Got Milk? The solo-parent’s Nemesis.

In the 18 months since I became the only adult in my household, I’ve often been asked how I’m managing to do everything on my own.

There’s a lot I could say about this, and perhaps here isn’t the place to say it; but the first difference I have noted is a very practical one.

I’ve got to think about the next day’s breakfast pretty soon after eating that day’s breakfast.  Do I have enough milk, bread and cereal to see me through the next 24 hours?

Every parent is used to thinking during the day about what to cook for dinner, and there’s no doubt that this can be a pretty thankless chore, day in, day out, when it’s a case of trying to think of something everybody will eat with the least amount of complaints and with some sort of nod towards the principles of nutrition.

Yesterday, I was making some effort cooking dinner (I’d picked some basil and chopped onions), when my son looked at it and sniffed ‘yuck’, my daughter asked for some toast, and I realised I wasn’t hungry.

At this point, I’m realising that lots of people probably think more than 1 day ahead when it comes to meals; they have bi-weekly revolving meal plans and have regular on-line shops scheduled.  I completely admire these people. Sometimes, I even am that person.

I’m pretty sure that even the most organised of us runs out of milk occasionally.

When there’s another adult in your home, however, you have the luxury of noticing that there’s no milk, say, at 6pm when you’re about to run your children’s bath, and thinking, oh well, I’ll go and buy some once the children are asleep.

There were times when such a stroll round the corner to the local shop actually constituted ‘me’ time.  Indeed, I once read a blog in which an American woman was recommending in all seriousness that Mothers should gain some time to themselves by inventing a need for Broccoli at the weekend, running out of the house before their children’s father could object, taking time to really walk around every aisle in the supermarket and then driving the long way home.  This is pretty awful, but there’s no doubt that for some parents there are times when this is all that’s possible in the way of breathing space.

When you’re the only parent in the house, realising you don’t have enough milk for breakfast feels like a major failure; it’s kind of crushing to realise that you haven’t thought as far ahead as the next morning; that you haven’t quite got your act together before bedtime signals your confinement to the house.

All parents have to develop certain attributes; two key ones are resilience and resourcefulness.  The mental strength to ignore the onset of self-doubt when you’ve made a mistake, and the ability to make the most of the breakfast supplies you do have.

If milk is the only missing ingredient, then you’re fine.  Toast, fruit, yoghurt, juice are all great options for fuelling your children before the school run.  However, if you’ve run out of milk, you might also have run out of bread…

It’s austere, but I might suggest porridge made with water.

Also, eggs; lots of options there; Omelettes perhaps.

Thinly cut cheese with crackers have been popular with my daughter, too.  I think this is a Swedish idea, which gives it extra points.

I’ve been known to give my children potato waffles from the freezer, with bacon.

If you have milk, but no bread or cereal, then you should make pancakes.

Baked beans are useful – if you don’t have a phobia of them like I do.

The garden can sometimes provide supplies too; at this time of year my children’s breakfast has often been enlivened by an early morning raspberry picking session.

So far, I’ve never been completely defeated and breakfast has always been possible.  I’m definitely prepared for the day when I’ll have to take them to the local cafe for breakfast; and if you ever see us walking from the cafe door to the school gates, you’ll know it’s not because I’m extravagant, but because I’ve literally run out of any other options; and I don’t suppose my children will complain about it.

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Chocolate Cake for breakfast?  This is fine…

 

 

 

 

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A Common Story

“Come back, Mummy!”

My daughter is a small figure beneath an oak’s far reaching branches, the scene of our earlier picnic.  Between me and her is an expanse of sandstone rock crossed by chasms which wouldn’t be discernible from the undulations in the rock until their brink was reached.  It’s potentially treacherous unless you know they’re there, which Flora does; she has unwillingly traversed the territory with me earlier, and knows she doesn’t like it; she’s concerned for my safety, she doesn’t like being alone, but there’s no way she’s coming to get me.

