Great-Aunt Becky…

Sunday 6 November 2022

A week of fantastic news for our family. My mum’s post-surgery histology report is positive. Her cancer has not spread, which is a terrific relief and means radiotherapy, not chemotherapy. And one of my niece’s has her first baby, a beautiful little boy. I set out to find a gift and am happily strolling around the aisles of new-born fashion; cosy baby-grows, adorable fleecy pram-suits, little dungarees… when my phone pings. It’s my eldest child…

” Congratulation Great-Aunt Becky!”

Great-Aunt Becky.. well wrap me up in woollen shawl and lace me into a pair of stout shoes … I sound positively ancient!

Yes into my head pops the image of ‘great-aunt Lucy‘, Paddington Bear’s aged guardian from ‘Darkest Peru!’

To my dismay, when I reacquaint myself with the writings of dear Michael Bond, it transpires that lovely Lucy, with her fading fur, felt hat and wicker basket, is only a regular aunt, an entire generation younger than my new familial role. Indeed, mention of great-aunts of any kind, in our literary annals is notably sparse and, I now discover that aunts themselves … well to put it mildly have a bit of an image problem.

Aunt ‘Em, from the Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the once pretty young wife now ‘grayed‘ by her tough life on the Kansas farm. The villainous Aunt Spiker and Aunt Sponge from James and the Giant Peach, and the cruel Mrs Reed, aunt to Jane Eyre who opens the novel with the shocking scenes of the small orphaned girls locked up in the mysterious Red Room after defending herself against her bullying cousin.

Gracious… maybe literature was the wrong direction to look to for inspiration. After all, idyllic family units rarely rear children suited to the kind of adventures that heroes such as, Paddington, Dorothy, James and Jane must face to make the plot a winner.

And a label such as ‘Great-Aunt’ does not have to define us! Why, I recall, my chest modestly puffed out with pride, sporting a new green top, I was recently described as ‘stylish’ and ‘the cool mum‘ by my daughter’s flatmates. On the other hand, I tell my niece, I am quite happy for our wonderful new arrival just to refer to me as ‘Becky’!

Getting life in perspective …

Sunday 23 October 2022

My mum has her first surgery and comes home to recover. It is not the end of the story. Hey this is the big C, is it ever going to be the end of the story? But for now; just right now, before Tuesday’s hospital visit and next Monday’s operation results, the cloud that has defined the last few weeks lifts and I feel… happy!

Yes, not just ‘okay‘, the luke-warm version of wellbeing I often settle for, but actually properly happy. My mind is only lightness, my mood upbeat, and all the little things in life seem joyful.

I do nothing special with the weekend. On Saturday, I run with my run buddy. Small boy and I hang out in the garden hot tub, putting the world to rights. I cook curry for my mum and drink some (appalling) fizz a work colleague gave me mid-week. On Sunday, we take the tram into town to shop Dinner Jackets for a family wedding, mooch around the music stores and browse the book shops. The Squares are decorated with dainty Halloween lanterns. We dine on Pad Thai noodles, steak sandwiches and terrible pies and … it feels fantastic!

I guess it’s relief, a welcome respite from the stress and worry of the previous weeks. Or possibly one of those profound pauses in life when you (momentarily alas) cast aside the trivia that often takes up so much our time and focus instead on the things, and most importantly, the people who really matter. ‘Getting life in perspective’, I think it’s called. Well for however long it lasts…I am going to enjoy it…

A new era …

10 September 2022

Gosh; a momentous week!

A new prime minister and a new head of state for the country. On Monday it is all about Liz Truss and a political lurch to the right. On Tuesday I feel trepidation at her early proclamations. By Wednesday I am wide eyed with terror. But as Thursday draws to a close an even bigger story breaks, the queen passes away peacefully at the age of 96 and a historic 70 year reign as our monarch draws to a close.

It dominates the news reels. The cost of living crisis, the rail strikes, postal strikes, barrister strikes … even the football fixtures make way for a brief period of calm as the country looks back on the life of the woman who was part of our world and history for seven decades. A reassuring constancy, ever dignified, ever diplomatic and often at the centre of an eventful family life.

Yes, one reason I think that, royalists or not, we can all relate to this moment is that the nation knew her as daughter, a wife, a mother, a grandmother and a great grandmother. Many of us have known first hand of family love, family ups and downs, the pain of family loss and … it resonates.

It certainly feels poignant for me, because Thursday 8 September, is also my late Dad’s birthday. At a time of change and new challenge locally as well as nationally, it is the perfect time to visit his grave and spend some time in the peace of the cemetery thinking out loud and hoping that, somewhere out there, he might be listening.

I tell him of the national stories and also update on news closer to home; Prom-dress daughter and her new Edinburgh flat, my eldest finding her feet on hospital placement, Small-boy starting sixth-form, Forest back in the top flight of football and … of course my lovely mum, still bringing light, laughter and happiness into the world.

