11 July 2017
At around noon, Prom-dress daughter, three of her friends, assorted luggage …and a mini fridge, set off, in a very small Fiat 500, en route for my mum’s caravan in Wales.
‘Oh to be 18 again!’
Laughter and excitement fill our house as they all assemble. I pop briefly into the lounge, in an attempt to discuss the route, but am waved away with confident flourishes of Google Maps and leave them discussing the far more important issue of what to add to the car playlist! And, as bottles of gin and fizz are cheerfully clanked into the car boot, I realise that now is also not the moment to check if anyone has brought ‘a waterproof‘ or a ‘pair of stout walking boots’. No this is the glorious age when you are old enough to start breaking away parental supervision, sensible shoes and practical plans, and life can be centred on fun, friendship and freedom. And I don’t feel overly worried or anxious as I wave them off…I just feel envious! My mind wanders back to the halcyon days of my own youth and those early ‘gal pal’ holidays.
My first, aged 16, was also at my parent’s caravan. Ours was an epic journey indeed, involving a National Express coach, a train followed by a steam train, a local bus and then dragging our bulging bags and cases through the caravan park. Once there, I have no idea what we ate and doubt we had a raincoat between us. What I do remember is sunbathing on the beach with a crackly radio permanently set to the ‘Radio 1 Roadshow’, occasional and very tame night-time adventures at the ‘caravan club’, lots and lots of laughter and delightful days drifting by without a care. And that is the feeling I miss, now that I am a grown up.
I say this even after a week when music makes a magical return to my world. The curtain raiser; a trip to the Bridgwater Hall. And here, just as I am sipping on a cheeky white wine spritzer with the opening chords of the overture rising through the auditorium, my phone pings with a request to play in an actual concert.
I’ll confess I feel a little stunned at first, because I am 16 months out of practice. However, I resolve to ‘go for it, slug back a little more alcoholic courage and reply with a ‘yes!’ I spend my week digging out reeds, working on my parts and rediscovering the challenge of scheduling meals, work and life around rehearsals. And it is great. Great to be making music with others again, great to be part of the noise…but it’s not the same as being 18.
At eighteen, I was touring the wonderful Veneto region with the city Youth Orchestra and don’t recall giving my part, my reeds or any solos a second thought. In truth, I’d struggle to name the programme for a single concert! At that young age, it was all about the friends I roomed with, post-concert drinks, bleary-eyed breakfasts, sunshine and adventure in exciting foreign settings …without a parent in sight. Old enough to taste independence but still too young forthe weight of responsibility. Was it, for the briefest of windows, a golden age?
Who knows, but here’s to a fantastic holiday for my daughter and her lovely friends. Lets face it, after 16 months of pandemic, they all deserve it. Make memories, make it laughter- filled and, above all, make the most of being young….
Saturday 17 July 2021
Sometimes, as I am scooping spiders out of bathrooms, battling with the lawnmower, jolting around the estate with learner driver Prom-dress daughter at the wheel or shoulder-barging Small boy at basketball, I do appreciate that single parenthood equips you with skills you never foresaw when discussing your life plan with the school careers advisor. And this weekend, marks a true Everest of personal achievements….
After a few covid-19 delays, we are collecting my Eldest from her new student house in the North East for the Summer. She calls midweek with a request,
“Mum, could you bring a screwdriver and hammer on Saturday? I’ve got to make a chest of drawers.”
And so it is, that just after noon and a drive up the A1, I saunter into the student kitchen brandishing our family tool box and drill.
“Oooh how professional! ‘ coos one of her housemates.
And it makes my day! I feel like some empowered, positive role model of female capability and follow my Eldest to her room with my head held high!
What the lovely students don’t know, but the rest of my household do, is that I only really have one professional piece of kit with me in the car… and that is my middle child. But in the searing heat of a third floor attic room, I have been inspired to play my part. Prom-dress daughter has the plan and gives the directions but, doing exactly what I am told: I drill, I hammer and I dowel like a trooper.
We stop for lunch out, in the vibrant and trendy cafe-bar area my Eldest now lives in and, then return to complete our mission. What a triumph! Never has a pretty basic set of drawers looked better in my eyes. The sweat, the plastic burns (long story), the occasional splinter … all worth it! It was, I have to concede, as a former scorner of DIY, strangely satisfying slots and fitting it all together. I celebrate with a murky cup of tea, from the student kitchen that has just run out of milk, and then we hit the road.
My younger pair share a Spotify Account, and we sing our way back down the motorway to their assorted play lists. Weary but happy, we arrive home midway through Saturday evening.
