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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

Confessions Of A Teenage Mother (Kind Of)

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My lovely friend Alison from The Motherhood wrote a piece recently that really resonated with me. She says that she spends a lot of her time amazed that she’s a grown-up, and even more that she’s a mother. I nodded my way through all this because I have a confession to make: for the last ten years I have been pretending to be an adult. I might have turned 18, I might be driving a car, boozing it up and voting in elections but the thing is, I’m actually still about seventeen.

Every time I walk into a shop to buy alcohol and don’t get asked to show ID I stop for a moment and think – really? Don’t they know I’m underage and shouldn’t be drinking this ten quid bottle of wine? How can they be sure I’m not going to go round the back and neck it with my friends on our BMXs? Never mind the fact I’m in Waitrose and am toting my membership card, my free tea, car keys sensible handbag and two children… I still feel the guilt of doing something a little bit naughty.

Similarly, I totally feel guilt when my mum texts me and doesn’t put kisses on the end. I think, uh-ho, what have I done wrong? Did I stay out too late again? Did she catch me kissing another boy (hasn’t happened since I was 16, honest). Did I get in trouble at school for skiving drama to go to Topshop? Did I accidentally go into my overdraft and she found out about it (this never happens, I promise mum!)?

Then it comes to these two mini people who apparently I am in sole charge of 80% of the time. When we’re in public and one of them yells “MUMMY!” it still takes me a couple of moments to realise they’re talking to me. I relate more to my kids than the other mums at pre-school (probably cos they’re actual grown-ups) and would totally shop at Zara Kids if I was only a couple of feet shorter. At a party recently I ended up in the TV room watching Saturday night TV with the teenagers because the adults were talking about adult things and at that same party someone asked me how I was enjoying University. I like to play with Lego, PlayDoh and am totally cool with that.

I worry that I don’t have conversations about finance or politics because frankly, it bores me. My jokes are crude, my pop culture interests revolve around Kim Kardashian and I don’t really have an off switch when it comes to wine or cocktails. I buy shampoo that I’m sure is targeted at 16 year olds (hi, Soap and Glory!). I listen to the Frozen soundtrack even when the kids aren’t with me and I wear a bright red GShock watch. My favourite outfit revolves around skinny jeans and my Liberty print Vans and I TOTALLY get where Michael Scott is coming from. THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID. 

The one thing that does make me feel a bit like a grownup is my forehead wrinkles. And they can be fixed by Botox so are not even relevant.

Is this normal? Need I feel necessarily worried as I enjoy the kids’ baked beans with a glass of wine and a Beyonce singalong this evening (hey, it’s Friday!). No word of a lie, to celebrate the weekend I’m currently jamming to a playlist that would mostly have not been out of place in my favourite club 11 years ago: TLC and Missy Elliot YO! Please tell me there are some other teen mothers like me (well, mentally at least) out there. And then lets go out and get irresponsibly hungover together, yeah?

Above: daytime drinking with @Photogirluk. Definitely not sensible adult behaviour. Loads of fun though. 

Single Mum Dating: The Elephant In The Room

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Dating is so hard at this age, with this much baggage. Most 28 year olds are just getting into their careers, travelling, enjoying time with their friends; not juggling full-time single parenting of two small people with a demanding full-time job and an ex-husband. The online dating profile does not exactly write itself, am I right?

There is a reason you are usually part of a couple when you have kids. There’s someone else to share the pure torture of the lack of sleep, a partner who will bask in the warmth of your children’s teeny tiny accomplishments with you in a way that only a parent can. Plus you know there is someone who will love you for all your motherhood imperfections; your pregnancy stretchmarks, your wobbly belly, your eye bags and hair that hasn’t seen a brush in days. They’re 50% responsible for them so they’re kind of obliged to.

But when you’re on a first date with someone you can’t explain away your greasy mop with a sickly toddler, or your yawning with your baby who isn’t a great sleeper. Your date doesn’t want to be reminded of the fact that you were once in a relationship with someone that was serious enough to produce two children: it’s not exactly sexy.

This is why I always feel that when I’m dating the pressure is on. There’s pressure to not look like a mum – so no turning up with banana on your top and felt tip pen on your jeans. No talking about the magical things your children have done that day or lamenting your current schooling concerns. The fact I’m a mother as well as a woman feels like the elephant in the room.

In the past I’ve felt like maybe I need to compromise what I’m looking for in a date, just because I’m a mum. I’ve met men in bars who, once they found out I have children, have taken off so quickly they left skidmarks. This does not do much for a gal’s confidence, let me tell you. When I sit down and think about it, in my opinion I have quite a lot to offer in a relationship: I (think I) am intelligent, I (think I) am funny, I like to have fun, keep fit and look after myself. I love conversation, trying new things, travelling, music, debating. I’m self-sufficient, hard-working and ambitious. I’m a total catch! But I have two kids, and no matter how much I dress that up there will be men that I’d love to date who won’t look at me twice because of them.

