Let it Go: 2013 365 Challenge #145

Preschool Chicks

Preschool Chicks

Matt Haig, author of The Humans, recently ran a hashtag on Twitter asking people to give their best piece of advice to the human race. It’s worth a look at #thehumans, as there were some great nuggets of wisdom.

I liked, “Walk the wavy line between self control and abandon. Try not to fall over. Much.”

My advice was:

Learn to live life as dogs and children do: live in the moment, love openly, forgive willingly, laugh often

I really should learn to follow my own advice. Today I am struggling with one of my biggest faults, a severe inability to let it go. I hang on to mistakes, especially my own mistakes, forever. Particularly if it is something I feel I should have done and didn’t (like not buying my dad a heater, when he then died of pneumonia.)

Today’s gut-twisting mistake is not putting my children into a certain preschool when I had a chance two years ago (I know, get a grip, right?). We visited it, my daughter didn’t like the woman running it, and we never went back. Even though I heard good things about it. I did consider it, I even contacted them a few months ago, when we couldn’t afford our current childcare after hubbie was made redundant and we had to reduce our days. A lot of family stress came from that reduction in childcare, and some of it might have been avoided if I had moved the kids to the new (cheaper) preschool.

Blowing Bubbles at Nursery

Blowing Bubbles at Nursery

I lie awake at night all the time worrying about childcare, because I have so much choice. It doesn’t matter when I write. I don’t work shifts or have a boss to fit around. I need two or three days a week to keep on top of housework and work on my blog/novels/marketing. And to stay sane, away from the endless chatter and squabbling of a house of preschoolers. And there are lots of options, although none are cheap. When you’re not earning, that’s definitely a factor! I churn the options round and round until my head aches and I’m no nearer to a solution.

Anyway, it’s an old discussion. Today we visited preschools to choose one for my son, when my daughter goes to primary school in September. Nursery is not only very expensive, it is quite a small environment. I want space for Aaron to run and run, preferably outdoors.

We visited two preschools, the first near the primary school, so uber convenient, the other the one mentioned above. It’s in a village hall, surrounded by a large lawn and playground. It’s perfect. But, being me, I didn’t think, “Hurrah, we’ve chosen a great preschool for September and the kids want to start straight away, and they have a forest school and so much quiet space, it’s wonderful.” Instead of all that positivity, I’m mostly thinking, “why didn’t I try harder to get Amber in two years ago. It’s cheaper, nicer, there’s more space, etc etc.” (Not helped by Amber telling me she wants to go to forest school, which isn’t possible!)

I hope my Learning Happiness as a Second Language book will also help me learn the art of Letting Go. Live in the moment, love openly, forgive willingly (especially myself), laugh often.


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:


Claire ran her eye down the list of links on the website and sighed. This is wearing thin. Go Ape – done that; country parks – done that; Spa Day – not allowed even if it is tempting; narrow-gage railway – done that though worth mentioning on the blog; country house – done that. Looks like I’m going to have to wait for Julia’s email after all. The only thing on the list that could be considered a high-adrenalin activity was karting, and Claire decided she’d sooner resign.

There must be something new to do in Sherwood Forest. Her mind filled with images of men in tights hiding in the trees and the words of the song “Robin Hood” began to play in her head.

Right, so what is Robin Hood famous for? Archery? That’s a possibility. Or what about horse riding? A nice gentle hack through the trees might be nice. A quick search on the internet threw up several possibilities and Claire was soon booked up.

There we go, Julia, no need for you to lower yourself to the task at all. It’s all in hand. Though I don’t think plodding through the trees on a pony is going to humiliate me quite enough for you. Tough.


Claire stared between the horse’s ears at the rump of the pony in front, and tried not to cry. Her legs hurt, her bum hurt and, thanks to a moment’s inattention, her head hurt where she’d ridden into a low-slung branch. So much for a relaxing hack through the woods. The worst part was being the eldest in the group by more than a decade. Claire hadn’t enquired what group she’d be joining and it turned out to be a bunch of teenagers on some Outward Bound expedition.

Head low, Claire let the horse find its own path through the forest and tried to enjoy the sound of bird song and the occasional sight of snow drops deep beneath the trees. After an hour even the teenage chatter began to diminish. Through the foliage around her, Claire could sense the sky darkening and the humidity rising.

It’s going to rain. Bugger. I really must get in the habit of checking the forecast. She pulled up the collar of her coat and wished she’d thought to put the hood up underneath her hard hat.

Well, Julia, is this miserable enough for you? Hunching her shoulders, Claire was reminded of a character in one of Sky’s story books about a sulking vulture called Boris. The thought made her smile briefly, but the feeling didn’t last long.

The temperature plummeted as the sun disappeared behind a charcoal grey cloud, hovering it seemed only metres above the trees. There was a pause, then heavy rain drops began to splatter through the leaves.

