Club Membership Expired

So here we are, June 2017. I am on the cusp of a landmark birthday, crossing the threshold from my 30s to the big 4-0 in a couple of weeks. I am in the final stretch of having my last preschooler at home before the summer holidays. And then he joins the big kids. After more than 9 years of parenting – always with at least one home with me during the day – having all three off and out from 9 to 3 five days a week is going to be a massive adjustment.

I feel like I’m on the very edge of a big change and the fact it has come along just as I tip over into my 40s makes it seem even bigger. It’s just a number, I know, but maybe – just maybe – this one feels a bit more like growing up. I’m leaving two clubs I’ve been part of for a very long time: the 30-something Club and the Parents of Preschoolers Club. I’m gonna be ticking the 40+ box on forms from now on, for fuck’s sake!

But the club I feel most unsettled about leaving is the Preschool Club. Despite the hard work, it’s a comfortable place to be. Club members can exchange sympathetic glances as we pass one another with a screaming kid under one arm. I’ve joined other clubs as I go through life (the School Mum Club, the Sitting-on-the-edge-at-swimming-and-moaning-about-the-heat Club, the Music Group Club, etc, etc) but I’ve always been in the Preschool gang. I’ve laughed along with the Mummy Bloggers and seen myself in their tales of woe and stress. They’ve been so familiar and pertinent to my life.

But I’ve found myself wandering away from those blogs now. Because my daily life with one preschooler – who is out of nappies, pretty self sufficient and generally great fun to be around – is no longer reflected in them. Without realising it was happening, I’ve drifted out of the mayhem. I give the same sympathetic glances to Mums with screaming babies before realising I’m no longer one of them. My membership has expired. I’m somewhere else now. Although I’m not quite sure where yet.

Where does that leave me? And where does that leave this blog, which I’ve also found it hard to return to of late. I’m no longer writing about what drove me to write in the first place. My kids are older and I cannot betray confidences by sharing things they wouldn’t share themselves. So, where does it go from here? Perhaps it doesn’t and maybe that’s OK. Or maybe it evolves into something else. Who knows?

I can see on paper how appealing it is to be out of the shit and moving on. It really is. And I know deep down that I am definitely done with preschoolers, with the bloody hard work of it all. But as the day approaches, my funny little blonde bombshell seems to be less trouble and more adorable by the day – which is very inconvenient of him. It makes September feel just a little too close, especially since he is still only a very babyish 3, turning 4 at the end of July. He just doesn’t seem remotely ready to don a school uniform and work out how to write his name. He simply isn’t interested. He’d rather be playing in the paddling pool or racing cars up the hall. I can see his point.

With the first two, I was pretty happy when school started. After all, I had 2 preschoolers each time and cutting down that workload was something to aim for. H was a right handful and handing him over to be someone else’s problem for 6 hours a day was amazing, although the screaming at drop off every day was less fun. M was so keen to start school when her time came around that I made her a wall chart just to stop her asking me every day how long she had to wait. How can you be sad to wave your child off when you know it is what they want more than anything else in the world?

But this time it feels like neither of us is quite ready. It is the last time. There is no going back. But if I’m not ready after 9 years, will I ever be? Perhaps my sense of not being ready is just a fear of the unknown. What is parenting like on the other side of preschool? I worry about justifying having some time to myself at long last, between work days. I’ve been so busy for so long that I’ve forgotten the art of doing things by and for myself. Will I rediscover that art, around all the domestic stuff I’ll finally have a bit of time for? And if I do, will I be able to take advantage of it without feeling guilty that I should be doing something else?

A good step is to make the next few weeks about me. If you can’t drag your 40th on for a good month, you’re not dong it right. There are drinks and lunches and spas planned. It’s gonna be ALL about me! And hopefully I’ll be able to hang onto some of that when September rolls round and claw back some of the many layers of me that preschoolers have stripped away. Operation reclaim.

I spent pretty much all of my 30s up to my ears in nappies and utterly exhausted. I’m hoping the 40s will be a bit more balanced. More fun, less stress, more sleep, less weeping into my tea/wine. Time for my poor long suffering husband and I to remember what it feels like to be Us. The preschool years can be beyond brutal and that is something I must remember as I wave them goodbye.

Can I and should I also say goodbye to writing this blog? I’m not sure. Not yet, I don’t think. It has been amazing therapy, a salvation in the madness. But times have changed and I don’t know quite what it will be as I move forward. I’ll spend some time working that out as I sip my birthday prosecco and wave goodbye to the 30s and the baby years.