I return to her side a little reluctantly.  If Flora is cautious, the appeal of clambering on rocks hasn’t left her mother.  There is something pleasing in being in physical contact with an ancient landscape, and the element of precariousness adds the right amount of challenge.  Flora will grow bolder with age and custom, but her older brother has already enjoyed happy hours climbing the rocks with friends.

It’s one of the first properly sunny and warm days of the year, and we have time to meander outdoors.  Flora and I catch the bus from Rusthall and get off by the Spa Hotel, where we can enter a shady path into the Common.  If my daughter’s three year old legs were longer we could have walked the whole way from Rusthall, diverting via Toad Rock for further sandstone adventures. However, adjustments must be made for age, and we keep our foray a simple one. The object of the walk (and a walk should always have one) is Wellington Rocks, for picnic and play.

Our pace slows.  Flora stops to examine the ground beneath her feet.  If a walk on pavement produces pauses to watch a stray ant how much more scope for Flora’s stop/start/scream style of walking is there in a woodland floor?  There are small insects moving on the ground beneath her feet all the time and on balance her response to this is tipping closer to fascination than to horror.

I’m keen on the idea of the Commons as a natural playground and classroom combined; with the scope to draw in science, natural history, geology, art, literature and to foster a sense of responsibility.  There are certainly a few history lessons to be had.

‘But why are they called Wellington Rocks?’  My eight year old son is a big fan of the hero of Waterloo.  ‘Did the Duke of Wellington visit them?’

Apparently the first Duke never did visit Tunbridge Wells, but his wife did.   In David Peacock’s Tunbridge Wells Sketch Book with Frank Chapman (1978) Frank Chapman describes the Duchess as disliking the ‘unbearable social pressures of her husband’s fame.’  Wellington met Kitty Pakenham in 1792, but it was only in 1806 that they were married, at which time he is said to have remarked to his brother, ‘She has grown ugly, by Jove.’  If the first Duchess of Wellington felt uncomfortable in her husband’s London milieu, Tunbridge Wells can feel honoured to have often offered her a place of soothing refuge.

The naming of the popular rocks has a more prosaic explanation than visiting celebrity.  They are named because of their proximity to the Wellington Hotel, which opened in 1875, and is now a Travel Lodge.  Before that they were called Castle Rocks.  The first owner of the hotel was certainly a fan of the Duke, and the hotel was decorated with lots of Wellington memorabilia, while the rooms were all named after his battles or generals.

One things is certain: my children are not the first to find pleasure playing on the rocks.  In the 1960s Harold Betteridge took the picture ‘Saturday Afternoon at the Rocks’, which is reproduced in Tunbridge Wells in Old Photographs by MLJ Rowlands and IC Beavis.  It is both evocative and timeless; it shows dozens of children climbing the rocks or playing in the surrounding sand, and it is not difficult to imagine that similar scenes could have been seen in previous centuries.

I don’t mind that Flora isn’t unconditionally delighted with her Common experience.  I see appreciation and exploration of the Commons as a work in progress; one that might take a life time.  Every visit will be different, and offer up a different perspective, lesson or flight of the imagination.  The natural landscape changes with the seasons.  A playground can offer instant gratification, but it will always be the same and its challenges will be limited; in time boredom sets in.  Soft play can almost guarantee a lack of scraped knees or other injury, but it doesn’t offer the same stimulation or variety of learning that nature can.  We’re so lucky in Rusthall and Tunbridge Wells to have this fantastic natural landscape on our doorstep; it’s all our common playground.

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Crazy Wednesday

If Sunday’s the day my children leap from their beds at 6am, full of exuberant anticipation; and Monday’s the day I rise relatively fresh to find children who just want to cling to their pillows; then Wednesday seems to be the day none of us wants to face.

I was born on  a Wednesday, but at this stage in my life, they don’t fill me with joy.  This is mainly due to the swimming lesson run, of which I could say much; and also perhaps the natural slump at the mundane middle of the week.   (I *think* it’s meant to be Marvelous Middle and I wish I could feel this way about it.)

Today I have a particularly special Wednesday in store for me.

