Still Alive

13686492_10154236711202211_93610658222495883_nI’m just beginning week three of the summer holidays and I’m still here. Just.

It’s not that I don’t love spending time at home with the children – I do.

We have a huge garden for them to play in, plenty of gadgets and toys to keep them entertained (not that you’d know it) and enough spare cash to have the odd day out.

It’s just….

I don’t do people. I like silence and stillness.

The children giggling, screaming and singing is as tiring as listening to the children squabble, bicker and fight. In some ways it’s worse. When they’re fighting I can yell, ‘Enough!’ every ten minutes, not that it does much good. When they’re loud because they’re loving life, I have to try and enjoy it and not feel how it’s stripping my skin away like a potato peeler.

But I’m learning.

I’m learning that the shattered exhaustion will go away after I get a few days (hours, minutes?) of silence.

I’m learning that if I take myself off to nap, they will eventually play a game together, and possibly even not fight for a whole ten minutes.

I’m learning that I can work while they’re at home (I’ve had some audio-typing to do) as long as I don’t mind it taking twice as long and sapping the last of my strength.

I’m learning that if I spell it out to them that they can have sweets as long as they’ve had two portions of fruit and veg they will actually listen to that, even if the ‘fruit’ is raisins and the ‘veg’ is baked beans.

I’m learning to lower my expectations of myself and to not try and create a Facebook-friendly life. Although I do post the odd set of photos, it’s usually with titles like ‘just to prove to my children they did have a fun day out’ and ‘trying to be a Pinterest mum’.

13895340_10154251767422211_7588253192972986606_nAnd we have had fun.

We’ve been to the farm and Anglesey Abbey, we’ve made giant bubbles and crystals and collages. We’ve done some study (to earn iPad games) and baked way too many cakes and cookies. We’ve had mini piano lessons and karate.

Oh yes, I decided I was a grown-up after all and it wasn’t for my daughter to tell me I couldn’t take part in something, so I started karate too. My goodness it’s harder than it looks!

Anyway, that’s about all the words I have in my cluttered head. I’m off to do some knitting whilst being an attentive audience to a piano composition and a drum solo (quite possibly at the same time) before dragging the kids to Waitrose for my much-needed daily caffeine intake.

Survival. With plenty of coffee and cake and a little bit of STFU.

 

Highlights of the Summer

Blakeney

Blakeney

I hope you liked my ‘I will survive’ summer holidays tribute. I used to sing that song all the time about a certain man in my life as a teenager – it seems fitting to rewrite it in reference to parenthood! Life is all one long battle.

So school is back tomorrow, for one child at least. The other starts part time next week. I survived the holidays – more than that, I genuinely enjoyed most of it.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m exhausted. Ready to curl in a heap and sleep all day, ready to pee alone and read a book without interruption. But planning was definitely the way forward.

I’d take exhaustion over despair any day.

My awesome surfer girl

My awesome surfer girl

And highlights of my holidays? There are so many. We had an amazing family holiday in Norfolk last week, where every day was awesome (to paraphrase the Lego Movie).

We seal-watched at Blakeney and Sea Life, we swam in the sea at Wells and Mundesley, we saw dinosaurs and played the arcades.

My daughter learned to body board.

And before that? I almost taught the children to ride their bikes (rain stopped play on that one). They can both swim so much better. And my son is coping without his dummies.

Plus I got five of my six children’s books print-ready, so I can hand them out to Beta Readers.

It’s been a great summer. And, best of all, the holidays don’t frighten me so much anymore.

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FamilyMartinSesalifeSeals

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I Will Survive (The Summer Holidays)

At first I was afraid, I was petrified
Never thought I’d last six weeks
With two children by my side.
But then I spent so many nights
Thinking something here is wrong:
I was strong
Before these children came along!

And now its back, that awful space,
Between the end of term exhaustion
And Back to School mad chase

I should have booked more summer camps,
But I want them to be free,
Building dens and climbing trees,
Like childhood was for me

When summer starts, the future yawns
A terrifying place
Where I pee alone no more.
Goodness how I wanted those six long weeks to fly,
I thought I’d crumble
When the teachers waved goodbye.

But no, not I! I survived,
I planned away each single day,
And pinned my schedule high!
I had all my time to give,
(With some days for me to breathe)
And I survived! I survived!

