When I was a child, Roald Dahl was one of my favourite authors. From The BFG (I used to dream about giants outside my bedroom window) to The Twits and Charlie and The Chocolate Factory there was something so magical about his books. I’ve read each and every one time and time again and I can’t wait until Elfie and Hux are old enough to love them as much as I do.
One of my overlying memories of my childhood is reading these wonderful books under the duvet with my little torch. Like most children I had a strictly enforced bedtime but I’d make every effort to read hours into the night, I loved reading that much. One thing I love to see in my children is their love of books, and every night Elfie lies in bed after I’ve gone downstairs and ‘reads’ her books to Hux until he falls asleep (she can’t read so it is of course super cute).
I’m lucky in that my children are both pretty great sleepers and I’m sure their nightly wind-down with me reading to them is a big factor in this. Elfie is an early riser (goodness knows where she gets that from) but barring illness they both sleep through, and have done for a while. The first thing I did as a parent of two was teach them how to nap at the same time (mama needs a nap too, am I right?) and their happiness to be in their beds is something I am pretty proud of. But it wasn’t – and sometimes still isn’t – easy!
This Saturday between 8-9pm I’ll be participating in a Twitter party with Betta Living, hosted by my lovely friend Fritha over at Tigerlilly Quinn, all about bedtimes and bedtime stories. It’s Roald Dahl’s birthday tomorrow and we’ll be using this opportunity to honour the wonderful author himself and celebrate other authors and children’s stories. Please do join us by searching the hashtag #bettabedtimes and two twitter users will win £50 to spend on Betta Living’s Roald Dahl collection: take a look below to see how gorgeous it is.
See you there!
This post was written in partnership with Betta Living
When you’re a mother, the default mode seems to be GUILT. I thought this was just me until I started talking to my mum friends and realised this guilt phenomenon is universal. From what I can tell, save a few books by G Ford or your parenting practitioner of choice, we’re all pretty clueless when it comes to this parenting journey. Which means you’re always second guessing your choices, wondering if you make the best decisions when it comes to your children.
For example, in the last 48 hours I have felt guilty over the following things (and more, but I only have around 800 words here): giving rice cakes to the kids for a snack instead of blueberries, making Elfie go to nursery for the day when she was clinging onto my leg crying, sending her to bed early because she was mean to Hux (and tired), not giving them a bath because we were all too knackered for the nightly splish splash, not fastening Hux’s nighttime nappy properly meaning it leaked in bed and he was sad, leaving the school uniform purchase til August and therefore not being able to find navy P.E. shorts…
It doesn’t end. I feel guilty because I work too much, but when I’m not working I don’t think it’s enough. I feel guilty because Elfie got to the age of almost-four before going to nursery yet Hux is there at two. I feel guilty that I enjoy my work but I’m doing it at the expense of missing the final throes of his babyhood (when I’m home I sniff his head A LOT).
I’m digressing here, because my current mode of guilt is all about school. Elfie starts school tomorrow and I literally haven’t spent any time feeling sad about it. My Facebook timeline is full of mums waxing lyrical about the beginning of the school year but to be honest I’m feeling… well, I’m not sure how I’m feeling.
I know that Elfie doesn’t like nursery; they make her try fruit every day and she likes only blueberries, bananas and strawberries which is uber stressful on the orange and apple days. Yet she’s hugely excited about the prospect of big school and can’t wait to get there, so I guess I’m excited about that. I’m stressed about the aforementioned school uniform (buy it in JULY, people, JULY!), the last bits of which I’m picking up tonight, 12 hours before she starts. I’m proud of how cute she looks in her school uniform and I’m kind of relieved that I won’t be paying £60 a day for her to be in childcare any more.
I’m also starting a new job on the day she starts school, so much of my mind is on that. I’m saying goodbye to my four day weeks at the lovely London IKEA office and starting my first full-time permanent job since 2010 at a big London agency’s satellite base in Milton Keynes. I’m very excited about so much of it – running a team, using my knowledge, managing accounts, working for a big name in the industry – but mostly I’m excited that it’s precisely a seven minute commute in the car. No more leaving work at 5.30 and getting home at 8pm! No more delayed trains! No more feeling so tired that I dribble on a stranger’s shoulder during the morning commute! I’m going to miss my colleagues so much though. And the MeatMission burgers.
