I’ve been reading quite a few articles recently about mums and dads wanting to carve out more “Me” time in their lives to spend doing the things they want to do. I think the concept of time spent on a hobby, sport or other pastime is very important and, for some, literally a lifesaver.
It’s just that right now I’m feeling the opposite. I would dearly love to spend more time with the Man-Hog and the Mini-Pigs. Something that seems impossible to organise. It is not me separating myself off. No. It’s THE SCHEDULE.
Those of you out there with babies and toddlers experiencing the full-on 24/7 that comes with that territory are not aware yet of the subtle shift that begins to seep in at around 9-10 years old. We spend our kids’ formative years teaching them life skills, independence and self-esteem only to have that come and bite us right on the behind about 10 years into Project Parenthood.
With independence and confidence comes exploration and activity. The kids want to do, see, experience and embrace everything they can – in addition to all the activities they already do that we, as their nurturing parents, have arranged. And my local area, for a rural community, is surprisingly comprehensive in its variety of opportunities. So it is not enough that Mini-Pig Boy plays or trains for football three times a week already. Now there is rugby and, today, a vague murmuring of rock-wall climbing Saturday club. Mini-Pig Girl already spends as much time out with friends as she can (pocket-money and catty girl group arguments permitting!). Now she’s playing netball league (albeit at my instigation) and is out two nights a week minimum. She is also looking for Saturday work which will no doubt eat up a further day of the week that I then cannot spend with her. I can’t selfishly stand in the way of her earning her own money. She has Primark and Hollister Co. to support after all. Single-handedly it feels like! Thank goodness for quite hefty teeth braces still present in the mouth – at least boyfriends are not on her personal radar too just yet.
Man-Hog has started going to the gym a few times per week to coincide with the Boy’s football training. Consequently I have a giant toddler in the house again nodding off into his dinner plate and emerging, gravy-stained, to stagger up the stairs for a hose-down and an early night – the gym having sucked the life-force out of him. Between this and his plans to manfully prevent our 400 year-old house crumbling to a dusty heap while the woodworm point and laugh openly, he really is quite busy. I haven’t had Loose Women‘s entire lunchtime episode re-told to me in weeks. I am happy about that, by the way!
Me – well I’ve just come back from a weekend’s race-sailing. Not a weekly occurrence, I grant you, but a hobby that cannot be done within an hour’s session; that requires at least two days to achieve anything useful. I play netball twice a week, every week, and work 12-15 hour days with the commute. I’m not complaining about it, it is just how it is at the moment.
Besides all this, the Man-Hog and I still try to fit in an adult social life. Even more important in a country environment where effort must be made to meet up.
So we have had to devise THE SCHEDULE. A running tote of who will expire from exhaustion first. (My money’s on the Man-Hog – he’s out of practice and likely to fall at the first hurdle.) THE SCHEDULE allows our poor over-taxed neurons to work out who is going to be where and require picking up at what time. It has addresses and driving directions to sports fixtures all over Sussex. It has netball grids of all three teams playing league in Eastbourne each week. It also contained, up until last weekend, the days and times of England’s rugby World Cup journey. Hmph. Those slots have now been filled by domestic tasks and the occasional foray to the supermarket. Shortly, I suspect, it will have the times at which we may pee and sit down. I kid you not.
What THE SCHEDULE does not contain, nor seems willing to factor into its demanding little squares, is any family time. I miss my family. I miss having the Mini-Pigs sitting on my lap watching Thunderbirds on a Sunday morning. I miss sprawling on the floor with the Man-Hog and his Sunday papers munching baked doughnuts from the local village shop with a side order of calorific-guilt – so bad, yet so good. I miss little people bathtimes where many a fun moment was had with a kitchen jug and some silly string. I even miss the “I’m boooorrrreeeedddd!” whines of the recent summer holiday…..I know! Shocker! But at least we were together and bored. I clearly didn’t appreciate that time enough.
