Me and my mate Coffee

Me and my mate Coffee go way back.  We met in my teens, but we didn’t become best buddies until my thirties.  Till then I had other friends to hang out with and make me feel good – I could easily go a day without seeing her and not feel bad, often even longer.

When I reached the big 3-0, things seemed to change.  Our friendship really grew, the buzz when we met intensified.  As we’ve got closer, I’ve realised if I can’t have the real Coffee, I prefer to have none – instant friendships just don’t hit the mark.

When I fell pregnant with Little H, we didn’t get along so well for those first few months.  Inbetween retching I mourned the loss of a dear friend.  Luckily Coffee had some tricks up her sleeve, and came back to me in the third trimester without quite the same buzz but just as much character as ever.

Since having the kids our friendship has really blossomed.  I can’t get enough of her. Every morning I look forward to seeing her.  I really notice when we don’t have time to meet.  So do my family and other friends.  Lunchtime is just too late, and I’ve learned through the years together that seeing her in the afternoon leaves me sleepless from all the excitement.  Perhaps that’s her play to make me even more desperate for her company the following morning.

Occasionally I try to wean myself off our friendship – I mean, surely me being such a needy friend can’t be a good thing, can it?  But it’s proved too hard.  She lures me back into our old habits and I think “Why not? What’s so wrong with Coffee anyway?”  People say she’s not good for me, but I’m not so sure.  Some days, nurturing our friendship is all that keeps me going.

The great thing is we love all the same haunts.  She’s a great lover of café culture. She really comes into her own in the best establishments – strong and full of character.  We avoid the places where the real Coffee isn’t appreciated, hiding behind the pale shadows of her instant relatives.

Our conversations are at their best when they’re accompanied by a big wedge of home-made cake, although sometimes we just sit together and read the paper.  I think our friendship will last a lifetime.  There’s just no-one else who makes me feel the same way.



Love ya, Coffee.  What would I do without you…



I’m not much of a one for exploring my technology – I just use gadgets for the things I know I want to do – but still…is there no end to this brave new world of social media?

Every time I venture onto Twitter or into WordPress’ admin area, I find yet another thing I have never come across before. Take today.  I went onto Twitter to say thank you to a new follower (I’ve noticed this is a lovely etiquette on both blogs and Twitter, which makes me feel good about human nature and reciprocity), and while browsing her blog, I noticed references to ‘Instagram’ pictures.  Deep, weary sigh. Oh no, what have I missed this time.   Instagram joins hashtags, Pinterest, Tumblr, StumbleUpon, Reddit and all those other sharing sites, not to mention a plethora of time-saving, funny or just plain cool apps I no doubt should have on my iphone or ipad.

What is it I’m not doing that means I miss out on all these developments, or indeed missed the gene that means I absorb them by osmosis? Am I blinkered or just not looking in the right places?  I will admit to not being brilliant with sources of up to date popular culture type things – I mostly listen to BBC Radio 4 or Classic FM, with the occasional lunchtime foray into Radio 1 for Littlest H and I to bop along to something a bit more lively over our marmite sandwiches and soup.  I don’t buy girlie mags or watch trashy TV (X factor excepted), and even if I do, I forward the ads.  I’m not working, so I don’t commute past ads either, and for whatever reason the conversations with my female friends (which, let’s be honest, as a stay at home mum with a hard-working husband, is pretty much the only type of conversation I have nowadays, if you discount those of the how was school today, no mummy can’t make a lifesize elephant before supper darling, will you JUST GO to the loo variety) tend not to cover much about cool new social media goings on. It’s all we can do to connect on Facebook to be quite frank.

Just how do people have the time for all this knowledge gathering, let alone all the sharing, updating, reading, commenting and exploring?  I’m going to have to get the nanny back just so I have time to manage it all.

I am enjoying it though, all this discovering.  It feels a bit of an adventure, albeit quite a lazy one.  I will admit (again) to an initial rolling of eyes and twinge of distaste about engaging with the ‘mummy blog’ community.  I have a thing about being labelled as a mother and then put in a box as a result – yes, I am a female who has kids, but that doesn’t define who I am or what I think, and the ‘mummy blog’ moniker smacks of stereotyping to me. Luckily, I managed to get over myself and realised I found the good ones hilarious, heartwarming, reassuring and even useful.  And by then I was sinking a good two or three evenings a week into this new-found world, incurring the wrath of a tired husband as I eeked out the minutes till bedtime.

And that there is the challenge, isn’t it, with all this online adventuring.  What happens to real world relationships and adventures?  Do they get sidelined for more comfortable sofa-based exploration, or is the latter fitted into the downtime?

