What’s my name again?!

As I write this at 7 in the morning, I have a 2 year old monkey climbing on my back, attempting to strangle or cuddle me (I’m not sure which) in between taking breaks to eat his cereal. We’ve been up since 5am and he is impossibly full of beans. My bean counter is looking noticeably less full. A situation that many parents are finding themselves in this morning and for those of you will older or grown up kids, an occurrence that I’m sure you don’t miss! But with this phase of 5am waking looking more and more like a longer term arrangement on my youngest son’s part, I’ve decided to try and embrace them and get on with work and tasks. I often struggle to fit everything in and realised I could utilise these early hours to create more time. At least that was the plan last night. This morning I sat, comatose, on the sofa whilst the electronic babysitter did it’s thing before finally rousing myself at 6.30 to make a cup of tea and find my laptop. It would probably help if I went to bed a little earlier but there’s always tomorrow right?! Sleep deprivation is a funny thing, I’ve written about it before so apologies for any repetition but given that it’s still an ongoing issue, I think there’s probably more to be said.

The biggest affect it has on me is forgetfulness and irritability. Ironically, for someone who loves to talk and write, my forgetfulness manifests in a complete inability to remember the names of the children I’m talking to, to be able to finish sentences and to formulate any sort of coherent thoughts without the aid of caffeine. The irritability needs no explanation but I do feel bad that it often ends up directed at the two children who are actually sleeping. Not only are they sleeping without regularly appearing in my bed but they actually like a good lie in, often not appearing until gone 8 and then often only with some prodding on my part. But I digress.

As the New Year dawned on us earlier this year, I read an article about how ‘clean sleep’ was set to be the trend of 2017. The concept being that there should be more awareness on the importance of a good amount of decent quality sleep. I wonder if the idea was planted by health authorities as a campaign and taken on my health and fitness websites. Or whether people simply love trends and ‘clean eating’ has somewhat run it’s course. Then just a few days ago I saw a video about how lack of sleep impacts your cognitive performance and your wider bodily functions.

I understand that there probably are a lot of folk that need reminding to get a decent amount of sleep (8 hours being the holy grail) but for parents who would LOVE to get that sleep but can’t, it kind of smarts! Still, I guess in the wee hours we can always comfort ourselves with the knowledge that as teenagers we’ll never be able to get them out of bed and if we really want to exact some revenge and a little fun, we can take to waking them at regular intervals to share inane thoughts or declarations of hunger…

Spring has Sprung

Last year’s daffodils have just flowered in our rather forlorn front garden this week, adding a welcome splash of colour among the dull greys and browns. They may been flattened almost immediately by the recent storms but nonetheless, I’m counting their appearance, along with an increase in birdsong outside our bedroom window in the early hours, as a confirmation of the arrival of spring.  After what has felt like a particularly long winter, I’m looking forward to spending much more time outside and to escaping the four walls we’ve been stuck in before cabin fever well and truly sets in.

I am also looking forward to making a proper go out of growing our own fruit and veg this year. Although we have done so successfully many times in the past in other houses, our last two growing seasons here have been a bit of a failure. Pregnancy, a baby, territorial cats and a garden flooded with sewage were just some of the reasons that contributed to this.  However, I’m feeling confident that this year is our year! So today we unpacked our herb garden kit from the RHS to explore what we’d been given and put up their bright cheery posters, got some tomato seeds planted and generally made some plans about what we want to do and grow this year.

I was almost persuaded by Isaac to buy a lemon and orange tree from Aldi but managed to resist, rationalising that I should make proper plans before starting to buy things spontaneously. Dan had the genius idea of getting a little greenhouse, nothing fancy, to protect our plants from children, cats and birds alike. I’ve spotted one I like and have started planning what the shelves will be full of. Tomatoes, strawberries, potatoes, salad, herbs, peas, sweet potato, squash, onions, garlic, broccoli and raspberries have made the (ambitious) cut so far but no doubt I’ll be persuaded to try one or two other things as well. No doubt also my more sensible other half will gently point out that I can’t fit all of that into the greenhouse and I’ll have to prioritise. But still, it’s good to dream big eh?

Apart from the satisfaction of not having to buy it from the shops and the fact that it tastes so much better, my favourite thing about growing our own is how much it engages the kids. They already love being outside so need little persuasion to get involved when I head out to garden. Sophia and Isaac are both very capable at basic gardening tasks and eager to help and I imagine that Elijah will be much the same this year. (The worried home-edder in me also loves that I can tick off science and maths in the process!) So why not pop to your garden centre with your small folk this weekend and get them to help you pick some seeds and do some growing of your own this spring?

Enjoying The Ride

As a general rule, I don’t really subscribe to the notion of the terrible twos, the tiresome threes or the fearsome fours. I think that at any given age, a child will present certain challenges but also provide a whole heap of joy as well. That said, there is definitely a point where your baby-turned-toddler gains a certain degree of awareness and you know, as their parent, that their actions aren’t always so innocent anymore. Elijah has been heading this way for a while but this week, when he strolled into the living room with a cheeky grin on his face, purposefully concealing a foraged knife and screwdriver behind his back, I knew we were there. (Third time round and we still suck at baby proofing!)