I could choose to curtail family activities that stop us spending much time together but I shy away from clipping their wings in these days of computer games, endless TV and potential childhood obesity. I could say no to shopping trips, sleepovers and playdates at weekends, but wouldn’t I just make myself entirely unpopular and the recipient of several gut-shaking door slams? I could cut the labels out of Man-Hog’s jeans so the size doesn’t upset him and force him to the treadmill; but wouldn’t such marital deceit be discovered eventually, inducing a crisis necessitating his dive into the nearest comforting Pot Noodle?
So no, I will not do that, For now, THE SCHEDULE, like a Cyber-Man on a completely incomprehensible episode of Doctor Who, rules the world. I am holding my breath and hoping that, in continuing, I won’t wake up in a few years and regret giving in to it. I hope family time will return, perhaps in a newer and even more fulfilling way, at some later date. Until then, I do have some nice nostalgic photos and a lot of netball trainers to console me.
What about you? Me-time or family-time: how are you making it work?
I have just returned from a few days with friends in the south of France. We had a lovely time, despite truly British – dare I say Scottish – weather.
One of our jaunts out took us to the port of La Rochelle. I have fond memories of this place, having spent a riotous four days there in late 2009 on stopover prior to departing for an insane yacht race with ten other boats all the way to Rio de Janeiro. Good times – well, the bits I remember anyway.
Returning to La Rochelle the year after my return from Brazil with the family on holiday, I was mortified to be met with a hug and an effusive welcome by the proprietor of the port’s only Irish Pub – he apparently remembers me downing impressive quantities of some shocking cocktails called After Eights and thereafter dancing on the tables accompanied by other slightly inebriated sailor-type companions. It was not one of my finest parental moments – being displayed in front of my children - but they were so “Meh” about the whole thing that I believe I got away with it. Phew. Note to self: Must learn to lead children by example…..
But – staying on point – this visit included a mooch around the shops with our friends, where the children were amused to come across a series of Mr Men books written in French. The one that tickled our funny bone the most was “M. Non.” Just that – Monsieur Non. We fell about laughing on reading it, as we all immediately identified the elder male Stratton in the character - he who was browsing in a model-making shop at the time (because sensible people stay home and make models, not gad about the globe in glorified tin cans for the fun of it).
My husband – now M. Non forever more – is, let’s say, one who errs on the dark side. Not wholly negative, but not completely positive either. A planner and procrastinator. He’s most definitely a “No, but…” person when discussing ideas, people, concepts etc. whereas the rest of us are much more “But, yes…” He’s a “Can’t”, not “Let’s” person.
(Note: This “Non” does not, however, extend to bottles of French wine, for which he demonstrated much more “Mais oui!” this weekend than was good for him. Since his only failing here was to get louder in proportion to the quantity of wine consumed, this is a minor issue, although our poor friends may need to consult ear specialists this week as they recover from having us to stay.)
This inherent negativity has led to many clashes en famille as being with M. Non can somewhat limit spontaneity, creativity and simple learning through childhood (and adult) experiences. My son, for example, is protected from hurting himself with too much gung ho launching off walls and scaling of trees etc., by M. Non. He would say it is health and safety awareness, but I would argue that our son could also be less dexterous, less able to problem-solve and more cautious than he would otherwise be if allowed to experience more. My daughter is prevented from certain fashion choices and from experimenting too much with her hair. M. Non says non. But is that stifling her creativity, “cramping her style” or just his fatherly way of protecting her from peer ridicule?
It’s hard to know. I am a different animal altogether. I fight M. Non on many fronts myself. I believe in having a go, pushing boundaries and accepting the consequences as they happen. Not necessarily thinking about those consequences in advance. If I had, I would not have even been dancing on tables in La Rochelle, or scaring myself silly trying to manhandle a 68 foot bath-tub across the Atlantic for six weeks. “Non” is not a word I use much at all, unless we’re talking about tattoos or piercings on my daughter’s beautiful teenage person. That’s not so much “Non” as “Over my dead and rotted body.” Me and M. Non are, for once, in agreement on these issues.