Hey hey

[coffee break]

It took all the strength I had not to fall apart,
Not to crawl away in tears when I heard the endless fighting start.
I spent oh so many nights feeling sorry for myself,
I used to cry, but now I hold my head up high!

And you see me, somebody new,
I’m not that frightened little Mummy
Still so scared of you.
So you thought you’d break me down,
And expect me just to flee,
But now I’m actually enjoying having little ones with me!

And now you’re done, I’ve won this race,
You can take that sarky doubting smirk right off your face
I can say that I’ve had fun, and know it’s not a lie.
I didn’t crumble, I didn’t even cry,

Oh no not I! I will survive.
As long as I know how to plan, I know I’ll stay alive.
I’ve got Mummy love to share, so long as they sell coffee there!
And I survived! I will survive.

Go on now go!
Be here no more,
Tomorrow school is in and I’ll march children out the door.
They’ve had a blast, they’ve sung and danced,
They’ve paddled in the sea,
Seen rescued seals, held giant snails,
Barely turned on the TV

And I!
I will survive!

As long as I know how to plan, I know I’ll stay alive.
I’ve got Mummy love to share, so long as they sell coffee there!

And I’ll survive. I will survive.
I survived!

Wishing I Were Holly Webb and Busy Making Books

The Amazing Holly Webb

The Amazing Holly Webb

It’s Day 19 of the holidays and I’m still hanging on – just!

I’ve used up all my childcare days – the last one asleep on the sofa – but I have a plan for the final stretch. Next week we have day trips every day!

In the mean time I’m busy writing, when I’m not reading every marvelous book written by the amazing Holly Webb (and weeping slightly into my coffee).

I have to remind myself that she has written 100 books over eleven years, because my works pale in comparison. And it’s certainly true that her earlier books were not the masterpieces that her latest are.

Compare some of the early animal stories novels (think The Rescued Puppy) and they’re closer to what I am writing now than the gripping stories and characters of the Emily Feather books, or the Maisie Hitchins ones, or the Lily series. (As an aside I’m waiting for the library to open so I can get book 3! And the Rose series, which I probably should have read first.)

But it does worry me that she used to work as an editor for Scholastic Children’s Books. She had an ‘in’ (even if she did leave her first book on someone’s desk with a note attached, because she was embarrassed.)

My Favourite Cover Ever!

My Favourite Cover Ever!

I’m trying to find the in. I guess that’s the hardest part of being a writer, particularly for children’s books. I can self-publish my adult novels, and at least get some feedback. But I don’t see the point in self-publishing children’s books. You need an awesome illustrator (which I can’t afford) and a way in to book shops. My daughter does read on her kindle, but I think the books need to be in schools and libraries to be a success.

In the mean time I am having fun publishing my books on Smashwords, just so I can send copies to people. I do love designing covers! And there is a motivation seeing a book in a publishable format. There’s a danger too, though. A feeling that a book is finished as soon as it’s been turned into a .mobi file!

My strategy is to write as many children’s books as I can, so if I do find an agent I can say, ‘ta da! Look, multiple four-book series, all ready to go.’ Of course, if they hate my style, that’s a whole heap of editing! But I always say you can’t edit an empty page.

The books I’ve been writing this holiday are about boats and ponies. I really like my characters, Will and Jessica. Will (Willow Irvine) is a tom boy who lives on a narrow boat, but longs for a normal life. I’ve sent a copy to someone I know who actually lives on a canal boat, so I’m nervously waiting to hear if it’s any good! *Chews fingers*.

I adore my Will on the Water cover – I did the canal boat myself pretty much from scratch, and actually forked out for a decent font, rather than sticking with the basic ones on offer in Adobe. A £10 investment in the three images for this and the Moon Pony book cover felt like money well spent.

My First Pony Novel

My First Pony Novel

Jessica, the protagonist in my Moon Pony stories, is a nine-year-old girl who doesn’t like ponies.

I saw a cover on a pre-made cover site of a pony in the sea and my daughter loved it. So I decided to write a pony story. But I don’t know that much about horses and I’m certain you get caught out pretty quickly by those who do! Having a character who hates horses gave me an out.

The cover is not quite right – I couldn’t afford the pre-made one, so I did my own as usual. But ‘cutting out’ a pony frolicking in snow pushed my adobe skills to their limit. In the end I used one of the kids’ doodle programs to add stars!