So, to my dear old familiar Preschool Club: I’ll miss you deeply. I really will. And I’ll try not to rose tint you as I slowly inch away. You have given me some incredible memories and been the hardest years of my life. You have changed me beyond measure. Thank you for making me feel one the gang. Without that, I’m not certain I would have made it through.

But time waits for no Mum. Onwards and upwards we go. I am hoping the 40s club will welcome me with open arms. Time to stock pile the prosecco and put on your party pants, 40s gang. Here I come!

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The Big and the Small

img_1786Like many people, I’ve been a bit preoccupied with crazy events in America of late. I’ve not been able to put it all out of my head enough to feel able to return to my cosy little blog about the small, sheltered world I inhabit with my family. The big, scary outside world has been hammering at the door far too loud. This blog isn’t supposed to be a political place but, all of a sudden, everything seems political. Which has left me, unusually, at a loss for words for a while.

Don’t worry, I’m not going on a political rant. I could, but I won’t. I have been dwelling on how these two worlds collide and how uncomfortable that clash has become for me in the last few weeks. I’ve been becoming more and more obsessed with 24 hour news, watching the fear and rage unfold. These major world events strike such a sharp contrast to my mostly happy little family. I like to keep them apart in my head but I know I can’t do that forever. We are part of this bigger picture, whether I like it or not.

The kids are mostly blissfully unaware of anything beyond our little patch of Sussex and a big part of me wants them to stay that way: safe and ignorant. But I can’t do that forever and I wouldn’t be doing them any favours if I did.

img_1784My eldest, H, is 8. He is becoming more aware of the world. He asks questions about what he hears on the news and worries deeply about things. He knows who Trump is and what he knows he doesn’t like. He hates the wall. He hates Brexit. Dividing and withdrawing from others seems crazy to his 8-year old eyes. I am proud of him for being engaged, and school are great at encouraging that, but I also watch it in a sort of silent horror. His slow transformation from the ignorant bliss state of his 3-year old brother to partial awareness of a fraction of the horrors of the world makes me want to weep. For I know that there is so much more to learn, so much more cruelty and hatred.

H looks on in disbelief at (heavily vetted) images of the conflict in Syria and cannot comprehend that people still drop bombs even though they know that children live there. He asks me “But surely no one would ever WANT to kill a child would they?” It is beyond his comprehension. He is right. It is beyond mine but I have long buried that reaction, as atrocities around the world have mounted throughout my life.

Through his new eyes, I feel I’m becoming less desensitised to that hell. As adults, we learn to filter. You simply have to, or you would struggle to go on. Another day, another horror. You cannot live it all, you simply cannot allow that much feeling. My boy has yet to learn that trick. And with each new discovery he makes, I find myself seeing it anew, remembering what it felt like to learn just how much misery man can inflict.

Not only does my boy have to learn to understand all this, but I also have to gradually release him into this big world, away from our safe small bubble and into the unknown, with all its potential to hurt and destroy.

It is such a fine line, deciding what to tell your child as they grow. How much can they handle? If I tell him too little, I am artificially protecting him, tying him to the apron strings and failing to equip him for the big wide world. Too much too soon and I could damage him, terrify him, unleash nightmares. If anything I think I am guilty of protecting him too much. I hate that I have to be the one to destroy his bubble of ignorance, to remove that sense of safety.

img_1785The world, my love, is not the happy and safe place you have always been taught to believe it is. The story books have lied to you. There are terrible things out there, things we cannot always protect you from. Things I have to teach you, in order to make it possible for you to not only survive but make the world a better place, to make it into the place you already believe it to be.

As a kid, I clearly remember being utterly astonished to learn that not all policemen behaved as they did in Trumpton. That some were corrupt. That some lied and broke the law. The realisation was so shocking that the memory has lived in me for the rest of my life. It was the moment that I began to understand. H has yet to have his moment, but I don’t think it can be far away.

Not long ago, H started crying out of nowhere at the dinner table. When we finally got him to say what was bothering him, he said “I’m crying because I don’t want to grow up and be a teenager. I want to stay a child and play and have fun”. We spent the rest of the meal explaining how great it can be to have a bit more freedom, later bedtimes and all the other cool things about getting older. He calmed down but I know he remains unconvinced. And he doesn’t know the half of it.

I know I can’t protect my kids from reality as they grow or stop them growing up, neither would I want to. But I do wish that I was releasing them into a better world than the one we have, which seems to be becoming more frightening by the day.

