Take it Easy: 2013 365 Challenge #344

Throw the stick, please?

Throw the stick, please?

Today I decided not to rush. Lately I’ve been feeling like the white rabbit; running around with my watch in my hand, saying “I’m late I’m late I’m late.” It’s horrible. I feel on end all the time, trying to juggle a dozen things at once. The kids suffer, too. They hate being rushed.

The day I really lost it, the shouty day, is referred to by them as the Rushing Day. My boy says “Are we in a rush, Mummy?” and he means, Are you going to try and say goodbye to me at the door instead of taking an extra two minutes to escort me to the room?

I rush on the school run because of parking and because everyone else is frantic and because I drop the children in two different places within ten minutes. Today, though, I decided we’d just be late. I probably still said “Come on, we’re late”, a few times, because the children have no concept of time. But I took time to chat to the teacher, to try and help another mother with a clingy child who was also trying to drop at the door and run, (she has an excuse, though, as she goes to a proper job, not just home to play with words).

I wrote my daughter a star (a note on the board about something they’ve done at home that you’re proud of.) I let myself be ten minutes late for preschool. I took my son to the toilet on request even though I knew it was his way of making me stay longer. I had to leave, then, when he started crying, because I know delay prolongs the pain. But I left calmly, blowing him a kiss and a smile.

The White Rabbit at Disneyland Paris by Paul Beattie

The White Rabbit at Disneyland Paris by Paul Beattie

With tea and mince pie to hand, I penned my post leisurely, and ordered some Christmas gifts, trying not to feel guilty at taking half an hour off work to do so. I made pasta for lunch and emptied the dishwasher. I ignored the dirty floor and read my book. I wrote tomorrow’s installment, because I have my son on Tuesdays, and checked for comments on my guest post. Calmly.

As I write this, I am walking the dog with time to spare. Walking slowly in the sunshine instead of haring round in a state, knowing I have to get the kids in ten minutes. It feels great.

I’m not even sure I’ve achieved all that much less than I do on a normal day. I’ve made fewer of cups of tea because I’ve been less stressed. I’ve spent more time reading and less time on Facebook, which must be healthy. Of course it isn’t sustainable, because I live on my nerves. If I take things too easy, I get complacent. And that’s when it all goes to pot.

Still, it was nice to arrive with minutes to spare and be the first Mummy in to pick up my son. It was nice to take a leisurely walk to the school run and agree to take the children to the coffee shop for tea. Of course they whinged and moaned and I lost my tranquility within about ten minutes. Hey, I’m only human!

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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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The fireworks were over. It was the first display Claire had watched from down by the shore and her eyes and mind reeled from the spectacle. Standing beneath the waves of light, the endless showers of sparks, had been like standing inside the universe.

Conor had his arms around her as they faced the sea. When the penultimate lights had parachuted down to ignite on the water, she had gasped like a child, and Conor had chuckled and kissed her cheek.

Now, aside from the mingling tourists shuffling around them, all was still. They stood motionless for a long moment, neither wanting to break the spell. Then Claire straightened, and inhaled deeply.

“I have to get going in the morning.” Her voice didn’t sound like hers, and she cleared her throat. Aiming for a playful tone, she continued, “I have this report that needs finishing, you see. My boss wants it done in a few weeks and I don’t want to let him down.”

Conor tightened his arms around her, but didn’t speak. They simply existed; listening to the babbling crowds slowly making their way home.

The bay stretched before them, black as a cave without the lights of the fireworks sizzling on the water. A cavernous space pulling at Claire like an unknown future. She dropped her head back against Conor’s shoulder and sighed.

As if hearing her unspoken thoughts, Conor breathed in through his nose before saying softly. “You’re not coming to work for me, are you? When the report is done.” It was a statement and his tone sounded neutral, business-like. It made her stomach clench.

She waited for him to continue: to beg and plead, or reason, or demand. But he stood motionless, apart from one hand which stroked rhythmically at her arm as he held her tight.

