The Joy of Spontaneity

Since we got back from Italy, sibling relationships have been a little, ahem, tense in our household. Whether it’s a delayed reaction to moving, a combination of pre-teen girly hormones and the testerone surge of the boys or just general grouchiness I don’t know. But it culminated in a series of unfortunate events over the weekend (which I won’t go into for the sake of privacy) that left both the older kids feeling bruised and a little downtrodden. Eli, very unhelpfully, tends to always contribute to my discussions with them about treating each other in a loving way by chiming in ‘It’s not me Mummy, I didn’t do that! I wasn’t grumpy!’. (He’s right though, he doesn’t seem to get quite as involved in the fights and is the first to relent in the hope that he can restore happiness to his big siblings who he adores). Anyway, I digress.

So this morning, I left them playing some convoluted game involving lego whilst I went for a run (Dan was working from home, obviously!) and told them they could continue playing their game whilst I was gone on the proviso they didn’t fight. I also explained that we’d get on with some work once I was back. An hour later I returned and they were all still completely engrossed in their game. I had a shower and pondered whether to interrupt their play or not. However, it had been so long since I’ve seen them playing in such a calm, cooperative and clearly enjoyable manner together that I decided to put the ‘academic work’ on hold for the day and let them keep playing. I thought that allowing them time and space to heal their somewhat fractured relationship was more important than reading and comprehension. And we had a lovely day. They played until lunch and then we headed out to Bovey Tracey for a 4 mile walk around Parke (a National Trust estate) with friends before heading home for dinner and cake with Bake Off. There were literally no fights all day, minimal whinging and it felt incredibly restorative for us all.

It got me thinking about the importance of spontaneity, of not being rigid in sticking to plans and in being able to recognise the most pressing needs in a situation. I often feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day and having recently have started to feel the tell tale symptoms of anaemia returning have realised that once again, I need to step back and take stock. Today (don’t laugh guys…I know I’m a absolute stereotype of a hippy home ed Mum!), that meant not making my own bread and hummus (my recent habit in efforts to cut down on waste) and telling Dan to buy some from the shop. And when it comes to the kids, although I certainly don’t think I’m making them too busy, I do need to be able to reevaluate what’s important. And sometimes, missing a day of our more structured learning to play and then go for a stomp in the woods is infintitely more important than sitting round the table arguing about who’s cheated in the maths game we’re trying to play or trying to juggle three different sets of work at once.

This is short today because I’m tired but basically, if you or the kids are feeling grumpy and tired, it’s OK to cancel all your plans and take a break! Go for a walk, visit the library, bake a cake, swim in the sea (with a wetsuit maybe at this time of year?!)…do whatever makes you all happy. Being in touch with what you all need for harmony and a peaceful life is so important and trumps everything else I reckon. I’m hoping that today was a turning point for us all and we can see more days of calm and less of the ridiculous fighting that has characterised the last few weeks. Wish me luck!

 

Parenting Hacks

The internet is full of what are called ‘hacks’; lifestyle hacks, beauty hacks, parenting hacks… for those not au fait with this vernacular, they simply mean tips or tricks to make things a little easier on yourself. I overheard Dan having a conversation with a new parent recently as he talked about the reality of how you end up parenting in comparison to your initial expectations. Not that I’m saying that our standards have slipped after three children…just that we’ve streamlined what we deem to be important and what we’ve realised can be negotiated or ignored. Of course, these things differ from family to family, everyone has their own line of what they deem proper or acceptable.

Rather than detail any specific tricks that I use to make my parenting journey easier, I thought I’d just mention the single biggest approach that I’ve started to employ whilst raising and nurturing (or trying to!) three small people. And that is simply to not care so much. I obviously don’t mean not caring about the children but I mean not caring about mess, about what other people think, about screen time vs structured activities vs autonomous play. This is something I’m still working on but I’ve realised that I’ve wasted far too much time over the last seven years worrying about things that ultimately will have little or no bearing on anything of lasting importance.