Have I morphed into some building stereo-type, I ponder as a I wave aside a gin and tonic and treat myself instead to a couple of cold beers? And possibly it is the beer talking as I announce that our next holiday project is demolishing the dilapidated old garden shed …. ourselves. Let’s see if I am still as enthusiastic after a good night’s sleep…
Thursday 22 July 2021
Yuk, yuk and triple yuk! My garments are literally sodden with sweat as I return from a short run this morning; my first in nearly 2 weeks. Do I regret choosing one of the hottest days of the year to dig out my running shoes again? Not for a second; my head needed this!
In his book, ‘What I talk about when I talk about running‘, Murakami, observes,
“Most runners run not because they want to live longer, but because they want to live life to the fullest. If you’re going to while away the years, it’s far better to live them with clear goals and fully alive than in a fog, and I believe running helps you do that…”
And whilst is would be clearly ludicrous for me to draw many life parallels with an award winning novelist and regular amateur marathon runner, even as a steady 10K jogger this chimes with me. Take this week for example…
Like most teachers, I crawl to the end of the academic year and the long Summer Holiday dawns with me too exhausted to think, feel or do anything, beyond basic auto-pilot mum duties. So for days I do nothing but shopping, washing, taxi-ing … and paying for lots of things. I lounge about. I loaf about. And as for exercise; I shun it completely. I am “too tired to run.” It is “too hot to run.” I need a “break” from my run.
By mid-week, do I feel rested and refreshed? Alas, I do not. I feel smothered in sluggishness and hemmed in by the humdrum. As the main adult in the house, there are more important things I need to be doing; creative tasks; decision making tasks; project planning tasks…but these just seem overwhelming. My head is a muddle and I hover on the edge of gloom and despondency.
So this morning, despite little sleep, a bunged up nose and the searing sun, I haul myself off for a bit of pavement pounding. And I feel instantly better. Settling back into the familiar running rhythms is reassuring. I am out of the house. My route is peaceful and spacious. The brain fog lifts and an order for the day begins to dance into place. By the time I am home, showered and sipping my first coffee, I am filled not only with energy but also enthusiasm for the day ahead.
To be tentatively heading ‘back on track‘, feels a wonderful relief, so I briefly ponder ways to maintain this level of motivation and focus? Should I commit to some exercise goal throughout the Summer? The magnificent Murakami aims to run 6 miles per day to maintain the ‘stamina and endurance’ needed to support his writing? Yikes, that is beyond me! More realistic would be re-vamping my January homage to Ron Hills, of ‘running at least a mile a day’. I sip on my coffee and decide to give myself a few days to decide. In the meantime, I elect to put distances aside and go day-by-day. Today is today and tomorrow, I will go for another morning run…
Monday 26 July 2021
I am due in work at 10am today and am nearly late…because I am glued to the BBC’s Olympic breakfast. Olympic fever is well and truly starting to set in…
For Team GB, it is a fest of good fortune, on a day quickly dubbed as ‘Magic Monday’ by the commentators, with 3 gold medal performances and everyone one of them is a great story. Adam Peaty, a man who carried the weight of the world on his young shoulders, so great was the national expectation, swims to success in the 100m breast-stroke. His relief, his joy, his pride, in becoming the first British swimmer to defend an Olympic title are palpable. By contrast, for Tom Daley partnered by Matty Lee, this first Olympic gold for diving brings a fairy tale ending to a journey that began in 2008 in Beijing when Daley, as a 14 year old athlete was propelled onto the international stage and into the hearts of the nation. Their podium ceremony is incredibly emotional and I am just recovering with my second cuppa of the morning when onto my screens comes the amazing Tom Pidcock. In a jaw dropping performance on the mountain bike, he destroys the rest of the field to take gold. He is cool, controlled and completely assured … until the moment he crosses the line where once again the emotion and tears takes over.
I haven’t even made it our of the house yet and I am completely drained! This festival of sport just brings wave after wave of drama. In terms of the sport, where margins between triumph and heartbreak can be measured in brutal fractions of seconds, or tenths of points, it’s edge of the seat, occasionally, as in Taekwondo, watch behind a cushion, stuff. And with such a plethora of events, this can be relentless.
But, for me, what really distinguishes the Olympic Games from other sporting occasions is the engagement with so many personal stories. So many tales of commitment, so many hours of training, so much sacrifice, so much gratitude for coaches, for friend and for families. Pidcock has won gold weeks after breaking his collar bone. We’ve watched Daley try and try again to become an Olympic champion and the nation knows of the challenges he has faced in and out of the diving pool. In an astonishing interview with his girl friend, we learn that Peaty, the definition of dominance and confidence in the pool, lives a life where ‘every second’ is built around training and sheer hard work. Away from Team GB, the man who wins the roadrace wins Ecuador’s first gold medal for quarter of a century. Anna Kiesenhofer, an amateur rider with a mathematics masters from Cambridge, stuns the world to triumph in the women’s equivalent.
