Thursday, 1 October 2015

A jolt of reality...

The thump itself was quite a shock.

Queuing at the roundabout on my morning commute, it certainly woke me up.

The driver behind me had moved forward prematurely. The result? Two shaken ladies and a little damage to both our vehicles.

After pulling over, we exchanged details.  She, having been at fault, was more affected than I was. I expressed concern about whether she was OK to drive again and she reassured me that she was.

I've only had my little Fiat (fondly named Guido) for a couple of months.  It's the newest vehicle I've ever owned.  What bad luck, eh? What a scunner, as we say in the north-east.  What a great excuse for a good old wallow in self pity.


Actually, no.

Let's put this little scenario in context.  There I was. In my shiny, nearly new car.  Commuting to a job that's stimulating, rewarding and which I'm well paid for.

I was unhurt. The damage to the car is minimal. If I need to fund the repair myself, then doubtless I'll be able to do so.

In the wider scheme of things, I'm healthy. My family are healthy. We are fortunate to have a nice roof over our heads and food in the cupboards.

Woe is me? I don't think so.  What happened is a minor pothole on the comparatively smooth road of my life.

My problems are first world problems. Which means they're not really problems at all. Open your eyes a bit wider - switch on any news channel - and you'll catch my drift.

I'm no saint but I like to think I possess a little perspective.

That's why I feel sorry for the lady who ran into me. She got a real fright. I certainly don't feel sorry for myself.

It's only taken forty years. But I may have finally grown up.

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Friday, 21 August 2015

The power of parenting solidarity

Our eyes locked only for a second but it was enough.

"I know how you feel. I feel the same. And we're doing our best."

An important message, silently communicated between two strangers.

The scene? A crowded courtyard, alive with sounds, scents and colour during one of the world's biggest arts festivals.  People had travelled thousands of miles to be there.  There was no end of stimulation for the senses.  It should have been an amazing experience, for all ages.

And yet.

In the midst of this activity, my eleven-year-old had a face like a thundercloud. Her body language was closed.  She looked, quite frankly, as though she'd rather be anywhere but here.  And with anyone but her family.

At risk of sounding pathetic, I wanted to cry.  Four days away at the very end of the Scottish school holidays. That was all we had managed to squeeze in together as a family, between work and other commitments. I'd looked forward to it so much that I'd forgotten something essential: Kids don't have a happy button that you switch on along with the car ignition at the start of the trip.


And then I saw her.  A woman around my age. Nicely dressed, *normal* looking - but with an expression just like mine. Two feet away from her: A girl around my daughter's age. Nicely dressed, *normal* looking - but with an expression just like my daughter's.

We didn't speak. But I think we might have saved one another's day.

Please know that I don't take pleasure from others' struggles. But in the challenging world of parenting, I think it's important to let one another know that we all share these struggles.  And that struggling doesn't mean you are a bad parent. Or that you're getting it wrong.

All stages have their challenges.  The infants who won't sleep more than three hours at a time.  The terrible twos who turn into terrible threes.  The mood swings of adolescents. The full-blown rebellion of older teenagers.

As a fellow parent, we don't always have answers for our friends.  And sometimes that doesn't matter. What does matter goes beyond words.  It's what that anonymous lady and I did for one another.  It's letting someone know that they're not alone and they're not being judged.

And - despite how they may feel - that they're doing a really important, really tough job pretty damn well.

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Friday, 31 July 2015

The predictability of package holidays

There's been a reason for the blogging lull. Well. Sort of.

Loyal readers may recall my last post 'Summer holidays the Scottish way'. Turns out that I couldn't survive the entire six weeks shivering on picnic benches in my fleece. Neither could my very dear mum.  So off we trooped to the travel agent and a last-minute week of Mallorcan sunshine was ours.

It's been several years since I was on a package holiday abroad.  And yet. Some things truly never change...


Here they are - in no particular order:

Whatever you wear to the airport for departure will be completely inappropriate for the temperature  at your destination.  And vice versa on the way home. (Bear in mind that my point of departure is Aberdeen International Airport, which takes this particular phenomenon to a new level of extreme.)

On queuing for check in 90 per cent of females will be anxiously clutching something resembling a polypocket containing passports, tickets and other essential travel information. Meanwhile, the men will be looking around vacantly, wondering how long they have to wait before they can scoot off to the bar.  

Regardless of your best efforts you will never, ever get through security first time.  Buckles on your sandals? Glasses on your head? And don't even start me on the liquids. They'll catch you out one way or another. 

Within five minutes of disembarking from the plane you will utter a statement along the lines of it being "far too hot". Despite the fact that you spend the remaining 51 weeks of the year fantasising about temperatures above 20 degrees.

While logic tells you that some of the people on your complex must also be new arrivals, they will all be golden limbed from day one. As you slap factor 50 on your sun deprived skin, you have a vague concern that you'll give the locals snow blindness.  

When it comes to the breakfast buffet, sunbed locations and dining out, everyone else will have it sussed.  Even the toddlers, who strut back and forth for their morning croissant with supreme confidence. You, on the other hand, will feel like a 'green' newcomer - right up until the day prior to departure. By then, you'll finally be starting to get the hang of it.

On your return home, you will conveniently forget all of the above. Instead, you tell anyone who will listen that everything went swimmingly. 

And you know what? In the big scheme of things, it really did. 

