Good week: happy mum!

Friday 29 January 2020

Well cheers to us this evening! I am feeling super proud of my trio of teens. This has been a good week…

In a corner of the North East, my Eldest makes it through her first set of University exams. She doesn’t get the results for a few weeks but, frankly, I couldn’t care less about any scores. I find it blooming incredible that, despite being left to study Medicine from a laptop in her Uni room and having no face to face teaching or learning for 11 months, she gets her nose to the grindstone, grapples with huge quantities of complicated new knowledge and revises and prepares like an absolute trooper. Simply astounding!

Back home, Prom-dress daughter faces her EPQ presentation. The stresses of Lockdown aside, my middle child has flourished academically at sixth-form. These days, I’ll be frank, we all struggle to keep up with her! I marvel at the reams of research, as I agree to read her final epic of an essay. Tentatively, I suggest the occasional comma but, if truth be told, the sophistication of the arguments and the complexity of the ideas are beyond me and I mostly just content myself with being happily in awe! She has loved writing this piece of work but standing up to present it and face questions from a panel of students and tutors? Alas, for my shy, quiet girl, that is a terrifying thought. Her only option, to control those nerves, is preparation. She gets tips from college, from her dad and from one of my fabulous friends and grafts away, using the advice to get ready. And come Thursday morning, just as I am starting a live lesson from the lounge, I hear her bravest ‘game face’ voice from upstairs launching into her presentation. Yes, I’ll confess to a little tear and know I couldn’t feel any prouder.

And so to Small Boy. It’s a first GCSE music performance for my son, also over the electronic ether. It’s a piece of film music that he has found and taught himself. And it is beautiful. I do love film music and having the romantic and evocative melodies filling the house over the last few weeks has been wonderful – at times, as my talented boy adds rich chords and plays around with the tempo, it has felt like having little bit of my dad back. But, above all, the reason I feel most pleased with my youngest child is that, like his sisters, he puts the work in. Yes, he practises that lovely piece to perfection. And, as he tunes in looking a little green but emerges all smiles from the recording, let’s hope he realises; that’s what gets results!

And thus, the week ends. There’s a bottle of Malbec for me, a gift from my boss for helping him out with a piece of work. I fill a glass and sink onto the sofa feeling tired but calm and happy. Kids! They can be such a worry, but at least in this rare moment I feel confident that mine are going to be okay; inwardly strong, resilient and ready …. for life? Hey, I am sure it will be a different story next week but, for now, I raise my glass,

To you teens – top efforts this week!”

Milestones

Tuesday 26 January 2021

Twenty six days into my 2021 resolutions, I have 26 runs and 82 km on my Strava . Gracious me, that’s over 50 miles!

Throughout January, inspired by Ron Hill and his 52 years and 39 days record of running every day, three and a half weeks of tootling around the block every day, and a little bit further at weekends has brought me to this landmark. Incredible! Who knew that a 10 minute jog on a daily basis could add up so quickly!

I am ready to stop though. Yes, come the 1 Feb, I will be giving my running shoes a well earned rest. I have really enjoyed the daily dash. I go a little bit further each week. I go a little bit faster too. I feel energetic, oxygen fuelled, clear skinned and bright eyed. More importantly I feel calm, refreshed … and self-indulged. And this is why I love a New Year Resolution. Whilst psychologists may decry resolutions as needless self -pressure to impose upon an already demanding world, and even the health and well-being experts queued up to espouse this view as we finally consigned 2020 to the history books, I think the complete opposite. I find that our new year tradition is one of the only times in the calendar when I do focus on myself. It may only be 10 short minutes each day, but it is , nonetheless, time when I just think about me. Not my teens. Not my job. Not my mortage. Not the sometimes bleak future….just me… and my crazy January goals! And as 2021 dawned, after a year when the demands, stress and, above all worry, about everyone and everything had threatened to crush me , I needed this more than ever.

But I realise tonight, as I burst back into the house, trainers muddy, leggings soggy and face glowing with the cold, that I am better. And that means, that 5 days from now, it is time to stop. Because I am ready to get back, back to the grind and the gruelling but above all the glorious roller coaster of life a mum, an educator and someone who thinks life is about probably about something more important than kilometres and run schedules! Of course I’ll still do my weekly 10k, I might even do occasional circuits of ‘the block’ but its adios to charting my progress, checking Strava every evening and thinking that a day without a run is a failed one!