It is very therapeutic talking to someone who just ‘listens’. Feels good to re-ground myself as daughter, mother and friend. A firm foundation on which to prepare and look ahead to the new changes and opportunities that Autumn and Winter may bring.

All too soon it is time to head home, but as I turn to walk away, I remind him to ‘look out for the queen‘….

Family first…

Thursday 30 June2022

What parent doesn’t feel overwhelmed at times? Plus, if you are the only parent in the house … a mathematician could hypothesis that you face double the demands of juggling work, life and parenting!

Number theories aside, it is certainly one of those weeks for me. A chaos of day job, evening jobs, afterwork meetings and rehearsals collide with Small Boy’s college open evening and … prom! I find myself triple booked on most evenings, cannot see a way through and, after two really good months for me and my headspace, start to spiral into panic.

Two wise words from an old boss bring me back from the brink,

Family first”

That was always our motto when work and home diary commitments clashed. When you can’t do everything, which at times none of us can, move the most important things to the top of the list .. and for most of us, that means family!

In their article ‘Time Management Tips for Busy Parents’, the childcare company Bright Horizons, open on a similar theme. The key, they maintain, to balancing personal needs, family needs and the needs of your career is to accept that:

  • Not doing everything is okay
  • It’s all right to say no
  • You need to know what is truly important to you

Manage this, they claim and we will achieve the quality of life we are striving for “without completely losing our minds in the process.”

It certainly does the trick for me on this occasion. I decide that my son is the most important person in our household this week and, as a result, sixth-form open event and the school prom become our top, indeed our only, priority. Yes, I simply remove everything else!

Instantly, I can breathe and think again! Additionally, possibly because I rarely pull out of anything or maybe because most other people have also faced similar dilemmas, nobody else seems to mind either. The world does not stop turning and rehearsals, meetings and work events all carry on smoothly without me.

Does ex-hub ever feel pulled in 5 different directions?

I ponder briefly. Would he ever have to agonise about saying ‘no‘ to work colleagues and commitments? Probably not; but then again neither does he get to wander round our huge local college and share discussions of physics, philosophy, Chaucer and chemistry with our wonderful son. He also misses out on the proud memories of a handsome young man heading out to the prom surrounded by fun and friendship. I guess, the old adage, that you get out of life what you put in, rings true in every way that actually matters. So he can keep his quiet, self-centred life and I’ll hang on instead to my crazy existence.

So, here’s to ‘family first’! For accepting that I cannot always be perfect and keep everybody happy but I can always value and cherish what is really important and keep that as my main priority. All in all, that has got to be a pretty good way to live this life …

Bank Holidays – what’s not to love?

Monday 1 May 2022

Deborah Meaden and other business leaders grab the headlines this week proposing that 2022’s additional Jubilee bank holiday should be made a permanent fixture of the UK calendar. Well after a truly lovely long weekend, they’ve got my full support!

The joy of a bank holiday Monday! When the shadow of work is pushed into the distant realms of Tuesday, a time so far away that you really do feel motivated to made the most of every minute of the weekend!

I get off to a flying start, with a Friday meal out for me and my 2 younger offspring. On a sunny Saturday, I navigate and jolt along on the bus systems of Lancashire to “do tapas” and a few glasses of wine with some work colleagues. By Sunday, I am visiting family in Ikley, (via a Leeds station to dispatch Prom-dress daughter back on a cross-country train to university-land.) The Yorkshire town is a delight of ‘cafe culture’ with bars and eateries prettily dotted along the high street and proves the perfect venue for a catch-up and a cheeky brunch. The market is in full swing, the bookshops are fantastic, time drifts idyllically by and, not for the first time, I catch myself wondering ‘why don’t I live in a place like this?

But … as it turns out…the place where I do live also has something special too offer this weekend.

Back in January, someone I had not seen since my college days got in touch out of the blue. Whilst life distracted me a little in the following months, on Sunday night, we finally manage to meet up and, faced with the challenge of filling in over 35 years, sink a bottle of wine and a few cocktails together. And it is fun. In fact, it is more than fun… it feels like … coming home. “It is amazing’ he texts later, ‘how I can still place the 18 year old Becky, in the Becky of today’. And it is amazing; even a little bit magical to be reminded of who we are inside, when all the layers of life, daily toil and grown-up roles and responsibilities are pushed aside.

And so to Monday! And whilst, after a morning run and a friend visiting for coffee, life loses a little of its holiday sheen and I get back to the more mundane ‘weekend business’ of shopping, washing and work prep, I’ll confess I do it all fairly rapidly, with a happy smile on my face. It it down to the thrill of the day away from work? Or is the buzz from catching up with so many family, friends and a long lost acquaintance? Who can tell? But in a weekend enriched with extra time and space, life certainly feels more ‘lived to the full’ than usual.

