Bank Holidays –  Compare the before and after children long weekends.

 

It’s been a lovely Bank Holiday weekend; the weather was amazing and we were all together.  Made all the sweeter by the fact that the day’s pay I lost, I can now get another day.  The lazy days of spring / summer had me reflecting on how life has changed for us since the arrival of our little bundles of joy.  Our bundles are now large packages of delight, with attitude.

Fridays –

Wine Glass on Restaurant Table

Before kids:

We would finish work and head off to the pub, probably until closing time and then maybe onto someone’s house to finish off the evening with more drink and good conversation.

After kids:

It’s finish work, pick up child 1, return an hour later and pick up child 2, cook dinner for kids, sort bags, sort uniform, ensure homework is all planned for, pack bag of supplies for 60-minute trip out, and then off to the pub we go.  We have 2 great kids who do allow us a one drink trip to our local pub on a Friday night, this is a Friday night ritual, not just for bank holidays.  In the summer there is the not so secret garden for them to play tag in and generally drive all the other drinkers mad with their screaming.  Hence the reason it is a one drink thing, as I think any longer may result in us being barred. This Bank Holiday Friday they made a friend, so there were three screaming children running around the not so secret garden, made even less secret by our screamers.  So, after countless, be quiets, calm downs, stop running around the tables, mind those people, be kind to your sister and play nicely, we finished our drinks and headed home for the usual bed time routine.  After that, it’s our turn to eat, and then it’s not long until we collapse, exhausted into bed.

Saturdays-

Coffee & magazine

 

Before kids:

Lay in bed till around 9 ish, maybe a little later, depending on the night before.  Leisurely cup of tea, read the papers or a magazine, generally, gently ease into the day.  Bank Holiday with friends might mean a trip to the shops, a stop for some wine, followed by the prep required for a big night out, then it would have been the big night out.  If dancing was involved, this could take up pretty much the whole night, falling into bed just before dawn.  A more couplie Saturday could have been a similar ease into the day.  Lunch and a walk somewhere, followed by evening out with other couplie friends.

After kids:

It’s a 6.30 start – don’t you just love the light mornings?  They both have terrible fear of the cat, so have to be escorted past the cat and down the stairs, but thanks to Sylvanian Families, they were entertained for an hour before demanding food, meaning a welcome return to bed for parents.  Then it’s a 7.30 restart and, by this time they are up to full speed, bickering about everything and in full on demand mode.

We decided to do the grown-up thing this weekend; doing DIY type things in the house and garden.  With kids in tow, we, along with the whole of the local area descended on B&Q for supplies.  Apparently, B&Q had thought it wise to have a Paw Patrol event on a spring bank holiday and the car park was rammed, with a queuing entry system on the go.  How random is a Paw Patrol event at B&Q?  Supplies bought, we head back home to do DIY.  Here is a list of demands we received on returning home:

  1. Swimming costumes to be found and put on the right way around, backward bikinis leave little to the imagination – trail of clothes is left from garden to bedrooms
  2. Water balloon filler bottle to be filled and water balloons tied – repeat this task about a million times
  3. Sun loungers to be dragged out of the shed, cleaned and laid out with cushions
  4. Drinks
  5. Snacks
  6. Find bouncy castle – total result that the thing still inflated, an inflate / deflate it, repeat many, many times over the weekend, as apparently it is fun to be on it when it deflates.
  7. Clear up burst balloons to stop the rabbits eating them and choking – again repeat a million times
  8. Sand table to be refilled after all the nasty looking sand had been removed
  9. More snacks
  10. Too hot, shade to be found in the form of spare garden umbrella
  11. Shed / play house hunt for balls, all of which are in the neighbour’s garden. Luckily this was his weekend to go do a ball return, about 10 balls returned on Sunday morning.
  12. Realisation that we had forgotten sun cream on one arm, as it started to go red, there was quick dash to cover it in as much factor 50 as we could find.
  13. Dinner – to be laid out in the garden, then cleared; there is not a chance either of them could possibly carry a plate into the kitchen.
  14. Repeat most of the above
  15. Provide tablets for indoor, cooler entertainment while we tidy away all of the garden equipment.

After this it was time for them to go to bed, luckily tired after a day outdoors and an early start.  We could then get on with some of the DIY that had been cast aside in favour of parenting demands.  Bottles of wine and cider opened. Dinner. Collapsed into bed exhausted.

Sundays-

Gray Cat Near Gray Vase With Sunflower

Pre-Children:

A day of lazing around watching TV, reading, maybe a lunch out and a walk somewhere.  It’s a bank holiday weekend, so there may well be another evening in the pub.

After children:

We were joined by a 4 ft unicorn (no this was not a drug induced hallucination, we actually have a 4 ft cuddly unicorn) and 2 children around 7 am.  Then, we repeated all of Saturday, but without the trip to B&Q.  This time we decided to delight them with a trip to the local steam fair, which is always popular, until we refuse to pay for the Hook a Duck game and all descends into despair.

Mondays

Free stock photo of sea, beach, footprint, steps

Pre-Children:

Beach trip for sure, no worries about sitting in traffic as the music would be on, there would be no rush to get home, so if it took forever to get there, then that was not a problem.  Few drinks, snacks a good book packed and we were all set to go.

Post Children:

A beach trip is now like an arctic expedition, planning, packing and preparing for 1 little day out is now more effort than planning for 2 weeks away pre-children.  Children can’t cope with traffic jams, it is a proven fact that they melt down after a whole 5 minutes in the car.  We decided that this unseasonably hot day was no day to be fighting the crowds (I sound more and more like my own parents every day… argh!)  Needless to say, the DIY had over run so the one planned social event of the weekend had to be postponed, possibly the next months’ worth of social events may need to be postponed, DIY is quite time consuming!

We decided that Monday’s mini outing would be a picnic in the park, when I say picnic I mean some swiftly heated mini sausage rolls and a cheesy dipper each (not exactly a planned picnic), followed by a trip to a local river for some paddling. I had forgotten just how much rain we had had over the last few weeks; the river was more of a wading / swimming event and for the none swimming duo, it proved a little too tricky, muddy and it seems that pond weed feels funny on their feet.

Not unlike their mother, my 2 like to observe people but, sadly, they lack filters, so here is just one of their many observations:

DD1, “Mummy why is that lady only wearing pants and her boobie holder?”

Me, “It’s a bikini, not pants and can we say it a bit quieter please?”

DD1, “They look like pants.” Followed by lots of giggling and sniggering, plus me telling their Dad not to look as the bikini wearer only looked about 15.

Another memorable comment of the weekend was:

“Mummy, my pumps are bad, they feel like I have pooed myself!”  Not exactly what you want to hear on your relaxing Bank Holiday weekend.

All that said, I would not change a thing, time with the kids is the best.  The ordinary days make for the most fun sometimes.  It’s all about making memories, no matter what you do, enjoy it and remember it.

