A Mothering Sunday

Homemade climbing complex

Homemade climbing complex

This Mothering Sunday I have mothered. The day started with cuddles at 5.30/6.30am (the clocks went forward), followed by gifts, breakfast and a lie-in. Lovely. When I got up, I discovered the children had watched a movie and were starting on their second, breakfast half-eaten and the house a state.

I started my usual morning routine of making beds, carrying laundry downstairs, putting the washing machine on, emptying and re-filling the dishwasher, letting the dog out, clearing the breakfast things away and making a second cup of tea. Then I helped the children plant seeds and baked pain au chocolat for everyone. Eventually the kids went out to play, and I realised that – with the clocks changing – it was too late to go out for lunch.

I had only one request for Mother’s Day – that we could go out for a roast lunch so I could eat a meal I hadn’t had to cook. When it was decided that we weren’t going to go I was pretty cross and stomped round the kitchen preparing a roast lunch, to make up for the one I missed.

I even made a kebab on request for my daughter (that she didn’t eat) and carrots for my son (which he didn’t eat.) By the end of lunch my mood hadn’t really improved. In an effort to buy some time to read my book, I opened and raked over the sandpit, before clearing away the dishes.

Homemade is best

Homemade is best

Somewhere admidst it all, I realised I was enjoying providing for my family, making yummy meals and watching the kids cause carnage in the garden. I gave in to domesticity and made an apple crumble for after dinner (hubbie’s favourite, because he needs cheering up.) I did all the ironing. Finally I snuck upstairs to read my book for an hour, until a screaming child took me back downstairs.

While I was preparing lunch I felt irritated that I was having to cook, rather than being taken out, and I wished for a family who pampered me on Mother’s Day, who bought chocolates and flowers and booked a table for lunch. But then I realised this is our first day at home for weeks, because of all the birthday parties, and it was lovely. Hubbie pottered round the garden, building a makeshift climbing frame for the kids and sorting out the accumulated junk. The kids ran and dug in the sand and played with water. Unwatched and unfettered (mostly) as I want them to be.

And do you know what? I’ve enjoyed my domestic day much more than I would have enjoyed a day alone to read (too guilty! Besides I can do that tomorrow) or a day out (too stressful, noisy, busy, expensive.) Homemade apple crumble was just as nice as chocolates and the last flowers my daughter bought me ‘just because’ are still (dead) in the vase.

Mothers of small children don’t really get a day off. But I got a day to do my thing, up to a point (cooking curry for dinner while watching Homes Under the Hammer without being pestered by children IS a day off!)

So, thank you family. Today I have felt useful and nurturing, like a mother. I feel loved.

The Parent I Am and the One I Aspire to be (reblog)

Forgiving son as we finally did baking

Forgiving son as we finally did baking

Today has been a pig of a day, from a half-five start with my up-with-the-lark daughter, through yelling at my son because he wanted my attention when I was trying to restore order in a filthy house, to losing it entirely and sobbing for a whole evening after the dentist told me my three-year-old has two cavities (does parenting fail get any lower than knowing you didn’t control sweets/juice/teeth brushing enough in two short years to stop him having bad teeth like you?)  finishing with an evening staring blankly at a su doku trying to numb my brain because I just don’t want to be me anymore.

Hubbie has watched me like a hawk to make sure I don’t do anything stupid and all I can think is I don’t want such love because I don’t deserve it.

Was this worth yelling for ten minutes because I'm sick of being the only one who cleans anything?

Was this worth yelling for ten minutes because I’m sick of being the only one who cleans anything?

So, as I often do, when happy words for the blog won’t come, I hit ‘random post’ to reread an old blog entry for inspiration. And I found this one, from 7th April last year. Seems appropriate (If slightly worrying that I have these days so often).

I don’t have many words today.

Lack of sleep and residual illness has turned me into at least four of the seven dwarfs. I’ll let you figure out which.

Instead of waffling on as usual, I’d like instead to share two thoughtful and beautiful posts about being a parent: both written as letters to a child.

One describes the parent I’d like to be, the other the parent I am far too often. Again, I’ll let you decide which.

It won’t be hard.