Just incredible.. if utterly exhausting and I am only a few days in! Can I make it through 2 more weeks of tears and cheers? I think I might just be too addicted to stop now…
Thursday 29 July 2021
Was I the only one not to know about Long Island iced tea …
For the first time since January 2020, I meet up with one of my oldest friends for a day of cocktails and catching up. A momentous occasion, because simply getting to this point has been a true covid-endurance test. We tried last Summer but were hit by the Greater Manchester Lockdown. We tried at October half -term but were thwarted by both Lancashire and Greater Manchester being dumped into Tier 4. And since the ‘unlocking’, it has been an endless, sometimes demoralising, litany of burst bubbles and isolation orders. But finally…finally we are here and intending to make the most if it. And I have been given a top tip…
Yes, earlier in the week, I take my daughter and niece out for food and drinks. As I mention my ‘cocktail’ day plan they chime in with ‘student land’ advice,
“When I was at Uni, if we did cocktails , my trick was always to start with a Long Island iced tea…” announces my niece confidently
“Me too” agrees my daughter, adding as I continue to look confused, “It’s the same price as all the other cocktails Mum, but you get 4 alcohol shots instead of 2…”
So as my friend and I settle into a trendy greenhouse booth in a Spinningfields bar and peruse the drinks menu, I decide that I am going to give it a go. My friend checks out the theory
“It does look lethal! It’s not 4 shots…it’s five!”
“But,” I point out, “it is a ‘long’ drink…so it will last…“
Whether it lasted a long time or not, I really couldn’t tell you. But we certainly have a lot of fun! I think, about an hour and half later, after much chat and tons and tons of laughter, we climb out of our greenhouse pod to find a leisurely lunch, with glass of wine. Then it is another bar, before we seek out a final ‘coffee and carbs’ to sober up a little before the tram and train rides home.
Such a great afternoon! I really do think that, to be a good mum, you need days when you forget about being a parent for a few hours and just let your hair down. It recharges the batteries and lifts the spirits like nothing else. And after a year and a half of pandemic, I am aware that I have been running low on such times. On the home-bound tram, another friend, I am due to see next week, calls and I tell her, with great excitement about my new cocktail ‘discovery’
“Oh yes,” she replies “Long Island iced tea – completely lethal. I used to have one after work every Friday. Once had two .. and could hardly walk!”
The fact that I am clearly the last to this particular party makes me laugh out loud in my seat and I am a little too tipsy to care whether any of my fellow mask-faced passengers notice. After a grim 18 months of battling covid-19, laughter … and possibly Long Island iced tea…really are the best medicine…
Sunday 8 August 2021
This week Prom-dress daughter turns 18 … and, for the first time in quite a while, I wobble …
I don’t actually think it’s the birthday weekend itself. Celebrations, that start with a lovely family meal in a city restaurant and quickly become more raucous and merry as relatives give way to friends, fizzy wine and a hot tub in the garden, seem fun. Seem joyful. Seem happy.
I don’t actually think it’s the milestone either. Yes my middle child is now officially an ‘adult’ and, after 18 month of lockdown restrictions in this North West town, is more than ready to head out into town, brandishing her ID to make the most of newly re-opened bars and venues. But, let’s face, that’s just the fun part of being a grown-up. I am sure that I shall be parenting, financing, providing support and guidance … and being taken for granted for a few more years yet.
I start to feel emotional when I turn the clock back 18 years, to the traumatic days of her birth and think about that first week of life on NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit). Although the experience, so far removed from the joyous picture you have of giving birth and bringing your new child home, adopts a surreal dream-like quality, certain moments and phrases still dance around my head, with chilling clarity, to this day,
“come through to the family room, the consultant will be free to discuss this with you shortly”
” a number of seizures…. loss of oxygen to the brain”
“the next 48 hours will be critical…”
But, you meet some truly inspiring people in the NICU community. Heroic parents who have battled for weeks by the sides of those incubators … and never complain. Instead they wrap you, the dazed newcomer, in their love, support and camaraderie. The doctors and nurses, who so quickly learn your name, as well as your child’s, and take time to care and communicate, so that you feel like a person who matters and not just another patient on a lengthy list. And Prom-dress daughter herself, such an incredible little bundle of fight and fury that we only stayed for a week before being discharged, with a few more tubes, dressings and needle marks than the typical newborn, into outpatient care.