Anxiety, work and me – coming to terms with my anxious self.

I have never come a real conclusion about what I should be, or should not be doing, when it comes to work; I think the ship has sailed on finding that conclusion.  All I can do now is find something that pays money for doing something that I enjoy.  There are many practical reasons as to why I didn’t find my way one the path to a career, but recently I have reflected on the whole piece, as the history of it all comes back to bite me.  I am now wondering if practicalities were the reasons, or the excuses.  I am not exactly out and proud about my anxiety, but I am coming to terms with the part of me that is exactly that, a part of me.

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I managed to work with anxiety on my shoulder for many years, but jobs came and went with alarming frequency, especially as I got older.  When I arrived into parenting, I found that work was a challenge to fit in around all that being a parent brings.  The biggest problem of all being the cost of paying someone else to look after my children, especially when I wanted nothing more than to be there for them.  I started on the road to self-made millionaire and began my own business, to fit in around the children.  I soon realised that millionaire was never going to happen; in fact, I was happy, sometimes even ecstatic, to get paid anything at all.  That helped me come to terms with losing the bigger salaries that I had earned in the past.  My business was tough and lonely, anxiety makes sales and marketing an almost impossible mountain to climb.  I found myself almost apologising for trying to sell my business.  So, when my children started school I began to volunteer in their classes for a little human interaction.  This was fun; there was little or no pressure on my permanent state of anxiety, I felt comfortable with the children, challenged, but in a positive way.  It gave me an excuse not to work on building my business, but I needed to earn a wage.

So, began the journey into the paid world of education; job one was Lunchtime Supervisor (dinner lady to those outside of education), it was OK, but I started to feel the strain of the anxiety.  The thing that I have discovered in education is that you are told how not to do something, often with blunt force, but not always told how to do things.  I began to feel panicked and out of control, I did not know what I was doing, how could I perform to the best of my ability, what if I failed, what if they didn’t think I was good at the job, or didn’t like me? These are just a few of the questions that an anxious brain will ask over and over again.  But despite the self-doubt and the anxiety, I managed to do 1 ½ hours a day and not get fired.  The wage packet at the end was tiny, but I was only working 7 hours a week, 38 weeks of the year, so what could I expect.  I needed to upgrade to classroom.

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My family had to up sticks and relocate, so the failing / abandoned business got put in a box and I decided to face the fear and do it anyway; I trained to be a Teaching Assistant.  Now this is the perfect job for a school mum, isn’t it? Work school hours, sort of, have the holidays off with pay, work with children, give something back and other honourable thoughts.  The job is all of those things, except to a person with anxiety, for that person it is a minefield of challenges and agonising self-doubt.

College was OK, study was manageable, the deadlines caused me anxiety, but the work I could handle. I was incredibly lucky to find a paid job, while I studied.  I can tell you the practical reason for leaving the first TA job; it was that the cost of travelling to and from school did not make the tiny salary worthwhile.  However, the real reason is that my crippling anxiety was making every day hell.  People who have worked in education for a long time can become quite blunt, authoritative, or some might say a little bossy.  I should say that this is not everyone, but there are a few who find it difficult to remember that the way they command a room of children is not necessarily the same way you should command a colleague.  To be fair, these people are present in all parts of life, but for some reason, this job made it harder. Now to all you everyday folk, this is not a problem, you just politely remind them who they are talking to and go on your merry way.  Miss anxiety, however, was felled by the cutting remark, or fearful of the barked command, I would scuttle off to do as I was told, my adult brain telling me this was wrong, my anxious mind telling me that I was useless at the job, getting it wrong, disliked.  This made me falter in my role, become confused and anxious, the job that I could do well, suddenly seemed out of reach of my abilities.  Anxiety leads to mistakes as our brains become confused and anxious, us anxious people can struggle to clarify and problem solve, mountains and molehills spring to mind.

Jobs came and went; how lucky was I to keep getting new jobs after giving up on the old ones?  The final paid school role brought me to where I am now, the lightbulb moment where it all made sense.  When working in a school alongside a teacher, we are there to assist in anyway we can; there is not necessarily a structure to what we do, where we do it and how often we will be needed to do it.  For a routine driven workplace, the job is different every day.  Now that should make it a dream, and for me, who doesn’t want to like routine, it should have been perfect; how could I get bored if it changed by the minute?  But my anxious mind could not gain the control I needed. I spent every night worrying about what the next day would bring, and every day worrying about what I was doing, was it good enough?  The anxiety meant tears, frustration, confusion and an inability to see the wood for the trees.  I became more and more stressed, breathless, I would wake in the night having night terrors, I would cry at everything and often did cry, either in the classroom or hidden in a toilet somewhere.  The children made me feel amazing but broke my heart at the same time.  Children are blunt, but funny, the truth can sometimes be hard to take.  I found that my home life suffered as I was on a constant knife edge of emotions, angry one minute, crying the next.  I realised that I was not able to cope with the lack of control needed to do the job, I had to take back the control as I was spiralling into a dark place.

Free stock photo of black-and-white, person, woman, dark

Is this the end?  At the moment, I think sadly it is the end of my TA job, as every time I walk into the school as a volunteer, the old feelings return; I feel the nagging self-doubt, the panic, the fear of failing.  Failing at what is a mystery to me – as a parent helper, there are no expectations on me, but my anxiety will not let that logical thought be true, I feel the need to perform.  At the moment, I am focusing my attentions on other ‘controlled’ roles.  Whether it is just me, or the me with anxiety, I don’t know, but I know that I am desperate to please, I consistently over perform, then burn out.  I am told that the secret is to underperform and always have more to give.  But with my need to please and constant seeking of gratification, that is just not in me, so for now, I will continue to over perform as best I can.  A recent interview comment about my ever-changing CV certainly hit home, I am not sure that I can fix the past, but I can find a compromise with my demons within, maybe I can finally stay somewhere.  I can fight my anxiety, as I have done time and time over, but it is exhausting, sometimes I just need to give it a minor victory and find a way to live harmoniously together.

I have found that anxiety as a parent is harder to work with; as a mum I naturally give my all to my children, all of my courage and strength goes into what I need to do for them.  That leaves the part that belongs to just me falling short of bravery.  I will not give in and I will make something work, but every time I take a knock, my anxiety has a great time telling me how I deserve to fail.

It is a shame that this job didn’t work out for me, but I could never be a brain surgeon either, is that a problem?  I need to play to my strengths, which do seem to lie in organisation and order.  I am currently trying a self-employed freelance role, which does not require me to sell my wares, but gives me enough control to feel good about what I do.  There is even the occasional confident moment when something good happens.  If I have learned anything over my many years of fighting my anxiety it is to find a way of working with it and not against it.

Free stock photo of food, coffee, cup, table

In my next blog, I am planning to write about some of the coping strategies that I have successfully used.

