E+E Column: Catching Your Breath

As I slung a grumpy teething baby on my back in the wrap so I could do some work standing up at the kitchen worktop yesterday evening (long after I had wanted him to sleep), I realised that apart from meals, I literally hadn’t sat down all day. I was so busy getting kids up, breakfasted and dressed, rushing one child to her dance rehearsal (where I was chaperoning), making lunch, doing some housework and taking another rowdy child to the park later so he could get some exercise before starting on dinner and then tag teaming with Dan for bedtime that I hadn’t remembered to take any time to pause, sit down and recharge.

Before I go any further, I don’t want anyone to think this is a woe-is-me/motherhood-is-so-hard kind of column. I’m not looking for sympathy or trying to paint myself as a martyr. I’m writing this simply as a reminder to myself and anyone reading who might need to hear it, regardless of whether they are a parent or not that is incredibly important to remember to stop and catch your breath.

We all cram so much into our lives nowadays that we often feel that we simply don’t have time to stop. If we want to do everything we’ve committed to we feel like we need 27 hours in a day. The answer, I think, is to not take on too much, to learn how to say no. It’s easy to take something on, saying it’ll only be an extra hour a week but soon, all those extra hours add up until you’re burning the candle at both ends, unable to healthily fit everything in. Apart from anything else, if we keep pushing ourselves beyond our natural capacities, we’re prone to stress, illness and making mistakes. Much better to do less but to do it well, to be happy and to have time to rest.

So I write this with a sleeping baby asleep on my chest and a cup of chai steaming on the sofa next to me. I’m famously awful at remembering to take a break, I like to be busy. But I’m learning that we all need to stop, we all need to pause in our day. So whether that is a cup of tea and a bit of daytime TV, a good book in the bath (don’t drop it!) or escaping to the gym for an hour, if you’re barrelling along at a million miles an hour, don’t forget to take a break today and catch your breath.

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E+E Column: Growing up too fast…Does she still believe?

Whilst driving with the kids to visit a friend a few weeks ago with the radio on, a round of ‘Defend the Indefensible’ on Radio 4 caught my attention. Unfortunately, it caught the attention of the kids as well. I say this because the contestant playing was rather loudly and proudly defending the fact that she had chosen to tell a 5 year old the Father Christmas doesn’t exist. As she uttered these words and then confirmed this declaration to any young listeners, a silence descended on the car. After a moment, Isaac tentatively said to me ‘that lady is being silly isn’t she Mummy, because Father Christmas does exist doesn’t he? Doesn’t he?’ After some reassurance from me, Sophia piped up ‘well, I guess it could be you and Daddy staying up late and filling our stockings…it’s probably not though.’

So crisis averted for now (no thanks to Radio 4!) but it got me wondering just how long do children believe in the big man in red for? And it got me thinking about just how quickly my gorgeous big girl is growing up. Sob. She’ll be 6 next month, a fact that still flummoxes me. How can she be 6 already!? But I didn’t think that she’d be questioning Santa’s existence already. She is a bright cookie but still so young. The question now is, do we actively push Father Christmas as a real entity or just leave her to make her own judgements around it? My instinct tells me the latter but I’ll be sad if we don’t have a few more years left of all the kids believing wholeheartedly in him. I was cynical when they were younger about the deception but there is something just lovely about the magic of the whole thing.

I think I will however, have to accept that she is growing up quickly, and be ready for what this will bring. She asked for her hair in bunches last week but after a day of wearing it like that, told me she was worried that it didn’t suit her and thought that people were looking at her because of it whilst we were out. It almost broke my heart to see her so worried about her appearance and the judgements of others. I’m not particularly vain and we’ve never placed much emphasis on having to look a certain way but she’s obviously picked up the idea of things suiting her and people judging others on how they look anyway. I did my best to reassure her that all that mattered was that she liked the way her hair was done but she didn’t look convinced. Parenting continues to be a massive learning curve. Every time you think you’ve worked out how to deal with the latest challenge, you are rewarded with a brief moment of peace before the next stage starts and you have to develop a whole new set of tools to guide and help your kids. I’m continually reminded of Dory in Finding Nemo (every parent’s favourite!)…just keep swimming, just keep swimming…

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E+E Column: Embracing The Chaos

As I watched Dan scale what seemed to me, an enormous sheer rock face looming over waves crashing into rocks below, I remembered why I loved him so much (and not just because I was terrified that he was going to fall into the foamy depths beneath!) He reached the top, looked out to sea for a moment before turning for a photo, striking all manner of silly poses. His ability to embrace his inner child and act on the urges that come to him, is much envied. I have far too much reserve, I worry about what people will think of me, of whether I’ll get hurt, or wet, or muddy… Dan on the other hand, is the first one up a tree, clambering over rocks on the beach, playing hide and seek with the kids.

