Saturday 31 July 2010

If you need a little time out...

Perhaps the kids are screaming. Perhaps the school holidays have barely started and already you're losing your grip on sanity. Perhaps holidays never actually feel like a holiday for you. If this is you, then I invite you to spend 2 minutes watching the video below (a link as I cannot figure out how to put the YouTube clip direct into the blog post).

You may have seen it on my blog but given how rarely I update it these days, I doubt many people amble over there anymore. So I thought I'd put it on here too so that all those stressed out mums who wish they could just escape on their own for a little while can see that you actually can!

In case you're not familiar with what it's about, last year I decided that I needed time to do something for me. The hamster wheel of work, kids, house, chores felt stifling and I just wanted the chance to do something a bit different and entirely for me. So instead of popping down to the spa for a pamper day as any normal person might do, I spent six weeks sailing across the Atlantic in part of an around the world yacht race.

This video is a short snap shot of what it was like. I'm not the best video editor but the fact that I've managed to make a video at all is fairly remarkable given my technological ineptitude.

So grab a glass of wine, put the volume up on your PC and watch.  And yes, it's me on the helm!

My Clipper Experience

Incidentally, I'm off tomorrow for a two week family holiday involving boats again, only this time I'll have my boys sailing with me. Get you when I'm back!

Thursday 22 July 2010

End of an era

For three years, I have been driving to my children's pre-school, initially son1 and most recently son2. I've stood waiting in the lobby for the doors to open, getting to know the many mums who wait alongside me. I've walked into the pre-school at the end of a day and watched how my son's face lights up as he searches for me, then barrels over, throwing his (usually sticky) little arms around my neck.

We've spent years carrying home painted pine cones, pasta pictures and glitter art, most of which still live on the back seat of my car. We've lost hats, wellies, raincoats and jumpers. We've gained underpants, shorts and t-shirts from origins unknown. We've got years and years worth of progress reports, showing at what age my boys could stack blocks, make puzzles, play make believe and hop on one foot. They're mini time capsules, showing how they've progressed from babies to big boys.

I've sat through sports days in blazing heat and driving rain, laughing as the tiny little people attempt to balance an egg on a spoon and crying when my boys have managed it with looks of utter concentration on their faces.

I've been on the pre-school committee, going to meetings, organising fund-raisers, doing the PR. I've baked more cakes for fetes and fairs than I care to remember. I've met people and made friends, having moved here not knowing a soul.

I've come to know the staff who have looked after and loved both of my boys. They know my sons almost as well as I do. How do they manage to say goodbye to children year after year?

Because today I got to say goodbye to them. Today is my son's last day of pre-school. Forever. Here on in he is a school child. No longer a baby.  And while I've been longing for this day to come, so that I no longer have to do the five minute drive there and back and will gain an extra hour of work time every day, now that it's here I can't stop crying.

It's the end of an era. A life chapter closing. I know there are plenty of exciting chapters ahead, but I can't help shedding a tear for the one that's just ended.

To all at Chieveley Pre-School who helped my children have wonderful memories, thank you.

Tuesday 20 July 2010

Who are these children?

Last week the only adjective that could adequately describe my children was 'vile'. End of year over tiredness, too many late nights thanks to long summer evenings and general tetchiness resulted in two thoroughly unpleasant little boys.

Now perhaps it's because the end of school year is in sight, or perhaps it's because they were left with their ex-military father all weekend, but this week, my children have become angels.

Sure there was the 'whacking my brother with the sprinkler after he scraped my back' incident and the 'I hate you, I'm not listening, you're all stupid poopy pants people' moment from one of them. But I can actually recall the individual bad moments, rather than them becoming a continuous background blur interspersed with the odd good behaviour.

Yesterday as we walked home from school, 6 year old (who for the last few weeks behaved more like a 16 year old) said that he needed to go up to a friend's house in the afternoon to help retrieve a ball from some man's yard on behalf of a third friend. It took me a long time to get to the bottom of what was going on, but in essence, a year 6 had kicked his favourite football over the school fence and into someone's garden. He was very upset about it. So my son and another slightly older boy had promised to go and retrieve it for him after school.

I found this quite remarkable as my son is fairly shy. When I asked him what he was going to say to the old man who's house it was, he said that his friend was going to do the talking and that he was going to do the fetching. He wanted permission to go off and run this errand.

I said I couldn't let him go off with a friend (who I didn't know) to a house (which I didn't know) to a man (who I didn't know) all on his own. But I promised him that we could go and get the ball and that I would simply be in the background.

I was so impressed. He went to his friend's house (he's not a close friend, just someone at school with him), knocked confidently on the door, went with the friend to two houses (they weren't sure which house the ball was in), the friend asked very politely if they could get the ball, the two of them found it, they thanked the man and left. My son then went to the year 6's house, knocked on his door and returned the ball to the boy's father.

