New School Year Guilt

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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.

The Evolution Of Parenthood

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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:

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Thank-you Benenden for partnering with More Than Toast. 

The Life And Times Of A Working Mum

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6am: alarm goes off. I swear like a sailor because really this is way too early for any human to be awake. Hi, I am not a morning person, nice to meet you.

6.15am: the latest possible time I can drag myself up out of bed. Get in the shower before the kids stir which usually wakes Elfie up. Make a cup of tea while I’m heating up milk for them (obviously never have time to drink it). Wake Hux up with milk and have a cuddle. Start the daily debate over exactly which dress Elfie will wear. This can take a while and usually involves a drawn-out debate touching on the finer points of how Queen Elsa dresses.

6.45am: get myself dressed while Elfie and Hux either argue (and sneeze) over the iPad or perform an impromptu stage show in their bedroom. I have never been allowed to watch the show; Elfie says it’s not for mummy, it’s for ‘the people’. I have to step over ‘the people’ to get into their room. Get the kids dressed and downstairs because then we have a small hope of grabbing breakfast before we leave. Attempt some make-up, check the kids’ nursery bags have everything they need (sun hats, coats, spare clothes, baby wipes, sun cream, nappies, kitchen sinks…) and my work bag has everything I need (Oyster card, notebook, phone charger, train entertainment, purse).

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7.30am: leave the house for the 15 min drive to nursery. Depending on whether or not we’ve had time for a ‘proper’ breakfast the kids munch on bananas, breadsticks and shreddies. Try not to feel so guilty as at nursery they’ll have toast and fruit at 9.30. Hux never too excited for his mum to leave him with his teachers though I know as soon as I go he enjoys playing with his friends. Elfie slightly more excited but not as much as at term-time which is when she gets to spend an hour or so at Gagi and Papa’s: they give her bacon and egg for breakfast. Bacon and eggs > playing in a sandbox. Fair enough.

8.22am: I board my train to London having had a chat with my favourite car parking money man. Sometimes I buy a cup of tea but I’ve spilt boiling hot liquids on two different commuters in the last three months so… yeah. Depending on how tired I am I either work, sleep, read or watch Mock The Week on my iPad. I enjoy how the LOLing at the comedy disconcerts the other commuters.

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9.10am: pull into London. It’s crazy how you position yourself on the train affects your ongoing journey; I always sit at the front of the train so I can beat the crowd, otherwise you can be stuck on the platform for five minutes. The escalator down to the Northern Line at Euston isn’t working at the moment which is a big fat pain in my arse and adds an extra three minutes onto my precious short journey.

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9.30am: Old Street. Power walk to the office in Shoreditch and catch up on overnight blog posts from the world of interiors. Check Twitter and Facebook feeds (for IKEA, not for me, duh I already did that on the train ;). Make sure there’s great content lined up that day to share on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. I don’t have time to eat breakfast at home so I either have a green juice from POD, porridge from Pret or some Kale and Apple juice from Waitrose. This is me trying to cling on to some sense of healthy diet in the face of a million croissants.

10am: department heads meeting, catching up with what’s going on with the production of the magazine and how the Social Media activity can support it. Earlier on this month I helped Homes Editor Jo co-ordinate a storage makeover and shoot at the home of one of my favourite New York bloggers which was really exciting.

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10.30am: catch up on emails, have a bit of a chat with followers on Twitter. Check on how my targets are looking for the month and compare with my strategy.

1pm: I try not to eat lunch at 11.30 but it’s a challenge. I either walk to either Itsu or Pret and return to eat at my desk while perusing blog posts or meet up with my boyfriend. If it’s a nice day we go to sit in the park and on Fridays we visit Whitecross Street Market – YUM. I like lunch.

2pm: more meetings. I’m working on a couple of really fun projects at the moment – one is monitoring how the rest of the 31 countries in Europe are using our content – so it’s time to catch everyone up on where I’m at with them. Elfie and Hux’s nursery send little videos of what they did that day and they’re with my mum at that point so we have a lovely chat. Apart from that one time I discovered they had Hand, Foot and Mouth disease… that wasn’t so lovely.

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4pm: review how the Social Media posts have been received that day and have a peruse of IKEA’s Pinterest account.