Personally, I mostly do blog / twitter stuff in the evening when the kids are in bed and Mr H is still at work.  But it’s so easy to slip into bad habits.  I’ve had a couple of moments absorbed in a new post / tweet on my ipad, when the volume winds up, behaviour goes downhill and my kids basically tell me to stop getting distracted and focus on them.  I certainly don’t want them to think that is ok, that the online world is more important than the real world we inhabit, and, goodness, wouldn’t that be an easy trap to slide into?

I haven’t experienced this with my children directly as yet – they are still very much in the real world of scraped knees, today’s best friends and deliciously messy play (delicious at school or nursery, mind you, torturous at home).  Who knows where communication technology will be when they are deeply immersed teenagers.  Maybe teenage Little H will message her friends direct from her brain via chips in her hairclips, with a webcam in groovy spectacles to video chat with mates as she walks along.

But hopefully, fundamentally, at that point she and Littlest H and their friends will still remember they are real people leading real lives in the real world, and that interacting with other humans face to face is by far the most fulfilling way to have relationships. Yes, building an online community is a wonderful privilege, but it’s real world friends and family who give you a hug when you need one, take your kids off you when you need a break, make you laugh when you might otherwise cry and go out and get thoroughly plastered with you, quietly sharing each other’s pain the next morning.

On which note, best I get back to those mummy blogs. Kids are in bed, no friends being ditched, no husband to talk to, a pile of admin best ignored, so no angst necessary 🙂

In need of an uplift

Last week was a bad week.  I know this because I kept breaking into tears in front of friends, and now I’m consulting Toddler Taming  to find some new strategies.  Or at least to remind me about the things I already know work and don’t work so I can then reflect on the current daily battles and decide which to fight and which to try to ignore or deflect.  Not forgetting step three: negotiate agreement on plan with Mr H so we achieve the holy grail of calm, consistent parenting…well, try to.

No, it definitely wasn’t the week you want to have going into the Big Test of new non-working motherhood: six weeks of summer holidays.  That week would be full of love and gorgeousness with my three year old, reward charts full of stickers and siblings who might actually play together for more than a millisecond.  Instead I felt each smeared loo seat, each refusal to come down the stairs without a pick up, each episode of hitting or shouting, each jab and counter-jab of sibling fencing were arrows pinning me to a summer of despair, an abysmal mother finding no joy in her children, only willing the clock to reach 6pm each day.

Three things lifted me from such awful self-absorbed misery.

Firstly, friends.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  They are brilliant.  What would I do without them.  I can’t avoid them either (at least in term time), so when I feel like I want to hide in a black hole feeling sorry for myself, they force me to have the moment of light relief and human contact I actually need.  Last week, they did much more – three chunks of time Littlest H was whisked off me, and precious time it was too.  I read somewhere that people are three more times as likely to say yes to requests for childcare than people are to ask.  Asking for help is hard, even if it’s in return for help I’ve given.  I always feel bad foisting my child on someone else when there isn’t a ‘good’ reason like work or medical appointments.  In reality, time to be alone is good enough.  Even an hour can reset the balance and allow me to face the day with renewed vigour, patience and playfulness.

Secondly, books.  Is there anything more uplifting than a really good read?  I have started reading the books my book club read before I joined it, the latest of which is the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.  What a fabulous little gem of a book.  I loved it, it lifted me up and made me feel warm, positive and happy.  Losing myself in a good book, even if it’s just for a few minutes at bedtime, recharges my batteries, reminds me I’m still me and there’s more to life than our little domestic enclave.  I also found time to read some of the weekend’s paper on the same weekend I bought it, rather than the usual month later.  The fact that I can steal an hour to sit in the sunshine with a coffee and read the paper undisturbed was definitely a pick-me-up, a sign life isn’t all bad and is getting more balanced as the littlies get bigger.

Finally, meditating the parent mantra: “Ommmmmm, it’s only a stage, it’s only a stage, it’s only a stage, ommmmmmmm.”  Things Littlest H made an unholy fuss about a few months ago pass by unnoticed now.  Teeth brushing for instance.  I remember so well battles as described in Playing with the Holsby’s recent post, and now it’s a walk in the park (take heart Mrs Holsby).  Putting shoes and coats on was a grinding battle of wills where now he’s sunny as you like about it.  Only a month ago he refused to come to the table for meals, now he mostly gets up and tucks in without turning a hair. I have to hope the same will happen with walloping his sister and toilet battles. I know in my heart it will.  In the meantime, Toddler Taming is now being joined by ‘How to talk so kids listen’ and ‘Raising Happy Brothers & Sisters’, as recommended by a friend today.  I don’t care if reading how to parenting books makes me an ‘alpha mum’, or a control freak, sometimes I need to read wise words that help me think calmly and positively about ways to make it better.  I used to read work books to find new ways of thinking and approaching my job, so why not now?  This has got to be the hardest job I’ve ever done and it’s not like I can just resign to find a more suitable position, is it.