It might sound like nothing. But it was the first time he's ever shown this level of independence and confidence, not to mention thoughtfulness. I was genuinely gobsmacked. And so proud that he'd made a promise to a friend and followed through with it.

It also occurred to me how close I'd been to saying no to the whole escapade as it had all seemed so complicated when he tried to explain it to me, which would have meant that I'd be the reason he couldn't fulfil a promise. It reminded me again of how important it is to listen to your children and not just automatically say 'No' just because what they want to do doesn't fit into your pre-arranged plans.

This morning, my children:
- ate their breakfast without complaint
- took dirty plates and milk cups to the kitchen
- got themselves dressed
- packed book bags
- cleaned teeth
- found library books
- tidied the toy room


You could have knocked me down with a feather. I have no idea what has inspired this new, marvellous behaviour but long may it last.

To put the cherry on top, when I dropped 6 year old at school today, he ran off with his friends without a backward glance, so I called out a goodbye to him. He waved at me, was about to run off with his friends, before he turned back, came out to me, gave me the biggest hug and kiss (in front of all his friends), said 'I love you mommy' and then ran off.

What a lovely start to my day.

Monday 12 July 2010

Do you have a novel in you?

For as long as I can remember, I've said that one day I will write a book. I just have had no idea what it is going to be about.

There was a moment when I lived in New York that I thought I had something. I was crossing 5th avenue with all the traffic and people zooming by, millions of busy ants. Like a bolt from the blue, I realised that I was ordinary. Just a person, no-one exceptional. Not terrible, but just another face in the crowd. Someone who hopefully would live a happy and contented life, possibly stirring things up a bit, making a difference, but probably not setting the world on fire. And it occurred to me that maybe that was my book: The Startling Reality of Being Ordinary.

But I couldn't flesh the idea out. I got stuck. What happens to this ordinary person? Does she simply come to terms with being ordinary? And if so, wouldn't that make for a terribly dull novel? Does she do something remarkable? What's the story? I told a colleague at the time about it (he had aspirations of being an author) and he said: "God, not another chick lit book." And just like that, I felt that door had closed.

Then after the birth of my first son, I started writing down my thoughts, thoughts that I felt sure could turn into something. Because the process of becoming a mother is so utterly remarkable that it must be worthy of capturing. Somehow. But muffled by sleep deprivation, my thoughts became cloudy and woolly and then lost altogether. And in hindsight I'm glad they did, because there are so many novels just like this, where the author has discovered the amazement of motherhood and felt compelled to share it with others, only to find that several billion other people on the planet have gone through the exact same thing and it's not that remarkable after all.

A few years later, frustrated beyond belief by my children's incredibly annoying habits, I put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and knocked out two children's stories about two incredibly annoying children and their long suffering mother. They rhymed and everything. But they probably aren't what children want to read and the rhythm is clunky. They're still saved on this very pc, but I am not sure they will ever become more than folders in my directory.

I feel as though I've just gone through a library-ful of life experiences in the last few years with rich fodder for novels, yet nothing has as yet sparked me into creating something that has genuine potential. Mostly, it's because life takes over. I don't have time to flesh out characters and storylines, plots and intrigue.

I find reading any books - children's or adult fiction - both invigorating and slightly depressing. Ideas within books remind me (daily) about what else I could do, they trigger story ideas and re-ignite my determination to write something. Yet I always feel slightly dejected about the fact that the book I've just read is one less story idea open to me. And the fact that they've managed to do it and I haven't. Yet.

I'm probably making little sense (it's late) but I guess that's why I blog. I don't do it because I want to be a top rated blogger or try to earn a living from it. It's simply a way for me to capture those fleeting thoughts that stray through my head. Thoughts that could fit into a novel somewhere or somehow, but right now are best jotted down for that one day when they slot neatly together and present themselves as the novel I always knew was waiting within.

Monday 5 July 2010

Girly weekends - why I chose real friends over virtual ones

This weekend, it seems that most mummy bloggers headed off to the Cybermummy conference for the biggest girly weekend ever. From the bazillions of tweets and posts on it so far, it seems to have been a marvellous experience and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't just a little (ok a lot) bit jealous.

But I couldn't go. You see the week before the date for Cybermummy was announced, I'd confirmed a girly weekend with a group of my real life friends. Getting a date that suited all of us rivalled military logistical planning, so once I realised that it was going to clash with Cybermummy I was torn.

Do I go to the biggest blogging event in the UK and meet all the wonderful bloggers I've met online? Or do I go to Lymington for a weekend of drinking cocktails and talking rubbish with my 'real life' or 'offline' friends.