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Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Summer holidays the Scottish way

It was a tropical 10 degrees in our patch the other week. No, I'm not joking. And I didn't write this post in February and schedule it for summer either.

When you live in the north east of Scotland you develop a certain stoicism about the weather. And yet, when the outdoor furniture and skimpy outfits hit the shops, we still rush out and buy them. 

If you're lucky enough to live in warmer climes, please admire our efforts to enjoy popular summer activities. (It's like *let's pretend* for adults.)


The family barbecue
The event: Impossible to plan in advance, this involves a frantic ring round of relatives on the morning of said barbecue. The sky is blue and the forecast is screaming little yellow suns for the duration of the day. On securing the attendees, a frantic dash to the supermarket ensues.  This is incredibly inefficient as everyone you know is in there too, desperately lobbing sausages in their trolleys for their own opportunistic family barbecues.  You stagger back laden with food for the five thousand three hours later.

The reality: Remember those little yellow suns? They lied. As your guests arrive, the skies mysteriously darken and little spots, which everyone manfully tries to ignore, start to steadily fall. Ladies clad in flimsy dresses and sandals begin to inch their way indoors.  Your relaxed al fresco gathering starts to resemble the family Christmas get-together with extra chairs squeezed into the living room and hyperactive children rampaging round the house.

Top tip: Always, ALWAYS, erect the gazebo. However promising the temperatures or forecast.

The beach picnic
The event: Another last-minute venture, also involving a last-minute supermarket splurge. As it's a *guaranteed scorcher*, you decide to make a day of it and invite some friends to join you for carefree fun and frolics at the coast.  Everything from swimsuits, towels and Crocs to beach balls, soft tennis kits and windbreaks is flung in the car.  The roof box is likely to be fully loaded too.

The reality:  Regardless of how much you spend on food, if you are going with another family, your children will prefer whatever is in their cool box. By the time you reach the coast, that north-east phenomenon known as 'haar' will have descended. You may have to retreat 10 miles inland to feel anything resembling heat.  Huddled round a picnic bench in your fleece, you feign enjoyment while the children whine "But why isn't it sunny here?".

Top tip: There is no such thing as a *guaranteed scorcher* when it comes to the Scottish seaside. Take layers. Lots of them.

The camping expedition
The event: Having succumbed to all those Tiso advertisements that make camping look like a healthy, fun and cost-effective family holiday, you feel duty bound to use the tent and all its accoutrements at least once a year. Waiting for a prolonged dry forecast is impossible.  You pick your dates and go.

The reality: By the time you've purchased a roof box and bike carrier for your cheap family holiday, you'd have been better off at a five-star hotel. You get drenched during both tent erection and dismantling. And let's not even mention the whole *drying out* saga after. No-one gets any sleep because it's either a) too hot b) too cold or c) too noisy.  You return home feeling you've endured the equivalent of Bear Grylls Mission Survive but without the benefits of looking like Vogue Williams.  You will also be in desperate need of another - dare I say *real* - holiday.

Top tip: Swallow the pain and sell the tent and accessories on eBay. Use the funds raised to book a hotel mini-break. Pronto.

Disclaimer: To the wonderful people at VisitScotland, I love my country. Really I do. Now if we could just fix the weather...

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Monday, 8 June 2015

Why sport isn't all about winning

My recent post 'Earning Your Life Skills Certificate' touched briefly on the topic of children and rewards.

My eldest attended her first *away* swim meet this weekend. Her experience turned my thoughts back to the topic.  

Several of the youngsters representing her club were also *first-timers*.  By lunchtime, some of them had gained medals for their efforts.  Others - my own daughter included - had not. Cue a few disappointed faces.

As with many sports, swimming has its own set of rules and etiquette.  Over lunch, one of the coaches confessed to me that he knew the kids thought he was being hard on them.

For my own part, I was delighted with his approach - and with my daughter's experience.

Here's why:


1. In swimming, it's easy to get disqualified.  That's tough to deal with when you're very young.  But enforcing the rules from the start means that errors and bad habits get ironed out at an early stage. Judges feed back to coaches, who work with their charges to correct the mistakes. The process is handled sensitively and constructively.

2. There may not be medals for all but progress is acknowledged. Race times were made available throughout the day. And there were high fives and fist bumps for those who had achieved personal bests (PBs) too.

3. Representing a club brings responsibility but also camaraderie.  Forget the podium. My *proud mum* moment came when I watched my normallly self-conscious daughter stand on the bench and yell her lungs out for her new friends during the relays.  She was delighted to be part of it by association.

4. Win or lose, you stick it out until the medals ceremony at the end.  You grit your teeth, you smile and you applaud others whether they're on your team or not.  Dealing with disappointment (of which more here) is something that we all have to do in life.  Shielding our children does them a disservice; it leaves them ill-equipped for adulthood. Losing graciously is a skill that needs to be worked at.

******

Medals are great. Particularly when they're attained through perseverance and training.  When everyone gets one, they don't feel quite as special.  Some of the unsuccessful newcomers may decide that competitive meets simply aren't their thing.  Others may be inspired and desperate to give it another shot.  Their reactions will vary as much as their personalities.

For my own children, I hope that their involvement in sport encourages them to remain active and healthy in adulthood.  I hope that being part of a club helps them understand how to contribute to a team.  I hope that meeting other youngsters in different settings develops their confidence, communication skills and social circles.  