“No,” she said eventually into the dark. “Probably not.”

As she said the words aloud, she knew they were the burden she’d been carrying for weeks. Even without the events of the last twenty-four hours, she knew she couldn’t work for Conor. Couldn’t come and live in the place he loved so much. She tried to frame a reason in her mind, one that could possibly contain sufficient explanation for her desertion.

“I need to do something for me. This isn’t my place. This isn’t my dream.”

“What is your dream?” There was a hint of longing in Conor’s voice, but no accusation. She stroked his hand in gratitude and then sighed again. The exhalation felt like a dessert wind, blowing from the depths of her soul, to wander lost on the sea breeze.

Her reply dropped into the darkness like a stone.

“I have no idea.”

*

“Do you have to go now? You could stay another night. There isn’t much to do today. We could go somewhere, have lunch.”

Claire did up her jeans and sat back on the bed, looking over to where Conor sat, naked, against the headboard. Outside the window, the sun was high in the sky. She had no idea what time it was, but her growling tummy said lunch was definitely an idea.

It felt wrong, running away like this. She didn’t know where the urge came from; she just knew she wanted to be on the road. Her time with Conor had been magical. They’d talked and made love into the early morning, falling asleep as the first rays of the sun painted the sky in stripes of peach and amber.

She reached down for her t-shirt and pulled it over her head, concealing the tears in her eyes. Swallowing against the hard knot in her throat, she stood up and walked round to his side of the bed. She sat on the mattress next to him and ran her fingers through his haystack hair and down his cheek, where stubble prickled like cut wheat.

“Today, tomorrow, does it make much difference? It’s easier this way.” Her words lacked conviction.

Conor reached up and cupped her face, pulling her down and kissing her hard. When they finally broke for air, his eyes were red.

“Of course it makes a difference. I’m not asking you to stay forever, just for lunch. You make it sound like we’ll never see each other again.”

It was on Claire’s lips to say, we won’t. Was that what she wanted? To avoid crossing the event horizon and getting sucked into a black hole she couldn’t escape from. Would it be so bad to live in this sleepy town and work for a man she cared for? Wasn’t that a dream, of sorts?

Conflicting desires tugged at her until she was ready to scream. Restraining herself against the urge to run, Claire stood slowly and watched Conor, trying to read his expression. He looked hurt, and then resigned, and then something else she couldn’t quite place. A steady resolve crept into his eyes.

Throwing back the covers, he stood and faced her. The sight of him without a stitch on did funny things to her insides, shaking her resolution. Judging by the playful smile on Conor’s lips, that had been his intention.

Claire laughed and ran her hand down his chest. “Tempting. Very tempting.”

As if he had proved his point, Conor turned and pulled on his jeans. Grabbing a clean t-shirt from a drawer, he turned back and grinned. “Just lunch. My treat. And then you can leave with my blessing. Provided you agree to let me come visit you occasionally. And after the report is finished? Well, we can just figure that out when we get there.”

Grateful for his understanding, Claire gave a swift nod and walked out the bedroom, before she ran out of reasons to leave.

***

 

Rainy Day of the Soul: 2013 365 Challenge #326

More rain

More rain

The school run home was miserable yesterday; the town snarled with traffic. A chat with mums at the school gate had me worried about what I’m meant to be doing for a dozen things, and my son sat through out his entire fencing class, refusing to join in, even though it was paid for. I broke. Again.

Anyway, I wrote this, while walking the dog. I wasn’t going to post it, as I feel I’ve written enough ‘raging against being a housewife’ posts recently. But I hate letting powerful words go to waste, however snivelling they might be in retrospect (and, of course, as a writer it’s all good stuff for future reference). So, this is what I wrote:

“Is it terrible that I want to say to my daughter, Don’t have kids. Or if you want them, don’t have a life first. Don’t go to university and get those degrees, don’t live on your own for a decade. Have your children young, while you still have the energy and the sense of humour, before you realise what you’re giving up. Before you reach a point when you’re out walking the dog and you don’t want to go home.

