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The Week That Was…(musings from half-term)

So half-term came and went and here we are hurtling to the end of the first week back.  I’m having a slightly odd week, as I seem to be missing the children.  This is an unfamiliar feeling.  February half-term has always been the one I dreaded most.  Back as a mum of one, all the free stuff would close for the week and we’d be locked inside due to the cold and torrential rain staring at each other.  My very intense first-born would say ‘Come on then mummy, entertain me’ with just a stare.  I’d wheel out play-doh, painting, colouring, play peppa pig and think we must be nearly at bedtime now to find it was only 9am and I’d been alone with her for an hour.  And she was still staring expectantly.  She loves craft.  I hate craft.  I love baking, but it took a while to be OK with cake mixture ending up everywhere and containing egg shell and snot.  I’m still not OK with this to be honest.

And here I am at present day, with three school-aged children, an era I thought would never come.  The orders were in as to what everyone wanted to do.  I’m open to all suggestions, they just need to be free – or very cheap.   The cinema does cheap tickets for a film showing each morning in the holidays.  They loved the film, and excitedly we set off, even bagging the front seat on the top deck.  The holidays had got off to a brilliant start, I was nailing this.  But when we got there, everyone else had had the same idea and there were no seats left.  I was now not nailing it.  One child was crying , the other stamping their feet and telling me how angry they were at my poor planning, whilst the third remained stoic but couldn’t quite meet my eye due to disappointment.  I booked tickets for the next day, and we went home, got in the car and went to the car wash instead.  They loved it.  I’d pulled it back: 1-0 to mummy.

The cinema trip went well the next day, except I got too complacent with my pre-booked tickets and entered the cinema to find everyone else was already there and the lights were down.  By everyone, I mean everyone.  It was completely full and people were sitting in the wrong seats so we had to move people to get four seats together.  A terrible moment I never want to re-live, ‘I’m so sorry, it’s just we booked the seats and there aren’t anymore.  If there was four seats together anywhere else, I’d sit in them” and then as everyone shuffled around, “Sorry…really sorry…so sorry…sorry”.  Utterly humiliating.  They enjoyed the film – thank goodness.

It had so far been very sunny and we’d so far been to the car wash and then sat in the dark watching a film, so Wednesday was the day to take advantage of the good weather.  Except, the forecast changed, but I hadn’t checked it and we discovered the bitter winds and cold rain midway through a walk high up on the north downs.  They were wrapped up, and we had a good friend and her three children with us and we ploughed on in good spirits.  Most of the walk was sheltered by trees, although the bracing picnic spot we’d chosen for it’s view wasn’t so much.  You know you’ve had a good day when everyone is soaked and you’ve had to re-trace your steps to find a child’s shoe as it’s got stuck back in the thick mud.  We nearly lost a pair of wellies (attached to a child) but the rain started again, and we were able to form a human chain to pull the sinking child free.  They got covered in mud with their friends and we rounded the day off with hot chocolate covered in cream and marshmallows, so I’m chalking that up as a success.  Only one child remained clean, but she was just over 4 months old and in a carrier.  My friend said she’d had a good day, but I’m waiting to see if I’m ever allowed to be in charge of choosing a day out again, to see if she meant it.

So, obviously we chanced more outdoor activity on Thursday and headed off to meet a very lovely, old friend and her son at the Queen Elizabeth Park, (formerly known as the Olympic Park).  This was exciting as my train obsessed son loves the tube, although he suddenly remembered he has terrible travel sickness, which served to get us a seat and quite a bit of space around us on what could have been a busy journey.  No one, not even a Londoner wanting a seat, is interested in being near a small four year old yelling, “Mummy, sick” and then hurling into a sandwich bag.  Top tip next time you fancy a seat on the tube.

