June Journals #6 ~ Face Paint & Finding the House

Yesterday was the last day of the school holidays. The kids wanted to do something fun: a soft play centre or a swim. I wanted to find my house.

Thankfully the sun shone gloriously. Great for two reasons. One, the children played in the garden most of the day and, two, I seem to have killed my tumble dryer. OMG.

As a picture tells a thousand words, here is a short story about the state of my house after a week of half term. (Who I am kidding, it looks like this all the time!)

And that’s just the kitchen, playroom, and ‘homework desk’. The rest of the house was too bad to share! By bedtime I’d found enough floor to vacuum the lounge and bedroom, and stacked the dishwasher, but the rest of it still pretty much looks like this.

The children decided to occupy themselves with face painting. I suggested they paint dolls rather than themselves, as it’s back to school today and face paint doesn’t come off so well. So they did. To begin with. The baby doll ended up completely black and is currently lying face down in the paddling pool. I hope no one calls social services.

Of course, painting dolls is boring. I should have guessed they’d do their faces. And generally that’s okay. I ended up with two rather cute puppies.

But boys, yes? They always have to go a little too far. My son came in black. Coal black. ‘I’ve been back in time and worked as a chimney boy for a day’ black. And when we laughed (mine was hysteria) he got upset and cried. And leaned against the wall and cried. And ran up the stairs and cried. There are black hand prints everywhere. I managed to get him to stop crying long enough to take a picture.

IMG_3587

It then took an hour in the shower and bath to return him to something resembling his usual skin colour. I am going to have to tell his teacher that the black marks around his throat aren’t bruises. Half term has been tough, but not that tough! Still, it kept them amused and, on the plus side, they had a bath without complaining. A win’s a win.

It’s been a great holiday but I can’t say I’m sad that they’re back to school today. 33 more days of school until the summer holidays, my daughter tells me sadly (she’ll miss her teacher). My son is ticking off the days on a calendar, because he doesn’t want to go back to school.

And me? I’m trying not to think about it at all.

The Christmas Fairy: 2013 365 Challenge #341

My kitchen table is under there somewhere...

My kitchen table is under there somewhere…

I need a Christmas fairy. Not one on top of the tree, or even one who grants wishes. I don’t need a pretty dress, a pumpkin coach or a handsome prince. Some footmen might be nice, though. She can use the mice in the loft, and then they won’t eat through the Santa sacks, like they did last year, and nibble on the Christmas chocolate. (“Father Christmas,” we explained to my distraught daughter, “must have had nibblers on his sleigh.”)

What I need a fairy for is to be me, while I get on with the fun business of Christmas. For example, while I’m up from 5am tweaking photographs (one of my usual hair-brained Christmas things – photos make great gifts), the fairy could help find my kitchen table, ready for breakfast.

Or she could sit and supervise the children’s homework, because I’m all out of patience and actually had to go upstairs and scream into a pillow this morning because three hours’ sleep wasn’t enough to deal with the bickering. I also cried when I couldn’t get parked on the school run, because I had a red double-decker bus on my tail and I’m rubbish at reverse parking, but that’s not unusual.

The living room is not the relaxing zone it's meant to be

The living room is not the relaxing zone it’s meant to be

The fairy could waltz the children to school, singing silly songs, and wait patiently for ten minutes for them to go through their settling in routine. I’m managing it, but the smile is slipping.

Or I could send the fairy out when I get the call for another chore for hubbie. I’m sure she wouldn’t mind, and she could have the McD breakfast instead of me, to save my waistline. That would be a real plus.

A helpful fairy might help locate my living room floor, or put food in the fridge, or make the photos look better when I pick them up from the supermarket (the 5am two-hour stint was worth nothing because they printed so dark they’re unusable. Start again!)

I wonder if I could convince friends and family to give Christmas gifts early? I don’t need slippers or perfume or jewellery, but a cooked meal would be marvelous. A school pick up superb. A quick vac of the house would be a result for everyone, because I can’t be the only one tired of standing on toys and picking stickers and dirt off my socks.