And if they achieve all that? Well, that's what I call a victory.

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You Baby Me Mummy

Friday, 29 May 2015

The language of parenting

On reading the title, you might anticipate a post stuffed with pearls of wisdom about how to communicate with infants. If so, click away now.  Baby whisperer I am not.

There is, however, an alternative parenting language that I became fluent in with relative ease. You may have done so too.  See if you recognise any of these little foibles in your day-to-day speech...


Formulaic phrases

Embedded in your psyche from when you were a child, these come flooding back unbidden. Little gems such as "Look at me when I'm talking to you" and "What's the magic word?" become a regular part of your vocabulary. Admit it: Who's almost said the latter to a sulky checkout assistant?

Memory-loss improvisation

I'm not just talking about calling a plate a "thingmejig". Oh no. There's an element of creativity that goes with the absent-mindedness of the overstretched parent.  It's particularly evident when it comes to forgetting the names of others' children.  I've perfected the art of leaning into the pushchair and saying "How's this wee smasher/little toot/young man doing today?". While crossing my fingers and fervently hoping that the parent will address their child by name.

Selective ownership

I've acquired a seamless ability to disown and re-own (is that even a word?) my little cherubs. Any display of talent is instantly attributed to some sort of similar ability I had in my youth. (Remember Baby's mother in Dirty Dancing? "I think she gets it from me.")  And at the first hint of mischief? Mr Average is firmly told that he needs to teach "his" children how to behave. Hey, no-one said this life was fair.

Channelling messages via children

Most of us won't admit to this. But we all know that we've done it.  Ohhhhh yes.  It works particularly well before the children can speak properly themselves.  Picture the scene. You need to say something that won't sit well with a relative. You therefore adopt a sing-song voice and pass it off as your child's thought process.  "Oh dear. Silly Auntie Pam doesn't realise that we can't stay for lunch/drink fizzy juice/handle shopping centres yet."  Auntie Pam knows exactly what you are up to. And she's totally ticked off. But to retaliate would seem churlish.

Sometimes - just occasionally - children do have their uses.

Alternatives to expletives

Flippin' heck, I really should have mastered this one by now. Funnily enough, it's the only part of the linguistic parenting portfolio where I occasionally lapse into my pre-mother tongue...

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Mums' Days

Friday, 22 May 2015

Earning your life skills certificate

My youngest attended a junior cycling event last weekend.  For his troubles he received a certificate for 'taking part, learning new skills and trying hard'.

Many people feel that today's children are over-rewarded. Everything is incentivised. Everyone gets a sticker, so that no-one feels left out.  Or has to deal with disappointment.

I'm still not sure where I stand on that one.  But as I paused to re-read the wording on the certificate , something struck me.

Taking part. Learning new skills. Trying hard.  These aren't just challenges for children.  These are ideals that all of us should strive towards.  Because, let's face it, these three seemingly simple concepts aren't as simple to put into practice.


Taking part
Easy huh? But how many of us like walking into a business networking event, a parent and toddler group, or a new exercise class for the first time? Thought not.  In the last week, I've grappled with butterflies and forced myself into two new situations - one sporting, one work-related.  Was I nervous? Yes. Did I enjoy it once I got there? Yes.  Did I feel better afterwards? Yes.  Will it be easier next time? Possibly not.  But deep down I know that I need to keep putting myself out there.

Learning new skills
Now, this is something I do want to achieve. The challenge with this one, for me, is discipline. I need to prioritise what I want to learn, then make the time to do it.  Meanwhile, I've decided that baby steps are better than nothing. Last night child number one asked if she could show me a new drawing technique she had learned. Two messy mats. Two pieces of A4. Two pencils. And the best 15 minutes of my day. For multiple reasons.

Trying hard
Possibly the biggest challenge of all. Particularly when there's no obvious progress or immediate reward. The ability to keep trying - even though your goal is distant and others are streaking ahead - is a tough proposition.  It requires determination. Strength of character. Resilience.  I believe that the ability to try hard - and to keep trying - is just as important, if not more, than natural talent. So often we tell our children to "try their best". The words are straightforward. In reality, it's a big ask.  

Take part. Learn new skills. Try hard. 

One innocent certificate.  Three pretty solid rules for life.  For all of us.

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Friday, 15 May 2015

Surviving school as a parent: Do you have what it takes?

When your children start school you worry about how they'll cope with the new challenges and experiences ahead.  Stop. Right. There. It's not them you have to worry about.  Hell no. Focus on the hurdles that you, as a parent, need to straddle.

Ready to put your abilities to the test? Off we go...


The class trip
A crumpled slip emerges from your child's rucksack requesting parental assistance for a forthcoming class trip.  Do you..
a) Volunteer your partner (who knew that his nine-day fortnight would come in so handy?)
b) Sacrifice your own flexi-day to proffer sick bags on an overheated bus, while being ignored by the child who begged you to come
c) Despair that you can't go: The trip clashes with your regular 'slot' helping out in one of the other classes.

The parent council
A plea for extra assistance has been issued by the parent council.  Do you...
a) Negotiate a hefty donation via the large organisation your best mate works for
b) Reluctantly agree to become a *floating* committee member, only to discover that you've inherited all the tasks no-one else wants
c) Follow up with a full-blown campaign for funds and fresh blood. After all, you are the chair.

