A Tale of Two Weeks

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After nearly 9 years of parenting, you would think I would be used to the rollercoaster-style ups and downs. Well, if anything was still needed to bring those highs and lows home to me, the last two weeks have done just that.

Week 1 sucked. Chicken Pox struck T, the last of the three to come down with it. Not only was he grotty and miserable but we were in much dreaded quarantine. Given that quarantine with a preschooler is one of my least favourite things, I think I handled the news pretty well. I didn’t cry and wail. I simply stocked up on wine, gritted my teeth and hoped for a speedy week.

img_1807Trying to balance the needs of a spotty, bored child with working was, unsurprisingly, rather stressful. I spent a lot of time jumping on and off conference calls whenever T’s little voice piped up mid important conversation about income streams. The rest of the time was spent feeling guilty that I was failing both as an employee and a mother. Double whammy guilt. My favourite. I had to take some time off in the end to prevent meltdown and, once I’d admitted defeat, I felt a lot better. After all, spotty 3-year olds really don’t make the best work-mates.

I also had to call in lots of favours to get the other two kids where they needed to be in the busy week before Half Term. It was a juggling act, trying to make sure everything still happened as it should for them without being able to leave the house much. Thanks to all the lovely local friends who did their bit. I owe you.

On top of illness, it was just one of those weeks. Nothing seemed to go right. The usually entirely reliable car developed a rattle which ended up costing us nearly £300. And even when T was back on his feet and we could escape the confines of the house again, the world seemed against us.

img_1803I had a big worry going on all week too over H’s tutor. He really struggles with numbers and he has been to tutors on and off for several years but, for one reason or another, we have never found the right one for Maths. I had just about reached the point of wondering if it was worth continuing with the current tutor, which started me off worrying about it all again and whether we are doing the right thing to help support him. I am always so torn between wanting to do all we can to help H to keep up in class and wanting to take the pressure off – remembering that he is still only a little boy and that the last thing he wants is to be spending his weekend crunching numbers after a tiring week at school.

It is so tough to know what to do for the best. The curriculum is so damn hard these days, I worry a lot about H keeping on top of it. I want him to succeed but I also want him to be happy and have a stress-free childhood. Sometimes, those things seem entirely incompatible.

Having lots of time at home with Pox Boy and a head full of little worries is a bad combination. I stewed, big time. I finished the week exhausted, having had far too many alcohol units (every night is wine night on quarantine week) and with a head full of stresses, blown up out of all proportion.

The week ended in suitably disastrous style at the final school pick up on Friday afternoon. T was out of quarantine but still utterly foul. He had a killer meltdown over wanting someone else’s water bottle in the playground. Whilst I was doing my best to pretend the screaming monster was nothing to do with me, M came out of class and promptly fell backwards into the mud. Before I’d managed to brush her down, H came out in floods of tears over a lost book. T managed to keep up his screaming throughout our hunt around the classroom for said book and the entire walk home. Smiling kids and Mums exchanged “Happy Half Term” farewells, while I dragged my screaming/sobbing/mud covered brood home and opened yet more wine. Such fun!

Thankfully, I had a night away at my best mate’s 40th on the Saturday, which involved a good deal of booze (yes, more) and so much living room dancing that my feet hurt the next day. The best possible Pox Week antidote I could have wished for.

img_1800So begins Week 2. The Pox was a distant memory (apart from the crusty spots, mostly hanging out in T’s mass of blonde fluffy hair) and my husband had the week booked off work for Half Term. I came to a decision to cancel the tutor and give us all a break from it for a month or two, which took the pressure off me and H and was a good start to the week. And I asked for an unplanned day off work, to make the most of our week together.

Two consecutive weeks could not be more different if they tried. Week 2 has been a total delight. It has been filled to the brim with family time and fun.

We’ve been for pub lunches where nobody lost their shit or embarrassed us. We had our best family cinema trip yet, to see The Lego Batman Movie. Even T managed to sit still (sometimes on his own seat and sometimes on my lap) for almost the entire film, only asking five minutes from the end if we could go home.

img_1801We made a rare trip to London, to the Natural History Museum. We didn’t take the pushchair and T coped amazingly well with all the walking. The older two got so much out of the experience that I’m already planning our next London trip, to the Science Museum next time. H said it was an “utterly awesome” day and both the older two have been talking about it ever since. You can’t ask for a lot more than that out of a day trip. The journey home on a massively overcrowded and delayed train was no kind of fun but the kids were so well behaved in challenging circumstances that we were complimented on how good they were, which made me feel pretty proud of them all, especially little T, who was exhausted by the time we got home.