I want to be writing my blog, and inventing adventures for Claire (it’s just getting interesting!). I want to be buying and wrapping gifts, and writing Christmas cards. At a push I don’t mind walking the dog, but the housework isn’t on the agenda until January, and who knows what the house might look like by then. Does anyone know where I might find a Christmas Fairy? If so, send her my way, please. I’ll pay in chocolate. 🙂

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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:

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Claire looked in the mirror and pulled a face.

I look ridiculous. Why did I let Conor talk me in to this?

She tugged at the wig, which had slipped sideways, and pouted her bright red lips. She swished her skirt and struck a pose. “Happy birthday, Mr President…” she sang off key and laughed.

Fine; I’ll be Marilyn, seeing as the theme is Hollywood, but if there’s karaoke I’m out.

With a sigh Claire turned from the mirror and pulled on her cardigan. Despite the warm temperature outside there was no way she was walking across town without some protection.

As she strode down the road in her sandals, with her heels in a bag over her shoulder, Claire’s mind wandered over the events of the week. They were mostly a blur of phone calls and running across town to fetch and carry. She’d stayed awake for the fireworks on Wednesday, but had watched them from the hostel bedroom, not wanting to stand on the beach by herself.

Conor was still the elusive Pimpernel. She caught sight of him from time to time, hurrying to a meeting or helping out at an event. She’d been wrapped up in her own tasks, liaising with the shops over their storefront competition and doing a dozen other menial tasks.

Just when she was starting to think Conor was avoiding her, instead of simply being busy, he’d called out of the blue and asked if she wanted to take part in the Wheelbarrow Race on Friday night. Once he had reassured her that it was a pub crawl rather than a sports day event, she had reluctantly agreed. Then he’d mentioned the need for fancy dress.

“You’re kidding. I don’t do dressing up,” had been her response. Conor had only laughed. “You do now,” he’d replied with a wicked chuckle.

“Are you ordering me, as your employee?” She’d put on a prim tone, wondering if the banter was a wise idea, given his attitude all week. He’d paused for a fraction of a second before saying in a softer voice, “Of course not. I thought it might be fun is all.”

She’d had to agree at that point.

More fool me.

Her walk through the residential streets drew amused glances from passers-by, as she took the route into town, and she regretted not waiting until she got to the pub before putting on the wig. A group of lads wolf whistled from the other side of the road and she toyed between ignoring them and telling them to get lost. Instead she turned, bent forwards, pouted, and blew them a kiss. They looked shocked and then laughed; their appreciative chuckles drifted along behind her as she continued walking.

I guess I’m going to have to try and get in the mood.

She gathered that all of Conor’s colleagues – my colleagues, she amended – would be taking part in the pub crawl. It seemed strange to be socialising with people she hardly knew, and she wondered what they made of the woman Conor had hired against the Board’s better judgement.

Her footsteps slowed as it dawned on her what the evening would entail. Pub crawls meant getting drunk. Did she really want to leave herself vulnerable amongst strangers? The last time she’d been on a work do and under the influence she had heard things about herself she’d rather not have done. It was an experience she didn’t choose to repeat.

But it was too late now. She could see the pub up ahead; identifying it as much by the group of oddly dressed people milling outside. And by the wheelbarrows.

Bastard. He said there were no real wheelbarrows. I am going to kill him.

“Claire, you’re here!”

Conor pushed through the crowd and came to meet her. “You look amazing,” he said as he approached. “This gentleman definitely prefers blondes.” His tone was light but it brought the blood to her cheeks.

He came to a standstill too close for comfort and Claire concentrated on his outfit. He was dressed as Elvis, complete with white suit and big hair. It looked good. The words of anger died on her lips at the warmth in his expression and she dropped her gaze to stare at the pavement between them.

“Are you okay? Have you changed your mind?” Conor’s soft tone held too much understanding for her liking. Deciding the only course was to brazen it out, she threw back her shoulders and looked him in the eye.

