The gift of a snow day

Many countries experience snow as an unremarkable part of winter. Daily life and routines continue as normal. But this is not the case in the UK, where snow is a major event – we walk around obsessively taking photos of it, we talk to passers-by about it. It even makes the news headlines.

Something funny happens on a snow day in the UK. Time seems to stand still. The streets are deserted. Cars are few and far between, as are people – so much so that they actually acknowledge each other with a nod and a smile when they do cross paths…..maybe even with words. Everyone expects everything to be cancelled, or at the very least extremely problematic. If you do make it to wherever you’re supposed to be going, people congratulate you and tell you how well you’ve done….which is quite nice. You feel like you’ve achieved something significant just by walking round the corner.

The whole day has a not-quite-real feeling about it. And, if you don’t have anywhere super-important that you need to be; if you’re not a shift worker or stuck on gridlocked roads trying to get home then actually, having your day wiped clear for reasons beyond your control can be quite refreshing……You’re not surprised to hear that your shopping won’t be delivered during your requested time-slot, and it doesn’t even really matter  – no, you’re not sure what you’re going to eat but everything is a bit of an adventure, your children are outside and happy and no-one really knows what the time is anyway. Your normal routine is temporarily suspended and, after weeks of rushing around with a thousand and one things in your head – costumes to make and raffle tickets to buy, Christmas fairs and carol concerts, end of term parties and preformances – what a pleasant change to be reminded that, for one day at least, none of it matters that much. How refreshing to remember that sometimes things are beyond our control. That we might not be able to do all the things we had planned but life goes on quite happily regardless. For a day at least, all that matters is building snowmen (or watching your children build snowmen); keeping warm and drinking tea.

Shutting down used to be what Sundays were for – the shops weren’t open, things actually stopped. But these days we never shut down. We keep going all week at an often unsustainable pace, unless we’re so ill we can’t move (and even then, we’ll do our best); or there’s a snow day. In this age of never shutting down or even slowing down, then perhaps having a snow day forced upon us occasionally is no bad thing.

So although it is seen as a bit of a joke that this country grinds to a halt at the very sight of snow, yesterday I was actually quite grateful for it. I was grateful to forget our plans and to watch my children throw and build and laugh and fling themselves down in this white, powdery, very cold stuff which falls so rarely. I was happy to warm up with a mulled wine as I watched them whizz down our slide in the garden into a pile of snow. I was happy that my biggest boy got to curl up on the sofa with his book without being rushed anywhere.  I enjoyed not knowing or really caring what the time was. And I was grateful for the reminder that very few of the things we rush around for actually matter that much.

We need to make the most of these days when time seems to be gifted to us; because before we know it, we’re back in the real world again. Racing around until the next snow day comes along.

snow day 1

PS If you did have somewhere very important that you needed to be, or if you were stuck on gridlocked and dangerous roads; then yes, I agree – the snow is a total pain.

 

 

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One of those weeks

Sometimes you have one of those weeks.

One of those weeks when the dishwasher is broken and you forget your son’s doctor’s appointment and everyone is getting ill.

One of those weeks when your husband can barely move because of his bad back and then discovers he can no longer work from home on his working from home/doing the school run day, which means you have to leave work early even though though you have a mountain piling up on your desk which you were really hoping to get through.

Sometimes you have one of those weeks when you’ve left work early to pick up the children, but then get home and realise you’ve locked yourself out. You empty out your handbag and your pockets in a desperate hunt for your keys and you try your neighbours who have a spare; but the neighbours aren’t in and you really need to go and get the children from school….even though you’re not sure where you’re actually going to take them once you’ve got them. So you set off for school ready to break the news and you look around for a friendly face and try to think of a plan. And you try to communicate with your husband to say there’s a little, actually quite a big problem and is there any chance he might be home a little bit earlier like he suggested this morning so that he could let you in the house; but he’s locked away working on high security things with no access to a phone, and the neighbours are out looking after their grandaughters and right now you have no way of getting into your house. Thankfully there are plenty of friendly faces and soon you are sitting down with a cup of tea and the children are on an unexpected playdate; but you’re still not sure how or when you’re going to get back home and you’re running out of answers for your children and your eldest one keeps reminding you that you promised him a new pack of MatchAttax and you try to tell him that MatchAttax aren’t your priority right at this moment.

