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. Does 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.

And 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 …

It started with a tick!

Saturday 18 June 2022

One week after I post my bucket list… one item is ticked off!

So, have I been skinny dipping? Not yet – but grateful thanks to the person who has offered to join me on that outing! Whisky festival then? Again no, even though this item attracted even more interest from friends and family!

What actually happened was that in the middle of last week, following a month of communication with an educational publisher, submitting, then editing (and re-editing) my ‘assignment’, I signed my first ever freelance agreement as a content writer and invoice no.1 has left my email outbox! Yippedy dee!

If am being honest, when I pictured submitting an ‘article’ to an educational publication, I envisaged a well-researched piece of writing on some topical issue of the day, such as ‘The impact of wealth inequality on the British educational system.’ And that is not what this is at all. My brief is designing learning and assessment resources. And whilst I’d never previously thought of this line of work, I do love it and … they appear to be paying me. So happy, happy days!

All of which leaves me pondering, what to do with my first writing pay cheque? Should I treat the teens? Both my uni girls have worked really hard and passed their recent examinations. Meanwhile at home, Smallboy has made it through 24 GCSE assessments (thankfully only 3 more to go!). So they certainly all deserve a little something. On the other hand … my bucket list was supposed to be about me so should I direct it towards further adventures? Money to pay for the Elevazione oboe part, or start a savings pot for Oktoberfest 2023?

Perhaps, I caution my racing thoughts, I should actually wait for the money to land! Last Friday,I got a fee for an oboe playing gig and they, rather bizarrely, paid me £75 … in Waitrose vouchers, which was an unexpected first and a timely reminder, as the old sages would say, not to count my chickens…

So, in the meantime, it is back to the bucket list and wondering ‘What’s next?’ Well all that writing and editing can take a toll on a busy single mum. I think the sofa, popcorn, a good bottle of wine and ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s sounds like the perfect next step ….

My bucket list!

Saturday 11 June 2022

Bucket lists? Well if you are anything like me, the very mention of the phrase used to conjure up images of slightly balding men in lycra, dangling from the end of a bungee rope, having a mid-life crisis. Definitely not my cup of tea!

So what has changed?

‘The bucket list…’ states a Stanford Medicine article, is ‘‘… a list of things that one has not done before, but wants to do before dying’’.

It’s a definition that left me perplexed. Yes, for years, I really didn’t grasp the notion at all. No procrastination or waiting until the grim reaper came knocking for me. If there was something I wanted to do, I’d pretty much go out and do it. And, busy as a bee, I gallivanted through life: learning, travelling, adventuring, performing, and falling in and out of love. It was.. amazing.

But then came parenthood and … single motherhood-hood. Wonderful as that is too, in so many ways, as I now contemplate ‘empty nesting‘ I realise that the last 20 years has extinguished some of my drive and daring and made me become a little bit invisible in my own life. As a single-mum, because the focus is never on you, I think that I simply forgot, over time, to have any hopes or dreams of my own. I forgot how good it feels to live life to the full, with aspirations for me as well as my children.

So last Summer, as a friend was explaining their creation of a list of ‘60 things to do before I’m sixty’ , it was like a jolt of electricity through my veins. As, she ran through some of the items, with me shouting,

Ooh, sounds great!’, ‘Count me in!’

an even more exciting idea was forming. Designing my own schedule of ideas; now that truly was intoxicating and felt like a missing piece of me being slotted back into place. I needed some goals of my own, some challenges to look forward to, some re-invention of my former self. I needed … my own kind of bucket list.

So here we go. It is not ’60 things to do before I’m sixty‘ because after 2 decades of keeping everyone else happy, I did struggle to turn the spotlight in my direction and think about what might make me happy. Instead, it is ten things to do in the next 24 months, which I figure is a good start could snowball into other ideas.

  1. Learn to play the oboe part of Elevazione: Domenico Zipoli
  2. Have a night out at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in Soho
  3. Submit an educational article for publication
  4. Go to a whisky festival
  5. Drink beer at the Oktoberfest
  6. Sign up for German classes
  7. Raise money for The Samaritans
  8. Watch ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s
  9. Read Jane Eyre: Jane Austen
  10. Learn to swim underwater

And… as a cheeky extra,

11. Go skinny dipping!

Many wouldn’t appear on anyone else’s ‘to do’ list, but I am pretty confident that they are all things I’d love to do. Little bits of me, reflecting: my values, my passions and my interests, plus in the case of number ten, facing a life-long fear and … I actually cannot wait to get started!

