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?
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If you’d asked me five years ago to make a list of the places I’d like to live it probably would have gone a bit like this: London, Brighton, Liverpool (I love Liverpool. Brilliant city). Short and to the point. Milton Keynes wouldn’t have been on that list, in fact when I was a teenager I remember categorically telling my mum I thought it was weird that people wanted to live here. I always saw it as an odd town, it had no discernible centre, no history. Why would someone want to live in a place like that? Fast-forward ten years and here I am. Not only am I actually living in Milton Keynes (though if you’re feeling posh you’re allowed to tell people you live in ‘North Bucks, darling’) but I’m a fully paid-up member of the MK Fan Club. Not that one exists. But I’d definitely be on the committee if it did. Let me explain. Milton Keynes is a big town made up of lots of new estates, old villages and smaller towns (Wolverton, Bletchley, Stony Stratford). 34 square miles to be exact. It was designated a ‘new town’ in 1967 and we are 45 miles north-west of London. The city centre consists of a shopping mall, entertainment district, complex with indoor ski slope/skydiving and theatre. It takes 30 minutes to get into London on the fast train which is comparable to places like St Albans and Chesham – but way cheaper! Our lovely little house is on one of the newer estates near the M1, a really quick 5 minute drive from the train station which is useful for travelling into London. We have an absolutely massive park a 10 minute walk down the road which is where we spent a blustery Saturday morning a couple of weekends ago watching my mum run her first ever 5k race. What you can see up there is an aerial wakeboarding set-up on the lake though you’ve got to be pretty mental to be doing that in March (nuff people are mental round here and they always look FREEZING). See? It’s lovely and green round here. Miles and miles of gorgeous Teletubby land-esque parkland to march the kids round. It’s all really pram and bike friendly; MK has 272kms of ‘redways’ which are designated walking/cycling paths so you don’t have to ride your bike on the busy roads (and all those bloody roundabouts). The shopping centre here is ace. You’ve got all the high street clothes shops you need (though I mostly spend all my time and money in Gap cos I’m getting OLD) and you can visit all the shops while staying undercover. Perfect for the winter; who has time to be taking their heavy cold weather coats on and off each time they step into a shop? Naaahh. One thing I love about the area that I live in is its approximation to the places I spend most time. Our house is five minutes from the city centre, three from our health club and five from Waitrose. Plus we’re a short stroll from loads of parks, one of which has a pirate shop which is insanely awesome. Unless you get sea sick, like me. Speaking of the health club, I bloody love that place. Indoor and outdoor pools, sauna, steamroom, jacuzzi, gym, tennis courts, softplay, BAR. I’ve been 4 times already this week: I definitely get my money’s worth. And it’s 0.4 miles away :D Hux is handsomely modelling Muddy Puddles’ Peak Ski jacket in all these photos which was kindly sent for us to try out. We have the Salopettes too, and though we haven’t had any snow this year they’ve been invaluable to us on our walks in the biting wind. Their products are such great value compared to some others on the market: we’re converts! Check out their blog for some great family fun ideas. One thing MK is lacking is more of a food scene. We’re crying out for some decent eateries round this way: most restaurants here are mediocre chains (HI Cafe Rouge, Zizzi etc). We have recently been gifted with a Byron (HOORAH) and Carluccios’ lunch menu is always quite solid but it is a massive pain having to trek into London each time you want a proper feed. One of the most important factors in my enjoyment of life here I guess are the friends we’ve made. Elfie’s pre-school (and first school-to-be) is absolutely lovely and through that (and Twitter!) I’ve stumbled upon local friendships that I’m sure are for life. Five years ago I might not have thought twice about living in Milton Keynes but I can’t imagine myself living anywhere else five years from now. Want to join my fan club?
Do you know how it feels to be really really tired? I thought I did when I was younger. But when I had kids I discovered that wasn’t tiredness, that was a hangover, or a slight sleepiness from getting up at 4am to go on holiday. My heart bleeds for my poor young clueless self who wouldn’t know proper exhaustion if it punched her in the face.