Inspired by his youthful(?) exuberance, the next day I found myself launching into a hay fight with my friend and the kids whilst they played in a giant hay bale barn on the campsite we were staying on. Much fun was had, laughter rung out through the cavernous barn as we covered each other with huge handfuls of dusty hay in the warm summer sun. And I was so glad that I chose to get involved rather than staying on the sidelines, just passively watching.

Life with children, I have found, is chaos. No two ways about it. There are however, two very different ways in which you can approach said chaotic life. The first is by resisting it and trying to impose some form of order and structure on it and the second is by embracing it. Unsurprisingly, I think the former makes for a lot of stress and not much success whereas the latter will probably result in a happier family in the long run. I’m not saying that you should live in anarchy with no bedtimes, routines or rules. Kids need sleep and certain boundaries enforced. They are often too young or not equipped with the right knowledge to be able to make sensible judgement calls, especially on matters concerning their health and well being. They need guidance when they make mistakes and when their behaviour or attitude is unkind or hurtful, they need gentle correction.

But…they also need to have fun and be happy! Play is so important for young children and not only do they enjoy it but they learn so much through it from social skills to the foundations for academic learning. And they need freedom in their play, space to explore and discover. When we place limits on their play, we’re effectively placing limits on them. So I try to choose to do one of two things, either take myself of to get on with work that I need to do or (and this is both the harder but more fun option) try and join in if they want me to. Often I have to step out of an adult mindset as Isaac spells out an elaborate make believe world that I don’t quite understand or Sophia chooses a game at the park that we’ve played a thousand times before. But without fail, whenever I choose to take a leaf out of Dan’s book and get down and dirty and join in the fun, we all are happier as a result. I’ve said it before but I often think about how my kids remember their childhood and I don’t want them to remember it as full of rules and restrictions. No, I want them to remember having fun and being happy and of me being right alongside them for it.

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E+E Column: Eating local

Two years ago we decided as a family to go supermarket free. I’m not going to lie, it was a short lived and fairly expensive venture and I missed the big weekly supermarket shop for ease of meal planning and not constantly popping to the shops. I did however, love the veg box and planning meals around what arrived. Even more than that, I enjoyed getting to know people in our local shops – the deli, cheese shop and pharmacy – places I never used to go with much regularity before. The staff in Country Cheeses in Topsham were particularly helpful at aiding in me in my cheese choices!

However, it was still with some trepidation that we decided to think about giving shopping locally another go. This time it started, oddly, with meat. After a number of conversations with vegetarian and vegan friends, I started to think more and more about animal welfare. I couldn’t keep ignoring the fact that industrial farming doesn’t treat it’s animals well. Previously I’d justified our decision to buy cheap meat in terms of affordability. But I’ve taken a different approach now. Rather than trying to ignore the guilt and eating lots of cheap meat, we’ve decided to buy local, organic, ‘happy’ meat but eat a lot less of it. We’re two thirds of a way through our monthly meat box from Riverford and enjoying it immensely – unsurprisingly, it tastes a lot better as well! Having started with meat, it seemed logical to then restart our veg box deliveries and add in some local milk and eggs to our weekly order. I’m not declaring ourselves supermarket free though – staples like tinned goods, dried fruit, grains and nappies are a heck of a lot cheaper at a big supermarket so I’m afraid I’ll still be going there for those kind of things.

Once again though, I am loving eating food that has been grown (or raised!) locally and more importantly, I think it’s absolutely great to be eating seasonal produce. Both in terms of environmental impact and arguably, in terms of our diet, eating out of season produce doesn’t sit well with me. It seems to me to be pretty sensible to get in line with the growing year and adjust our diets accordingly. Let’s face it, everyone prefers hearty casseroles and soups with lots of root vegetables in winter and prefers light salads and soft fruits in the warmer months. I think it probably suits our bodies better as well. (Disclaimer – I am not a scientist, nor have I looked at any nutritional research to support this. I am simply pondering aloud!)

Luckily, this time it doesn’t seem to be breaking the bank either! Almost a month in and although I haven’t saved any money compared to supermarket-only shopping, I haven’t spent any more either. All in all, I’m feeling pretty happy that we’re supporting local businesses, saving on ‘food miles’ and eating seasonally so I’m going to chalk it up as a success this time round so far. Here’s hoping we continue as we’ve started!

Enjoying some very locally grown veg last year!

Enjoying some very locally grown veg last year!