I’ve done my usual thing of overdoing it, stuffing our week so full that we are all more shattered after Half Term than we were before it. But it has been bloody brilliant and I don’t regret it at all. More than anything else, it has reminded me that, when you remove the outside stress – work, school, tutors, clubs – from the equation, we are a very happy little family unit these days. It is the external stuff that causes the stress for the most part, not problems from within. That definitely hasn’t always been the case, which makes me feel even more grateful to know that, as a unit, we are pretty sorted these days and very good mates. Yes, we can drive each other mad and we all need time out, but together we mostly rock. And that makes me really happy.

Next week it is back to work and back to school. We can’t live in this happy little bubble of day trips and eating out forever. We’d be broke within a month for one thing. Plus, we all need to get stuff done, be that earning a crust or learning our times tables.

The return to the school run and manic push and pull between work, home, school and other activities doesn’t fill me with joy but I go back to it with a sense that we have all recharged and reminded ourselves that we have each other, and that what we have is pretty special. The trick it to keep that in mind as we get bogged down in all the external stuff again. Our little unit rocks. We just need more weeks like Week 2 to help us remember that.

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Banished Blues

img_1776Anyone who knows me is aware that I’ve always been a bit shit at January. I view it with a kind of dread, like a blot on the horizon, forever lingering in the shadows of the joy and fun of Christmas. I’ll freely admit that I’ve been a bit ridiculous about it over the years. I’ve been known to start feeling the January Blues creeping into my life before we’ve even finished Boxing Day.

It isn’t just a parenting thing, finding life harder with small kids in tow during the long winter months. I’ve hated it with a passion all my adult life. In my pre-kid days, I had a fantastic job in events which was manically busy in January and February. I bloody loved it! I never had time to slip into the January Blues. I was rushed off my feet and, by the time things started to calm down at the end of February, Spring was just round the corner and the crocuses were popping up all over.

Kids came along. The job was utterly incompatible with a family and it had to go. Back came the winter misery but this time it was worse. When my challenging first baby arrived, we had several winters of extreme snow, too deep to wheel a pushchair through and, with ungritted country roads, driving was often out too. Being housebound for days on end with a foul-tempered small boy did nothing for my anti-January mood.

So, my January misery became even more of a ‘thing’. It was set in concrete, like a slab of annual doom. It got easier after those first few years but the blues just sort of stuck. I’d moan about it ages in advance, tarnishing the fun of December with the background dread of it all.

img_1774We had a fantastic family Christmas this year – our best yet in fact. It’s amazing what a difference it makes not having a baby in the mix. It was brilliant fun and we were all on such a festive high that you would think I’d be prime for a fall from a great height into winter blues. And, true to form, I could feel it sneaking in. I actually felt that slight falling feeling in the pit of my stomach on Christmas morning. The kids had only just opened their presents from Father Christmas and the doom came knocking on the door. That’s when I made a decision to say Fuck You January Blues! How dare it attempt to get in before we’ve even opened the festive bubbles?!

I have always loved the run up to Christmas more than the day itself, with the expectation and excitement. It is all just so full of joy and wonder. And yes, that bit is over after the big man in red has been and gone. But getting the January Blues whilst doing your teeth on Christmas morning really does take the piss.

About a year ago I was having a bit of a moan to my Dad about how much I hate January and I remember his response clearly. My Dad is a wonderful father but he isn’t much of a one for liberally imparting words of wisdom or advice. So when he does, you sort of have to listen. He said ” You really are ridiculous about January, you know. It is just another month like any other”. That’s pretty much all he said. But I listened and knew he was right. And I made a bit of a promise to myself to try harder next year.

So it was more than a bit disappointing to feel the pit forming in my stomach at 10am on Christmas Day. I looked at my scruffy, sleep deprived reflection (H was up for hours with all the excitement) and I said to myself “No, this isn’t going to happen this year”. Just like that. Years of being at the mercy of a month I have imbibed with doom, shut down in the blink of an eye.

And OK, I know it is only 10th January but it is actually bloody working. I dismissed the pit of doom on Christmas morning and the bastard thing hasn’t come back.

