Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Going quiet

I seem to have lost my blogging mojo. Again. I've also noticed that a number of the bloggers I follow have been posting less frequently. I've been reading fewer blogs. I've been getting fewer comments. And I've had less to say.

I've been in this place before. Ironically, almost as soon as I say that I'm taking a break from blogging, I get inspired to blog about something, which is why I'm not saying: 'Farewell forever'. I'm just saying: 'I'm off for a bit'. 

My new business is now getting up and running. You can watch this video to find out more about what I'm going to be doing. I did my first bit of outreach today to a potential (big) customer and got a really positive response - getting to meet them next week! That, together with all the pre-christmas fund-raising I've been doing for the school and local village hall etc etc etc (as blogged about here), is probably what has sapped my blogging energy. 

So I'm going to go quiet for a bit. In the immortal words of that 80s Glass Tiger classic 'Don't forget me when I'm gone...'


Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Black Tuesday

Pic from  TimesLive
In 2009 the Telegraph newspaper, using investigative journalism, uncovered a huge MP's expenses scandal. The results saw MPs resigning, being investigated, made to pay back money and in at least one case, imprisoned. 

Now let's imagine that instead of having the Freedom of Information Act which we have here in the UK, we have a brand new bill that has just been passed by South African MPs today - the The Protection of State Information Bill.  Under this bill, anyone possessing classified government documents can get up to 25 years in jail, with no defence of 'acting in the public interest'. 259 MPs voted in favour of the bill. Only 32 against.  As one commentator said:  'All those in favour of corruption:259. All those against:32'

Had we had this bill in the UK during the expenses scandal, the journalists uncovering the story would have been facing 25 year sentences instead of receiving journalism awards.

South Africa is the gateway to Africa, the country which, post apartheid, was meant to be a shining example to the rest of the continent on how to thrive. Yet with this single piece of legislation, the country is returning to the dark days of apartheid whereby it was illegal to speak out against the government. 

Wake up world. Wake up journalists. Take note. This is has severe implications for press freedom. Shouldn't more people outside of SA know about it?  As far as I can see, so far just the BBC have reported on this. 

Yes America might be anticipating Black Friday this week (the day after Thanksgiving when Americans begin their Christmas shopping in earnest). But personally, I think a few column inches could be given to South Africa's Black Tuesday instead.

PS - back to light-hearted flippancy shortly.


Thursday, 17 November 2011

It's for charidee mate

It's that time of year. You know, when you spend a fortune on stuff for others. And no, I'm not talking about Christmas gifts for family and friends. I'm talking about cha-ri-dee mate (in the words of Smashy and Nicey).

Charity: (noun) The voluntary giving of help, typically money, to those in need.


Now, I'm not saying that any of the causes are not worthy. In fact I am a supporter of them all. But there comes a point where you think your pockets might just start presenting lint instead of pennies. 


Like this:


It started out slowly: about three weeks ago, we had to donate a pound so that the kids could go to school dressed as a hero. The pound went to Help for Heroes. 


A few days after that we had to empty our homes of old clothes to donate to bags2school.


Then of course it was poppy season so every time we went anywhere we donated again to collect an entire bunch of poppies because obviously I never remembered to wear the poppies I had and so always felt guilty about not having one on.


Then we needed to donate prizes for bingo and the Christmas Fair. In exchange the kids could go to school out of uniform. 


Then it was school bingo - spend your Friday night paying to win a prize which you have donated to the school. 


On Wednesday this week, I should have gone to a quiz night held by a local organisation to raise funds for a campaign against the installation of an incinerator. But I was away. But I'll be donating my time tonight to attend the committee meeting for this organisation, so that counts.


Similarly, on Friday we should be going to the quiz night at the local rugby club as they're trying to raise funds, but instead, we are going to a quiz evening on Saturday night to raise funds for our local village hall. That will cost us £20 for a babysitter, £10 in tickets and god knows what in alcohol.


This morning I drove in my pyjamas to the local shop to buy things for the Christmas Shoe Box appeal because having read the leaflet more closely, our second hand toys weren't going to cut it and they needed to be new. So I bought £14 worth of new tat toys, supplemented with newish looking old tat toys and had to buy gift wrap so that I could wrap the boxes, all done in a mad panic. 


This afternoon I have baked cupcakes for Children in Need activities at school tomorrow, printed off a bunch of pictures for a colouring competition and will be forking out another £1 per child to go to school out of uniform (again) and have to give them each 'some money (?)' to spend on the fundraising activities for Children in Need.


And then of course we have the school Christmas Fair. For this I have made 20 mini Christmas cakes (yet to be decorated), 10 jars of chutney, 10 bags of edible Christmas decorations (to be made still) and have bagged up heaps of our walnuts. All of the ingredients, jars and packaging has been paid for by me (Lakeland - I want a loyalty card). In addition, I will be  rummaging through the house for stuff to sell at the second hand stall, am calling a bunch of local companies to try rustle up some prizes for the raffle and will be spending the day of the fair setting up, manning stalls and spending money, buying back the stuff I donated no doubt.


Goodwill to all men and all that. But good grief it's expensive, not to mention exhausting. 


I fear I have donor fatigue. Come 1 December, I am going on strike. So is my wallet. 


Anyone else tired of all the giving when the season of giving hasn't officially started yet?





Friday, 11 November 2011

Wicked

As a mother, do you ever feel like the Wicked Witch of the West? Constantly the bad guy - insisting homework is done, rooms are tidied, vegetables eaten. We turn the beloved telly/wii off and suggest some outdoor play. We dole out punishments, drag them to hated swimming lessons and make them use a knife and fork when eating. In fact the line I hear most often from my children is 'You're so mean!'

Funnily, daddy isn't painted with the same brush. Perhaps that's because he isn't there every day. He forgets that they have to do homework, feels that pasta, pesto and peas is a perfectly well-balanced meal (even if it's served daily) and is more than happy to mooch on the sofa in front of kids cartoons for hours instead of getting wet outdoors. 

In the land of Oz, mothers are most certainly the Wicked Witch of the West and dads get to be the Good Witch Glinda, the popular one that everyone wants to hang out with.

But last night I was lucky enough to go see Wicked - The Musical. If you're not familiar with it, it's a prequel of sorts to The Wizard of Oz.  It tells the alternate story of the witches of Oz, of the unlikely friendship between two girls who meet at sorcery school. It turns the notion of what is good and what is bad on its head and makes you look at the story of Dorothy and her trip through Oz in a whole new light.

It brought home the message that just because you're painted as the Wicked Witch doesn't mean that you're wicked, you're simply trying to do good things that other people don't necessarily want you to do - like making children clean their teeth or in the case of the Wicked Witch, giving animals a voice.

There were parts of the storyline that I found a bit obvious and moralistic, but that's where my criticism ends. The costumes, set and actors were all spectacular, particularly given that most of the key roles where played by second understudies. The music and dance was amazing and it's easy to see why the show won the 2010 Olivier Award for Most Popular Show and 2010 and 2011 Whatsonstage.com Award for Best West End Show. 

Perhaps it was just having the chance to go out with some girlfriends in the big smoke, leaving Good Witch Glinda at home looking after the kids, but I left the show feeling as though I was defying gravity and more than happy to have the label of Wicked Witch in our house. After all, she's not really wicked, she just needs better PR. 

About the show
Wicked shows at the Apollo Theatre, Victoria, London - www.wickedthemusical.co.uk   
I imagine girls aged 8 plus would love this show - lots of pretty fairy dresses and make-overs. Boys will enjoy the baddies and everyone will enjoy how the characters fly around the stage. 
Warning: younger or more sensitive children might find some of it a bit scary - like the flying monkeys.
Note: I was given free tickets to see the show.

So mums, let me know if you ever feel like the Wicked Witch of the West and how you feel about being the misunderstood meanie.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Temper vs proximity of children graph


This look like anyone else's day or just mine?

(Click on the image to make it bigger)

Friday, 21 October 2011

Journey of discovery

Breaking news! I can stop searching for my 'next big thing'. 
I've found it! 