“No, not at all. Bring it on.”

“That’s my girl.” His smile was swift and genuine. He looked like he was about to say something else, when a voice hailed him from amidst the crowd.

“Come on, Conor, stop hogging the fit bird and bring her over.”

It was Conor’s turn to look embarrassed. “Sorry, Claire,” he murmured, “Some of the lads have had a head start.”

“It’s okay, it’s nothing I can’t handle.” Claire took off her cardigan and draped it over her bag. In full costume she felt better able to enter into the spirit of things. Still, in the back of her mind she knew it was going to be a long night.

***

Have a Mental Health Day: 2013 365 Challenge #276

Daughter taking some downtime in the dog bed

Daughter taking some downtime in the dog bed

I have come across a term recently, on Facebook and Twitter, called mental health day. To me, Mental Health Day is a day in October when we seek to de-stigmatise mental health issues like depression and anxiety. But no, apparently these status updates are referring to a phenomenon that I guess must be a US thing (correct me if I’m wrong, neither hubbie or I have had an office job in some time) which is basically taking a day off to prevent potential mental health issues.

I’m familiar with it as something I’ve done in the past. I’ve even had a boss tell me to take some time off, get some perspective and come back with a better attitude. Whether it’s considered sick or holiday time I’m not sure.

Generally though I think it’s a good thing. In our frantic world, where we are being communicated with 24-7 and the internet means we’re always at work, taking some time to nurture our brain and spirit is essential.

I jokingly told hubbie I was going to take a couple of hours’ mental health time this afternoon, while he took the kids shopping for my birthday gift. I intended to read my book, but I don’t find reading so nurturing anymore as it feels a lot like work. Then hubbie and I had a row about birthday gifts just before he left (a topic for another day) and I spent my first half hour of free time sobbing.

Son and dog chilling out together

Son and dog chilling out together

If ever there was a person on the edge of (another) breakdown it’s probably me. I spent my whole life sobbing at the moment and then hating myself for it. Because it’s so thing specific, and because I had a bad experience with them last time, I really don’t want to go back on SSRIs. The knee injury means I can’t do more exercise and lack of funds rules out a spa day. The daily blog means no real downtime, so what to do?

I spent the rest of my two hours cleaning. Usually I do as little cleaning as possible, as it is an exercise in utter futility in our house. I guarantee that, ten mins after kids, hubbie and muddy dog get home, you won’t know why I’m exhausted. But, hopefully, maybe, I’ve cleared as many cobwebs from my mind as from my house.

What would you do on a mental health day? Is it a sickie or genuinely a way of preventing yourself from collapsing from the weight of work? I’m really interested in the idea. I wonder if it’s what we used to call a Duvet Day, back when I worked flexi-time (those were the days!)

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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: 

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Claire let the silence of the car wrap around her like a blanket. Now and then she glanced over at Conor, but he always had his attention on the road ahead, following the directions of the SatNav taking them to the hospital in Cambridge. She studied his profile, but wraparound sunglasses concealed his face. He drove with one hand on the top of the wheel and the other on the gear stick. When the tears came again, in fits and starts, he reached across and patted her knee; always removing his hand back to its resting place.

Claire sighed and stared out the window at the familiar landscape. Her head ached from lack of sleep and too many thoughts. The caffeine buzzed around inside her skull like a swarm of flies.

She didn’t remember falling asleep, but she jerked awake as the car stopped and Conor said, in a low voice, “We’re here.”

Rubbing her eyes, Claire peered out the window at the busy car park and felt a shiver run over her skin. Now she had arrived, she wanted to be anyplace but here.

“Do you want me to come in with you?”

Claire turned towards Conor and her stomach lurched at the concern on his face. She nodded.

Conor opened the door and climbed out of the car. Claire noticed that he moved languidly and with an unexpected grace, as if he had all the time in the world. Before she knew it, he was opening her door and offering his hand to help her up.