I need to step away from the news and retreat into our small world for a while. Here I can regroup and work out how to be strong and, more importantly, how to teach my babies to be strong too. They have a lot to learn. They have many moments of shock and grim realisation ahead of them and I need to teach them how to handle that. How to turn their shock into action where necessary, to enable them to feel less helpless.

They have to learn to live between the big world and the small. To learn how to block out some of the horror, in order to protect themselves. They must be free to enjoy the happiness of the small, without stopping to care about the big. It is a hard lesson to learn and an even harder one to face as the teacher. I feel unequal to the task.

I will help you to learn as much as I can, my little ones. And I know, when the time comes, you will make a better job of running this world than our generation seems capable of right now.

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Want a Piece of Me

imageYesterday wasn’t a great day. As always, after my husband has been away with work, we were all looking forward to seeing him and, as always, his return was followed by the usual problems. The kids actually behave much better for just one of us, bickering constantly when we are both parenting together. Weekends are looked forward to but can actually be a lot harder than week days.

Husband was tired and grumpy after a week of little sleep, I was resentful of the fact that I’d been looking after the kids all week and that he didn’t sweep in and take them off my hands. Unrealistic expectations all round led to a house full of grumpy, bad-tempered people. And if the kids weren’t grumpy before, they certainly were after they picked up on our moods.

So, it was back to the usual Saturday routine. Swimming, fighting over lunch, wondering how to keep the kids entertained, snapping at each other and being generally foul tempered. Welcome home!

These work trips of his often set me off feeling jealous, wanting some time out myself. Yes, I know he was working and it doesn’t sound like it was wall-to-wall fun but even so, the idea of spending five days away, discussing grown-up things without any small people hanging off me, sounds like bliss on a stick.

I work two days a week, which saves me from total madness – I’m not built to be a stay-at-home Mum. But, much as I love the charity I work for, the pay-off of having a part-time job you can fit around your family is often that it is less than fulfilling and a significant step down from your pre-kids career. I’m not complaining about that – it is my choice after all and I love being able to step away from the laptop at the end of the day without looking back – but it doesn’t challenge me or fulfil my creative urges in the same way that my husband’s job does for him.

But my grump isn’t really about work. I wouldn’t change my job for the world – the pros are far too numerous and many Mums would kill to take my place. It isn’t even about a week away, although God knows that would be amazing.

I am in a funk over something much more non-specific, something far less tangible. I am missing a piece. I have been for years (7.5 years to be precise) and I have yet to work out how to get it back. I am incredibly lucky to have my brood, my husband, my job, my happy and comfortable life. But with all that abundance of luck comes a sacrifice which sometimes seems entirely insignificant and sometimes feels like a gaping hole in my middle.

I am a creative type deep down. Right now, it is very deep down, but there is a little spark buried there. I used to act as a kid and I never felt more alive. I love to sing. I drive my kids (and probably the neighbours) crazy belting out songs on the radio. I’ve even dipped in and out of making jewellery over the years. This blog has made me realise that there is a bit of a writer in there too. Writing my thoughts here fires that little spark and keeps it ticking over. Being creative is a sure fire way of making your own happiness, of not allowing the moods of other, especially your immediate family, to dictate that happiness. Going out and grabbing some fulfilment for yourself.

I’m not talking about making a career out of being creative. I well and truly missed that boat, and it is one I am very happy to have missed. A life of living in a hovel ‘for my art’ doesn’t appeal. It is just about having an outlet. My creative outlets are so limited these days and, with not enough hours in the day as it is, that isn’t likely to change any time soon.

I am a Mother, an enabler of others. My primary role is to care, encourage and build my three little people. And I wholeheartedly embrace that. But maybe my own wonderful Mother did too good a job at enabling me, at the expense of her own creativity. Because when that sacrifice has to be made, on the day your first baby is born, it is that much harder to transition if you have been made to be a creative and free spirit.

imageI don’t feel much like a creative free spirit these days. In fact, that phrase is pretty laughable when you look at my day to day life. Just taking time to be myself is a luxury. Hell, even sitting down to have a cuppa without at least one small kid clambering all over me, driving trains up and down me and asking constant questions is almost impossible. To him, I am a carrier, a provider, a comfy cushion. I am the font of all knowledge, to answer his endless questions. I am whatever he needs me to be. “Mummy is a track” he says, as Thomas chugs up my legs and across my squishy post-baby tummy.

Yes, Mummy is all those things, my love. And I always will be (although I hope the track phase might end in the not too distant future). But Mummy is also lots of other things, some of which now hide in the pit of her stomach, biding their time, ever hopeful that they can emerge again one day. You don’t need to know about that now, but one day I hope you will see it and that it will fire your own creativity.