We had a hysterically funny New Year’s Eve with our lovely neighbours (much dancing and belting out Whitney as I vaguely recall) before entering the Blues danger-zone: taking down the decorations, back to school, back to work, etc, etc. I’m delighted to report, I’ve nailed it so far. Taking the tree down was fine because oh, look at all the lovely space we have again! T was very sad about it going and snuck off with a reindeer Christmas decoration, which I let him have to soften the blow. But I was totally fine.

Back to school was a little harder as I miss my little monkeys and never relish the return of the school run but even that was OK. I’m not enjoying the early starts again but we have fun things planned in the diary for the coming weeks and Spring isn’t that far off, so what is there is to miserable about really?

I’ve had a couple of slips in my new found January Zen, the most notable being on Saturday when both H and I ended up in tears after a particularly bloody awful homework session. But after a long chat with a good friend, I have a bit of a plan of how to tackle some of the school issues we are coming up against, so I feel more in control again.

img_1775Like anything in life, if you can find a way to remove the emotion to a certain extent – something I’ll freely admit I’m not always that great at – it all just becomes a series of things to try in order to come up with a solution. The emotion makes a few school hiccups into an insurmountable mountain. It makes a return to routine and shorter days a reason for wailing and gnashing of teeth at the unfairness of the turn of the seasons. None of this is helpful.

I’m never gonna be one of those smug people who can take decisions based upon emotion-free clear thinking. That just isn’t who I am or who I’d want to be. I’m ruled by my feelings and I admit they can get out of control at times but I wouldn’t change it. I will always wend my way through life, making decisions based on feelings, with a bit of logic and detachment thrown in where I can. My heart is king – my head accepts it takes second place. I hope that makes me a good Mum/friend/wife/sister/daughter. And I fill my life with similar people.

But it pays to have a few key people around you to ground you with sensible, emotion-free advice. Like my husband. And my Dad. They see the problems H has at school for what they are: tiny hiccups in the grand scale of a childhood, of a life. They see that January is just the start of the year, not a harbinger of doom.

All that grand ‘this is how I am’ crap aside, I’m at last beginning to see that there is no point in adding emotional shit when it is pointless, like the January Blues. It doesn’t get anyone anywhere. It’s all just a bit too much drama for it’s own sake, something I excel at. As Dad rightly said, it is just another month. Shut up and deal with it, one little thing at a time.

Plan future fun, laugh, see friends, cosy up under blankets. Crucially, don’t do anything stupid like Dry January or kick off a major diet. Don’t put the pressure on. It really isn’t the time. If you treat January right, maybe the cantankerous old git of a month will soften and be a bit of a laugh after all.

See Dad, I’m learning.

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Air Pockets

img_1733I woke up feeling lighter today. I’m not sure why. And I don’t think I’d even noticed how heavy I have felt of late – how dragging myself around had become so hard – until something lifted and I found myself in this air pocket. It is a happy place to be and feels like a long lost friend. Like I’m back.

The last few weeks have been hard. There is a lot going on. As I said in my last post, it has been crazy busy and we’ve had our moments of upset but then it is always busy at this time of year and mostly I’ve held it together pretty well. But something changed. The world became a scarier place. It made things feel bigger than I could handle and I allowed myself to be dragged down by the undertow.

It is the most manic time at school, with endless requests for input and money. Christmas looms large and with it the pressure to make it as it as magical as it can be for my kids. There have also been personal things happening but it was the huge world-changing troubles which have added to the weight the most, until I’ve felt almost too heavy to get up in the mornings, unable to see beyond it.

Only now, after the sound and fury of it all, when I’ve given up railing against it, do I let go, become limp. And so I find myself floating back up to the surface, gently washing up on a beach, like driftwood.

It was a funny one this time. Often I see them in technicolor, those spots on the horizon, but this time it crashed like a wave, out of clear blue skies. Perhaps not entirely clear blue but I was wearing some great Supermum-holding-my-shit-well-and-truly-together tinted glasses so I didn’t notice the wisps of trouble in my periferal vision.

