August 2019

Single Parent Holidaying

11 August 2019

After a wonderful 2 weeks in Spain, I really should reconnect with reality. But, my TV is broken and only shows BBC1 and BBC2, (tonight’s schedule of Country File, followed by The Antiques Roadshow threatens to be a real low point), my curtain rail has fallen down, the garden is a wet wilderness of overgrown greenery, there’s no food in the house and no-one has any clean clothes left. It proves just too tempting to leave it all for another 24 hours and instead look back fondly over the last fortnight…

The truth be told, I had been quite anxious about this holiday. For the first time ever, I was taking the kids abroad on my own, which felt pretty daunting to me. Not to them thankfully. Capabilities boosted by several school trips and a lifetime with a mother incapable of planning ahead, they breezed through packing and API and boarding passes and passports with a few lists and that supreme confidence teenagers ooze with anything ‘online’. At the airport, as I fumbled about with too much paperwork and some outdated 1980s bumbag, they waved phones at check in gates, and expertly fitted medication and ‘essential toiletries’ into plastic bags like seasoned pros.

And so it was that , within a few hours, with what seemed liked unbelievable ease, I found myself at our Spanish appartment, dipping my toes in the pool and looking forward to making my way through a Kindle loaded up with holiday reading.

And I did have time to relax and read loads and loads of great books. I caught up on, and even got ahead of, my Book Club list and several more books to boot. We also did trips. Now this isn’t a new idea, and I would list as a top tip for anyone holidaying with teens; wherever we go, I always let each child choose one trip that we all agree to go on. This time it was water parks, animal parks and an, at times terrifying, boat trip into the choppy Atlantic to see whales and dolphins. We explored various local beaches and enjoyed lots of different restaurants and bars.

But none of this is my real highlight. The best features of the time away was the quality time we spent together as a family. The kids nearly taught me to swim underwater, we took air hockey and crazy golf to a whole new level and we laughed until we cried over Uno and other of games cards. Great memories and great times.

Now I am ready for tomorrow, when I shall get the TV fixed and tackle the garden…

‘To do’ lists, ‘Ta Da’ lists and Bucket lists…

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Monday 19 August 2019

At the start of last week, accepting that a house with no TV, no curtains and only a wild,weedy wilderness where the garden used to be, is no place to live, I made myself a ‘to do’ list. It worked beautifully for all the tedious, but trivial tasks. However I realise that I may need to dig a little deeper when it comes to solving more challenging problems..

The garden was easy enough. I am no green-fingered goddess but I can spray weedkiller and steer a lawn mower as well as anyone! Upon a friend’s recommendation, a very cheery local TV man appeared on Tuesday and by Tuesday evening, ITV, Netflix and BBC i-player were back in our lives – hooray! Another friend, guided me through the marvellous new world of polyfiller and sandpaper and we can now once again, shut the neighbours out after dark.

In addition, Prom-dress daughter and I caught up on some hospital appointments and we sorted out learner driver car insurance for my eldest, with a great company called Marmelade. This is a job I’d ruled out, for several months, on cost grounds but, it turns out, it was just a case of finding the right company. (My eldest now drives us everywhere! ) We played basket ball and fitted in a family walk and a pub lunch I also drank rather a lot of alcohol, with friends new and old, and, all in all, enjoyed a very productive and sociable week. Having a ‘To-Do’ list certainly seems a pretty good way to have a ‘Ta -Da’ kind of week!

Alas, if only all life’s problems were as easily fixed as an overgrown lawn. My email inbox also has more exciting and more challenging news, with a couple of new job opportunities. One of these is now in hand and I am really pleased about, but the other…scares me quite a lot. I sit down to tackle the demanding interview prep but, after a demoralising few months at work, it is too easy for old feelings of inadequacy to surface and sink my efforts in waves of panic and self doubt. I am also distracted by the thought of Prom-dress daughter’s results day, an imminent UKCAT test for my eldest, plus the ever nearing spectre of the university offers and interviews cycle.

Perhaps what we need to navigate through these trickier waters is a Bucket List, (because I think that new jobs, A Level choices and UCAS applications may be too much of a project for a weekly ‘To Do’ post-it. ) So here’s to: a job where I feel valued by my bosses, A levels that excite, and Uni offers that inspire. Now those are tasks that will needs us all to dig in for the long term, but if we can manage it, hopefully they will bring those richer rewards…

Another results day…

Thursday 22 August 2019

Today is Prom-dress daughter’s results day and, if last year, results day for my eldest marked my D-Day as a single parent, then this year’s seems a great time to reflect upon how far we have come, as a family unit, in 2019.

The drive to school is still tense, and that’s not just because my eldest is at the learner-driver wheel. The GCSE exam month is a tough and relentless grind for most pupils, and for Prom-dress daughter it was no exception. The highest stakes and the highest emotion, came with subjects she really cared about, and here papers often seemed to be ‘a disaster’ or ‘just awful’. (We certainly got through a lot of emergency chocolate in May and June!) In consequence, she is on edge about some key results, and her young face is etched with worry. To my surprise however, I feel far less stressed than I did 12 months ago, for a number of reasons.