It is in this context that look at her now. She did make it through the next 48 hours; she made it through the 2 years of neurological check-ups and testing, … she made it to 18 and a brilliant 18. If I stop to think… it feels a little overwhelming. But, she is an August birthday and with examination results out next week, I also know that I may not have too much time to dwell. Praying that she gets the grades she needs, in less than a month Prom-dress daughter will be off to Uni. As my middle child, she is naturally the buddy of choice to each of the other two and they both adore her. She is a unique mix: super high maintenance but warm, accepting, funny and incredibly smart. We sometimes call her the heart beat of our household and suddenly I know why I’m wobbling. The 18th birthday has started the clock ticking down to the time when she sets out to make her own way in the world. She is definitely ready; I am just not sure that I am prepared to let my little ‘incu-baby’ go …
Monday 9 August 2021
It’s the eve of A level Results day in England, with GCSEs following, hot on their heels. Always a tense time for so many pupils and parents but: throw in 18 months of covid-chaos in our educational establishments; toss in the word ‘ teacher assessed grades’ and stir it all up with accusations of ‘grade inflation’ and speculation of a landslide of appeals and our scandal-seeking national media look set for a bumper week of headlines.
Is it unfair to suggest that the press and politicians and ‘joe-public know-alls’ sometimes forget that pupils lie at the heart of this…
Our house is on edge, anxiously awaiting A level results for Prom-dress daughter. Like many pupils in her position, this set of grades represent hard work and talent but even more importantly a whole ton of resilience and grit. Yes, it is remarkable that so many of these pupils kept going. Kept going through: home-learning, blended learning, lockdown, unlocking, mass testing, endless isolation orders and … to cap it all an anxious assessment marathon, hastily cobbled together at the eleventh hour by an incompetent Department of Education. Let’s spare them headlines that make ill-informed shots at the validity of their grades; they deserve every success and every bit of praise their schools and families can lavish upon them. For those who don’t receive exactly the scores they hoped for? I think we know that they have learned how to pick themselves up, learned how to adapt; I think they need to be reassured that they will be okay.
For whilst my daughter and others collecting results are typical of most examination age pupils, there is another group whose story is even less likely to be told. As we dispatched out Teacher Assessed Grades in June there were a small number of young people receiving no grades at all. And we are not alone. In July 2021, the TES in their article ‘Most teachers had GCSE evidence gaps‘ found that over 70% of teachers had pupils for whom they could not evidence a grade.
The article explores many reasons for this saddest of situations; mental health, bereavement, school refusal, the causes are numerous. There is an even more serious issue too, some of our pupils are actually lost. Lost to education and … missing. Quoted in a Times article, Anne Longfield, former children’s commissioner reported that,
” …the state had lost track of tens of thousands of pupils who had gone “off grid” during the pandemic…”
Her fears for these vulnerable young people centre upon the threats from criminal gangs and the dark cloud of county lines that casts an ever present shadow over our school communities.
Is there a place for this cohort of pupils on results day? I’d like to think that there was … because I really believe in educational care. I’d like to say ‘come back to us‘ even if you haven’t gained a single grade. We have time for you too today. We’ll find you a path. We’ll help you take that first step. We are … still here. Because 18 months of a global pandemic has re-emphasised one thing so clearly to those of us privileged to work in our high schools and colleges, pupils are not just a set of exam statistics, and a list of grades, they are complete and unique young people. And they flourish with our amazing knowledge but also our care and encouragement that helps each one to see how much they matter and what the best version of themselves might be.
So please… let’s make this week’s results days about the pupils… about all the pupils….
Friday 13 August 2021
As I went into labour with my second child, 18 years ago, I do recall thinking.
“Arghhh …. now I remember how much this hurts! Where’s my epidural?“
And this week, as Prom-dress daughter gleefully drags me off to the aisles of IKEA for her ‘Uni shop’, I get a similar flashback to … can I say the pain… of my visit here last year, when my Eldest child also stocked up on her accommodation essentials.
Well, if not pain, it’s certainly a financial shock to the system! If we rewind the clocks back to 1980s, when I headed off to Higher Education, I pretty much took a few spare mugs and pans from my mum’s kitchen and the quilt from my bed. Not the case anymore … at least not in our house! It’s colour co-ordinated crockery, plastic plants, gin glasses, storage boxes and … and on and on it goes. One hour in and our trolley is stacked high, dangerously swaying and cheekily chinking and tinkling as we totter through the delights of the IKEA ‘Market Place’. None of it is particularly expensive but, as my mental calculator goes into over drive, it all adds up, and I find myself fighting the urge to grab one of the giant gin globes and pour myself a stiff drink!
I also have an emotional jolt, exactly as I did one year ago. As we are rummaging through the racks of bath mats and towels, my daughter’s face animated and happy, it suddenly hits me. Her excitement and haul of goods are not about her bedroom at my house. No, these are the trappings for a new room and a new life far, far away. Momentarily, my heart drops into my shoes and I have to fix a grin determinedly on my face and use every ounce of effort to stop myself shouting out,
“I don’t want you to go…”
Because in that second I really don’t. What I want is for time just to pause for a while. I want a few more weeks of my trusty trio all back home, watching trash TV, laughing at in-jokes, sharing nonsense into the WhatsApp group. But, I am proud to report that, in trusty mum style, I pull myself together, for of course, it is not what any of us reallydesire. It is simply that change is difficult and sometimes painful.