An Open Letter to My Son:

Like some poor, naïve fairytale mother, I’m trying to help you navigate your way through a forest that’s by turns enchanted and haunted. The path is familiar, as if I walked it once years ago, but different, too; overgrown and seemingly impassable in some parts, and unexpectedly clear in others. And as we pick our way through the undergrowth, as we do our best not to trip on twisted roots and sharp stones, I try to remember the lessons I’ve learned from all folktales I used to know.

For example, I won’t make the mistake that Sleeping Beauty’s parents did when sending out invitations to her christening. Unlike them, I’ll be sure to invite the dark fairy godmothers as well as the good ones, because I know that they’ll come anyway, slipping in through back doors and lurking in corners where you least expect them. I’ll let them give you their murky gifts in broad daylight, so that I can look them in the eye while they do so. Then I’ll smile and thank them, recognizing that I have to let life give you the bad as well as the good.

And when I send you out into the world alone, as I know that I will someday have to, I’ll give you something more substantial than bread crumbs with which to find your way back home.

And I won’t make you go to your grandmother’s house alone until I can be sure that you can tell the difference between an old woman and a wolf in a nightgown.

I Wasn’t a Good Mom:

Dear Daughter,

Today, I wasn’t a good mom. The morning came too soon after a long and exhausting night. I rolled out of bed and put pants on an hour before you normally woke up. When I came into your room you were ready for me, your hair tousled and your smile crooked. “I up!” You said reaching your arms out to me. “I pay wif toys!”

I didn’t smile, not because I don’t love you, but because I just needed more sleep. And then the day came and you stuck stickers to the couch and I grumbled under my breath. You tried to play tag and kicked me in the chest and I yelled, “BE NICE TO MOM!” I realize now, I wasn’t yelling that at you. I was just yelling at the world. But how could you know that? You couldn’t, and I’m sorry.

And when I went upstairs to go to the bathroom and you said, “NO MAM GO PODDY!” And I said, “Shut up!” It wasn’t my finest hour of parenthood.

I’m sorry I cried when you ate my lunch. The lunch I bought for both of us to feed my feelings. Because my feelings needed chicken nuggets, but apparently so did you. And I’m sorry I put you in time out when you made your plate do a little dance on the table. I’m sorry I didn’t kiss you when I put you down for nap, choosing instead to run away and lay in the guest room bed and just dwell in some silence.

These are only extracts of the posts. I encourage you to read the full version, and to follow these inspiring blogs. They get me through many hard days as a mother and a writer.

Domestic Chaos or Learning to Learn

Flat Fairy Cakes

Flat Fairy Cakes

I am always having to tell my four year old daughter (five year old, by the time you read this in the morning. Eek!) that you can’t do anything on the first go. When she gets frustrated because she can’t skate, or read, or sew, I remind her it just takes practice and it wasn’t that long ago that she couldn’t write her name, scoot or draw people. It doesn’t end the tears and tantrums, but I hope it’s sinking in somewhere.

Seems, as in most things, I’m a hypocrite. All my life, I’ve avoided doing things I wasn’t naturally good at, because I hate being merely okay or, worse still, just plain awful at anything. Studying wasn’t hard, until I got to A Level Maths and, even then, I managed to cram and learn enough to get an A. I passed my driving test first time. I gave up the violin after grade five because there was no way I was going to pass musical theory, as I’m pretty tone deaf.

I’m not afraid of hard work, but I need motivation to continue and I’m driven by praise and good results. Which is probably why I hate to cook. Because I can’t. For as long as I can remember I’ve sucked at baking. My long-suffering family have consumed many a crunchy cake and cardboard biscuit, un-risen sponge or crumbling flapjack. And laughed. So in the end I gave up trying.

Burnt Flapjack

Burnt Flapjack

For some reason I’ve been on a baking spree this week, and mostly it’s been a disaster. Soggy banana bread, brick-like wholemeal loaf, flat fairy cakes and burnt flapjack. My birthday tea for my daughter tomorrow is likely to come courtesy of whichever supermarket I pass on the way home. The thing is, I’m sure I just need to practice. But this isn’t like learning piano. You don’t waste five quid of ingredients if piano practice doesn’t go right. You don’t get fat from eating all your mistakes that no one else will touch. You don’t get grimaces from the family. Actually, I do when I play the piano too, which is why my keyboard skills are about as good as my culinary skills!