The catalyst was my husband coming back from the best part of two weeks away. Not him going away. That bit was strangely easier because I was in full-on Coping Mode while he was gone. Solo parenting, managing some major things and holding at bay some huge background issues beyond my little family unit. But those things were dragging on relentlessly all that time, gnawing away and undermining my foundations like woodworm.

img_1732Daddy’s return date was on the wall; the promise of him coming home, of joyous reunions and easier times, was the focus as a little unit of four throughout half term and beyond. Like all days of great expectation, the reality couldn’t deliver on it’s promise. It wasn’t his fault. He had no idea all my badly balanced eggs were in his cold-filled, jet-lagged basket and the relief just wasn’t enough. I was waiting for the dam to break and I got a pathetic little trickle. And then Trump won. That’s when I really lost my shit.

The things I was able to shrug off became monumental. I sat in the car and sobbed for a world heading for political disaster. I hid in the kitchen in the dark, avoiding my children who seemed bent on being impossible, their moans and squabbles switching from background noise to an assault on my barely there cool. I cried for myself, my family and a world full of problems that felt too big to solve.

So, what changed this morning? Where did the clouds go? That’s the odd thing because I don’t think they went anywhere. They are still right there, bang in my line of sight, but I’m in this little air pocket now where I can see them but I can’t feel them. And it feels good. It’s like watching a car crash on film, as opposed to being in the car. It looks the same but it doesn’t hurt. The world is still relentlessly shifting to the right, with so many people dismissing this disaster as normal. Crisises continue around me which I am unable to help. But now I float through it serenely.

The kids are back to being merely kids: annoying and adorable and equal measure but not about to tip me over into oblivion. They can hang out in my happy air pocket too if they like, as long they don’t get too irritating. The air pocket is ace. I hope it lasts.

I need to get better at making my own air pockets in a challenging and upsetting world, rather than waiting for them to materialise. The world situation is utterly shit but I can’t fix that. There are many things closer to home that I would love to fix too but they may as well be distant political catastrophies half-way round the world for all the good I can do to help fix them. I’m not good at helpless. But I need to get better at it. At least better at focusing on the things I can mend, rather than being pulled down by the ones that I can’t. Being in the mire is not a good place to be and not fair on my family either. With it comes more guilt than I’m comfortable with.

img_1728And as for the treadmill, the weekly cycle of work and school that often leaves no room to pause for breath, well I can only do what I can do. And all that should be a piece of cake anyway from inside this bubble, with other worries kept at bay. Besides, here comes the Christmas hype. With three already glitter-covered, overexcited kids in the mix, I have to just let that one roll me along. And I love it, once the organising is done, so am ready for those tiny voices singing endless rounds of Jingle Bells. Let’s decorate the air pocket with some tinsel and see if we can’t hide that car crash on the outside behind it for a while.

My wonderful Mum has been a calm voice in the storm. As she reminded me, she lived through the Cold War, wondering if the world was about to be blown to pieces at any second. But she is still here. All this too shall pass. The big and the small. There is always cause for hope.

For now, I am mainly going to hope for a calmer few weeks, at least inside my head. That I can manage to stay inside the air pocket, looking out but not being pulled into it all. It is time for a news blackout and to do what I can but not to mourn for what I can’t.

And I hope that our small world continues to be bright, despite the darkness outside.

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Pack Up Your Pumpkins


img_1658Today felt a bit sad. Nothing terrible has happened. I just feel a bit like a deflated balloon. It may be Halloween today but we’ve been Halloweening all week and today the fun was over. Back to school and back to a reality that looks a bit stressful and unappealing at times.

Half term was really good, so much so that my usually school-crazy M was in floods of tears at drop off this morning. She said she was going to miss me and didn’t want to go back. It was a shock as she has always adored school and skipped in. Handing her over sobbing was just horrible. I guess it means I totally nailed the half term fun but it upset me seeing her like that and I feel like I’ve been in a bit of an emotional fog all day as a result. She was totally fine of course and the school called me not half an hour into the day to tell me so, but it knocked me off-balance.

My husband is currently away and I have been solo parenting for a week, with another four days to go, which may have been another reason for this morning’s upset. Having him away at half term isn’t ideal but we’ve packed the time with fun and really had a fantastic – if far too short – break from the school routine. I have to admit though that I’ve really noticed how much he does to keep the house clean.

img_1679My man is a bit of a clean freak and he drives me a bit nuts with his daily dusting of the TV stand and wiping the floor but, man, have I missed that this week! The dust and dirty mitt marks multiply so much faster than I realised without my personal cleaner quietly getting on with it and keeping things in check before I even notice them. I’ve missed his company too, obviously, not just the cleaning. Not being able to have a laugh and a moan about my day with him in the evening can be hard. Especially since there have been a few stressful things going on in the background of late.

