How To Have It All

Screen Shot 2014-10-21 at 21.13.02

For the longest time I believed that ‘having it all’ revolved around ‘what the outside world thinks you have’. I thought it meant how big your house was, how new your car was, what your husband did, how well behaved your kids were, what clothes you wore.

And it wasn’t until I found myself at actual rock-bottom, as a single parent with no reliable income and zero husbands, that I realised how wrong I was. Having it all is absolutely nothing to do with what you have and is absolutely everything to do with who you are.

Here’s the thing as I see it: we have an insane amount of outside influences in our lives. Blogs, media, friends, co-workers. And it’s so easy to look at all these influences attaining society’s idea of success and think, well, this is what it means to be have it all, isn’t it? And so we strive for these things that we see as measures of success and happiness with little or no knowledge of whether or not it’s going to make us happy.

We go from thinking we have to have THE CAREER (check) to THE KIDS (check) to THE HOUSE (check) to THE CAR AND THE CLOTHES AND THE HANDBAGS AND THE RESTAURANTS… and it’s exhausting. Keeping up with the Joneses becomes a full-time job and actually, who says that having all that stuff will really make you happy?

I used to be one of those people. I was so desperate for the world to see that I was living out someone else’s idea of perfection that I totally lost my way. I didn’t understand how I wasn’t happy when, to an outsider looking in, I had everything you could ever want. The big house (cripplingly expensive), the lovely children (ok, they really are lovely), the car, the opportunity to be a stay at home mum, the nights in fancy restaurants, the nice handbags. For a while I really did have it all, except I didn’t.

Screen Shot 2014-10-21 at 21.12.42

Where I went wrong is that I didn’t understand that my version of ‘having it all’ might be different to the media’s, to what is generally accepted as being a life that you strive for. Even though I woke up on Monday morning with a whole week of nothing but being a mum ahead of me – a situation so many women dream of – I was drowning. There was nothing more daunting to me than working out how on earth I could fill five days with toddler groups, coffees, nap times and educational play (still not sure what this entails). As much as I wanted to be I just couldn’t make myself one of those (incredible, admirable) women who was a happy full-time mum.

To them I say: wow. Being a full-time mum, it really is the hardest job in the world.

It wasn’t until now that I realised the meaning of ‘having it all’. Yet there’s never been a time in my life when so many outsiders looking in have said to me, hey Alice, I don’t know how you do it.

But you know how I do it? I do it because this is my having it all. It turns out that my version of having it all is getting up in the morning and spending a couple of hours with my children (we had chocolate pancakes this morning!) before taking them to places I know they will be educated, well-looked after and loved. My having it all is spending 9 hours a day running a team, working my business mind, accomplishing professional goals. My having it all is earning good money so I can build my little family a really great life and maybe get my hair or nails done once in a while and feeling happy that I’ve worked to deserve it. My having it all is coming home after a busy day to cuddles with my two little people on the sofa and eating the weekend’s leftovers for supper, knowing I’ve given my all to the day.

I don’t have a husband to support me, a huge big house or a no-pressure open-ended maternity leave. But THAT’S OK, because all those things didn’t make me happy, anyway. Looking back I can say that now, though life has never been so challenging, I really do have it all. And it is such a relief to have finally discovered what that means.

 

 

A Catch-Up Mind Dump. You’re Welcome.

The thing about sharing your life a couple of times a week through your computer is that if something happens and you’re unable to do it for a while it just becomes harder and harder to get back on to it. Your list of ‘things I want to tell that bunch of virtual strangers’ becomes almost insurmountable as you try to prioritise exactly which recent life event you want to broadcast first. Cos I’m sure you’ve all been waiting with baited breath for the next update… ;)

You can blame my radio silence on EE for thoroughly ballsing up the transfer of my broadband service to them (four and a half weeks I’ve been without my lifeline, FOUR AND A HALF WEEKS), my new job for being amazing but for making me so tired I have no words left in my head come 7pm and the children for being children and demanding things like food and attention from me, the little life suckers.