I don't really want to say what it is until I've signed on the dotted line but assuming it all goes to plan, I shall be buying a franchise and running a marketing related business in my local area shortly.

I'm really excited about it. I know it's going to be hard work and I know it's not THAT far removed from PR (in fact if I wanted to, I could do PR but I will be thinking long and hard about that).

It's been weird this little journey of self discovery. I sold my PR business and didn't have an inkling of an idea of what I wanted to do. In fact, I went onto BBC Radio Berkshire and spoke to Anne Diamond for a full hour about how I didn't know what I wanted to do. Anne was convinced I did know and was just hiding it from her. Possibly the most ridiculous radio interview of all time (well obviously not quite as ridiculous as the whale interview).

In the last 7 weeks I have considered many jobs, including:


  • Trying out a different job every week for a year and then writing a book about the experience. I binned that idea because it was a huge amount of work for no money which didn't seem massively clever.
  • Writing a novel. I binned that idea because I have started a novel and thought with all the time on my hands that the ideas would come flowing out. They didn't. In fact my creativity seemed to die altogether. What's more, every blogger and their dog wants to write a novel. Gazillions of novels are written every year and few ever even get published, much less make the author any real money. I realised that my desire to 'write a book' was purely ego based, so that I could say that I was a published author. It wasn't likely to make me any money. Perhaps one day I will when my story hits me. Until then, that idea will be shelved.
  • Becoming a freelance writer. I very, very nearly signed up for a year long writing course and I have signed up for a photography course (which I'm doing over two weekends). But I realised that you don't make too much money being a freelance writer and what's more, I'd spend my life pitching story ideas to editors which was one of the reasons I wanted to leave PR in the first place. So that idea was dispensed with.
  • Cookery - I looked at this three ways. 1) To run a cookery school franchise where you teach kids/young adults to cook. But those franchises claim to be family friendly - yet expect you to run your classes after school and in the holidays. So what are you meant to do with your own kids? 2) Train as a chef and then set up my own private cookery school. I thought about this seriously but the training alone cost £14k and then the set up cost of a school was even more. 3) Running a coffee shop. This is a long held dream. But I think it comes down to the fact that I like eating cake and drinking coffee with friends, rather than working every minute of every day and wondering if I'll make ends meet. So I shall save my cookery for home and not try to earn a wage from it.
  • Set up an incredibly awesome website that would help more mothers to work flexibly around their children. It really annoys me that there is this wealth of talented women sitting at home wondering what to do with their lives/degrees/years of career experience when there are so few jobs that are suited to the demands of motherhood. This is still an area I believe passionately in and if I had a techy business partner who could front up A LOT of money to get the site developed, I still think it has legs. But there are challenges you take on because you know you can just about achieve them and challenges you don't because they are bigger than you. This was one of those. 
  • Going back into employment. I looked at a huge range of jobs including PR jobs (god forbid) and even sent off a few emails for them. I signed up to various websites for freelance work too. But my heart just wasn't in any of it.
  • I considered moving to the sea and buying a property with an annexe and running a B&B/holiday let. But that decision has a bit of an impact on the rest of the family and truthfully, I'm not sure it's right for me. Not now. Perhaps when the kids have left home and I can combine my baking/cooking/writing/yoga interests into some kind of holiday retreat for women who want to escape.
  • I researched franchises. Lots of them.
Just as I was getting ready to resign myself to a life of Kept Womandom, I found a franchise that seemed to tick all my boxes. 

And strangely, it was the boxes that had been clarified on this journey of discovery. What did I actually want from life? What is most important to me? I thought ego and doing something I am passionate about were right up there. A need to feel as though I'm doing something great. I felt that doing something I really loved was going to be more important than making money as long as I felt it was making a difference in some way.

Actually, what I want is to earn a good amount of money, enough to let us send our children to private school if we choose to. Enough to allow me to fly around the world to see my family. Enough to make me feel that I was seriously contributing to the household pot. And that's where the ego box gets checked, not from fame or selfless goodwill.

Also what I want is to have the flexibility to work the hours I want to work and go on holiday when I want to go, not having to ask permission from someone if I can go watch my children's Christmas play or apologising that I'm off work again because of a sick child. I want the freedom to see my children after school. I don't want to commute for hours. And I don't want to live to work. I want to work to live.

I want to know that I'm making a difference but that difference doesn't need to be saving rain forests or starving children in Africa. That would be lovely, but I'm more pragmatic than worthy. I have skills that I know I can use to help other businesses out there. In my own small way, that is how I'll make a difference.

My destination is not that far from my starting point but I've travelled a broad loop of discovery to get there. It's been a journey worth making and I'm immensely grateful that I've had the luxury of being able to do it. 

More soon once I've signed pieces of paper.....

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Marketing gone mad

Given that I'm a PR luvvy dahling (well ex now), I understand that the entire year is simply a series of marketing opportunities. What - you weren't aware of that? You thought life was actually about living? Bless. Let me educate you.

Christmas, New Year, Valentines Day, Mother's Day, April Fool's Day, Easter, Father's Day, Grandparents Day, Bank holiday Weekends, summer holidays, Back to School, Halloween, Bonfire Night - and those are just the biggies. Don't forget National Talk Like a Pirate Day, National Egg/baking/curry/meat/lentils/insert anything Week, World Book Day, Safety Awareness Week, International Make Up a Day Day. You get the point.

Marketers don't think like normal people. They live permanently a few months ahead of everyone else. While you might be washing the sand out of your sandals after that fab summer holiday thinking how lovely it was to spend time with your family, marketers are putting the finishing touches on their Christmas campaigns and are well into planning their New Year New You items and probably have Easter in the bag too.

I do understand that they can't exactly wake up on 1 December and suddenly think: 'Oh, there are just 24 shopping days till Christmas, perhaps we should have a chat about what products to make and then figure out how to package them and get them made and shipped to shops all before Christmas'. They have to work in advance.

But there is advance. And there's ADVANCE.

I took this picture in our local supermarket during the first week of September.

Are there actually people who buy their Christmas chocolates in the first week of September? Are these the same organised people who buy their 'back to school stuff' in June leaving the dregs for the rest of us who think their children will probably grow at least 10 inches over the summer? And let's not forget Easter eggs and hot cross buns being available right after Christmas. Because Lord knows we need another religious holiday to start stockpiling for months in advance, just in case the end of the world comes and we haven't got any Cadbury's cream eggs.

But it goes beyond how ridiculously far in advance they promote these 'marketing moments'. It's the extent to which marketers jump onto an idea (no matter how irrelevant it is to their business) and KTAOOI (that is an acronym I made up because I like the onomatopoeiac sound it makes - go on, say it out loud - it stands for Kick The Arse Out Of It).

There are many examples of this (all of which I'm now making up so that I don't get sued).

Things like: 'Sick of the nagging? With Christmas approaching, now's the time to get your divorce sorted out. Use Quickie Divorce and make every night a silent night.'

Or

'It's Back to School at your local car dealership. Read our great prices, do the maths and get an A+ car deal.'

Or

'It's pancake day. The perfect time to buy not just a frying pan, but an entire new kitchen. We'll throw in the free eggs.'

But today while I was out at the supermarket (again) I spotted what has to be my personal favourite completely irrelevant marketing link. Take a look:


Yes folks - that's Halloween-themed loo roll.

So, let me know what you think Andrex's thinking behind this innovation was:

a) Halloween party hosts pay attention to the finest details

b) It's a themed bog roll for 'wrap the mummy' games at halloween parties

c) It's part of a new campaign to celebrate special days. Because your bottom shouldn't be left out of the festivities. Wait for the Father Christmas and Easter bunny range to be pampering your bum soon.

d) For those phantom poos that you know you've done but cannot see in the toilet bowl

e) Halloween is so scary that you'll shit yourself

Go on, give me your pay off line. I might even buy the winning entry a pack of Halloween themed toilet paper.

PS - in case you're wondering, this is absolutely not a sponsored post.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Occupation: House person

I wish I had some news to report about what my Next Big Thing is going to be.

I don't.