Sports day
Time to line up for the parents' race. As the megaphone announcement echoes round the park you feel your child's eyes boring into you.  Do you...
a) Cheer gleefully from the sidelines. This is the sole event that you help out with. It's great for your profile - the whole school and their parents see you pitching in. It also neatly gets you out of the race as you're *looking after the children*.
b) Limp in last after gamely participating in your stocking soles and pencil skirt, having come straight from work
c) Win it. By a mile. (You've been in training all year.)

The school concert
Seats are always at a premium.  Do you...
a) Breeze in immediately prior to curtain up, taking the sole remaining seat in the front row. (So what if it was meant for the headteacher?)
b) Stand at the back for the two and a half hour duration
c) Have no requirement for a seat.  You're comp√®ring the entire thing for goodness' sake.

World Book Day
The children have been asked to enter the spirit of the occasion by dressing up. Do you...
a) Dress your conveniently brown-haired, similar-height offspring in their jeans and T-shirts, providing them with 'Biff' and 'Chip' name badges.  Result.
b) Make an emergency dash to the supermarket. You only discovered the all-important note at 8:30pm the evening prior.
c) Rejoice that the Pinterest board you created for this very challenge will be put to good use.  Sewing machines at the ready folks!

Mostly As
You are sussed mum.  No matter what school life throws at you, you come up smelling of roses. This does not always make you popular among the various parenting factions. Your philosophy on life? Minimum effort for maximum return.

Mostly Bs
You are harassed mum. Always last to arrive at any major school event, you do your utmost to be a responsible member of the school community (while also taking on far too much at work, at home and socially). Your frequent lament? "There just aren't enough hours in the day..."

Mostly Cs
You are Stepford mum. Born for the role of PTA chair, you dread the day your children leave school.  Still, there are always numerous community groups who could benefit from your organisational skills.  Your favourite saying? "Now if only I was in charge..."

Disclaimer:  The author is a trifle nervous that readers may draw some similarities between her own parenting style and one of the stereotypes identified above.  Any such similarities are entirely coincidental. She is, of course, a healthy mix of all three. 

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Friday, 8 May 2015

From 'meh' to 'mmm' in 3 simple steps

This week I had one of those 'meh' days.  You know the ones. 

Nothing major had gone wrong. Truth to be told, I had no real cause for complaint. Yet there I was. One girl and her bad mood.

Now I'm one of the lucky ones in this game called life. So how to kick myself up the backside and remember that? 

No-one likes a whinger. So I tried some quick fixes for getting back on track:


1. Half hour happiness hit
Schedules permitting, take time out and do whatever makes you happy for 30 minutes. For me it was a short run in the fresh air. I didn't feel like going but boy did I feel better afterwards. I always do. Running's not for everyone, though. Go with whatever works for you - climb a hill, bake a cake, dig out your crochet, attack the garden, chill out with yoga. You know better than anyone else what makes your heart sing.

2.  Do something for someone else
Far wiser people than me have doled out this advice. They've got it spot on. Do yourself a favour by looking outwards rather than inwards.  Email that relative you've been meaning to contact, offer your neighbour a lift home, surprise the kids with their favourite tea.   They'll love you for it. And you'll feel better as a result.

3. Find yourself a theme tune
Ah, the marvels of music. Seek out a *happy song*  to lift your mood on one of *those* days. It doesn't have to be as obvious as Pharrell Williams. I go through phases, the most recent of which is 'Birdhouse In Your Soul', played at top volume. (Yup, another old age reveal.) Find a track - or several - you can't help singing along to.  Play. Loudly. On repeat if required.

And if all else fails? Read this.  I defy you not to laugh. 'At The Clothesline', I salute you.

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NB. There's a difference between temporary doldrums and depression. If you think you may be suffering from the latter, please PLEASE seek help.

Friday, 1 May 2015

Popular family activities: Perception versus reality

As a parent, there's a huge amount of  pressure to be seen to be doing certain things with your offspring. Not only that, there's a lot of pressure to be seen to be enjoying doing these things.

Naturally, Team Average  has succumbed to such pressures. Like lambs to the slaughter, we've attempted to re-enact the *simple* Pinterest suggestions and inspirational Facebook posts. 

We've failed. Miserably. Perhaps you can identify with our average experience of popular family pursuits versus the sugar coated perceptions? If not, have a laugh at our expense anyway. I dare you.


BAKING

The vision: Clad in a spotless Cath Kidston apron and resembling a Tana Ramsay-esque yummy mummy, you work in harmony with your offspring to lovingly prepare a delicious yet nutritious feast. You serve this warm (and a little triumphantly) from the oven as your partner arrives home.

The reality: Hubby appears home tired and grumpy to discover a kitchen resembling a snow storm, due to the lethal combination of over-exuberant child + industrial quantities of icing sugar. No utensil in the house remains unused. Nothing vaguely edible seems likely to appear forthwith from the oven.

JUNK MODELLING

The vision: You and your child fashion the modern-day equivalent of Blue Peter's Christmas advent crown project using handy bits and pieces from around the home. Your child scoops the class prize and you gain major playground kudos as the *modest yet talented* craft-loving family. 