But then I realise I’m thinking too much about my new job instead of the start of school and I’m slapped with the working mum guilt again. I read a Nora Ephron quote this morning and it made me feel dreadful:
“I have a theory that children remember two things — when you weren’t there and when they threw up”
It was posted by a working mum on a blog… hashtag solidarity, hey sister?
Luckily I was there when Hux threw up last week (all over the car, thanks buddy) but I can’t believe their childhood memories will be made up of time I wasn’t there. Instead I believe they’ll grow up proud of their mum who worked as hard as she could to build a future for them. The holidays we took, the precious evenings reading books on the sofa.
And the burgers, they’ll definitely remember the burgers.
There are many ways one can start a holiday at an airport. A leisurely stroll round duty free, a cooked breakfast (with a beer… cos once you’re through security it doesn’t count), a nice sit down in an executive lounge.
What you DON’T want is a one and a half hour check-in queue (thanks, Monarch) followed by security discovering TNT (traces of) in your handbag, delaying you further for half an hour, i.e. fifteen minutes before your flight leaves.
For one I’m glad I didn’t book the executive lounge for breakfast as we would have had only 3 seconds to enjoy it as I legged it through the departure lounge 15 minutes before we were due to take off… a walk that was supposed to take 25 minutes (gate number 25 is FAR AWAY at Gatwick South). I made it, nearly vomiting, but I made it.
And the TNT? They let me off but only after a pretty thorough interview, a full body tap-down and the realisation that I’d cleaned my phone screen at the same time as my work computer and those chemicals were probably the culprit. I got a bit of a telling off (don’t tell jokes to airport security) and was made to throw my phone case away but with a couple of minutes to spare I was on my flight to Preveza, Greece. Thank god.
When we were looking at a place to go away, man friend wanted somewhere totally relaxing, quiet and beautiful. He was itching to go to Italy but I threw the Greek Islands out there: having spent a few holidays on a tiny island towards the north of Greece I knew how unspoilt they could be. After a bit (A LOT) of research we settled on Paxos, part of Paxi, the smallest group of Ionian islands.
One of the reasons Paxos remains so beautifully quiet and rowdy tourist-free is the effort it takes to get there. We flew out of Gatwick to tiny Preveza, and from there were taken on an hour long bus journey to the port town of Parga. The ferry from Parga to Paxos is another hour, and from there we picked up our jeep and happily followed our landlady for the week up to our villa near the hamlet of Magazia.
Paxos has three main villages; Gaios (where you’ll find the largest port), Loggos and Lakka. The island is only 8 miles in length so you can drive between them all in minutes on the road system. It’s worth noting that if you use Google Maps to navigate (as I did) the super steep dirt tracks around the island show up the same as the tarmac ones, which definitely made for some interesting journeys.
Oh, and put a drop pin to situate your villa on your map. It’s easier than you think to get lost on such a small island when you don’t have your villa’s address!
We booked through Ionian and Aegan Island Holidays who were great. By being disorganized and booking only a fortnight before we went we managed to save about £600 on the list price of the villa, and their private transfer from the airport to the island was fantastic with English-speaking reps there every step of the way.
We stayed at Villa Ita which was situated at one of the highest points of the island. It was a lovely two-bedroomed villa with its own private pool and absolutely astounding views. While perfect for two grown ups I will say that it wouldn’t have been suitable for those who find hills or steps a struggle, and probably for children either (sheer drops a go-go). One thing I love about Greece is the rustic charm; our villa had this in spades and was very comfortable, just don’t expect five star luxury.
The beaches in Paxos are mostly rocky but the calm sea means they’re perfect for swimming – just watch out for Sea Urchins! We visited a few of them – one of my favourites actually being just off the busy port of Gaios with plenty of people watching to be done. One of the absolute best things about the holiday was that I was able to swim in the sea every day, something I think is so good for the soul. Hashtag Hippy.
You better believe that I had a pretty big interest in the food on the island. I’m a huge fan of Greek food and happily munched on Melitzanosalata (aubergine dip) and Greek salads each and every lunch time. My favourite restaurant was Vassilis Taverna in Loggos; I loved their Chargrilled Octopus with split pea puree and their Lamb and Orzo dish was to die for. The best views (and fanciest meal) was had at Erimitis which is a must-do for a bit of romance and if you’re looking for an excellent pizza with a beer and table service while you relax on the beach then head to Ben’s Bar. Roxi bar in Loggos is also a prime relaxation spot with a terrace that is perfect for sea and yacht-gazing. Beautiful. We didn’t have a bad meal the whole time we were there and everyone spoke wonderful English and was thoroughly charming.