Maybe too, I am also over exhausted with all this shopping! Yes, there are further things that are aching … my head, which is completely zonked and my feet which are screaming “Heels, today! Really?” To revive our tired legs and frazzled brains, we stop for coffee and review our progress. Prom-dress daughter works briskly through her pre-prepared list and cheerfully informs me that,
It will probably take another shop to tick off all the ‘essentials’
Well one the bright side, that is not for today. We hit the motorway and collapse at home with a chippy tea and some very large gins in the new glasses. Alcohol… possibly the epidural to get me through the next few weeks …
Saturday 21 August 2021
The TV coverage from Afghanistan this week redefines the concept of ‘heartbreaking’ news, as the Taliban sweep back into power, following the decision, catalysed by US President Joe Biden, to withdraw troops from this volatile area of Central Asia. The chaos, the desperation, the scale of human tragedy play out on our screens so tangibly that I, for one, struggle to even compute how to start thinking about it all. The Foreign Office staff in Kabul, sound resolute, if strained and verging upon panic, about their mission in what seem to be the most impossible of situations and I am left in awe of their strength and leadership. But then comes the story we can all relate to, and it knocks away all my hope and trust in humanity in one devastating blow; Dominic Raab … and the phone call…
As reported widely in the national media, Raab our Foreign Secretary, holidaying in Crete as the Afghan capital falls, is advised to make a call, to expedite safe passage for the local interpreters, who have worked with the British Army over the last 2 decades. But this call is not made. And there is it. A simple narrative but one that defies belief and lands like the cruellest of stun grenades in our living room as we gather to hear the latest news bulletin. Initially there is the shock that, at the height of a such a tense and dangerous crisis for many British citizens and vulnerable collaborators, the head of the Foreign Office is actually still on holiday at all, as opposed to being back at his desk at the centre of strategic decision making and emergency talks. Then come the waves of utter disgust and anger that whilst the highest standards of public leadership were clearly beyond him, so were the very least, the most minimal; a simple phone call for heaven sake!And not just any call. Not a diplomatic nicety. Not a general update. No; this call was about saving lives.
‘Doesn’t everyone deserve a holiday?‘ some of his supporters have argued, and Raab himself has commented that after a ‘gruelling two years‘, he deserved the break. And no-one would deny him this. Indeed it is undoubtedly true that the rapid recent rise in remote working and technological advances much before this, that have often caused society to reflect upon the impact of blurring the lines between work and home and with this, work time and holiday time. In 2015, the charity Mind, in their article ‘A quarter of staff have been pestered by their boss while on holiday‘, reported worrying concerns about the proportions of people contacted by bosses during ‘vacations’ and out of working hours. But even they, in tune with all legal advice on this issue, accept that there are times when it is both reasonable and necessary for an employee to be called. Further that this likelihood will increase with seniority. And there can be few amongst us who would not see the catastrophe developing in Afghanistan and the urgency to protect human life as a totally legitimate reason to summon any of us, let alone the privileged and powerful Foreign Secretary, from a sun-lounger on the beach.
Mr Raab has also said that ‘in retrospect‘, he wouldn’t have gone on holiday if he knew the ‘scale of the Taliban takeover‘, and has claimed that “Everyone was caught off-guard by the pace …of the Taliban takeover.” Equally many, in rushing to his defence, have claimed that the phone call would not have made any difference. But, for me, all of this skirts the issue. He chose not to interrupt his vacation to make the call. I said it was a simple narrative and I have a simple point to make. Human lives were at stake and this man did not care enough to try and save them. What sort of person makes that decision? What sort of person do we have sitting one of the highest, most privileged roles in the cabinet? I feel as if the shutters have well and truly been lifted from my eyes and I am terrified of what I see. No care, no compassion, not a shred of human decency from the centre of our national government. Can this really be true? If so, for the British nation these are sad, dark and worrying times indeed ….
Saturday 28 August 2021
On the heartwarming ‘Raising Boys’ blog, there is one article, ‘7 Rules for taking a Toddler on Holiday‘ that takes me on a poignant trip down memory lane and inspires this week’s post. For this year, I find myself emerging on the other side of this parental vacation voyage. In August 2021, I leave my kids at home and go holidaying with my friends again!
Yes, my friends and I have shared many holiday permutations over the years. In our student days, lots of adventurous travel. Booking a flight, packing a rucksack, a tube of travel wash and the iconic ‘Rough Guide to…. wherever‘ and simply setting off for a few weeks … occasionally months. Then marriage and settling down, lit up by the sociable toddler years, when our cheery, chubby offspring were only too happy to team up with any children in sight and so came with us on trips to see our pals. Built sandcastles together, shared tents together, giggled, laughed and probably cried on ‘long’ parent-led walks together. Alas, this harmony was soon to hit the challenge of the teenage era! Definitely a more barren time in terms of keeping in touch. Awkward adolescents are fare less keen, we discovered, to immediately bond and socialise with each other, simply because they are around the same age and, back in the 1980s, their parents became buddies at University! So our holiday meet-ups, regrettably, dwindled away … until this year.