“You look like some food would be a good idea. Do you want to eat first? I hear hospital food isn’t as bad as it used to be.”

Claire shook her head, feeling her greasy hair sticking to her scalp. “I’d really like a shower.”

“We can probably do that. There are usually facilities for family in big hospitals. Do you want me to ask?”

She was about to agree, when she remembered that she’d thrown all her cosmetics away at the airport. “No, let’s leave it. I’ll shower when I get to my Mum’s.”

The words made her blanch. How was she going to get to her Mum’s house without a car? Public transport didn’t exactly run that way regularly and she doubted it would be running at all on a Sunday evening. Never mind what she would do if she got to her parents’ house and was turned away again.

Swallowing down imminent tears, Claire decided to deal with one thing at a time.

“Is your Mum local? I can drop you there, after, if you like?” Conor’s voice broke through her turmoil like a ray of light.

“No, you’ve done too much already. I’ll manage.”

“Don’t be silly, Claire. You’ve just got back from a long trip away. Let someone help you for a change. You don’t have to do everything by yourself.”

Claire wanted to protest, but she didn’t have the strength.

“Okay, that would be great, thanks. She’s about an hour away, but it’s in the right direction for you to get home.”

Satisfied, Conor led the way into the hospital and over to the reception desk.

*

Claire felt her knees give way as she approached the drawn blue curtain. Memories of visiting Ruth, of the shock of seeing how ill she looked, ran through her mind and she hesitated. The receptionist had explained that visiting hours would end in twenty minutes. Deep inside, Claire felt relief: she thought she’d be lucky to manage ten.

With trembling fingers she drew aside the curtain and peered round at the bed. Conor stood behind her but had already said he wouldn’t come in. She felt him gently place his hand on the base of her back and guide her forwards. Without the gesture, she thought she might have legged it.

A woman lay on the bed with a drip attached to her arm. Her closed eyes were sunk deep into her face and her cheekbones rose like armour either side of her nose. Claire wondered for a moment if she had been sent to the wrong cubicle. Then the woman’s eyes opened and her face stretched in the shadow of a smile.

“Claire.”

The voice whispered across the room and Kim tried to raise her arm, but let it fall back to lie on the covers. Her brow creased, in pain or frustration, and Claire took two steps forward to stand by the bed.

“Don’t move if it hurts.” She reached for the nearest hand and laid hers over it, ignoring the paper-dry skin and the chill of death that seemed to seep into her body through the touch.

“Where’s Jeff?”

“He had to go home. He’s been here for two days.” Kim paused, as if the words were hard to speak. “The nurse told him he was no good to me if he collapsed.”

She closed her eyes briefly, and Claire wondered if she might be sleeping. Her own breathing felt shallow, as the unmistakeable smell of hospitals and sickness invaded her senses. All the words she wanted to say, the questions and apologies, stuck in her throat.

Somewhere a clock ticked away the time until the sound of scraping chairs around them indicated that visiting hours were over. She gently removed her hand, not wanting to wake her friend. As she rose to leave, Kim’s eyes flew open again and her gaze was sharper.

“Must you leave?”

Claire nodded.

“Will you come back tomorrow?”

She nodded again, unsure how she would get there but not prepared to let Kim worry about that.

“Claire? I’m sorry. For blaming you. For everything.”

“Shhh.” Claire walked back to the bed and dropped down to her haunches, so she could talk directly to her friend. “You get better, get out of here and home with Jeff. Everything will be okay. There will be another baby, another job, you’ll see.”

Kim’s face crumpled. “No more babies. The doctors said I couldn’t have any more. That was why…” She scrunched her eyes shut and Claire forgot to breathe. “I know now, that the miscarriage was nothing to do with the wedding or anything. I couldn’t understand before, but I’m clearer now. I wasn’t meant to have babies, that’s all.” She tried to smile and the sight wrenched at Claire’s heart.

“We’ll find a way, Kim. You stay with the people who love you, and we’ll find a way.”