We arrived on time.  I’d done no planning apart from food, lazily assuming my friend who had suggested the place knew where she was going.  She didn’t, but we’ve now toured Westfield Shopping Centre Stratford and it’s surrounding area and a mere 45 minutes later, we were on a park; although it turned out to be the wrong park and it took another 45 minutes of staring determinedly into the middle distance, trying to make sense of which bridge the map was referring us to cross, a slight detour along the Lee Valley path (lovely by the way), accosting an equally clueless passerby and a last minute scramble up a grassy hill on a whim.  The whim paid off.  We had found THE park.  Turns out it’s next to a giant sculpture of the Olympic rings that can be seen from time way off.  If only we’d known.  It’s an amazing and magical park.  I recommend it, just go with a map and head for the rings.  We stayed for three hours.  THREE hours.

Several cups of hot tea later, we dug the children out from the sandpit and headed home.  The children obviously felt hard done by, feeling that they’d had no time at all to play.  The park is technically next to the tube, but it took us an hour to reach the station, due to the first rule of childhood: always point blank refuse to go to the toilet when passing one, instead you must wait until you have left facilities far behind, so that mummy has to ‘drag’ (for ‘drag’, think ‘strongly and speedily steer’) you round a shopping centre looking for public loos.  We eventually arrived at the tube platform just at the start of rush hour, which was fantastic, because we didn’t want to miss that.  Obviously, the four year old was ready with his hurl into a bag trick, but there was just nowhere for people to run this time.  Bad luck folks!

Friday we decided to chill at home.  By chill, I mean there was nine of us in the house in the morning, three adults and six children.  I decided to go all out for the occasion and do an a la cart lunch consisting of rounds of cheese and toast.  Then a quieter afternoon with myself and five children.  Three very well-behaved older girls who are friends with my eldest and were collectively able to somehow keep the youngest in check.  I’d farmed out the middle one to play at her friends house.  It all worked pretty well.

And that was our week.  My house is now covered in sand and mud, but I see that as the sign of a half-term.   There’s also a few less bottles of wine on the rack, but I see that as the sign of a good half-term as well.

 

 

 

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Birthday parties

We’ve just had another birthday in the household.  My eldest turned 8 years and despite my hopes, decided she definitely wanted another party at home.  Aaarrgghh, the memories of last year came flooding back.  I tried ‘Are you sure you wouldn’t want us to take a couple of friends to the cinema and then for pizza?’  She answered ‘No, mummy, I want a party like last year with these games’ which she then listed.  I smiled brightly, whilst blinking back the tears and admitted my fate.  On the plus side all the children seemed to have a fab time, but it was a loud, exhaustingly manic two hours of my life that I’ve been working on blocking out.  After the event I’d spent the evening staring into the middle distance, hugging a bottle of prosecco whilst the trauma subsided.  Also, we live in an upstairs flat and our neighbours moved shortly after the event.  I’m sure it was just a coincidence.  We do get through a lot of neighbours.

It transpired that the lovely friend that helped me last year, suddenly had a ‘work thing’.  I mentioned it was a Saturday.  ‘Yes’, she replied, ‘What are there chances?’  Her story happened to be true by the way.  I wanted to make that clear in case she reads this.  Not that I rang up the conference centre to double-check or anything.  To be honest after last year, I’m lucky she hasn’t blocked my number and moved away.

The birthday girl loves making things and so we decided on a craft party with a few games.  This did mean less children, due to the space restrictions of our kitchen table, which was the designated craft activity area.  My daughters amazing artistic and creative abilities do not come from me.  I’m still slightly scarred by the memory of a paper mache Roman soldier we had to make as a homework project at high school.  Mine was a paper mached balloon with a face drawn on and wool stuck on as hair.  It wasn’t quite in the same artistic league as the other entries, which we will call ‘sculpted masterpieces’.  The whole episode was very embarrassing and now I was meant to be organising a craft party.  After a great deal of googling and posting on forums, the chosen craft was decorating jewellery boxes.  A stack of ceramic owl shaped trinket boxes and porcelain paint pens were ordered.  I had never heard of a porcelain paint pen this time last week, but am now quite the expert on these.  Maintenance, drying times, oven baking temperatures – you name it, I’m now educated on this subject.