However, last night I got to experience the full force of my newly unemployed status. I was on the phone to the bank trying to set up a joint bank account with my husband (so that I can steal his money when I run out of my own). The lady on the phone was going through my personal details.

Bank Lady: "Occupation? It says here that you're self employed. Is that correct?"

Me: Mulls this over.... "Actually, technically I'm not. I did have a business and I sold it. And now I'm trying to figure out what to do next. I might get a job. Or I might start another business. Which would then make me self employed again. But I'm not too sure what that's going to be yet. It's really hard trying to figure it out you know. So no, I'm not really self employed any more. But I might get employed by someone else but I don't know in which career that is going to be yet. Which makes me sound a bit pathetic doesn't it? Gosh, I'm not really too sure how to answer that question."

Long suffering Bank Lady: "Shall we say 'House Person'?"

Me: "A what?"

Bank Lady: "A House Person. You know, someone who stays at home."

Me: "Er... yes, I guess that's exactly what I am."

How crushing. A House Person. Not even a House Wife or Mother. It would be politically incorrect to make either of those assumptions but they at least indicate that you might be helping to make the lives of some other people easier. Just a House Person. I guess that is better than being a Homeless Person. And I do like Houses. My pre-occupation with Right Move is testimony to that.

But House Person doesn't sound terrifically glamorous does it?

Luckily, as I've recently discovered in a marvellous book called Watching the English by Kate Fox, it is rude to ask what someone does for a living (unless you're a bank lady setting up a bank account). In a section titled The Guessing-Game Rule, Kate says: "It is not considered entirely polite, for example, to ask someone directly 'What do you do?'.....The guessing game, which is played at almost every middle-class social gathering where people are meeting each other for the first time, involves attempting to guess a person's occupation from 'clues' in remarks made about other matters." 

So in a dinner party situation where a high achieving individual is trying to winkle out what I do, I could quite legitimately say, "I'm a House Person". And according to Kate, "when two or three possible occupations are indicated, it is polite to name the highest-status one as a first guess". So their response would have to be something like: "A House Person. Fascinating - do you invest in property then? No. You're a property search consultant or an interior designer perhaps? Please don't tell me you're an estate agent?" (Kate has an entire chapter on why the English hate estate agents).

And I can just laugh and say, "Of course I'm not an estate agent!" and whisk off leaving them none the wiser that I actually spend my days loafing about trying to figure out what I want to be when I'm big.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Be somebody

My husband has been away for what feels like an eternity. But one good thing that comes of his trips abroad is that I get to watch a LOT of trash TV, stuff that wouldn't ordinarily be allowed to flicker across our screens.

While watching the X-Factor and Pushy Mums, I kept hearing the same sentence expressed over and over again:

'I want to be somebody'


This line was usually followed with words like:
"I can't go back to my old life of being a nobody."
 "Why would anybody want to be a nobody?"
"I want to be special"
"I want to be a somebody like Katie Price" (this last one is particularly worrying!)

I take no issue with people having ambition. But there are two things that sadden and worry me about the sentiment behind these words.

1. Firstly, these people view being famous as 'being somebody'. They don't want to be 'somebody' who can invent a cure for cancer or enable world peace or even simply be a really good singer for singing sake. 'Somebody' means having people recognising you in the street and screaming your name. They want the wealth, luxury, status and ego that goes with being 'somebody'.

Steve Jobs - he was a somebody. He invented products that have changed the way we as a society communicate, work and play. Now that's being somebody. Yet you don't get kids queuing up to be Britain's Best Inventor, bursting into floods of tears when their science experiments get the chop at boot camp (maybe ITV has this reality show in the pipeline - if not, perhaps I'll suggest it).

But would kids today think Steve Jobs was somebody? I asked my boys if they knew who Steve Jobs was. They didn't. I asked if they knew who the company was that made daddy's ipad. They said Apple. So they knew something. Intrigued about how much more they knew, I asked if they knew who the founder of Microsoft was. They asked: 'What's Microsoft?' A sign of the app-based times perhaps?

Isn't it a shame that children can name famous footballers and pop stars and actors but have barely heard of the great innovators in the world? I suppose they'd be ridiculed as geeks if they had posters of Bill Gates and Michael Dell and Steve Jobs and Richard Branson and James Dyson stuck on their walls. But imagine how different the world would be if kids believed that innovating and using your brain was cool instead of being able to warble a tune or kick a ball?

2. Secondly, what really, really saddened me is how so many of the people on these shows believe that without fame, they are nothing. A nobody.

Don't they realise that they are someone's child, someone's mum or dad, someone's brother/sister/teacher/work colleague/congregation member/member of society? Don't they realise that every single person has the potential to be something great and that greatness can be incredibly quiet and unassuming?

I know that secretly I would love to be able to achieve something extraordinary - no matter what that is - so that on my deathbed I could look back and feel proud that I made the most of my life. But it's highly likely that I won't invent the next big thing or become a world famous singer. I'll live an ordinary, unremarkable life. One that the people on those TV shows would describe as 'a nobody'.

But I know the truth. I am a somebody. To the people who matter the most. And that's what counts.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Love

Breathe in. Breathe out. 

Breathe in. Breathe out. 

Breathe in. Breathe out. 

I watch you sleep.

A quiet tongue-clicking noise. A flutter of lashes. A turn of head just a fraction to the left so that the light picks up the perfect lattice work of your skin. Hair tousled and slightly damp with sweat. Smooth, unlined forehead, not yet worried by life. Almond shaped eyes decorated with a curtain of curled lashes. A nose that dips away before gently sloping upwards to make a perfect button. Full lips slightly puckered, dehydrated from the air passing in and out. Smooth cheeks dotted with a collection of small freckles, nonchalantly scattered with perfect precision.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Your throat swallows, an angel sigh. My eyes follow the line down your long neck, spreading out to a soft expanse of virgin skin on your chest. Soft as butter on top, hard as wood beneath. Sinew and lean potential-packed muscle lie at rest while your chest subtly rises and falls. Rises and falls. Your arms are splayed, fingers curled into fists as though you're fighting an unseen foe.

I lightly touch your forehead with a finger tip. Sticky, soft and warm. I lean over and breathe in the smell of you. Sleep. Soap. Little boy. I kiss the tip of your nose. It wrinkles. I long to kiss you again but don't want to wake you. 

So I just watch instead. 

Breathe in. 

Breathe out.





Wednesday, 28 September 2011

What do SAHMs do all day?

SAHM (or Stay At Home Mums as they're known in the parenting biz) are often ever-so-slightly sneered at by WAHMs or WMs (that's Work At Home Mums or Working Mums - do keep up). 'Gosh, what do you do all day? I'd get so bored. I simply have to work.'

But by the same token SAHMs are very often quick to paint WMs as disinterested mums who put themselves before their children. I'm paraphrasing here. Just read the Daily Mail or go to Mumsnet to see the arguments in action.

Until very recently I've been a WAHM, in my opinion, the best of both worlds. You work AND are there for your kids and you can whip up a casserole while taking a tea break. Which means you get to wear The Halo of Smugness.

Now that I've replaced the W with an S in my acronym, I am realising what SAHMs do all day. Take today for example:

I got up, had coffee, put on some laundry, made the kids pancakes and apple sauce, got their school clothes ironed, bags packed and walked them up to school. All of which I could have done as a WAHM, only I'd have been checking emails in between.

Then I joined two other members of the PTA for a two mile walk to plot out a family fun day. After that, I came home, hung up washing and then headed up to the school to join them for community lunch.  I've since come back and had a long chat on the phone to my husband who is abroad, arsed around on Facebook for a while, am writing this blog post and am then off to town to pick up dry cleaning and get some BBQ food to celebrate our very, very late summer.

Then it will be time to pick the kids up, do a bit of homework, feed them, get them off to Beavers, back home and into bed. I'll spend my evening doing the ironing pile (which still holds no appeal, regardless of having less work to do) and watching some rubbish on TV.

So there you have it - an average day in the life of a SAHM. I'm sure there are SAHMs who also clean the house vigorously (I don't) and who exercise (I do) and who meet up with friends for coffee (something I've done a couple of times). They might even do charity work. But trust me, the day goes by in the blink of an eye and you're left wondering how on earth you ever managed to fit work in.