So on we go.  Two days of summer holiday down, a few bumps already along the road but I feel hopeful last week was a blip.  Seeing more of Little H is wonderful, I miss her when she’s at school.  She’s both an antidote, a help and a fellow sufferer/enjoyer of Littlest H, so it’s great to have her along for the ride.  My new books will wing their way to my door radiating more hope, and no doubt at least one gem will find its way into our lives, making us all rub along a bit more smoothly.  And the glass will feel a bit more full for a while – until the next shift in behaviour of course, and who knows what delights await us then…

It’s come to this

‘This’ is a nit date.  Ever had one? Oh, you should, everyone should. It’s the pinnacle of life I never thought I’d reach.  Spending two hours with an equally hirsute friend de-lousing each other’s hair – it’s exactly what I left work to do.   Followed closely by spending 30-60 minutes nit combing my daughter’s similarly long, thick, wavy hair every other day for two weeks and counting.

On reflection, I see this joyous initiation into primary school life in two ways.  On a bad day, dealing with nits is yet another rung in the never-ending hamster wheel of life with young children.  As if there aren’t enough mind-numbingly dull, repetitive aspects to the average day, now I have to add this to our bedtime routine?  Where do I rustle up that extra time – oh yes, of course, out of my own, post-bedtime adult time.  The time when all parents I know take a deep, relieved breath, often followed with the clink and slurp (sorry sip, of course, sip) of the all important ‘I survived’ glass of wine. Right now, it also eats into my exercise time, which makes me grumpy.  If nothing else it means I can’t have chocolate after supper ‘because I deserve it’.

Don’t let’s forget the gross-ness of them either.  Having never seen a nit, when the letters from school started coming through I asked a few friends what to look for.  Tiny grains of rice that are stuck to the hair seemed the best indicator.  That didn’t quite prepare me for increasingly obssessively combing about 20 brown, 2-3mm bugs with recognisable legs out of my daughter’s hair.  Boy was my head itching after that.   Every time I see girls in my daughter’s class with their long hair flowing in the wind I feel like finding their parents and giving them a good talking to.

On a good day, (or in a good hour – let’s be honest, days with kids are never wholly good, are they), it is a mark of friendship that we trusted each other to do a really thorough job and not be too grossed out by the whole thing.  For some people it could sit the same side of the line as not closing the door when you wee or talking about your sex life.

Mostly though, I think it’s an example of the most unexpectedly valuable, enjoyable and treasured things I’ve gained through stopping working – the fun and support of really wonderful, local friends, for me and the kids.  Friends whom we would never have been able to get to know anywhere near as well if I had continued working.

Although I was lucky enough to make one or two great local friends when I was working, I know now how valuable and nourishing a broader support network really is.  I wonder if this modern friends-based set up gives us even more support than families provided when the norm was to have grandparents, siblings, cousins a few doors down.  These are people I’ve chosen to spend time with, with whom there are no family role issues or baggage to deal with, just trust, respect, friendship and joint knowledge that in a fix we will do whatever we can to help each other out.

I think not having access to this is one of the most difficult parts of being a working mother, unless you are lucky enough to get it through existing friendships.  You can’t be there for play dates to get to know your kids’ friends.  You feel you can’t ask too much too often because you know you can’t reciprocate.  You’ll never be one of the gaggle loitering at the school gate because you have to drop and run, if it’s even you who drops at all.   You might meet people at the occasional organised evening out and 5 mins chats at school pick up time, but you know you don’t have the time to build proper relationships.  What a shame, there could have been nit dates, pox parties and everything.

You give up a lot to keep a full-time career going in my opinion.  Nit dates are the least of it.  Even on my worst days I don’t regret stopping, or not feel thankful we can make it work financially for a year or two.  When I’m cleaning wee off the floorboards for the nth time, or hearing myself shout ‘will you stop shouting’, I have of course wondered if it was really the right decision for me or indeed for the kids.  But out of the heat of the moment, I know this life is infinitely more rewarding on so many levels.

So maybe in a funny way, the nit date wasn’t so bad.  My friend was happy she has finally found someone who has more hair than she has.  And it could be worse. She told me some of the nits cases she’s seen at work were so bad the sufferers had nits in their eyebrows.  Now that really is gross.