On the upside…

Monday 30 May 2022

Oh what a fortnight! My son starting GCSEs, my classes also doing examinations and me facing job interviews … all mixed together with illness and a dental divorce!

Yes, for someone who is ‘never ill’ , my timing really couldn’t have been worse!

I am sent home, vomiting like a woman possessed, on the eve of GCSE maths paper 1. Full of guilt that lovely year 11 class are gathering for post-school revision with pizza … and I am not there! (Grateful as can be to my wonderful colleagues who welcome them into other classrooms.)

At home, my plans to be ‘super supportive mum of the year’ also take a nose dive. Smallboy asks for help with some algebraic proof but, although I try, I am unable to make it to the top of the stairs before I have to lie down … on the landing carpet … and I am sent back to bed.

Never mind mum. We’ll just have to pick it up on the next 2 papers!”

says my kind-hearted boy as I collapse back under the duvet.

For the next couple of days I fail to even leave my darkened room.

What is this foul ailment?”

I cry, struggling to recall the last time I was out of action for more than 24 hours.

Then come the job interviews

Why? Why now? Oh why indeed?’

A stressful week starts with me, in a washed-out daze stumbling through 2 hectic days of tasks, panels and presentations. Day 1 is not my finest hour and to say that I fail to ‘sparkle‘ would be an understatement. Nonetheless, I do see it through to the end and still await my fate.

Alas, as I wearily try to rally for interview 2, I discover that, to top things off nicely, one of my fillings has fallen out. So I flounder through the second appointment avoiding all offers of food and drink and trying to ignore the fact that I now feel rather feverish and appear to have a huge cavern in my mouth! At this establishment, I am informed that I have not been successful … and I completely understand why.

Next morning, I drag myself back to work, anticipating some (understandable) backlash from pupils who could be forgiven, mid-exam season, for feeling a little bit abandoned. But my classes are anything but resentful. Teenagers run across the yard, stop me in the corridors and gather around me in the canteen.

“Miss, how are you?”

Are you better now? You looked really ill last week!”

“So glad to have you back! We’ve missed you!”

It is a humbling and overwhelming welcome. Feeling a tad emotional, I conclude, not for the first time, that children are often a lot nicer than adults!

They are certainly a lot nicer than my dental practice, who inform me that, due to missing some check-ups, I have been ‘removed‘ as a patient. Left, abandoned, cast out… and told to take my ‘emergency situation‘ elsewhere.

Many phone calls later, I eventually find a dentist who can treat me at the weekend and, in the interim, I bung up the gap with some ghastly home-made remedy from the internet.

So, where oh where are the upsides?’ I hear you ask.

Well, firstly, it definitely makes me look at my current job with renewed affection. My pupils evoke a striking reminder that, in a profession like mine, value is not always found by looking within for self-fulfilment, but sometimes by seeing yourself through the eyes of others and the impact you have upon them. So even if interview number 1 yields a job offer, I will think long and hard about whether or not the post merits giving up the important role I deliver at the moment.

Secondly, I find a great new dentist. Open on Saturday, closer to home and…. he even compliments me on the ‘great job’ I’ve done with my Google-gloop!

‘You could be a dentist!’ he jokes good naturedly

Ha ha ha – but probably, methinks, not my next career move!

And finally….I actually feel okay today! And wellness after 2 long weeks of pain, nausea, and exhaustion just feels like heaven. Long may it last…

A parent’s guide to the GCSE season …

Monday 16 May 2022

Fasten your seatbelts parents for the 5-week roller coaster of GCSE and Vocational examinations has rolled back into town! It is third time for me … so what are my top tips for surviving the next month?

Well if truth be told, whether your child is a driven revision machine, a last minute Larry or has their head well and truly buried in the sands of denial, I only have one piece of advice

“Remember to be a parent!

And simply put, that means being there. There to test a bit of revision if asked. Definitely there to turn off the x-box and even confiscate the phone on occasion. Absolutely there with emergency chocolate and an episode of ‘Modern Family’ when it’s been a ‘complete disaster’ of an exam and a sugar boost and laughter is essential, before you tell them to ‘park’ the paper and focus forward to the next one. There to hear all about the good days (and breathe again if only for 24 hours!) There to forgive the moods and soak up a bit of the stress. There with meals, and snacks, kindness and care and reassurance that ‘attainment doesn’t define us, but attitude does‘ so trying your best is all they need to do to make you proud. Above all – just there!

