Sunday 31 January 2010

And so it begins

There was one thing that my husband and I agreed on absolutely when it came to our kids. We wanted them involved in sport. Not because we thought they'd end up in the premiership earning millions, enabling us to brush our teeth with champagne. And not because we wanted to live out some unfulfilled sporting dreams of our own through them (I've long since accepted my sporting ineptitude and my husband has spent enough time in scrums and on cricket pitches to feel he's played a fair innings).

No. Our goal of having them play sport was forward planning on our part. When they're teenagers, we want them to be so knackered from whatever sport they do, they'll be too tired to hang about on street corners, binge drinking and generally making a nuisance of themselves. We want them to learn the importance of teamwork and sportsmanship. We want them to be fit and healthy. And we want them out of the house burning off testosterone instead of moodily skulking about being obnoxious and generally a teenage pain in the bum.

That was the plan. It was only a matter of time before I began to feel the consequences of this plan.

The boys are now 4.5 and almost 6. We suddenly seem to have hit that point where our social life becomes their social life. My car starts donning a taxi sign. My washing machine groans under the load of muddy socks and football shirts. And the money I might have perhaps spent on getting a haircut, now goes on yet another piece of essential kit.

Our schedule looks like this:
Mondays - Karate
Tuesdays - Nothing
Wednesdays - Karate
Thursdays - Nothing
Fridays - Evening football training for son 1
Saturdays - Morning football training for son 2
Sundays - Morning football matches for son 1
Sundays - Evening swimming lessons for both

Now admittedly there's still room for growth, what with two days not currently assigned to a sport of some kind. But cricket season hasn't started yet...and son 2 hasn't even started school.

And the cost. The cost! Let's see. £70 per month for karate plus the £100 joining fee, £80 for uniforms and £30 every time they get graded. There's £50 per month for football plus the cost of football boots and strips which they seem to grow out of every month. And swimming, a mere £140 every 6 weeks. It's ok though, because while this used to be our going out money, we no longer have time to do that. So we break even.

You might suggest that they give up on some of it. But they HAVE to learn to swim - that is non-negotiable. Denying them football would result in a teenage style mutiny, and karate is the one thing that genuinely seems to have an impact on their behaviour. So for now, it's suck it up and see time.

So why am I telling you this? Because today is a Big Day.

It's son 1's first ever proper football match. Today I officially become a 'soccer mom'. I get to stand in the freezing cold with a bored 4 year old and cheer while my little man charges around a field. It's a landmark day. The first of many, many days like this I see stretching out before me for the next 10 to 15 years of my life. No ballet recitals or warm theatres to watch drama club. Just ice cold fields from here to eternity.

I think I'm going to stock up on hip flasks and travel coffee mugs. I think I'm going to need them.

Friday 22 January 2010

Seeking trade winds to fill my sails

It's a well known fact that the month of January sucks. Everyone is broke. Everyone is eating mung beans and tofu. Everyone is attempting to exercise. Everyone is trying to give up something they love. Everyone is ratty because of it. Everyone gets a few weeks in and thinks, sod it, and gives up on the giving up and then feels like a failure. Everyone just wants the cold to go away so that they can stop hibernating. (Everyone in the northern hemisphere anyway).

But this January seems to be worse than usual. Maybe it was the snow which delayed the start of the year. Nobody could really get into the swing of things with all the school closures. No-one attempted to go for a run because they'd break their neck on the ice. And no-one could contemplate a salad leaf when it was minus six degrees outside.

But the malaise seems to go beyond the lack of will power to diet and exercise.

I've seen three blog posts (Katyboo, Single & Surviving and Nappy Valley) this morning, all talking about apathy, the lack of oomph to get anything done and general blahness. These are the first three blog posts I've read in a while. Why? Because I've been too apathetic to read anything other than the Twilight series and too disinterested in even writing my own blog posts. I was tagged in two memes by Nappy Valley and Angels&Urchins and I've still not replied. I'm sorry. Utterly rude. What the hell is going on?

On the work front, I seem to have been making really good headway in spite of my desire to curl up into a catlike ball in front of the fire. But there is so much more I should be doing and just aren't. I had fantastic intentions this year to hit the ground running, to make sweeping changes, to get my life in order. I was going to get a man-pair. I was going to overhaul my business website. I was going to get a social life. And a new wardrobe. And I was going to launch a charity initiative to reduce wasted food and help feed starving children (having re-read that last one, it sounds like a piss take but I was actually serious about it).

