Wednesday 2 January 2019
This blog may be a New Years Resolution, but a notable D-Day for me actually came back in August, my first GCSE results day as a parent….
After very little sleep, my eldest and I set off to school. As she dived into the babbling crowd of teenagers heading inside, I was left in the carpark, with only anxiety and panic for company. I was unsettled and on edge, with scenarios to deal with delight or utter despair racing around my mind in frantic flashing images.
Children began to emerge; some waving results slips aloft and punching the air in triumph; others in tears hurrying to the anonymity of a parent’s car, results in brown envelopes, hidden from view. The contrast was shocking. I felt completely sick. Would I hold it together if my daughter, who had worked her socks off, was one of the inconsolable ones? I swiped and scrolled my phone like a lunatic. No messages. Did I dare to send one? No I did not! I turned the radio on, turned it off. I said a prayer. Then came a text
“Should be out soon, sorry for the delay!“
I bit my lip and risked a reply
“Any news? …….. “
“All good” flashed onto the screen, and I began to breathe again!
But it was moments later, as my daughter slipped back into the car, and handed me her results that I got my wake up call. A sea of top grade 9s and the occasional grade 8, swam across the page. Her results weren’t just good…they were phenomenal!! And I hadn’t expected that. I realised, with a jolt, that I really hadn’t expected it. I had assumed that the very top grades simply weren’t for us. They were for children from ‘other families’. Households, I’d probably invented in my head, where one parent seminared through Science revision, whilst the other dashed off a few French flashcards. Homes where a duo of parents balanced exam tuition with time for yoga and well being. Simply put, children from families where day in day out, there was more adult time and input to share out than I could ever hope to manage. I had trapped myself into believing that, whilst we did ‘our best’, we would always fall a little short of where we might have been as a two-parent unit.
Thankfully one person hadn’t done this, my amazing daughter. Determined, driven and totally focused upon her own goals, as opposed to worrying about anyone else, she had set about simply smashing those GCSEs. And she is my inspiration for 2019. No more worrying about everyone else for me. Hard work and focus, not family background, enable you aim high and chase your dreams. It’s more than time for me to forget seeing single parenthood, as the poor relation of the family unit, and start smashing it. Here goes ….
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…
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 ….
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 …
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….
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…
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 report, The 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. The 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…
Friday 1 February 2019
Wow made it through January and as this cartoon pops upon my social media, whilst marvelling at the will power of those stoics who have made it through a dry month, I am compelled to wonder,
‘If that’s what the end of Dry-January looks like, what on earth am I supposed to be doing to mark the end of No-Manuary?!!’
Should it be flirty-February? Our Book Club read for this month is the tantalisingly titled ‘The Lover‘ and I wonder if it’s an omen. Fitting a few first dates into the weekly chaos would be a challenge, but it could be fun to try! On the other hand, do I enjoy another luxurious month of balancing fabulous family time with time for me and doing the things I really enjoy?January was hectic but very happy. Perhaps I’ve found my perfect formula and there’s no need to change it? I guess time will tell…
Saturday 2 February 2019
You could call February my momentous month. Two of my children have February birthdays, it’s the month I bought my current home and, many moons ago, my first ever car. Alternatively, as birthday plans collide with car and home insurance renewals, you could just call it a month of financial catastrophe… and this year I also have to throw a Prom dress into the mix !
Saturday is earmarked for our first foray into the wonderful world of Prom dress shopping, with an appointment booked at a local boutique. However my Saturday morning run is interrupted by a frantic call from the shop. Our slot has been booked at a time when another girl, from the same school, is on the premises … and apparently this is a ‘Disaster!’
“No no no!” a woman gasps in horror down the phone, “The girls can’t have anyone else seeing their dress before the ‘Big Day!'”
I long to shout ‘Are you for real?’ down the line but instead I keep my opinions to myself and calmly book us in for the following weekend, because it will keep the peace in our household. Keep the peace because, though I may join the ‘No prom in my day!’ brigade in finding the whole thing a complete palaver, I accept that ‘The Prom’ is now an important date in the school leaver’s diary? Not really! It will keep the peace because of parity – the golden rule of family life. This is my second prom-ing daughter. Last year this shop was on our Prom-circuit and that means we go again this year… end of discussion.
