Becoming ‘Mum the Brave’

Mother’s Day March 2019

‘Happy Mother’s Day!’ pings a cheery text from Small Boy at precisely 7:37am British Summer Time! It is earlier than I was hoping to wake up, after a late Saturday night concert, but it does make me smile. Small Boy is in France, so probably doesn’t know that our clocks have ‘Sprung Forward’. In any case it is now a family tradition that Christmas, my Birthday and usually Mother’s Day too, start at some ungodly hour with my boy crashing enthusiastically into the bedroom with a tray of breakfast! The girls, by contrast, are far keener on their weekend lie-ins and so it’s very quiet house that greets me, as I creep downstairs for my first cup of tea. I decide that it’s the perfect time, on this National Day of Maternal-ness, to contemplate life as a mum!

The biggest change, that I can see, is that parenthood, life or maybe just becoming older and grumpier has lead to me being far more… forthright at best, and … confrontational at worst. ‘Quiet’ was always the adjective used to describe me at school and I am pretty sure I was a fairly diffident young adult too. Years ago for example, I recall how in a, now legendary, family incident my mum took on a grumpy ice-cream seller in Harlech, who was picking on one of the kids. It was she who defended our family honour and earned herself the title of ‘Nana the Brave’. The name stuck for years and if ever the kids faced a tricky situation I’d advise,

‘”Try and sort it out yourself, but if that doesn’t work …. we’ll send in Nana the Brave!’

This morning, I’m struggling to remember when we last called upon my mum to sort out any such issues. She’s still there, as fearless and feisty as ever, but I think that somewhere along the line … I became Mum the Brave!‘ It is me who was likened to a ‘Tigress defending her young‘ by a teacher when I disputed her comments at Parents Evening. (Let’s gloss over the fact that I have since been banned, by all 3 kids, from speaking any more than is absolutely necessary on such occasions!) It is me who takes on any retailer, any institution or any person who thinks they can mess with us. Hey, I’ve even taken on rodents this month!

So more outspoken for sure but is this is a single mum trait? You certainly do have to tough up and find your voice to survive, and to ‘smash it’ …well that’s a whole new level of determination. Read the incredible Dame Susan Black’s story for true inspiration. Whereas my ‘Mum the Brave’ exploits usually revolve around riding to the rescue of my family, she uses her strength to flourish in her own career too and to motivate other women to do the same…and that’s something I’ve been less good at. And I know it’s my next big challenge….

But today is Mothering Sunday, Small Boy calls to tell me that he’s having a star named after me and I decide that conquering the world of work can wait for 24 hours. Today of all days it feels pretty great just to be a mum!

Stop growing for 5 minutes!

Wednesday 27 March 2019


Look what the painters left behind last month! Our treasured pencil marks charting the kids’ heights over time. This year, they record the meteoric rise of Small Boy (AT) from the smallest to the tallest person in the house. Yes, he is now even taller than me!

I’ve had a great day working at home, and am actually feeling more on top of my workload than usual, when Small Boy bursts through the door. I am astounded by how ravenous he is. He simply can’t stop eating! As he pauses for breath, having polished off two bowls of cereal, a bag of nuts and raisins and some left over sticky toffee pudding, we chat about his upcoming school trip – singing in Eurodysney with the school choir.

“Any chance of some new black trousers for the concert, Mum?” he asks.

Glancing at his school uniform I can see what he means. His trousers, new at Christmas, are now hovering in a distinctly ‘half-mast’ fashion above his ankles. I decide I don’t want the Eurodysney crowd thinking that he’s turned up to audition for the part of Oliver Twist and add ‘school trousers’ to m Thursday after-work shopping list.

Can you just stop growing for 5 minutes!” I shout in mock-exasperation.

Small Boy grins and twirls me around the kitchen, before racing back outside to his basketball hoop. And I am left all alone in the kitchen, rooted to the spot. I’m not thinking about work anymore, because all I am thinking is that he won’t stop growing. None of them will. And soon life is going to start changing for us, in really significant ways. My eldest is already planning visits to Uni Open Days and into my head flashes an image of the day when we head out as a family of 4 to drop her off and return as a family of 3…it makes me feel utterly panic-stricken. A momentary desire to stop time and freeze it right here and now, with us all together in this happy little bubble is palpable. But of course that can’t happen and I actually wouldn’t want it to. It’s the start of the exciting future, freedom and independence I dream of for my kids and a reality all parents have to face at some point. I’m just not at all sure it’s one I’ll be smashing with any kind of dignity and without an awful lot of tissues ….


Saturday 23 March 2019

What a mad and magnificently musical-March it has been! This week alone, I have performed in 2 concerts and the kids have been in 3. We have careered all over the Northwest, discovering new venues, such as Manchester’s classy Stoller Hall, as well as playing in familiar favourites. We have been offered tea, wine and even, on one occasion, chips! It’s been exhausting, exhilarating and exciting…it’s how to do life!