Last week my lovely little two reminded me just how it really feels to be tired. Tired in the sense that I can’t form a sentences when I’m writing emails, so tired that my eyeballs itch, so tired that all I want to do is eat Dominos (that happened) and weep (that also happened). Last week was basically really sodding hard, mostly thank to Elfie who suddenly decided that 5am was morning play time time. 3 days in a row.
But to be fair, she keeps telling me that it’s not long to go til Christmas, so I think I need to work less on writing her name and more about the passage of time. And early mornings. ENOUGH EARLY MORNINGS.
I like to think that when it comes to parenting I am pretty level-headed. I don’t get mad that often, if I’m cross with anything the kids have done I try to give myself a bit of a time out until I’ve calmed down again. But the morning Elfie jumped into Hux’s bed to play with him at 5.15 when it was still dark – I nearly lost it. I was so mad at all my lost sleep I had to put my head under my pillow and have a big ARRGHH.
This is why you should be married when you have kids. You need another person to share the torture with.
Being so tired – for me, anyway – renders me unable to do anything of importance. I lack inspiration so find it impossible to cook things I want to eat and therefore end up eating crap (hence the Domino’s). Work is a challenge when half of my vocabulary has deserted me. Parenting feels a bit impossible when I can’t think about anything apart from the next sleep I might get.
You might think that in these situations it would be nice to have an easy sleepy day at home with the kids, which was my train of thought on Sunday. They hadn’t slept much either, how about we all snuggle up together on the sofa and watch a bit of Disney? WRONG. Neither of my children has a concentration span longer than 7 minutes (which I guess is why Peppa Pig episodes are only five?), which meant that Ariel the mermaid ceased to be interesting as soon as the humans were on the scene. A shame, I was really getting into it.
We tried to make peanut butter cookies instead – and on the whole they turned out really well – but the portion that Elfie worked on ended up stuck to the wall. Next we tried adventuring into the garden but it was raining and cold and those are two things I really don’t like – and I’m the super tired one here, right? We lasted twenty minutes before the whining started and we (I) had to retreat indoors.
Anyway, Sunday ended with us all more annoyed than ever. I recommend forgetting about Disney if you have a day like this and getting the hell out of the house, somewhere that will entertain the kids. Like to soft play, but not one of those super busy soft plays. A friend’s house? But a friend who won’t mind if you moan and whinge about being so tired, so preferably a mum. But not Waitrose… there are lots of sniffy customers at Waitrose who won’t be impressed when your overtired children are screaming in tandem.
This week is shaping up slightly better. Elfie is waking up a whole hour later (6am, I never thought I’d be so happy to see you), I’ve been to the gym and am finally able to string sentences together – though the vocabulary is still not what it was. Took me a whole minute to think of the word ‘Authority’ yesterday. It feels pretty good to be back in the land of the humans who don’t feel like they’re about to poke their own eyeballs out.
“You’re a stay at home mum… so what do you DO all day?”
If I had a pound for every time someone had said that to me then I would have, well, a lot of pounds. But I don’t, I just have a lot of urges to clock acquaintances who ask me annoying questions in the face. Where did the idea come from that mums who work in the home spend their days on the sofa watching Jeremy Kyle? The kids won’t feed themselves and the house won’t clean itself. Shit needs to get DONE people, and very often the only person to do it is mum.
Mums wear a lot of hats. Educator, cook, cleaner, laundry maid, chauffeur, disciplinarian. But it’s not just as simple as that; not only do we have to perform in all these roles but we have to try as hard as we can at them. The pressure is on to cook well-balanced, healthy meals from scratch (tough when your kid will only eat white pasta, bananas and avocados). We have to teach them the ‘right’ things (Montessori? Phonetics? I need to Google all these words). And then, still some of us have to hold down jobs, progress in careers, keep other halves happy. It’s exhausting.
So here it is: this is a run-down of exactly what I did one day last week. And the next time someone asks me that question I am referring them straight here… right after punching them in the face.