Sometimes you have one of those weeks when you have to call your mum-in-law and say I’m-so-sorry-but-we’re-locked-out-and-the-neighbours-aren’t-in-and-your-son-can’t-get-home-and-please-could-you-drive-to-our-house-during-rush-hour-and-let-us-in.

Sometimes you have one of those weeks when you wonder whether there was some ‘how to be a proper grown-up’ test that you forgot to take because right now it doesn’t really feel like you’re doing a very good job at it.

Sometimes you have one of those weeks when you forget a doctor’s appointment and your dishwasher is broken and you lock yourself out of your house and work is non-stop…….and then your eldest child sits staring at his breakfast and announces he is too poorly to go to school. Just as you’re about to leave the house for work. And you thought you’d be on time today…..maybe even early. But now you’re in a panic and can your mum-in-law possibly look after him and how much more are you going to ask of your mum-in-law this week?

Sometimes you have one of those weeks when you are behind at work and behind at home and then you open the book bags to discover you need to produce two robot costumes for the Christmas play.

Sometimes you have one of those weeks when no-one will co-operate and get ready for school and you’ve had enough of hearing ‘He hit me with BATMAN‘ and no-one understands that you really need to leave the house NOW right NOW…..there is actually no more time to be building train tracks. You are shouting ‘SHOES‘ and ‘COATS‘ and ‘HATS‘ and ‘BOOKBAGS‘ but you might as well be shouting into the abyss because no-one is listening. And finally you’re by the door and about to leave when the 5 year old who has just been to the toilet looks at you anxiously and says he really needs to go again right NOW, he’s DESPERATE. So you shout even though you know you shouldn’t because you’re meant to be the calm one in all this craziness, and now you feel bad about shouting as well as feeling bad about running late. And you run to school and the boy who needed the toilet falls over and his brother has a stone in his shoe and you tell him you’re sorry but that will have to wait.

Sometimes you have one of those weeks when you get home from the manic school run and realise that the zip on your very favourite pair of boots has broken and that really is the last straw. Everyone knows how much you love your comfiest boots in the world ever. You really want to sit down and weep but you can’t because the dishwasher man is at the door ready to fix the broken dishwasher. So you let him in and make the coffee and find out that the dishwasher will cost £220.00 to repair. And as it’s been one of those weeks, this makes total sense.

But the worst thing is still the boots.

It’s been one of those weeks.

one of those weeks

Mummy away / Mummy at home – a tale in two parts

Part 1 – Away

Mummy is lucky enough to be having a weekend away. No husband, no children……just mummy and some friends.

Mummy sits down on the train and thinks about the fact that she has two whole days ahead of her which will not require her to be a human vending machine, or to attempt to answer three questions at once, or to repeatedly ask boys to blow their nose.

Mummy considers the fact that her bags contain her things, and her things only.

Mummy considers the fact that she will be able to talk freely and finish conversations.

Mummy considers the fact that her friends are unlikely to feel the need to pull on her arms or shout her name over and over if they want to get her attention.

Mummy considers the fact that she might even be able to read more than half a paragraph of her book in one go.

Mummy’s head isn’t spinning.

Mummy revels in the freedom, but also sends her husband numerous messages to check that he is doing things more or less exactly as she would do them. Mummy has been known to get irritated with daddy for not using his initiative; however, if daddy chooses to use his initiative but then does things in a way that mummy doesn’t approve of, mummy reserves the right to be furious.

Mummy acknowledges that daddy has a difficult task ahead of him this weekend.*

Mummy and her friends agree that they would like to spend some time pottering round the shops, because they absolutely never do this in their normal lives. Six hours later, the carefree foursome are still happily pottering. They have tried on things they don’t need, spent time examining things they are never going to buy; and marvelled at the joy of wandering unhurried around the shops, without the fear of anyone attempting to dismantle the displays.

Mummy is oblivious to the Saturday crowds. Saturday crowds mean nothing when you are used to having three small children hanging off your arm and clamouring to be heard.

Mummy feels a bit like she is 15 again……at the shops, with her friends.