Our Day Out In West Dean Garden #Ordinary Moments

A short blog about our trip to West Dean Gardens and a few of my pics to show off, just an ordinary day out, but it is what family life is all about.

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I moved down to Petworth many years ago, before becoming quite nomadic and moving around the country too many times.  I had heard about West Dean Gardens and kept meaning to go along, but never got around to it.  As we were nearby doing one of our many child activities, we decided we would go along to see what it was like.  We are always looking for places to take Grandparents, so it was a good opportunity to test it out.  On paper, it doesn’t hold much appeal for children as there is no play area, but it is actually a perfect space to take children to just enjoy being outdoors.  The gardens are attached to West Dean College of Arts and Conservation, which I guess is responsible for the upkeep of the gardens, as they are immaculately kept.  The gardens are perfect for our 2 sets of garden mad grandparents.

I was worried that the children might not enter into the spirit of our great outdoors expedition, but I was pleasantly surprised at just how much of a family day out it was. I would say it is a half day, rather than a full day, but definitely worth a visit.

It is near to Chichester, a bit off the beaten track, but the sat nav got us there without a problem.  Parking was free and there was plenty of it.  The whole garden is laid to paths, so wheelchair and buggy friendly.  I doubt that they would be keen on scooters, but I didn’t actually see a sign saying no scooters.

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We arrived just after it had opened, following our early morning dance class; it was not sunny, but it was dry, which I would say is a must for the visit, as it is all outdoors.  The entrance takes you straight to a huge window seat which is set up for the café, it lures you straight into the café, which is never a bad thing.  The café was lovely, relatively small, but with a lot of outdoor seating for the warmer days.  We only had take out coffees, which were good, but there was a wide range of snacks and ice creams on offer, both to take out, or eat in.  There is no reason why you couldn’t take a picnic and have it in the woodland area, or by the river, there are plenty of benches in the garden, but no picnic tables, so take a blanket.

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Entrance was free for the children and £8 per adult.  Not cheap, but season tickets are available if you wish to go more than once, then that spreads the cost a little.  It is early season at the moment, but the garden still looked amazing, just coming into the spring bloom.  The garden team work really hard on it and it shows.

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First stop was the bridge for pooh sticks, good simple fun that they so far, have not got bored of.  Then there was manic running up and down the side of the river, before we set off in the direction the map showed up.  There are lots of old-fashioned glasshouses, but don’t go expecting the Wisley Glasshouse, they are built for purpose glasshouses, rather than showcases.  Some were open for the children to run through and check out the plants, others just had a little viewing hole, which the children seemed to find quite intriguing.

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There was a dovecote, which had a visitor’s book in it, so they spent quite a while checking out where visitors came from and writing in their own entries.

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From the glasshouses, we went into the garden which was laid out with bridges and water features to entertain them.  There were plenty of benches to take a rest, or possibly leave a grandparent to relax, while the rest of us go on the country walk.  The country walk was listed as 2 ½ miles, however, we went a bit off track and it was possibly a little longer.  We walked through the fields of sheep and lambs, which was really sweet.  The children spent most of the time picking their favourite lambs, this helped them barely notice the walking.  The views were lovely and after a fairly gentle uphill walk, we were on the downhill strait back to the gardens.  There was no moaning from the children, they seemed to genuinely have fun running around.  It was a relaxing and simple family outing, we will definitely be taking the grandparents there when they visit on a sunny day.

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We decided to move onto Chichester afterwards as it is so close to West Dean, where we found a great play area, as well as loads of shops and cafes.  We combined the two to give us a full day out.  Having managed to swerve the gift shop in West Dean, we did end up having to buy the most weird bean filled floppy banana for DD2 in The Works.  She loves waving her floppy banana around, while DD1 got a unicorn squishee.  One day we will get away with just saying no and maybe Mummy and Daddy can buy themselves a treat instead!

 

 

 

A Letter to my children – Ode To Friends

Person Gather Hand and Foot in Center

Friends are everything to us, but if I can teach you anything it is that friends will come and go.  Those that have come and gone are no less important in the journey as those that have stuck around.  Men, women, girlfriend, boyfriends, husbands, wives, illicit lovers, they all play a part in who we are.  Every time we leave them, or they leave us, we swap a little part of us; helping us grow from our experiences.  I have friends who have long since disappeared into the world somewhere, but still the memories still live on.  There are those friends who don’t take part in my current life, but I know if we met up, we would instantly start chatting about anything and everything.  There have been friends who were absolute saviours, who passed through with just that purpose in mind, will live forever in my heart, but probably never be seen again.  There are work friends, fun friends, friends I met on many a training course, who helped me through those endless hours of learning, friends I met for one night and one night only; all of those people who have shared my life at some point, as well as all of those people who are still waiting to share a moment of life with me. Friends will come in all shapes, sizes, genders, races and they all come with a little something to add to the passage of time they join us for, equally, they need something in return, this is not a one-way arrangement.  Friends will take a little part of us, whether they stay or go, but be prepared to share, it is part of the experience.

Free stock photo of people, friends, happy, fun

There will be those people who inspire you to carry on, as well as those that inspire you to be anything but like them.  There will be those that give you funny stories for late night drinking sessions, probably because the stories came as a result of late night drinking sessions.  There will be those that go onto great things and you can proudly say you knew them.  There will be friends that stick around and you wonder why; don’t worry, there will be a reason, you just might not know it yet.  Sometimes people leave you and sometimes you leave them; it is hard to break up, but it is the end of a chapter and time to start a new one.  Heart break will happen in both love and friendship, it helps build who we are and lead us on a path of life.  Hearts heal and are all the stronger for it.

Four Toddler Forms Circle Photo

So, child of mine; take heed; people will come and go.  They will be gone for any number of reasons, but a little piece of them lives on in you.  You will never be the same again, every single second changes who you are, but never forget those past moments, take it from one who knows, even the bad moments serve a purpose.  Sometimes I reflect on things that are better forgotten, but every time I do, I learn something more from it.

If I can give any advice to you, my beautiful, strong women to be, it is to choose your friends wisely, don’t rush to let someone into your life, but equally don’t dismiss those that are different.  Trust and share, enjoy every minute, mourn your losses, but not for too long and celebrate every friendship for the amazing thing that it is.

 

#MeToo – A Note to My Daughters

It might seem that I am quite late to pick up on this one, but for me it is such an important issue that I have thought long and hard about how I can write something that could really mean something.  I thought now would be a good time to write something that my daughters can read in years to come, hopefully by then, the battle to validate our female selves will be over.