Obviously, none of it arrived.  To cut a very tedious story of package chasing short, I was told I could pick the stuff up from the depot which was a ‘short way’ from where I lived.  This ‘short way’ turned out to mean a 40 mile round trip to the edges of Kent. I live at the opposite side of London.  Er, no I’m not doing that, we might be sticking googly eyes and wooden hair onto wooden spoons instead.  More visions of my school paper mache creation flashed before my eyes at this point.  A second package was despatched – and happily for everyone, it arrived.

I like to make their cakes.  ‘What kind of cake would you like?’ I asked.  ‘A mermaid’ came the reply.  Hmmm.  Right.  I remembered a conversation about this a few years ago and contacted the friend in question for tips and a photo.  This together with some  more googling and I was armed.  I cast my mind back to a christmas cake decorating evening at church a few years ago.  This was the first time I’d ever laid eyes on roll-out icing that wasn’t already on a cake and learnt how to dye it.  Little had I known, how useful a skill this would prove to be.  I figured the rest was like play dough and gave the children some each to make sea creatures.  It worked.  We had a friend staying over, she got roped in and played a vital part sticking on the sea creatures and arranging seaweed.  Vital.  OH ended up making the tail.  He got a bit protective of it, truth be told.  But the end result was worth it.  The day had started with me standing alone full of ambition, but with very little idea, surrounded by ingredients, baking stuff, pinterest boards and a niggling feeling I should have sorted this sooner and paid someone else to do it, to 16 hours later having a cake with a mermaid sitting on a rock surrounded by sea stuff.  The feat involved involved three adults, three children and two bottles of wine.  We opened another to celebrate.  Not really, it was the party the next day.

We have form in our house for unexpected dramas right before large amounts of children arrive for a party.  Back in February, my OH had decided to pop out to the shop for a few extra party food supplies 30 minutes before ten 5 year olds arrived, and the entire lock suddenly came loose, meaning it could only be opened from the outside, therefore locking us in.  A hammer, a chisel and a screwdriver later we were free five minutes before party time.  Seven months later and another party.  What could possibly happen this time?  Well, it involved a much beloved toy ‘accidentally’ being thrown out of the top of a window and landing on the kitchen roof.  Cue screaming 5 year old, the owner and thrower of toy, and a frantic hunt for the key to open the bottom window, so we could reach it.  We couldn’t reach it from the open top one off course, because that would have made life far too easy.  The key had been put in a very safe place and we spent the next 35 minutes pulling out every drawer and cupboard that we might have used as a very safe place.  What you might be picking up from these stories is that getting into our house is fine – getting out is a whole different matter.  It was found, this time with a whole 25 minutes to spare.  We are getting better at scheduling our dramas.

Party time.  Well, I’m pleased to report that the porcelain painting of ceramic owls was a massive hit.   It was calm and quiet, children shared pens and even my four year old son and his friend decided to join in.  It turns out that owl shaped ceramic trinket boxes are great for holding various super hero and action man accessories.  It lasted an hour.  An hour!!!  This was better than hoped and did lead me into a false sense of security for games playing – which was the opposite of calm and quiet.  We also did some pizza-making and then some extra games, games and more games.  There was loo roll (the mummy game), raisins, chopsticks, blindfolds, a homemade pin the nose on Olaf, lots of games based on music stopping, the human chain and a sprinkling of the classic ‘Simon Says’.  We got through it.  It had all worked out well, my head was now free to think about other things, such as how long before there’s another ‘To let’ sign in front of the ground floor flat.  (Our latest neighbours have only been there two weeks.)  There was just one thing that I couldn’t quite shake out of my mind; a parting comment from one of our young guests which was both lovely and fear instilling.  She told me how much she was looking forward to coming back again next year.  I’m off to find a longer craft project.

 

Decadent Monday.

What do you think of when you think of decadence?  Perhaps it’s having a fancy sports car, an eight bedroom house with finely manicured land at the back complete with a housekeeper, gardener, round the clock nanny and a cook, or would you be more in line with the super rich city dwellers embarking on basement wars in Chelsea, where their desperate need for indoor waterfalls, huge wine cellars, indoor gyms, spas and cinemas supersedes all common sense and neighbourly happiness.