There has been a lot happening with work, which has had me rushed off my feet trying to cram bits and pieces in around the kids. My usually sacred evenings after all three are tucked up in bed have been filled with laptops and paperwork. It has thrown my zen right off kilter without having that down time, I can tell you.

Now, as a rule, I thrive on busy. It suits my character. Sitting on my arse being unproductive isn’t really my thing. But the balance really has been tipped a tad too far the last couple of weeks. There is nothing really awful going on. It is all fine, there is just so much of it at once. I’ve felt a bit weighted down by it all.

But that negative feeling has been held at bay by the hectic nature and pure fun of half term, with our Halloween sleepovers, spooky trails, lunches out and day trips. It has been so crazy busy and so full of laughs and joy that I’ve been quite happy to bury all the worries under heaps of pumpkins and spiders.

img_1667Today, with my little M in tears at the school gate, what I really wanted to do was join her and have a weep. I said all the usual parenting stuff that you are supposed to say, about what a great day she would have, how the time would fly and how she would be home before she knew it. But, as we sat on that bench and had a cuddle while she cried, what I really wanted to say was that I totally agreed with her, that the reality of back to school, back to dealing with all tricky stuff that we have been covering with Halloween fun, actually really sucks. I wanted to cry along with her and agree that life was unfair and sometimes all you want to do is go back home, curl up and have a good long sob. I felt terrible because I couldn’t make that happen for her and I had to push her up the stairs and into school. She needed a duvet day and I couldn’t let her have one.

All is totally fine now in my M’s generally happy little world, which is usually so full of joy and sparkles. She was raving about her day when I picked her up, beaming at me as she ran down the steps. She was smothered in paint from making fireworks pictures, which she told me all about, and which has nicely hyped her up for the next event to look forward to: Bonfire Night.

There is a lot to do. Always. Yes, it might be a bit more stressful and busy than normal right now but I’m going to try to follow M’s example and just get on with it whilst looking ahead to the next fun thing. M and I are going to bury our worries under fireworks. And after that, I guess we’ll just start stuffing them under tinsel.

Luckily, M’s worries are very few. Which is just as it should be for a five-year old. Mine are tad bigger and a hell of a lot busier. But everything is more bearable with a few sparkles sprinkled on top and with plenty in the diary to look forward to. And with three smiley little faces around you.

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Getting Active

imageI’ve never been a sporty person. I did quite a bit as a kid but only because it was fun. As I got older and busier, exercise and I fell out of company.

I have to admit now, I’ve done next to no exercise since having kids. And not a great deal before that. So, that is well over eight years of doing very little. Although running around after three kids does tend to mean I don’t do a lot of sitting around.

After all that time, I have finally started moving a bit more. Mostly jumping about the living room and a bit of swimming. I am horribly unfit but I’ve already noticed a bit of a difference in fitness in just a few weeks, which is really pleasing. As in, I no longer feel like I’m going to die five minutes in.

The thing about making time for exercise is that you know it makes you feel better (although not always at the time) but getting into the habit of it when all your energy has been sapped by kids is the hardest thing. Having been in a state of permanent exhaustion for years, with broken nights and horribly early mornings, I simply had nothing left to give. Plus, the idea of dragging myself out to a class in the evening, when all I wanted to do was collapse and savour my couple of child-free hours? Well, I simply couldn’t contemplate it.

Before you say anything and tell me how you were out at buggy fit with your three-month old and back to pre-baby weight by six months in, yes, I know it can be done. I am well aware there are Mums out there who put me entirely to shame. I’ve always been cowed by all the bouncy Mums on the school run, in their skin-tight leggings and shiny trainers. I have felt intimidated by their smug fitness for years. Admittedly, most of the exercise-ready Mums don’t have preschoolers kicking off under their arm as they try to extricate themselves from the school playground. Even so, I have always quietly hoped that some of them put on their Lycra just to look impressive, before going home to eat biscuits and watch This Morning. But I doubt it.