And don't get me wrong, it is pleasant. You can enjoy the sunshine (like today) and not wake up with a feeling of dread, thinking: Urg, I've got to do that presentation today. You have the freedom (certainly if you have school aged kids) to do pretty much whatever you like during the day - browse galleries, go shopping, spend hours in the downward dog pose at yoga.

But something is missing in all of this for me. It's a purpose. It's a point. It's knowing that I have to get up and get on with things because lurking at the back of my mind is that fear that I might end up being one of those mums taking their kids to school still wearing their dressing gown before coming back to watch Jeremy Kyle.

When I used to work full time in an office, I always used to wonder what happened out in the world while I was chained to my desk. I felt as though I was missing out on life. Now I have 'life' in spades, but it's emptier that I expected. Literally. No-one is around because they're all at work. I can feel this energetic buzz just brimming over the horizon where people are working and creating things and fixing things and doing things. And I'm not.

There are sacrifices that come with working. There are sacrifices that come with staying at home. The challenge is trying to figure out which sacrifice you're prepared to make. Tricky. Very tricky.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Highly sensitive children - my lightbulb parenting moment

We're at a pub with friends for a Sunday lunch. Their baby is snoozing peacefully in his buggy. We're taking turns walking up and down, pat shushing, trying to settle our screaming baby. Again.

Toddler group. All the children are sitting on the floor singing the wheels on the bus, merrily making the actions. My son is sitting on my lap sobbing, trying to cover his ears.

We head off to a pre-school mini football class. The other children all shriek and run around after the balls having a whale of time. My son won't come out from behind my chair and when I finally manage to coax him out and get him to kick a ball to me, he cries if I take a step from his side.

It's his fourth birthday. We've hired a magician and he's got to dress up like a pirate. He doesn't want to be the magician's helper. He reluctantly joins in the party games. He cries when everyone sings happy birthday to him.

He's getting dressed for school. Or rather, he isn't. He's making a fuss and not putting his shirt on. Eventually I ask him why he won't put his shirt on. Apparently the badge on the shirt is scratchy. I get him a shirt without a badge on it. He puts it on happily.

It's the dreaded time of day - school drop off. I take him into the playground. He clings to me, like every other day for the last year. He cries. He says he feels sick. A teacher has to peel him off me. He screams and tries to escape. I have to just walk away and it breaks my heart. They assure me at pick up that he was fine once I left.

'Your son doesn't say much in class, but when he does, it is stunningly well thought out as though he has thought very deeply about the answer and is almost adult in his approach,' to quote his reception year teacher.

Monday afternoons, our worst day of the week. Swimming lessons. He shouts and yells that he isn't going. 'I hate it,' he screams. I get him in the pool, refusing to negotiate on this point. The swimming instructor tells off the little girl next to my son for not listening. My son bursts into tears, his lip wobbling for the rest of his lesson while his goggles fill with tears.

This is my son. I have written about him before:
What to do when you don't like your child
When we send him off to camp
School Battles

For seven years I have been at a loss to know what to do with him. Nothing seemed to work. I'd always known he was sensitive, but as he got older, it seemed to me that many really undesirable qualities were coming to the fore: selfishness, laziness, aggression, drama queen tendencies.

But last week I was in a book shop and saw a book called The Highly Sensitive Person. It just seemed to leap off the shelf at me. I didn't buy it but went home and googled Highly Sensitive Children. And hey presto, up popped a web site with a quiz in which you answered questions about whether you have a highly sensitive child. So I did it. And no surprises, but he ticked just about every box. I ordered the book - Highly Sensitive Children by Elaine Aron - immediately and have spent the last few days reading it cover to cover.

It made me weep. Genuine sobbing and an immense feeling of guilt. How could I not have seen this in my child? How is it that I'd never heard of this as an issue? How could I have made so many mistakes with him? I wished with all my heart that I could take back the years and do them over again.

In case you, like me, were not aware of Highly Sensitive Children (HSCs), they make up 15 to 20% of the population, too big a proportion for this to be so unknown. It's NOT a disorder. It is NOT aspergers or autism.  In short, a highly sensitive person absorbs more and processes everything more thoroughly. To quote the book:

"HSCs are born with a nervous system that causes them to prefer to observe all the subtleties in a situation and to process all of this information deeply before acting. As a result, HSCs tend to be highly reflective, intuitive and creative (having a strong sense of how things came to be how they are and what could happen next); conscientious and concerned about fairness and what others are feeling; and aware of subtle changes, details or 'what's missing in this picture'. The trait also causes them to be more easily overwhelmed and hurt, both physically and emotionally; slower to warm up or join in; and sometimes quiet and unwilling to speak (in groups).


They are more easily overwhelmed by 'high volume' or large quantities of input arriving at once. They try to avoid this and thus seem shy or timid or party poopers. When they cannot avoid overstimulation, they seem easily upset or 'too sensitive'."


So my crying baby didn't have colic. There was just too much stimulation for him out and about.

My clingy toddler and pre-schooler wasn't being shy or wimpy, he couldn't take in all the noise and activity going on around him. He was hanging back to observe, process it and then venture forth (normally at about the time he had to leave which then caused him frustration and brought on massive tantrums).

My little boy wasn't being a party pooper when he cried at his party - he just couldn't take all of it in and couldn't stand the attention of everyone looking at him.

He doesn't hate swimming. He just hates the shock of the cold water, the splashing from multiple children, the gruffness of the instructor's tone.

Imagine it. Imagine that everytime you hear something, it sounds louder and you spend more time interpreting what that loud sound is. And imagine if every time you put on a scratchy jumper, it didn't just niggle you but really felt unbearable against your skin. And imagine if you didn't want to put that jumper on but your parents got annoyed with you for making another fuss and insisted on it. And imagine being forced to not wait and observe a brand new school with brand new people and lots of new rules and information, but being forced to go in because the bell is going and that's just what you have to do. Hell on earth.

Since reading this book I have looked at my son in an entirely different light. I can feel so much more empathy towards him now. I no longer feel that he is 'acting out' just because he's trying to wind me up. He is just a little boy trying to make sense of a very loud, overwhelming world that his nervous system battles to cope with.

In the last few days I have changed the way I am with him. I don't shout. I don't even raise my voice. I have lowered my expectations as to what to expect of him. I've helped him more. I've been infinitely more patient. I've explained why things have to happen simply and clearly. I've let go of the sense that he's trying to do things to get at me. I feel greater pride in the things he does do - like reading a poem in church for harvest festival. And the change has been phenomenal.

He is a completely different child. A happy child. Someone who is finally comfortable and able to deal with things because it's getting presented to him in the right way. Because he is super sensitive, he can feel the difference emanating from me. There's less frustration and disappointment and anger coming from his primary care giver. He is picking up on that positivity and literally blossoming in front of my eyes.

I know it's early days and it's going to require a great deal of patience to maintain the level of calm, fair parenting that a child like this needs. And it is going to be particularly hard trying to prepare him for a world that is quite simply not designed with sensitive people in mind - particularly for little boys who are viewed as cry babies or sissys instead of the macho role required by today's society. But I now know how I can help him and can see the utterly beautiful gifts his level of sensitivity brings.

I only wish I had known about this before. I hate myself for misinterpreting and misunderstanding him all these years, for not having the patience needed, for caring too much about what the rest of the world thought instead of doing what was right for him.

I promise to make it up to him by doing my very, very best to help him thrive in this busy, crazy world.

If you are the parent of a highly sensitive child, please share your stories with me.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Civic duty

Ah yes. We have reached that age. And it's all going to go downhill from here.

Let me back up and explain.

As a younger person with a sky-rocketing executive job, there isn't much time to think about the larger community. After all, there are rungs of career ladders to climb, business travel to enjoy and post work drinks to consume.

Then you have children and you start to get sucked into things that you didn't even know existed. Like toddler groups. Who need people to run them. Your role of sleep-deprived attendee making banal conversation about the colour of poo starts to take on a more substantial mantle as you get suckered into becoming assistant toy packer-away person, then co-chair and then chair. 