Claire felt as if she’d fallen into the percussion section of the orchestra pit. The rain splashing on her hard hat syncopated with the clopping of the hooves on the path and the whistle of the wind through the trees.

The horse in front of her stopped and Claire craned her neck to see the problem. Horses had gathered in a group at the front and she wondered if someone had fallen off or been injured. I can’t imagine any of these plod-a-longs bucking. More likely someone fell asleep from boredom and slid off.

A whisper came back along the line to Claire. The teenager on the pony in front didn’t turn and share it with her, but she got the general gist. We’re lost.

Claire gave a quick kick to the ribs of her beast and on the third attempt it shuffled forwards, past the gaggle of teenagers. Eventually she drew alongside the guide, a woman no older than Claire, who was staring at a tatty piece of now-soggy paper, turning it this way and that.

“Are we lost?”

Claire didn’t mean to sound so accusatory, but cold and fatigue sharpened her voice. The girl looked up, her face woebegone. She nodded slightly without making eye contact.

“How can we be lost? Surely you know the route like the back of your hand? We’re not in the Amazon rainforest.”

“I’m new. This is the first time I’ve taken a group out on my own. I’m used to riding on the downs, these trees make me claustrophobic.”

Claire swore under her breath. I feel a hundred years old. There clearly wasn’t any point bothering with the sodden map. She pulled out her phone and prayed for signal. Luck was on her side. Frowning over the screen, trying to shield it from the rain, she fathomed the general direction of the stables.

“We need to head that way.” She pointed through the trees, but the rain had reduced visibility to almost zero. Shouting over the gathering wind, Claire added, “Though I don’t know how we find a path through this.”

The guide shouted back, her facing losing some of its gloom.

“Sorry?” Claire yelled.

“I said the ponies will find their way home, if we point them the right way.”

Claire nodded, then signalled for the guide to lead on. She let the teenagers past, and took up position at the rear again – this time to watch for stragglers rather than to mope.

Only I could come on a pony trek with the clueless newbie. Thank you evil genie Carl and your handmaiden Julia. I don’t know how you arranged it, but you managed to inject adrenalin even into this.


A Strange sort of Peace: 2013 365 Challenge #99

Kings College Chapel, Cambridge. Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Kings College Chapel, Cambridge. Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

It has finally arrived. After nearly six months, hubbie went to work today. Suit, tie, the works. He looked very handsome.

It isn’t raining, I have the house to myself. The only sad bit was dropping two sobbing children at nursery and then sobbing myself in the car. I wish I knew the answer to the childcare problem. Hubbie thinks they’ll be better if we put them in three days a week again. I’m not so sure. Besides, Amber starts school in September so it’s just going to make that harder. I think I need to take them out and put them in a preschool – more days, fewer hours. Get us used to the routine shift that school will bring and have them out the house for shorter periods of time.

I’ll miss my long days (and cover during the school vacations as all preschools close when the schools close) but maybe it’s time to grow up and accept I can’t have everything (sometimes it feels anything) my way.

Happiness is a Clean Fridge

Happiness is a Clean Fridge

Then of course the dilemma is finding a preschool. Amber’s best friend goes to one but I don’t like it: not enough outside space. Not suitable for Aaron. So do I split them up? Send Amber somewhere she doesn’t know anyone, after four years with friends? Stick with nursery for a few more months? Take them out entirely? Put up with the tears and tantrums, knowing they don’t really hate it? Sometimes I feel like I’ve been worrying about childcare as long as I’ve had children. It wakes me at night.

The problem is choice. I have way too much choice. Nothing dictates what days, times, locations I need my childcare to fit. I prefer Mondays and Thursdays but that isn’t rigid (although we dropped Mondays for a while and I hated it, even with having to pay for bank holidays!). My main requirements are friendly staff the children warm to, good clean facilities and space for Aaron to run. Despite the large range of nurseries and preschools around us I haven’t yet found that winning combination.

Anyway, I’m trying not to think about it any more. There isn’t an answer and it just makes my soul ache. Aside from that – and the gurgling tummy of the dog lying next to me on the sofa – I’ve had a peaceful day. I’m a person who likes space and solitude and I haven’t had much of that for far too long. Even though my routine has been the same as when hubbie is here I seem to have written twice as many words today. And I’ve cleaned the fridge. Time to walk and feed the dog before her gurgling tummy drives away my new-found peace.


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:


The children chased each other along the wall outside Kings, giggling and hopping on and off the grass. Claire, Fiona and Josh followed behind, sharing idle observations on all they’d seen inside King’s College, much as strangers might discuss the weather on a stranded bus. Lily kicked her legs and waved her hands from her position in a sling on Josh’s chest. The air felt too thick to breathe and the spring sunshine failed to penetrate Claire’s skin.

“So, who is hungry?” she called ahead to the children. They turned as one and hopped up and down.

“Me, me, me!”