After last year, I resolved never again to assume that everyone else’s children would do better than mine. More importantly this year, I find that I haven’t given anyone else’s children a second thought – it’s just about my lovely girl and her future plans for me today. And Prom-dress daughter has a number of qualities that calm my nerves as we jolt towards the school carpark. Firstly, she has a quick and clever mind and doesn’t tend to write or burble nonsense under pressure. I feel pretty certain that in many subjects, things cannot have gone as badly as she fears. Secondly, as with my eldest, her teachers have consistently predicted good results, and this year I have the confidence to trust this. And finally, life, particularly the demands of our single parent household and coping with serious asthma, has made her tough. I know that she will not go to pieces if some grades are a little lower than she wanted. There will be a way forward. Of course there will, GCSE results don’t define us ….

However, as she disappears into school… I do suddenly really want to know what those results are and the familiar old jitters start to return. I am struggling to concentrate on anything when we get the ‘thumbs up’ emoji. And that is enough…if she’ happy then I’m happy. More than happy in fact. As she bursts from the school, her face radiant with delight, and a smile that seems to last forever, I am truly thrilled for her. Today, me and my trio of teens, feel like an unbeatable team. It’s time to celebrate …

Small Boy’s new bed…

Wednesday 28 August 2019

Have I earned my glass of red tonight! Not only have I survived a full day at work and cooked a passable Spaghetti Bolognese … I have also completed my latest DIY project; Small Boy’s new bed.

Yes, Small Boy’s refusal to stop growing has finally taken its toll on the cabin bed he has slept in for the last 7 years. The mattress went to the tip a month ago and the frame is due to be collected by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) at the end of the week. To his utter joy, over the Summer holiday, I have allowed Small Boy to sleep on the sofa- bed downstairs with full and unfettered access to the TV … and the xbox! But, with the return to school fast approaching, I have resolved that enough, of this parental slackness, is quite enough. The new bed has been delivered…my only task now is to build the thing!

Now when I say my task, ‘our’ would be a more honest pronoun. In choosing my building day, I have wisely waited until the return of Prom-dress daughter from a trip, ‘Down South’, to her dad’s house. Did I mention that my girl is a dab-hand with a flat pack? Well tonight she excel’s herself. It is a slightly stumbling start, as we find that we need an allen key I don’t have to dismantle the old frame. However after a quick flit to Screw Fix, I am soon jangling a 10-set of those hexagonal rods, like a triumphant gaoler. Prom dress daughter is impressed by the new tools, which in her deft, little hands soon reduce the old cabin bed to a neat stack of flat sections, ready for the BHF van. Then, like a seasoned pro, she turns her attention to the newly delivered bed, unfolds the plans, casts a quick eye over them, before slotting, sliding and assembling the various sections into Small Boy’s new and infinitely more grown-up bed.

She does need my muscle a little bit, to tighten the odd screw and bang occasional sections into perfect alignment, but I am clearly the brawn and not the brains of this operation. Well ‘play to your strengths’ has always been my motto and we do make a great team. Small Boy still looks a little too long, as he now tries out his new berth but Prom dress daughter cheerily tells him to ‘curl up’ a little , as opposed to ‘sprawling out flat’ and everyone is happy. I celebrate with wine, it’s popcorn for the teens and together it’s been a fine day’s work…

Thanks Dad …

Thursday 29 August 2019

Today is a day when the past and future come together in wonderful harmony.

It’s a nervous morning, the date of the UKCAT for my eldest, and a very early start. By 07:30 am, we have forced down a bit of breakfast, driven through Manchester’s rush hour and parked near the city-centre testing venue. As we approach the building however I am stopped in my tracks. It is the very same building that my Dad worked in, many years ago, in his days as an advertising executive. I feel a wave of optimism sweep over me. This is surely a sign!

“Pops is bound to be looking down on you today.” I hear myself telling my daughter ” It must be a good omen!”

She does attempt a brave smile, but is still looking rather green as she is registered in the exam room and I am directed to the waiting area.

Over a very welcome latte, I try to settle down to some work but my mind drifts into memories of my father. Dad didn’t set out to be any kind of advertising executive. He was a musician and also worked as a cinema manager, in the more glamorous era of regional premieres and red carpets, in the 1960s. He and mum used to tell of fun nights, early in their marriage, spent watching new releases, feet up on the seats with bottles of beer, after the cinema has closed. And then … me and my brothers came along. And it turns out that jobs with late nights and concerts and gigs, just didn’t fit with family life. So he gave it all up, took exams, retrained …and joined a catalogue firm. And I realise, with a truly humbling shock, that it must have been awful, completely soul destroying. But I never heard him complain once. Dad did it all for us.

Now I do complain … a lot. I complain about my job. I complain about not been free to play in every concert that I hear about. I complain about money. I complain about…..too blinkin’ much! Great parents have been quietly putting their families ahead of their personal hopes and dreams for time immemorial. And one of them did that all for me. The very least I can do, in honour of that memory, is to either just get on with things or take action to improve things, but whatever I decide, ditch the moaning. Feeling focused and suddenly very sure of what I do want to do, I fire up my laptop and give my full attention to polishing my presentation for that scary extra-job interview next week.

I am interrupted by my eldest, who emerges, delighted with her UKCAT results, and we head home feeling fantastic. Back at the house, Prom dress daughter is in full flow, redesigning Small Boy’s room to better suit his new bed. Her total excavation of every drawer, box and corner of his dusty den has unearthed three Nintendo DS consoles, and the teens pounce upon these and retreat into their own nostalgia trip down memory lane. Now the notion that a DS is already a part of history does make me feel completely ancient, but today I don’t mind at all. Hey I am the old person in this house. I am the parent and proud to be so. There’s only one way for me to celebrate. I may not have a new film release but I do have Netflix. I grab a beer, get my feet up on the seats and toast the skies, “Thanks Dad!”