Having eaten too much, shopped too much, wandered leisurely around a museum and finished more conversations than she can remember having finished in the last seven years, mummy gets the train home. Mummy has coffee and a mince pie, nobody on her lap and, in the space of an hour, reads more of her book than she is likely to read for the next two weeks.

Part 2 – Home

Mummy walks through the door. Mummy’s children are happy, noisy and excited; and the smallest ones are overjoyed that mummy happened to pick up the Go Jetters magazine complete with a Grandmaster Glitch figure.

Mummy has been away for two whole nights which means that right now, mummy is a novelty. Three boys are eager to tell mummy every single thing that comes into their heads, all at once and in no particular order. They watched Star Wars with Jar Jar Binx and Qui-Gon / they watched some fruit fall off the minions’ heads / Strictly was in BLACKPOOL / Claudia had a seagull on her head / Blackpool is really huge / they played Strictly with their great-grandma / they scored 17 goals at football.

Mummy is quite enjoying being a novelty and being surrounded by children who don’t appear to be cross with her.

15 minutes have now passed and mummy is no longer a novelty. Mummy was actually surprised that her novelty status lasted for as long as it did. Mummy is required to answer a series of quickfire questions that are in no way linked to anything that has just been discussed…..such as what colour is petrol, and if you’re invisible can you see melted ice-cream.  Out of nowhere, Boy 3 is sobbing because both his brothers got to ‘speak to Tess’ when he didn’t; and Boy 2 is shouting something about his brother having stolen Grandmaster Glitch’s wheel…..turns out Grandmaster Glitch didn’t even have a wheel.

Mummy has ‘Go go, go go, Go Jetters‘ going round and round her head, and threatens to confiscate Grandmaster Glitch whilst wiping away Boy 3’s tears and promising that he’ll be able to speak to Tess next week.

Mummy is home. And her head is spinning once more.

Mummy away

What a peaceful scene

 

*Turns out, daddy uses his initiative pretty well.

Our new happy hour – weekly one-to-ones

Banana ice-cream was what you wanted. ‘Isn’t it a bit cold for ice-cream?’ I asked. But apparently not. You were adamant – chilly day or not, you would absolutely love an ice-cream.

You declared it the best ice-cream you had ever had. I’m not sure it was really, but perhaps the happy circumstances made it seem that way.

You were out with mummy. Just you. No big brother and no twin. No-one influencing your choices. No-one telling you not to interrupt or asking you to wait your turn.

Just you and mummy on a cold day in the park cafe. A good tempered, calm mummy for once, because she hadn’t gone through the trauma of getting three boys out of the door.

We have realised, perhaps a little late, that regular one-to-one time has become very necessary…..for you twin boys in particular. It is important for your big brother too, but he tends to get this naturally as a result of being a different age, having different friends and taking part in different activities. It’s not that there aren’t huge advantages to being a twin. I often look at the two of you and think how lucky you are to have each other – a buddy who is there with you at every milestone. But equally, I know that being a twin brings challenges and that there are things you miss out on as a result of being one of two……mainly, attention.

If you read anything about parenting multiples, the standard advice is to separate them every so often; but for us it just wasn’t a priority in the early days. Perhaps we were wrong, but it just didn’t really occur to us at weekends to schedule time to split everyone up. You boys were generally happy together, so we were happy to let you be together.

And then we realised that regular time on your own was something you desperately needed, and that we needed to ensure you got. Time to be yourselves. To remember that you are important individually and not simply as a unit. Space to make your own choices. To be listened to properly rather than by a parent who also has an eye and ear on what the other two are up to. It wouldn’t be anything grand, just time. And I really mean nothing grand – for Twin 2’s outing, we went to Tesco. I know. We chose Halloween hats and had a coffee/smoothie and a pain au raisin. It was such a treat (it really was).

And then last weekend, Twin 1 and I went to the park. It seemed strange seeing you racing around on your own; but I don’t think it occurred to you to be lonely. Mummy wasn’t distracted. You climbed and mummy watched. You spoke and no-one interrupted.