I try to tell myself that I don’t want to go out with a man who isn’t open-minded enough to date a single mother, but that’s like telling yourself that calories don’t count past 9pm. I.e. complete bollocks you make up to feel better.

It must be tough to date me, as much as I feel it’s tough for me to date. I was in a relationship with someone I believed was the love of my life for 9 years and very happy for many of these. I know how it feels to be very much in love with someone who is also your best friend and I still wonder how it was possible that such a great relationship went down the pan. It’s a tough act to follow.

I find my marriage baggage difficult, too. I don’t know if I was lucky to experience such a serious and long-lasting relationship that ended in marriage at such a young age, but because I know how good a relationship can be I’m hesitant to accept anything less. The relationship with my ex was a whirlwind of love at first sight, moving in together after six weeks, getting engaged after 9 months and thinking we’d live happy ever after. Which we kind of did, if ‘happily ever after’ roughly translates to ’8 or 9 years’.

Aside from boyfriends when I was at school this is the only relationship I’ve ever known. Is this how relationships always happen? Is there always a thunderbolt of recognition that this is the person you’re meant to be with or are some relationships a slow-burner?

This past, my marriage, makes dating a tough business. I don’t want to be with anyone who isn’t perfect and I keep finding myself at a crossroad. I really want to push my career forward but that won’t happen if I’m spending all my child-free evenings on dates. I haven’t ruled out giving up on men and becoming a businesswoman recluse but I think then I’d have to homeschool the kids and that is never going to happen.

I don’t need a man in my life to be happy but boy it is nice to have someone for a bit of banter and the occasional dinner.

What to do?

A Week Of Reluctant Freedom

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I know my friends give me a lot of kudos for being a single parent, and yeah it can be hard work. The relentlessness of it all can really get to me at times (how long are these pre-school holidays?!), and  if you throw in two concurrent illnesses that render you all housebound for a week and therefore full of cabin fever, well that’s a nervous breakdown waiting to happen.

But there is one fact of single parenting that people don’t often take into consideration when they’re feeling sorry for me. And that is the fact that every other weekend I get two whole days and two whole nights to myself. As in, the children go away for that time and I am left to my own devices, to leave the house on a whim if I want to, to go to the gym, to catch up on work, to do anything I like. It’s madness, liberating, and so unlike anything I’ve been used to as a full-time stay-at-home mother.

It’s usually just the ticket after two weeks of full-on work, kids and running the house. Last weekend I went to London for a lovely Friday night at Hoxley and Porter followed by a long Saturday gym session, a grocery shop and a lie-in. Two days and two nights seems to be the perfect amount of time to have a bit of fun and re-charge batteries ready for the next fortnight of full-on life.

But this coming Monday, for the first time ever, the children are leaving me for a whole week. A WHOLE WEEK. Their dad is taking advantage of a quiet January at work to come up here from Monday to Sunday, take the little ‘uns off my hands and spend some quality time with them. Let me reiterate, because I still can’t believe it, they won’t be with me for A WEEK. That means a week of no Weetabix cemented to the kitchen table, no wailing tantrums in Waitrose, no need to wake up pre-6am.

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Aside from being absolutely terrified at the hole in my heart that is going to emerge in their absence I’m completely stumped in terms of how on earth I will fill my time. So far I have a hot stone massage booked, drinks with a local friend and drinks with London friends. I want to do a bit of work and write at least three chapters of my book. I have a couple of mystery stains on my rug that I want to get rid of and some dry cleaning to tend to: but what else can I be doing?

I had the thought of taking myself away to a lovely hotel for a night but as I appear to be physically unable to relax on my own I thought it might be a bit of a waste of money. Plus all the smooching in love couples would do my head in (sorry to all the smooching in love couples out there). I’m planning on getting to the gym a couple of times, trying a spinning and yoga class, but it looks like I could be in serious danger of going every single day out of boredom. I’ve spent so long with two little people permanently attached to me that when it comes to working out things to do alone, I’m completely stuck.

It feels like I’m going to be going from 100 mph to a snail’s pace in one week and though I’m looking forward to re-discovering what ‘me’ time is like again I’m also terrified of feeling so lonely without my (shouty, messy) babies that I will just take lots of naps and mope around the house. I need some perspective and some ideas; Internet, what would you do? How would you spend a whole week of alone time?

The Truth About Divorce

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All the things I’ve written about my separation so far have mostly been positive. Divorce isn’t easy, of course it isn’t, but for the most part for Will and I it seemed the right thing for us and we were able to remain mostly happy. This doesn’t mean I don’t have some bad times.

When we first separated my initial feeling was relief and peace. The decision removed so much stress, pressure and unhappiness for the both of us and the feeling of freedom was something I hadn’t experienced since I was a teenager. But now four months down the line reality has set in.

I’m so sad that my children don’t get to wake up with their daddy every day. And I’m sad that on the days they do wake up with him, their mummy isn’t there. I miss the family breakfasts and cuddles in bed, even those 5am wakeups when it’s still dark outside and everyone’s rubbing their eyes (well, not the kids). I miss the coffee machine which I gave Will custody of when he moved out (stupid idea). I miss someone else having responsibility of buying the milk for the mornings, something I seem to keep forgetting.