Tonight was an explosion of joy and sound, playing for a local Choral society who took on every major choral work of the 20th Century. It was truly stirring, if a tad lengthy. (The woodwind section actually took a book out on what time it would finish!) Emotional for me too, listening to the haunting Pie Jesu, which I played at Dad’s funeral and playing in extracts from the Dream of Gerontius, the source of the quote on his headstone “Farewell, but not forever…”

I am winding down, with a well earned G&T, when a worrying thought pops into my head, What am I going to do when it’s all over? The musical mayhem, I’ve juggled since January, comes to a glorious end next Saturday with the mighty Mahler 5. Will I be able to cope as I scale back to one weekly rehearsal and a less hectic life? Then I remember that we have, GCSEs , Uni Open days, Work Experience for both girls and Summer Sun to plan for and fit in …something tells me it’s not going to quieten down at all! Well Hallelujah…

There’s a rat in my kitchen!

Tuesday 19 March 2019
Another new skill is added to my repertoire – this time, it’s pest control !!

It’s after 10 pm as I reach home from tonight’s rehearsal. I am pretty hungry and tired, but all thoughts of food and sleep are cast aside as I espy a parcel on my bookcase. My SparkPod Ultrasonic Pest Repeller has arrived – hip hip hooray!!

The girls are convinced that we have mice in the loft, following a few nights of ‘strange scratching’ noises. Now I do try to take most things on …but rodents are my limit. So I shot straight online to locate a skilled mouse remover, whereupon I came across the world of ultrasonic solutions to pest problems! They had absolutely rave reviews and so I was enticed to give home remedy one chance to succeed before I call in the pros!

And here it is! Feeling quite giddy with excitement, I rip open the packaging … oh goody there are three of them but yikes ….they are plug in devices and I don’t think there’s a socket in my loft! Undeterred, even though it’s now close to 11pm, I turn the garage upside down to find my extension lead and am teetering up the stairs, with a SparkPod repeller under my chin and a chair (to stand on) in one hand and the extension lead in the other, when Prom Dress Daughter potters out. She shares my delight and upon hearing that they also deter spiders, whisks the device away and plugs it happily into her own room! ‘Never mind‘ I think smugly, ‘I have 2 more!

Sensibly I decide to leave the chair and extension lead in the bedroom that leads to the loft before popping back downstairs to get devices 2 and 3 and now I do hit an unstoppable barrier. In that bedroom, sleeping soundly like an angel is my eldest daughter! I do come to my senses and realise that I do need to resume this escapade tomorrow. Prom Dress daughter and I cheer ourselves up by plugging all three devices into various sockets around the house before I pack her off to bed and direct myself to the kitchen for a snack that’s now almost a midnight feast.

‘Til tomorrow rodents…

Bruising Times!

Friday 15 March 2019

It’s been a bruising week quite literally for me. My right foot is a black and bloody mess after an electric till fell upon it, corner-first, on Monday. My trusty Toyota, Windsor, has a nasty bump after a collision with another car on Tuesday. And on Thursday, in a hurried attempt to beautify myself ahead of Saturday night, I managed to get hair dye in my eye and have spent today observing the world through, a ghastly combination of, one green and one very red eye! Like most of us, what I have been observing are the latest rounds of Brexit votes and they really do look brutal! My scrapes this week have really painful but I know that they will heal or be repaired before too long. The bruises of Brexit…I’m not so sure…

I’ll admit, I wish that the referendum had never happened, but it did and so I have thought about how I will cope. I have looked into the impact of Brexit for my family, but it’s an uncertain picture. Many advisory sites concentrate on changes to holiday travel and Euro-Sterling exchange rates, but I’m not losing any sleep over those. They seem inconvenient but solvable issues. Economic experts anticipate price rises and shortages, and I find these much more worrying, but again I am used to financial pressure and having to think about costs and logistics all of the time, so I think that my household will adapt. What has been a shock has been the emotional drama of this saga and the disintegration of relationships within Westminster as well as between MPs and the rest of the nation. I am struck by how horribly apt the media’s analogy with divorce, which I found highly irritating at first, has proved to be.

Most of the debate is focused upon our economic prosperity, but I hypothesis that, akin to the messy financial decisions in a divorce, if we approach these negotiations with our game face on, our research done and our data ready, it will eventually sort itself out. It’s the emotional scars that will be so much harder to repair, as indeed they are in any marriage breakdown. How do we rebuild trust in our political leaders both within the House of Commons and outside, when through a colossal failure of leadership, they have neglected to engage and communicate with many of the key stakeholders in these hugely important decisions, seemingly because … it’s too much like hard work? Teresa May signalled this, with her decision to call a General Election in 2017. ‘Yes, Teresa, it would have been easier to bludgeon through you own vision of Brexit with a majority, but finding the best solution isn’t always about finding the easiest solution!’ A golden rule of leadership is that to effect real change, you need to ‘take people with you ‘. It’s time consuming, it requires you to listen as well as speak, it requires patience and flexibility, but … it’ the only way!