I wasn’t surprised you were sad when I said it was time to go home. But then the joy on your twin’s face when we got home made the brief separation worth it too. It was as though you’d been apart for days. And, surveying the calm atmosphere at home, it occurred to me that actually, this is special time for everyone……not just for the boy who is taken out. Taking one out of the equation means those left at home also get more attention. There are fewer siblings available for a squabble. There is less noise. The parent left at home is less stressed. It is a win-win situation.

It feels like we have had a hard few weeks, but being out with just one boy helps me to remember the things I love about being a mum. It has made me realise that around 90% of what I do when I’m in charge of three children is crowd-control, only about 10% is actual parenting. Please don’t do that. Please get off him. Why have you taken that off him? Is that a kind thing to do? Why are you poking him? If you get your hands off him, then he won’t get irritated.  And I know all about the benefits of having siblings; but still, sometimes children need a reminder that who they are and what they have to say is important. They need to choose their own ice-cream without a sibling’s input. They need to see a parent enjoying their company; without being distracted by cries of ‘He is talking to me in a MEAN way‘ and ‘He stood on me‘ and ‘I’ve lost Spiderman’s head AGAIN, mummy‘.

It’s only for an hour or so. But what a happy hour it is.

boy in leaves

Ups and downs, highs and lows

Sometimes I watch as you amuse yourselves building rockets out of bricks and think yes, we’re all doing ok. You play, you build, you feel proud. You are loved, you are warm, you are fed. But then a few minutes later, it all falls apart – one of you wants to build a monster, another wants to build a zoo. Nothing is fair, it’s all his fault. Mummy tell him!……TELL HIM OFF! 

And I realise I was getting cocky. I let myself think too soon that it was all going well.

Sometimes I feel like I can’t stand any more squabbles over whose turn it is to help get the breakfast ready. One of you sobs your heart out and tells me it is definitely YOUR turn, definitely. You haven’t done it for AGES. But then there is your brother……No, mummy…..I haven’t done it for ages. It is definitely MY turn, mummy. Please mummy. PLEEEEEAASE.

And I don’t know how I’ll get through a day with this going on in the background.

Sometimes I watch the three of you sitting down happily poring over a book. And I think yes, this is just as it should be. Look at you, content just being together – nothing makes me happier than this. And then you all need something from me at exactly the same time; and suddenly I feel totally inadequate. I realise I’m not doing the right thing by anyone – half-heartedly answering a question for one boy while I attempt to draw a gingerbread man with another and stick a plastic bottle onto a margarine tub with the third.

Sometimes I watch you all walking along together: chasing each other, hiding, laughing; occasionally holding hands. My little unit. And it makes my heart sing.

And other times I see everything start to unravel and I wonder why you are suddenly so ANGRY. What is behind your rage? Is it something I’ve done? Is it something I’m doing? At those times, my evenings are spent Googling ‘Angry 5 year old‘ and my head is full of strategies and tactics; but I know that the next morning I’ll be watching you again as you happily potter around with those bricks, and all those worries will melt away.

Sometimes it hits me how grown up you suddenly seem. We can have proper conversations. You are interested and interesting. And then out of nowhere you urgently need to know how scaffolding is erected. Scaffolding. It is not satisfactory that I have absolutely no idea. And we’re walking along a busy street so I just can’t find out for you right now. But apparently I am not understanding your question. I need to LISTEN to you; I’m not LISTENING.

I am listening to you, I promise; but I still don’t know anything about scaffolding.

And that makes me feel inadequate too – I don’t think I ever realised that I wouldn’t have all the answers for you. Or maybe I imagined us sitting down quietly to look up the answers together…..which just isn’t possible when you’re walking along a busy street; or when there is always another child demanding time, energy and answers to different questions.

Sometimes I realise how behind I am with everything. That I’ve missed a birthday. That I haven’t replied to a text. That I haven’t read the latest school newsletter or seen the list of upcoming events.

Sometimes I see the pile of laundry and just want to weep.

Sometimes, like this morning, I open a drawer and it falls apart. And all I wanted to do was put clothes away.

Sometimes, in fact most of the time, I vow that I will start going to bed earlier. I know that will help me to deal with the challenges in the daytime. But then I also know how impossible I find it to give up my evening. My time to just be, without all the noise. Without the mummy, mummy, mummy demands.

