluttering operation, and I have very little energy or motivation to try and get my head round where to even begin, so the years continue to go by with little being achieved.

That said, the sudden thought of strangers wandering around my home and, even with the most open of minds and the greatest ability to see past the detritus of our lives, not being able to overlook the fact that the walls could do with a paint, several rooms need proper curtain rails, the tell-tale signs that the (dusty, unused) shower has caused damp problem on the ceiling below which we haven’t had the time or inclination to deal with, etc, etc, just strikes fear into my heart! Maybe it started off as blinkered laziness but at this point in our lives, it is all about time, or the lack thereof. Just the thought of buying and wrapping Christmas presents and doing the cards freaks me out right now – let alone attempting to sell our home and move house with a 15 month old wriggler!

So the question is: do we shelve our idea about moving at this point? Do we put the house on the market in its current state and let the ‘character’ speak for itself? Because one thing is for sure – my greatest desire and the one thing that I won’t be getting for Christmas this year, is Time…

How we live now…

home share

It occurred to me recently that a lot of mums who are my friends or acquaintances have similar gripes regarding the division of labour within their household. It seems to be completely commonplace for the woman to take on the lion’s share of household chores, cooking (although I know this is one area where some men prefer to be in charge – not in my house unfortunately!) and childcare. We are the ones who automatically find ourselves trying to figure out whether to go back to work after maternity, full time, part time or not at all. It seems more the exception than the rule for the man to earn less than the woman which generally means that it’s a no-brainer who drops out to pick up the childcare slack.

When the man returns home from work at the end of the day there is often an assumption, if we’ve been with the children (or at work and then with the children), we have somehow had an ‘easier’ day and therefore they are entitled to leave us to it with regards the childrens dinner time, etc.

This is nothing new and even though I’m sure there are plenty of smuggies out there who would be quick to point out that they have bagged the perfect man, cooking, cleaning and mucking in left, right and centre, I can’t help feeling that this is where we are at, moaning to each other about our partners as the children wheel and squeal around our feet at softplay before returning to our separate mini-madhouses.

The thought crossed my mind the other day that life would be so much nicer (for us women at least!) if we could abandon the traditional family unit and live together as groups of friends/families instead. It seems to stand to reason that men and women are more likely to have more in common with others of the same sex (for example, I don’t really want to listen to the football commentary on Five Live and the hubster would be in happier place without Strictly in his life).

But the main reason why this is such a great idea is the chance to be there to help each other out on a day to day basis – whether it be cooking the kids dinners, either together in a lovely sociable way, or taking turns to leave the other parent/s some quality time with the children (and stop the children from stressing out the one doing the cooking!) – or sharing out the chores, providing reciprocal babysitting and offering support when it comes to discipline.

I think it would take the pressure off everyone and probably lead to less ill feeling between couples.

If everyone pooled resources it would also lead to being able to afford a much bigger, nicer home too. It just seems like we have fallen into this society where personal property is so important to us all, and owning our own home is the ultimate goal. It would take quite a big attitude adjustment I think, especially for the men.

On a quick google search it seems like the reality of this idea is actually appealing to and working out more for single parents and I can understand why. If I became a single parent I would be totally interested in looking for a house share. For couples, its a bit more of a minefield. I think you’d have to feel 100 per cent sure that everyone likes and respects each other and be prepared to stick to some basic rules.

Right, now I’ve just got to think of a way of persuading my best friend to let me build a small house in her back garden!