A Mental High-Five

Fun at the fountains

Fun at the fountains

I’m always talking about the trials of parenting and how much I struggle. So, today, I thought I’d share my little personal high-five.

We live near a place called Burghley House (as in Burghley Horse Trials or as featured in many a costume drama!)

Part of the estate includes the Gardens of Surprise, which consists of a water garden and a sculpture garden. I used to take the kids a lot when it was hot, but it got harder as they wanted different things (one to stay with Mummy, one to explore).

Now they’re of an age that they can go and play together I decided, this summer, to get another family pass.

So today we went. The sun was beaming down, a gentle breeze keeping it cool. Perfect.

However, having made the decision to go, I realised – at 10am – that I didn’t have anything for a picnic. So (high-five no. 1) I quickly rustled up some Mary Berry scones (including a little jar of jam), some Paul Hollingwood blueberry muffins, and a pile of cheese sarnies.

I managed to locate swim gear, shoes, hats, and applied sun cream. I remembered water bottles, the porta-potty AND the picnic blanket. Lunch was yum (high-five no. 2)

I invited a friend and her family to meet us and they arrived mid afternoon. The kids had even more fun and we got to share the parenting load. The dads supervised a frisbee game and my friend and I got to chat.

Then, to top off this unprecedented parenting day of gloriousness, when we got home, I stared blankly at a fridge full of random leftovers and came up with a delicious ten-minute meal (spinach and beetroot salad with smoked fish and toasted cashew nuts). High-fives all round.

I didn’t remember to buy milk, and I’ve still got school uniform to iron, but you can’t win them all. Still, today it felt pretty close.

Love, Spelled T.I.M.E: 2013 365 Challenge #171

Running through the Mirror Maze

Running through the Mirror Maze

I recently came across an article / blog post on Linkedin, by someone called Dave Kerpen, about the importance of balancing career progression with spending time with the children. It’s aimed at fathers but I think it’s relevant to any parent, working or not.

The article presents, in a lovely balanced way, the constant battle between spending time with our children and providing for them. As he so eloquently put it:

It’s all too easy to skip the family dinner in the name of helping to put dinner on the table.

Gardens of Surprise: keeping cool

Gardens of Surprise: keeping cool

It’s something we’ve had to deal with in the past, when hubbie’s work has taken him away at short notice, resulting in missed parents evenings or carol concerts, or when he travelled overseas regularly, leaving me to be a single parent for a week at a time.

It’s one of the reasons I didn’t go back to work after my first child was born. I worked as a contractor and my day could start at 6am and finish with me getting home at 9pm.

You can’t easily have two people working those hours and raise children, although I’m sure some people manage it.

Mummy, why does the lady have a big tummy?

Mummy, why does the lady have a big tummy?

When he worked from home, hubbie had the opposite dilemma: the kids got used to him being around for lunch and struggled with the idea that he was in the house but unavailable.

Then came the six months following the redundancy, when hubbie was home but desperately looking for work. And now it looks like he might have to commute further to get a new contract: missing bedtime most nights unless we keep the children up late.

I feel it too, when I’m buried in drafting or editing and it’s tough to raise my head above the parapet. Or I’m running a promotion and check Twitter far too often, until my son tells me to put the phone away.

Whatever job you do, or even if you don’t work but still have housework, laundry, cooking and all that jazz to deal with, finding a balance is hard.

Ready, steady, run!

Ready, steady, run!

The article had two particular lines that resonated with me. One was the article title: Your Career Highlights won’t be on Your Tombstone: your kids’ names will be. A bit black and white in a world of hues of grey (funny how I shy away from writing Shades of Grey these days!) but a useful reminder of what’s important.

The other line was a quotation from John Crudele:  “How do children spell LOVE? T-I-M-E.

My children spend more than two-thirds of their time at home with me, but they don’t always get my time. So today, when I picked them up from preschool, I took them to the Gardens of Surprise, a local attraction with water fountains and a sculpture garden. It was 26 degrees and humid outside and hot equals cross for me, so it was a gift for all of us.

Kiddies and the Giant Rabbit

Kiddies and the Giant Rabbit

For three hours we stomped on fountains, splashed through water walls, climbed trees, explored the woods for sculptures, visited the ice house, met a giant bunny and ate ice cream. It was fab.

At the end of the day I asked my daughter if it was nice to spend some lovely time with Mummy, and whether she felt like she’d had my attention for a few hours.