So in May and June, as I am the only parent available, I am dialling back the diary commitments, reducing rehearsals and running around Small boy’s schedule for a few weeks. It is only for a short time and, moreover, I am sure that it will also be pretty good times. Because going through challenging landmark events with my teenagers has always been this. A time to grow closer, to feel like an unbeatable team, to share a lot of laughter… and sometimes a few tears. Plus, I’ll admit in whispered tones, as a mum of fast-growing, increasingly independent offspring… it’s also nice to know that I am still needed!

So although I will doubtless be stocking up on the alcohol too, before week one is over, bring it on …I wouldn’t miss this for the world ….

There’s a hot tub in my garden…

Saturday 23 April 20222

Golly gosh; can my two girls shop!

As the Easter holidays draw to a close, I hardly recognise my own home! Cheered on, at times propelled on, by my daughterly duo of retail fanatics, not only does my conservatory proudly boast a new furniture but the weathered and worn plastic garden chairs have also been binned in favour of ‘zero-gravity‘ recliners. Have I taken leave of my senses? Well I just might have done exactly that, because the shopping frenzy all began….with a hot tub!!

Oh the hot tub! A fanciful notion floated several weeks ago, after some bargain deals bounced into the inbox. The only part the teens really play in this transaction, as my ‘older generation‘ head wavers and wobbles over such a luxurious item, is to confidently waive aside my worries and doubts and merrily shove me across the financial finishing line… and into the blissful outdoor spa!

However, scarcely has the froth subsided on our first dip in the bubbles, when purchase number 2 is in the boot of the car. I innocently agree to potter into town with my Eldest, to return a package to Next and pop into Boots for a new moisturiser when, lo and behold, my girl steers me into a store promising ‘unbeatable bargains‘ on garden furniture and I find myself trundling to the till with four new ‘zero-gravity‘ recliners with accompanying drinks table!

Mum, you have been looking for new outdoor furniture for years!”,

she smiles reassuringly, as I appear a little flustered. This is utterly true, but I had anticipated at least another half decade of looking and wondering and weighing-up before I actually made any daring dash to the cash-till. In addition, I am not at all sure what ‘zero’gravity‘ chairs even are! But, as we try them all out upon our return home, they are very comfortable. And, as my daughter points out, together with the hot tub really ‘freshen up the garden experience!

I know what you’re thinking, by now I had surely learned my lesson! But no, as Prom-dress daughter arrives home to swell the youthful and carefree ranks of the household, I am persuaded to head out to Ikea to replace a few broken glasses, replenish my dwindling supply of cereal bowls and try out the new plant balls’. Five minutes! We are there for only five minutes, before we are are snuggling on a new sofa and admiring the display of accompanying rug and table!

This is so comfy! Gorgeous!

You’ve been looking for ages, Mum”

“Don’t you just love it!”

“The poor conservatory has been completely bare for 18 months now!”

They do actually allow me to stop and consider this one, over (delicious) plant balls, mash and gravy. Possibly, I am distracted by the delights of my redcurrant jelly but equally the fact that they are correct and that my lovely, sunny, garden room has been an empty shell for a year and half does also register and I decide to go for it, rug, coffee table and all!

At the warehouse, things are slightly complicated as we discover that, despite endless permutations of collapsed seats and car-boot boxes and much hilarity as the three of us career around the carpark with the weighty beast, the sofa is never going to be squashed into my car. In now rueful resignation, I wave my credit card at the cashier and fork out for home delivery!

So here I am. But here’s the thing; the purchases have all be fantastic. We live in the conservatory now and wonder what we ever did before. The new garden equipment has been super-fun, long overdue and made the Easter holidays seem pretty idyllic. I’d go as far as to say that it has made me fall in love with my own home again.

Thus, as the clash of youthful exuberance and a dash of ‘carpe diem’ with my single-mum (crippling) caution has a clear victor on this occasion, I’ll admit that I am glad to have been defeated. Left to my own devices I would doubtless have a few more £100s in the bank, awaiting the proverbial ‘rainy day’, but the conservatory would still be an empty room and the tired old plastic chairs would have tempted no-one to sit in the garden this holiday. Why not ‘seize the day’ and enjoy a few sunny days right now. A trip to IKEA isn’t ever going to break the bank so when those rainy days do arrive, I’ll still be ready!

Nonetheless, the bank manager and I do heave a little sigh of relief as my two shopaholic students set off back to uni-land ….

