Addressing the things it feels easier to avoid

I hesitated a lot over whether to write this…..I’m still not sure whether I’ll press the ‘publish’ button. I hesitated, and am still hesitating, because it is something I’ve never written about before, or even really talked about before.

I hesitated because thinking about it makes me sad, and it tends to be easier to avoid those things. Or it seems easier at the time, anyway. But this year I’ve realised that sometimes you have to stop marching on through pretending everything is fine, and take the time to address things properly.

The thing is, my dad died this year.

The day it happened, I wrote it down again and again because I didn’t really know what else to do. I didn’t know how I was supposed to feel or what I was supposed to do next. Because the other thing is, I hadn’t seen my dad for over 20 years…..since I was about 15. So how are you meant to feel in that situation? How do you even tell people what has happened? People would have questions – where did he live? Was it sudden? Were we close? Had I seen him recently?  It was too big to know how to approach. It would need to be followed up by explanations, history; by things that I had rarely talked about.

And so I hardly told anyone…..I didn’t really talk about it at all. I went to work. I cooked the dinner. I watched my boys play football. I did the food shopping. I renewed library books. I went to meetings. I tried my very hardest to carry on with my day to day, because I had no idea what else to do.

I went to my dad’s memorial service and listened to people talk about a man I couldn’t even claim to know. When a lady asked me who I was, I was unable to find the words to answer….for a moment I had no idea.

That was three months ago, and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I have talked about it once since then.

Interactions with friends and acquaintances tend to require us to be fine – there is little time for things to be otherwise. You can be tired, or not feeling 100%, or anything else brief that can be dealt with on the school run or at the coffee machine; but the rushed ‘How are you?‘ that we greet most people with does not allow for anything much more detailed than this. We ask people how they are, but that doesn’t mean that we actually have time to put an afternoon aside to hear all about it.

It’s not that we’re not interested, it’s just modern life.

And so that was how it was. I attempted to deal with this massive hole in my life by not dealing with it; which is what I had always done. I kept busy through my twenties, and hid behind my boys through my thirties. It is only now, as I’m about to enter my forties, that I am starting to realise that hiding behind activity and/or children doesn’t necessarily work. And that, ironically enough, by attempting to protect my children I have probably made things worse, because I can’t be the mum they need whilst continuing to pretend that everything is as it should be.

I had, at the age of 38, lost my dad; but what I had never taken the time to come to terms with was the fact that I hadn’t actually had my dad through any of my adult life.

I don’t have much to say about estrangement that hasn’t already been said in this excellent piece by Sali Hughes, much of which really resonated with me. But I will say that it is an incredibly difficult thing to talk about for so many reasons. There is the worry that people might judge you – estrangement can be such a hard thing for people to understand. And what about friends who have lost a parent? How could I tell friends who I knew were devastated to have lost their dad that yes, my dad was alive but that he was no longer part of my life?

And so it was one of those things that was easier to not mention. It would hit me every so often, like a giant wave…..normally when I saw a proud father of the bride at a wedding. But I rarely said anything. And not saying anything just became a habit.

Then came this year. There have been times over the last few months when I have only really felt half-present. Half-present on the school run, half-present in conversations with friends, half-present at tea time. The other half of me has been somewhere else, running through all the things that I have been busy not talking about for 23 years.

I hesitated over whether I should write this, and then I wondered why. I often find writing things down easier than talking things through – writing gives me time to consider what I want to say, and ensure it is all coherent without my emotions taking over. Here is where I tend to write some of the things that are spinning around my head, and these are the things that are spinning around my head; so why was I so unsure? I was hesitating because it is usually easier not to address the things that are messy and complicated……we don’t know how people will react or what they will think. But does the fact that something is complicated, messy and uncomfortable make it any less valid? Or mean that it should be dealt with silently?  Just because not everyone will be able to relate to your situation, does that mean you shouldn’t write about it or take the time to try and make sense of it?

I realised that no, it doesn’t. Or at least, it shouldn’t. And so, over the last few weeks, I have been attempting to address some of the things that I ignored for too long. Writing down snippets during lunch breaks and before going to bed….messy, disordered thoughts which were in my head but had never gone any further than that. Just by putting some of it down here I already feel like a huge weight has been lifted. My head no longer had the space to contain it all.