Her answer? “Not really, Mummy.”

Ah well, back to work then.


Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:


“Kim, it’s Claire, how are you?”

“Hello, I wasn’t expecting to hear from you so soon. How’s the wrist?”

Claire looked at her bare arm, amazed that she had forgotten about it completely. It seemed months since her snowboarding incident, rather than just a week.

“It’s fine. I took the bandage off a couple of days ago. I haven’t exactly been straining it.”

“Where are you, then?”

“Kington, Herefordshire.”

“Where? Why? That’s practically Wales. I thought you were going to stay near the hostel for the wedding?”

Claire laughed. “I have to move hostel more or less every day, and there are only a handful round here. Besides, I can’t stay in Kington at the weekend, so I had to get to it and mark it off the list. Nice hostel, big red brick building, en-suite room.”

It was Kim’s turn to laugh. “You can take the girl out of the five-star resorts, but you can’t take a need for luxury out of the girl.”

“I’ll have you know I normally stay in a dorm.” She didn’t add that Carl and Julia challenged her expenses if she didn’t. “But this place is mostly small rooms and they happened to have a single free.” That was her excuse anyway.

“No need to defend yourself, I’d be staying en-suite every night if I could afford it.”

“Me too.” Claire heard the wistful tone in her voice. There was no romance sharing a bedroom with strangers. Not even Scottish ones. She flushed. That particular incident wouldn’t be shared with anyone.

“So, why are you calling? Mum has all the wedding planning under control. You just need to be there on the day, with whomever you manage to pick up as your plus-one.” She giggled.

Claire resisted the urge to tell her what happened when you shacked up with strangers in a hostel. An unwelcome image of the girl asleep on the floor flashed into her mind and she shoved it away.

“That’s why I’m phoning, actually.” She took a deep breath. “Michael called me yesterday.”

“Good God, what did he want? I thought you gave him the heave-ho months ago?” Kim kept her voice light, but Claire could hear the undercurrent of enquiry. They’d never discussed her break-up with Michael. It was too painful to revisit at the time, and other things had taken over since then.

“He wants to be my plus-one.”

“He what? The cheek of him! He hates me. And Jeff.”

“No, he doesn’t. You’re just very different, that’s all.” Claire winced at the memory of Michael meeting her best friend. They’d got on like dog and cat.

“You could say that. He’s an over-bearing, over-protective, old-fashioned, chauvinistic prig.”

Claire reeled at the litany of flaws. “Don’t hold back, Kim, you say what you really mean.” Her voice had a slight edge that was not lost on her friend.

“Are you defending him? Why did you dump him, if he’s so marvellous?”

“I had my reasons. He’s not as bad as you think, you know. You brought out the worst in him. You and Jeff, all over each other in the bar. He’s more reserved, that’s all.” Certain memories flickered in her mind. “Well, in public anyway.”

“You’re still in love with him, aren’t you?” The accusation stung for its veracity.

“No! No, but I don’t want to be the single bird at your wedding. He’d only come as a friend. It would be good. Give us closure.”

Kim snorted down the phone, but didn’t say anything. There was a strained pause, and then they both spoke at once.

“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be harsh–”

“I don’t have to bring him, it’s your wedding–”

They laughed and apologised. After a minute of, “After you,” “No, After you,” they resumed their conversation.

“Bring him, Claire. You don’t know many of my friends and if it allows you to move on, find someone more suited to you, then that’s a good thing.”

Claire smiled at the barely-hidden barb. “Okay, I will. He can make himself useful, pouring drinks or ushering people around.”

“Cleaning up vomit, looking after the drunks.”


“Sorry.” She laughed, and changed to subject to the tricky question of red roses versus lilies.


As she hung up the phone, Claire replayed the conversation in her mind. She knew that Kim wasn’t Michael’s greatest fan, but the vehemence of her dislike surprised her.

Is Michael all those things? She didn’t remember him that way. He’d been a gentleman, in every sense of the word. Gentle, kind, thoughtful. Sure he opened doors and booked restaurants, but that didn’t make him old-fashioned, just unusual. Compared with her previous boyfriends it had been wonderful. And of course there were other things he excelled at. She blushed and forced the thought away.

That’s history now. He wants something I can’t give him. The weekend will be good; we can part as friends and move on.

Claire gazed unfocussed at the bright yellow walls of the hostel lounge and let her mind drift, ignoring the sense of anticipation building in her tummy.