When you finally manage to sucker someone else into taking on the job, your children head off to pre-school and kazam! You innocently think joining the committee might be a good way to meet the other mums and before you know it, you're running the pre-school lucky dip stall at the village fete and helping arrange 70s style discos. It's all good fun though and after all, it will help buy some new mats for the little cherubs to sit on.

Before you know it, your little darling has entered the realms of big school. All new parents are of course invited to attend the PTA meetings, and being a stupid concerned individual, you once again fall for the honey trap of thinking it's a friendly thing to do. You even convince yourself that they may serve wine at PTA meetings. (They don't).

In the blink of an eye you go from being a bog standard PTA member to co-fund-raising organiser person, rustling up bingo prizes and stringing up bunting at barn dances. 

At this point, most of this 'social involvement' seems to land squarely on the women's shoulders. Men, somehow manage to keep their heads well below the line of fire. 

Until their wives, fed up of the inequality of it all, force suggest they might want to get involved. And so they do. They join the local cricket club and spend every Sunday playing cricket. All. Day. Sure he offers to coach the kids occasionally but mainly it's all about him and the fun he's having playing cricket for the first time since his uni days.

That's how it was in our house, until the cricket club asked me if I'd like to be treasurer. Oh how I laughed and chortled and frankly lay on the floor clutching my sides trying to picture it (accounts and I don't really see eye to eye). Not to mention that it was slightly unfair that my husband was going to get to play while I get to do the work. So I said no. Well done me. And my husband, deeply embarrassed by his cackling wife swiftly volunteered himself for the job.

But it doesn't end there. No sirree bob. Word got out that a new Parish counsellor was needed for our village. Husband, enjoying his new social responsibility cloak, put himself forward. 

I'm now proud to say that not only is he treasurer of the cricket club and a parish counsellor, but he's also  (and you have to say this in a nasal jobsworth type voice) 'the secretary of the allotment sub-committee'. Oh how the evenings fly by.

But wait, that's not all. A 'friend' has just volunteered my services to do some marketing for the school, while another has become chief fund-raiser for the village hall and has every intention of roping me in. 

Just when I thought we could comfortably sit back and polish our civic duty halos, I get a call. Someone has suggested that I might make the perfect village rep for a new initiative to fight Grundon from putting up a huge incinerator in our local area, an area of outstanding natural beauty (you can read about it here if you like - might as well start doing my new job now). So I shall now be leafleting the village and attending meetings to find out how we might thwart this plan going ahead. I feel I might wear a special super hero cape for these meetings. With a mask. And possibly carry a sword made of foam.

And that is how we find ourselves. I am going to make us some business cards. His will read:

Cricket Club Treasurer
Parish Counsellor
Allotment Sub-committee secretary
Sucker

Mine will read:

PTA Fund-raising second in command
Village Hall fund-raising second assistant
Village representative for the fight against giant smelly incinerator.
Fool

We have made the mistake of putting ourselves forward. We shall now spend the remainder of our lives trying to undo this error but no doubt becoming ensnared in the heady world of WI bake off judging, giant marrow contest measuring and church bazaar organisers. Just you wait and see if we don't.

Friday, 16 September 2011

The lost art of doing nothing

So this week has been my first full week of being an unemployed Stay At Home Mum. I actually kicked off this new occupation last week but only had three days of it before weekend. And I spent all of that time in work mode.

I'd get up with the kids, rush around trying to fit all the chores in before they left for school so that I could spend the hours that they were at school DISCOVERING WHAT TO DO NEXT. This is a hard job. It's stressful. I spent hours looking at various courses to study, franchises to buy, browsing small business websites hoping for a nugget of inspiration, checking out job sites and generally searching frantically for inspiration.

I realised that I really wasn't achieving anything. I am none the wiser about what to do next. I am torn between wanting to earn money, wanting to spend time with my kids and wanting to do something I enjoy - the three are not mutually compatible.

When I wasn't searching for my future nirvana, I was doing random chores - like buying birthday presents for son 2, picking up windfalls from our numerous apple trees and listlessly doing ironing. I felt I ought to be doing something. All this free time on my hands, it felt like sacrilege not to be filling in every hour. It literally felt like I was wasting time, as though life is a huge egg timer, and every minute I wasn't doing something, was another grain of sand trickling away never to be gotten again.

This week I made a conscious decision to let the grains of sand pass on by without worrying about it. I'd like to say I was successful at doing nothing. I wasn't. But I did get better. I signed up a for a digital photography course so that I can learn to use my camera better. I started to teach myself web design (I gave up quite fast too). I spent some time mooching around the shops, letting myself get accosted by the sales lady at the Benefit counter because really I wasn't in a rush to go anywhere else. I got my eyebrows threaded (the lady who insisted on calling me sweetheart every five seconds also suggested I might want to get my top lip done - apparently I have a moustache). I got my hair cut and coloured. I had tea with a friend. I did lots of exercise. I arranged a birthday tea for my ickle boy. I joined a friend for a dog walk. Simple little things that I'd normally have foregone or crammed into one of my free minutes.

I am unused to having so much time. I feel drowned in the freedom of it. And I still can't get the niggly creature sitting on my shoulders whispering into my ear - find out what to do next - to shut up.

Perhaps my next step should be a visit to a Buddhist retreat where I can practice just being.

Monday, 12 September 2011

How to hold a kids' army party

Earlier this year I did a post on how to hold a Harry Potter themed party for kids. Well, it's been party time again in the HOM household. So for any parent who has a little boy madly in love with all things military, here's how to hold an army themed party.

I should preface this by saying that I'm sure you could chuck a lot a more money at a party like this, but my philosophy when it comes to kids' parties is to do them for as little money as possible. In fact, it's a kind of challenge for me. How fun can you make a party without spending a lot of money on it?

This party was organised in under one week. I did it as a joint party with another mum, which made it even more cost effective and easier to run. The boys in question turned 6.

Location
This is key. You don't want to be doing this party in your house. AT. ALL. You could do it in your garden if you have a reasonable size one (ideally one that you have neglected so it's somewhat overgrown). Or you could do it in a park. But ideally, you want to find a wood or nature reserve. We are fortunate enough to have a lovely, safe nature reserve near us that is entirely free to go into and is perfect for little boys to charge about it. Doing this party in mid-winter might be too cold, but it doesn't really matter if it rains and you're doing this party - because part of the fun is getting wet and messy.

Invitation
I used MS Paint to create a camo background with simple text that said: Army recruits - your country needs you! with the details of the party following. It was emailed to everyone due to time limitations. Guests were advised to wear military/khaki/brown coloured clothes that they didn't mind getting wet or dirty.

What you will need
A dad or two dads to be drill sergeants on the day. Rather conveniently, my husband is ex-military but I think all blokes quite enjoy pretending to be soldiers every now and then, after all men are just little boys grown up. Of course mums can be drill sergeants too (that's our day job) but if you're going to act as drill sergeant, your life will be made easier if you have a helper who can get things ready while you're with the kids.

Lots of water balloons. These are cheap. However, filling them takes a long time and is a pain in the butt job. But this is the most onerous part of the party - the rest is easy.

A camp stove (not essential but useful if you want to have hot food)

Camo netting (not essential but adds to the effect - I got some fairly cheaply off ebay) or kids army tents. Again - I wouldn't rush out to buy these if you don't have them but if you do, it adds to the scene if you put them up.

Face paint (green/black/yellow)

How to run the party
Before our guests arrived, we created two 'camps'. Lucky for us, the location we chose already had one den that had been made with logs and leaves, so we just used that and added camo netting. The other we created in woods using ferns and fallen logs.


We set up the camp stove and created a basic 'mess area' where the kids would eat.

Upon arrival, we painted the kids' faces using the black, green and yellow paint to give them a camouflaged look. You can do this really fast with very little skill. We then sent the kids over to the mess area for a snack (cookies and bananas - energy food!) while we waited for everyone to arrive.

The kids then chose a red or yellow disc out of a small army print bag (the discs came from connect 4 and the army bag we had lying around the house). This put them into their respective teams for the day.