There is a very fine line between over exuberant sexual advances, awkward passes, inappropriate attempts to get the attention of the object of our desire, and the need to take power through sexual means.  That phrase in itself seems strange, in that a person you desire could be classified as an object; a clumsy turn of phrase, but so much could be read into it.  People, not all people, but many people, like the company of others; young and old, there is a continual search for that soul mate, life partner, one true love.  Call it what you want; it’s all about partnerships, so how do we create this equal ground of mutual respect that leads to long-lasting, comfortable and balanced relationships? Does it stop in our personal lives?  Surely, relationship building and respect comes into all parts of our lives.  We expect the ones we love to respect and value us, so why not have the same expectations for everyone else? I feel that education and enlightenment is the key, along with teamwork.  This thing we call life is hard enough without causing rifts between us.  Men might have had a balance of power in the past, but possibly they would say that women had a balance of power in a different way.  Let’s talk it through, not battle it out.

I am not a lover of the word equality as it suggests that we should all be the same; we are unique beings and in no way are any of us the same.  We are amazing, special, different, similar yes, but mainly we are individuals.  People should be respected for who they are, what they are, who they choose to be and the decisions they make.  There should not be a battle to be recognised as equal, but just to be recognised, nurtured and encouraged to grow.  What is the point of this life if we are not able to be who we are and be happy?  My attitude to life changed massively after having the children; possibly it all fell into place.  I found my purpose, this made me look back on how I undervalued myself and put up with negative behaviour, whilst in pursuit of ‘life success’.  I never found out what ‘life success’ was, but I certainly met some people who wanted to stop my search, both male and female.  Now I feel the need to be strong, be me, and be the best role model I can be for my children.

Men and women, women and women, men and men; whatever the mix, there is a desire to be with another person, often in a physical way, but not always.  It can be difficult; I’m sure many of us have had that friend who wanted ‘more’, but the feeling was just not mutual.  Did that person take advantage, make an awkward declaration of love or lust?  Probably.  How we deal with the awkward moment of finding out if the other person is interested is one of the mysteries of being human.  One of the hardest things to deal with is the rejection of a failed pass, but as both men and women we need to find a way of handling this kindly, to avoid those negative moments when things can turn sour.  I’ve had those negative moments; things have turned sour, I have been abused verbally and physically, by both complete strangers and people I called friends.  Back then, I accepted it as how things were, but now I would tell my daughters to stand up and say no more.  That is not what my children will grow up to accept, they will not accept being undervalued, and they will not accept abuse for saying no.

What happens when things take an even more serious turn?  Domestic violence, sexual assault, rape, abuse are all ways of taking the power / control; by taking away the body or mind of another, the balance of power shifts to the abuser because of their physical and mental strength.  Abuse is not always physical, it is equally painful and destructive when mental.  Rape is not always about a person being physically forced into a sexual act, it is also about the mental control an abuser has.  These relationships are not about your everyday relationship building, or about the awkwardness of rejection, they are far darker and often difficult to anticipate, or accept that they are happening at the time.  Hindsight can often lead to a clarity that might not have been there when an abuser was in control.  It is not always about a dark alley and a complete stranger, it is often about a person you trust, or feel that you should trust.  They can be convincing, overpowering in their conviction that what they are demanding is right.  But if anyone has the slightest doubt about a situation then walking away is the only answer, not always an easy answer though.  It is so easy to say and so hard to do, how we get into these situations is never straight forward, but for me, I know that my lack of self-esteem and confidence made me easy prey for manipulators.  Confidence and self-awareness is the key, believe in who you are and who you can be.

As a young woman, the hardest thing is anticipating and understanding the potential danger of a situation.  The most important lesson I can teach the girls is to ask questions, never be embarrassed to ask, “What is going on here, what is it you think is going to happen?”  I survived men in positions of power asserting their position to manipulate situations to achieve their aim, but I never want my daughters to feel that anyone is more powerful than them and, in a position, to demand anything.  This is not just about sex, this is about power and manipulation; as women for too long we have felt that we should conform, should do as we are told, but that time is over, our time is now.

I grew up in a world so far removed from today.  My mum grew up in a single parent family with no contact with her father at a time when this was not the done thing.  I believe it made her quite independent, which she then passed onto me and my sister.  I grew up in a Yorkshire farming family; it couldn’t have been more old-fashioned if it tried; men worked and women kept home.  Dad was always on the farm and Mum looked after us and the home side of things.  But beyond that, she broke the mould and set off on her independent journey to find herself.  So even though, it was the full on traditional story there was also something completely different about it.  I wanted the same thing for the adult me; a family life, but with that little twist.  I never want to rely on a man, but I enjoy having one around.  I want to be independent physically and mentally, but still enjoy companionship and sharing my life with someone.   But I also want to see good in everyone, which left me exposed in the past; some would say that I want to fix those that are missing the good part of them, so I possibly set myself up to see and experience more of the negative things out there.  I will always be there to help someone find their true self, but I will no longer open myself up for abuse in doing so.  Be kind girls, but do not let yourselves be used.

I’ve had some unfortunate incidents with men and women; people in power and also friends; incidents that have taken away that feeling of control, made me feel insignificant and belittled.  There is no need to go into details, but what I need to pass onto my children is that, they must never feel like this.  If something doesn’t feel right, then there is a strong chance it is not right.  If someone makes you feel sad, or unsure of yourself, then maybe they are not worthy of your time.  I don’t feel this is a gender issue, this is about people in general.  There are too many people who feel the need to over power another person for their own benefit, this is not OK and we need to stand up and say “No!”  To my girls; never feel that you can’t stand up and say no.

The right to say ‘no’ is always there; up to the very last second.  The word ‘tease’ was bandied around a lot in the past, to the extent that many women and men went ahead with something they didn’t want to do, because they thought they had ‘led someone on’.  It is never too late to say no; if it doesn’t feel right, then it isn’t right.  Women are taking control of their feelings and listening to their instincts.  We are not hiding away or covering ourselves up for fear of sending out the wrong message; there is no wrong message, we are out and proud, beautiful and strong.  We all do things that we regret, that is part of the learning process, but don’t spend time regretting, spend time learning and moving on.

This is in no way just about women; I have heard some horrific stories of male abuse, as well as witnessing male domestic violence from a partner, there is no case for men versus women on this, was are all one voice when it comes to #MeToo.

Our Favourite Outdoor Activity Centre – Alice Holt Forest.

We have been taking the children to Alice Holt Forest pretty much since day 1 of their lives.  It is an easy option for us, as it is so close.  There were a few years where we lived in Wiltshire, but we still used to come back to the old favourite and meet friends there.  We are back now and can say that it has seen quite a few changes in the 8 years since our oldest was born, but it just gets better.

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We have braved it in the rain, but it really is better in the sunshine, or at least dry weather.  We are regulars in the winter too, but it calls for wellies.  It is not the easiest place to get to from outside of the area; follow the sings to Birdworld in Farnham and you will find it.  Sadly, parking has become a bit of an issue over the years; there is a really big car park and in the dry weather, they open up an overflow area.  However, recently it has become a victim of it’s own success and there are sometimes long queues to get in.  There is an Alice Holt Facebook page, so it is worth checking that before setting out, as they advise if the parking is in an issue on there.  Parking is not cheap, but it is all that you pay for; if you decide to go regularly, you can buy an annual pass.