With a squeeze of her friend’s hand she fled from the bay.

***

The Zen of Cleaning: 2013 365 Challenge #192

My lovely clean kitchen

My lovely clean kitchen

I very much subscribe to the view that life’s too short for housework. Certainly life’s too precious, time is too precious, to be wasted on housework when there are more enjoyable or creative things to do.

Like writing, or designing book covers.

Unless it can be done when the children are playing in the garden, cleaning doesn’t happen. It certainly doesn’t take place when my children are at nursery. Paying ten pounds an hour for them to be looked after, just for me to hoover, is plain silly when I could hire a cleaner for £8 an hour*.

However, when I signed them up for a morning at preschool a week (much cheaper than nursery and too short a time-slot to really get into writing) it was meant to be designated house time. So far it hasn’t. I’ve been catching up on the blog or editing Baby Blues.

Today, though, I spent the morning cleaning and sorting. I have to admit, I feel refreshed even though I didn’t get much done. Two hours wasn’t going to make a dent in the carnage that is my home. However we no longer have a nursing chair in the middle of the kitchen. The dog hair tumbleweed has been sucked from the corners of the hallway, and the dolls house relocated to my daughter’s room, instead of behind the clutter under the stairs.

I confess to spending twenty minutes cleaning and arranging the dolls house furniture. What can I say? It was hot and I needed a breather.

Daughter's new hideyhole under the stairs

Daughter’s new hideyhole under the stairs

As if in some karmic reward, the children gave me 90 minutes to read my book and another hour to clean the kitchen when we got home. My daughter curled up on the nursing chair in it’s new location under the stairs (I can’t quite bring myself to sell it yet) and my son fell asleep in the tidy lounge.

Hubbie even noticed the unprecedented cleanliness when he got home. Brownie points all round. I’m amazed at how calm I feel, just knowing tomorrow’s writing day can be done in a (mostly) clean house. As long as I don’t go near the playroom or our bedroom!

I’d like to say this zen of calm will encourage me to become house proud and tidy but, sadly, I know myself too well. I shall just enjoy it while it lasts.

*We did have a cleaner, but we lasted three weeks before splitting by mutual consent. I couldn’t cope with the two hours pre-tidy that had to take place every Tuesday and she couldn’t cope with my overly high expectations of what could be achieved in two hours!

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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:

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“Are you coming to the May Day Fete at my school, Auntie Claire?”

Claire looked up from her coffee cup and gazed at Sky until her words penetrated the sleepy fog in her mind. After two nights of little or no sleep, all she wanted to do was go back to bed.

“Yes, do come, Claire. You can write about it on the blog. It’ll be fun. There’s an obstacle course for the children and craft and stuff.”

Sounds like torture, Claire thought. Out loud she said, “Sure, honey. What time?” Her sister’s words registered, and she added, “I don’t have to do the obstacle race, do I?”

Ruth and Sky laughed and shook their heads, the likeness between them emphasised by their matching smiles.

“No, it’s just for the little ones. Your role will be cheering from the side-lines. Although, having read about your space-hopper race, I would have thought you’d romp through an obstacle course.”

“Blimey, sis, you really have read all my blog, haven’t you?”

Ruth flushed. “I told you, it’s my only escape. I follow a few others, too. People further afield. There’s one woman who is travelling across America, hitch-hiking and staying on people’s sofas. I’m glad you’re not doing that, it would terrify me.”

She patted Claire’s hand, then rose from the table.

“Come on Sky, let’s let Auntie Claire have a moment’s peace while we get dressed. We don’t have to leave for half an hour.”

Claire sat in the silent kitchen with emotions roiling in her stomach. Even though she’d opted not to take up Roger’s offer, the idea wouldn’t leave her alone. Deciding she needed to focus on the next leg of her UK journey, Claire pulled the iPad out of her bag and loaded the YHA website.

*

“Come on, Sky, throw your heart over it, you can do it.” Ruth’s voice carried on the wind, along with those of the other cheering parents.