I’ve been discussing my failures on Facebook and one friend said “Amanda you are one of the smartest people i know! I KNOW you can do this. If you can read, you can cook! Keep the faith!”

I think that’s the problem, though; it isn’t just about reading a recipe. The recipe I followed for the fairy cakes said nothing about the eggs and butter needing to be at room temperature (two of the reasons suggested for why my cakes didn’t rise.) I feel like Hermione in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince when Harry is using the book with extra notes and making great potions, when hers don’t work. Baking is more science than art. Give me words or paint any day: much more forgiving of mistakes, more scope for being creative! Cooking is creative, but baking is all about precision; it’s chemistry and I was rubbish at science!

This time, though, I can’t give up. I can’t teach my children persistence and the importance of failure, if I won’t follow my own advice. I just have to find a few recipes to stick to, rather than blaming the recipe and trying a new one every time. And stop eating my failures! 🙂

Finding Sense in Stories

Horrible headlines

Horrible headlines

Sat here on a Saturday morning, trying to think of something to write for my blog post, my mind was blank. After a night of The Raven Boys type dreams (always the danger of reading a powerful book at bedtime) I couldn’t pull together a story. I started flicking through my Reader, catching up on my favourite bloggers, like Miss Fanny P, looking for inspiration.

And then I came across a post that stopped me like a punch to the stomach. On Wednesday this week, over the border in Scotland, a three year old boy went missing from his first-floor flat, some time between bedtime and morning. The kind of story that twists inside you as a parent and makes you rush to hug your child.

I’ve been following the story with latent hope, as the people of Edinburgh poured out in their hundred to search for the missing boy. As is usual in such circumstances, we discussed whether our children could leave the house by themselves (they could) and whether there was more to the story than a boy running away from home (it seems there possibly was).

So, when I saw in my Reader this post by a resident of Scotland, whose children were involved in the search for the missing boy, I felt physically sick. We all want a story to have a happy ending. As an author (an author who lives for the HEA) I can’t bear a story that doesn’t end as I think it should. One that involves the death of a small child is the worst there is.

The Facebook appeal

The Facebook appeal

It’s not the only story that has wrenched at me this week. There’s the case of a child who died within hours of their first day at nursery, or Jordon, the autistic boy who locked his mother in the house and disappeared on 9th January.

The latter story, like the story of the missing three-year old boy in Edinburgh, was one I discovered first on Facebook. I always share missing people or pets messages because Social Media ought to be good for something. In the case of Jordon, the story had a happy ending, with the boy being found alive and well. But during my internet search to see if he was okay, I discovered another dozen stories of missing children found dead.

They haunt me, these stories. Not just as a parent, imagining something happening to one of my children (which I can’t imagine, or I’d never let them leave the house again). I think of the families blown apart. The scars that won’t heal. The blame, the recriminations, the guilt. Of all the people touched, all the people searching with hope in their hearts. The policeman holding back tears as he breaks the terrible news. The assumptions that will be made, as the authorities search for the truth.

Mostly I think about the mother (who is often the first one questioned). I no longer judge mothers. No matter what we see from the outside, we have no idea and we must not judge. I am sure there are evil people in the world, but there are just as many desperate, overwhelmed, frightened people and we cannot know the truth of their lives.

As a writer, I live these stories with full emotion. It isn’t just a news story, it’s life in all its messy detail. There aren’t heroes and villains, winners and losers. Just the complicated horrible terrible beauty and tragedy of life. And it’s why I write love stories, women’s fiction, journeys of self discovery. The world needs hope and Happily Ever After. It needs to make sense of life and wrap up the loose ends, to have themes and symbolism and resolution.

Because life doesn’t. Life has sadness and questions and fear. It has grieving families and worried parents. We’ll all hug our little ones just a bit tighter today, and maybe we’ll look for escape in a book. I know I will.