Teresa May’s approach has done the reverse and, in consequence, she has lost the loyalty and support of even her own MPs. Look at Parliament, torn apart, divided, fracturing and rocking with instability before our eyes. Will it ever be the same again? Even more significantly, I can see no evidence of engagement and debate with the wider public. The despair and the sense of betrayal and dis-empowerment that led to so many voting to leave the EU in the first place, have we addressed this? The uncomfortable debate about immigration and society’s view of the UK multi-racial population, have we had this debate? I am not sure that we have and I worry, far more than I do about having a few less Euros to my pound, that it is a ticking time bomb.

So how will I prepare for Brexit… I think I’ll just know that I have the resilience to survive it economically! How will I try to keep smashing life as a single parent? By trying really hard to communicate with, listen to and engage all family members in the tricky and sometimes difficult conversations that can only make us stronger….that’s possibly far easier said than done!

Time to think

Friday 8 March 2019

Aug 2018: visiting Lissadell House

My house is quiet and full of space … and it’s utter bliss! Small Boy is out with friends and the children’s Dad has taken both girls out for tea. I have wine, I have egg and chips and I have precious hour of peace to stop and think about the week that has passed by.

It’s been very much my kind of week at work. Always on the go, with a couple of new projects reaching their peak and the demands of organising evening events and public presentations. And always full of buzz and excitement, such a welcome change from the usual routine. I sip on my wine and reflect on how much I happier I am at work when there’s something new and the challenging focus on. Perhaps instead of ‘giving up’ chocolate for Lent this year, I should be ‘taking up’ or even ‘making’up’ new opportunities in the workplace.

And as today is ‘International Women/s Day’, there’s no shortage of inspiring words to strengthen my resolve. I choose Countess Markievicz of Lissadell House, which I visited in Ireland last Summer,
“…. take up your responsibilities and be prepared to go
your own way, depending for safety on
your own courage, 
your own truth and 
your own common sense,
and not on the problematic chivalry of the men you may meet on the way ..”

Now clearly, chilvalrous men are rather less of a problem for me than for the lovely Countess! Otherwise, her call, to be guided by your own truth and courage, really does chime with me. I raise a glass to taking on fresh challenges and to learning new things, to aiming high and encouraging my children to do the same. I am revived and inspired, it has been good to have some time to think…

This mum runs too

1 March 2019
March gets off to a great start with the return of the work Friday Run Club!

I have been running for about 5 years now. It began with me huffing and puffing my way ‘around the block’ which was exactly a mile. Gradually, I’ve built it up, to a Park Run, then a first 10K, and I now manage a couple of 5 or 6 miles runs each week. It is the perfect sport for a single parent because it’s cheap (all you need is a pair of running shoes), and it’s totally flexible (you go running when you have a spare hour.) But what a huge struggle and often a dreaded chore it was at first! I think it was about 3 years ago, that someone recommended running a bit slower and that was a complete revelation! I went from enduring running to loving it overnight! I did slow down and now I run further and, ironically, faster than I ever thought possible. To quote Matt Frazier, author of ‘No-Meat Athlete Cookbook’,
If all you know of running is running fast, then you don’t know running. You know gym class mile-run torture, and almost nobody (not even runners) thrive on that kind of pain. If you’re having trouble running consistently, just slow down.”

Anyway, back to our Friday Run Club. Friday was once a day when I just didn’t want to get up. The teens have a Friday rehearsal which finishes at 7 and I am the ‘pick-up’ parent! By the time I finish work it’s not possible to make the pick up if I go home first. So every Friday, I’d leave for work at 7:30 am, and finally make it back home by 7:30 pm, instantly have to start cooking so that our hungry and grumpy household could eat before 9! There was also dismal, dead time at the end of the working day when I’d try, but utterly fail, to be productive and get ahead with jobs for Monday. Let’s be honest, who wants to work late on a Friday?

At the start of October, a work colleague suggested a Friday run and it has been a ‘Friday transformation’ ! My week now ends with a small group of us running together for an hour, clad in bright clothes (even I’ve dug out a pink running top) and never once mentioning, ‘pace’ or ‘PBs’. Instead for the first 2 miles we talk work, and with every sentence and every step I feel work being put aside and laid to rest until the start of the next week. For the next 2 miles, as the incline we’ve been climbing steadily intensifies in steepness, I actually can’t speak! But I come back to life on the glorious 2 mile descent back to work , and now we discuss weekend plans and life, the good parts and the bad. ‘Never stop!’ is our motto, but if anyone gets tired or feels under the weather we all slow down. It’s running for fitness but, more importantly, for friendship and it is the perfect start to my weekend. Back home, Small Boy’s Friday technology class have been cooking since January and so we have had the added bonus of (cooking class) meals ready on the stroke of 7:30 pm too!

I marvel at the achievements of Jasmine Pace, a mum who became the first female winner of the Ultra Marathon. At Christmas, one of our runners bought us all buffs in support of the ‘Doing it for Laura‘ campaign, that you may have seen on the the BBC news, and I marvel, not only at this inspirational teen, but at her runner mum, too. I marvel at my own mum friends who have run with their children, or around their children, and now complete astonishing running feats. And because of them and because running keeps me fit and sane and because running’s made me appreciate that my amazing workmates are so much more than the jobs they do, I am proud to say ‘This mum runs too…”