I reckon a car is a must-have for getting around Paxos and we had the most brilliant open-top Jeep but a boat is even better: nothing beats flying through the waves like James Bond (ahem) to discover and swim in your own private cove. You can rent boats locally at one of the main villages.
Despite missing the children more than I ever expected Paxos was an absolutely spectacular place to visit and I’d return in a heartbeat. I returned home relaxed, rejuvenated and more than ever determined to have a future adventure living by the sea.
When it comes to single parenting one of the hardest things for me is all the decision making. And not even the big stuff, either: does Elfie need a pre-school logo fleece or coat or both? Should I keep Hux’s hair short or grow it long? When do I convert Hux’s cot into a big boy’s bed? Trivial things, but for me I can find it agonising to make them on my own. Even if it’s just for someone to be next to be in bed to me at 11pm saying: shut the hell up, it doesn’t matter if Hux potty trains in boxers or briefs.
(YES IT DOES!)
In case you’re wondering, Hux still has long hair, his cot is still in one piece and Elfie got the coat. Oh and I got briefs. You can sleep easy now.
I’ve been struggling recently with big decisions, ones about our future. We’ve been bumbling along happily in our little house in Milton Keynes for nearly a year now and I’ve been feeling it’s time to work out what I really want. What I want for the children, for my career and my home. It’s simultaneously completely overwhelming and intensely exciting to have the ability to make these plans single-handedly and I look forward to whatever the next ten years will bring. Once I decide what that is.
Sidenote: if I can’t choose between ‘fresh linen’ and ‘spring breeze’ fabric softener at the supermarket you better believe this decision making is a challenge.
I am a planner. At work, at home… there’s always a list, a plan, a strategy to get me from A to B. I don’t know if I’ve always been this way but I’ve noticed it more intensely ever since I’ve been alone. I want to be a good person and do the right thing by everyone in my life so I guess making a plan gives less room for error and regret. This is a fabulous trait to have at work but is harder in relationships – no man wants to give me their 5 year plan on the second date ;)
And that’s what I’ve been doing the last couple of weeks instead of blogging. Planning. Wondering who I want to be. Where I want to live. What I want to do. Some tough decisions were made (ooh vague) and situations discussed. I have more lines on my forehead than I used to but total satisfaction in my heart that I’m doing the right thing and moving forward with some excellent people. And one thing I learned in my process of soul-searching is that sometimes planning isn’t all it’s cracked up to be; your five year plan needs to have just a little wiggle room otherwise where are the fun surprises?
So I’m moving forward: happy in my work, happy in my relationship, more than happy with my babies (apart from the one who pooed on the carpet this morning… yes, you). This next year is going to bring more challenges and changes (and hopefully more blogging) but I’ve got this under control.
“All those things that weren’t supposed to happen? They happened. What happens next is up to you.” – Hank Moody.
This morning I woke up on the wrong side of the bed.
Not literally, you see I seem to stick to the left side (never been a starfisher) but I woke up in a vile mood. Grumpy. It was 6am, I was tired, Hux was shouting about wee wees and all I wanted to do was go back to sleep.
I got up, grabbed milk for the children and heaved myself into the shower. It was cold and I wanted to get back into bed. I tried on four tops, two pairs of trousers and three pairs of shoes before deciding that everything looked rubbish anyway so it didn’t matter what I wore. On Hux’s demand I got the iPad for him and he demanded “Toy Story, no TANGLED, mummy, but I want FROZEN!!! Where’s Toy Story?”.
I huffed that I could only find two pairs of clean pants for Hux because I think his nursery aren’t offering him the potty often enough and he’s going through multiple changes a day (#mumlife) and wondered if I’d get judged for Elfie’s choice of outfit (yellow shorts, red tshirt, knee high school socks – I think we were having a similar wardrobe crisis). We drove to nursery and both children wailed as I left, I could see their fat tears running down their cheeks through the window and it felt dreadful.
Driving to the station I worried about a situation that’s been weighing heavy on my mind. I muttered over the fact my favourite parking attendant wasn’t there so I had to walk across the car park to buy my parking ticket. My tea was too hot, the station too busy. It was going to be a bad day.