I did try to join their ranks a few times over the last couple of years (although without the Lycra). I could only imagine getting fit by going along to a class, with a teacher to help motivate me through my sleep deprived exhaustion. But finding a class at the right time, on the rare occasions that I did have a couple of hours off, was near impossible. And the cost of a class plus childcare for a couple of kids was astronomical. So I gave up.

imageI do have to admit that I gave up pretty easily. I know that if I had been serious about it I could have made it work with an evening or weekend class or two. But I was simply defeated by it before I even began, utterly embarrassed by my own pathetically poor level of fitness, by my ‘mummy tummy’ (a term I hate), wobbly bits and awkwardness. My body image perception was at rock bottom and the thought of tackling what seemed like an impossible task was simply too much for me.

But a few things have changed since then:

A) I am getting sleep. I cannot overstate the importance of this in my ability to do stuff. I feel about 10 years younger than I did this time last year. It is epically awesome and the key factor in making my sudden exercise plan work.

B) The kids are older. Old enough to tolerate being told that Mummy is going to leap about and Zumba her way around the living room for 45 minutes and that they can either join in or get on with something else. (Sadly, the something else is usually squabbling or moaning, but hey, at least I can keep bouncing through that, with the odd yell at them thrown in).

C) I’ve finally worked out that I don’t need to feel jealous of my husband legging it out for a run at the worst point on Sunday afternoon, when the kids are at each other’s throats and my head is close to exploding. I can do the same and go for a swim. An hour of kid-free time by stealth, and he can’t possibly complain, because I am bettering myself, right?

D) I am older. As I creep closer to 40, I suddenly seem to care a bit less about what people think of me and I’m also cutting myself a bit more slack. So what if I have the dreaded ‘mummy tummy’? I’ve had three kids. That’s what happens. So what if I am unfit and not remotely ‘beach body ready’? I am finally doing something to make some small, realistic changes. That should be enough for now. It is certainly a lot better than doing nothing.

So, because of the above and also because some switch seems to have been flicked in my brain, exercise suddenly seems not only possible but also desirable and fun. Yes, fun. Get me! Exercise-phobic for years and now I am actually enjoying it and thinking about when I can fit in my next session.

Yesterday was the first time that I noticed that I was a little less out of breath after my swim. I needed shorter pauses between lengths. And it was the first time after exercise that I didn’t have a thumping headache. Today, I played football in the park with my eldest boy and felt full of energy, rather than giving up after five minutes, feeling breathless and useless.

My long neglected body is an old crock that has been abandoned for years and it has a lot of ground to make up. These are baby steps but, my God, it feels good to know I’ve made any kind of steps at all. I’m not after massive weight loss or extreme fitness. I won’t be training for a marathon any time soon. I just want to feel better. And I already do, even if most of it is psychological.

It was quite a revelation to work out that you don’t need any gear or a class to start making those baby steps in the right direction. I don’t even own a pair of trainers yet. I just bounce about with bare feet to crappy Zumba videos on YouTube. The adverts are actually a welcome breaks; a breather for a bit of wheezing and a swig of water.

So, who knows how long it will last, but something has shifted a bit. Yes, I have even less time now, with another thing to fit into my day (one of the many reasons I’ve been a bit quieter on the blog recently) but it is entirely worth it. I honestly couldn’t imagine ever enjoying exercise again just a few months ago.

Things have come together for me on this, thanks in no small part to a few fellow Mums who I have chatted to and who made me see things in a different light. Thanks to them – and to a few subtle and not so subtle changes in my life and in my head – I think I can see ahead to being a little bit fitter, a little more energetic and, hopefully, a little bit healthier.

Thank you ladies. You know who you are.

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The Measure of Success

imageToday we did something I’ve been wanting to be able do for years: we went to the cinema as a family. All five of us. It was T’s first time and I had no idea how well he would cope with the dark and the whole sitting still for a couple of hours thing. He rarely sits to watch more than a couple of Chuggington episodes at home. However, I do know how much he loves popcorn, so I was quietly optimistic.

T turns three at the end of the month, something I’ve been looking ahead to pretty much since the day he was born. It is a landmark age that I stuck a pin in and said to myself – and to my long-suffering husband, who I had to talk into having a third kid at all – that by this time, things would be very much easier. We would be able to do things like go bowling and on trips to the cinema. Dinner out would be a breeze and we could even leave the house without a buggy and a changing bag (still working on that last one). Oh, just think of the freedom and joy of it all!