But I do have to concede that without M. Non’s practicality, forward-thinking, hazard avoidance and foot-putting-down-ness then myself and the kids would teeter on the edge of potential disaster much more often than we do. While I find all that flying by the seat of my pants stuff terribly exciting, I do accept that it does not make for great parenting. Many meals and much of their formal education would be missed as we windsurfed our way across to the Canary Islands or trekked cheetahs in remote jungle bush, if their parenting was left purely to me.
So, here’s a tribute to the M. (and Madame) Nons of this world – those who we may moan about and rail against, but who keep us safe, love us enough to stop us doing too many silly things, and give us the secure base from which to leap into the unknown prepared and protected as much as they can manage and arrange.
Without my own M. Non, Madame Oui-Oui-Oui here and the little Oui-Ouis would not be the happy, healthy little unit we are. More time would potentially be spent in A&E than out enjoying ourselves. We must appreciate him and all he does (without the loud bits, obviously), even when “non” means no.
(She says, sneaking off to have a go at base-jumping before her ancient and creaky knees seize up altogether and/or M. Non finds out!! Just kidding, M. Non, honest?)
I wrote this in 10 minutes flat in the bath on Tuesday evening. It’s raw, certainly, but it’s from the heart. The theme of my week, it would seem! So here it is – my ode to a family holiday in Devon.
Finding Utopia by pigletinapoke
Finding a holiday that suits a diverse range of ages is not easy. That pleases the whole family? NEVER easy. Combining both and retaining sanity and equilibrium? The Utopian dream!
Except. Nestled on Devon’s Southern-most tip lies the estuary-etched town of Salcombe. We journeyed West in April 2011 to this aesthetic gem in search of UK holiday Nirvana and, by Golly!, I think we found it.
The family age span stretches from the youngest (codename: The Prawn) at 10 years old to Uncky Mike (codename: Beg Pardon?) enjoying his seventh decade of holidays. Throw in one sulkily hormonal teenager, a City-stressed mum and Goldie-elders who’ve seen it all and want nothing but the best; phew! Frankly, you’re asking for trouble. It should have been Holiday Hell. Chaos at the very least. But it wasn’t.
Our journey took about 5 hours door to door, and was an integral part of the trip. We reminisced as a family the days when we would race each other in our lovingly nurtured VW campervans along the higgledy-piggledy A303, hoping desperately to arrive without breaking down and preferably in daylight. On the same day we had left. Today’s modern family equivalent of convoying Land Rovers was not quite as atmospheric but, thanks to the inclusion of car to car walkie-talkies which made all of us sound like heavy-breathing pervs, was nonetheless fun. Our usual hare-and-tortoise race ensued. Having marvelled at Stonehenge from afar, we paused for the obligatory rest-stop in the village of Mere, to re-convene and devour mildly warm, hopelessly crushed packed lunches.
Arriving en masse in Salcombe always brings a surfeit of emotions. The children squeal eagerly out of car windows as we round the bend and discover the view, straining to check a) the sun is shining, b) the water is as blue as they remembered (it is – South Sands beach having earned its Blue Flag this year) and c) is the surf up?
Us parentals are more restrained. I cheesily slip Morcheeba’s “The Sea” onto the stereo and its lilting melody accompanies us as we marvel at the stunning tree-lined cliffs, the almost Mediterranean beauty of homes and gardens drifting staccato-like down the hillside to the water. On a practical level, our eyes seek to check that all the stores necessary to a week in the town with varied loved ones and potential rain (we are still in England after all!) are still there; that Cranch’s sweet shop and Catch! Italian restaurant have not moved with their owners to Malaga in the intervening winter period since our last visit; and that a McDonald’s restaurant has had neither the effrontery nor planning permission to be erected on the marina.