More times like this can only be a good thing, so it is a definite thumbs up from me for the establishment of a Thank Holiday in the UK. In fact, if I’m honest … I could happily go for a three day weekend as a permanent hebdomadal pattern in my world!

Welcome to May everyone; let’s hope it is a good month…

The Covid Christmas Chronicles 2!

Monday 27 December 2021

Shhh! I hardly dare say it aloud, but I think I have just recorded my first negative covid test for … what feels like an age!”

A week of isolation, that is all it has been but it has taken its toll and I am going a little bit stir crazy! Why yes, we still have our board games, but we have played them to death. Our favourite was Trivial Pursuits, gloriously updated from the original 1980s version, so that my Gen Z offspring are no longer left puzzling over the ‘Male star of Man about the House in 1974′, but have questions that they can actually answer. Nonetheless, we have now circumnavigated the board so many times that we are struggling to find a card that hasn’t been used: yesterday, or the day before, or the day before that! Want to know the second largest German city by both area and population? I’m your girl!

Mealtimes too provide little variation, as the national season of leftovers collides with our dwindling supply of groceries. A once very fine Christmas dinner attempts a plucky revival each evening but progressively loses a little bit of shine each time, as we run down the veggies and scrape around the freezer digging out oven chips and bits of quorn to make up the nutritional numbers!

Prom-dress daughter is now also positive and, in consequence, when we do gather as a quartet to watch a new festive movie, we shiver in communal harmony with the lounge window wide open for ventilation and clinging to hot drinks for warmth!

Do I need to get out here? Well let’s just say that if you offered me a quarrelsome festive family walk right here and now, with everyone trudging gloomily along in the mud looking venomous and despondent … I’d bite your hand off!

And so it is that this afternoon’s negative test almost has me dancing with joy! I still need a second to secure my ticket to freedom, so I restrict my celebrations to breaking out of my pyjamas, for the first time in 8 days, and donning enough clothing to hit the garden and rake up some wet leave.

Woohoo – living the dream!

Of course I am very grateful that we are both OK … but please… finger, toes and everything crossed here for only one pink line on the lateral flow tomorrow….

Lockdown week 12: The cooking rota

Saturday 13 June 2020

Twelve weeks of ‘Staying at Home’ and I finally wake up to the idea of a cooking rota! I may have been slow out of the starting blocks on this one but, even with a few hiccups, it is definitely worth the wait!

Did I say ‘woke up to the idea’? Meltdown moment would be a more accurate description! Over 2 months, of having to plan and serve up twice as many meals as usual, has weakened me. But with stress cranked ever higher by work deadlines and a battery of difficult decisions, someone bouncing into the kitchen and innocently asking,

What’s for tea mum?” finally tips me over the edge.

I rant. I shout. I despair. I blub. And, as even a trusty cuppa fails to revive me, the cooking rota is born. Small Boy nods and shrugs. My eldest whips up a spreadsheet. Prom dress daughter asks if she can choose her own recipe,

I am following this really great vegan YouTuber !”

In the end, they all opt to design their own menus. In fact they all appear quite excited. I career around the Supermarket, filling my unwieldy trolley with: sriracha, spring onions and balsamic vinegar and then wait for the week to unfold.

Small Boy is up first. If he’d only checked that we had some oil in the house before deciding to feature ‘home cooked fries’, things might have gone more smoothly! I am summoned into the kitchen to survey a mountain of carefully chopped potato pieces and one very empty bottle of frying fuel! I call up the stairs for my Eldest to run him to the shops and settle back down, for a rare moment with a good book.

Fifteen minutes later, she pops in to watch some TV. When I look a little puzzled and ask where her brother is, she tells me she told him to ‘walk‘. It’s quite a trek …and I am starving, so I take pity upon my youngest child and head out to collect him. It is a good job I do. I spot a disconsolate figure shuffling home empty-handed and discover that, despite two full circuits of the one-way aisles, a sorry Small Boy “couldn’t find any oil. I help with the shopping and we are soon home ready to carry on cooking. There is no deep-fat fryer, so we improvise with the vegetable steamer and by 7pm are all sitting down to our first cooking-rota meal.

It looks great. It tastes great. So good in fact that Small Boy wants to save the oil to use again. I make the mistake of pondering aloud, how we will store the vat of still-hot fat. None of us, alas, are quick enough to intercede as Small Boy, enacts his bright idea of re-filling the original containers and two plastic bottles meet their end in the oily heat. We recycle the unfortunate, shrunken remains in the blue bin and set the oil aside as a problem for another day.

Prom dress daughter’s ‘Bang Bang Cauliflower’ and ‘Sweet Potato Lasagne‘ from my Eldest are served up with far less drama and are also totally delicious. Their food is fresh. It’s flavoursome. It’s new. I realise that it has not only been a real treat for me to get a break from cooking but the three of them have also dragged our family meals out of the rut of my tired, old cuisine. Moreover, I think they enjoy it!