On the news today there is a far grimmer milestone . Covid deaths in the UK top one hundred thousand for the first time. It certainly puts life into perspective. I need to start focusing on the small contribution I can make to this current situation. Because if miles are covered one step at a time, who knows what we can achieve with many individual efforts to see this through and play our part. Rejuvenated by my month of running , I now have the energy and strength to try again…

“To get through the hardest journey, we only need to take one step at a time, but we must keep on stepping…”

Chinese proverb

Cheese pie, sprouts and beer!

Friday 8 January 2020

Home-made cheese and onion, with chutney and a few brussels all washed down with a dark fruity stout- could there be a better way to end a very long week…

With a third national Lockdown, schools closing and exams cancelled, it’s certainly been a challenging 5 days, but I do feel okay. And okay for me at the moment is a lot better than usual.

Yes, on a more serious note, my mental health has been on a downward turn in recent months and threatened to spiral out of control over the holidays. For the first time ever, I went to bed on Christmas Eve dreading that Christmas Day would be a ‘1 out of 10 day’, terrified that I would not be able to paint on a cheery festive face and make sure that everyone had a lovely time.  I live at a comfortable ‘5 out of 10’ most of the time. Not great, I concede, but sufficient to function and ‘fool the crowd’.

Above all, I hope that I can be as happy as you always seem to be!”,  a pupil wrote on a thank-you card to me a couple of years ago. And I recall feeling shocked and an utter fraud. I almost ran after them shouting,

Please please please, let me be a role model for anything but this…because this is a lie and a sham. I  actually can’t remember what ‘happy’ feels like!”

But I didn’t. I just smiled, pinned the card onto my board with all the others and faked on with the day!

But something about corona virus has knocked even this stoic ‘get on with it’ spirit out of me and, to my horror, as the sun rises on 25 December, I feel the dark cloud of despair descend and although I do drag myself out of bed, I am gripped with a panic about ruining the day for everyone.

Until this happens… people arrive. It’s mum and an old friend, and just these relatively new faces really cheer me up. Thereafter I have the meal to prepare and the busyness and sense of purpose, not to say challenge for this self-confessed cooking calamity, drive the darkness away and I am able to ‘keep calm and carry on’.

And Christmas continues in this way. Friends call on Zoom. The teens’ Dad visits. And all of it is a wonderful change and distraction from the news and the gloom and the horrible uncertainty of our covid-world. It also gives me a wake up call.  I need to be occupied and I need goals and diversions. Parenting is tough; single parenting even more so. My hobbies are a life line because, they give me space to be me again. Not only a Mum marking the march through life with the lines on her face. No the me who still feels 25 on the inside and loves that when she runs, she feels the strength in her body and the oxygen in her lungs. Loves that when she plays music she is part of the noise and feels her emotions soar.  Loves that when she tackles some tricky maths, or reads a great novel (or even writes a blog post) the numbers, concepts and words dance around in her mind forming and re-forming and making new thoughts and ideas.  But at more basic level, my hobbies keep me busy. If covid has taken some of this away; I need to put something back

So my resolutions for 2021 are formed. Forget ‘Dry January’, writing a novel or training for a half marathon! These are simply about well being and routine. I commit to: drinking at least 2 litres of water a day, running at least a mile a day (The Ron Hill idea), and doing 2 yoga workouts per week. 

And after a week of my new regime, I am feeling okay; focused and stable. I enjoy ‘Yoga with Adriene‘, a rare space of 40 minutes that seems, luxuriously, about self-care. The water; well probably my favourite thing of all, as it gets rid of the scourge of daily headaches. For the first time in years, I walk past the the anadin-extra shelf  in the supermarket, without adding a weekly box to my trolley. As for the running – well what a week to start! Weather- wise, it is more than ‘grim up North’  as January 2021 gets into gear, it is the bleak bloomin’ mid-winter. How much do I feel like running as I arrive home in the cold, ice and fog? I struggle to think of anything that seems less appealing. But I make myself do it – it’s only 10 minutes after all.  And, once out, I love it. Crisp, energising and peaceful. Just very very chilly.  I could probably do with some gloves! Maybe, if I keep on saving on the anadin -extra, I’ll treat myself to a pair! In the meantime, I’m off to enjoy my cheese and onion pie…

Pay Day!