Claire looked across at her and was pleased to see the colour flooding her sister’s cheeks. It was good for her to be outside in the fresh air. Although it wasn’t warm, the sun was shining and there was little wind.

The May Day celebration was being held in a school playing field surrounded by a stone wall and cherry trees, coming into their pink blossom. It was a picturesque English scene, and Claire was surprised at how comforting it was. She realised she had been unconsciously comparing it to how she imagined New Zealand might look.

Stop it! Leave it be, brain, for goodness sake. I am not going.

Sky ran over and wrapped herself round Claire’s knees. “Did you see, Auntie Claire, did you see? I came second!”

Claire forced herself back to the present. Dropping to her haunches, she wrapped her arms around Sky and gave the girl a quick hug.

“Eugh, you’re all sweaty, Sky!” She laughed, to take the sting from her words.

“I’m hot, too. Can I have an ice cream, Claire, pleeeaassee?” She opened her eyes wide and hopped up and down.

“If your Mummy says you may, yes.”

Ruth nodded, and Claire led Sky towards the ice cream van parked in the corner. Sky’s hand warm in hers.

I’ll call Roger tomorrow. Tell him thanks, but no thanks.

With a sigh, Claire joined the queue for ice cream.

***

Tidying Futility: 2013 365 Challenge #181

Playroom Carnage: We're taking Baby Annabelle to France

Playroom Carnage: We’re taking Baby Annabelle to France

I have taken to saying / tweeting lately that Cleaning with children in the house is like trying to paint a boat that’s still in the water. Utterly pointless.

Dragged myself out of bed this morning to tidy up, after a night if calpol and cuddles for fever boy. (Fever broke at 4am) I found craft sand all over the playroom after Daddy and daughter craft last night, so cleaning had to start there.

After ninety minutes of sorting, tidying and hoovering I found the playroom floor. It looked lovely.

Then Saturday morning TV ended and the children decided they wanted to go on holiday to France. They packed bags and babies and buckets of other junk (they’ve watched Mummy pack too often!) and the cushion corner became their car. I’ve been reading recently about the importance of play for the sake of play, and that mess is good. So, I am turning a blind eye.

Sometimes it takes effort to do nothing. No one said it was easy to be the parent you want to be. Lord knows I don’t manage it very often. But for now I’m off to hoover the lounge, and then LOCK THE DOOR!

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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:

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“I, Jeffery Philip Westwood, take you, Kim Louise Jenkins, to be my lawful wedded wife…”

Claire stood next to her best friend and tuned out the familiar words. It was the first time she’d been part of a wedding, although she had attended a few. It felt different, standing at the front, with the registrar so close. She was almost scared to breathe, in case she interrupted the ceremony. Gazing at the side of Kim’s face; her eyes sparkling, her lips quivering in a smile as she locked eyes with Jeff, Claire thought she could set off a firework and the bride and groom would be oblivious.

Her shoulder-blades itched. She could feel Michael sitting behind her; could sense his eyes boring into her back. It wasn’t hard to imagine his thoughts, as she stood this close to an altar. Although they’d never discussed marriage, the fight that had ended their relationship gave her a pretty good idea where Michael’s desires lay. People didn’t want children without wanting the full family experience.

The formulaic exchange of promises droned on. Claire recalled the awful night, four months ago, when her rosy view of the future had ended. When she’d realised how desperate Michael was for children. Their discussion had confirmed for her how equally-desperate she was not to have them. There hadn’t been anything to say after that.

And now, my best friend is married and with child. Wouldn’t Michael have a field day, if he knew. Resisting the urge to look behind her, Claire squared her shoulders and prayed for the weekend to be over.

*

The sun hovered low on the horizon. Dinner had been survived, and the free alcohol was going down a storm. Claire stood in the corner of the terrace, watching groups of friends mingling and separating in a slow, elaborate dance. Laugher echoed on the breeze, and through the people, the occasional flash of cream silk showed the bride at the centre of things.