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The forest has accessible paths, as well as off road options for walking, scooting, biking and riding.  We started out with buggies in the early days and had no issues getting around.  We then progressed to scooters; we found that there is a slightly worrying moment on one of the downhill slopes when they get a taste for freedom and whizz downhill at pace, but it comes back to bite them when they have to scoot back up it on the way back.  There has been many a stagger up that hill carrying child and scooter.  We have one bike rider at the moment, the jury is still out on whether the younger one will take to it or not; Alice Holt is ideal for bikes though, especially in the early days of cycling as the paths are smooth and easy to cycle on.  As the bike is now too big for the car, our preference is to walk around.  We have a favoured route which takes us to the best play parts, we then finish off with a play in the playground.

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There are many different trails to follow which are all well mapped out.  I would like to say that it is not possible to get lost, but I disproved that when I decided to do the Gruffalo trail with a group of kids who liked to go off course to scramble in ditches and up hills.  We eventually found the Gruffalo and all his friends, as well as the way out.  I can get lost everywhere though, so I am sure for everyone else, it is really easy to get around.  The Gruffalo trail is a trail of wooden sculptures; you can guess what you will be looking for.  There is currently A Highway Rat trail too, but that is just posters, not the life-size sculptures like the Gruffalo trail.

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There are several play areas along the way, as well as the main one in the centre, they are all wooden, so be prepared for them to be a bit slippery and dress for dirt.  They are really safe though and all come with a soft-landing area, for any slips or falls.

The central area has a range of swings, climbing equipment, slides, a roundabout and the pirate ship. Everything is very sturdy and well maintained, there is a wood chip and soft rubber all around the equipment for safety.  It is near the toilets, café and car park, for those who just want to play and not walk.

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Dogs are very welcome, which presents a problem for my 2, as they are terrified of them; dogs will be off the lead.  I am not sure if this is forest policy, or not, in the more public areas, but it is a fact to consider.  On the upside, if you have a dog, it’s a great place to take it.

There is usually either a café, or an ice cream stop for us, but that is not essential, my children would disagree as apparently ice cream and hot chocolate are essentials.  The café has expanded over the years and has quite a large selection of food on offer now.  It seems to be good quality at the usual price, i.e. quite expensive, but it is convenient and saves lugging a picnic around with you. We had an unfortunate incident with a 5-year-old and the high stool though;

“I can do it Mummy, no I won’t fall off…. argh!”  Splat went 5-year-old and ice cream! She was fine after her fall though.  None high stools are available too.  Obviously, the cheaper option would be to picnic; there are so many places to picnic, take a blanket though as the tables fill up fast.  BBQs are pre-bookable, but it is not something I have done, so I am not sure on the cost; it would be a great place to get a group of people together for the day and share the cost.

Toilet facilities are limited to the main block in the forest centre, so be prepared for a bit of wild toileting if you have younger ones who can’t hold it.  The toilets are a good size though and we have never had to wait for long, plus there are the usual facilities for nappy changing.

If you want to add to the experience, you can book into Go Ape, but there is a charge for this.  This would really make a day of it though, it is something we are planning for the summer as so far, we have not gone for it.

Alice Holt really is a great day out for very little cost, we never seem to get bored of it even though we have been going for years.  The children are not great walkers, but as the walking is broken up by play areas, getting them to walk is not a problem.  The route we usually take, along with a playground stop, takes around 2 hours, but add in some of the other routes, plus lunch and you can easily fill a day.

Disclaimer:  I have not received any payment or been asked to review Alice Holt, the opinions expressed are my own.

A Day Out at Fareham Fort Nelson – Royal Armouries

Today was a rare day when the girl’s Dad has an inspired thought for a day out.  In fact, it’s more than rare, it’s pretty close to a miracle.  I had been thinking about a trip to see The Poppy Wave at Fort Nelson since I heard about it, just never got around to planning it.  We saw the poppy display at the Tower of London and loved it, so this seemed like such a lovely idea for somewhere outside of London.

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The journey for us is not far, and fairly simple, as it is just off the M27 between Portsmouth and Southampton.  We chose a sunny, but not too hot day and for once, it didn’t rain on us.  They were obviously expecting extra visitors to the Fort because of the poppies, as they had laid on quite a few members of staff to help with parking.  When we arrived about 11.00 ish, there were plenty of spaces; even though it was grassy, the ground was not muddy or water logged, despite some pretty heavy rain the night before.

Fort Nelson is free entry, with a small parking charge of £3.00, which is amazing value for money, despite that though, some people were parked on grass verges to get a completely free day.  We were given a ticket on arrival for parking, which we had to take to the reception desk, this was a result, as it meant not having to give up valuable change, as we could pay by card.

Simple journey, kids not too moany on arrival, easy parking and good weather; we were all set to see poppies.  This is going to be my only moan; the queues.  We queued for a bag search for at least 15 minutes, but the girls were easily entertained with climbing the fence and running around, making friends, so the queuing was not an issue for them.  After the bag search, we then queued again for another 5 minutes or so, to pay for the parking.  Apparently, without the parking ticket, we could have skipped that bit and gone straight into the museum at that point.  But, we had to pay so we paid and managed to steer the children past the gift shop, to then join another queue, which led into another queue to get up to see the poppies.  All in all, I would say that we queued for around 40 minutes.  But it was all very British and polite; to be completely honest the queuing system paid off, as when we finally made it to the wave, there were not crowds of people blocking the view and there were plenty of photo opportunities, without including random strangers in the back ground.

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The poppy wave is open to view until June 2018; it is really cleverly done and I believe, worth a trip to see, as it is something so different.  It is not huge, it only takes 5 or 10 minutes to walk around, pose for photos and generally take in, but after that there are plenty of other things to see.  We were given a free activity sheet for the children, but it was a little advanced for a 6 and 8-year-old, they entered into it though, as kids love a piece of paper and a pencil.

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Now, I wouldn’t say that we are interested in military or naval history, but we found that we enjoyed the time at the rest of the museum far more than we expected, in fact, we had even planned to move on to Porchester Castle afterwards but ended up running out of time.  There are walls to walk around, tunnels to explore, indoor machinery, tanks and guns to look around, as well as an indoor museum with lots of history to see.  There were guns that had been turned into a sort of computer game, which you had to pay £1 for, but proved very popular.  There were things to touch and play with; the girls tried their hands at semaphore.

There is a café in a marquee, so I am not completely sure that is always there or just there for the poppy display, but it was spacious and clean.  The food was the usual high price, but good quality.  The obligatory sandwich box for the kids and even a gluten free sandwich option for us difficult to feed people.  Outside was an ice cream stand that looked like it was permanent, but we managed to steer them away from that, having already bought snacks in the café. There are plenty of picnic benches and places to eat, so a café trip is not necessary, which could make this a really cheap day out.