Between 3pm and 6.30pm this afternoon, these are the places we should be.

  1. 4.15pm-5.30pm   Leo’s Beavers troop are having a water fight at the scout camp approximately 3 km to the, er, right of the school he attends (as you’re facing it, I’m sorry, I don’t do compass points).  Outfit: Beavers T-shirt, waterproofs.  Accessories: A waterpistol, mud.
  2. 4.30pm  Watching week at Leo’s regular weekly swimming lesson, at the sport’s centre approximately 3km to the left of the school.  Outfit: swimming trunks, goggles, swimming hat.  Accessories: A parent, watching.
  3. 3-5pm  The annual tea party for the Friend’s of the Commons society at a local hotel about 1.5km to the left of the school, involving tea, scones, strawberries, cake…Outfit: nothing specific requested, but presumably something dry. Accessory: the ability to have a sociable and civilised conversation with other adults without your train of thought trailing away.
  4. 5.30pm – Ceremony in which Leo will be transferred from Beavers to Cubs, back at the Scout camp.  Outfit:  A clean and neat full Beavers Uniform.  Accessory: One proud and paying attention parent.
  5. 6.30pm – School play, at the school.  Outfit: A pristine neat and clean school uniform.  Accessory: Another watching parent, but not me this time.
  6. 6.30pm – Once a month meeting of the Waterstone’s book group, which pretty much makes up my entire social life at the moment. Outfit: Who cares, it’s only me, and it’s looking pretty clear that I won’t actually get there.

NB  Elements to bear in mind while solving this logistical puzzle: * I don’t have a car.  * At some point the children have to eat something. * My daughter is currently at a delightful phase in development where she keeps up an almost constant high pitched whine of dissent which pretty effectively scatters all my sane thoughts to the wind; but possibly she is protesting at being moved around by the cyclone of events, none of which concern her.

‘You’re ginger, You can do anything,’ pep talks a friend of mine.  For a moment, because I’ve just been reading Harry Potter to Leo, I consider whether this is somehow true; is there some magical solution?  Maybe not the power of ginger (if only there were such a thing) but some magic wand that could be waved that makes being in several places at once possible?

It seems to be a frequently required skill in the parenting arsenal.  For example, tomorrow, when I need to attend another performance of the school play at 2pm, at which younger siblings are not allowed.  Could a magic wand be waved that could somehow suspend the existence of younger siblings for say, one hour, for such occasions?  I mean, I totally get why a hoard of pre-schoolers wouldn’t be ideal at the school play, but also: what precisely are we meant to do with them?

Further Hints: *Anything which I want to do is expendable, so; goodbye to the tea party and the book group.  *Anything which is a one-off will probably take precedent over things that happen every week; and I have to be honest here, I’m not regretting the missed swimming pool run.

Solution:  With a helpful lift in my friend Lucy’s car, and some on the move eating/outfit changing, we will probably make it to both Beavers and the school play, but it’s not too surprising that when I went into my local shop to buy picnic tea food this morning, I mainly came out with ready meals and wine.

Final Thoughts:  While some things get easier as children grow older, the logistics definitely grow more complicated.  A regular day is a rare thing, and if I’m honest, a little dull.

 

Flower Power

This is an article I wrote for a local magazine about my friend Felicity, who is a brilliant and busy mummy to her 3 year old daughter.  She keeps her cool juggling being a parent with running her existing business and starting a new one – and I always like people who show us what can be done if we dare to make a start!

If you’re walking through the streets of Rusthall this summer, you may chance upon a house with a stall of pretty, hand-tied, jam-jar posies for sale outside it; and if you do you should know that they have been grown from seed by Felicity Williams, a Rusthall gardener and artist and one half of the local business Flower Sisters, with her sister Sophie.

Asked where the idea for her business came from, Felicity explains, ‘Because I paint and I’m a gardener, people assumed I’d be good at floristry, and I was asked to do a couple of weddings.  I found I really enjoyed it, although I didn’t really know what I was doing, and I had to buy the flowers from Covent Garden Flower Market.  It made me realise I’d actually much rather grow the flowers myself – I’ve been a gardener for 12 years now, and having dug my way round most of Kent, I wanted to grow from seed and choose the flowers I grow myself instead of having the choice made by my clients.’