I Want to be a Dog

I want to be a dog

I want to be a dog

Today I envied my dog. She spent most of a rainy morning curled up in her bed or laid out on the sofa. The kids fed her biscuits and she even got her walk when hubbie got home. But mostly she slept, unmolested and alone.

I envied her because I am sick. Again. I’m not even sure I actually got over the last cold; they seem to have merged into one long month of misery.

After getting up and putting two bowls of dry cereal on the sofa and Cbeebies on the TV I crawled back to bed and tried to stay there. It lasted until hubbie left for work, when the calls of “Mummy, Mummy, Mummy!” came up the stairs.

When that failed, the thunderous sound of approaching children thumped up the stairs in time with my headache, followed by voices too loud and too high, and hugs too short and demanding.

I got up, showered and struggled downstairs, only for them to disappear off to play happily by themselves for half an hour. Kids! It’s been like that all day. Like vultures circling a dying animal, the children seem to know when I’m at my weakest and dive in with claw and beak. They squabbled and fought, over toys, over me. They were mean to each other, provoking tantrums left and right. Such a change from my gold star Mummy day yesterday.

The worst part? Apart from opening my Class Act manuscript and realising it’s a pile of poo? The worst part is they go back to school/nursery tomorrow. My first day alone in nearly three weeks and I’m sick. Not even sure how I’ll manage the school run. Sigh. Never mind. As always in the blog universe, there are plenty of other Mummies sharing my pain. My favourite two posts from today are these:

Vanilla Housewife Lethargic Mama

Scary Mommy Finding Me

Enjoy.

The Voices Talk to Me

The reason I ignore the voices

The reason I ignore the voices

Back when I lived in Manchester, in a house of seven working professionals, we used to go to the local pub quiz on a Sunday evening. I’m utterly rubbish at general knowledge and was there to make up the numbers, although I did answer the odd random question like “When was the Salvation Army formed?” (not that I know why I knew it, or can bring the answer to mind now.)

We started out calling ourselves The Dolphin Friendly Tuna Fish Sandwiches but that was too much of a mouthful so we changed our team name to The Voices, in honour of one of our housemates’ favourite t-shirts which said, “You’re just jealous because the voices talk to me.”

What’s the reason for this rambling recollection? Right now, the voices are definitely talking to me. My head seems to be full of them. So much so that I wrote the following, at 5am this morning.

It’s part truth, part fiction, as much of what gets written at that time in the morning is. Particularly after a night of waking every hour stressing over something read just before bedtime. But it is a little window into my pre-morning psyche. Scary.

The voices have been chattering and pontificating in my head like a room full of inebriated dinner guests. I hate the voices, I wish they’d bugger off home and leave me in silence. I know they are what push me to write, to try and make sense of the noise, but they also drive me crazy.

One voice has spent the last twelve hours saying “I don’t want to live anymore.” It gets shouted down with drunken cries of “Nonsense, you’re just saying that for effect, for attention” and “Think of your beautiful family, you can’t leave them behind.”

Another charming soul has been regurgitating an article I read at bedtime, via the Kristen Lamb blog post on bullying, about how we can be affected by the experiences of our grandparents. I don’t pretend to understand the science, but the loudmouthed git in the corner is delighting in repeating all the bits about how stress in childhood causes children to grow up to be bad parents. So I’m continuing the cycle of generations of parents specialising in towering indifference and vicious temper. Lovely. As if I needed any more reasons to feel guilty.

The debating voices should allow for reason, but they don’t. There are so many of them there’s no perspective. Like my own experience, as a child and an adult, of trying to have an opinion that I can’t quite articulate and being laughed at or talked down to by my family and friends. If I don’t know how to be heard in my own head, what hope have I got in the world?

I want the voices all to finish their drinks and sod off before the lone voice that thinks permanent silent might be preferable stops trying to be taken seriously and takes action.

That’s as much as I wrote, before a small child climbed into bed and I had to put down my phone. Cuddling a sleepy son, his toy dog and plastic snowman, gives perspective in a way that the voices in my head never can. There’s something grounding about a small boy farting and then giggling in the darkness. And, now I’ve bought the kids some super-soft tiger onesies, they’re like giant teddy bears. (They’re also driving us nuts and we can’t wait til they go back to school, but that’s normal, right?)