Wearing my PR hat, I should have been at Cybermummy. Wearing my mummy blogger hat, it would have been lovely to put some faces to names at the conference. But wearing my Melissa hat, meeting up with friends who know me in all my different hats won the day.

And it was worth it.

I haven't laughed as much (or drunk as much wine) in years. We talked, we walked along the seafront, we laughed, we shopped, we drank wine, we played poker, we drank cocktails, we laughed some more, we had thoroughly inappropriate conversations, we ate fab food, we giggled like fools, we flirted with waiters, we ate ice creams in the sun, we talked some more, we tried on clothes, we watched tennis, we laughed, we picked out houses we'd buy if we won the lottery, we had hangovers, we recounted stories from the night before that were blurry, we got told we were too old to get into a nightclub (damn their eyes), we laughed, and laughed, and laughed.

It was fantastic. So to the 4 lovely ladies who were with me in Lymington, thank you for an amazing time. To all the lovely ladies I didn't get to meet at Cybermummy, I'm sure you understand that sometimes you need to live it, rather than just write it. But next year, I'll be there with bells on.

Thursday 1 July 2010

Gay pirate squirrels ...obviously

Yes folks, it's school play time. Roll up! Roll up! And watch how mothers transform their 6 year olds into ... squirrels. I have no recollection of the Charlie & the Chocolate Factory scene involving squirrels but apparently they're vindictive little beasties who get rid of a vile child. Well done them.

All us parents were asked to do was supply a brown shirt and trousers. The school would supply the tails. Simple right.


We don't have any brown trousers in our house. We used to. But my six year old now has grey school trousers, blue jeans and one pair of cream chinos. That's it. My four year old has a pair of brown shorts. But they nowhere near fit his brother. So we headed into town in search of brown bottoms.

Funnily, brown is not a particularly popular colour for children's clothes in the height of summer. So we charged off to the British Heart Foundation charity shop in the hope of a cast off. Nothing. Then onto the Cancer Awareness shop. Nothing. Then Save the Children (save the mother more like it) shop. They were closed. In a last ditch attempt to find something by tomorrow's pressing deadline, I headed into TK Maxx. Twenty bazillion rows of pink clothes, just the one with boys stuff. And on that lone rail, hung one pair of brown trousers. And like a gift from the Gods, it was actually in age 6. Perfect.

Except that they're sort of shiny brown with patches on them with zig zaggy bottoms. I think it's part of a dress up outfit. Possibly a pirate. Or waif. Or street urchin. But it cost £1. So I bought them. Jobs a good un. Home we go, because at least we have a brown t-shirt.

Or so I thought. Apparently, the brown t-shirt which belongs to the 4 year old, is 'scratchy'. So scratchy indeed that 6 year old could barely stand it against his sensitive skin for longer than a nano-second.

So we tried on a khaki coloured shirt. Wrong colour and just as scratchy. So we tried on a teeny age 3 t-shirt. It looked fine apart from his exposed midriff. "Too small," was the lament. So we tried one of my plain brown Boden tops. "Too big," he cried. So we tried on his brown shirt with the camper van on front. "A squirrel wouldn't wear a camper van on its chest," he yelled. (Well they bloody do in Cornwall I'm sure). So we tried a sort of orangey shirt. Sigh. "It's ookaaay,"I guess he grumbled. "If I have to wear it. If there's nothing else AT ALL."

Insert very large sigh here from me.

So I rummaged in my old sailing bag and found a once white long sleeve t-shirt that had had its sleeves removed somewhere around the equator. It was slightly grey with sweat stained armpits, but he found it comfy. "I want this," one he said.

Marvellous. Except it's white. And I have to hand this in tomorrow and don't have any brown dye lying handily around the house.

Never fear. Twitter and Facebook to the rescue. General consensus is that tea will do the job. Sure he'll smell funny, but beggars can't be choosers.

I find a box of English breakfast tea that must have been won in a tombola a while ago because it was past its use by date. Perfect. 15 teabags go in in a bowl of hot water, including the strategic addition of a few Rooibos bags to add a slightly reddish tinge - after all, I don't know many brown squirrels, just red and grey varieties. And besides, his pirate pants are a more reddy brown anyway.

Well wouldn't you know it, the white t-shirt is now the perfect shade of brown to match the pants. What a result.

My son is insisting on setting off the entire ensemble with my brown faux fur gilet. It makes him look ever so slightly like a gay squirrel pirate on the pull, but whatever, I have fulfilled my maternal obligation and shall present him at school tomorrow with it all nicely tucked into a labelled bag.

Then I shall sit back and wait for the embarrassment of opening night when all the other mothers get to view my attempt at costume design...