Before you work out that seven years of marriage means you’ve cooked dinner more or less every night over 2500 times without respite. That your loving husband will want to make it better, as your stare down the barrel of another twenty years of school run and homework and worry, and you’ll have to tell him there is no way to make it better. That you’re starting to wonder if it was all a big mistake and whether being lonely was as bad as you thought it was back then.

I want to tell my daughter, You have my genes, child, and you were raised by me. You won’t know how to nurture, you won’t know how to be a loving mother. You will spend all day trying to smile and be nice and gentle when inside you’re screaming. You’ll feel trapped by love and there will be days when you hate it and everyone it encompasses.

And then the guilt will drive you crazy until you’re walking in the dark, sobbing, with no where to go except home, where dinner isn’t cooked and the homework hasn’t been done and the dog needs feeding and the dishwasher emptying and you know hubbie will be playing on the iPad while the kids watch more TV. And you know they all love you and that just makes you the most selfish, ungrateful person on earth. That’s what I want to say.”

And then, when I told hubbie all this, he told me it was okay, cleaned the kitchen and offered to take responsibility for cooking. I told you he’d try to fix things. I settled for him doing dinner one night a week, because we have to be realistic! Then we just need to survive Christmas, come up with a plan for dealing with school communications and the school run, and everything will be fine. For now.

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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 considered the boy trailing ten paces behind, hands still buried deep in his pockets, and chewed out a curse.

“Problems?”

Claire looked over at Conor, who was watching Jack pretending to sink imaginary ships through a gap in the wall.

“What am I going to do with the moody teenager? A fortnight of that and I’ll go bonkers.”

“Do you want me to have a chat with him?” Conor said quietly, all brashness gone from his voice.

“And say what? He’s no more likely to open up to you than me, is he?”

“Well, I am at least a bloke.”

“Really, I hadn’t noticed?” She smiled, her cheeks tight with tension, before her face dropped back into the frown it had worn all morning.

“I didn’t think you had,” Conor said. Before she could respond he walked on to answer a question from Jack.

Claire watched as Conor leant over to hear Jack’s words. The answer he gave was animated; his hands waving in explanation. Conor had been the proverbial uncle since they’d entered the castle grounds; playing with the boys, listening to the audio tour and sharing the interesting parts, complete with actions. It was obvious – watching him – that he was used to being around children.

As she approached, Conor gave her a slight nod before walking past her back to where Alex stood leaning against the castle wall, surreptitiously tapping into his phone.

“I like your friend, Auntie Claire,” Jack said, after Conor had left. “He’s funny. Did you know he has four brothers and a sister, all younger than him! He says he has loads of nephews and nieces, but they all live in Ireland. Have you been to Ireland? It sounds great. They all live near each other and play at each other’s houses and stuff, and they go to school down the road.”

He stopped suddenly and his cheeks flushed, as if embarrassed by his candour. Claire’s heart went out to this young boy who wanted nothing more than to be with his family and have a proper home.

Maybe that’s what going to a Boarding school does to you. Maybe you spend your life trying to find the home you never had.

She thought about her own schooling. Her parents hadn’t made them board, but they might as well have done. The school ran from 8am to 6pm with extra activities at the weekend. Between hockey and homework Claire thought she’d probably only seen her parents a couple of hours a week from the age of eleven onwards.

The sound of laughter floated across on the wind whistling around the castle walls, and Claire turned in surprise. It sounded like Alex.

It was. He and Conor were walking slowly towards them and, for the first time, Alex’s hands weren’t in his pockets, but rather were waving around in front of him as he chatted animatedly with her boss.

How the hell did he do that? What did he find to talk about to make Alex laugh like that?

She remembered some of their phone conversation the previous night and rather felt she didn’t want to know.

Who cares? If he can turn Alex into a human being, if only for a day or so, I don’t really care if he’s reciting the Miller’s Tale to him.