5.20pm: tie up any last-minute emails or issues before hometime. On Wednesdays the kids’ dad comes to put them to bed so I’ll pop for a burger and a glass of wine with a friend or Mr Alice, otherwise it’s straight back to Eustom for the 6.13 train.

7pm: arrive back into Milton Keynes station. It’s a 15 minute drive to pick up the kids from my parents’, then back home for bedtime. Once a week I’ll hang around with them for a chat and a glass of wine while Elfie and Hux run riot in the garden. When we get home it’s milk and stories; they’re never in bed before 8pm but I don’t mind anymore (I used to be a 7pm bedtime Nazi). That time in the evenings with them is so precious.

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8.30pm: decide I’d better have dinner. Shamefully my diet is no-where good as it used to be but I really struggle with the time and energy to cook solid Paleo meals. Consider it a success if I don’t eat a jar of salsa and tortilla chips (oops).

9pm: answer any essential emails, write blog posts. My email account is one thing that has suffered over the past few months and I’m kind of scared to look at it. Put a load of washing in the machine, stick the dishwasher on. I love my box sets and I usually tidy the kitchen or cook a big Spag Bol to the tune of Grey’s Anatomy.

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11.30pm: fall into bed, realising I should have done this an hour earlier. I like to try and read before I go to bed – my gorgeous friend Neva bought me a book subscription for my birthday and I have Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg burning a hole in my nightstand – but I normally fall asleep before I’ve had time to read a page. FAIL.

11.45pm: suddenly remember to set my alarm. I haven’t forgotten this part… yet.

How Greece Taught Me To Love Being A Mum

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Last week I took a little holiday. Well, kind of a big holiday actually. 1,541 miles to be exact, to Paxos in Greece travelling by train, taxi, plane, bus, boat and jeep. I had looked forward to this holiday for weeks and weeks beforehand, imagining the week of sunshine, beaches, indulgence and adult company. I’d thought about being without the kids – they were having a week with their dad – I knew I’d miss them but having them spend two nights away a fortnight prepares me for the time we’re apart.

The holiday was everything I wanted it to be. Paxos was literally heaven on earth, a tiny island full of little bays with turquoise waters, villages with gorgeous Tavernas churning out Melitzanosalata (I ate it every day), moussaka and Mythos. The beaches were rocky but stunning and I swam in the sea, laid out on the beach and took naps. It was a grown-ups dreamland.

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But I had no idea how much being away from the children for such a long time would hurt. It really was like I was missing something, something huge that I couldn’t quantify or replace. The stacks of sweet children on the island made it worse; I could see Elfie playing with the little girls of her age, painting rocks and collecting shells, or Hux charging into the sea with his usual ignorance of personal safety.

In reality of course it wouldn’t have been that perfect. Hux is probably a year two young for such a holiday (without him being a huge handful at least) and I would have worried about Elfie’s health in such a remote place. But still, but still. It ached.

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I felt guilt for being in such a special place without them – being on the beach, by a pool, looking at fish. Guilt that I was spending my free time away from them doing something so exciting. Guilt that rather than working hard I put my laptop away for a week to concentrate on these things I think they call books. I did a lot of thinking, mental caretaking, situation pondering. I think – as cheesy as this sounds – that by being away for that week I grew into my role as a mum more than I have in a long time.

There was a moment, the day after I returned home, when I was hanging the washing up on the line. I’m trying to get Elflie out of nappies at night and Hux I guess just likes the feeling of air on his bottom so as a result we get through a load of Fairy non-bio. The children were kicking a ball, the sun was on our faces and we had nothing to do but just be together in the garden. This is when a particular thought popped into my head for the very first time in my life, and that was just how much I love being a mother.

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Being a mum has never been something that I’ve disliked. It was moreso a situation that happened to me when I wasn’t really expecting it and therefore it freaked me out. It was something I kind of just got used to and in the meantime I think I missed out on the enjoyment part.

But there it was – hanging out fresh sheets, listening to bickering over a ball and thinking about what to cook that evening. Like a lightening bolt. It felt blissful to just know I was in the right place with those two little people at that time.

So content.

Thank-you, Paxos, for teaching me how to love being a mum. I’ll be back soon and with two little mini-mes. We can’t wait.