Shall we do a quick life update so I can pick up where I left off? Yes, let’s.

10693710_1521455631435084_1147135403_n

So the work is great, and even though I’m doing five days a week I’m no more tired/stressed/mental than when I was working four. I don’t miss the commute into London but still get to go in to the big city a couple of times a week so it’s all-round perfect, really. The environment of the ad agency is just wonderful – full of creative and inspirational people – and I genuinely look forward to going to work every day. I get to drop the kids off at school and there’s nothing like knowing I’m only down the road from them. Oh, and FREE BREAKFAST. I basically have it all. Along with a new addiction to coffee.

10724639_921284594609274_757475578_n

Elfie is loving school, loving it. Every day (usually when I’m tottering up the driveway to her classroom clutching book bags and water bottles 5 mins late as per) I feel thankful for choosing such a wonderful place for her to learn. She’s becoming a very opinionated assertive little thing (definite future CEO) and I’d say Reception Year is doing a great job of bringing out the best in her.

Hux is Hux and is adorable. He’s a little monkey, obsessed with his Woody toy and any time he has an item of new clothing (“MUMMY BUY NEW JUMPER FROM THE SHOP!! NEW DINOSAUR PANTS!!” repeat ad infinitum). In a nutshell they are the perfect children, the odd tantrum in Waitrose excluded (thanks Hux, that was well embarrassing).

10666056_334954670010095_294081620_n

It’s most definitely not summer anymore. I’m pretty crushed about that. I’ve been putting the colder weather to good use though and have been to IKEA twice. And I bought a Christmas present!! In October!!

I was dating someone and then I wasn’t. Joined Tinder for 24 hours for the self-esteem boost and got thoroughly depressed at the state of people on Tinder. Swore off relationships for a while to focus on work and writing but as you may have noticed I haven’t been writing, so make of that what you will… ;) I tell you what though, whoever said that the best things happen when you aren’t looking for them was absolutely right.

10665557_1544547222427620_762032506_n

This winter I really want to get more done, you know? Better myself a little – do things I’m proud of. Cook more, read more, drink less, work hard, save up, enjoy my friends, laugh a lot. 2012 was tough, 2013 was better, 2014 has been a vast improvement and I’m SO. EXCITED for what’s in store; everyone in my house is happy and we all have so much to look forward to. I’ve been feeling like I should do something to mark it, like get a tattoo, but because I’m terrified of tattoos I’ll probably just buy a new pair of shoes and write about it. LIVING THE DREAM.

Let’s not leave it so long next time, eh? I have so much I want to write about – becoming a feminist (yeah, I think that happened…), getting back into the workplace as a mum, these great new mugs I bought, my new utility cupboard, solo parenting 2 years in, my new role models (Sheryl Sandberg! Bryony Gordon! Lena Dunham! Girl Power!). Oh what did I say? Yeah, living the dream.

I Haven’t Blogged In A While And I Guess This Is Why


10611101_1503955946488227_1699385525_n

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. 

Turning That Frown Upside Down

Screen Shot 2014-08-21 at 11.03.33

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.

Screen Shot 2014-08-21 at 11.19.47

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,
The Universe

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?

The Life And Times Of A Working Mum

10575999_1509324205969611_583781414_n

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).

10483403_582493568535250_1826745787_n 927385_1468580436732137_1184351774_n

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.

925545_303717836457139_1316792495_n10413283_580580538722018_1094786331_n

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.

10369498_250131868509683_1821598017_n

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.

10483444_1447106852213436_726573281_n

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.

925351_1539180459643709_82402468_n

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.

10387881_1459658007609136_201809632_n

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.

10432014_252073714999964_333930709_n

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.

On Where We Live

IMG_1371 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. IMG_1377 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!IMG_1376 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). IMG_1375 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). IMG_1372 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. IMG_1378 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. IMG_1387 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 IMG_1405Hux 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.  IMG_1401 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. byronMKOne 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?