Wednesday 30 January 2019


Praise the Lord for tomorrow is PAY DAY! A day when money goes in and, for a blissful 24 hours, nothing goes out,  and I can have one day when I pretend to have no money worries.  Because, and I can’t find a positive slant on this one, when you move from parenting as a couple to parenting alone you are screwed financially!

The excellent reportThe Cost of a Child in 2018 by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) presents data showing that the actual cost of raising a child is higher for lone parents than couples. They calculate that “The overall cost of a child (over 18 years, including rent and childcare) is £150,753 for a couple and £183,335 for a lone parent”. In this report the ‘cost of a child’ is calculated as the difference the arrival of the child has made to the family outgoings. With this definition it’s easier to see why some costs, such a Child Care, have a greater impact for a lone parent, who has less flexibilty and choice,than a couple. What is a surprise is that the financial imbalance continues throughout the child’s life. Or is it? Single mums I meet who have jobs in the care and health sectors often have night shifts and this means paying for overnight child care until their children are quite old. It’s a cost many couples don’t have. From a personal point of view, I know that my earning potential is more limited than when I was married, because working hours, location, ability to travel for work are all contstrained by childcare. Cuts in personal tax thresholds only impact one salary in my home in comparison to two for many of my couple friends. I am sure there are other reasons too,  because the figures look indisputable and the relentless disparity between the ability of lone parent families to cover their outgoings in comparison to families parented by a couple, is a tough read. One finding that hits home for me is this, 

“For families on median earnings, the contrast between lone parents and couple families is particularly pronounced. The former now fall 15%  short of an adequate income even with a reasonably paid job…. For a couple with two young children, on the other hand, median wages produce disposable income 10 % above the minimum.”

I have certainly found it a constant battle to stay afloat. Ex contributes, but it’s less than a quarter of the money that previously came into the home. Even with his contribution, divorce led to a 50% drop in my household income, which was a body blow. I work full time,  I think I am quite good with money but I still cannot stay out of the red most months and have precisely £0 in my ‘rainy day fund’. There is also discrimination at every turn. Council Tax, Child Benefit, lack of Married Person’s Tax Allowance, Benefits Sanctions and many other costs hit single parents disproportionately and that just isn’t fair. We deserve a level playing field, but you’d have to be innumerate and deluded to think a lone parent can look forward to the same financial security as a couple in the UK of 2019.

There is plenty more I could say but it’s not for now, because now is almost the ‘last working day of the month’ when for a full day my bank balance will look rosy and the financial future bright and I don’t want to waste a single minute of that day on angry rants…

When your realise you’ve overdone it!

Friday 25 January 2019 
Oh my goodness, a day that began at 6am finally finishes as I arrive home at 10:30 pm and I am spent! As I head to the fridge and find it stocked with wine but no milk, I also feel like pretty feckless specimen of parenthood! 

I pour myself a glass anyway and decide I deserve it. I am back from a rehearsal and it’s not exactly the first rehearsal of the week. No, I am a musician, strictly amateur, who has said yes to a few too many job offers in recent weeks and I now find myself juggling about four different sets of orchestral commitments. I have spent a glorious week hurtling around Lancashire, in the fog and snow, to exotic locations such as Chorley, Blackburn and Bolton to tootle my oboe notes and make music. I have loved nearly every minute of it (petrol light flashing on a dark blizzard-hit M65 was a bit of a stress point), but upon reflection…..I wonder it I have overdone it? It’s not just the lack of milk, nor the fact that only a cheese pie, produced my my youngest in school cookery class, saved us from food disaster this evening, it’s also that, as I fly in and out, I hear children, muttering ‘again?’ or ‘another rehearsal?’ with a definite accusing edge to their voices…As the spawn of musical parents, it was never really an option not to play an instrument and I began lessons at the age of 12. And now, I am grateful to my core, because, at times, music has been the only thing that has kept me sane and I have always fought hard to keep playing. When my marriage broke up I managed to get to a few rehearsals by giving up (amongst many other things) a cleaner and spending the money paying for the same lovely lady to babysit instead. And those rehearsals were an absolute lifeline!