The upshot however is that Saturday afternoon is now free and my other two children, the February birthday duo, spot their opportunity and swoop in. Their birthday gifts this year are phone upgrades and so we find ourselves off on a family trip to take on the might of the mobile moguls and root ourselves out a good deal. It doesn’t start well, I disgrace myself in the first shop by confusing storage with data and having to ask what an ‘XR’ is and all three kids are rolling their eyes and making furious ‘keep quiet mum!‘ gestures in my direction. However, by shop 3, as we start to talk money- numbers, I come into my own. My arthimetic is quicker than the computer and that throws the salesman off his stride. When I also produce bits of paper with comparative deals on, he is putty in my hands and we are soon offered extra discounts and extra data to beat the very best deals we’d researched in advance …I think even the kids are impressed! They are certainly very happy with their new phones, even if neither of them comes close to being an XR!
Back home I feel I’ve well and truly earned my Saturday glass of wine. Just the small matter of home insurance, car insurance and a Prom dress to squeeze out of my monthly salary now… oh bring it on!!!
Saturday 9 February 2019 Y7
Oh dear, it’s been a truly, terrible week and I’ve spent much of it feeling like the worst parent on the planet. My head has been overloaded with deadlines and difficult decisions at work, and overloaded at home with demands for my time, the mum taxi and my wallet. My body is exhausted with day-in day-out drudgery. If only my big mouth could have been too weary to make an appearance this week. But alas no, feeling the stress, it has been guilty of firing out stupid, and at time awful, comments at the people I work with and live with. With horrendously bad timing, this has hit Birthday Week for two of my children and so, in move to drag myself away from the whirlpool of gloom that is threatening to submerge me, I have decided to concentrate on them, worry about everything else later. So here is a paragraph about each of my Birthday duo.
I’ll start with ‘Small Boy’ my youngest, but tallest child who marched on through the teenage years this week. Described by one teacher, at a recent Parent’s Evening, as ‘remarkable’, he really is a remarkable bundle of creativity. He tootles away for hours on the piano my mum gave us, re-creating and then rearranging his favourite rock and pop tunes, he’s just teaching himself the guitar and already does a brilliant rendition of Phoebe‘s ‘Smelly Cat’ (from Friends) and his writing is so amazing, I once accused him of copying his English homework from a published novel! He’s witty, he’s clever, he’s unbelievably good company. More importantly he is also incredibly kind and thoughtful, gets spiders out of rooms, takes his Nana on day’s out, always gives money to people begging on the streets and once called the RSPCA to rescue an injured bird in the garden. He also does an amazing job of coping, as the lone man, in our home of females. We may all shout ‘Shut the door !’ whenever music from the piano,or his latest vinyl, starts to fill the house, but the truth is ‘Small Boy’ rocks our world!
My eldest child also celebrated her Birthday this week. She is an unstoppable force who just takes our breath away. When my girl sets her sights on a goal, her drive, determination and discipline kick in and she grafts her way to glory! But, while we all marvel at her achievements, we all love her because she is just beautiful on the inside and out. Day to day, she quietly tries to make my life easier by doing jobs around the house, but in a crisis, such as the time Small Boy cut his eye open and I passed out, or the time I forgot to collect him from the school Panto, she just takes over and completely comes into her own. When the chips are down, there’s simply no-one alive I’d rather have by my side. We may all groan as she launches into her latest scientific fact at mealtimes, gets potassium into a game of I-spy, or insists on sharing a pack of Smarties into equally coloured as well as equally sized portions, but the truth is she is our oxygen, our carbon, our hydrogen, our nitrogen, she is the essential element in our lives and we would not survive without her.
Well…. that was good therapy as it goes! I feel much better and thinking about how wonderful and unique all three of my children are, I conclude that whilst there are many better in this world, I am possibly not the worst parent on the planet after all. Hopefully by Monday I might even be up for ‘Smashing’ this single parent life again…
The pen is mightier than the sword!
Thursday 14 February 2019
This week Top Shop and I went into battle over the case of the ‘Missing Parcel’. I followed the suggested Customer Service channels, only to be fobbed off with standard replies about 48 hour response windows and nobody taking responsibilty for anything. The thing is, I’d paid for next day delivery, because I didn’t have 48 hours to spare. And, I’m a single mum who is used to fighting her corner, so I abandoned politeness and patience with their incompetence and wrote this review on Trust Pilot.
The parcel that still hasn’t arrived.
Ordered online from Top Shop on 10th Feb and paid £6 for next day delivery. Received a confirmation email from Top Shop on 10th .