I have always been someone who is reassured by routine – there is a lot that is good about surrounding ourselves with people and activity. But if there isn’t time in the busy-ness to address those things, little or big, which are threatening to overwhelm us because they have been ignored for so long; then the one thing that becomes more important than anything else is making the time to do this.

That is where I am now…..looking up, realising that this isn’t something I need to pretend hasn’t happened; and attempting to find some proper time to address it. If this post encourages anyone else to do the same then that will be even better.

And now I’m pressing Publish.

Autumn wandering

 

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A break from routine….and what it means to come home

I started writing this at 4.50pm whilst sitting on a plane. I’ve never written a post from an aeroplane before….. I’ve never written a post on my phone before either. But all day I had been hoping that we would get home in time to say goodnight to our boys; and then came the announcement that we would instead be sitting on a runway for two hours. Watching the rain. So I started writing this to give myself something to think about, other than the fact that I wouldn’t be home for bedtime.

We were on our way home from a very important three day child-free mission to find the best custard tarts in all of Lisbon*…..also known as a mini-break to celebrate our 10 year anniversary.

(NB. If you are only interested in the custard tart mission then you might like to skip to the end.)

And it really was a treat, even if it was so cold that I had to buy myself a new scarf and bobble hat on day 1. There we were, free to ride the trams, enjoy pre-dinner drinks, finish conversations, and admire the Portuguese tiles. Breakfast was a) prepared for us and b) a peaceful affair; and my days did not begin with a boy in a Stormtrooper costume asking me if I would like a game of Ludo. But a strange thing happens when you get a break from your offspring, which is that much of your thoughts and conversation still tends to revolve around them. My husband and I would amble along and notice things that one, two or all of our boys would have liked – the transport museum, the amazing food markets, the trams. We would, despite being child-free, remark upon the child-friendly nature of the city. As we waited in one particularly long queue, I commented on how patiently the two small boys just in front of us had waited, before going on to wonder how their (very stylish) parents had managed to get out with the two boys, a baby, and not a bag between them. Where were the nappies? Where were the snacks and drinks? And more to the point, WHY was any of this even going through my head when I didn’t have any of my own children with me??

But it was. And then of course I would start wondering what my boys were up to, before running through all of the times I had lost my temper too easily, or shouted too quickly; and finally going on to promise myself that I would return home refreshed and ready to deal with challenges in the calm, patient way that I had always imagined I would.

Our final day was one of those proper rainy going home sort of days, and I could have wept when I heard that our flight was delayed. Yes, I had loved the peaceful breakfasts, lunches and dinners; the coffee stops and the walks through the tiny cobbled streets; but I was ready to get back to the noise and the chaos that would greet our arrival home. I have written about home before….. I love a beautiful home, although keeping one is not my strongest point. But, whether it is calm and serene or messy and chaotic; the familiarity of home is precious in a world that seems to be lurching all over the place.  My house is a mess, but it is also a reassuring constant. And, whilst I already miss those custard tarts, I was absolutely ready to get back to those excited little voices and fiercely tight hugs.

And I couldn’t wait to be woken up by a boy in a Stormtrooper costume.

boys-in-the-rain.jpg

*If you are interested in the outcome of the custard tart (nata) mission, then let me update you. We did venture to Belem (about 30 minutes on the tram from central Lisbon) to sample tarts from the original factory, Pasteis de Belem – the queue went out the door, but standing in a queue with people who clearly loved custard tarts as much as I do was quite special; and yes these ones were were worth queuing for. However, if you don’t happen to go to Belem then let me also recommend Manteigaria, which is just off one of the central squares in Lisbon – it is tiny (standing room only) but the tarts are warm (you can watch them being made) and absolutely delicious.

Unexpected friendships

One thing I like about being an actual grown up is that making friends is so much less complicated than it was when we were 14. If you click with someone then that’s it, you can be friends – there are none of those tricky group dynamics that there were back at school. I love that you can make a friend just because two of you happen to be in the same coffee shop trying to get babies to sleep, or because you are sitting in the doctor’s waiting room and get chatting to the person next to you.

This one is about the friend I happened to meet on a shopping day in Bicester Village, which was a huge, child-free, treat for four of us organised by a mutual friend. I remember buying my husband a Superdry jumper and raiding the Cath Kidston store – we all went home with new pie dishes and oven gloves, and a sense that we really were proper adults now.