The “Goldies” check the hill gradient up from the colourful hanging baskets of the Victoria Inn to our accommodation in lofty Cliff Road: assessing the best route on foot to do everything they want while only negotiating the hill once, perhaps twice, during their stay!
Accommodation has always been excellent. Coast & Country, based in Island Street, are our kind of holiday lettings agency, and have never disappointed to date. There are other options: the Salcombe Harbour Hotel boasts a central location, a health and fitness spa and pool with amazing views, while the contemporary South Sands Hotel has picked up multiple awards for its design and benefits from an impressive wine cellar and gourmet menus.
Given the tribe of us, however, we went the self-catering holiday let route. We pick up the keys and mount an assault on our accommodation. The view from our balcony is, corny I know, picture-postcard perfect. Some jiggery-pokery ensues over which child gets the upper bunk (youngest apparently, as he snores and she can kick him from underneath to shut him up), who gets the en-suite and where multiple wetsuits, wellies and boogie boards may be stored, until finally we’re in. And…..relax! This we do, with a well-earned glass of vino watching the sunset pinken our deck and listening to the seagulls wheeling overhead.
So what’s so special about Salcombe? Well, it has everything a family can want. Truly. There are two beaches within walking distance of the town, both sandy and safe for children with intriguing rock structures to climb and tidal rockpools to explore. In rougher weather, the resulting surf at North Sands gets quite knicker-grippingly exciting, and there are no rocks buried beneath the waves to injure young bohemians at play. Overlooking that beach is a fine establishment called The Winking Prawn – that of Cajun barbecue fame; server of fabulous Prawnetto ice-cream from its own pink van and excellent Sunday breakfast buffets. The Goldies chill out with lattes and lemon drizzle cake whilst watching the rest improve their board skills. Or not! There’s copious affordable parking to spend the day there if you wish, and even a tennis court to work off the extra calories inadvertently swallowed.
Then there’s the town itself. A proper town. With real shops that you can actually buy things in. Not just a selection of tea shops and a faux hand-crimped pasty parlour. The arty quarter around Island Street is home to various unique galleries, including the Bang Wallop! photographic studio whose work will not only amaze, but whose lovely people will immortalise a moment in your own family’s history – on a theme if you wish – to be ready at home when you return from your hols. There’s the amazing Salcombe Coffee Company whose bacon sandwiches and house-blend lattes bring a tear to the eye. And the fabulous Bibi and Mac over whose designer labels I defy you not to drool.
Then of course, there’s water – all-pervading, enticing and immediately accessible. You have to get in it or on it at some point – it’s compulsive. Salcombe is even more picturesque when viewed from the water. You can hire boats to potter about in, ribs to rampage a little further afield, join a mackerel fishing party going out to catch the big one, and there’s even regular ferries to the opposite Mill Bay beach with its clifftop walks (National Trust but worth the £5 parking fee if you drive there) and, tide permitting, up to the nearby town of Kingsbridge which boasts great Indian food, a beauty spa, yoga centre, the wonderful Crabshell Inn and a cinema amongst its manifold attractions.
For those who want to get in the car – the Goldies did sometimes go off on little jaunts – there is the pretty town of Dartmouth approx. 10 miles east, the wild beauty of Dartmoor approx. 12 miles north and historic Plymouth Ho! and its environs a mere 20 miles West.
So – is Salcombe for everyone? If your penchant is for a Kiss Me Quick hat, penny arcade, nightclub or jet-ski then, no. You won’t find them here. But if you seek quality time with your family spent against the ever-changing backdrop of the estuary; a convenient location nestled amongst the trees at the mouth of the river; a temperate climate thanks to its southerly position; views to die for out to sea; and warm, friendly locals to make your stay even more pleasant – look no further. Salcombe’s your man. Did we all argue? You bet. About what to do next and whether we should go home at all. Ever. So take it from me – go, take the whole family and who knows? Maybe, like us, you’ll never want to leave.