Goodbye old shed …

Saturday 16 April 2022

I am blogging today, glass in hand, from a deckchair in the sunniest corner of my garden. It is a lovely spot but it has come at an emotional price… we have had to dismantle the shed …

I mean the battered old beast needed to go! The roof felt blew away a couple of years ago, the timbers has sagged so that the roof frame itself was hanging on by … divine grace and the interior was a jumble of cobwebs, damp rugs and other decaying detritus that no-one had dared to investigate for half a decade. Nonetheless as it taken apart, beam by beam, it feels a little sad and, as the children’s ‘Secret Club rules’ re-emerges on an inner wall my heartstrings are well and truly tugged …

The Shed; my very first purchase as we relocated from our ‘down south’ life back to the Northwest. Our rented property had a huge garden and whether out of guilt, panic or sheer hysteria, I decided to seal our move with an idyllic garden house for the trio of toddlers I had dragged over 200 miles to ‘start afresh’.

At the local garden centre, this wistful honeysuckle of a notion quickly descended into the typical tense scene most shopping trips with under 7s become. I located the shed that fitted my budget, a charming little house with windows and a latch door…my offspring had other ideas. As I reeled around wondering where on earth any of them were, they kept appearing inside the more deluxe end of the garden building market

“We need to get this one mummy, it has turrets and a slide… wheee!”

This one has two floors and lots of rooms … look look mum I’m upstairs…ooh we could sleep in it

I grabbed and yanked them back into line to show them ‘our little house’. Well, to say they were unimpressed is a complete understatement. Tears, shouting, accusations and, from Small Boy, a full on tantrum, lying on the ground screaming with fury and refusing to move until I relented and bought the ‘one with the slide‘!

I vaguely recall bundling them all back into the car, arranging delivery of my chosen shed and driving home …for a whisky!!

Fortunately parents, as we all know the small people have very short memories and when my ‘reasonably priced’ garden shed arrived, the household rejoiced and they spent hours in there, their own little house, the perfect setting for getting lost in imagination and make believe. Indeed as we resume the final farewell to the trusty shed timbers, we do uncover and even hang onto several treasures. Plus I finally solve the mystery of where my washing line pegs disappeared to all those years ago!!

But the truth be told, it is several years since any adventures have taken place in the old shed. As toddlers grew into teens, no-one took their tea out to the little garden house anymore, nor spent hours in there hatching plans and scrawling important ‘rules’ on the walls. No, it was relegated to a dumping ground for odd bits of garden equipment and a delivery drop-off for parcels. So, whilst always in my heart as the venue of some happy times and laugh-out -loud memories, it is time to move on.

So I sip from my glass and raise a toast to new ‘good times’ in what is, after all, a beautifully sunny spot in the garden…

Edinburgh…

Tuesday 12 April 2022

Whisky with your porridge Madam?

It may be 9am, but I am on holiday, so “Och aye the noo – don’t mind if I do!”

Could I be in Scotland? I certainly could and after a fantastic few days in the capital city I can only conclude that having offspring studying at far-distant corners of the UK certainly has its advantages when it comes to planning a weekend away …

Edinburgh; the perfect venue for a short city break. The 4 hour-drive on a chilly Saturday morning, is quiet and clear. Upon arrival, we find Prom-dress daughter and grab a quick lunch before .. and here is the genius move parents … we wave farewell to Small boy and his sister, who joyfully head off to explore student life without their mum in tow. Meanwhile, my friend and I check into a nearby B&B and from there step out to indulge in a couple of days of teen-free time and … it is glorious!

Edinburgh is a city of two halves, the Old and New Towns. We dive into the Old Town and, in the short time we have, never really make it out again! (I suppose there is always ‘next time’ for the Georgian splendour of Princes Street and the Waverley Gardens). We wander the famous Royal Mile, with its cobbles, colour and many wonderfully named adjoining streets; Fleshmarket Close, Candlemaker’s Row, Cowgate, and Circus Lane. In St Giles’s Cathedral, we find the choir mid-rehearsal and pause to marvel as the beautiful voices and organ chords float through the gothic columns.

We join the Dark Side tour to walk the streets as night falls and learn more. The two hour experiences takes us as far as Arthur’s Seat and through several graveyards and dusky alleys as we are regaled with tales of poor Mary King, treacherous Burke and Hare and tales of witchcraft and fairie folklore.