So, anyway, that’s what I’m up to right now. I’m working on Will on the Water book 2 and Moon Pony book 2 (titles pending!). As usual, I’d love Beta Readers, so if any of them take your fancy, message me and I’ll send you a copy – with the usual caveat that these are early drafts!

And if you’re looking for a great but easy read this holiday, something you can focus on while the kids are driving you crazy, check out Holly Webb.

I’m off now – the library is open!

Art in August #29 – Wonderful Warwick

The Fabulous Georgians

The Fabulous Georgians

We had an amazing day at Warwick Castle yesterday. It’s the first time any of us have been and we didn’t really know what to expect.

The Horrible Histories added so much flavour – the actors were superbly in character it felt like being in a permanent play.

We managed to squeeze in the opening of the portcullis, the sword in the stone play, the trebuchet and the jousting. Unfortunately torrential rain drove us away before the eagles, and we didn’t even get to walk around the castle grounds, but that just gives us plenty to look forward to next year!

I decided to take my ‘big’ camera – my Canon 40D – which I rarely use these days, since the £200 repair bill last time my son went near it. I’ve forgotten how squinty-eyed it makes me, how much I want to photograph everything I see, and how hard it is to capture the perfect picture.

Jousting Dark Knight

Jousting Dark Knight

I left it in automatic mode most of the time, because my attention was on the children rather than light and aperture settings. For the jousting I hoped that would mean at least some half-decent pictures. Unfortunately I hadn’t taken into consideration the rope bisecting my view. Pretty much every picture has a rope in perfect clarity, with blurry jousting knights behind… Sigh. I’d have been better off using the iPad, or just enjoying the spectacle.

Never mind, I managed to get one or two nice shots (out of 156!) and next time I’ll know to sit where the rope isn’t in my way, or leave the camera at home and enjoy the day! 🙂

I feel like we’ve finally had our summer holiday, now we’ve made it to Sea Life and Warwick Castle. Doing both trips within a few days has taken its toll though (or I was stressed about going and now I’m fine) because I slept for twelve hours when we got home. After a couple of nights of only getting two or three hours’ sleep, it seems incredible.

Thank you to hubbie for taking care of the dog, the kids and himself, while I slept almost non-stop from 6pm to 6am!

Why being an Introvert is toughest in the Summer Holidays

My house, my head, my life...

My house, my head, my life…

I finally got to the bottom of my exhaustion today, after a friend on twitter suggested it might be due to my diet. I spent a lot of time musing on what is actually causing it, and whether sugar and caffeine are to blame.

It’s certainly true that there has been more coffee and cake this holiday, as survival against being home with the kids. But, if anything, my diet has been better, as I’ve had the children to feed too. Lunch is more likely to be pasta and veg than marmite toast, and there is much more fruit. I’m also drinking less tea, because I never get a chance to make and finish a cup while it’s hot.

But today I broke. We were meant to go and pick the car up from the garage and then go to the farm. Somewhere between trying to make a picnic as the kids hurled demands at me, and fighting to get two children dressed who declared they didn’t want to go out, I lost it. I walked away, climbed the stairs and crawled into bed. I couldn’t take it anymore.

Followers of this blog will know I am both an introvert and an HSP or Highly Sensitive Person. The latter is a term I hate, because it sounds like something kids would taunt in the playground, but it’s a diagnosis that applies too closely to me to be ignored. Let’s look at the two terms:

Introvert: I found this brilliant definition on the gifted kids website (not because I think I’m gifted, but because I googled it!).

Definition: Contrary to what most people think, an introvert is not simply a person who is shy. In fact, being shy has little to do with being an introvert! Shyness has an element of apprehension, nervousness and anxiety, and while an introvert may also be shy, introversion itself is not shyness. Basically, an introvert is a person who is energized by being alone and whose energy is drained by being around other people.

Introverts are more concerned with the inner world of the mind. They enjoy thinking, exploring their thoughts and feelings. They often avoid social situations because being around people drains their energy. This is true even if they have good social skills. After being with people for any length of time, such as at a party, they need time alone to “recharge.”

When introverts want to be alone, it is not, by itself, a sign of depression. It means that they either need to regain their energy from being around people or that they simply want the time to be with their own thoughts. Being with people, even people they like and are comfortable with, can prevent them from their desire to be quietly introspective.

Being introspective, though, does not mean that an introvert never has conversations. However, those conversations are generally about ideas and concepts, not about what they consider the trivial matters of social small talk.