Felicity, whose favourite flower is the Peony, finds her relatively new business (it was begun in the Autumn of 2014) is a wonderful way to combine her practical gardening side with her creativity as a painter.  ‘It’s definitely a creative outlet, it brings it all together,’ she says.  ‘It’s also more socially interactive than gardening alone is.  I’m lucky too to be working with my sister; she’s a people person, and she has a keen eye for style and presentation when it comes to wrapping and arranging flowers.’

Through her pre-existing gardening business, Felicity was already working with Falconhurst, the historic wedding venue which is also open to the public, and it was from this that she was offered the opportunity to use the empty space in their walled kitchen garden; a perfect place in which to grow flowers.

‘We’re going to specialise in hand-tied bunches of flowers, and buckets of flowers to arrange yourself at home, and we’ll deliver in Rusthall or nearby.’  Felicity says.  ‘We’re really excited that the flowers are going to be ready for sale throughout the summer.’

For more information, you can contact Felicity by email at felicity@flowersisters.co.uk or telephone 07807 069792.

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Ghost of York

‘I’m just going out for a bit,’  I told my daughter, as I kissed her goodbye and left her with her grandparents on friday afternoon.

Little did she know, as I fairly skipped down the road, that what I mean by ‘a bit’ was 3 days, and she’d next see me on Monday morning.

My son is more aware of what’s going on.

‘Are you going to York because you don’t like us?  Do you just want to get away from us?’

I realise I haven’t actually explained myself very well.  ‘I’m going to see my friends from university, and I haven’t seen them for a few years, so that’s why I’m really looking forward to it.’

‘Oh, okay.’ Leo says.  ‘I understand.’

I take this as being absolved of guilt.  He and his sister have had a great weekend.  On Saturday they went to London with their daddy, to birthday parties in pubs and a Greek Restaurant in Camden with interesting relatives.  On Saturday their grandparents took them to Scotney Castle and Bodiam Castle, and Leo persuaded them to buy him Crusader’s chain mail.  So.

I’ve had the best weekend, too, and as a result feel calm, happy and rejuvenated.  We’ve been lucky enough to wander in our beautiful University town with no agenda or schedule. We’ve also been lucky enough to get cuddles with our friend Benjy and Dan, our friend Sarah’s little boys.

It’s been a weekend of Margaritas and great beer in bars with names like The Evil Eye and The House of Trembling Madness.  Yes.  The House of Trembling Madness.  If you pass through the shop selling every kind of beer imaginable, there’s a staircase leading to a medieval drinking hall of long convivial tables and a bar with a lion’s head over the top.  We drink American craft beer and look out of the small high windows, filled by a view of the vast Minster, as others must have done for hundreds of years.

‘So, are we going to be in your blog?’ My friend Becky asks.  This is basically why I’m writing this post.  ‘When I saw you were writing a blog I thought, Jayne always wanted to be like Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City, and now she is like her.’

This is about one of the most pleasing things anyone’s ever said to me.

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I mean, I’m not published in The New York Times, and so far I haven’t been paid, and I’ve never written about complicated dating scenarios because I’m not allowed to leave my house after 6pm, but apart from that, the similarities are endless.  Like…I totally type on a laptop, and stare out the window quite a bit.

On Sunday, after saying goodbye to Becky and Frankie, I’ve time to visit the National Trust’s Treasurer’s House in Minster Yard.  There, some of us are given the chance to go down into the cellar, the lights are turned out, and we’re told the story of the ghostly Roman soldiers who marched out of one wall and through the next, following the route of the main Roman road, looking tired and dishevelled.  It’s shiveringly convincing and I think about how much Leo would love this if he were here.  I hope I can bring him soon – I love York, and I’ve been away too long.  My thoughts are turning to home, nevertheless.