That was the last I heard from Top Shop until, by the end of 12th Feb, we wondered where our parcel was. No emails and no texts from Top Shop but, on my account, a tracking message claiming that my parcel of 4 winter jumpers had been delivered ‘through your letter box’. I contacted them to say that we had no parcel and that fitting jumpers through my letter-sized letter box was unlikely. Thereupon, they suggested checking with ‘neighbours’ and in my ‘safe place’. I did check the shed and the bins. I even knocked on a few neighbours’ doors before I came to my senses and thought ‘What are you doing? You have paid for premium delivery, not to be out after dark scouring bins and randomly knocking on doors!’
Contacted Top Shop on 13th requesting a call, no call came so I called them. I now have to wait for 48 hours for them to contact Yodel. I have no parcel, a £75 hole in my account, and no confidence at all that Top Shop will ever resolve this. Learn from my mistakes and AVOID this store!!
Lo and behold, within 12 hours of the review being published, the parcel arrives, along with a 10% discount code for future orders! I shall modify my review when my delivery charge is refunded, but until then it’s a celebratory cup of tea raised to that old adage, ‘The pen is mightier than the sword!’
Friday 15 February 2019
Dropped my middle child, Prom-dress daughter, off at 2:30 am this morning for a school trip. Not wearing her prom dress, I hasten to add, rather sporting a new Top Shop jumper and very excited. I found the ungodly hour a little harder to cope with and the 6 am work alarm, chirping into action after only a few hours of snatched sleep, particularly tough. Somehow I made my way through a busy and productive day but I am now fading fast and relishing the thought of curling up in bed with ‘The Lover‘ … this month’s Book Club read!
Inspired by last Summer’s holiday in Sligo, and a trip to the Yeats Visitor Centre, I joined a Book Club a few months ago. If you don’t know it, the Sligo Yeats Visitor Centre is a pretty inauspicious building and I’d probably have seen off the display of artifacts and extracts in under 10 minutes, had it not been for the tour guide. Brimming with enthusiasm, knowledge and a whole ton of Irish charm, this man brought the world of Yeats, in an era of political unrest and a thirst for national self-determination, to life. Suddenly I was reading every word in the place with fresh eyes and a brain stretched completely out of its comfort zone and I was converted. Converted away from the ‘easy read’ drivel clogging up my Kindle and back to a world I’d once loved of challenging, beautifully crafted literature, steeped in the culture of its time that stirs your emotions and sometimes makes your head hurt with questions and conflicts. I did think seriously about signing up for some OU literature course, but looked at the calendar, had a reality check and have put that one on hold for a few years. Small steps then, I’d start reading better books and discussing them with better minds than mine. I’d join a Book Club.
After a fair bit of searching I found one. We meet each month in a local pub. It’s actually the pub of my teenage years and I do often giggle inwardly, wondering what my teenage self would make of our room of middle-agers, nursing our drinks, and talking books! That is …when we do talk books! A little like Yeats himself, who, I learned last Summer, found time not only to discuss matters literary but also to talk politics and pursue affairs of the heart, we can often wander from the plot of the book. Current affairs, personal memories, stirred by a setting or a story-line, and even Piers Morgan have all been topics of debate but that’s the joy of a good book; you never know quite where the journey will take you! And the books have been good. I’ve read more and read better in the last 4 months than I have in the last 4 years. Much as I would recommend running as the physical exercise of choice for any parent, but particularly us doughty single parents, I’d go for reading for the mind. For me it’s affordable, it fits into any spare moment and it’s a total brain stretch, sparking curiosity, overtaking my thoughts and just transporting me away from the every-day grind for a few precious moments each day.
But enough blogging for tonight, ‘The Lover‘ is calling this weary woman to bed …
I have no words…
18 February 2019
Prom-dress daughter is safely back from her school History trip to Krakow. This time the pick up is 1am and when we get home we make two drinks and sit on her bed to look at her pictures.
I see the photos she’s taken in the Jewish Quarter and those she’s been allowed to take at Schindler’s Factory, Auschwitz and Birkenau. It is deeply shocking and …. I have no words….
Spring time spruce up!
Tuesday 19 February 2019
Marie Kondo eat your heart out!