Alex approached almost shyly, looking up at Conor for confirmation. Conor nodded in encouragement, before suggesting to Jack that they go hunt for the canons.

“Conor said I should talk to you.”

Alex’s face had lost its humour, but he kept his head raised, even if he didn’t make eye contact.

“I’m sorry I’ve been a pain. Conor says he’ll tell you to send us home, if I make life difficult for you when you’re working. I didn’t mean to be an arse.” He flushed at the word and quickly amended it, “a git, I meant. Sorry.” He paused, staring out over the wall at the ocean beyond, as if he could see all the way back to Geneva.

“I don’t want to be here. Father didn’t even ask, he just told us. And, well, I have friends. And stuff.” His voice trailed off and he looked down at his trainers, scuffing at the stone as if he’d like to run away.

Claire wanted to interject that they were only staying with her for a fortnight, but something made her hold her tongue. She watched Alex as he struggled with his words, trying to maintain an air of supportive concern.

“Conor said I needed to man up and stop giving you a hard time. He said it wasn’t your fault that Father’s a…” He stopped again, and a faint blush put colour in his pale cheeks. He looked up then, his eyes wary.

Claire wanted to pull the boy into a hug, but she kept her distance. “It’s okay,” she said, instead, “I know what my brother can be like. I hadn’t realised quite what a pompous arse he’d become,” – Alex grinned at her choice of word – “and I don’t blame you for being grumpy at him shipping you boys over here without warning. It’s only two weeks. That probably seems like a lifetime to you, but it will fly by, I promise.” There was so much more she wanted to say, but she could see already that Alex wanted to escape. So she held out her hand and tried to catch his eye.

“Friends?”

Alex gave her hand a shake and gave a quick nod. Then he hurried off towards Conor and Jack.

***

Scootering and the School Run: 2013 365 Challenge #51

Glapthorn Road, Oundle in the sun (Photo by Peter Whatley)

Glapthorn Road, Oundle in the sun – but without the mass of scootering children! (Photo by Peter Whatley)

Another day when I’m glad of my deadline buffer. I normally write posts the night before but give myself until 10am the following morning. It’s currently 8am and I’ve only just opened my laptop. Gorgeous wonderful hubbie is downstairs feeding the children. I probably have thirty minutes before there is something urgent they have to ask mummy about… Best get on with it then!

The reason I didn’t start yesterday is because I had a day in the life of a Town Mum and by 8pm could neither stand, walk or speak I was so tired.

I’m used to driving the children everywhere because I live out in the sticks. I think I’m pretty fit but nothing tests your stamina like carrying a 14kg child for about a mile on the school run because he fell off his new scooter almost instantly and wouldn’t get back on. I think my left arm is twice the length of the right one now!

Scootering at the park is much easier than on the school run

Scootering at the park is much easier than on the school run

Thankfully when my wonderful daughter face-planted the pavement, after being flipped off her new scooter, and grazed her nose and chin she battled on bravely (after a most impressive screaming fit) and did the whole journey, dodging tree roots, uneven paving and about 100 other kids all spilling out from school, half of them also on Micro scooters.

I used to envy my friends for living in town but the school run was a whole new experience. And it was sunny and warm. I can’t imagine what it’s like in the snow and ice! Maybe I’ll stop dreaming up ways we can afford a house in town and stick to ferrying my kids around by car with trips to the park on the way home.

Actually the kids were amazing all day, and were suitably rewarded with ice cream and pizza for tea (in that order!) I ended up helping my friend with a piece of work on the computer for several hours while my two played with her daughter and they didn’t break anything. I found my (2 year-old) son tucked up in my friend’s bed with her daughter (she’s 4, same as Amber) and all they had done was tip water on the duvet. Given her make-up bag was right there it could have been much worse!

Spending too much time on social media and not enough with the kids...