I haven’t been back to Bicester Village since then, but as well as my pie dish and the oven gloves I came home with a lovely new friend. She had boys of similar ages to mine, and was conveniently located for let’s-meet-half-way days out. And so we kept in touch; and during the school holidays we would get together with our little ones for a scramble through some woods or a run through some National Trust gardens.  I would usually arrive late and in a fluster, probably having asked my boys to put their shoes on 83 times, got cross with them as we were leaving, realised I’d forgotten the sandwiches, got cross with myself but taken this out on my children; and then seconds later felt started feeling guilty about all of the above. But after a day out with this friend, I would always come back feeling like a better, more competent mum than I really am. She is a brilliant example of someone who showers people with positivity, and it does the trick……because we all want to attempt to be as brilliant as she tells us we are. My boys would be calmer and actually seemed to listen when we were all together, and I would come home feeling that yes, parenting is something that maybe I can do. I am still more of a shouty mum than I would like to be, but every so often I remember that I really need to give myself and my children a break; and that finding something to praise, especially in those seemingly impossible situations, can make all the difference.

Why am I writing all this? Well, partly because I think we rarely let people know how appreciated they are. But also because this friend is moving…..and although we didn’t live in the same town anyway, now there is going to be a sea between us rather than just the A41; so our days out building dens and scrambling through woods will be a thing of the past. And they may only have happened once or twice a year, but I will miss them a lot.

I realised that I don’t have one single photo of us because we are usually busy rummaging around for snacks for hungry boys; but the photo below is one of my very favourites, and will always remind me of serendipitous friendships like this one: people who come into your life unexpectedly and just make it better in some way.

5-boys.jpg

Little changes – going flexi(tarian)

This is a bit of a different post for me, but if you read my blog then you will know that there’s not really any grand plan, I just write about whatever crosses my mind.

So this one is about a little change I’ve made recently, which is……well, not that I have gone vegetarian, but that I’ve gone what I think they call ‘flexitarian’.

Or semi-vegetarian.

My version of flexitarianism (yes, of course that’s a word) is this – I only cook meat at the weekends. Or meat for myself, anyway. I have always eaten a lot of vegetarian food – a veggie chilli is, for me, as good as a meat chilli; as is a veggie stir-fry, curry or burger….you get the idea. But despite the fact that I would often choose something vegetarian when eating out, I still tended to cook meat at home – mainly just out of habit. It always seemed like an easy option, particularly with the children to factor in. And then about 5 months ago, I decided to give meat-free weekdays a try, and that was the start of my new flexitarian routine…..I had no idea until recently that ‘flexitarian’ was even a term, by the way.

What brought about the change? Probably a few things. I will turn 40 next year, and with milestone birthdays often comes the desire to make little (or big) changes. So there are a few small but positive changes that I am trying to make to my general everyday life….. another little one is not buying a takeaway coffee unless I have my reusable coffee cup with me, but I won’t be writing a whole post about that one. I also have a good friend who turned vegan this year and regularly posts photos of her delicious looking vegan creations on Instagram – seeing those made me realise that I could really be so much more creative with my cooking. But the main factor behind my decision to go meat-free during the week was that I just started to become increasingly aware of how unsustainable it is to eat so much meat. I’m no expert, but just try Googling ‘Is meat unsustainable?‘ and it doesn’t take many clicks to discover how bad our meat-eating habit is for the planet – this article from The Guardian is a good start. And over the last 50 years or so meat production has almost quadrupled (there are some figures here), which is obviously not good news. So I am attempting to go back to thinking of meat as a luxury rather than as an everyday necessity – a roast on a Sunday, probably some leftovers, but then I don’t cook meat again for myself until the following weekend….and not always then. This weekend, for example, has been meat-free.

If you’re still reading then you might be wondering how it’s gone, and if you’re not wondering then apologies but I’m going to tell you anyway……the news is that it really hasn’t been that difficult, and I actually haven’t missed anything at all. On top of that, it is definitely cheaper, AND we are all eating much more healthily. We are buying significantly less meat (ie. hardly any), and I am thinking much more about how I cook generally.

If you are wondering anything else then please read on….