But then I sat down on the train and read a Facebook post from my friend Stu.
Stu is one of my oldest friends from High School and we went through a lot of things together – most notably Reading Festival 2002, and our weekend jobs, right Stu?. He lives in Melbourne, Australia and works for The McGuire Programme, a company that helps individuals overcome a stutter to become ‘articulate, well-spoken people’.
Stu’s post said:
I had a call from a recruitment consultant this morning, she wanted to ask me some questions about a guy who came into her work looking for a job.
He’s a grad from The McGuire Programme and has been working on his speech for about a year, so I answered a few of her questions about how I knew him, how he had been progressing over the past 12months and how these traits (commitment, ownership, punctuality, etc) were translatable into a work-environment. After 15 minutes of chatting, she started telling me of her encounter with this Grad:
A couple of weeks ago this young man had walked in to her office unannounced, with a resume looking for work; he’d had a brief chat with her and his stutter/stammer had been noticeable. About 10minutes after he’d left the office, she was talking about the meeting with another lady in the team when the same guy came back in. “Oh, have you forgotten something..?” she said. “Actually, I wanted to be honest with you about my speech and by doing that I’m cancelling out any negative feelings I might have about the speaking situation…” he replied. She told me how inspired she felt at his courage and bravery to come back to the office and explain his work with The McGuire Programme Australia so she immediately decided to bring him back for the full interview process.
Again, he came back and demonstrated his work ethic, determination and commitment to overcome the speaking challenge, despite any fear, anxiety and uncertainty about what the interview process comprised of, which left her with the impression of a great young man, full of character that she would be confident to put forward to her clients for a role.
Not only that, but she actually said “I’m determined to find him a job through our company and I’ve already been ringing around other branches to put his name and resume forward, he’s such a wonderful young man.”
So thank you to Owen Westwood for bringing a big ray of sunshine to my dreary, cold Wednesday morning. You have a fervent supporter at Adecco in Dandenong and she simply can not speak highly enough of you or your commitment to improving yourself.
It really made me think.
Have I really just wasted the first part of my morning feeling sorry for myself because I’m tired/cold/my bulging wardrobe isn’t suitable/the sun was too bright?
The kids cried at nursery but I know full well they’re fine 30 seconds after I leave.
My tea will cool down, I will enjoy my day at work in a job I love.
I felt like a total dick for whinging when there are people out there doing actual inspiring things, overcoming obstacles in their life to be the best version of themselves.
I knew it made sense when The Universe emailed me this morning to say:
Appreciating what you have little of is easy, Alice.
Appreciating what you have lots and lots of takes a spiritual master.
And you so have lots,
I spent five minutes counting my blessings: I have two beautiful children who are being played with and educated at a great nursery while I work in a job I love that allows me to spend time with them. We have food on our plates, a roof over our heads and clothes in our wardrobe. The sun is shining and there’s a man out there who wants to treat me like a Princess and surprise me with flowers after work. Yes, a couple of things are wobbly but I have a life full of courage, motivation, love and excitement.
Isn’t that amazing that I have these things in my life?
Take five minutes to think about your lot: what are you grateful for today?
I love to talk with my mum about how motherhood has changed since I was born. For example, after I was born she was able to get used to being a mum for a whole week in a special hospital filled with maternity nurses who would take care of your baby for you – making sure new mums learned all the new skills they needed for child rearing and most importantly got lots of sleep! Can you even imagine being able to do that these days?
Which is why I’m happy to share this infographic with you from Benenden. How many of these facts about the evolution of motherhood did you know? The first modern Caesarean (I’ve had two!) was performed in 1881, I shudder to think of what would have happened to me when Elfie was born had that not been invented (she would have been coming out feet first for a start. Ouch). And can you imagine not being privy to those magical 12 and 20 week 3D ultrasounds, invented in 1987?
But most shockingly their survey results revel that 1 in 5 mothers suffer negativity when breastfeeding in public. I’ve written on this subject before and LOVE to see mothers breastfeed in public: I truly believe that it’s the most natural thing in the world (breastfeeding Hux was so special) and to think that women have to go through this makes me feel sick. According to the survey the group most likely to disagree are those sixty or over, so let’s hope this school of thought is well on the way out.
Take a look at the evolution of Parenthood:
Thank-you Benenden for partnering with More Than Toast.