Since being a mum, I’ve joined in with the popular line of thought that having a coffee by myself and visiting the bathroom alone are all treats.  Nowadays, clothes shopping is dashing into TK Max in desperation because I’ve ignored the indelible stains of life with children on all my tops and the holes in the knees of every pair of trousers, jeans and leggings for far too long, but what if I had time and the bank balance to peruse a clothing shop and try on an item before buying it just because I like it.  Hmm, luxury.

When a contract comes my way, I skip off to work, like I’m off on holiday and am probably in a minority group of people (actually, it’s possible that I’m in this group by myself) that aren’t unhappy at a tube delay because it means I get to read an extra chapter of my own book before going home and reading several books about teddy bears, peppa pig’s latest antics and rehashed book versions of disney films.  I just want to take a moment here to make it clear that I love reading to my children, but daughter number two is currently, inexplicably obsessed with ‘Sleeping Beauty’ and i think if i have to read that again i might prick my own finger on a spinning wheel in the hope i get to sleep for 100 years.  I’m very thankful that my eldest is now into Roald Dahl – now that’s a writer!

Getting back to my point, I would have described all this coffee drinking, reading my own choice of book to myself, clothes shopping just for the hell of it as decadent, but one Monday, I spotted something that made me reconsider.  It was a sight that I would call real decadence.  Something that brought back happy, carefree memories of a time long past.  It was 3.30 on a Monday afternoon, a normal run of the mill Monday afternoon – not a bank holiday, and there were three friends sat in the window of a local pub, with a large glass of wine each.  It was definitely social, rather than a work meeting.  You could just see the signs of genuine relaxation, happiness and comfort.

It got me thinking about what it would like to be so carefree i could ask a couple of friends for an afternoon tipple on a Monday.  I was on my way to swimming lessons at the time, navigating a pram which my toddler was jumping in and out of at whim, trying to appeal to my hyper, over excitable daughters to slow down, as they were on track to knock over a few innocent bystanders with the game of tag they’d decided to play on our incredibly busy, crowded high street.  There were swim bags, school bags, a picnic bag, nappy bag and general bag of tricks to keep them occupied in between lessons, all balanced precariously off the pram which was threatening to tip up at any moment, as we powered along the pavement.  So, thank you ladies, whoever you were, for making me smile.

No consequences, deadlines, children to put to bed, school bags to pack, meals to plan and cook, laundry piling up, just a Monday afternoon, with nothing else to do but laugh with friends.

So, I’ve decided to brighten up my Monday, add a bit of glamour.  I’ve found a top to wear that only has one small hole in (trip to TK Max might be looming) and fancy earrings.  That’s me in full decadent Monday glory.  It’s happening, the earrings are in.

There’s indoor waterfalls – and there’s true decadence…

Excuses, excuses

Why is it so hard to write?

I’ve been asking myself this question for a long time.  Years, in fact.  I get a sudden burst of energy, complete something and ride high on the achievement for weeks.  It doesn’t have to win any competition, and no one (except long-suffering close friends) need to read it, it’s just a feeling of joy – and ‘joy’ really is the right word.  Writing can make me incredibly happy.  And so, why am I failing to write everyday?  If this is the euphoria provided by a few pages, why not keep it up?  This is the lecture I’m giving myself most of everyday.  I’m obsessed by writing and stories, but do little of it.  Is it confidence?  The minute you tell someone you’re writing, they tell you the story of the person they met at the bus stop who was on the way to their friend’s book launch.  They wrote it in a few months, on a whim, and now have a five book deal and option agreements coming in from hollywood.  You smile, and utter something along the lines of ‘That’s great’, whilst hoping they don’t offer to read the paltry few pages which is all you’ve managed to complete in months.  So is it fear of failing?  That same fear which provokes students to pretend they haven’t revised for an exam, just in case it goes wrong.  If it is, I need to give myself permission to write and fail everyday.  I need to write for the enjoyment of playing with stories, characters and exploring ideas.  I need to get words on a page, just for the sake it.  Just for fun.