If I were Carrie, I’d end this post with a thoughtfully insightful question.  So here’s mine, for what it’s worth.  Are the short times we spend away from our children; feeding our own souls and friendships and memories of who we are as individuals, just as important to our relationship with our children as the time we spend with them?

Alternatively, I also thought I might leave you with some appropriate music.

 

The House of Trembling Madness   http://www.tremblingmadness.co.uk/

The Treasurer’s House  http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/treasurers-house-york

 

 

Sports Day: You win some, you lose some!

Last year, I missed my son’s sports day.

I had no excuse for this; I wasn’t at work, and I don’t have a gazillion children.  I wasn’t doing anything else.

I was sat in a church hall parent and toddler group, beginning a cup of tea and chatting to friends, while my daughter played.  A text came through from one of my friends.

ARE YOU OK?  LEO JUST WON HIS RACE. WHERE ARE YOU?

My daughter and I fled down the village High Street and up the school drive, but it was, of course, too late.

The truth is I just didn’t know it was Sports Day.

I wouldn’t even say I forgot; I literally just didn’t know.  This isn’t because of a lack of communication from the school – the information would have been contained in one of many emails I receive from the school, and there’s a website too with all the important dates on it.

Unfortunately, at the time, I was relying too heavily on the jungle beat of the playground; the patter of conversation as we wait to pick up our children.  A remark such as, ‘Oh, Sports day tomorrow’ from a fellow parent can be a useful nudge, but it shouldn’t be our only method of organising our child’s life.

I was surprised by how little my son judged me for this major parenting fail, and the following day I found out why; ‘It was really my fault you missed it,’ he told me.  ‘I knew it was Sports Day the day before, but I forgot to tell you.’

Obviously this heartbreaking tendency of my son’s to think that everything is his fault (just last friday he told me he thought the UK’s vote to leave the European Union was his fault; but that’s clearly another story), made me even more resolved to do better in future.

Suffice to say, one of my major parenting goals for this year’s summer term has been to make sure I attend Sports Day.  Today was that day.  This morning, as I followed him around his events; shot put, long jump, javelin, triple jump and flat races, I made sure I caught his eye, smiled, waved, cheered.  His sister waved pompoms in his house colours and took part in the toddler race.  I want him to know we’re proud of him and rooting for him, but I suspect the main thing I’m trying to communicate is just I’m here.

If there’s a moral to this story it might be one about the importance of basic organisation; reading parentmail properly, and writing dates on calendars.

We all miss things sometimes; I’m grateful my son’s so forgiving.  As parents we have so much information to retain relating to other people’s lives, as well as our own, it can seem overwhelming.  There’s a lot to think about, and I probably will forget things again; I can only hope my children continue to be forgiving.

Anyone can be an artist (but some artist’s are better than others).

‘Anyone can be an artist,’ says my friend Alexa.

She’s just been asked if she’s a famous artist by one of the pupils at my son’s school, where she is organising art workshops.  The children have designed ‘fence post people’ and are about to transfer their paper design to the actual fence posts which will later adorn and brighten the school playground.

Thanks to Alexa’s planning, the painting sessions in the school hall are a pattern of organisation and calm; which is the perfect environment in which productive creativity can take place.  The resulting fence post people are vibrant, individual and beautiful.

My three year old daughter loves painting; she comes home from pre-school with reams of her masterworks and she was given an easel for her birthday.  Unsurprisingly, I’m inspired to buy her some paints.  The easel is in the lean-to, which is pretty much outside – how stressful can it be?

I’m cooking dinner in the kitchen when I notice that the painting is no longer confined to the easel.  I fatally hesitate to condemn the now frenzied creativity.  For a moment I think, It could be like Charleston Farmhouse, and I let them paint on.

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I mean, obviously, that’s pretty much nothing like Charleston Farmhouse, but who am I to suppress my children’s creativity?  And this isn’t a proper room in my house; it doesn’t have a radiator for a start; so it’s ok.

Anyone can be an artist?  Well, perhaps…