These days playing music mostly makes me feel  incredibly happy. I love being part of the noise, I love feeling my soul stir, I love my mind being overtaken by melody and emotion … it’s just utterly fantastic! It’s also a link to the past which can be sadder. Dad was a musician and sometimes, as I hear a piece of music that I can picture him conducting or playing, I still feel myself wobble. In particular, I cannot reach the end of Beethoven’s Pastoral without big fat tears rolling down my face,  because whenever Mum went to hear him perform, Dad would always serenade her with one of its Horn solos as she entered the auditorium. I guess I am just a Real Emotional Girl and that makes music a perfect companion. 

But, whilst I may have music in my soul, whilst I may thrive on the excitement of a week eating on the go and caring little about the state of the house, I’m not flying solo through life. I am part of, in fact I am captain of, a team. And the balance, that trickiest of balances between personal freedom and parental responsibility, hasn’t worked for my super-squad this week. I can have music, just not quite this much!  I look at the calendar, life looks a little crazier than usual until Easter,  but I resolve, with only a slightly heavy heart, to say ‘Yes, I’ll play’ a little less after that…

The Miracle of Time

Saturday 19th January 


The children’s Dad is visiting this weekend, ‘up’ from ‘The South’. It’s a pretty long trek and so we tend to see him about once a month. After a frenetic week at work, it is blooming fantastic to wave them all off on Saturday morning and enjoy  some time to myself. I luxuriate in solitude and pleasing myself. I fit in a run, I finish an overdue report for work, I spruce the house up a bit, potter about  and then just sit in peace and quiet enjoying a very large cup of coffee and feeling more on top of things than I have for several days  – it’s utter bliss.

On Saturday evening we all head out for a meal at a local Italian I’ve been meaning to try try for ages. 


Out for a meal with your ex-husband!‘ I hear you cry, ‘How  nauseatingly mature of you!’ 

Fear not, it has taken us an awfully long time to reach this stage! And we haven’t got there my being mature, or having any clever conversations it’s simply this…time. It’s the oldest cliche in the book but, time is a great healer. It heals the wounds and takes away the hurt, until you are just 2 people again who know each other pretty well. My ex is an astonishingly well- read guy and a truly original thinker. It would be easy for anyone to while away a few hours in his company on this ticket alone. But for me above all of that, it’s just nice to spend some time with the one other person on the planet who finds our children as fascinating as I do. 

Anyway, back to the meal! We all love the restaurant, a typical buzzing and busy Italian. Ex and I catch up on work news and then both listen with amusement, at first, to my eldest who has chosen this moment to try and convince her Dad that he should buy her a car. But she puts together a strong and rather moving case which is very much about closing the travel gap between the children and their Dad and their ‘Down South family’ . I can tell that he’s considering it…which is a surprise!. It’s a lovely evening.

Whether or not the car idea ever materialises, only time will tell, but he is on our doorstep on Sunday at 9am as promised to take my eldest for her first ‘driving lesson’. It’s the traditional, jolting your parent’s car around Tesco car park experience, and she loves it! If someone gave me a ‘ magic hour of time ‘ I know I would use it to see my Dad … just for one more time. And I might well take us both back 30 years to my first faltering steps, as a learner driver, edging his Leyland Princess along the beach in Wales. It’s a special time, it’s been a good weekend….

Sometimes the wheels just come off.

Thursday 10 January 2019 
This morning one of my children had an severe asthma attack and any plans I had for the day went up in smoke. I hope that she will recover quickly and am thankful that the doctor does, at least, allow us back home on this occasion. 

But I am worried about the asthma and I am worried about Thursday’s workload which now all gets added to Friday’s workload. I am worried about deadines which are now 24 hours closer and suddenly seem like a mountain to climb. I am worried that there’s only ever me to sort everything out and that one day I might break. I am worried that it’s now 7pm and we all still need to eat. I tearily try to remember the last time anybody said “you look really worn out love, sit down and let me sort the tea”

Oh ‘get a grip‘ I shout inwardly… and laugh, as it does make me feel better. I recall the numerous times when the kids have sorted out tea… well to be precise have turned the oven on as I leave work! I smile as I think about the times they have noticed that I need a cup of tea and with varying degrees of skill have made me one.

As any kind of parent, it’s is never ‘only me’. You always have an unbeatable team by your side. And at work its the same. I’m blessed with fantastic colleagues, ever ready to lend a hand whenever I seem to be going under. And we’ll keep postive about the asthma too, with our GP and a fabulous specialist. I fire up the laptop and read through some updates on the Asthma UK site. I decide to sign up for their lottery. I remind myself that it’s 2019, time to stop seeing problems and concentrate on smashing them  … 

This is going to hurt!