With Small Boy joyfully driven to Wales to enjoy a seaside holiday with my Mum and his ‘caravan friends’, my girls more than keen to have the house to themselves for a week, I am free to head to the beautiful Northumberland Coast to join a house that ‘sleeps six’ with a group of university friends. And there is not an single child in sight!
And it is wonderful! Seven days of adult company and a full 180 degrees different from my usual life. A large G & T greets me upon arrival on arrival. We enjoy leisurely meals out and fantastic food in with wine, chat, laughter and no-one rushing to finish and get back to the x-box. Countryside and coastal walks are planned with pub or cafe stops … and without needing to resort to threats or bribery. The very civilised ‘Great Estuary Debate‘ aside, (to chance a wade across at low tide or play safe with a longer roadside route?’ … that was the question) there are also no arguments, no sulks, no squabbles. On the beach, some do swim and board, someone even brings a bucket and spad; but not me. After years of having to occupy, entertain and cart equipment for 3 children to the sand and sea, I just bring snacks, drinks and my kindle.
Of course, there are still some decisions to be made… just not ones you’d usually hear on a teen family vacation,
” I thought Yemeny pilaf for dinner tonight, or possibly salmon‘ calls one of my friends from the kitchen ” Any preference?”
Oooh – tough choices!
And we don’t forget about our children completely. We share parenting tales, we swap proud pictures and we call them most days. But predominantly, I find, I have a precious and refreshing week for me; afternoon and evening drinks, lazy morning lie-ins with a good book interchanged with occasional runs, convivial jigsaws but competitive board games, fresh air, stunning scenery, much tea, many biscuits, fun and friendship.
Do the kids miss us? Today I drive home and arrive at a house where the curtains are closed, the shed is full of uncollected Amazon parcels and there not a scrap of food to be found in fridge or cupboard. But those who are in welcome me back with hugs and smiles, so even if they haven’t missed me, even if they have had a lovely break from my ‘mum – nagging’, I think they are pretty pleased to have me back. My Eldest sends a text explaining that she is ‘out’ until later and Small Boy reminds me that he is heading to a gig in the local park at six. I resign myself to tea without milk, an afternoon of washing and conclude that whilst we have all had welcome change of pace and routine, that life will be ‘back to normal’ before I’ve even unpacked my bags.
Or maybe not; I fire up my laptop, start to type and escape back to holiday mode for an extra indulgent hour or two…
Sunday 5 September 2021
It’s the start of the August Bank Holiday weekend, when an early tap at my bedroom door heralds the arrival of a worried Small Boy,
“Mum, something is wrong with Boris…“
Boris is Small Boy’s 18 month old leopard gecko. And this morning, he has a cloudy eye, which is, Google informs us, both a common problem for shedding reptiles and one that requires immediate attention. Even if it didn’t, I can tell that Small Boy is already agitated and so I leap out of bed to put a plan into action. Unfortunately for us …it is a Sunday!
Our vet does open on this non-standard working day, but only for one hour. We hit the phones promptly at 10, and over the next 60 minutes, call and leave message after message but, alas, fail to get through. At 11:01 am, we get the ‘surgery closed’ message but are provided with an ‘out of hours’ number. We call this but are told that it is ‘not available’ and are sent instead to the city wide emergency pet number. Third time lucky? Happily it is, and we find ourselves speaking to a helpful receptionist who recommends a video call which we book for that afternoon.
I stop to take stock of the day. It is now 11:30 am and, so far, all I have done is try to make phone calls and now am essentially going nowhere until I’ve zoomed with a gecko-vet at 2! The rest of the house begin to emerge into the day,
“What time are we heading into town mum?“, smiles my eldest as she heads sleepily for the shower
“Ooh … now that we are all back together, shall we go out for my ‘exam results’ meal?” call Prom-dress daughter from her room
I’m also wondering where I fit a few work tasks in, what to do about some rapidly escalating Monday lunch plans and when on earth we are going to find some new school shoes for Small Boy’s size 12 feet in time for the start of the new term on Thursday.
One day back from my week away and I feel frazzled with demands, restrictions and everyone else’s priorities. I reach for my trusty run shoes because I need to clear my head.
“Back in half an hour!“
I shout over my shoulder as I head for the door, knowing that a trio of open mouths will be watching my departure.