“Just wait till he turns three! Think how easy our lives will be!” is something I often sang, somewhat manically, in a frantic attempt to convince the fella, and myself, that all would be fine and dandy just around the corner. This mantra was to be heard regularly during our darker times. I spouted it almost daily when we hit our lowest ebb, with three kids aged five and under and next to no sleep. I feel slightly wobbly thinking about that time actually. So, let’s move on.

Well, the corner has arrived and here we are, about to go around it. And is everything so much easier and carefree? Sort of, yes. I think I can safely say it is the easiest it has been since number three joined the gang. But still harder than two, without a doubt. There is definitely something in the old adage, usually said by annoying smart-arses, that we were supposed to only have two kids because we only have two hands to hold onto them with. With three, one is always a loose canon. I like to think this is character building for them, to build their independence. It can also be plain terrifying as a parent in a busy car park. But I digress.

I decided that we really ought to put this whole turning the corner thing to the test. So, I declared that we should go to the cinema, as a family, just to prove to ourselves that we now can. This suggestion was met with a raised eyebrow and a deep breath from my husband, but swiftly followed by wary agreement, so I think he did pretty well at hiding the fear.

imageWe picked one of those Sunday morning cheap tickets things which got all five of us in for under a tenner. Best not to spend much when we had no idea whether T would sit through it or not. We watched Zootropolis. If you’ve not seen it, I highly recommend it, for both kids and adults. It is great story and very funny. The references to Breaking Bad made me snort with laughter. And I found myself lusting after an animated fox. Is that wrong? Well, it isn’t the first time. I had the hots for Disney’s Robin Hood as a kid. But moving on….

We got there and collected tickets, popcorn and booster seats for the little two. You know what I said about having one loose canon kid when you have three of them? Well, at the cinema, when you have to carry a changing bag, booster seats and three bags of popcorn between two of you, all kids become loose canons. They were marauding about at high speed in their excitement, running under people’s legs and disappearing behind the popcorn counter. As if we weren’t making enough to of a spectacle of ourselves at this point, a little yelling from me in a vain attempt to bring them to heel pretty much guaranteed that I grabbed the attention of the entire foyer.

Then we had the escalator to negotiate. This is where their small town upbringing shows. An escalator is big news for country kids. The older two seemed to need to psych themselves up before attempting it, in the style of competitors in Gladiators running up the travelator. They both gripped the handrail for dear life but managed it without assistant. But the bub was entirely thrown by it. I managed to wedge one of the booster seats under my chin so that I could hold his hand while he lept on like a frightened gazelle. He then stuffed his little frowning face into my leg for the duration, only emerging again when prompted to leap off the other end.

We made it into Screen 14, found our seats and H promptly threw half a bag of popcorn all over himself and the floor. Standard. The contents of the remaining two bags were divvied up and we all settled down to watch. T loved the ads and trailers but had a bit of a wobble when the surround sound boom went off and the lights went dark. He rallied quickly though and stuffed his little face with popcorn throughout the film. He laughed at the funny bits and jumped at the (mildly) scary bits without losing his shit. He did develop ants in his pants for the last half hour and ended up squirming about on my lap but, as a first effort for a not-quite-three-year-old, it was pretty impressive.

We bundled out, the older two high on sugar and buzzing, chattering away about the film. T was pretty happy too but mostly talked about not wanting to use the wobbly stairs (escalator) again on the way out. We took the regular stairs down, which he approved of.

imageBack in the car, everyone was sharing their best bits of the film but T was unusually quiet. “Did you have fun at the cinema T?” we asked. He furrowed his little brow, thought about it and said a firm “No”. When quizzed, he insisted he didn’t like the film. He didn’t like the big television. He didn’t like the animals on screen. He did, however, concede to liking the popcorn.

So, just as I was thinking what a success the morning had been, T quite firmly disagreed with me. Despite looking perfectly happy throughout, he insists he didn’t enjoy it at all. Perhaps my measure of success is slightly out of whack with his. Or perhaps he just knows we want him to say he enjoyed it, so is being a bloody-minded little git. I suspect the latter.

Regardless of how well T thinks it went, we did it. And four out of five of us at least had a good time. That said, I don’t think I’ll be attempting it without another adult yet. That might be a bridge too far just now. And bowling may be more of a four-year-old thing, after all.

Bring on the little changes though, I say. Our world is changing, one tiny step at a time, as we leave the baby days behind. And I for one am more than ready for that.