[Emphasis mine]

Even the garden is a mess

Even the garden is a mess

Remind you of anyone? This is me. My life became a different place when I realised I was an introvert and that was okay. I am married to someone who recognises that I need plenty of alone time, and that even having him home in the garage can stop me from fully recharging. I am liberated by the knowledge, but it’s tough to handle at times, especially when most people I know are extroverts and think I’m antisocial or just plain weird.

The parents who tell me they love being home with their kids, love the constant chatter and the laughing and silliness are not introverts. And, possibly, they will never understand why, even though I love my children, it physically pains me to be around them all the time.

Highly Sensitive Person: On the HSP Website, it says this:

Is this you?

  • Are you easily overwhelmed by such things as bright lights, strong smells, coarse fabrics, or sirens nearby?
  • Do you get rattled when you have a lot to do in a short amount of time?
  • Do you make a point of avoiding violent movies and TV shows?
  • Do you need to withdraw during busy days, into bed or a darkened room or some other place where you can have privacy and relief from the situation?
  • Do you make it a high priority to arrange your life to avoid upsetting or overwhelming situations?
  • Do you notice or enjoy delicate or fine scents, tastes, sounds, or works of art?
  • Do you have a rich and complex inner life?
  • When you were a child, did your parents or teachers see you as sensitive or shy?

I read this list and ticked every single one. I tick them in relief, because so many things I thought were just me being difficult or a freak turned out to be things that other people could relate to.  The two bits I’ve emphasised are the ones that have been hardest this holiday. As above with the introvert definition, I “need time alone to ‘recharge'”. This holiday that has been “bed or a darkened room”. A lot. Not very healthy. When the children are at school I recharge by writing and walking the dog, sitting alone in cafes and getting the weekly food shop. None of those options are available to me, so I sleep.

More Playroom Mayhem

More Playroom Mayhem

Another thing that has exhausted me this holiday is the constant conflict. I hate arguments. I grew up in an argumentative household and any sort of disagreement, even without raised voices, ties my stomach in knots and makes me shake. Recently I’ve been having heart palpitations and there is a permanent knot of angst in my tummy. When I went to get my contraceptive pills this week they wouldn’t give them to me because my blood pressure was high.

Today I realised why.

My children are three and five. They argue all the time. When they’re not arguing, with each other or with me, or having screaming heebie jeebies because their socks are the wrong colour, they’re shrieking with glee, which usually ends in someone crying because they get too hyper. And, try as I might to block it out, I can’t. I’ve been living amidst constant noise and angst and conflict for fourteen hours a day for over four weeks. I have had two hours by myself to recharge. Two hours in four weeks. It’s been five years since I had a child at home full time, and back then they couldn’t talk.

I don’t know if being an introvert and being HSP are the same thing. I don’t think so. But I know that being both, and being a stay at home mum, are definitely mutually exclusive things if you want to stay happy.

My exhaustion is because I’m ‘switched on’ all day. It’s like wearing a heavy rucksack that I can’t put down. It starts off manageable but gets heavier and heavier as the journey continues. So my body copes by shutting down. If it can’t make the noise go away, it will go to sleep and escape that way. That’s my thought anyway. And it makes me sad. I had such great plans for the holiday and, in small doses, I genuinely love spending time with the children, taking them to the park, listening to their shows and reading them stories. But this summer I reached my limit.

'Painting' hmmm

‘Painting’ hmmm

I suspect it is all exacerbated by the fact that my children are likely also introverts (with two parents that are, it’s pretty inevitable), so they’re also suffering from being with each other day after day. It’s noticeable that my son, who has had no time by himself, being either at home with his sister or at nursery, has reverted to a tantrummy two-year-old. Normally he has a day or two with me just watching TV and cuddling. Time to switch off. Then he becomes my sweet little boy. At the moment he’s angry and stroppy and teary much of the time. Needless to say that isn’t helping any of our stress levels!

So I just have to hang on. In a week and a half I’ll have a few hours by myself. I think it might take more than one day to regrow the layers of skin that have been stripped away, but just knowing it’s coming is helping me cling on to sanity. It doesn’t help that hubbie is between contracts and at home, but hopefully that at least will be a short-lived situation.

And next year? Like it or not, tears and tantrums or not, even if it’s only for a day a week, they’re going to camp!