My run; my salvation. The steady steps, the fresh air, the space…the quiet are all just the tonic for a brain that needs to think and re-plan. At the centre of it all; Small Boy and Boris. Now I am not an animal person but I understand why my son is. He may be messy, he may be clumsy, he may be hopeless with money but putting all of these minor defects into the shade is his big heart. He is one of the nicest people I know and his care and kindness envelop his family, his friends… and his little gecko. He was designed for a pet and in that moment, amidst all of the other clutter in our weekend, getting Boris the attention my son wants him to have becomes my main mission. I sit on a bench about a mile from home and send a text to pull out of the Monday lunch plans. Then, in my mind, Sunday moves to Monday, any shopping moves online and … problem solved. What a relief ! Ifeel that our weekend has finally got its priorities in order.
Back home, I announce that we shall be spending Monday ‘in town’ and ‘celebrating exam results’ and feel back in charge. Though it proves to be far from simple!
Small Boy and I attend our video call, whereupon the vet advises that Boris is seen immediately and dispatches us to the emergency vet hospital, warning of a 3/4 hour wait.
“Mum, it says they charge £172.75 for a consultation!” gulps a shocked voice from the passenger seat, as we speed along the road.
“Don’t you worry, ” I trill, hoping my rather shaky falsetto sounds more convincing than I feel. “At times like this, we just forget the cost and stick it on the credit card!”
But we never get as far as a payment…
We sit, like a couple of stake-out cops, in the crowded car park with snack, kindles, and Boris scrabbling about in his tupperware travel-home with holes in the lid. After 90 minutes, a nurse appears … with a lead! She does a visible double take as we offer our small box and scurries off with Boris, looking very pensive. Five minutes later she is back, apologetically explaining that there is no ‘exotic pet’ specialist available and we head home, unseen and still unsure; me rather forlorn and my son pretty angry.
Next morning we try our vet again, but it is Bank Holiday Monday and no-one picks up; so we email instead, attaching photos. On Tuesday, with nothing in the email inbox, we phone once more and do finally get through and fix an appointment. We now just have to career through Manchester’s roadworks and diversions to reach our elusive goal… our little lizard, at long, long last, is examined by an expert and my son looks as if the weight of the world has been lifted from his shoulders … phew!
And now Boris has eye drops twice daily and we hope he improves soon, otherwise we are back again and things will be serious for the little guy. But we will cross that bridge when we come to it and … hey at least he has Small Boy and I am not sure a gecko could ask for a better owner!
So one little pet certainly took up a lot of time and a fair bit of money! But it was definitely worth every second and dime because, remembering that the people (and animals) in our lives more important that much of the other stuff we complicate our days with is a pretty fantastic thing. Sometimes, the very weeks that don’t quite go to plan are the ones that help you to see what really matters ….
Sunday 19 September 2021
There is another empty room now at our house, as Prom Dress Daughter heads to University in Edinburgh.
We actually drove her there a week ago and it was quite a drive. My Eldest hopped in at Newcastle to lend sisterly support. We all stayed over at a hotel in the Scottish capital. And, after helping to unpack, do a food shop, try to fathom the wifi, and hug out an emotional goodbye, we delivered my first born back to the North East, navigated around the Great North Run and my son and I finally pulled back onto the drive at 7pm; a full 34 hours after leaving.
So, I hear you wonder,
‘How does it feel?’
How does it feel to be just two… or three if you count our gecko? How does it feel to look at half emptied wardrobes and shelves with missing ornaments? How does it feel to wonder how our girl is coping: in a new flat, in a new city, in a whole new learning environment? Well I have to confess that for the first few days we are too exhausted and drained to feel anything. The new week cruelly dawns, after very little sleep or rest, and is a punishing game of catch-up: supermarket sweeps, frantic washing and ironing, and late night work prep. Then comes fraught back-to-back vets trips, as poor Boris continues to struggle and my days last from 6am to 8pm, before we can even think about food or just sitting down.
But eventually the weekend arrives. Saturday is a back breaking assault upon a house that looks as if a bomb has hit it. And Sunday; well Sunday is the day when I briefly allow everything to hit me. I am shuffling despondently around the supermarket with only half my trolley full, thinking ‘What on earth do I even buy?‘ and ‘How do you shop for only two?’ when a wave of sadness hits me and the tears begin to fall. I am tired, I am stressed and…I miss my girls, I miss the old certainties of family life
What a forlorn site I must look. Other shoppers avoid eye contact and push their trolleys past, with grim tunnel vision and all the speed those wobbly wheels will muster. Do I feel isolated? Unimportant? Uncared for? Possibly; it is certainly a moment when I wish I had a partner to turn to; someone to understand, to hear me, to pour a glass of wine. But I don’t. I am a single parent and I need to get it together. I have the magnificent Small Boy in the house, who doesn’t need a miserable mum moping about the place, rather deserves me to listen and prioritise his worries, concerns and plans for the weeks ahead. I take a deep breath, wipe my face on my sleeve, pull my mask a little higher and head to the checkout
Back home, however,it is that same Small Boy who comes bundling out of the front door, brushing aside my request for ‘help with the shopping‘ and instead waving a phone under my nose. I quickly see why… it’s a WhatApp group call with two very familiar faces beaming from the screen.