Sometimes I get angry and I don’t know why. And then I remember why and mope for a while. Have you ever tried moping with three kids demanding attention? It is very unsatisfactory, as moping goes. So, I give up on that eventually and remind myself how lucky I am.

My role these days is Mum. I hope I’m playing it well enough. For now, that will have to do.

Even if I sometimes forget who I am, under this pile of kids, I still know that I am incredibly lucky.

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Why I Write

the-daydreamer-award1So, it seems I have been nominated for a Daydreamer Award.  Don’t get excited.  It isn’t really an ‘award’ as such.  There will be no shiny bronze sculpture adoring my mantelpiece and no acceptance speech is required, as far as I can tell.  Nope, basically a lovely reader and fellow blogger, V and Me, has liked what I’ve written and put me forward for a sort of blog challenge, if you like.

It is still a bit of a shock to me that I have any readers beyond my immediate family and friends so it was lovely to hear that someone was reading my stuff and enjoying it.  So, thank you to V and Me for the nomination.

I’ll be totally honest, I still rank amongst the blogging clueless and, at only three months into my blogging journey, it has only just occurred to me to start making my site look a bit more interesting, with various links and things.  I’m not a technophobe by any means but the blogging world has it’s own rather daunting language and I am only very slowly getting to grips with it.  Hell, it has taken me three months to work out how to add my Twitter feed to this page.  I hope you all appreciate my efforts.  Doesn’t it look pretty?

The blogosphere seems to me to be rather like a club that has all sorts of conventions and traditions that look like fun but are pretty off-putting when you have no idea how to join in.  So, whilst I’m enjoying the journey so far, I feel totally out of my depth most of the time and verge between desperately wanting to be a part of it all and wanting nothing more than to bury my head in the sand and just do my own thing in my comfortable bubble.

So, time to take the plunge and pop out of that bubble with the Daydreamer Award and a bit of blog interaction.  The challenge I’ve been set is to explain what it is that makes me sit down and hammer out my thoughts, experiences and stories in my blog.  A very good question.  Why do I spend time recording random musings about the three small people in my life?  I have so little free time as it is, yet I choose to spend what I have in writing my thoughts and sending them out into the ether.

It certainly isn’t because I see myself as a frustrated writer: I’m not someone who has always thought there was a book inside me waiting to come out.  Neither do I see myself as anything like an expert on kids or parenting.  I really don’t want to become one of those parents, telling everyone else what they are doing wrong and how I do it much better.

I think the reason I am loving writing this blog – and I really do love it – is that it is an outlet.  It lets me pour out the deep, deep feelings I have for my adorable, frustrating, wonderful and infuriating brood. Parenting can be a horribly lonely business and, whilst I have a fantastic network of supportive friends and family, there are still many hours at home surrounded by tiny voices nagging, crying and arguing.  I freely admit that it gets to me in a way that can feel very oppressive and relentless.  Rather than internalise all the feelings that being the only adult in a world populated by little ones stirs up, it helps me to know that I have somewhere to put them.  I’ve done the internalising for years and it pretty much sucks (and leads to big phone bills while I pour my problems out to my poor Mum).  Having this blog is incredible therapeutic and much cheaper than a therapist.

It is also the first time in many years where I feel like I am creating something.  It may be nothing to write home about but there are words on a page, placed there by me.  It isn’t for work and it isn’t for my kids.  It is for me and anyone who cares to read it. I’ve not created anything for me for about a decade and it is very satisfying.  And, if my words touch someone else, to make them laugh or feel they are not so alone, then that is a pretty amazing bonus.

Life is all about balance, something that can be in very short supply for many parents of young kids, but especially for the one who takes on the primary carer role.  It is why us Mums totally overdo it when we go for ‘a quick drink’.  We are released from the role of parent for a short time and have to cram in as much of that feeling of freedom and being just ourselves as we possibly can.  Often with rather messy consequences (you know who you are, ladies).

This blog bring back the balance without the hangover.  I don’t know how many readers I will have as the months go by and I guess it doesn’t really matter, as long as the words on the page continue to mean something.

There are no words to express just how much I adore my children.  For all the other stuff I feel for them, there are plenty of words it seems, and now feels like the right time to let them flow.

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Now, onto the next bit of the Daydreamer Award.  I have to nominate some fellow bloggers to take up the challenge.  I’m going to play it safe and nominate some dear friends who also happen to write fantastic blogs.  My challenge to these ladies is to describe the best and worst things about parenting.  Good luck!

Mannoirs

 The Year to Forty and Beyond