Tuesday 8 January 2019

It’s the first week back after the Christmas Holidays, what doesn’t hurt? My ears hurt as the alarm clock nags me into wakefulness, my eyes hurt as the bedroom light pierces through the heavy darkness of a 6am January morning and most of all my soul hurts. The lovely lazy days of the festive season, when its nationally acceptable to do little other than eat, drink and make merry, are gone and we are back to the military operation that is working parent life! It’s school, it’s dinner money, it’s bus passes, it’s PE kits, it’s trip letters, it’s work, it’s commuting, it’s presentatons, it’s meetings….it’s just exhausting.

However, for some reason simply surviving a first week back is not enough for me. Oh no, for some reason, long forgotten I have decided to throw into the mix a mid-week trip to the Theatre for me, my eldest and some friends. I duly dash in on Tuesday night, feed children, slap on a bit of make-up, dash out with daughter, pick up our friends and career through Manchester’s roadworks and diversions to the Lowry in Salford.

Finally parked and drinks bought we take our seats and I begin to relax. We are here for a night of comedy with the touring show ‘Adam Kay – This is Going to Hurt’. Adam was a Doctor who has produced a best seller based on his diary extracts from Junior Doctor days onwards. I haven’t read the book but my daughter and our friends have and have “loved it”. My daughter wants to go Medical School, I am sure it will all be very enlightening and educational. And I do like the Lowry. It’s usually my mum who organises our outings here and I wonder if we should have brought her along …

Ten minutes into the show I am thanking the Lord that we left 80 year old mum at home! Adam bawdily romps through diary extracts featuring every kind of bodily fluid and mishaps to our cheekiest body parts and his language is rather fruity! Glancing around the auditorium I now notice that it’s a very adult audience, in fact we are possibly accompanying the only 2 teenagers in the place! Adam moves onto performing some hilarious songs, again adult-humour edgy. Or are they? My daughter is certainly laughing along with the best of them at the chorus-punchline to a song about a colonic irrigation tube! I swig my diet coke, knock back a handful of M & Ms and soon I too am singing enthusiastically along to the ‘Medical Quiz Round’. It’s tons of fun!

In case you go to see the show I wont spoil the ending but this is suddenly and startlingly, shocking and sad and we walk back to the car buzzing and talking about it all. The others tell me that I must read the book and I promise that I will. Laughter is a great medicine and January certainly hurts a little less than it did 24 hours ago ….

No Man-uary!

Saturday 5 January 2019

It’s the 5th January and time for me to re-connect with the world. Over a coffee, I catch up on my emails and find my inbox flooded with eye-catching discounts from online dating sites. I am technically “in the market for love” and I adore a good bargain, but even faced with a 75% saving, I find myself wavering.

I have been single for a few months now, having parted company with a pretty nice fella after a 7 year relationship. A hopeless and hapless romantic, I did stock up on gin and whisky in preparation for some dark weeks of devastation following our separation. However my drinks cabinet remains intact as I found, instead of despair, an energising boost of freedom as I stepped back into the world of the singleton.

For various reasons we had never lived together. The irony of this, for us, was this. Although my bloke was a committed runner (believe you me, what I dont know about heart rates, marathon pace, strengthening and conditioning and training schedules in general really isn’t worth knowing), our relationship stood still and eventually ground to a terminal halt. As we went out separate ways I feel as if I’ve come back to life, have enjoyed loads of new opportunities and have had real fun with friends….and my children?!

Yes, I discovered, children change a lot in 7 years. Back then they were all at primary school. I was expert as packing them off to bed and was beyond grateful to sink down with a glass of red and some adult conversation of an evening. But now they are young adults and they are really good company. At weekends, they are usually off in 3 different directions but when not, we’ve teamed up for some great family outings. During the week, now that my time isn’t divided between them and my fella, we’ve shared far more laughs, tears, popcorn and time together over films, “I’m a Celebrity” and just general silliness. It’s been wonderful.

And I know the clock is ticking for this precious time together as within 5 years they’ll all have spread their wings. I really need to make the most of it. So I think the dating sites can keep their offers for now. At the very least, I am resolved to make it to February and commit to a No-Manuary…