Yet I have done none of those things. My man-pair pulled out and I can't be bothered to find a replacement. My website is the same, only more dated. Social life is sort of happening, only because other people have made it happen, rather than any effort on my part. My wardrobe is beyond dire and has no hope of improving anytime soon unless I stumble over a bucketfull of money. And the charity thing... well it's still sitting there glaring at me from my good intentions pile.

I can't even be bothered to cook, something I love doing. The children have had more hotdog sausages and toasted sandwiches this month than in the entire rest of their lives put together.

I am waiting for the fog of malaise to pass. Maybe it requires sunshine to do it. Maybe I'm just tired after a very busy year last year. Or maybe I just need to soldier on through to the end of January (only a week to go) and can then kick start my year. Not that February is known for it's loveliness either. But at least it's only 28 days long.

As I mentioned in the comments bit on a post by Katyboo called 'I'm in the doldrums', I have sailed through the doldrums. The doldrums are a frustrating place to be. You don't go anywhere fast. You feel as though you're going in circles, and often are, literally. You wonder if you'll ever get through them and are all out of ideas as to how to get out the other side. The only thing to break the listless drifting is the odd squall that brews up, giving you a few moments of exhiliration and the feeling that you're getting somewhere, only to return to more aimless bobbing along shortly afterwards.

But eventually, with a lot of patience and determination, you make it out of the doldrums and into the trade winds. You get a good head of speed up, you feel the wind in your face, you're moving forward towards your destination and everything feels possible again.

So I guess for now, I'll keep on helming as best I can and wait till I pick up those trade winds. Here's hoping you pick up a breeze soon too.

Sunday 3 January 2010

A decade worth remembering

I'm back from a very alcoholic week up north with family and friends. I need a liver transplant. But during the general merriment of ringing in the New Year - including dance offs and yoga at 1am in leopard print PJs (don't ask) - I took a small moment to reflect on the year just gone.

In short, it was an utterly crazy year, but a very fitting way to round off what has got to be an unprecedented decade. I cannot imagine another decade in my lifetime during which I will experience quite so many major milestones.

So here's a summary of a jam-packed 10 years - if for no other reason than so I have it catalogued for my dotage when my mind has gone and the years all jumble into each other:

It started with my then boyfriend (now husband) and I being on standby PR duty for Microsoft - one of our clients - in case the world should end with the Y2K meltdown. Funnily, the world didn't melt down. And even if it had, I'm not too sure how we were supposed to do anything about it from a PR point of view without working computers or phones. So despite supposedly being glued to our mobiles, ready for action wearing ghost buster style suits, we didn't stay sober that night either as we celebrated a new millenium.

We spent most of this year living together in our first three apartments (we moved a lot), building our careers, living the highlife and going on numerous safaris (we lived in South Africa) and other exotic holidays. Maldives anyone?

Then in September, I bid farewell to my home country and we moved to Boston in the US.

We had an utter ball living in the heart of Boston earning big salaries and having no dependents (I'm trying not to weep too hard while I type this). We visited all sorts of lovely places - Cape Cod, Bermuda, Washington DC, Vermont - and it was at this last place that we got engaged. On the side of an idyllic lake, after hours of stalling, my beloved stuttered out those fateful words: Will you marry me?

The rest of the year was spent in a flurry of wedding planning - and then almost exactly a year after we moved to Boston, we decamped to New York City. Right to the heart of Manhattan. We moved there exactly one week after September 11th. It was a strange time to go there, but it was an utterly fantastic place to live. Our apartment overlooked the Empire State Building, the Met Life and Chrysler Building. And in our pre-wedding romance, we spent our evenings dancing to Frank Sinatra while gazing at our awesome view.

The big year. The year we got married. In South Africa. Organising a wedding from New York to take place in a pretty remote part of SA with friends and family flying in from the UK, Europe and New Zealand, was crazy. But it was a spectacularly happy year. While on our honeymoon in Tanzania, we took another big decision. To move to the UK. Sometimes I still wonder whether this was the right decision but, it was one we made very fast and with a lot of finality.

We bid farewell to the USA by driving all the way across the Southern states, seeing everything from deep fried turkeys in Louisiana to tumbleweeds in Texas, the Grand Canyon, the madness of Vegas and the yah-fully-hey-shoowow coolness of California. Driving from the Atlantic to the Pacific was incredible and it felt like we'd really got to see a good chunk of the country. It also very much felt that we were saying farewell to the reckless days of no responsibility.