Loads of toilets; extras had been brought in, which were the portacabin type with the blue water, which the girls thought was hysterical.

Access is a bit up and down, but there are lifts and flat areas, buggies are no problem, but I couldn’t’ say how easy it would be with a wheelchair, I saw some people carrying a wheelchair down the stairs but did wonder why they hadn’t used the lift.

No dogs allowed, which could be an issue for some, but for us, it was a dream as my two are both terrified of them.

As with every museum, there is a gift shop, which can be a torturous process.  But there was a selection of reasonably priced kid’s items, divided into boy’s and girl’s items, which I thought was quite funny, but needless to say, my two followed the gender divide as intended.  We left with a couple of pens and a keyring for just over £5.00, as there was a £1.00 discount if you had paid for parking.

All in all, it was a relaxed and simple family day out.  We could have stayed longer in the museum, or let the children run around on the grass areas more than we did, so it could easily have covered a whole day.  Even though, much of it is indoors, I would recommend a dry day for it as the running around part seemed to be the highlight for my two.

The disclaimer part: I was not asked to do this, or paid for it, the opinions are mine and just offered as a review of our time there.

A Birthday Bounce

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We recently had a birthday in the house; for our 8-year-old daughter.  We were really struggling with what to do for her party, or gathering, or friends round for tea; whatever you want to call it.  It’s not long since she joined the school, so there was the issue of do we mix the old school and new school friends, how many new friends does she actually have, will anybody come?  All the usual stresses of organising a child’s party, with a few added complications thrown in.  She had a Pizza Express party last year, which was fab, but we decided this year we didn’t want the cost of a full party.  I organised a make your own bear party for our youngest last year (it wasn’t the old favourite, high street option), you pre-order the cuddly delights and stuff them at home.  So, this was our home party option; I can fill you in on that one another time.  But it came to pretty much the same total as an ‘experience’ party; SO much more hassle though.  This time, the lure of someone else taking the strain was all too much to resist, so the hunt was on for the perfect party treat.

The birthday girl loves trampolining, so we decided to look into Air Hop, Gravity Force and Air Arena; these are our local Trampoline Parks.  When I say local though, we are still talking about a minimum of a 25-minute drive.  The distance brings into play the whole issue of whether we ask parents to drive all that way, or drive the party goers ourselves.  We decided on driving ourselves and the closest option was Air Hop in Guildford.  The Air Hop party option needed a minimum of 10 people, which meant either getting together a host of willing drivers, or hiring a mini bus.  It then transpired that she didn’t have 8 friends to invite.  We looked into the option of taking a small group of children and found a really good deal for Fridays after school.  We could book to jump, get a Slushie and a hot dog, all for the price of a regular jump.  (Add in the socks at a small charge, if you need them).  The timings were pretty flexible, so we booked in for a 5.00 jump with 6 children.  All we needed to do was get the names and dates of births from the parents, fill in our own disclaimer online, and we were good to go.  As is usual with girls, the guest list changed several times and increased to 8, including birthday girl and little sis.  Bit of a squash and a squeeze in the cars, but we got them there.  Adding in extra people to the booking was not a problem, and all was quickly confirmed by email.

The party option was going to cost £190, so we saved £86 by going for the after-school option, for the amount of people we wanted to take.

There is plenty of parking in the car park behind Air Hop in Guildford, and even the Friday afternoon traffic didn’t slow us down on our journey from Hampshire, as it out of town enough to avoid much of the traffic.  Check in was fast and simple; they were given either pink or blue socks, needless to say, they all chose pink.  Some had to get bigger sizes, but it was not a problem to switch socks.  They were given wrist bands and went off to watch a very quick video safety briefing; all a bit impersonal, but short and sweet, so it kept their attention.  We then had to wait at the gate for our exact time slot, before being let loose in the park.

Inside the park, there was a good selection of mini trampolines, (1 person per tramp, which was stressed on the safety briefing several times), a foam pit with 2 jump ramps, a dodgeball area, which was strictly monitored by an Air Hop team member, with just small numbers at a time.  Even my 2 dodgeball haters went in for a quick game.  They also had 2 basketball hoops; the only issue with these was that they were tucked away behind the dodgeball pitch and felt a little out of the action.  I don’t think it was fully booked for the session, so there was no issue with anyone getting a tramp space and just small queues for the foam pit, so they got a full hour of almost constant bouncing around.  It was not completely clear when we got the food, so I went up to the café and found that we could get it after the session; it was all very laid back and flexible.

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There were Air Hop team members milling around, but other than dodgeball, they did not engage with us, or the children at any time.   Which was not really an issue as the girls all seemed to know what they were doing.  My drama queen of a daughter hurt her back though, she was crying for quite some time and visibly distressed, so I thought at that point that some contact from the team would have been good.  She was OK though and eventually tentatively went back on to bounce towards the end of the session.  (Turns out that straining the lower back is a common trampoline complaint, its all about engaging the stomach muscles to protect the back, but try explaining that to a 7/8-year-old!)  The other girls had a brilliant time; smiles all round.

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The food was a big hit in Air Hop; a very limited selection with hot dogs being the only hot option, but they were huge and really tasty.  Hot Dogs were from a hot dog heating machine, which, to be honest, I was a bit wary of, but even I was convinced to try a bite and they were good.  I had a few none hot dog fans, so they ate the bread and then chose ice creams as an alternative, which we did have to pay a little extra for.  The prices were reasonable though.  Lots of table spaces and all very clean and tidy, no queues for the food and they could not have been more helpful when we appeared looking for 8 slushies and 8 hotdogs.  There was no issue with us taking our own waters into the park, but no other food or drink was allowed.

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I am parent to an arm breaker; I sadly have accompanied her through 2 broken arms, so I am seriously over protective.  It was tough to let her loose in the trampoline park, knowing all the bad press, but as cotton wool and bubble wrap is not an actual option, I decided to go for it with a very watchful eye. There are plenty of staff around to keep a check on the jumpers; also, none jumpers have full access to the park too.  As long as the 1 per trampoline rule is adhered to, the safety features seem to be good.

The timings on the jump were strict, so after exactly an hour, we were called to the gate to leave.  Most of them had not stopped for the full hour, so were happy to stop for a break.  There were a couple of toilet breaks during the jump; it was no issue to get in and out of the gate to access the toilets, they were small, but clean and not too far away from the action.

We went to Air Arena in Chichester over the Summer last year and I couldn’t help but compare the two centres.  The down side to Air Hop was the sectioning set up; the trampolines were in one area, the dodgeball in another, with the foam pit in a raised enclosure.  Whereas, Air Arena has a big open space with easy access to everything, so that the group felt less divided, this made it a lot easier to monitor as a parent.  Air Arena has a high wall to jump off into the foam pit, which was a huge success with the party goers, I felt that Air Hop was missing something like that.  The timings were much less strict, as soon as the safety briefing was finished, they were allowed into the park.  The safety briefing was both a video and a short chat from a team member, which seemed a bit more personal.  I found the staff at Air Arena to be really accommodating; extremely friendly and not in the least bit concerned about getting involved with the children, in fact, one of them spent most of the hour helping our group jump, as well as showing them tricks.  The girls were naturally enthralled by this young man’s antics. I didn’t try the food at Air Arena, so I can’t compare on that front.