The drill sergeants then gave them a welcome talk along the lines of:
Welcome army recruits. The country is in peril and needs your help. You are here today to train to become an army private and to help save England from baddies. Throughout the day, we will be getting you fit, teaching you the skills you need to survive while on an army mission and to learn what real combat is like.
 
Your first task is to go to your respective camps and decide on a name for your team and use the sticks and natural things placed nearby to create some protection for your den as you will be needing the protection later this afternoon. HOWEVER, for this task you only have 15 minutes so you need to work fast. When you hear the whistle, report back here. Team captains to tell us their team names at that time.

The camps were basically already made - but they got to add a bit to them. After they'd done this, they returned to the base for basic training.
Basic training
The drill sergeants said:
To be a good soldier, you have to be fit. You need to be able to outrun the enemy and have the stamina to keep marching for days. It’s time to get some fitness in now.
The kids then had to do star jumps and push ups with lots of running back and forth in between, trying to see which team could get through the exercises first.

Assault course
Hot on the heels of the basic training was the assault course. Again, thanks to the marvellous location we had, we had a ready made assault course that involved climbing a stile, running around trees, leopard crawling along a ditch and under fallen trees and back to base. The kids got filthy and absolutely loved it!


After having a quick drink (my suggestion is buy squash and bottled water and have a jug made up and ready to go so kids can grab something to drink whenever they get thirsty - much cheaper than individual boxes of juice), we moved onto the scavenger hunt.

Scavenger hunt
The drill sergeants said:
There are times when you will be behind enemy lines, cut off from your own men with no food or shelter. As a soldier, you need to know how to live off the land. We have created a list of items you need to find – each of these can be used to help you survive while in the bush. You have 15 minutes to find the items and return to base. When the whistle goes you must come back. Latecomers will have points deducted. Points will be awarded for all items found.

(I will say that we ended up not really bothering to do the point scoring but it's certainly an option if you want to make it more competitive)
In case you're wondering, the horse poo is to help fires burn for longer. But obviously little boys plus poo = hysterical giggles.


They returned to base camp for some grub - hotdogs cooked on the camp stove, served in camo napkins (who needs plates!) followed by crisps and a small pudding. 



After refuelling, we moved onto the next game:
Missing in Action
For this game, we bought a bag of cheap army men from Poundland and hid them in the woods. The drill sergeants then said:
While you were out looking for survival items, your fellow soldiers came under fire. Many are lying wounded and missing in action in these woods. Go find them and bring them back to this area. Points awarded to each team for each man found.

The kids then searched for as many soldiers as they could find in a time limit (the soldiers were then popped into party bags). After each game, the winning teams got given a sweetie.

Then we moved onto the last game - War!
The kids went to their respective camps where they put on 'ponchos' (bin bags) and found a tub of 'hand grenades' (water balloons). They drill sergeants gave each child one grenade at a time and they had to attack the other team while leaving some armed team members to stay and guard the camp. Let's just say everyone loved it and got very wet!

That was it - we made some simple cupcakes, which everyone took home with a party bag. We got camo bags and filled them with a army mask, 'grenade' throwing toy, parachute man, a small airplane, the army men they found in the woods and a bag of sweets. 

All in it cost us roughly £80 which we shared between two of us. You could spend less if you gave smaller party bags - like just an army whistle and mask. 

That's it. Hope it helps any other mums out there!

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Today is the first day of the rest of my life

So here I am. The children are back at school (hoorah!). My husband is at work. I have the house to myself. It's peaceful and quiet and lovely. This is what every day of the last few years has been like, the only difference was that I'd be working. Like a dervish.

I'd write out what I needed to fit into the six hours before my children needed collecting and then would attempt to squeeze all of it in. What's more, in September, my workload was normally astronomical as everyone returned from summer holidays and prepared for the Christmas season ahead.

But now, having sold my business, I'm not doing any of that. In fact, besides fixing the Dyson which had a blockage in it, putting on some laundry and doing an exercise video, I have absolutely nothing else that I HAVE to do today.

And it's freaking me out.

I never have nothing to do. I'm not one of those people who can do nothing. And at the back of my head, I have a list of things I could be doing, like fixing bicycle punctures and sorting out the photo albums and doing the paperwork filing. But none of those are urgent things. And perhaps that what I need. A sense of urgency rather than things to do.

There's also a small weight on my shoulders, which I imagine will grow steadily heavier, that I need to figure out what to do next. I need to get a job or start up a business or write a novel or go back to college or something. But I don't want to make the wrong decision and then end up regretting it. I do worry though, that indecision can quickly equal apathy and a lack of doing anything at all, which in turn equates to being poor.

But today is day one of being a lady of leisure. So I am going to give myself permission to just enjoy it, to revel in the feeling of having absolutely nothing I have to do. It takes some getting used to but I'm willing to give it a go.

P.S. you may have noticed a change in the look of my blog. I am not very techinically competent (possibly a new thing I could learn in all my spare time) so it doesn't look quite how I want it to. But it will do for now until I feel like paying someone to make a blog header for me. Let me know if you know of anyone who does that.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Diaries: then and now

Before I had children, my filofax (yes, back then we had filofax's rather than online diaries/blackberries/iphones) used to look something like this:

Monday: meeting with Microsoft client to discuss launch of Xbox, yoga at 7pm
Tuesday: media training for new start up client, team drinks at (insert trendy bar name here)
Wednesday: brainstorm for new business pitch, pilates at 8pm
Thursday: press launch for new Cisco router, dinner with girlfriends
Friday: company offsite
Saturday: girly shopping, pedi/mani appointment
Sunday: pub lunch with mates

It was all so glamorous and me, me, me.

I've just finished putting the details into our calendar for the forthcoming term. Note I said calendar. Not online organising tool, iphone or fancy diary. Nope. A calendar which features pictures drawn by my children and which is scrawled all over so that it's barely legible. It looks like this:

Monday: homework day, boys swimming at 5.15
Tuesday: PTA meeting, multi sports club after school, tennis for boys at 4.30
Wednesday: tag rugby after school, Beavers at 5.30 for son 2
Thursday: arts & crafts after school, dentist appointment
Friday: PTA cake sale, football training at 6pm
Saturday: taking boys to watch rugby match in Bath
Sunday: football matches for son 1, rugby training for son 2

It's all glamour isn't it? How life changes.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

And so it's almost over

I woke up at 4.55am today. It's Sunday. For the life of me I can't figure out why my body chose being awake over having a lie in. But once I got over the initial annoyance of being awake that early on a weekend, I got up and enjoyed the peace and quiet of the house, something that has been thin on the ground of late.

Six weeks ago I wrote this. At that time I was dealing with two over tired children who needed a holiday from the rigours of school. It appears they now need a holiday from each other. And from me. And I certainly could do with a brief respite away from them, preferably in a padded cell with a case of wine.

It all started out well. We went to Turkey. They spent a week in a kids club playing with other kids. Bliss for all concerned. Then they spent a week on a boat with us. This had good moments, but keeping two young boys trapped on a boat for several hours a day, who simply want to play Uno but can't quite grasp the concept of the wind and its potential to make cards fly into the Mediterranean sea, can become challenging and patience testing quite fast.

After a brief visit back home to wash the suncream out of our clothes we spent a few days on the Isle of Wight, where they had other children to play with. And while there were the usual moments of four small boys all wanting to hit each other with one sword, mostly things were ok.

Then. We. Returned. Home. And we discovered that all of their friends were away. They came to the realisation that they had the following options for company*:
a) each other
b) their mother

I'm not sure who found this more distressing - them or me.

Here are some of the good things that have come out of the holidays:
  • We have actually played with almost all of their toys, even those ones at the bottom of the toy cupboard that haven't seen the light of day for years and should probably have been given away to charity a while ago. In the last year or so, I've found myself scratching my head and wondering why we bother with toys in the age of Nintendo DS and Wii because kids seem so disinterested in playing with anything that doesn't have a screen. But this summer, toys came back in fashion (largely so that their DSs could recharge).