The reality: At 10pm the night prior to submission you realise that your bright idea is doomed.  With offspring despatched to bed in tears, you send your partner to the nearest 24-hour Tesco for a craft kit.  The two of you spend until midnight glowering at each other over the kitchen table, cursing the ineffective tube of white glue that features in all of said craft kits.

SWIMMING

The vision: You are the epitome of the sporty, community-minded family. Even in rainy weather, you forego all temptation to plonk the kids in front of the telly. Instead, you plump for a fun-filled active afternoon at the local baths.

The reality: It's raining. A zillion other families have the same idea. You eventually access the packed shallow end to discover that one of the small people needs the toilet.  As you shiver your way to the loos, you meet at least three people you know, all of whom have the advantage of being dry and fully clothed.  Your actual time in the water consists of bobbing around to keep warm while wondering how much longer you have to last before you can clamber out for a hot chocolate.

******

In case you are wondering, Team Average does enjoy spending time together as a family. 

Occasionally. 

Well, at least once a year.

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Thursday, 23 April 2015

Dealing with disappointment

Disappointment has a bitter taste.  Most of us will have experienced it - perhaps combined with an unwanted shot of rejection and a side order of despair.

Disappointment can be crushing. It encourages a rash of negative feelings - shame, hurt, anger, despondency.  When you've gone all out for something, the disappointment of not getting it can hurt as much as a physical blow to the stomach.

Given that disappointment is part of life, how do you deal with it?

I certainly don't have a definitive answer. Instead, here's what I'm slowly learning from the life knocks I've encountered along the way...


Time  Don't expect to get over it immediately.  If it meant a lot, it will hurt a lot. Slowly but surely the sting of the smack will subside.  At the very least, you'll get better at living with it.

Perspective  If you're anything like me, you'll have experienced other such hurts.  Being told that you'll bounce back is an oversimplification.  But you will survive to tell the tale.

You're not alone While your particular disappointment is personal to you, bear in mind that almost everyone suffers setbacks in life.  Avoid the temptation to fall into the role of victim.

Experience Something can be learned from each life experience. However deep the disappointment. However painful. However stomach-churning.

In the words of the Dalai Lama: "When you lose, don't lose the lesson."

And if you feel your disappointment represents failure, remember this quote from writer and novelist Michael Korda:

"The freedom to fail is vital if you're going to succeed. Most successful people fail from time to time, and it is a measure of their strength that failure propels them into some new attempt at succcess."

So give yourself time. Acknowledge the disappointment. Remember that others have suffered similarly.  Learn the painful lessons. Regroup, move on and start afresh. You can, and will, find the strength.

How do you deal with disappointment? Leave a comment and let me know.


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Thursday, 9 April 2015

Housework hacks for family homes

Everything changes when you have children.  

Even the most mundane of procedures. Take housework, for example.

Pre-kids, it's something you tolerate.  A necessary evil. When the mood strikes (or when visitors are due), you knuckle down, get through it and get on with your life.

Post-kids, it doesn't work that way.  Not only do you have less time for it, the results of your efforts last but a fleeting nanosecond.  After which, all that hard work is undone.  Job satisfaction = zero.

As for the process itself, it becomes considerably more - ahem - fraught.


Let's start with hoovering. Pre-kids, your trusty Dyson blithely services your floors on a regular and uncomplaining basis. 

Post-kids, it contends with all manner of outrages - discarded loom bands, stray Hama beads and the dreaded Lego brick.  (The noise on contact can make a grown woman cry.) 

Our last appliance was killed by a more subtle intruder. All respect to the new destructive force on the block.  People, I give you the kirby grip.

As for dusting (yes, you're meant to do that too), simply accessing the surfaces is a challenge in itself. By the time you've shifted all the detritus of family life, you're ready for a wee lie down. Forget flying into a frenzy with the feather duster.  

As one chum confided: "I'd love to get a cleaner but I'd have to tidy up first." We hear ya sister.

So what's a hard-pressed parent to do? Assuming you'd like company within the next decade, consider some housework hacks...

Provided you can contain your guests downstairs, restrict your efforts to the ground floor.

Focus on hoovering only as far as the turn in the stairs. Ensure the downstairs cloakroom is gleaming like a pin. Shamelessly ignore the sorry state of affairs that is your en suite.

Stagger upstairs with all two hundred of your family members' assorted jackets. Lob said outerwear in a bedroom.   Revel smugly as guests admire your minimalist coat rack.

One cautionary note:   Beware the sociable pre-schooler who likes to invite people to *come up and see my bedroom*. Inquisitive guests won't be able to resist. 

And you, my friend, will be rumbled.  

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Friday, 27 March 2015

Parenting: When to push - and when to let go

Pushy parents.  No-one likes them. No-one wants to be known as one.

And yet...

Sometimes children need to be pushed.  I've lost count of the conversations I've had with other parents on the subject. Your child shows an aptitude for something but is nervous about pursuing it.  Do you coax and cajole or accept their reluctance? Or - and this tends to happen more as they get older - your child has already proven they are good at something but insists on giving it up.

When do you push them forwards and when do you let go? I wish I had the definitive answer. I'm pretty sure I've called it wrong a few times myself already.  Along the way, however, I've picked up some helpful guidelines...


Safety first
The one activity I insist that my kids stick with is swimming. Until they are water confident, the lessons continue. As for the rest of their sporting activities, as long as they exercise, I'm happy for them to try different things.