Overall, I have to admit that Air Hope was a hit, despite my initial fears about safety.  The Friday evening special was amazing value; a brilliant way to spend a birthday evening.  I might book Air Arena if we do it again though, even though Chichester is a little further away.

(Disclaimer:  all the opinions in this article are my own.  I have not received any payment from either Air Arena or Air Hop).

 

 

Post Natal Depression – The Darker Side of Joy

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I decided to write about my experience with post-natal depression; share my thoughts and feelings, it’s cathartic to release it to the world.  The details are a little vague, as was the whole experience at the time.  I think that hindsight has given me greater clarity on what seemed like a haze over my life.  My first child was born after many years of issues; illness, divorce, series of bad relationships, into a new relationship, but with fertility issues, body clock ticking and everything else that goes with getting pregnant.  I never believed it would happen for me; even to the day that I went into hospital, I still could not get my head around her actually coming home.  But she was born without issue and come home she did.  This is not where my PND starts though.  In fact, I was euphoric, I was in a glow of happiness and excitement.  I had finally joined the exclusive club, I had only ever dreamed of joining.  All was good, she was a lively little thing, a terrible eater, colic, reflux, but overall things went smoothly, I was so happy.

I got pregnant again when she was 11 months old; I had felt under pressure to get pregnant as soon as possible, as I was hurtling towards 41.  My GP told me to wait 6 months after giving birth, then get started!  I waited a little longer than 6 months, as I just didn’t feel ready for no. 2 so soon.  I had always wanted at least 2 children, so knew that it would be risky to wait too long.  I fell pregnant easily the second time; nothing exceptional to report on the pregnancy.  Out she popped as planned; I felt in control; I knew what to expect, I had got this.  Feeding came easily, in fact, it was never an issue for her.  She was angelic during the day, so much so, that I barely spent time with her at all.  DD1 was so demanding and active that she took up most of my attention.  The only time I was really able to snatch with DD2 was feeding, and even then, I was bouncing DD1 on my leg to keep her occupied, or reading her a story.

I realised quite quickly that the euphoria was missing, instead there was a sort of void where it should have been.  I felt love and pride, but struggled to feel any sort of closeness.  It was all very robotic and practical.  Practically I coped, in fact I coped better than with DD1.  I now wonder if that constant state of panic with DD1, built up the adrenaline needed to fight off the PND.  It is hard to know why I had it, but there will always be the guilt that it happened for DD2 and not 1.  It is nothing to do with the love and gratitude; for me it was probably around the fact that it felt too soon. It seemed like I had not had the chance to fully enjoy the first baby before the second one came along.  I resent my age now more than ever, but I also resented it then because of everything that went before babies, meaning I became a Mum so late in life.  Being a Mum is definitely the best thing in my life, my true calling.  I can now say that the PND is a thing of the past, but the guilt of it lives on.

As time went on, DD1 became more demanding, she was super active, not in the least bit self-sufficient, very jealous of her sister, and decided, quite early on, that napping was for wimps.  I would take her out as much as possible, to entertain her, but in doing so, DD2 was left to nap most of the day.  We would get DD1 to bed after a whirlwind of a day, at which point DD2 would wake up.  We didn’t recognise the cycle we were getting into, by letting her sleep so much during the day, of course she was going to be awake at night.  I am making this sound so grounded and practical, when I know I was actually staying away from her because of the depression.  It was not long before she was awake for much of the night, the screaming would reach decibel levels that nightclubs would find it hard to compete with.  I would scream at her, walk out of the room, hand her to Dad saying, “Just take it!”  I often referred to her as ‘it’, but didn’t hear that at the time.  I remember asking my mum to take ‘it’ away for a bit.  Our childcare support system crumbled on arrival of the 2nd, my parents lived quite far away and the in-laws were entering a period of ill health.  I seem to remember only getting one day away from the pair of them, as a couple, in the first 2 years, possibly even longer.  I breastfed for 15 months and struggled to express, so we were quite tied as mother and baby.  We should have been a united duo of love and attachment, but as the days went on, we became increasingly detached.  I dreaded the nights, as I knew the screaming would begin.  I fed her as much as possible just to keep her quiet, some nights she would be placated and then fall asleep in our bed, but other nights she would cry and thrash around.  The numbness was magnified by the exhaustion, as well as the frustration that I could not get this child to stop crying.

I became a robot; but with a wonderful front of calm and organisation.  To the outside world, I was coping; even to my partner I was coping.  In fact, if anything, the issue was with DD1, as she was becoming increasingly difficult / lively – that’s a story for another time though.  Nobody could see, or possibly were just too polite to say, that I was showing little or no attention to DD2.  I remember one friend saying,

“She is just so good, I forget she is even here.”

I would leave her sleeping in the buggy while we were out and about, just to make things easier.

I remember the day it all broke; a crisis happened and the mother ‘emergency’ hormones kicked in.  An enforced period of separation happened and I desperately missed her, I needed her with me, but had to deal with what was happening with DD1 first.  As soon as I got her with me, I pretty much refused to let her go, I was quite feral about it.  Suddenly, I felt alive, I was back in the room; and so, the recovery began.  The day sticks out in my mind as it was the day DD1 broke her arm, in one of those accidents that just happens at home.  The day before the accident, I had hit an all-time low.  We were going to a local garden centre, I can’t remember why, maybe I just needed to get out of the house.  DD2 cried and cried, I turned the music up in the car so loud that it nearly deafened us all; I screamed at her to stop.  I sobbed uncontrollably in the car, with poor DD1 looking at me with a dazed and confused expression.  For that second, I wanted out, I couldn’t go on, there was no relationship with us; by now the crying was day and night.  The truth be told, she needed her Mum to be a Mum, that is what she was crying for.  I gave her food, cleaned her and put her to bed, but over and above that, there was nothing but resentment.  It sickens me to admit this.

I was lucky that something shook my world and brought me out of the other side of my depression; I will never know how it happened, or why, but I am beyond grateful that it did.  The change of routine that goes with a hospital stay and then dealing with a child with a broken arm, seemed to get us out of the bad habits.  I should point out that she was 6 months old by this point, so things were naturally changing too.  I didn’t seek help and I regret that; I wasted 6 months of her life in this state of anger and despair, too terrified to speak out in the fear that I would be classified as ‘bad mother, not coping’.  That is not how it is, no one will think that, they will just want to help.  Speak to GPs, friends, health visitors, helplines, in fact, anyone who will listen.  It was hard to talk to my parents about this one, but they had valuable advice and could have been a support, if only I had let them in, so if you have parents who can support you, then let them.  If there is a partner, then speak to them too, you might find that they already know and are just waiting for you to reach out.  Most of all talk, that is the best advice.  Write it down if it helps.  Take time out; never feel guilty for wanting a break.  Try to recognise bad habits if you can, I have many on my list that I recognised too late, but maybe by talking about it now, other people can get some solace.