  • Son 2 finally learnt to ride his bike without stabilisers. Admittedly he still can't turn or start by himself and you run the very real risk of losing a limb if you stand within 100 yards of where he's riding, but after hours of back breaking hobbled running behind him, he has achieved the magical art of balance.

  • We have re-discovered the joys of Enid Blyton-esque picnics. You know, plain cheese or ham sandwiches (possibly mine with a bit of picallily), boiled eggs that you dab in salt, home made cake or buns and apples picked from the garden. Completely opposite to M&S Simply Food style picnics of mini scotch eggs and smoked salmon on granary style sandwiches, and not necessarily something I'd want to eat daily, but they certainly are flavoured with nostalgia.

  • I've had the chance to be a domestic goddess. Our apple trees are groaning under the weight of a summer glut of fruit. And despite leaving a box of apples outside our front gate with a sign saying: please help yourself, we still have too many apples. So I have made spiced apple chutney and apple and blackberry jam (which has the consistency of tar - so if anyone has a pot hole in their local road which the council hasn't attended to do let me know as I have just the stuff for it). I've baked apple and walnut cake. And banana and walnut muffins. And lemon drizzle cake. And many other things that require eggs, butter, sugar and flour. All of which was fuelled quite simply by the need to stop playing Old Maid or Uno.
*We've had my mum and my sister and her two children to stay too so the kids have had other company, albeit it with far younger children. And it has been lovely for us all to spend some time with family who they seldom get to see. But for reasons unknown to anyone except the God of Mothering, my children seem to have found this additional company the perfect reason to display their most vile behaviour. Or perhaps I'm just more aware of their behaviour as there's an audience to view it.

If we stayed at home, they were bored and fought with each other. If we went somewhere, they were tired and over excited and fought with each other. If you bought them something, it wasn't quite right or they wanted more. If you didn't buy them something, I was branded mean and evil and probably the worst mother in the world. They seem to have forgotten how to do anything for themselves and every sentence they utter starts with the word 'Mummyyyyy'. This prefaces a whine because they're hungry or a bid for sympathy because their brother hit them over the head with a light sabre or a demand for yet another snack or, my personal favourite, the age old phrase 'I'm bored.'

So it is with much joy that they shall be returning to school on Wednesday. Of course we'll then start the all too familiar ground hog day of trying to get them dressed, teeth brushed, book bags packed etc but at least I'll get a good six hours of rocking quietly in a corner before they return home again.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Lost: one mojo

I've lost my blogging mojo. Perhaps it was the two weeks of intense sunshine sailing in Turkey. Perhaps it was a the long weekend we spent ogling boats during Cowes Week. Perhaps its having my far flung family from around the world to stay for the next few weeks. Perhaps its all the summer holiday activities (which seems to involve an inordinate amount of clothes washing) that's taking all my time.

Whatever it is, I am for once, lost for words. It's as though everything in my life, including big decisions about what to do next, have been put on hold and will remain that way until 7 September when the kids go back to school and life can continue as normal again.

So as Miranda Hart's friend Tilly always says: "Bear with. Bear with. Bear with.....And Back."

Hopefully I'll be able to say 'And Back' soon. Until then, enjoy summer.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

I have a solution

Just back from a marvellous two weeks in the sun (more on that once I've solved the problems of the world, or rather the problems facing London).

So sitting in a sleep deprived sun bronzed state, I find myself staring at the telly catching up on the riots that have been gripping London. My gut reaction, like that of so many others, is SORT THE LITTLE SODS OUT! Why don't the parents stop their kids doing this? Stop with the softly, softly approach.

And then I listen to the various pundits who explain why some of these kids behave this way - because they've been raised in families so foreign to what us 'normal' folk understand that they simply don't have a better steer on how to behave. And I get that. If my parents were crack addicts or thieves or layabouts who've never done a day's work in their lives, I'd possibly not have a fantastic moral compass to steer me either.

So people are blaming the schools and parents and the police and the government. But what is the solution? I think I might have an answer.

The prisons are full. These kids have fallen out of the school system. Youth clubs aren't going to give them the outlet they need for their anger. Their parents probably aren't going to be much use if they've let them get this far.

I suggest taking all the kids arrested so far and instead of giving them a prison sentence or some soft touch community service punishment, send them to an army style training camp.

Enforced military service for a year. Drill the hell out of them. Instill in them a sense of right and wrong through sheer arse kicking and hard work. At the end of the year, give them the option to sign up to the military or help them get educated/employed with some kind of guidance. It shouldn't be optional. Prison isn't optional. This shouldn't be either. I have little sympathy for 13 year olds who can do the crime but cry off doing the time because they're ickle.

Maybe it's a naieve solution but I reckon a bit of old fashioned discipline might just work. Anyway, back to my post holiday laundry pile after that short bit of social commentary.



Thursday, 21 July 2011

Only 6 long weeks to go

How can you tell it's the end of the school year and the start of summer holidays? By the number of wine bottles in the recycling tub.

My children seem to have been possessed by satan's small pygmie brothers. Never have I known such vile, vile tempers. And part of me wants to say, 'Poor ickle things, so tired after their long term and whole school year. They're just so exhausted, that's why they're behaving like intolerable little beasts.'

But the other part of me just wants to say: 'Argh!!!! Big frickin deal. So you've been at school for a year playing with playdo and turning egg boxes into volcanoes. A year broken up with three weeks of half terms and five weeks of other holidays and you're about to have six sodding weeks of holiday. During which point you will fight and bicker and break things and mess and nag and whine and spend my money and just generally drive me demented. Meanwhile I have worked hard earning money, running the house, picking up after you, feeding you, playing countless boring games, breaking up fights, driving you all over the place and trying to stay sane. And you're the ones that are tired and bad tempered???'

We've just reached a crescendo in our house. This follows a week during which I got so fed up with all the bickering, mardiness, completely not listening to anything I say-ness, back chat and general little shitdom, that I actually banned their DS games for a month. This coincides with us going on holiday, flying for 4 hours and transferring a further two. The DS games would be very useful for this. Now I have shot myself in the foot and am basically punishing myself. Fool. Think before you punish.

Back to tonight's crescendo. Having eaten their fill at a party, they came home and immediately demanded food. Again. So they had bowls of cereal and cheese strings and other random crap that they selected instead of taking me up on the offer of toast or sandwiches. They then settled down to watch a 30 minute programme before bed time. Not once during this time was any mention made of being hungry. The minute I said, 'Right, time to go to bed', the wails of hunger and starvation started up.

I said no. Emphatically so. I pointed out that this was a delaying tactic and that they'd had plenty of time to eat. Now it was too late. Well call Childline because the show they put on about how they were starving was pretty spectacular. Until I lost it and explained very loudly in graphic detail what the children of Somalia are currently going through and if they wanted to know what starving felt like, I could arrange it for them by buying a one way ticket to East Africa.

And that is why another bottle will be added to our recycling tub this evening. Did I mention we're going away on Monday for two weeks where they have all day kids clubs? Bring. It. On.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Not with a bang but a whimper

Apologies to TS Eliot for stealing his line, but that is exactly how this week feels to me. You see, in exactly one week's time I will be going on holiday. And while I'm away, sunning my buns in Turkey, the 1st of August will stealthily arrive. I won't have a clue what day of the week it is, as is the way when you're far from a computer, calendar and relentless daily schedule.

But the 1st of August is a big day. It's the day I officially hand over ownership of my business. And while I will do a bit of covering work for the new owner in late August, this is in effect my last official week on the job.

Selling my business was absolutely the right thing to do. My passion for PR has gone (I'm not convinced it was ever really red hot enough to call it a passion) and it's always good to leave the party before you've had enough.

But my business has defined me for the last five years. It has filled almost every hour that I haven't spent looking after the kids (apart from the hours I blog and that time I sailed over the ocean). I grew it from nothing. I learnt as I went. It was scary and fun and exhausting and pride-inducing.

It meant I could go to to dinner parties and people would say: 'What do you do?' and I could say: 'I run my own business.' It felt great. I had a sense of purpose. I won awards. I could give comment as an industry expert. I made a living AND got to see my children. And that was my original goal in setting it up.