“Come on then. I’m taking you for the tastiest Greek burger ever.” She lengthened her stride until there was space between her and the hand-holding couple. Sky stretched out her arms and jumped off the low wall into Claire’s embrace, snuggling deep into her hair. The gesture surprised Claire and she returned the hug with closed eyes.

“I love you, Auntie Claire. I’m having the best day. Thank you.” Sky flashed a toothy smile before squirming down again to play with Lucas and Sophie. Tears pricked at Claire’s eyes and she swallowed. Well, Ruth, I was never sure before, but you definitely did something right.

They lined up to cross the road. Claire glanced back but Fiona and Josh were in earnest conversation.

“Right kids, hold hands.” She looked left and right up King’s Parade, making sure there were no cars. Standing, waiting for a taxi to thunder past, she caught movement out the corner of her eye.

“Look at that dog!” Lucas yelled, dashing out in front of the oncoming car. Claire reacted instinctively, thrusting Sky and Sophie behind her and reaching out to grasp the hood of Lucas’s coat. She reached him and pulled, just as the black saloon whooshed past, raising a swirl of litter. With trembling limbs Claire swapped her hold on the hood for a clutch of a little sweaty hand.

Urgent arms took the child from her and he disappeared into a hug of hair and tears. “Lucas, what were you thinking? You know not to rush across the road like that.” Fear made the voice stern and Lucas dissolved into sobs.

“Sorry Mummy. There was a dog wearing a coat.”

Fiona stroked the boy’s hair and murmured soothing words, while Claire clutched Sky’s hand and waited for her pulse to cease its rapid beat. Josh stood jiggling Lily and shushing Sophie who had started to cry when her brother did: big wracking, gulping tears and wails of, “Don’t be mean to my brother.” Claire wondered if she had ever defended a sibling with such passion.

Eventually the tears ceased and life once more penetrated the tight group. Fiona looked up from hugging Lucas and met Claire’s eyes. Her face held a new softness and Claire realised just how beautiful the woman was. “Thank you,” she said quietly.

Claire nodded, unsure what to say.

They left the narrow alleyway after their burgers, marvelling at the taste and wiping sauce from their mouths. It was early afternoon, so Claire suggested a wander along the high street, maybe followed by a coffee in the bookshop, where they could also pick up some paperbacks to ease the long journey home. She could see Sky’s eyes drooping. Another hour and hopefully she’ll sleep again in the car. It’s going to take a couple of hours to get to the hostel. Unwilling to admit it, Claire felt, nonetheless, a need to linger. To stretch out these last moments with Josh and his family, knowing they would be flying half way round the world in a few days.

All too soon, the books had been selected, the coffee drunk, the Pony magazine purchased for Sky, to keep her entertained should she not sleep in the car. They stood in the awkward silence of soon-to-be-parted friends, none wanting to start the farewells. The children chased each other round the square, running after pigeons and squealing. Lily slept in her sling, snuggled against her mum. Some unseen communication passed between Josh and Fiona, and the woman wandered away to keep an eye on the children.

Claire felt the timpani drum playing loudly in her ears as he approached: cleaner, more familiar, but with the same crooked smile she remembered from their first meeting at Kielder. It felt a lifetime ago, although she knew it was only a month, if that. She brushed her hair behind her ears and tried to meet his eyes.

“Hey, Claire.”

As he came nearer she inhaled the familiar scent of aftershave, although without the bass note of smoke. Clearly Fiona’s arrival had put a stop to that habit. Any words that might be spoken dried in her throat as he stopped in front of her and reached for her hands. She flicked a glance at Fiona, but the woman was discretely distant, marshalling a game of hide and seek amidst the empty market stalls. Josh turned to see what Claire was looking at, and misinterpreted her gaze.

“You’re going to be an amazing mother one day. You’ll make some man a lucky bastard. If you can’t see it you haven’t met the right one yet. Keep looking. If all else fails, come visit us down under. We’ll hook you up with some bonza fellas.”

She turned back at his words, a puzzled frown creasing her forehead. He dropped one of her hands and brushed her cheek, before pulling her into a crushing hug. She tensed, then melted into the embrace.

Memories of their time on the observatory platform shouldered their way into her mind. He never really fancied me: It was all an act. I reminded him of Fiona, that’s all. She realised the thought no longer made her sad. If I hadn’t, would we be friends? Would I have had half the experiences I’ve had these last few weeks? She felt tears trickling down her cheeks, dripping onto his shoulder. Her nose began to run and she didn’t want that to be his last memory of her. Pulling away, she forced the grief deep inside and shone him her brightest smile.

“Maybe I’ll take you up on that, one day. I’m still not convinced about the mother thing, but perhaps kids aren’t as awful as I once thought. You have a safe trip home and take care of your family, they are very precious.” She leant forwards and pecked him quickly on the lips, before turning away. Without looking back she strode across the square towards Fiona and the children. Murmuring her goodbyes, and comforting a disappointed Sky, she took her niece’s hand and left the square, staring straight ahead.