Kim had managed to persuade some high school friends to turn up with their drums and guitars, and live music drifted out from the great hall. Claire had sent Michael for drinks, glad to get away from his pervading presence. Now the chores were done, he had taken to standing behind her shoulder like a bodyguard, scaring away anyone else brave enough to attempt to approach for a chat.

Claire mused that it would have been infinitely preferable to have come alone, and feel like the awkward spinster, rather than have the dark cloud of her past literally following her around, raining on her parade.

She felt a touch at her elbow and turned to see Michael holding out a glass of champagne.

“Have they run out of gin?” Claire frowned. Champagne made her giddy. What she needed was good, hard liquor.

Michael looked awkward for a moment, before saying, “Tonic. They’ve run out of tonic.”

It was clearly a lie. Claire sighed, the pent-up frustration of four months gusting forth like a hurricane.

“Enough, Michael. Stop trying to control my life.”

Michael’s head jerked back, as if she had slapped him. “I’m not trying to control anything.”

“Then why bring me champagne when it’s obvious they have plenty of gin and tonic. This is a licensed bar, not a village hall party. Are you hoping I’ll get drunk and you will get me horizontal? You can scrap that idea right now.”

Michael’s eyes hardened. “That’s not fair, Claire. You asked me to come, and all you’ve done is avoid me. Now you’re acting like I’m your father one minute, and some oik in a bar trying to get laid the next. I am none of those things.”

“Then stop acting like it. What happened, Michael? We used to work, once. What went wrong?”

“Nothing.” He took a step closer and she unconsciously stepped back, avoiding his outstretched hand. “Nothing went wrong. We had a misunderstanding, that’s all. I still love you.”

His words made her shiver. “If you do, then leave me alone. Please. I’ve moved on, Michael.” She wanted to add, I’ve out-grown you, but managed to hold her tongue.

“Is it still about the baby? We can talk about that. We never talked about it properly.”

“There was no baby, Michael, except in your mind. I was late for my period, that’s all. I wanted you to reassure me I could do what I needed to do, if I was pregnant. And you went all doolally on me, practically picking the baby names and decorating the spare room.” She glared at him. “I wasn’t ready for happy families, not then, not now.”

“But, I thought… All that time with Sky.”

“You thought, because I had fun with my niece, I was ready to be a mother? That’s why you’re here, isn’t it? You want to start again?”

He didn’t respond, but the shift in his expression told her she was right.

A boiling heat rushed through Claire, darkening her vision and causing her hands to tremble. “Get the message, Michael. I am not interested.” Her voice rose. “I do not want a baby. Kim can go ahead and have one, if she wants. Get married, have the happy ever after, but not me. I’m not ready for that kind of responsibility.”

“Kim’s pregnant?”

Michael’s voice rang out across the terrace, just as the band finished one song and were about to start another. His words caused a hush to fall across the assembled guests.

Claire felt the world close in. Me and my big mouth. She turned, seeking out Kim in the crowd. Her friend stood several feet away, her face white. Claire took a step forward, apologies on her lips. Kim gave her a furious stare and swept away.

Dropping her arms to her side, Claire prayed for the world to end. Of course it was a secret. Now her Director knows, everyone knows. How much trouble is she going to be in? She’s never going to speak to me again.

Michael reached out a hand, whether to blame or reassure her, wasn’t clear. She shook him off, and ran from the terrace towards her car.

***

The Zen of Cleaning: 2013 365 Challenge #102

Toddler Shirts: Fiddly to Iron

Toddler Shirts: Fiddly to Iron

Today witnessed another domestic day of calm which also started with a minor victory.

I decided to download reward charts for the children, for Going to Nursery with a Smile. We haven’t done reward charts before, partly because I think Aaron’s still a bit little and partly because I’m rubbish at that kind of structured parenting. The kids get stickers for good behaviour but it’s incident specific – some days they’ll get them for eating all their dinner, sometimes for washing their hair.