My flexitarian rules  

If I have leftover meat from the weekend then I can eat that during the week – if we’ve had a roast on Sunday, we will often have a stir-fry or similar on a Monday for example. The key is that I don’t cook more meat during the week. I haven’t gone plant-based, although I am aware that dairy is also an issue; however I do find that, because we eat a lot of veggie curries and stir-fries, at least a couple of our meals a week tend to be vegan anyway.

Are the children joining in? 

Not exactly. They have a hot lunch at school, so if they have after school activities then often I will do them a quick tea which might involve meat. But if we’re all eating together then it will be meat-free (unless it’s roast dinner leftovers). They are definitely eating more meat free meals than they were (probably at least three a week) AND making much less of a fuss than I anticipated.

What about the husband? 

Well yes, he is joining in because I tend to do most of the cooking; so what I cook goes. But obviously during the day he can eat what he likes!

Is it a real faff?

Now that I am in the habit of generally thinking meat-free, no it really isn’t. In fact, if you have a few key ingredients in then it is usually pretty easy to wing it.

Thoughts on meat substitutes….

I always used to be a bit stuffy about meat substitutes. I liked veggie food, but veggie food with vegetables rather than with pretend meat. But if you’re involving children in any way then meat alternatives are pretty much unavoidable and actually do a good job of adding a bit of texture to curries etc. My boys are not big fans of vegetarian sausages, but a bit of vegetarian mince in bolognese goes down well (the key is not to use too much – I use lentils as well); and mine all love the chicken style pieces which I use in curries.

Why am I writing about this? 

Well, sometimes life feels full of categories and boxes; like you’re either a vegetarian, or  a meat-eater and you have to be properly one or the other. But actually; if we all cut down significantly on the amount of meat that we eat then that has the potential to make a huge difference; and for many people that is a more achievable target. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

So that is my little change; but obviously I’m not going to be able to save the planet on my own. If you’d like to give it a go even just a few times a week then please see a few ideas below….

A few staple ingredients (as well as pasta, rice, noodles, tinned tomatoes; which all sort of go without saying)

  • Black beans, kidney beans, mixed beans (basically lots of beans)
  • Tinned lentils, dried red lentils, puy lentils (and lots of lentils)
  • Chickpeas
  • Coconut milk (good for child-friendly curries)
  • Vegetarian mince
  • Vegetarian chicken-style pieces
  • Mushrooms, onions, aubergines

And here are a few of our favourite meat-free recipes so far (aside from the pasta staples):

Aubergine meatballs (these are delicious – recipe courtesy of Abel & Cole)

Lentil cottage pie (a proper family favourite now – my boys love this one. Recipe from BBC Good Food.)

Mixed bean tacos (I just wing it with this one – any combination of beans, lentils, tinned tomato and some spices seems to work). Obviously you could do chilli, wraps, jacket potatoes instead of tacos; but tacos still cause a lot of excitement in my house.

Fake chicken curry, with any combination of what you have in stock (sweet potato, lentils, spinach). I often make this one up too, but earlier this week I tried this recipe from Sainsbury’s and it went down a treat.

And finally

If you’d like to follow my friend for some inspiration, she can be found @vegannaloveit over on Instagram.

And if you have any vegetarian family favourites for me to try then please do share!

walk in the woods

Just remembering the days when Mummy used to put real meat in bolognese

 

Just a little reminder

It is 10.30 on a rainy Sunday morning in September…..the rain was the first thing I heard when I woke up. The sky is grey and heavy. I love autumn, but nothing about outside looks appealing this morning.

“Maybe the weather won’t be so bad in Chorleywood”, says my biggest boy hopefully as we make our way onto the M25, windscreen wipers on at top speed.

Unsurprisingly, Chorleywood does not have its own micro-climate – the rain is still teeming down, the ground is squelchy, and is it absolutely freezing. Well…..9 degrees to be precise; which is pretty cold when most of your winter clothes are still in the loft.

I have been out of the car for about three minutes and already my fingers feel like they are about to drop off. I have finished my mug of tea and am not sure how I’m going to last out here for a whole hour. My boy is unperturbed and runs off to ‘warm up’.

He is 8 years old, my biggest boy, and has just gone into Year 4. He also appears to have entered the ‘tween’ years – one minute he is perfectly content, but the next the world is so unfair and no-one in the family cares for him at all.