I’m including here today a couple of the beautiful paintings created by my friend, Pippa. She moved to France a few years ago, and we got to talking on email one day about life, the universe and everything, as you do. Turns out that, while France has been great and renovating a lovely little farmhouse, raising three gorgeous boys and learning an entirely new language has been fun, frustrating and immensely challenging in equal measure, she was struck by the same sense of something not quite right that affects all of us mums at some point.
Another friend wants to start a business, buying and renovating old furniture. Using craft skills she has, but cannot use in her day to day life.
Yet another wants to learn to water-ski. Whatever floats your boat, I say, pardon the pun.
The fact is the “What about Me?” moment comes to us all – even if you don’t, can’t or won’t admit it. Something about motherhood, and in my case working motherhood, takes us over and we become like an escalator, constantly pushing and carrying other people forward to their destination, but somehow always ending up behind them, back at the bottom again, and wondering when is it our turn to get off?! And don’t say you haven’t thought it, because you have. Even if you then felt guilty for thinking it, like I have.
In truth, thinking it is nothing to feel guilty about. Thinking that there is something you would like to do – just for you - is not saying that we are not grateful for and enjoying the lives we have. Being wives, partners, lovers, mothers, workers, businesswomen and all of the other important elements of our lives does not preclude doing or wanting something that no-one else in the family does.
We most certainly do enjoy our lives. Even when its difficult. Even when the 3am high-temperatured and vomiting child is upon us and we have to get up for work at 6am the next day! Even then, we are not unhappy with our lot necessarily. It’s just that somewhere along the way, at least in my case and that of some of my friends, something got forgotten. Put on the back burner. Left until later. But just when is later in this busy life?
So one day Pippa, like me and so many others will before and after this blog, woke up and decided to start painting again – something she enjoyed and trained for in her past that had got buried in the mists of time passing. And as you can see, the results are amazing! Although I am not sure about the chicken theme, but peck – what would I know? The best part of all is that it appears to have brought a sense of fulfillment to my dear friend, and it does not at all detract from the rest of her life and achievements, which continue along their path in much the same way.
In my case, I took off on a madcap sailing adventure – learning to sail from scratch and then undertaking a 6,000 nautical mile journey across the Atlantic in a racing yacht. Six weeks away from home, and a million miles from the day job. I’m not alone – roughly 400 people do it every two years, and frankly, I thoroughly recommend it. I did not realise it at the time, but it was the first time since I was a teenager that I was a) by myself, and b) able to spend the time thinking about my life and more importantly, me. A little mid-life health-check , if you will.
I discovered, much to my great happiness, that there is not a lot wrong with either. Yes, I yearn to live by the sea (the subject of another blog which I will reveal to you shortly) and yes, I would like to stop commuting 3 hours a day to work that can sometimes not be as fulfilling a job as I would like it to be. But in general, despite niggles that arise and problems that have to be overcome, I am happy with my relationships, friendships, lifestyle and enormously proud of my children. Pretty pleased with the direction in which everything is moving. Without being horribly smug, I hope!
BUT, there was something which had bugged me for a long time. The thought that arose while administering Calpol at 3am in the morning. The wish that crept up on me while throwing a roast dinner together. Long ago, when I was a young girl (!) I had always thought I would go to university and study English literature and learn to write; had perhaps even toyed with the idea of a degree in journalism or similar. Circumstances conspired to make that impossible, but still I have always wanted to do something with writing and have never quite found the time. Now I am doing something about that, and like Pippa, I feel good about it. It’s not selfish to take a little time for yourself in this crazy merry-go-round we call life. And I am convinced it will make me a better person – broaden my horizons, give me an outlet etc.
So watch this space. Because that novel wants to be written (and Pippa will provide the jacket cover and illustrations although she doesn’t know it yet) and I want to do it. Lasagna will still get made, kids will still be cared for, the dog will get walked and sadly, work will still have to be a priority – but that bit, that little bit of satisfaction in a page written one day soon, a start made - that bit will be just for me.
If you would like to know more about Pippa’s pictures, just comment and let me know! Thanks!