“Hi Mum – how are you?“
Isolated? Unimportant? Uncared for…. maybe not after all; maybe just needing time to adapt to change? I just think it will take me quite a while to get used to my new normal ….
Saturday 25 September 2021
I did set out to have a dry month but, as I finish another demanding week of September 2021, I am dreaming of a G &T, a Sicilian lemon flavoured shot of deliciousness … and I decided to indulge and feel not a second or remorse. No, I think I deserve it! And here is why:
1) I survive teaching GCSE Spanish (in addition to my usual mathematics)
A deluge of staff having to take their own children for PCR tests, causes the teacher absence rate to rises rapidly and allows the dreaded “rarely cover” to re-appear on timetables. And so it is that I find myself directed, for a double lesson of Year 10 Spanish last thing on a Friday afternoon.
Now I have never learned Spanish, however, back in 2018 when I helped my Eldest revise for her GCSE Spanish speaking test, she put me through such a relentless schedule of practice that by the end, not only was she ready to shine but I reckon that I could also have scraped a respectable grade 3! So, I get off to a confident start in the classroom,
“Wow miss, you actually sound as if you are Spanish!”
one pupils observes, as a I navigate the opening activity. Alas, as we get deeper into our translation activity, my limitations become only too apparent. When I try to help one puzzled pupil by suggesting that “Enrique’s favourite activity is taking photos of a sacred family?” a very lovely, and linguistically able girl, calls me over and whispers “Miss, it’s The Sagrada Familia, a very famous church in Barcelona.” She then gives me a little shrug, as if to say, ‘Should we tell the rest of the class?’
Of course we should! I call the group together to look at pictures of Gaudi’s basilica, I throw in the tale of my friend and I being mugged in Las Ramblas, when I actually visited Barcelona in the late 80s, as several hands shoot up, I hear several other holiday and passport disasters. Thereafter it is agreed that, if other self-help strategies fail as we work through our questions, (familiar vocab; cognates, dictionary, working partner) and we need to ‘ask an expert’ that the expert is clearly not me, but rather several nominated pupils dotted about the room.
2) I converse civilly with the local anti-vaxers
As covid vaccination is now rolled out nationally to the under 16’s, this protest group, with noise, banners and pamphlets, migrate to the locality of English high schools. Our Head handles it really well. After conferring with local school leaders and hearing the cautionary tale of Headteacher who sent out the Senior Leadership Team en masse, whereupon they became embroiled in the confusion and, in the local media coverage, were presented as being part of the protest, we are far more low key. We are sent individually to politely greet any anti-vaxers we encounter, recognising their right to opinion and protest but gently reminding them not to put leaflets into pupils’ bags without their consent, nor to attempt to stop pupils who just want to get into the school building without talking to them. So far, so good… but I think this addition to our work duties may well last beyond the end of this calendar month!
3) I complete my ’60 running miles in September’
Gosh; so much harder than my January, ‘run at least a mile a day‘ quest. To keep up to date, I aim for 2 miles per day but, I discover that this means finding close to 20 minutes of daily ‘me-time’ and in September 2021, this has been a tough ask. So I push myself to finish early, with some longer weekend jogs, and feel overjoyed as the Strava clock tells me I’ve made it. I am full of relief to be free of the relentless demands of finding the time and route for a suitable 2 miler … as is my very sore right ankle. On the upside; I do feel good and pretty proud, plus all my pre-covid work clothes now fit me again. Who knows; by next week, where a staff social has made its way onto the calendar, I think there may be a fighting a chance that I’ll be able to fasten up my little black party dress too!
4) We make 4 journeys to the vets
Poor Boris has really struggled in September 2021 and is still not cured. We have now: clocked up over 80 miles of driving to and from the exotic pet specialists; spent over 10 hours, stuck in rush hour traffic, waiting in car parks or consulting with vets; administered many eye drops and other medicine and endured many many days feeling anxious and worried as he continues to look troubled and out of sorts.
5) I have missed first 1 and now 2 uni-girls for 23 days and only told them so once … or maybe twice
Yes, probably the biggest challenge of the whole month has been adjusting to life with two of the squad living in other cities….and that is a mission I’m definitely a long way from fully accomplishing but at least I’ve mostly managed to sound bright and breezy on our calls.
So all in all…I think I deserve a little tipple and in fact it is amazing that I made it this far without a small reward. But let’s not stop with me. Look back at your September, I’ll bet you’ll find plenty of reasons to treat yourself too!!