No-one.

Not even mummy.

I know, or I certainly hope, that this is a fairly normal way to be at this awkward in-between-y sort of age. That as his awareness of life outside the little bubble of home grows, so too does his need to question everything that he previously took for granted.

But even so…..it hurts when tells me that he is not loved.

I look around this huge, soggy field and and attempt to count the parents. I soon give up, but there are a lot. Parents with dogs, parents with camping chairs, parents with huge golf umbrellas (I need one of those….mine keeps blowing inside out), parents with cross toddlers (I don’t need one of those); parents who look like there are many other places they would rather be on a Sunday morning football 1cold September morning than here….standing in a muddy field in the rain.

I know that it is important to some parents (especially to some dads) that their children (especially if they’re boys) play football. I love seeing girls playing football, but right now it is still more of an expectation for boys. It was never important to me whether or not my boys got into football, and my husband wasn’t that bothered either. I can see all the benefits – getting out there whatever the weather, keeping going even when you’re not winning, teamwork, co-operation, fitness, friendships; all of those things which come from getting involved with most sports. But, just being selfish for a moment, I am not particularly into football and would have been happy enough had my biggest boy picked something different. But he didn’t – for now, he has picked this. And that’s why I am here. I am not here because I’m desperate for him to spend his Sunday mornings chasing after a ball on a soggy field, I am here because he really really wanted to have a go at playing in a team. He is not a naturally sporty boy, and I admire his determination.

I suspect that the same is true for many of the other parents here. Yes, a few of them may well be attempting to live their own footballing dreams through their children; but I am pretty sure that many of them would rather be curled up at home with a duvet and a big cup of tea. And as I stand here in this field, waiting for the final whistle, I think about the parents who get up at 4.30am to take children to swimming galas, and the parents whose weekends revolve around dancing or gymnastics or music or drama or rugby or chess; or a combination of these and/or other activities. The parents who stand in fields and the parents who wait outside draughty church halls. The thousands and thousands of parents who spend a substantial part of their weekend driving somewhere random, waiting, and then driving home again. The networks of grandparents and friends ready to help out with the logistics.

This is what we do. This is how it works.

And so, my precious boy, the next time you declare that nobody loves or cares for you, I might just remind you of this freezing cold Sunday morning. And at some point, probably if and when you have children of your own, you will understand that this, standing-in-the-rain-on-a-muddy-field, freezing-cold-and-soaking-wet, watching-a-game-I’m-not-even-particularly-bothered-about; this is how loved you are.

Sunday morning football 2

Three boys on a sleeper train

We have entered a window of time which seems perfect for big adventures – my boys are 6 and 8, so small enough to want to have adventures with their parents, and big enough to appreciate them. And, of course, they are now old enough for adventures to be just a bit more practical too. And so I have found myself saying yes to more things recently, including ‘yes, let’s all get a sleeper train to Scotland.

My littlest boys have been asking when we can go on a ‘train with beds’ for at least a year, and I tended to respond with a deliberately vague ‘one day‘, as I do to many things. And then, for some reason I decided to actually look into it. And the more I looked into it, the more I liked the idea. So I investigated dates and found myself booking the Caledonian sleeper train all the way from London to Inverness.

I didn’t think too much about it after that – it would be an adventure, but I had absolutely no idea whether the sleeper train part of it would be a success. And then all of a sudden it was upon us, and we were waiting to board with three super-excited little boys.

If you also have this on your family to-do list, then here my attempt at providing you with some (useful?) information:

Where to go? 

The sleeper trains go all over Scotland (from London), but if you are travelling with young children then you will just want to think carefully about timings – for some destinations, you would either have to depart very late or arrive very early. We opted for Inverness, partly because we fancied a little adventure in the Highlands, but also to give ourselves the longest journey possible – the train left London at about 9.30pm but boarding was from 8.20pm, and we arrived in Inverness at 8.40am; so perfectly civilised times for small children.

Is it expensive? 

If you consider the cost of train travel these days, or compare it to the cost of booking flights for a family of 5, then it isn’t bad value. In total our booking came to just under £208.00 – about £72.00 each for the adults and just under £21.00 each for the children (one way). We did invest in a family railcard beforehand so saved a bit with that. We decided to book the sleeper train one way only – after three days in Inverness, we travelled down to Stirling and had a few days there before getting the regular East Coast train home.