In the early months with Sophia I was obsessed with the idea of routine and getting her to sleep a) through the night and b) by herself. After three children I can tell you with certainty that all children are different and will achieve both milestones in their own good time. Sophia was happy by herself at night by 1 and slept through the night not long after, for Isaac it took almost three years for both and Elijah is following in his brothers footsteps. Similarly, with the first two I worried about what they ate, how much they ate, when they ate…Eli is a grazer and prone to phases of eating barely anything alternated with eating like a horse. To be honest, I don’t have the time or energy to be worried about this, I know adults who prefer to graze so I’m assuming that this might just be his preference.

The biggest thing I’ve learnt to relax about though is mess. There are a lot of memes and sayings about the value of spending time with your family and friends over having an immaculate house and although some of them are rather cheesy, I think they are nonethless very true. I’m a clean freak by nature so this is something I still have an internal struggle about but on the whole, I’d rather spend time with the kids or do something I want to do, be that going for a run, baking a cake or doing some writing rather than tidying from dawn to dusk. So my number one parenting hack, advice or tip is just to relax. Stop worrying so much about unimportant things, enjoy the journey and all the mess and variety it brings. Cheesy…but true!

Published in the Exeter Express and Echo on 29th August.

Time to pause

I have rather neglected this blog over the last few months, we’ve just been so busy that I haven’t found the time to sit down and write anything meaningful that is specifically for this place. As you’ve noticed, I’ve kept it slowly treading water by posting by Express and Echo columns but unfortunately, other things have taken priority. But finally, I feel like I might have found a day or two to pause and reflect on the summer. Or rather, I’ve chosen to make the time to sit down and write rather than do some of the other bits and pieces that usually consume my rare childfree hours (usually exercise or housework but Dan is doing the washing up as we speak and I’m exhausted so having a night or two off working out).

In fact so busy have we been that a small milestone has come and gone. Elijah turned six months on Friday. Six months. I know I say it often, but I genuinely have no idea how half a year can just have happened so quickly. I feel like simultaneously we’ve done so much and yet, I feel like I should have been doing more, especially in terms of education for Sophia. But September marks a new academic year and we’ll start afresh then (I’ll write about our plans in another post), hopefully with a bit more structure than the last several months have afforded. I’m not beating myself up though, I know that she is performing well ‘academically’ and has a rich and varied social life and is only five. Five years young. Adapting to being a family of five took a bit of time and adjustment for all of us as we all carved out new spaces for ourselves and that’s ok. But I digress, apologies. Still…six months! Look at this little fellow, he’s just so big and beautiful and brings us all so much joy every day!

wpid-wp-1440441874539.jpegSo what’s been keeping us so busy? Despite the mixed bag of weather that the British summer has brought us, we’ve managed to fit in a lot. We’ve been camping five times for various occasions, had many many beach trips, a brief stay in Dartmouth,been to two music festivals, spent a lot of time spent in the glorious Topsham pool, had picnics, playdates and rambling walks. On top of that, I’ve been writing my column, doing some social media work (a challenging new venture for me) and working on an article that I’m hoping to submit to the Green Parent magazine. Definitely time to pause.

This afternoon I was feeling grotty post Beautiful Days festival-ing and the kids were restless so after much procrastination I bundled us all out of the door and went for a bike ride (well they rode, I pushed Eli in buggy). I spent the first 20 minutes grumbling in my head. I was tired, my body ached, I wanted to be home in bed, alone, curled up with a good book and a cup of tea! But as the kids raced ahead and I plodded behind, the fresh air did it’s magic and I started to feel rejuvenated. By the time we were halfway to Exton, shock horror, I was actually enjoying myself! We stopped so Elijah could feed and the kids feasted on juicy blackberries that, as Sophia said, just exploded! I felt happy and peaceful. You really can’t beat a bit of time outside in nature, a walk and some spontaneous foraging to lift the spirits and relax.

So I’m choosing to pause this week. To not try and fit in too much but just to go with the flow, to stop nagging, to relax and enjoy time with the kids, instead of wishing away the day until bedtime, then trying to fit in as much as possible before falling into bed, wound up from my own doing. Dan often says that I have a habit of getting a ‘mission head’ on. There is a time and place to be on a mission but I suspect I’ve got into the habit of donning that hat when it just isn’t necessary. I don’t want life to be a regimented mission, planned to the nth degree, I want it to be an adventure, an amble, an exploration of all that is beautiful and interesting.

pausing

Pausing on a walk last summer (haven’t been so snap happy this year!)