Spending too much time on social media and not enough with the kids…

The only bit of the day that left me sad was reading a blog post by Allaboutmanners on how a working mum can stay present and focussed on her children rather than being distracted by technology all the time. I know I’m not getting the balance right at the moment. My kids are always telling me off for checking emails or “just doing this load of laundry” / “just feeding the dog” / “just running the hoover round”.

I used to get more chores done on nursery days (particularly when I had three days a week to do them) and now I feel they rarely get my undivided attention because there are always a zillion things that need doing. I read the blog post on my phone while watching the kids in my friend’s playroom so it caused the worst kind of guilt!

I’ve been thinking about it a lot since and the guilt has diminished a bit. I know I don’t have the balance right, but I also know it is very difficult to remain present for any length of time with toddlers and preschoolers unless that’s your vocation. If my children have my undivided attention they play up against each other, and there is always one that isn’t happy. If I drift off and do work sometimes they moan but sometimes they go and play beautifully together, like they did at my friend’s house yesterday. I may not always make them feel the most special beings in the universe but I do teach them that the world doesn’t always revolve around them and to find their own entertainment. Weighed up in the balance I feel it’s better than an artificial life of either 5-day-nursery-care or 5-day-Mummy-attention. Anyway, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking with it! 🙂

Ooh, it’s 8.29am, look at all my waffle. I’d better find out where I left Claire and move her on to her next challenge, whilst also trying to ignore the crying and screaming downstairs….

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Claire looked round towards the door at the sound of voices approaching the hostel. She knew that no one she wanted to see was likely to walk in and still she looked. Just because I’m still in the Lakes doesn’t mean he’s going to turn up. There must be at least twenty hostels in Cumbria and, besides, this isn’t Casablanca.

She turned back to the iPad and concentrated on finding something interesting to say about John Ruskin her trip to Brantwood

I can’t really put ‘bumped into catty old school friend in the most random place today and it turns out she hated me as much as I hated her. Isn’t life funny?’

What else to write though? It was hardly a high-adrenalin activity wandering round a museum or supping a latte in the café.

If I’m going to keep my job I need blog traffic. I can’t give Carl an excuse to call this venture a failure. She thought about making up an adventure but knew she’d get found out in a heartbeat. There might be only ten people following my blog but if I say I walked Striding Edge this morning and I didn’t you can bet they’ll know someone who was up there or I’ll get the weather wrong.

Claire gazed around the hostel lounge, taking in the stylish fireplace and soothing décor, and felt pleased with herself for stumbling across it in the guide book. She’d been flicking through trying to find a hostel that wasn’t a bunkhouse and her eye had stopped at what she thought was the Holy Cow hostel. Smiling she had thumbed back through the pages and was disappointed that it actually said Holly How. I prefer my version.

Claire heard voices outside the lounge door and the hairs on her arm rose. Just because it’s an Australian accent doesn’t mean anything. You’re worse than a teenager at a school disco. Give it up and write your damn blog.

Tapping at the iPad Claire wrote some purple prose about the views from Brantwood and included a couple of inspirational Ruskin quotes. The voices in the hallway grew louder and then diminished, as the new arrivals dispersed to their various dorm rooms. It sounded like a bus-load had arrived and Claire hoped only the quiet ones were heading for her dorm. It had been empty when she arrived and she’d had a sneaky hope that it might remain that way.

I knew that was too much to ask.

Claire bent her head over her phone, searching through her photos to find one suitable for the blog. She heard someone enter the lounge but forced herself not to look up.

The newcomer walked across the room and stood near the sofa without speaking. Still Claire refused to look up. She knew she was being rude, breaking some kind of hostelling rule by not welcoming the new arrival. She heard the stranger clear their throat, then laugh.

“Hey Claire. Saw the rust bucket outside in the car park. Not in Liverpool then?”

Heart thudding, Claire at last looked up and felt a surge in her chest that wouldn’t have embarrassed her teenage self. Her face spread in an involuntary grin as she gazed at the tanned skin and dirty-blonde hair.

“Hi Josh.”

***