Sometimes, I realise that I really had no idea what a rollercoaster this whole thing would be. I knew there would be challenging times, but I had no clue that I would regularly experience the whole spectrum of emotions over the course of one day, or even one hour. I had no idea that my heart would swell with love and pride one minute, and that I would be tearing my hair out with frustration the next. I had no idea that sometimes, I would feel like every  last bit of goodness had drained out of me by midday….or earlier.

Sometimes…..well sometimes raising children is just a bit overwhelming. There are up-and-down days, seemingly impossible days; but then there are also days when I see my boys kicking their way through leaves or marching along happily with a giant stick. Hooray for those days – those are the good ones. And when we look back at these days in a few years…..well, hopefully we’ll have forgotten that mummy didn’t have any of the answers to your questions about scaffolding.

boy with a giant stick.jpg

My little boy with a giant stick. Because a giant stick makes everything better.

 

 

 

 

 

Three cheers for grandparents

I got home from work this afternoon to find one of my children calmly making a Chinese dragon with his granny.

I’m just going to write that down again – I found one of my children making a Chinese dragon.

Another was happily pottering around with his Lego, and the biggest one was engrossed in his book.

The scene was calm. Peaceful. It actually looked like somebody else’s house.

After tea we all danced with the Chinese dragon. No-one pushed, shoved or fought over who should stand where. It was a properly happy moment.

This is very much not a normal turn of events after school…….Firstly, I wouldn’t know where to start with making a Chinese dragon; and secondly, if my children were doing after-school crafts on my watch, they would be falling off their chairs, hurling things across the table, and/or sobbing because we’d used the wrong cereal box.  Since going back to school a few weeks ago, the after school period in our house has been teary, fraught with emotion, unproductive, and anything but calm. Over-tired children have been more than ready to take out all their rage on me; or alternatively, on each other. On several occasions, I have wondered how much longer I can continue to do this, before quickly realising that there is absolutely no point in me wondering such a thing. I live here, and these are my children.

So what was this beautiful, serene scene before me? Who was this child, calmly asking me if I had any straws for him to stick on his dragon without even a trace of ‘I-really-need-a-selection-of-straws-now-otherwise-it-will-be-the-worst-thing-that-has-ever-happened-to-me’ in his voice? When would the normal after school behaviour start?

The difference this evening of course, was that ‘Grammie’ – my mum-in-law – was here. Back from her holidays. It was the Grammie/Grandma/Grandparent Effect. Not only were Chinese dragons being made, but there had also been handwriting practice. The handwriting practice that had been greeted with ‘Not NOOOOOOOOOOOOW, I don’t WAAAAAAANNNNNNTTTTT to‘ whenever I had suggested they might like to consider it. Chinese dragons, handwriting practice, AND reading books. It was, I am pretty sure, one of the most productive after schools we have ever had. Usually, the main thing we achieve is widespread discontent over whatever I have cooked for tea.

The Grandparent Effect is well-known in our house. My children are more likely to behave, listen and do things without fuss; and far less likely to fling themselves on the floor when the simplest thing is asked of them, when a grandparent is present. Grandparents bring with them a calmness, infinite amounts of patience, jokes, songs, time, and less of a pressing need to get things done. Which means they actually end up getting more done than I ever do. When my own mum is here, she manages to play games with the children, make a meal, do the reading books, wash up, do all the ironing, fold the clean clothes; and, quite often, knit a jumper too. I come home to a calm, orderly, tidy house full of happy children; and am always amazed that apparently this is possible. I find it difficult to believe that I will be that sort of grandparent. I can’t knit for a start…..or make Chinese dragons.

But for now, I couldn’t be more grateful for the grandparents my children are lucky enough to have. For the momentary calm they bring to our house. For the joy they bring their grandchildren just by being there (because when you’re 7 and 5, there are very few things that are more exciting than seeing your grandparents). For making bringing up children easier and more enjoyable for us.

And for being less snappy, less rushed, and so much more patient than me.

Three cheers for grandparents – they are amazing.

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For the new mummy

Hello new mummy, and congratulations.