See it through - at least in the short-term
The plaintive "I want to stop drama/gymnastics/piano" inevitably strikes up halfway through the lesson block.  At Average Towers, this is another non-negotiable: If we've paid for the term, we stay for the term.  By which time, they've often decided they want to continue.  If not, then the bigger "Are you sure?" conversation takes place in the holidays.

Get to the heart of the matter
As a child, I gave up ballet lessons because another little girl repeatedly pulled at my leotard. I never told my parents why I wanted to give up; I just insisted that I did.  As an adult, I realise how easily this issue could have been resolved. Make sure you know the real reasons behind your child's decision. It may be nothing to do with the activity itself.  And it may be easily sorted too.

Same activity, different set-up
You know they're good at it.  Deep down, they know they're good at it. But something about the existing arrangement isn't working.  Could they go on a different evening - with different children, or a different instructor?  Does another club offer the same activity that they could try instead? Constant chopping and changing isn't recommended. But a one-off switch to avoid a personality clash with a coach, for example, might be worth exploring.

Over to them
There comes a point when children want to take some responsibility for their own decisions.  If older children persist in their desire to drop something, you may just have to accept it.  Many of us return to these activities in adulthood.  If it's meant to be, they'll find their own way back.

Time to relocate my ballet pumps?

Do you struggle with knowing when to push your children and when to let go? Leave a comment and let me know.

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Thursday, 19 March 2015

Rules for dads left in charge this weekend

I'm going away for a couple of days. That's right people, an entire 48 hours.  Leaving Mr Average in charge.

So there needs to be a list.  But it doesn't consist of simple errands or activity timetables. Oh no.  

My ten years of - ahem - managing Average Towers has resulted in a set of full-blown guidelines. Call it control freakery if you like. I call it common-sense based on past experience...


ACTIVITIES

Under no circumstances, should you blow our entire monthly budget on fun-filled and expensive excursions.  This may well result in our offspring having "the best time ever" and elevate you to the position of *fun daddy*.  It's still not worth incurring my wrath for.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, it's equally unacceptable to park them in front of the telly for two days solid.

NUTRITION

Breakfast can surely take care of itself.  Lunch should feature at least one attempt at fresh fruit or vegetables. Boxed raisins do not count.

When it comes to teatime, ignore the lovingly well-stocked fridge at your peril.  Repairing to the fish and chip shop is not an option. Your failure to air the house afterwards means you'll be rumbled within 20 seconds of my arrival home.

ASSISTANCE

Roping in your mother (or indeed mine) to help is a cop-out. This applies to any other female relative who might be approached in the role of rescuer.

Worse still is the exploitation of any play dates that I have earned on behalf of our children. Don't even go there. Those two hours of payback are mine.

MY RETURN

It would be useful if the house interior was vaguely recognisable on my return. I don't expect clean.  I don't even expect tidy.  Merely habitable.

There should be a grace period of at least one week before you mention booking your own cycling/ski-ing/rugby trip with the guys - and the fact that it's several days longer than mine.

Stick to the above and we'll be just fine.

(To all those crudit√©-preparing, nature-rambling fathers out there, I apologise.  To all the other Mr Averages, read and learn.)

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You Baby Me Mummy

Thursday, 12 March 2015

How (not) to exercise with kids

I was pregnant with my first child when I saw her. It was a beautiful summer evening and her blond ponytail swished as she pedalled along with her two children - one on a rear child seat, the other on a small bike beside her.

And I thought to myself: "That's the kind of mother I'm going to be."

Ha ruddy ha.  I may have been hallucinating a decade ago. Because we all know that serene cycling with two children in tow is nigh on impossible. As is any kind of productive exercise. Consider my own contrasting experiences...


Cycling

Let's start with the activity of choice of my blond pony-tailed friend.  Like every good mother, I bowed to the pressure of removing my children's stabilisers as soon as humanly possible. Warning: This does not instantly guarantee a Von Trapp family cycling experience.  Not in our case anyway.

As far as my children are concerned, the rules of the family cycle run are as follows:

  • One of you should hurtle along as quickly as possible, while the other languishes at snail's pace. This leaves the lone parent in a satisfying quandary about who to stick with.

  • Should any traffic approach, do the opposite of your parent's instructions. Don't stick to the side of the road. Instead veer towards the tempting white line in the middle of it.

  • If riding in front, feel free to slam on your brakes without warning.  This is a reliable test of your parent's reflexes - and their ability to curtail their language in front of you.

Running

After reading the above, I know what you are thinking. Why would you even try? Here's the rub. I'm not a very nice person if I don't run regularly. And Mr Average frequently works evenings and weekends. Fresh air and exercise is good for them. Right?

It may be good for them, but it doesn't bode well for anyone who takes their running seriously. Or anyone with the misfortune to share the pavements with you.  Determined to make a go of it, I've run alongside the kiddos on their scooters or bikes. Dog walkers and indeed any faint hearted pedestrians have regarded our small entourage with a mixture of bemusement and horror.  

Kerbs present a particular source of frustration.  Scooters don't go up and down them very satisfactorily.  As with the family cycle, one child will high-tail off gleefully while the other will have a strop - perhaps even grinding to regular halts.  You could try calling this stop-start situation *interval training*.  But even I'm not that much of an optimist.

There is but one vaguely satisfactory solution: You run circuits round the park while they play. Everyone else will think you're nuts. After ten years of parenthood, that's probably true.  