How do the cabins work for families? 

There are two bunks per cabin, and if you are travelling with children then you are cabinallocated inter-connected cabins. You can buy a ‘Family Ticket’, which means that if you’re an odd number of people (ie a family of 2 adults and 3 children) then the spare bed is automatically reserved for you. HOWEVER, the family ticket deal does not apply if you book using a railcard…….something I didn’t realise before booking because I didn’t read the small print (d’oh). So I was a little surprised when I looked at our tickets to find that my husband had been allocated a berth a couple of carriages down from the rest of us. No harm done – we were fine and this didn’t really turn out to be a problem at all, but if you are an odd number like us then you might just want to ensure you’re actually booking the ‘family’ option.

Did the children sleep?

I’m happy to report that YES THEY DID! They were in their pyjamas and ready for bed when we left home, and so they were happily tucked up in bed just as we were pulling out of Kings Cross. I won’t pretend there wasn’t a lot of excitement and silliness, as well as 101 questions (‘Are you asleep yet, Mummy?……What about now?…….And now?…….And are you now, Mummy?‘) but the 6 year olds were asleep by 10pm and the biggest boy by 10.30pm. I found the eldest boy having a sleepy wander around the cabin at about 2am, but other than that everyone was quiet until just after 6am, which I consider a result.

Did the grown ups sleep? 

My husband reports that no, he didn’t sleep particularly well; and I didn’t either. Whilst I was perfectly comfortable, I was essentially trying to sleep in a cupboard with three children. I was also extremely aware of every single noise the train made (it is a fairly bumpy ride), and was constantly listening out for boys falling out of bed. It then got to that stage where I couldn’t sleep because I was too busy working out how many hours sleep I would get in the absolute best case scenario. I finally dropped off for an hour or two, but had a very vivid dream in which the whole train had turned into a giant soft play centre with only me in charge…..so my hour’s sleep really wasn’t restful in any way. Having said that, I didn’t mind because the whole thing was a novelty and my children were quiet, so I was quite happy lying in my bed enjoying the experience.

Things you might just like to know….. 

  • My children are not too old to find playing with light switches totally hilarious. Each bunk gets its own berth light (with switch), as well as a switch for the main cabin light. Berth lights caused the most trouble – apparently playing with your own berth light switch whilst also shouting ‘TURN YOUR BERTH LIGHT OFF!‘ to your mum and siblings is one of the funniest things in the world. In the end, I realised that I would have to sit in complete darkness until the boys went to sleep – this was a bit of a pain, but worth it not to hear anybody mention berth lights for the rest of the night. And once everyone was peaceful, I popped my light back on, read my book and had my can of G&T.
  • The gangways are extremely narrow and, obviously, cabin space is also very limited. I’m sure there must be somewhere to store large pieces of luggage, but it wasn’t immediately obvious to me when we boarded. We had fairly small bags and so had everything in our cabin with us; but if you are taking sizeable pieces of luggage then you might want to check out where to store these before you board the train. Once you have boarded there is really not much space to be lugging around huge bags.
  • In each cabin, the desk lifts up to reveal a SINK. A friend had warned me about this beforehand but I had totally forgotten about it until all my boys were asleep, and was thankful that I had – combined with the excitement over the berth lights, the discovery of the hidden sinks would have caused total chaos.
  • The inter-connecting door can LOCK OPEN. Unfortunately I didn’t realise this until the morning and so attempted to keep it open with my rucksack…..I then spent the night listening to it swinging open and shut (or the part of the night when I wasn’t supervising the soft play centre).
  • The top bunk is not for a nervous child – the barrier is, effectively, a couple of straps. There is no way my 8 year old would even go up there for a look, let alone sleep up there; so it’s a good job the 6 year olds have no such fear. If you have a nervous child then this is something to keep in mind.

Getting around in Scotland 

coach with a view

Bus ride with a view

We didn’t hire a car and actually, this was one of the things I loved most about our trip – it made such a refreshing change NOT to have a car. Jumping on buses, coaches and trains made the whole trip even more of an adventure, and meant that everyone could relax and enjoy the views, rather than someone having to concentrate on the roads and follow directions. And of course we were up in Scotland so the views were incredible – this was in no way a similar experience to getting the buses in and around London; which is what we are used to. Obviously we would have had more options had we hired a car, but we went out and about from Inverness using public transport and had no problems.