- Got myself and the kids up. This involves tactical negotiations over exactly what cup our milk will be drank from and intense decisions over Weetabix, Shreddies or toast. I’m not kidding, the UN’s negotiators have nothing on me.
- Prepared everyone to leave the house. Three year olds aren’t rational, they will insist on wearing a summer dress and they won’t understand when you explain why this is most definitely not possible because it’s 2 degrees outside. Oh and cardigans? Only idiots wear cardigans, apparently.
- Drive Elfie to pre-school. Do you know how many times you can listen to Katy Perry ‘Roar’ on a 10 minute car journey? Three, but it will feel like twelve.
- Took Hux to creche. Sometimes fine but mostly heartbreaking. A three year old clutching on to your leg crying ‘Mama! Mama! Cuddle!’? ARGH.
- Went to the gym. My favourite time (I’m mental), but it’s the time I get that’s not for work, not for children, not for anyone else but me. 20 minutes on the cross trainer, 20 minutes on all the weight machine thingys then 10 stretching and admiring myself in the massive mirror ;) We all do it when we have muscles, right?
- Designed a blog. I’ve been doing a bit of blog design work recently and there’s nothing I’d rather do after the gym than a couple of hours of coding CSS. I’m not even joking here.
- Did three loads of washing. Though my two are little, one of them attracts paint like there’s no tomorrow and the other likes eating soup with his hands. I basically get through a lot of Fairy Non-Bio (which I buy and use because it reminds me of having newborns :’)
- Cooked, photographed and wrote a recipe. I needed to eat lunch and because the light was on my side I photographed the recipe – sticky chicken cashew salad – for a new website I’m launching about my Paleo journey. Because I don’t have enough on my metaphorical plate.
- Wrote an article about iPhone photography. I’m working with a new client (details coming soon!) and getting to do a lot of work about photography which has been fantastic.
- The kids came home! Always a lovely time. Although today they brought cake, definitely not Paleo.
- Met a friend for a playdate. I think it’s really important to socialise – not just the children, but me as well. Because I work at home in funny snatches of time I don’t always get to see many people so I like to meet up with my friends when I can. Today we went to IKEA to meet our lovely new pre-school friend Amy: we get meatballs and the kids get to tire themselves out playing the ‘Arrow Game’! This is a genius invention (all Amy’s): the kids run from arrow to arrow throughout IKEA… they aren’t allowed to move on from one arrow to the next until we get to them so they stay within sight yet still have a good old run around. Brilliant! I buy a bath mat, loo brush and a candle, because I challenge anybody to go to IKEA and not purchase a candle.
- Get home in time for a bath. Elfie doesn’t like the bath after a busy day. She doesn’t like to get her hair wet and she is always worried that Hux is going to poo in there (a valid concern, admittedly). Sometimes I have to bring out my negotiation skills again but this day she actually managed to let me wash her hair without a fuss. Success!
- Put the kids to bed. Bedtime is one of my favourite times of all. The children are clean, cuddly and smell delicious and everyone is happy after a busy day. We read a book (usually Hairy McLairy) and then Hux is the first to get tucked in with his muslin and RaaRaa the lion while Elfie and I have fifteen minutes alone for a cuddle on the sofa.
- Write a blog post. The evenings I have dinner with the kids are brilliant because it means I can spend an extra half an hour or so working rather than cooking. I’m sometimes too tired to sit down and write a blog post but I like to try and get some ideas down at least. Plus if I’ve poured myself a glass of wine I suddenly start to find my own writing rather hilarious.
- Go through my emails. The one thing I’m really bad at is not replying to emails that aren’t urgent. I’m trying to make myself spend an hour on them each evening but it’s hard. I’ll get there.
- Fall into bed. I usually remember I have a washing machine full of wet clothes waiting to go in the tumble dryer AFTER I’ve gone to bed. It’s good it keeps me on my toes.
So, Mr ‘What do you do all day’… This is what I do. What did YOU get done today?