I’ve never wanted them to be always motivated by sticker rewards – I’m naively hopeful they’ll eat their dinner or go to bed because it needs to be done.

Reward charts for Smiling Faces

Reward charts for Smiling Faces

But the nursery thing has become a bad habit for all of us and I was scraping the bottom of my pot of parenting ideas. Now they get a sticker each time they don’t cry and after they have collected ten they can buy a toy. I think little man might get frustrated waiting the month it will take to earn ten stickers but at least I have a neutral point of discussion. I just need to make sure not to over-use it: I probably said ‘you won’t get a sticker’ a dozen times this morning. He still clung to me and wanted to cry when I dropped him off, but a timely reminder of the promised toy brought him round.

As a reward to myself I’ve been doing housework all day because a clean house is a calm house. It means my Claire post will be a little short but it’s a price worth paying. Three loads of laundry and a batch of spag bol later and I’m back in control, for now. If only little man hadn’t decided he wants to wear shirts like Daddy. I don’t do ironing, it’s practically in my marriage contract. But you can’t say no to a 2-year-old who wants to look smart. If I could also find his missing football top I might earn some major Mummy brownie points! In the meantime I am floating around my clean house in a zen bubble of peace, wiping stains off work-tops and picking up stray socks. It will last twenty-four hours – 48 hours at the most – so I’m enjoying it while I can.

A little aside about today’s post. It makes sense if you’ve seen Tangled (a frying pan; who knew right?) If you haven’t seen it I heartily recommend it.

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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:

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“Sky, come away from the edge, sweetheart. Sky? I said come away from the edge!” Claire ran forwards to catch hold of her niece as she leaned over the railings, her feet dangling a foot above the path. She peered down at the two-story drop and retreated to the middle of the walkway, swallowing bile. Honestly, I used to think Castles were a bit boring but I feel like I’ve been on the Big Dipper at Blackpool. She felt the sweat trickle down into her bra, despite the freezing wind whistling around the half-ruined castle walls.

On her right she could feel the view stretching into the distance. If she turned she knew she would see a lake and a glimpse of the village in the distance. If I’d been watching Sky instead of admiring the scenery my niece wouldn’t have nearly thrown herself twenty foot to her death. We should have stayed in Framlingham and had tea and scones, it would have been less stressful.

She turned the little girl to face her and squatted down to allow her to look directly into her eyes. Brushing away the wisps of hair that were escaping Sky’s ponytail, Claire inhaled deeply. “Sky, I know you want to explore, but you must listen to Auntie Claire. It’s very dangerous, leaning over the edge like that. What would your Mummy say if you fell and hurt yourself? Or worse?” Never mind what she’d do to me.

Sky hung her head. “Sorry, Auntie Claire. I’ve never been to a real castle before. I was pretending to be Rapunzel, trapped in the tower.” She shook her ponytail, which skimmed just below her shoulders. “I was letting down my hair. You know.”

It rang a bell in Claire’s mind, but she hadn’t read the story recently. A fact popped up. “Didn’t the prince fall and have his eyes poked out by a bramble bush?”

Sky stared at her, open mouthed, her eyes wide. Thinking that seemed a bit harsh for a children’s story, Claire shook her head to dismiss the image. “Ignore me; that must have been something else. So what happens when Rapunzel lets down her hair?” She stood and led the girl away from the yawning gap and back into the castle.

“She hits Flynn on the head with a frying pan and ties him to a chair.”

What? That’s definitely not the Brothers Grimm version I remember. Sounds much better though. So, Feminism reaches Disney? Probably not before time.

“Well, no hitting any boys on the head with frying pans when I’m around please.” She thought about her own bump to the head. A frying pan would have been a handy thing to have had in the dark lane when she was mugged. “Well, not unless they hurt you first at any rate.”

Feeling she had experienced enough of life trapped in a tower of stone, Claire waited until they were safely away from the railing before tilting her head and smiling at Sky. “Are you about ready for that chocolate cake?”

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