Of course, there’s the slight problem of time.  I had three children in less than four years and so time isn’t something of which I have a huge amount, or even a tiny amount.  I also work in script development, on other people’s scripts and wish I was as good at listening to my own advice.  Anything I’ve completed has been through getting up at 0530 to cram in 20 – 30 mins of thinking space before everyone wakes up and the household descends into lovable chaos.  It proved a little unsustainable, so I need to rethink the time strategy.  Over two years have blurred past since the youngest was born, and i’m still here looking for those precious few minutes.  Maybe it’s time to send the children out in clothing that’s not been ironed (or washed) and put us on a beans on toast menu, using paper plates, to free up more time.  Leave them to do their homework by themselves and no more playdates or trips to the park.  OR maybe, life will just carry on as it always has, since it’s those life experiences that makes me the person I am with this mind, imagination and memory.  So, I suppose it’s not time to stop doing the school run, it’s just time to see it as research…  Hmmm, my little notebook of ideas is filling up.  Let’s see how the next few months go…no pressure.

It began so well…

It’s the last day of the Easter holidays for us. For our last day, we ended up on one of our many trips to the doctors. I dread this. It’s my last resort.
Managing three in a waiting room for what feels like a day, but is probably 20-30mins, then, once in the surgery the two that aren’t ill launch themselves on the floor and start coughing like they are trying to part with an internal organ, to get the doctor to check them out as well. “I’m really poorly mummy, too”. “Ha, ha sweetheart, you’re fine really. Let the doctor examine your sister” comes my slightly high-pitched, ‘everything’s fine – I’m in control’ response. The doctor and I slowly get louder and louder, conversing above the din made by the now, nearly fitting children on the floor. They throw everything at their performance.

However, today was just a bit better. It seemed to be going well. In the waiting room, despite a lack of bribe snacks, colouring pens and books, they played together, one might say, beautifully. An older lady and her husband were sat waiting nearby and I saw them look at us and whisper to each other, but today, unlike usual, I felt we were getting a good report. The children sang ‘We’re going on a bear hunt’ to pass the time and I felt like super mum. Finally it was our turn. There was some quarrelling in the surgery over toys, raised voices, but no feigned illnesses. It was all manageable. I should have known there was worse to come.

The pharmacy is in the same building as the doctors, and there we ran into aforementioned elderly couple. The woman came up to tell me how well behaved my children were and how lovely they played together. It was all a bit dreamlike – and then my time was up. The pharmacist took about ten minutes to get our prescription together and in that time, my children knocked over an entire shelf of toiletries twice (the second time happened as they were trying to help me put it back together) tried to climb the letters in the window display (to be fair, they did look fun to climb on, but that’s not the point) invented a hugging game which resulted in wrestling each other to the ground and managed to send one of the pharmacists flying across the floor as she ventured into the shop to get something from a shelf. It’s not that I was happily letting this happen, it’s just that there’s one of me and three of them, each running in different directions. They had clearly used up all their energy trying to be good for so long. I couldn’t get another rendition of ‘We’re going in a bear hunt’ going and struggled to muster more than 30 seconds of entertainment out of a height chart in the corner. On the plus side, our prescriptions may get pushed to the front of the queue from now on – and I’m sure the pharmacist will recover from her injuries and be walking again soon!

A new year’s resolution that took a while to get round to…

Tired, but can never switch off?  A stay at home mum hit with the daily lunchtime slump in energy or a working mum trying to stay awake on the tube (bus/train/car/walking).  Either way – I get it.  I’ve decided to celebrate it and be grateful for having such a full life…as I put another cup of coffee in the microwave to reheat, count to ten before answering the same question from one of my little people for the fifth time in two minutes and march at optimum speed, powering a double buggy overflowing with bags down the high street as pedestrians dive out of the way to save themselves from the crazed mum on a mission with a slightly wild look in her eye and an ‘everything’s fine, actually just great’ expression on her face, (well practised and convincing).

Never enough hours, always something to do and someone needing attention…I wouldn’t change it for the world!  (honest)  So pop by and visit me in my little corner of south west London.  Its always nice to chat and share …

Oh and yes, starting this blog was my New Year resolution (can’t remember which year).  I have three little people, all born in less than four years, and the eldest is now five – so sometimes, things just take a bit longer…