So, ‘Three Cheers‘ for vegan YouTubers and any other sources of my teens’ inspiration. Variety and creativity are definitely back on the menu. Let’s hope they are here to stay! Bring on week 2 of the cooking rota…

All you need is …

Friday 14 February 2020

Valentine’s Day! It is the national day of love and my teen household is a flurry of cards, soft toys, red envelopes and dreamy smiles. Prom-dress daughter has a party. My eldest, groomed and glamorous, heads out for cocktails, just as a grinning Small Boy arrives back from a cinema date … and then proceeds to wrap his love-struck lips around slice upon slice of pizza. It makes me jig It makes me smile. Because there is nothing better in this life than the thrill of being ‘in love’. That giddy cloud nine feeling when your face cannot stop beaming, your mood is sky high and nothing gets you down. Or is there….?

The thing about that first magical flush of ‘in-loveness’ is that it never lasts. And it’s not the thing you miss in a break-up. You miss the deep connection and the bond that’s come from years of experiences together, happy and sad, and an understanding that doesn’t needs words anymore. You miss, not so much the person, you ‘miss us’ the unique partnership that you once made together. And one of my best partnerships at the moment …is my family.

I’m going to be truthful, my family life is teenagers. At it’s worst, it’s like World War 3 at our place. Somewhere in the middle, it’s a relentless set of logistics, many dismally dreary, to organise with me, rather alarmingly, ever at the helm. But at it’s best … at its best it’s in-jokes, communal songs, crazy card games, unstoppable laughter and shared joy. It’s also team work in a crisis and we’ve had a fair few to deal with – 21st century life is tough for teens! And at these best of moments, the happiness I feel, all consuming overtaking happiness, really is the best feeling in the world. Let’s call it by it’s name, this is love … and it actually is all you need…

Family meetings…

Sunday 12 January 2020

Small Boy slides into the kitchen, his face alight with excitement…and hope?

“Mum, can I have a corn snake for my birthday?

Well that’s a conversation stopper… at least for a moment! But we are all there. It is Sunday after all, the one day of the week when my culinary skills extend to breakfast. Prom-dress daughter breaks the silence with a simple ‘Whaaaat?’ My eldest starts Google-ing facts about corn snakes and their living habits. Small Boy waves pictures of ‘cute‘ snakes at us. I take a swig of my tea (wondering, not for the first time, why I thought Dry January was such a good idea) and soon something resembling a ‘family meeting’ is in full flow. But I think there may be a family out there that needs a meeting even more than we do today…

Although only one full week in, world events have seen 2020 explode into the annals. Australia continues to battle bush fires that have devastated the ecosystem on a terrifying scale. Tension between the USA and Iran, following the death of General Qasem Soleimani, has been intense and, at its height, the press did debate the likelihood of a third world war. In the UK however, the story that has dominated the news reels has been the decision of Harry and Meghan to ‘step back’ from their roles a senior members of the British royal family.

I am not a major ‘royalist’ but I do have a theory on the national fascination with The Windsors. To my mind, it stems from them being family. They do things that our familes do: they marry, they have babies, they get their first jobs, they celebrate landmark birthdays. The difference is that they do much of it publicly, with the ceremonial glamour and style that wealth and privilege afford. And in this light they become a family we all watch, discuss and debate (and because we all understand families, we all have something to say.) Is it a step to far to suggest that, for centuries, we have had our very own brand of the Kardashians in residence at Buckingham Palace?

More seriously, if we look back to the abdication of Edward 7th, less than 100 years ago, we see how rapidly the royal family have since adapted, reflecting the changing views of society on the family and other issues. Their role, in signalling acceptance of today’s more varied family unit is a really important one for me. The Queen, who has (nominally) ruled our land for 67 years, should also be admired for allowing the younger royals freedom to branch out and work on issue close to their own hearts. Princess Dianna shaking hands with an AIDS patient in the 1980s, Prince Harry more recently speaking out on mental health, both illustrate the power of the younger generation to challenge prejudice, to remove stigma and to make progress. Elizabeth 2nd is a true matriarch and I am sure she will be able to steer the family through their current dilemma, (which appears to be, an admittedly complex twist, on the age old problem of one son deciding that he doesn’t want to ‘join the family business’). In her long reign, the Queen must have dealt with far greater quandaries.

Could she spare some advice for me on the issue of the corn snake I wonder? My eldest announces that they ‘eat mice’. Prom-dress Daughter says ‘no way!’ I venture to ask if ‘any reptiles are vegetarians?’ Small Boy agrees to look into it and we head off to make some enquiries about non-mice-eating pets at the local pet store….

Another results day…

Thursday 22 August 2019

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

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

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

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