I should probably come back at a later date and tell you all about just how wonderful visiting Paxos – the actual island – was. Or the story about how I was 5 minutes away from my flight because traces of explosives were found in my handbag (my new nickname is TNT). Or maybe the one where I got on a train on the last leg of my journey home to Buckinghamshire and ended up in Wigan. Stay tuned…

The Real Cost Of Being A Single Working Parent

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NB: I know it’s not entirely the ‘done’ thing to talk about money, because OMG we’re British and when it comes to our wallets we keep our mouths closed, but this is something I can’t stop thinking about. And therefore something I wanted to write about. So there. 

Raising kids is an expensive business. We all know that.

But how expensive is it to be a working (single) mum? That’s what I’ve been wondering.

When I accepted my job I didn’t really work out how much it would cost me. I had a basic idea in my head – Hux would need to go to nursery 3 days a week and I was already paying pre-school fees for him and a few extra hours over my free 15 for Elfie – but surely because I’d be, you know, earning a salary, working out how much it would cost me seemed a bit pointless.

Wrong.

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Ramblings On Tiredness And Work That May Or May Not Make Sense

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When you become a mum, you learn how to be tired. There are the different sorts of tired; that hazy newborn stage when you’re up all night and are urged to ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’ so end up zoned out in front of Jeremy Kyle while you feed the baby. The tiredness in these weeks meant I don’t remember those days save for lots of sofa and TV, but at least there was minimal pressure to get out of my pyjamas all day.

Then there’s the tiredness you get with a slightly older baby who just doesn’t want to sleep through the night. The incessant nights of never sleeping more than two hours in a row, resulting in a mama who can get up, comfort her baby back to sleep and crawl back in her own bed without even realising she’s woken up.

Next you’re presented with the toddler who considers 5.30am a lie-in. Yet you can’t go to bed when she does because, you know, those box sets won’t watch themselves and if you don’t keep those eyes open til at least 9pm you won’t get any alone time whatsoever.

But these days, oh these days I have the single-working-mum tiredness. And that my friends is something else altogether.

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We’re out of the house and on our way to my mum/nursery by 7.15am so I’m required to be out of bed and on my way to dressed by 6am. That, my friends, still hurts like a punch in the face each and every day. As one who has never been a morning person I spend the first fifteen minutes of each day practicing my sailor swearing and wondering how much it would hurt to break a bone. Because at least then I’d get to go back to bed.

The upshot of this is that by the time I get to the train station at 8am I am pretty much fully awake and with a full face of make-up on feeling ready to take on the world with a cup of tea that may or may not end up on a stranger (sorry, man on the 8.22 to Euston on Monday). This feeling of world conqueror would never come to me until at least 10am in the old days, so there you go – I now have two more hours each day to make a difference. Boom!

This doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes enjoy a little sleep on the train though. Never underestimate the restorative qualities of a 30 minute upright power nap. Unless you end up in a town fifty miles away from yours on a Sunday evening because you fell asleep on a kind stranger’s shoulder… never again.

Once I’m at work I’m surprised to find out that my job requires a fair bit of thought; deep thinking about strategies, statistics, results, proposals. I can’t zone out, can’t sleep with my eyes open, can’t watch Millionaire Matchmaker. Welcome to the real world. There are meetings and presentations that require intelligent input and by the time 5.30pm rolls around (HOMETIME!) my brain is quite literally spent, devoid of any conversation or leftover intelligence.

All that thinking, it wipes you out. And yesterday I was so knackered from just being ON and THINKING and DOING that I got home, took my bra off (the first thing I do as soon as I walk through the front door at 7.30pm) and had a good productive weep. This single-working-mum thing, it’s so hard. It drains you mentally, physically, even emotionally, until you’re not sure there’s anything left.

But then I thought – who am I doing this for?

I’m doing this because my career is super important to my family; my children rely on me as the breadwinner in the house so it’s crucial I work hard. I’m doing this to show them how important it is to work hard so they can do a job you love and get paid well for it. And I’m doing it to show them that while life is not a walk in the park you can find happiness in hard graft and success.

I might be falling over from tiredness but for those little people I am setting the best example I know how. And you know what? I’ve never been happier than now: I’m doing it, I’m making a difference.

Now can someone tweet me at 11pm and tell me to turn off Orange Is The New Black?