Yoga

Surely it's possible to arrange 15 minutes of zen-like exercise in the comfort of your own living room? Not at Average Towers.

Child number two has declared himself my yoga partner.  This enthusiasm may seem sweet. The reality of the situation is otherwise:

  • He hogs the yoga mat, resulting in substantial parental carpet burn.
  • He fails to do any of the exercises correctly, thus destroying any atmosphere of calm with frenzied panics as to whether he's injured himself.
  • He openly guffaws at my own efforts. Certain positions cause particular hilarity. Reclined goddess anyone? 

Meanwhile child number one, a gymnast who folds herself in half effortlessly, looks on scornfully from behind her novel. Just to add to the experience.

**********

When it comes to sporting heroes, forget your Olympians. Parents who successfully combine exercise with kids are the true winners.  And they really do deserve a medal.

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Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Book Review: The Ice Twins

When I read the email from Mumsnet Bloggers Network looking for reviewers for The Ice Twins, I felt compelled to apply.

The blurb below explains why...

A year after one of their identical twin daughters, Lydia, dies in an accident, Angus and Sarah Moorcroft move to the tiny Scottish island Angus inherited from his grandmother, hoping to put together the pieces of their shattered lives.

But when their surviving daughter, Kirstie, claims they have mistaken her identity - that she, in fact, is Lydia - their world comes crashing down once again.

As winter encroaches, Angus is forced to travel away from the island for work, Sarah is feeling isolated, and Kirstie (or is it Lydia?) is growing more disturbed.  When a violent storm leaves Sarah and her daughter stranded, Sarah finds herself tortured by the past - what really happened on that fateful day one of her daughters died?

First impressions

As one of the lucky chosen ten reviewers, I was delighted to receive not only the book but an accompanying package containing camomile tea, a Kitkat and a tealight. These were designed to help the reader #SurvivetheNight, as the story was touted as a suspenseful read that would keep the reader awake into the wee small hours.

I rarely buy new hardback books, so the arrival of one through the letterbox was exciting in itself for me!  I thought that both the words and the imagery on the cover worked well and added to the sense of intrigue. No further encouragement was needed to get started...


The setting

Much of the action takes place on the tiny Inner Hebridean Eilean Torran (Thunder Island), on which the Moorcrofts are the sole residents. Their isolation, and Sarah's lack of familiarity with island life, adds to the atmosphere.  As a Scot, I was relieved that much was made of the beauty of the scenery as well as the harsh weather conditions!

The story

I'm mindful not to include any spoilers here.  The suspense in this story starts to build from the outset. The Moorcrofts' situation is a complex one.  Not only have they lost a child but Sarah and Angus have additional significant struggles - both as individuals and within their marital relationship. There is much talk of the sea and wild weather conditions and, indeed, the reader is also swept among waves of ideas and nuances that keep them guessing as to the answers behind the Moorcrofts' surviving daughter's identity.  I suspect that most readers will be kept guessing right up to the very end of this one.

Personal thoughts

The thoughts that follow are purely personal. Others may feel very differently...

As regards the characters, this was one of those books where my sympathies didn't really rest with one character.  Both Angus and Sarah are flawed (but aren't we all?!). Hints throughout the book about their darker sides are intriguing as they keep the reader toying with theories as to who might truly be at fault.  The downside to this, for me, was that I didn't really form an attachment to either of them.

I did, however, find the surviving twin's anguish during the book quite distressing. There are a number of traumatic scenes featuring Kirstie/Lydia and, indeed, she is unhappy throughout most of the story.  I think readers will feel for the little girl at the heart of this book - the author capably captures her despair, frustration and withdrawal from others.

In terms of the plot, it really is quite fast paced. For me, there were almost too many twists and turns to the story. I should confess here that I'm the sort of person who frequently has to pause a film and ask my fellow viewers for explanations... Although I might have preferred a slightly slower, more drawn-out build-up, I am equally aware that other readers will relish the speed and multi-faceted nature of the story.  

Conclusion

When friends found out I had a copy of The Ice Twins, their reaction was: "Oh, I want to read that book."  I'll recommend that they do.

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A review copy of this book was sent to me free of charge by Mumsnet Bloggers Network. All opinions are my own and no payment was received in return for this review.

Friday, 6 March 2015

Flexible working - a follow up

Last week, I was lucky enough to have my thoughts on flexible working covered in an 'Industry View' piece for the Your Job supplement of the Press & Journal newspaper.

Grateful for the opportunity, I  attempted to write some meaningful words that would be relevant to the publication's readership within the prescribed word count.

In reality my 500 words only scratched the surface of what remains a contentious issue. Articles like this one here are shared and commented on worldwide.  Clearly, lots of us have strong feelings on the subject.

So what of my own deeper feelings?

As with the newspaper article, I prefer not to focus solely on flexible working in relation to women. Men are equally entitled to this choice - and the associated benefits. And if the focus has to be on those who have children, let's talk about parents instead of only mothers.

I'm not living in la-la land.  I acknowledge that it's the female of the family who is more likely to put her career on hold and "flex" to accommodate the arrival of children.  That said, studies reveal that if no stigma was attached, most men would welcome the opportunity to reduce their workload to allow more time for family or other external interests.  The excellent 'Half a Wife' by Gaby Hinsliff talks about this in more detail. It's well worth a read.