Half term has met Spring fever and we are clearing out and sprucing up with avengeance. A seemingly endless array of outgrown, sometimes never worn, teenage clobber is tempting buyers on Ebay. Kitchen and lounge cupboards have been ruthlessly cleared and we have made several satisfied trips to the Charity Shop and the tip. But best of all, decorators are in my house…
Three years ago, I did naively take on the task of decorating all three of the kids’ bedrooms myself. It was a week of untold misery, chaos, back pain and as, one by one, my initially enthusiatic trio of helpers trickled away, isolation from the world. I got paint on the carpet, on the furniture, on the bed sheets and I swear some of it is still in my hair. ‘Never again!’ I vowed by the end and have been saving up, since that day, to get other rooms done by a professional. That day has arrived and it’s a whole new world. I sit sipping coffee, taking a breather from our Spring clean fest, whilst Soft Taupe brings warmth to my lounge and Goose Down’ grey, adds pazzazz to the kitchen. I have nodded sagely and I hope convincingly, as the the decorators have talked a new language of ‘filling cracks and holes’, ’emulsion’ and ‘primer’. I have certainly made them plentiful cups of coffee and think that tomorrow my gratitude will extend to a plate of biscuits too!
But that can wait for tomorrow because tonight I am out with a friend exploring some of the newest bars in our corner of the North West. Which means, even though there’s no paint under my nails, I better start getting myself spruced up…
Thursday 21 February 2019
One definite advantage of single parenting is that you are always learning new skills. This week it was assembling a basket ball stand…
Small Boy ordered the stand in question with his birthday money, and it is delivered at the start of the week. It’s quite a large parcel to arrive in a house already coping with decorators. By the end of Tuesday, we all bear the scars of at least one encounter with a sticky doorway and Small Boy holds the record, with gloss paint on his feet, his arm and his bum! In addition, we have the daily challenge of rehousing the contents of whichever room the decorators next plan to whip back into shape with their rollers and brushes. In the middle of this interior upheaval, it seems perfectly sensible to ask Small Boy to wait until Friday for his hoop to be built.
‘Friday is going to be dry‘ I reason, ‘We shall be able to put it all together outside‘
Small Boy however is a third child, and he has learned to ignore parental procrastination if he ever wants to get anything done. And so it is that I return home on Tuesday night, from top night out of cocktails and catching-up , to find not only the entire contents of the lounge in my kitchen but also a semi-assembled basketball stand!
I decide to bow to the inevitable. Next morning, with two of us on the job, we make quick work of the allen keys, nuts and bolts and presently the only job remaining is sand, to weigh down the base. I head out to Wickes on this seemingly simple mission but soon find myself gazing in bewilderment at an unfathomable array of choices for our ballast. Who knew that there were such things as ‘sharp sand’, ‘tarmac sand’, ‘flagging sand’ , ‘yellow’ and ‘grey’ and ‘silver’ sand in this world? Thankfully, a very helpful woman points me towards the ‘Building Sand’ shelf and I am soon staggering back to my car with two 25kg bags clearly up to the task of ensuring that our basket ball stand, once filled, will never move again!
Back home, despite the grey gloom and drizzle, Small Boy and I wheel the stand outside and now face a whole new challenge. How on earth do we get 50kg of heavy wet sand into the tiny aperture available on the plastic base? Small Boy is an inventive child and fashions a few funnels out of paper and card but none of them are a match for the sand and eventually we are just scooping the stuff up with an old kitchen jug and ramming it through the hole. Our hands and clothes are covered in soggy red sand, we see the decorators chortling away from an upstairs window and we thank the Lord that next doors’ builders had finished their tea break before we began. We brave it out, as a team, to the very end. Triumphantly we wheel the completed stand into place and high five with gritty hands and grubby grins.
Not the prettiest of jobs but we did get the job done and it feels great. As Small Boy happily heads out for a few slam dunks, I do feel like a half decent mum….
Some days are an up-hill struggle…
24 February 2019
A mood of back-to-school gloom hovers over the house today and for me the weather is only making it worse! Whilst everyone else rejoices in the unseasonably warm weather, my single-mum eyes just look out of the window and think ‘Garden!‘
Assisted by my trusty team of decorators, I was feeling on top of the house and my grown-up homestead duties until the sun came out! The garden, which I’d hoped to cheerfully ignore until mid-April, is suddenly a verdant abundance of weeds and rapidly growing grass and it demands more immediate attention. With a sinking, and all too familiar, feeling of being impossibly overwhelmed, I add ‘weeds’ and ‘lawn’ to my to do list! Coping with the endless demands, of all the adult jobs at home, is a daily battle for any single parent and, for me, the garden has to be the worst. I think about starting a Single-Parent co-operative where we all help each other out. I don’t mind a bit of extra ironing or a few more bathrooms to clean, if someone is going to weed my garden, and deal with drains and pipes in return! However, as that’s not likely to happen soon, I consider heading out in search of weedkiller.