Was it fun? 

Was it fun?!? I would absolutely totally recommend it to anyone who enjoys an adventure. We went to bed in London, and woke up to views of mountains and lochs  – it was magical. I loved the sensation of lying in my cabin and not really knowing quite whereabouts in the country I was (until Facebook asked me if I would like any recommendations for places to eat in Doncaster). Yes, there were stressful moments – trying to manage very excited little children in extremely narrow cabins, trying to get people and bags down the tiniest gangways, trying to get everyone washed and dressed without bumping your head, tripping over something or bashing into a door – but when a 6 year old flings his arms around you just before you board the train and tells you this is his ‘best life ever’, then yes, it is absolutely worth it.

The lesson I have learnt from the whole experience is that sometimes it is worth being guided by small people when making holiday plans, and occasionally saying yes to things that you would normally just say ‘one day‘ to. What came from a request to go on a ‘train with beds’ became a wonderful adventure and something which I know will go down as a highlight of 2018.

 

N.B I have written this from a London-Scotland point of view because that was what we did. Obviously the other way round exists too – I just can’t promise quite the same scenery as your train pulls into London.

If you’re considering a London-Scotland adventure, here are a few websites you might find useful:

The back to school wobbles (that never really leave us)

“When can we make that cake, mummy?” / “We’ll do that during the holidays.”

“When can we make my clay robots, mummy?” / “We’ll do that during the holidays.”

“When can we see friend A or friend B, have friend C round to play, and go for a picnic with friends X, Y and Z?” / “Oh yes, we’ll do all of those things during the holidays too.”

Apparently we were going to do it all during the holidays. I should have known better than to promise such things – we rarely achieve much of what is on the start-of-holiday to-do list.  We keep our days busy, because staying in the house for too long usually ends up with me crying in a corner. We head to the park with balls, tennis rackets and skateboards; and I listen to my boys squabble outside instead of in. We make the most of the freedom, but we get spectacularly little done.

Back in July, it felt like we had a never-ending stretch of time ahead of us.  We had some plans but we were gloriously free of the school/work routine, and those 6 weeks felt full of possibility. Now, autumn is around the corner and we are in full-on back-to-school mode – labelling uniform, getting feet measured, stocking up on stationery, and doing our optimistic start-of-term ironing.

And with all the back-to-school preparation comes that horrible back-to-school feeling, deep in the pit of your stomach – the Sunday night feeling.

It isn’t really about liking or not liking school – it’s the change, getting back into the normal routine, and that slight apprehension about what might be new or different this year. It is knowing that we’re going back to getting up and out, back to “why haven’t you got your book bag and WHY AREN’T YOUR SHOES ON???”, back to spellings and times tables. It is moving on to a new teacher, new expectations, different classroom dynamics. However much you enjoy school, it all feels like hard work after 6 weeks.

My boys are 8 and 6, but the same will probably be true when they are 15 and 13. The carefree routine which, for the last few weeks has been their life is about to be turned on its head.

And me, well I’m nearly 39 – a proper grown up now. So obviously it feels different for me, because these things get easier as you get older…..Except I’m not really sure that they do. It’s back to work for me too (and yes, I know I’m super lucky to have the holidays off), and I also have that Sunday night feeling – I will have it for the rest of this week, and over the weekend too. As much as I know that a return to routine will be good for all of us, I am dreading it. The morning rush, the after-school tears, keeping up with the school calendar as well as with my own work – the thought of all of that starting again makes me feel properly wobbly. I might look like a grown up, but the back to school dread is very much still there. And I’m not going to pretend that I have loved every minute of the summer holidays – by lunchtime on day one I was in tears and wondering how I would possibly get through a full six weeks (we did not thrive during that heatwave). It’s just that…..well, now we’re nearly at the end, I have settled into a new routine too.

So I fully expect there to be wobbles from you little ones next week and I understand that, because I will be having wobbles too….along with many parents, teachers; and lots of other grown-ups who are getting ready to go back to work after a holiday. Some things don’t change when you’re a grown up, you just get slightly better at hiding them.

Here’s to looking after each other, and a successful school year ahead.

summer freedom 2018