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Saturation Point

imageAs I packed the older two kids off to school this morning I felt that usual mixture of sadness and relief that I always get after the holidays. But I also felt a little background niggle of feeling slightly guilty that I was sending them back to the classroom far more exhausted than they were at the end of term. I’m pretty sure the point of school holidays is to give everyone a rest but we’ve never quite managed to achieve that in this house.

As per usual, we’ve had a very busy break, filled with family and friends, Easter antics, a trip to Dorset and an 8th birthday for my eldest. We’ve hunted eggs, dug forts on the beach, visited zoos and farms and basically been busy every single day. We’ve all loved it but it is hardly a surprise that the kids were yawning on their way to school this morning.

imageI know how they feel. It has been a fantastic holiday but I’ve been looking forward to the relative peace and quiet of today for a while now. Today it is just me and T, trundling along together. It is a blessed relief from the mayhem and I can tell that T agrees. He was in the best mood that he has been in for ages this morning, full of smiles and happy babbling. I think he was delighted to have me back to himself for a few hours and, more importantly, to have time to sit on the floor and play to his heart’s content, without being dragged off for yet more Organised Fun. Two year olds don’t always deal so well with Organised Fun and I think he was sick to the back teeth of being carted from pillar to post at the expense of time alone with his beloved trains. His mood went to shit this afternoon by the way, but we’ll gloss over that.

I have to admit that can see T’s point and I’ve been feeling the strain myself this last couple of days, with the end of the holidays in sight. I’ve basically reached kid saturation point. No matter how amazing the break was, there is no question that it was exhausting, especially when trying to meet the needs of three little ones. I’ve been drowning in demanding kids and high-pitched nagging voices for longer than I’d like and certainly longer than I deal well with. I lost my cool badly on Sunday morning when I was trying to tidy the house and the nagging reached a peak. There was screaming. It wasn’t pretty. A sure sign that I need to step away from the small people for a while.

imageI’m used to having two kid-free days a week while I work but, with time off for our holiday, I’ve not had a child-free moment for nearly two weeks now. I know that is par for the course for many stay-at-home Mums with pre-schoolers – and I salute you if you are one of them – but it simply doesn’t suit me. I’ve tried it and it nearly did me in. I quickly worked out that I’m not designed to be a full-time stay-at-home Mum. I love my kids deeply and I generally thrive on the mayhem – why would I have gone in for three of them otherwise? But I’ve learnt that over-exposure to them without a break leads to screaming meltdowns all round and bad parenting misery. The constant moaning, the bickering and the endless questions really start to get to me over time. I am just so in demand that I feel they are chipping away at me slowly and, if I don’t escape for a short while, there will soon be nothing left but a pile of bones and twitching nerves.

When I reach saturation point, I can hear a voice in my head screaming for time off. By time off, I don’t mean sitting about watching This Morning and eating ginger nuts. I’m actually not that good at sitting about and relaxing. Time off when saturation point is hit is basically anything else. Seriously, ANYTHING other than being surround by kids. A trip to the dump, bombing round the supermarket, hell, even a visit to the dentist. All beat being with my own offspring. This is why work is my salvation.

imageI am in serious need of a work day right now, to be sat at my desk, focusing on grown-up tasks, without small voices getting at me endlessly. Without the luxury of being able to afford much child-free time besides when I am working, having my job is the reason I can cope with three kids nagging me the rest of the time. For two days a week, the cacophony stops for a few blessed hours. Yes, OK, so I am busy working hard on those days which brings its own stresses, but it is a different kind of pressure and a welcome change that keeps me sane. Working tomorrow is going to be bliss.

All parents cope differently with school holidays and there is no right or wrong. Whether you love them or loath them, holidays can be bloody hard work. There is the work/childcare juggle for some and the endless days to fill for others. They are nothing like a break for parents and far from relaxing, no matter what your circumstances or your outlook. So I think we all deserve a pat on the back for getting through them once again.

So, to all the parents out there who have just sent their kids back to school, I say well done. To the ones who are sad and miss their kids already and the ones who couldn’t wait to push them out the door. To the rest of you who are somewhere in between, like me. You all did a bloody good job. Whether you were jet-setting round Europe or wracking your brains every morning to think of something to do, whether each day was a joy or a trial, I say well bloody done to you.

You did it. We did it. Go us.

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