Government and organisational systems have a long way to go before they truly facilitate and support flexible working for both men and women.  But until those systems are in place, we as individuals must continue to strive to make our work, home and family lives fulfilling.  Perhaps even harder than system change, is the change in mindsets and attitudes that is required for both sexes to genuinely believe that they can achieve a work-life balance that is right for them.

I, for one, have faith in our ability as humans to facilitate this change.  Many parents demonstrate great resourcefulness and creativity in finding ways to enable their families to function. Stretching budgets, splitting roles, juggling to accommodate children's activities, living off a single income: These are all challenges that families are plunged into and cope with admirably.

Having children also frequently acts as a driver for new parents to consider paths they might never previously have trodden, such as starting new business ventures or remaining within the same line of work but on a different basis - perhaps as a contractor or freelancer.  Others still, with the right support from an employer, may remain with the same organisation but with a different remit or work pattern.  These need not be viewed as 'second best' choices but instead as meaningful - and perhaps better - alternatives.

Flexible working arrangements are not always easy to achieve, or to sustain.  Both our systems and our attitudes can be an impediment.  But I do believe that a fulfilling work life should not be at the expense of a fulfilling family life - or vice versa.  Individuals, families and organisations need to work together and strive to find solutions that allow all parties to flourish.  This might mean opening our minds to new ways of doing things and accepting the element of risk involved.

When it comes to working flexibly, we need to keep up the good fight: For ourselves, for our future - and for our families to follow.

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Thursday, 26 February 2015

Turning forty doesn't hurt...REALLY?!

"It doesn't hurt. Honest." So said a number of friends on the approach to my milestone birthday.  

I don't consider myself to be a particularly fragile person.  However three months into this business of being forty and guess what? It does hurt. A lot.

Appearance
Let's get the vanity issues out of the way first, shall we? On the grey hair front, individual strands have morphed into wiry forests of full-blown white.  Fine lines have turned into crevices.  And don't even get me started on the injustice of having both wrinkles AND adult acne.  Surely one or the other is sufficient?

Maintenance costs
These are directly related to the unfortunate phenomena above.  Cleansing one's face with a baby wipe no longer cuts it as a beauty regime. Ditto to buying cheapo home hair dyes. The more mature lady requires a considerably larger budget in order to look semi-human. Enter my new obsession with the latest anti-wrinkle creams. And let's not dwell on my rocketing annual hair salon outlay.

The eye-watering expense doesn't end with beauty products though. The wardrobe needs to up its game too. Gone are the days when you can trip into New Look, select the first pair of £20 court shoes in the right colour and waltz out again.  Oh no. Forty-year old feet require quality footwear. And by quality I mean expensive. Likewise, the clothes shops of your teenage years with their teeny sizes (and teeny prices) are no longer your domain. Instead, you beat a path to the Hobbs sale because "their fit is so much more flattering."


Fitness
In fairness, I was warned about this one. A super-fit forty-something friend told me that she has to "do more just to stay in the same place".  No kidding.  I've upped my own regime with no tangible improvement in - er - anything.  Then there's the aches, pains and creaking joints to deal with.  I crouched down to retrieve something in a meeting recently.  The crack from my knees almost caused an echo.  If I don't die of decrepitude, I may well die of embarrassment.

Online form filling
Always a tedious exercise, this has reached a new level of discomfort.  I've now joined a bracketed age group that extends to 55.  Then there's the scrolling backwards to find one's year of birth, which takes an eternity.

I do, however, always like to end on a high. With that, let's consider my new eligibility for the veteran's category in running events. It may seem depressing, however it also means that I'm no longer competing against lithe eighteen year olds.  

As one fellow forty said: "Let's enter everything this year, while we're still the youngest."

Amen to that.

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Thursday, 19 February 2015

Excuses of a homeworker (and what they really mean)

Having freelanced for around a decade now, I've shared a lot of stories with others whose roles also involve an element of homeworking.  

There's a unique quality that you need to become a successful homeworker. No-one really warns you about it though. It's nothing to do with organisational skills or self-discipline, however handy these may be.

It's the art of ad-libbing, thinking on your feet and trotting out smooth explanations without a trace of hesitation. Ones that make it sound as though you're operating from a purpose-built glass-walled office when the reality of your working environment is something entirely different...

Here are just a few examples. (They're not all mine. Promise.)



Sorry I missed your call. I had to step away from my desk for a minute.

Translation: I nipped downstairs to shove the third load of washing into the machine.

I'm away from my desk today with limited access to email.

Translation: I rashly volunteered to help out in my child's class today.  I will be furtively checking emails during break time.

I have someone with me right now. Can I call you back?

Translation: My bewildered-looking partner has just entered the room clutching a shopping list and in desperate need of further instruction.

Please excuse me. I'm just about to pop out to a meeting.

Translation: The meeting is with my own offspring who are about to exit the school in three minutes. 

I am on annual leave this week.

Translation: I have decided to swap the stress of dealing with you for the stress of dealing with my children full-time for the next seven days.

********

Once you've got this little lot down pat, you really can't go wrong. After all, the ability to think on one's feet is surely attractive to potential clients?

Addendum: If any of the fabulous people I work for ever actually read this, please know that I love doing what I do for you.  Despite the lack of glass-walled office.

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