I swear toddlers were designed to drive you to the brink of insanity with their mischievous and testing antics before drawing you back with a heart melting smile or a gigantic cuddle, little arms wrapped in a death grip tight around your neck. I think all parents of small children often have moments where they’d give anything for a brief respite. A break from re-directing small curious hands, a break from clearing up food from the floor and walls, a break from tidying up what feels like thousands of small toys that have been spread around the house over the course of a morning.

But after having several conversations with parents of teenagers this week, I’m starting to see it from the other side, to realise the benefits of toddlers and small children that I know I’ll miss when they are over (mostly). To know where they are at all times doesn’t feel like a blessing right now but I know that when they are teenagers, out with their friends and staying out past their given home time, I’ll remember these days with fondness! I don’t have to worry about who they’re with, what they’re doing and what time they’ll be home. That aspect of their safety at least is a given. And at this age, as their parents, we are still their one true love. It might be overwhelming to be loved with so much force but before long, they will no longer want to be near us 24 hours a day (or at all!), they’ll argue with us, they’ll think they know better.

Now don’t get me wrong, I know there will also be amazing aspects to having teenagers. I’m looking forward to proper conversations with them, to eating out and knowing it’ll be an easy enjoyable evening, to seeing who they are as they blossom into adults. But I suppose that’s my point. Every stage of parenting is a mixed bag, there will always be challenges and there will always be joy. So as Eli is currently evolving into an exceptionally cheeky pickle of a small person, I will not wish it away too much. As one of my favourite fellow parents says, all is a state of impermanence, so I will take the good with the bad and just try and enjoy the ride!

The Writing Bug

Recently, my column has focused a lot on issues surrounding parenting. Given that I have three small people at home, it’s hardly surprising but I thought it was time for something a bit different this week. I was starting to bore myself! I pondered writing about Trump but decided I didn’t want to waste any more of my energy on him. He has dominated the headlines with his controversial politics and although I could easily fill 500 words with my disdain for him, at the end of the day I thought I’d rather write about something positive. So I cast my mind afield again and narrowed it down to gardening or writing. Whilst the appearance of our tulips and daffodils has brought much joy, there is little other activity in our garden yet this year (although this has been a good reminder to myself to get on with planning my growing for the season).

Writing it is then. Obviously I like to write. As well as this column I do a bit of freelance writing doing web content and blogs for clients. But I’m also working on a novel. And I know that everyone is writing a novel but nonetheless I am. A dystopian novel no less, what a cliché! I started it during NANOWRIMO (National Novel Writing Month) a few years ago and have been slowly continuing it ever since, whenever I achieve the rare combination of free time at a point where my mind is still relatively alert. I’ve also got a children’s book in the works with a talented artist friend of mine pegged to do the artwork if I ever finish it.

It’s a funny one the act of writing and I can’t quite work out why I like it so much but I have truly got the writing bug. My parents tell me that as a child I used to write endless melancholy tales usually involving orphans and featuring the death of a much loved horse (a combination of being exposed to Enid Blyton and Black Beauty I think). Hopefully my writing has improved vastly since those early days! There is something so addictive about putting words to paper, about employing every last inch of your brain to creating a story or tale, or to present information or thoughts to your reader in an engaging and interesting way.

What I think I love the most about writing though is just how accessible it is. You don’t need anything special to write, just paper and a pen or a computer to type. I really believe that a lot of people have got interesting things to share and now thanks to the rise of blogging, anyone with an internet connection and something to say can join in the writing revolution. Even if it never goes anywhere, the act of writing itself is deeply therapeutic. I have no delusions about the likelihood of ever getting published but that’s not why I do it. Writing is an escape, a way to explore another world and forget about the banalities of normal life for a little while. And with a certain rather orange man currently in control of that particularly large country across the pond, that in itself bliss!

Love is…the absence of judgement

On two separate occasions in the last week, Eli has been rescued by a general member of the public. The first time, one of the big kids opened our front door and he darted out and down our pedestrianised road with Dan in hot pursuit. Unfortunately he didn’t stop when he got to the actual road and ran into it before being caught and brought to safety by a passing gentleman. The second time, we were at Decoy Country Park walking around the lake. He jumped off the path into a puddle/ditch but misjudged the distance and landed on his bottom, covered in muddy water. Luckily, he was in no danger and wasn’t particularly upset (just as well because I was laughing at him)! I was perhaps 100 yards away when it happened and a lady walking her dog hoisted him out as I came to his aid.

Both times, Dan and I were obviously very grateful to the people who had helped. Both times, we were met with stony silence and quite obvious judgement that we had let the situations occur. Before I rant, I’d like to clarify that the majority of people that I’ve encountered during my parenting journey have been kind, supportive and understanding of the nature of children. But, unfortunately, from time to time I have received nothing short of disdainful judgement at the behaviour of my children, silly situations they’ve got themselves into or parenting choices that I’ve made. And it drives me crazy!