Perhaps you have bounced straight back from an uncomplicated birth, or you might be feeling a bit like you’ve been hit by a bus. You probably had your ideas about how you wanted the birth to go; but however many books we read, none of us really has any clue what to expect…..either during labour or afterwards.

Everyone talks to you about labour, don’t they. Everyone has an opinion and advice to share. But no-one talks to you about afterwards. Well, they talk to you about changing nappies and sleepless nights and feeding – people love to talk to you about those things. They talk to you about the baby; but no-one talks to you about you.

I’m not sure why that is…..probably because we are worried about frightening mums-to-be. But when we don’t talk about it, well some of the things that happen in those early days are frightening. They frightened me, because I had no idea whether they were normal. No-one had told me about those bits.

You might be thinking that your body doesn’t look like your own any more…..and it probably doesn’t feel like your own either. The first time you attempted to stand up after giving birth your legs probably felt all shaky and wobbly, like they were about to give way. No-one told you that just standing up on your own two feet might be a struggle. No-one told you that, for a little while after having your baby, you might genuinely worry that your legs no longer worked properly.

They told you about the bleeding, though. You read about that; so you got prepared and packed all the things the books told you to pack in your hospital bag.

You just weren’t expecting the bleeding to be quite like this……you weren’t expecting there to be so much of it. So much bleeding when your legs are all wobbly and shaky and you just don’t feel able to deal with it. So you’re searching through your bag for everything you need…that bag you carefully packed before this life and body-changing event happened; but you almost feel like it was a different person who packed that bag.

It feels strange searching through this bag of things that are familiar but also feel like they belong in a previous life.

It is strange, being in this body that doesn’t quite feel like your own.

And now you need the toilet and you even feel frightened about that – no-one told you that going to the loo would be scary. Your legs are still shaky and you’re bleeding and now you’re worrying about what’s going to happen when you sit down on the loo.

You wonder whether your body will ever feel normal again.

But now here we are a few days later, and you think you’re starting to recover – everyone says you’re doing really well. So you go for a walk and then realise you no longer seem to have control of your bladder. And you cry, because you remember being advised to do your pelvic floor exercises, but you never really knew what that actually meant or whether you were doing them properly. You never really understood how much you took your bladder for granted.

And now you’d really like it back.

Your body feels like it belongs to someone else, and your hormones are all over the place and you’re sore and swollen, and you’re not sure what day or time it is AND you’ve just produced a tiny human that you now need to care for. So it’s not surprising that baby blues is an actual thing. There it is on Day 3.

Bang.

You’ve got everything you wanted but you JUST CAN’T STOP SOBBING.

But in between the crying and the bleeding and the feeling a bit shaky, you’ve got this brand new little human to keep alive. And suddenly you feel unsure about everything. Are you supposed to change the nappy before you feed or after you feed? Should your baby be in a vest and sleepsuit or just a vest? Or just a sleepsuit? In your old life you were a reasonably competent human being, you knew what you were doing; but now you need everything to be validated, confirmed by someone who knows. Where is your manager in all of this?

But there is no-one to give you all the answers…….there are just lots of other people with opinions. And all the opinions are different.

And the feeding, well that’s supposed to just happen, isn’t it? Apparently, the baby will just crawl up your chest and latch on. You’ve bought one of those nice covers to take out with you so you can ‘feed discreetly’ in a cafe. Except no-one told you about the fighting and grappling and struggling that would happen every time your baby needs some milk. No-one told you that you would have midwives clamping your baby’s head onto your breast as you struggle to get the hang of this thing that is so natural but so difficult for many.

And they said it wouldn’t hurt. But it really hurts.

New mum – you probably expect a lot of yourself. You expect your body to work as it did before, despite the fact that you have just produced an actual person and now you are using all your remaining stores of energy to keep him/her alive. Your body will heal, but not straight away. Remember what it has been through.

Don’t judge yourself by how other people are getting on – some things are hard for some and easier for others. That is parenting.

It is easy to forget yourself in all of this; but don’t forget yourself, new mum. Make time in your life for people who make you smile, who ask how you are, and who help to make this an easier job.

People like to tell new mums to ‘enjoy every moment’, but don’t worry if you’re not. Just do your best, and eat some cake. Right now, you don’t need to expect any more of yourself than that.

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