I know it isn't a global empire or a multi-million pound concern. But it's what has made me 'Me' for the last five years. And all of a sudden it's going to be gone. I feel as though I'm losing a part of my identity. Even more sad, I feel as though the clients I have worked with for many years (some of them for all five of the last years) are much more than just clients. They're friends. I have a real, genuine, vested interest in how well they do. And it feels like I'm breaking up with all of them.

I want to hold a giant party for all the people I've worked with over the last five years - the clients, the suppliers, the freelancers, the journalists, the bloggers, the network of business mums - and say: 'Hey, it's been a blast! Thank you for working with me. I'm so glad our paths have crossed.'

But I won't. I've done my hand overs. I need to say my good byes. They'll be quiet. Professional. That's how they should be. It doesn't stop me from wanting to throw a party, quaffing champagne and slices of cake like you would if you were leaving a job for new horizons.

No, I shall simply slip moorings quietly and head out in search of new adventures. I've done it once, I know I can do it again. Whatever 'it' might be.

Farewell Peekaboo - you've been a good little ship.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

The Gallery: Travel - and why travelling with kids doesn’t have to be hard work

Tara Cain at Sticky Fingers has given us Travel as the category for this week's Gallery.  I decided that this would be a good opportunity to tell you about one of the MOST successful experiences we've had travelling with our children. Couldn't limit it to one pic though.
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Our family holidays have largely fallen into two categories – travelling abroad to stay with far flung family or going somewhere that offers an all inclusive meal plan plus kids club so that my husband and I get a break from the 24/7 job of being a parent.

However, this Easter, we decided to go to a self-catering gîte in the French countryside. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t classify being in the countryside, cooking, cleaning and looking after children a holiday. It too closely resembles my everyday life.

But I really wanted to explore a bit more of France and figured that we’d probably have better weather there than at home and as long as it wasn’t hugely expensive, we could still have a ‘proper’ holiday in the summer holidays.

I have worked with child friendly holiday family specialists Tots to Travel for five years, but have yet to go on one of their holidays. But this year I decided it was high time I sampled what I'd been promoting for years (please note, I paid for this holiday, it wasn't a freebie so I'm reviewing this as a real customer).

After browsing the website, I found the perfect spot in Belle Gites, a cluster of five family friendly gîtes in Charente Maritime, where there would be other children to keep my two sons (7 and 5) entertained. And it offered home cooked meals, was near places I wanted to visit and was very affordable.

The courtyard at Belle Gites
My holiday decision was reaffirmed with the smooth booking process and excellent customer service. I wanted to stay for one night more than the allotted 7 nights, and that was efficiently arranged. Within minutes of booking, I received a call from the home owner who gave me even more information on the property, what to bring, how to get there and what we could expect the weather to be like. A great personal touch – it felt like we were going to stay with friends, rather than on an anonymous holiday complex.

We opted to go by ferry to Caen and drive the five hours to the Charente Maritime where the property was situated, rather than flying into La Rochelle which was the alternative. It was an easy journey on fast, mostly traffic free toll roads.

Small boys enjoying pain au chocolat on the ferry
On arrival, the kids thought Christmas had come early when they saw everything that was waiting for them to play with. In the courtyard there was table football, ping pong, basketball, darts, deck quoits, skittles, board games, countless bikes of all sizes and much more. But that was just the start. 
Just some of the kit available for us to use
The huge grounds also had a heated swimming pool with plenty of swimming toys, a zip wire, volley ball court, full size football pitch, mini tennis/badminton court, pirate ship sandpit, climbing frame, swings, trampoline, Little Tikes houses and ride ons, and a pet corner with chickens that the children could feed.
The lovely pool - which we swam in despite it only being April
Full size football pitch and volleyball/tennis


Kids climbing frame and trampoline



Perfect for toddlers - sandpit and playhouses
 Within minutes of arrival, our children had gone exploring, leaving us to check out our property, complete with welcome basket of essential foods and wine. We’d gone for Gîte Safran, one of five gîtes on site all clustered around the central courtyard. It had two beautifully decorated bedrooms (one double, one twin), with a bathroom between the two, and an open plan kitchen, dining room and sitting room all tastefully furnished and scrupulously clean. It was set back from the other gîtes, but had outside tables for al fresco dining on both sides – one overlooking the swimming pool and grounds, the other the courtyard – giving us privacy yet still being very sociable.

Gite Safran


Our hosts Michelle and Paul were immediately welcoming and introduced their children Sol and Safia to our boys. We also met the one other family staying in one of the other gîtes with their three boys.

Our lovely hosts
With a troop of small boys to charge around with, dens to build and intricate games of goodies vs baddies to play, we didn’t see our children for the next few days, except when their grumbling tummies brought them back for our al fresco lunches of crusty bread, creamy cheese and salty ham. This left my husband and I free to lounge next to the pool in the unseasonably warm high twenties temperatures, or take turns going for long bike rides through the undulating fields and vineyards.

A game of goodies v baddies going on in the trees

On his way to the den in the woods with treasure

We’d chosen the gîtes partly because of the location. Just a five minute bike ride to the local village for fresh bread and croissants, 10 minute drive to St Jean d’Angely, named as one of France’s 100 most beautiful villages, 10 minutes to Saintes with its ancient Roman ruins, 20 minutes from Cognac with fabulous tours of Cognac houses, 25 minutes to the beach and 45 minutes to La Rochelle with its cosmopolitan vibe.

The harbour fort at La Rochelle

La Rochelle Port
We visited all of these places and while the children enjoyed them, they would have preferred to stay at Belle Gites every single day. And it’s easy to understand why. The sleepy French village with its quiet country lanes made it safe enough for them to ride their bikes unaccompanied by an adult. They could explore the acres of woodland playing imaginative games. They had complete freedom to run wild and returned home each evening filthy, exhausted but utterly happy. As parents, we could genuinely relax, knowing they were safe and having the time of their lives.

We were incredibly lucky with the weather, with a daily average of around 25C. Had the weather been less kind, there is plenty to do indoors nearby like visiting the Atlantys Swimming Complex or The Aquarium in La Rochelle.

Hosts Michelle and Paul offer BBQ evenings, giving the guests a chance to know each other while eating delicious home cooked food. They also hold weekly football games with the local French residents, and guests are invited to take part. If you want a night out, they offer babysitting, a mini kids club in which they do arts & crafts, video nights for children complete with popcorn, and while we were there, they put on a fantastic Easter egg hunt. On our last night, they even set up a tent in the grounds for our and their children to have a camp out.

The Easter egg hunt (real and chocolate eggs were found!)

The football match with the locals


The kids got to camp out on the last night for added fun

My preconceived notions about spending my entire holiday cooking and cleaning were unfounded. Meals in France need to be nothing more than a smorgasbord of cheese, hams, breads, olives and fresh tomatoes – no cooking required. While our children are slightly older, even parents of babies and toddlers could easily have a relaxing break thanks to the layout of the gîtes, the services on offer and the extensive kit provided.

I’m a complete convert. We all returned home relaxed, refreshed, sun-kissed and in love with France.

While not all self-catering options are created equal, all those on the Tots to Travel website have been personally visited and vetted to ensure that they are safe for children, relaxing for parents and generally fabulous. Our toughest decision is where to go next with them – France, Spain, Italy or Portugal.

FACTS AND TOP TIPS

  • Cost of accommodation: in Easter £640 for a week. Goes up to £875 per week in summer.
  • Travel: Brittany Ferries - £371 return trip. Alternatively fly to La Rochelle (45 minutes drive from the Gites) on FlyBe, Jet2 or EasyJet
  • Tolls: Approximately €40 each way
  • Cognac tours: Try Hennessey which includes a boat trip or Remy Martin which includes a train ride
  • Saintes: visit the Roman amphitheatre with children – little boys in particular will enjoy pretending to be gladiators in the ring
  • Travel tip: we stayed overnight in Caen on our return due to an early start with the ferry. It would also be possible to leave at 2am and drive overnight, letting children sleep and get to the ferry in time. Alternatively, if driving up a day in advance, stop at the war cemeteries and D-Day landing beaches for some history.