Regardless of whether these people are parents or not, surely everyone realises that these tiny human beings are unpredictable, prone to immature behaviour and not always the most compliant to the demands from those looking after them. So I absolutely cannot fathom why people think the best way to react is with pointed looks, snarky comments or tutting. Parenting is HARD. A lot of the time, when these things happen, parents are doing their best to manage the situation, keep their children safe and get to where they’re going. Be it a child screaming in the supermarket because you won’t let them carry the biscuits, a toddler who has escaped his watchful but exhausted Mum or energetic children not looking where they’re going and knocking into someone….these parents do not need to be chastised. They need sympathy, understanding and to be cut a bit of slack. Parents often don’t have the kind of support from extended family that previous generations did and it can be a lonely experience at the best of times without being told you’re doing it badly from a complete stranger. I’m reminded of the old saying, if you don’t have anything nice to say…then don’t say anything at all!

Whilst looking for a title for this week’s column I stumbled across several quotes about judgement and ended up choosing this one from the Dalai Lama as it seemed particularly apt. Love is the absence of judgement. Nothing good comes from judging other people. So next time you see a child behaving in a way that is less than ideal, why not decide to act in a loving way and offer the parent a hand, an encouraging word or simply smile at them. They’re doing the best they can and having that support from a stranger might make all the difference to that moment for them.

Behind Closed Doors

Ever since Sophia entered the world, my children have been splashed all over the internet. Pictures on facebook, funny ancedotes on my blog, I’ve not been shy of sharing their lives to all and sundry on the world wide web. I’ve come across parents with a much more conservative approach to posting pictures of their children online and although have respected their opinion, have never had any issues with doing so myself.

However, having watched the Snowden documentary recently, a request from Dan and with the introduction of the Snoopers Charter, I’m starting to rethink  personal privacy policy for my children when it comes to sharing their lives online. What I learnt about the sophistication of facial recognition technology and the lengths that security agencies can go to to keep an eye on you scared me. Although me and my family have nothing to hide, surely we have a right to privacy and living how we like without being watched. Call me paranoid but I’m starting to trust governments less and less in light of recent political events.

Even if you put aside potential secret surveillance, I started to think about how I would have felt if, when I reached my teenage years, I had discovered that my early years were broadcast publicly for anyone to see. I think I probably wouldn’t have been best pleased. Sharing an embarrassing story with family members when you see them is one thing but your future employer knowing about the time you ate a rabbit poo thinking it was a chocolate raisin (one of my children but I won’t say which one!) or how long it took you to stop wetting the bed is a whole ‘nother level of privacy invasion.

I’ve read about bloggers who stop writing explicitly about their children when they turn five or others who ask older children to vet what they’ve written. For me, I’ve spoken to the kids and they’re quite happy for me to keep writing about them for now. But we have decided to reduce or stop posting photos of the kids online where you can obviously see their faces and I’ll keep checking in with them in regards to writing about them. Call us paranoid but I’m always trying to embrace a step back from technology and it’s pervasive creeping into our lives and think this is a good way to make moves in that direction. Now if I could just work on my compulsive facebook checking…

Gratitude Starts Here

Mid-January. A time of year characterised by the bleak weather and for a lot of us, equally bleak state of affairs when it comes to finances. The festive cheer has most definitely worn off and the combination of last month’s holiday overspend and the five week month is sinking in. At this point it’s easy to let a dark cloud of gloom descend as you constantly count pennies for the next few weeks and curse the you from last month that spent so frivolously on yummy treats and extra bits for the holidays. This was me before the weekend. With three children’s birthdays and Christmas within a 10 week period, we are not particularly flush at this time of year!

However, as I headed out for a run on Saturday, I got to thinking and realised that despite my not so friendly bank account, I still have a heck of a lot to be grateful for. Not only do we have a roof over our heads, food in our cupboards and religious and political freedom but we are also blessed to have (mostly) good health, some amazing friends and to be living in a beautiful part of the world, guaranteed to lift the spirits whenever you head out the door. It might sound ridiculous but just thinking about all that has changed my mindset and I now feel much calmer and more positive about things.

Interestingly, a friend sent a link to an article today that laid out 4 rituals a neuroscience researcher claims will result in increased happiness. One of the things it mentions is asking yourself what you are grateful for. Apparently, ‘the benefits of gratitude start with the dopamine system, because feeling grateful activates the brain stem region that produces dopamine….it can also boost serotonin. Trying to think of things you are grateful for forces you to focus on the positive aspects of your life. This simple act increases serotonin production in the anterior cingulate cortex’. The complexity and cleverness of our brains and the way they works never ceases to amaze me.

Although we might mostly use the concept of being grateful to chastise our children when we think they’re being spoilt (don’t you know there are children starving elsewhere in the world?!), it turns out that there is a lot more substance to it than that. Gratitude has the potential to be a deliberate art, one worth devoting some time to, in order to gain some perspective on your life and to improve your mental health! Even if it’s only something seemingly small like enjoying your favourite meal or the kids fighting less, I think it’s worth making a mental note of the things you are grateful for daily. Although I’ve already covered New Years resolutions (I’m not a massive fan usually), I do quite like adopting the challenge of practising gratitude this year. It starts here.