I miss having someone around to bounce ideas off, especially when it comes to discipline. Someone to chat to when you’ve had a hell of a day and want to talk to a person who knows exactly how infuriating your gorgeous, beautiful children can be, and they know this because they are 50% them. Someone who will take over bath and bedtime for you because you just can’t take any more and need to sit in the garden with a glass of wine.

I miss having someone who knows me better than I know myself in the way that only your partner of 10 years can. I miss the camaraderie and companionship of sharing a life, two children and a home. I miss wearing my wedding ring and being able to refer to ‘my husband’. Most of all I miss my children having their daddy at home.

In the week that we have been filling out our divorce papers – I had to go through our ‘wedding box’ in the hunt for the marriage certificate which was particularly gruelling – I’ve been pondering what my wedding meant to me. You vow to be with someone for the rest of your life, in sickness and in health, til death do us part. It’s a bit embarrassing that I haven’t kept those vows. Not that I didn’t mean them at the time, of course I did. But does this mean I feel marriage is disposable? That it’s OK to renege on promises I made? I feel guilty that the sanctity of marraige, something I still believe in, has been tainted.

I’ve been finding it a minefield to read my old favourite blogs. I used to devour them like books, saving my favourites for nap times and bedtimes so I could sit down with a cup of tea and treat, reading them all in one go. But now each blogger’s account of a lovely family day out is a kick in the face. The smiley happy photos stab me in the heart. Because I won’t have that nuclear family anymore; mine is fragmented and separate.

Relationships with my old friends are difficult, too. Pretty much all our friends were – are – part of a couple. How do we navigate this situation? Do we both still get to be friends with the couple? Does he get the blokes and I get the ladies? Do we split the couples 50/50? As he lives in London now he naturally sees some friends more than I am logistically able to: will they forget me?

It’s shit, it really is. It’s a rollercoaster of emotions which isn’t helped by the early mornings and the full-on days at the coalface of parenting. But as bad as it gets, as tired as I feel, as much as I struggle to fit in work, housework, budgeting, a new social life… it’s the right thing to do. And it will get easier.

Single Mum Dating: The Beginning

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Dating as a single parent is a weird experience. Before I was ‘back on the market’ (a phrase that makes me feel like a house. Or a cow) I hadn’t been on a date in ten years, and even then all my dating was as a teen to the cinema or a bowling alley. I kind of expected it to be just like it is in Sex and The City (spoiler: it isn’t. Thanks SJP for shattering my dreams).

I made the conscious decision to get back out there quite soon after my relationship was over. I know that not everyone agreed with this but to me it seemed pointless to sit in my house alone night after night mourning the demise of my marriage; after a long period of attachment I was excited at the prospect of conversations with men I was not related or married to and wanted to experience a social life again. I didn’t go into dating wanting a boyfriend, just interesting conversation with people who weren’t weirdos and maybe a glass or two of wine.

So where to start?

As a single parent who works from home the opportunities to meet new people aren’t endless. For a start, at the toddler groups I attend the eldest men I come across are three years old. There’s the whole ‘get chatting to a bloke in the coffee shop’ thing but how do you ask if they are single without coming across as desperate? Ditto the gym. If you don’t watch it you can come across as a bit of a keeno (and I say this as one who’s probably come across as a bit of a keeno in the coffee shop).

You can meet blokes through friends but there’s only so often you can bother them for introductions before they start getting pissed off with you. I met a man in the pub who seemed nice but he was 23 and living with his mum and I felt like putting him on the naughty step every time he said a bad word.

And so I turned to online dating.

Really, it’s the perfect solution. You flop on the sofa, watch a romantic comedy to re-affirm your faith in everlasting love, have a couple of glasses of wine for dutch courage and open up the laptop. The wine means you will be exceedingly witty in your online profile and you can spend the rest of the evening browsing potential suitors (and car crashes) on the site.

The magic thing about online dating is the minute detail you can go into when you’re searching for dates. I would liken it to trying to find a particular item on ASOS; it’s the human equivalent of trying to find a Black Maxi Dress in a size 10. It’s literally that specific, you can search by age, hair colour, height, location… you can even search by salary. Shallow, yes, but you’d better believe that everyone clicks on the £80k+ box out of curiosity at least once. And the choices are endless! You’re literally presented with thousands of results: old men, young men, tall men, short men, funny men, not so funny men… SO MANY MEN.

One of the hardest things I found with online dating was filling out the profile. How do you describe yourself in a little white box? How do you make it clear that you don’t want any weirdos? At what point do you mention that you have children? How do you make yourself sound hilarious yet alluring? It’s not easy, and trying to channel Carrie Bradshaw again didn’t help. But I did it, and the photos I submitted that (hopefully) didn’t make me look like a troll were accepted.

NewlySingleMama2013 (not my real username but quite catchy, right?!) was online. Dating was GO.