Why needing a break from your family is good for your soul

Last week I read an interesting article about a woman who decided to employ a nanny because she needed a break from childcare. This woman had decided to drop out of her career to become a full time mother and she has now reached a point where after two children and countless play group dates, she has decided to get a bit of “me time” back in her life (between the hours of 9 and 1).

There is no arguing the fact that once you become a parent your child becomes your world to the point that for the first 6 months there is no telling where you end and the baby begins. However, as much as we are programmed to love our children unconditionally, we are also allowed to want to be ourselves for 5 minutes and no one should be berated for it.

The story itself generated hundreds of comments from the Mumsnet crowd who shouted from their baby sick covered clothes that this woman was an outrage to the female race and shouldn’t want time away from her children, much less tell a newspaper about her decision. However, on the other side of the table there are women, like myself, who love having “me time” and can see her point quite clearly about needing a break. Most women go back to work to establish their identity and have the chance to wear clothes that smell of perfume and are clean as opposed to having grubby hands prints, snot and spit wiped over trouser legs, neck lines and across the boobs. Ask any working mother what the highlight of her day is any she will tell you that it was eating a full meal without sharing or it going cold, having a conversation that doesn’t revolved around who’s child is more superior and the number one highlight is being able to pee without having little hands banging on the bathroom door or having a little voice ask if they can come and join you!

As a mother you feel conditioned to justify why you do something without your child and then have to back it up with a declaration of love and promises…”I am going to the gym for an hour so I can get my figure back but I promise I will spend every spare moment making up for it.” You don’t often hear fathers saying the same thing because from day 1 they make it quite clear that they need “me time” because of their “demanding job”/stress levels/because it is not their job to be on call 24/7.

No matter how guilty you feel (or are made to feel) the only way we can get around this sticky situation is to stand our ground. We have a break from work, we have time out from our relationships and we are allowed to have time away from our children. You never stop worrying and the phone is constantly attached to your hand, but for the sake of sanity sometimes the break is exactly what we need.

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New builds and new families

The past two weeks have been an absolute nightmare. We have been looking to buy our first home and at the beginning of the month we went out to buy milk for Evie and came home having put down a reservation fee on a new build and forgot the milk.

We went to a new development to have a look at what they had and to see how much the houses were, and within seconds of walking in the sales rep had fixed her sights firmly on us. I must give these people their dues, they are brilliant at what they do but they tell you all the good stuff to blind side you into not asking questions about the bad stuff until it is too late. As a family who would like to expand this house had it all, big garden (on the plan), 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, big kitchen, no houses opposite, brand new parks and greens and everything that you could ever dream of. Pitfall one – there was no show house so we had to trek to another development to see a version of our house. On the way I phoned my mother who instantly hated the idea and thought we were being mental even considering putting down a reservation fee (on hindsight we were barking mad to do it).

We went back to the office after viewing the house and after asking a few more questions concerning money/charges/rates etc and having being put on the phone to the financial advisor I could see nothing wrong with this deal. So we put a £500 reservation fee down.

Over the next ten days I lived on my nerves because the truth came out – there was an annual service charge for the lifetime of the development that will increase, the council tax is actually £80 more a month, the kitchen isn’t big enough to cook in, the third bedroom is tiny (I did a second viewing to investigate), and what started as a fabulous idea quickly turned into days of calculating how we afford to live on top of all the hidden charges that were coming out of the woodwork and more importantly, how we could afford the second child in the timescale that I had planned without me having to send Evie out to work to help.

Gone were visions of bright white book cases and polka dot table cloths and instead they were replaced with nightmares of living on a building site for the next 20 years and never quite seeing the finished product of this “wonderful new village” because old age and at least another two recessions would hit first.

Parenting makes you question everything but ultimately you want your child to not have to suffer because you made a stupid decision because you were carried away with the thought of a new fitted kitchen, only to realise that it isn’t designer and it looks like it was made as part of a GCSE wood work class.

So with our wreckless behaviour behind us (we lost £250 on the reservation fee), we are now armed with the how to guide of buying a house and this time I will view more than a drawing on a piece of paper.

Shoe shopping hell!!

Evie has been walking for just over a month so I have now decided that the time has come to buy her first pair of real shoes. One thing that most parents will agree with is the absolute extortionate price that is charged for shoes that are a quarter of the size of adult shoes and last about a month at most!

We set out on Saturday morning to go and get her feet measured and my plan was to walk away with the shoes at the same time (as well as having her picture taken and all the other bumph that comes with the celebration of the first pair of shoes).

We went to a well known shoes shop who’s tag line is to have the shoes to fit your child’s feet and braved the hoards of parents and screaming children who were there to attack the final day of the 60% sale.