But the thought of gardening is not the worst thing for me today. The sunny weather has reminded me of the ‘pretty nice fella’ I broke up with a few months ago. This is just his kind of day. I picture him dusting down his shorts and heading out for a glorious hilly bike ride. I remember how he used to come clattering triumphantly back from his adventures into my kitchen, a little bit sweaty, but his face alive with energy and smiles.And I know he won’t be clattering into my kitchen anymore, because he clatters into someone else’s now, and that hurts. And what hurts even more, is that the sunny weather marks the arrival of Spring and I realise that it’s not enough that I have made it through Winter, I have to make it through Spring, Summer and all the seasons ahead. I have to make it through year upon year without my ‘pretty nice’ friend, partner and lover by my side. And that is …heartbreaking… I am overcome by a wave of sadness and I know I need to do something to stop it, because if I let these tears start to fall I don’t think they will ever stop. I decide that weed killer can wait, pull on my trainers and head out for a run instead. One thing to love about running is that it’s a perfect analogy for life. You know that the reward for every up-hill struggle is a downhill where you can recover and repair. There’s sometimes even a fantastic finishing line. And although I know there’s no magical happy ending for me this time, I’ll settle or a bit of recovery and repair right now …
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…”
What’s NOT on your CV?
Pancake Tuesday 2019
Feeling pretty proud today as I review my ‘to do list’ for last week:
- House painted
- Weeds killed
- Prom dress bought
- Driving lessons booked
- First College Parent Evening survived
Believe me, behind every tick there’s a story and tonight proves to be no exception. The next item on my list is a school ‘Mock Job Interview’ for Prom-dress daughter…
Prom-dress daughter is the style guru of our household, with a passion for Pinterest pages on design and decor. It is she who guided me away from a dull Magnolia paint of the house last week, and persuaded me to be a little bolder with colour. When she tidies a room or re-organises Small Boy’s den of despair, it really does look as if the professionals have been in. She’s a dab hand with a flat pack, daring with DIY, never misses an episode of ‘Grand Designs‘ and mathematics is her favourite subject at school. So, we thought, let’s pick Architecture for our ‘Mock Job’. A few weeks ago, we spent a Sunday afternoon penning a ‘Mock Application Letter’ for our ‘Mock Job’ and tonight we set off to school, a little nervously, into the unknown world of interviews for fictional jobs with fictional bosses…
It’s an abrupt start. Prom-dress daughter’s interviewer has a free slot and so instead of joining me in the waiting area for a calming coffee she is whisked off instantly for her grilling. I am catching up with a friend, over a polystyrene cuppa, when she re-appears. Her 20 minute interview has only taken 12 minutes so I know it can’t have gone too well. In addition although she is smiling bravely and telling everyone that it has been ‘fine‘, the eyes that meet mine are screaming ‘Get me out of here!‘ We hurry back to the car, pausing only to collect our ‘Invitation to the Prom’ – the reward for completing the interview – as we pass School Reception.
Back in the car she relives the experience. The interviewer claimed to be so impressed with her ‘Mock Application Letter’ that he elected to put aside the standard question sheet and use some of his own! So it is that Prom-dress daughter, a shy 15 year old, sitting in a school room, talking to a complete stranger about a job that doesn’t exist, is completely thrown by an opening question of
“Tell me something that’s not on your CV?”
followed by “What’s the biggest decision you’ve ever had to make?” and “Who has been the most inspirational figure in your life so far?” (It’s not quite the ‘Tell me a little bit about yourself and why you are interested in Architecture‘ that we were expecting!)
” I said you mum” she says, shrugging forlornly , ‘Would it have been better to say Zaha Hadid?”
That pulls me back from my own thoughts, (about my biggest life decisions), with a jolt! I hug my lovely girl and announce that we are ‘chalking this one up to experience’. She may feel she could have done better and can do next time, when there is an actual job to apply for. Surely that is the whole point of the ‘Mock experience’. At least the questions can’t actually get any worse and she has told the make-believe boss that I am her greatest inspiration in life -so Zaha Hadid, stand in line!!
We treat ourselves to take-away food, as a reward for coming out the other side of a tricky ordeal, and by the time I am flipping 9 pm pancakes for my trusty trio, her smile is beginning to creep back. I’ll tell you what’s not on my CV, Mr Make-believe Boss, it’s that I have the three greatest children in the world…
Time to think
Friday 8 March 2019
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…
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!
There’s a rat in my kitchen!
Tuesday 19 March 2019
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, 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…
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…
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 an d 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 ….
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!