It makes quite an impression and inspires us, the following day, to delve further into some of the objects and stories at the excellent Surgeon’s Hall Museum and the Edinburgh Museum. And all of this walking and sightseeing is mighty thirsty and tiring work, so we are also delighted to to find plentiful refreshment stops and use these to sample the local food and beer. My ‘vegan-haggis’ pannini is not an experience I’ll ever repeat but, as the wise sages say, ‘nothing ventured…’

On our final evening we do reunite with my two younger children at a trendy eatery is the Grassmarket area. They have also had a great time and as I still have … well half the city to explore … I raise my final whisky cocktail to , ‘the next time…’

Happy Mother’s Day 2022

Sunday 27 March 2022

What a lovely mother’s day weekend!

The British Isles bask in a full week of sunny weather and by glorious chance this coincides with me setting out on a weekend jaunt. I cannot believe my luck!

Saturday takes me to Hawes (I’ll skip the bit about me going via Leeds in a hapless satnav blunder) and a wonderful 10 mile trek along the Pennine Way. Oh it feels good to be out of my corner of the Northwest. Why I was becoming so dangerously domesticated I’d even bought strawberry plants for the garden! Amidst those rolling hills and mile upon mile of solitude, the grind of the week, the workload worries and the night-time niggles just melt away. Several medical studies affirm that walking is a proven mood booster and that Walking in nature, specifically, has been found to reduce ruminating over negative experiences. Well, it certainly works for me! And, as we hike back down to ground level, shop until we drop at the Wensleydale Creamery and then join the other weekend revellers enjoying beers in the afternoon sunshine, I almost feel as if I’m actually on holiday!

Alas, I am not and, on Monday will indeed return to work, but the the treats of the weekend are not over just yet. On Sunday I continue my drive North to pick up my Eldest from Uni-land for the start of her Easter vacation. Yeah – the perfect Mother’s day gift!

With much laughter and a surfeit of coffee and diet coke, we head home. After the two and a hour car journey, I actually hobble into the house, as the hiking has left me with a tricky combination of aching butt cheeks and very tight calf muscles! However, as my glutes and gastrocnemii loosen back into action, I find that flowers have arrived from Prom-dress daughter, my Eldest is ready to cook a Sunday Roast for me and my mum and even a rather jaded (from a Saturday night sleep-over) Small boy manages a card! Life feels good!

It is evening now and time to look to the week ahead. But with one last backward glance at the weekend, I am super glad that we made the most of the fine weather as the forecasters now warn of plummeting temperatures and even snow! Yikes; I do hope those strawberry plans will be ok…

Farewell little gecko…

Monday 21 March 2022

Sad times for us this week as Boris the gecko passes away very suddenly…

Our first reaction? Shock. It is true that Boris was poorly in the Autumn but, following a really successful operation and hours of careful care, medication and attention from Small Boy, he had been very much back to his usual self. So finding his little body lying peacefully, but very lifelessly, in the vivarium leaves us completely stunned and bewildered.

Then comes the realisation that he is gone and that sadly the ‘gecko years’ are over…

And what a roller coaster they have been. For lots of the time, Boris was the easiest of additions to the household. Happily hunting and feeding or basking and sleeping in his variety of caves and shelters. However, whenever anything went wrong … it was quite an adventure! And no; I am not talking about capers with the live crickets he fed on, although pursuing any nimble, high-jumping escapees around the house was certainly an experience! Nor the building of the vivarium, which, for DIY dimwits such as my son and I, was one very long evening. Far and away, our biggest challenges came with the two or three times Boris had ailments. The nearest vet for tropical pets was at least a 40 minute drive away (far longer in rush hour) and this lead to several epic trips, battling the Manchester traffic to make appointments after a long day at work.

Tense and tiring times? Absolutely … but also some of the best of times. Why? Because Small Boy and I lived this together.

My youngest child has always had a big heart, but his capacity to keep going, hold onto slivers of hope and never give up on our little gecko was utterly impressive. He definitely inspired me, on several occasions, to put aside my own exhaustion and dismay and … get on with doing what was needed. As for the long car journeys, although sometimes fraught they turned out to be lots of fun too. Singing ridiculous Gilbert and Sullivan songs (don’t ask us to explain why), treating ourselves to fast food at Maccies drive through as we finally turned off the motorway towards home and laughing our way through some utter navigational nightmares. It’s given us an extra bond, it’s given us some fine memories and , as I look back I realise that I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

So tiny Boris, although we feel rather low this week, we thank you for the life and joy you brought to our household over the last two and a half years. Sometimes it takes someone so small to remind us to cherish what is truly important; hope, family and fighting for the people (and pets) who matter. Rest in peace little gecko…