Luckily we were seen to straight away and Evie had already chosen 5 pairs of shoes and was sat on the floor trying to put them on her feet. Once the assistant had gone through the sales pitch and wrestled the shoes off Evie and I had chased her around the shop several times, we finally had her to sit down long enough to have her feet measured. As the dutiful (and shoe obsessed mother) I had picked out three different shoes that had Evie’s approval and several colours that would go with all her clothes so that the girl dealing with us had a few options to choose from out the back. Imagine my delight when she came back and told me that they had no shoes in Evie’s size but I could order them in. I wanted to *politely* point out that a) I do not have time off in the week to pick up shoes that may/may not fit and have to go through the process all over again, and b) the store’s tag line needs changing because you clearly do not have shoes to fit my child’s feet!! Instead I smiled and told her we would visit their other branch in town as we were heading that way.

Armed with the shoe size we went into store number two and quickly found someone to help – five minutes later another screaming hoard came bounding upstairs and it became a challenge to hold on to the person dealing with you. Again we braved the sales pitch of the ‘first shoe’ and we explained that we had come from the other store but they had no shoes, blah blah. Evie at this point is clutching on to the shoe that she really wanted whilst running around the store showing off to a new crowd of people. Thankfully they had this shoe in her size, but it then turned out that this type of shoe was too big for her. Off the girl went to find more of the same shoe in different sizes and what she brought back was a collection of shiny black school shoes. Turns out, they didn’t have Evie’s size either but would I like to order it to come to store…no obligation to pay unless it fits and I want it…takes 3-5 days to come into stock. I told her to order the shoe in different sizes and to order a few more types…the only problem was that there was one in a smaller size and there were no others in stock. I bet that if you had to pay before ordering them into store they would have all shapes, sizes and colours!!

Evie’s shoes are now in store and sitting in the box in their store cupboard and I have to go and get them on Saturday. If these do not fit and they do not have anything (other than shiny black) in her size I will be staging a public campaign to get the tag line changed.

When the only thing to entertain children are the things you try and avoid

We are now three weeks into the New Year and like all other children Evie is no longer interested in the toys that she had for Christmas. The ones that she didn’t want to open, or has failed to notice I have put back upstairs and she can have them for her birthday and the ones that she sometimes plays with are in a giant toy box in the corner of the living room.

I don’t believe that this is a case of boredom as to why she has abandoned her toys, it is more to do with her new obsession…cleaning. My two foot monster has developed a bit of a fascination with the dust buster and is quite content to spend her play time hovering the downstairs before giving everything a good clean with the wet wipes! Combine her love of hovering with the fact that she is now up right and faster than Usain Bolt when you are trying to chase her to grab the dust buster off her, she has now become a force to reckon with.

Last week she did her normal routine – have tea, get dressed for bed, walk to the back of the dining room and unplug the dust buster and begin her nightly routine of hovering the kitchen. The issue with the dust buster is that the charge only lasts for about two minutes before is sounds like a dying whisper. She had managed to get into the dining room when the dust buster slowly began to lose power. Not realising what was happening she gave it a good smack on the floor to see if she could make the noise louder but to no avail. Due to the lack of power my happy, smiley princess became a raging monster all because her cleaning had been thwarted by a dying Hoover. She threw the dust buster but anytime her father tried to plug it back in to charge she started sobbing and pulling the plug back out. Not even a wet wipe calmed her down. After 5 minutes of trying desperately not to laugh at the performance that was escalating quite rapidly we had to get the big Hoover down from upstairs for her to finish off the living room. I even videoed her transformation back to happy, smiley princess as she daintily hovered the rug and the rest of the floor.

My issue is that I have no idea where this has come from. I clean like normal working parents do – a daily quick lick over with a flash wipe and Hoover when time allows, with a bigger clean of the house on the weekends so she might have picked it up from there but it has even been noticed (and mentioned on a few occasions) in crèche when she packs all the toys away at the end of the day and gives the floor a good wipe with any tissue/wipe/paper that she can find.

Her father used to be like this when he was little and these days he has little understanding of where the cleaning cupboard is. Maybe a little less of him and a little more of me and when she is older she will find a happy medium! Next week she’ll be copying me in the kitchen…I see a TV show in this somewhere.

New year, new mummy

The tree is down, the toys have been put away and the resolutions are yet to be broken. This is always my favourite time of the year because you can (metaphorically) wipe the slate clean and start all over again. Of course this will be the year that I will become a sex kitten by summer with a tight, toned body; long flowing locks and not a hit of baby belly. I will also write a best seller, juggle motherhood and work flawlessly and generally invest in my karma (Bridget Jones watch out…I’m going to steal your ‘delusional mother of the year’ crown in 2014).

I love the notion of New Year resolutions (or goals as they seem less likely to be broken) because it gives you something to strive towards but if I am being realistic, the ones above are actually on my list (I have remembered my pin number for the gym and used it on the second day of the year and I donated money to charity on Christmas Day to start building my karma points), my main resolutions as a responsible parent are the following:

Register Evie for nursery (this has slipped my mind in recent months)

Buy Evie Clark’s shoes (she is now walking and I can no longer get away with carrying her everywhere)

Buy a house (I need more space for all the Christmas presents and toys we accumulated)

Contemplate a *child friendly* holiday (and possible uptake of alcohol consumption again to get through the nightmare of a child friendly holiday)

Sort out the bags under my eyes and start using anti-aging face cream

Resolutions aside, I for one am always pleased when the whole New Year celebrations are over because I used to hate the anti climax of the night when people were expecting something magical to happen at midnight (like find Prince Charming) when the most magical thing to happen on that night is to find a taxi before 1am. These days I am fully aware that when I wake up I would not have fallen down the rabbit hole and have entered a brand new shiny world but I am starting a new ‘book’ so to speak and it is up to me to make the coming year better than the last.