There was another crisis point recently, where I ended up in the dark place of depression.  I am slowly coming out of the other side of it, but with the recovery has come a great clarity on events of the past.  It has taken me over 6 years to recall all of this with clarity and rationalise it all.  The guilt is immense, but I am starting to fully heal.  I felt better after the accident, but I failed to get the support I needed then.  The depression lived on inside, not having been fully dealt with, to then resurface as another form of equally destructive depression.

It is easy to say, “I feel better today.” But just be sure that you truly are better, take any support and help that is out there, even on the good days.

LOST ‘SPARKLING WITTY PERSONALITY’– ££ REWARD FOR RETURN OF THE PRE-CHILD ME

I was pondering Me yesterday, the pre-child and post child Me, it got me to thinking about the differences between the two.  I thought that, despite their differences, they were working in harmony as a team, but I’ve suddenly realised that I’ve lost pre-child Me along the way.  I want pre-child Me back, but now I am wondering where I might have left it and, if I did find it, there is a possibility that it might not be fit for purpose anymore.

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I came to this parenting thing later in life than some, so I managed to fit in quite a lot of life before popping out the Vintage Two, not that there was much popping involved in their arrival.  To say I had life sorted and was in control of it, would not be quite the case, but I was doing OK and I think OK is pretty amazing, when life throws so many things at us.  Having children was definitely the best thing ever; I threw myself into it with the usual enthusiasm / obsession that I give to all my new hobbies, business ventures, jobs.  I soon discovered though, that this was more than a hobby, more than a full-time job, in fact, more than anything I had ever done before.  But I am pleased to say that the obsession and joy both live on.  Let’s get back to the differences in me.

Take Friday nights for example; pre-children – we can take it way back to working in a very ‘unique’ pub, where dancing on the bar (that’s me) and running naked around the pool table (not me!) were fairly common place; I could handle the clientele with ease, and some might even say, confidence.  If not working, there would be drinking and dancing of some kind.  I even used to drag Mr. Vintage Mum out for the occasional dance too.  Cut to Friday nights post children; we finally get them to bed around 9, eat in front of Coronation Street (yes, I am that sad that I have it on series record), if I manage to stay awake as late as Graham Norton, that’s pretty much it for the night. But, I can highly recommend ‘This Country’, which, if I am feeling particularly lively, will be the end of the wild Friday night sofa session, post Graham.  To be fair, both Friday options have their appeal; absolutely nothing wrong with a quiet night in front of the TV, or a night drinking and dancing.  My question is where is the Me that used to be able to manage the drinking and dancing nights?  Why can’t I have them both anymore?

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The obvious hitch, is that at my age, I might need a set of steps, or a crane to get me onto the bar to dance, and any dancing for more than 5 minutes requires an oxygen mask. So, what are the parent’s alternatives, for those of us too tired to stay awake by the time the clubs open, and are getting up with the children at the time we used to be getting home?  One of my favourite options is the neighbours with kids’ option; these are within walking distance (no arguing over who has to drive), ideally the children will be friends, so they are fully entertained while Mum and Dad get drunk (obviously in a very sensible parenting kind of way!), all sets of parents are friends, these gatherings can be unplanned, but last into the small hours.  But, and this is the tricky bit, suitable neighbours need to be found in walking distance.  Not everyone wants me dancing on their worktops and my children running around like whirlwinds of destruction, it takes a very special kind of neighbour (you know who you are).

I’m talking personally, about school age parenting, but you could easily replace school with baby / toddler groups, to fit your personal circumstances.  Another option for a social life is the school Parent’s group outings and the PTA events.  I’ve noticed they are no longer called PTAs though, usually, ‘Friends Of….’ But the theme is still the same.  You can have the outings where you see Mums letting their hair down on a rare night out, or the PTA events, which I have recently discovered can involve alcohol too in some areas, both provide a relaxed social atmosphere, where I should be able to have fun and relax.  This is where I might have discovered that Me is missing.  I can do the chat about my children and how wonderfully well they are doing in school, life, clubs, etc. that’s my opinion anyway.  But what next?  This is where pre-child Me should wake up and get involved, but I’ve found recently that she has left the building.  I open my mouth to talk about something other than my gorgeous two and …… nothing, absolutely nothing to give.  I can laugh along and come up with enough chat to keep me involved, but where is the interesting part of me that get’s them listening to me and wanting to hear more?  I am sure that once, I was able to make people laugh.

(Borrowed pics of gorgeous people having fun, as mine are far less glam)

3 women

What about work, is she there?  I’ve recently switched from working with children to working with grown-ups again.  Working with kids is simple, it’s the post-child Me, she is fine and gets on with it.  But grown up jobs are a different thing altogether.  I am charging by the hour, (no, it’s not that!), so I need to make sure I earn my hourly rate, but there should still be time for a bit of chat and human engagement.  Post-child me is there prattling on about what activity, or costume the vintage two require that day, but come on pre-child Me, think of something, something witty and entertaining…. still nothing!

What has changed since having the adorable duo?  Well age happened, and sadly a little sooner than most of the other school parents, it’s a confidence and energy sapper, that’s for sure.  Where are the pre-child friends?  Most of them had children too and might even be feeling something similar.  No jumping in the car for a quick trip to catch up with those long-distance friends; it’s hours of packing, preparing entertainment for the journey and the stay, fighting the weekend, or holiday traffic, with two children winging pitifully as we get stuck in yet another traffic jam.  We arrive grumpy and tired, thinking of how little time there is till we have to do it all again to get home.  Sadly, long distance friends are now disappearing into the virtual distance, as well as the real distance.  I’m still here guys and I will see you on the other side of kids.

Lack of money happened; no one told me how much the little darlings cost, plus when did it get so expensive to go out for a meal and a few drinks?   In the early days of me and Mr. VM, many a week night was spent eating out, or having a few drinks after work, that was in the days of two full-time salaries and no childcare costs, so it’s all change now.  But to be completely honest, I love the bedtime routine and hate it when I am not here for it.  I have just heard her ask if her bum is clean though, that bits not so great!

They are getting older and more independent every day, so very soon, the bedtime routine will be me saying it’s time for bed, them getting on with it, and then me saying goodnight.  It would not be the end of the world if I was not there for that, so I need to find Me in time for those days, so that I don’t become that overbearing Mum still clinging onto my teenage daughters, terrified to let them go.  If anyone sees a sparkling, witty personality, (I might be slightly over playing pre-child Me’s part, but you get the idea) please throw it my way, so that I can get back out there.