We moved to the UK and spent 6 months trying to get used to the blahness of the UK office vs the get-up-and-go oomph we'd experienced in the US. We also spent months trying to find our first house to buy. We managed to squeeze in one more African safari before signing on the dotted line and entering the world of mortgages. The day we finally moved into our house was the day we discovered I was pregnant with number 1. The rest of this year was spent trying to get our heads around becoming parents whilst getting used to living in a sleepy village in England after the mad bustle of New York.

In February Son 1 arrived. We were terrified, awestruck and in love with him in equal measure. We spent all of this year trying to get him to sleep and stop crying. I spent many, many days in a darkened room doing pat shush. I learnt to live on almost zero sleep. I also set up my own business and attempted to remember what I did in a previous life that seemed eons ago, all in a bid to save my sanity. We finally braved leaving our house to visit family in Ireland that Christmas. During this visit, while showing off our 10 month old son, I discovered that I was pregnant with number 2. We were a little shocked to say the least, not least because neither of us could really remember being awake enough EVER to conceive another child.

I spent most of this year juggling a toddler, a bump and a business. We did manage one brief holiday to Turkey and pretended that our lives were still normal by trying to hold dinner parties, but mainly we slept when we could. In September, son 2 arrived. I have no memory of him as a baby, as I tried to juggle him with a 19 month old who was not renowned for his easy going temperament. We did manage to go to South Africa for a holiday to visit family. Let's just say that I wouldn't recommend a long haul flight with a 3 month old baby and an almost 2 year old, unless you have a large stash of valium with you.

In April I decided that I needed to do something other that look after children, because as much as I love them, I just don't have the patience required to be a fulltime stay at home mum. So I started a new business. Quite by accident really, but there you are. Peekaboo Communications was born and I retrained myself to do PR in an entirely new sector.

And because living in a house that fronted a busy road and had no garden wasn't ideal for a family with two young boys, we moved house. The rest of this year was spent in a blur of trying to move, renovate, build a business, find childcare, look after children and attempt to start again with building a network in the local community.

For a brief time, things were normal. Husband was busy with work. I was busy with work. The kids were in a routine. We weren't renovating. And while we weren't doing anything spectacularly exciting like going on exotic trips, we were also not adding anything new or extreme. And given we were pretty tired by this point, this was ok. But in July, we were one of the many families in the UK who were flooded. Cue further chaos and disruption as we had to move out of our house for 6 months while it was gutted and restored, all the while juggling kids and work.

No drama. No house moves. Nothing other than the hamster wheel of life. I found this year hard. It felt very much the same as many of the previous years, only without any real incidents to colour it. The only real milestone was son 1 starting big school in September. Which made me realise how quickly it all goes...

Waking up in January, I couldn't face another year like 2008 where I was just spinning wheels and juggling. So I signed up for the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race - as catalogued on my other blog - - and spent the year being trained up to be an ocean going sailor, trying desperately to raise funds, and put in place all the practical day to day life bits and pieces so that I could head out to sea. Which I finally did in September, spending 6 weeks sailing from Hull to Rio. It was an amazing experience and it felt fabulous to be doing something out of the ordinary.

I know reading this list of milestones and experiences from the last decade, I can't complain about life being ordinary. I think it's been an utterly remarkable 10 years, yet probably no different from millions of other people who go through the right of passage from single young jet setters to knackered parents facing a mortgage.

But I find it astonishing that it all happened in just 10 short years, very neatly packaged in a single decade. From leaving my home country, moving to two new countries (3 cities), travelling, building a career, getting engaged, married, buying a house, having two children, setting up a business and sailing across the sea. I'd say that's a fair amount to do in a not very long space of time. And I can honestly say that looking back it's been fantastic. And terrifying. But definitely not a waste. And I guess that's what's important. Making your life count.

I do wonder what the next 10 will hold. In 2020, where will we be living? What will I be doing? How will things have changed? So many of life's big experiences happened in the last decade that this decade feels as though it simply has to be more repetitive, a slow burn peppered with the odd new experience (like watching our boys grow into teenagers!) But some how or other, I don't think I'm going to accept ordinary.

I'm hoping our soon-to-start au pair will help give my husband and I the chance to catch up with each other again after what feels like a 5 year absence. I hope that at some point this decade I'll figure out my true calling. And I hope that I'll eventually find a place that feels absolutely like home. Other than that, I'm open to ideas!

Life is what you make of it. So here's to just an exhilirating next ten. I hope yours is everything you hope it will be too.