I also think that having a child is the perfect excuse to treat it as any other night and then find a baby sitter mid way through the month to ‘celebrate’ with other parents who also couldn’t find/afford a babysitter on New Year’s Eve, who can then have a good night without crowds of ‘magic hunters’ and 3 hour queues to get to the bar.

I always like to start the New Year on a positive too. For the past few months I have mentioned the competition between Evie and Ella – two little girls as different as chalk and cheese but both with a fondness for full attention off all who surround them. Well, on Monday we had a break through; the two girls embraced the spirit of Christmas and new beginnings; put aside their differences and started the New Year as friends…

When fantasy holidays turn out to be a real nightmare

To celebrate Evie’s first birthday we decided to go on our first family holiday. Factoring in practicalities and the amount of time we had off which was sandwiched between pre and actual birthday parties for Ella and Evie, I decided that we would spend a few days in a cottage in West Wales.

As someone who has spent a fair amount of time living out of a suitcase I am we’ll versed in the “packing too much in case of an apocalyptic disaster” and then add another jumper because it looks nice. This is on top of electricals, toiletries and other essentials. Once all my things were packed into two out of the three bags I had the task of packing Evie’s things. As this was a self catering cottage designed for a couple; I had to pack the travel cot/bedding/cushions/toys and then said a silent prayer thanking God that we have a truck to pack all of this into! How people take small children abroad with just a 20kg allowance is beyond me?

Anyway, after doing a “mini” shop we set off to our rural retreat where I had visions of beautiful countryside walks (with real paths for buggies), cosy country pubs and peace and quiet. In reality there were lots of fields for ramblers, the pubs were closed, there was nowhere to eat out (apart from a chip shop in Aberporth) and to top it off there was plenty of peace and quiet in the form of no phone signal and 3 1/2 fuzzy TV channels! Evie kept on handing me the remote and pointing at the TV so I would put the Disney Channel on. How do you explain to a one year old that this TV was archaic and had limited viewing?

The eating out situation was a source of entertainment too. The first night we ate at the restaurant in the hotel which had no children’s menu so Evie spent her time sharing my food and staring at the couple (who were obviously on their first romantic break) saying “mmm…yummy nummy” every time they took a mouthful of food. We then had silly notions that she would go to sleep when we got back to the cottage so we could spend quality time together over a bottle of wine…I was in bed by 9 with her the first night; the following night he took her to bed by 8:30 and the last night we gave up, packed all our stuff into the truck and checked out. When it boils down to £40 for a few hours of restless sleep or forego the £40 and have a decent sleep in your own bed then there is no competition.

On a positive note, we had lovely weather, went exploring – albeit in the car, had chips on the beach and wrote messages in the sand, spent a lovely day exploring a farm and let Evie feed the animals…to which she promptly ended our trip by being sick in the farm cafe and he had to scrub it up with a cloth and bucket. Holiday number 2 has a lot to live up to!!

What if…?

What if…?

When dreaming of what your children are going to be when they grow up do you ever find yourself wondering what if? What if I applied myself properly in university and ended up a visionary in my field? What if I didn’t listen to my mother and went to work in London at 21 rather than wait until 28? What if I decided to do what I want to do which could potentially crash and burn but will ultimately give me more time at home?

So many questions that fill your head during a clear 5 minutes. I think that all the guilt that you experience trying to split yourself into a million pieces to keep everyone happy often leads you do ponder the questions that have never given you a satisfactory answer in the past. I think one of my lessons from too many ‘what ifs’ is to let my children be who they want to be and do what they want to do (within reason – reality tv star or underground crime are not things I can get on board with). The one thing I will say to them is embrace love when you find it but do not let it dictate your dreams and ambitions. Too many boys and men have been the road block to ambition and I spent too many years in my twenties trying to convince the boyfriend of the moment with my dreams of running away and living the story book life. I think what causes you to think of these things in a melancholy haze is that you are no longer free to chase these dreams without consequences. There are people to think about, commitments to be honoured and whereas when we were younger we didn’t need a safety net now we need a safety net for the safety net.

In all honesty I no longer want to strive to be the business woman who has a closer relationship with the PC at work than her own family, I want to make jam and bunting, write beautiful stories and make bread and calorific cakes but in reality bills need to be paid and in order to live in both worlds time needs to be stretched. I’d love to take Evie away and see the world and explore new cultures and history but the constraints of work and life make this a segmented pipe dream. Time cannot be reversed but going forward my tales of chasing boys and making them the be-all to my romantic idealistic notion of growing up will serve to be reminders to Evie that there needs to be a balance in the world. Too much adulation and hanging on every word the pretty boy says is less time researching ways to make a difference in the world. Unless of course the pretty boy is the one to make history with and a whole new set of what ifs are created.