Hooray! At last, my childlike excitement over the arrival of the post everyday has finally been rewarded. This week I had my first parcel as part of the Secret Post Club.

The brainchild of Heather at Notes From Lapland, the Secret Post Club appeals to the natural child in all of us – that part of us that feels a spark of eager anticipation at the sound of the postman stuffing the usual pile of bills and catalogues through the letter box. The post rarely contains anything inspiring, but the joy is in the not knowing – one day it just might be that letter that changes your life.

Anyway, the parcel I got this week didn’t quite change my life, but it certainly put a smile on my face for the day. My gift came from Clair at  Kids Craft and Chaos. I must confess I’d not come across Clair’s blog before, but it is definitely worth a read – a lovely mix of crafts, books and general parental musings.

My parcel is beautifully wrapped, and I almost don’t want to open it. I unwrap the first layer and find another parcel, plus some cute hairclips for Belle and Bee.

Bickering is temporarily halted while the new treats are shared out and photographs are posed for. Apologies to Belle for the rather strange angle – I was trying to get a good view of the clips but instead ended up making her look like she has a giant forehead. Oopps.

Very stylish I’m sure you’ll agree! So that’s the kids taken care of, now I get to open a prezzie – very exciting. I want to savour the moment, and I hold it for a while first, imagining what it might be and enjoying having a gift to open. When I do let myself peel off the tape, (I really want to save the cute owl wrapping paper), I’m definitely not disappointed. It is a beautiful notebook, the pages edged in silver. Now anyone who knows me will be smiling at this point, as they will appreciate what a perfect prezzie this is for me. I LOVE notebooks, they are one of my very favourite things. I love buying them, writing in them, putting them in little piles – it is basically any excuse for a new notebook for me.

So I want to say a HUGE thank you to Clair for taking the time and trouble to send me such a lovely gift – it really made my day. Now roll on April…

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When you think of internet addicts – what do you think? Probably teenagers on msn for hours on end, talking in words that don’t make sense. Or maybe men in their twenties and thirties, absorbed in the world of online warfare, with wives and children who know the backs of their head more intimately than their faces?

Last week, parents of a three month old baby in South Korea were arrested, after letting their daughter starve to death while they were online raising a virtual child in the role-playing game Prius Online. They didn’t even play at home – they spent hours at a time in internet cafes, only returning home occasionally to give the baby the odd bottle of milk. No wonder The Times were asking yesterday if there is such a thing as internet addiction.

This is an extreme case of course, but I do wonder if there aren’t actually thousands, if not millions, of internet users who although not addicted, find cyberspace overtaking their lives in a way that can often feel difficult to manage. With so much knowledge to explore, so many ways to connect with people, the internet can feel overwhelming. And once you start getting involved in online communities, you can feel a pressure, if only internally, to carry on. It’s a bit like buying regular lottery numbers – you can’t risk not playing once you have your ‘lucky numbers’. Once you establish yourself in a forum or social network it can be hard to leave, for fear of what ‘exciting’ news or discussion might be happening without you knowing about it.

Of course I’m not saying I neglect my children in preference of raising online babies, but I do feel a pressure to somehow be involved, to be available, and if I am not online regularly I often feel guilty, or wonder if I am in someway missing out. Perhaps it is because my work revolves heavily around email, or maybe it is my flighty nature, always wondering if something more exciting might be happening somewhere else or if that next email might be a new offer of work or interesting party invitation. (Disappointingly they never are party invitations, so if you have any kind of celebration coming up, please do bear me in mind.)

As parents, we are very aware of making sure our children use the internet safely, but do we always take the same care of ourselves? With more studies showing a link between excessive internet use and depression, we are right to be concerned, but that concern needs to include the whole family. We mustn’t fall into the classic parent trap – the one where you spend twenty minutes packing wholesome lunchboxes, leaving yourself only time to scoff a piece of bread in the car for your breakfast.

I do always switch my Blackberry off at night, so as not to be kept half awake with dreams of that teasing, flashing red light, but I’m not sure this alone counts as Healthy Internet Use.

I’d be really interested to know how other people feel about their use of the internet. Are you forever flicking between forums, or do you avoid social networking sites as much as possible? Maybe you set yourself a time limit? Let me know…

Photo credit: andyi

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This week, I have five copies of the new Uma Thurman film – ‘Motherhood’ – to give away. The film is a day in a life of a New York mother, writer, blogger and all round juggler of life. At the same time as planning a birthday party and constantly trying to prevent her car from being towed away, Thurman is trying to write 500 words about what being a mother means to her. So to win a copy of the film, just tell me what motherhood means to you. Winners will be picked at random by an apathetic fourteen year old. (See below for some blurb about the film).

So I’m going to start the ball rolling with my random and in-no-particular-order thoughts on motherhood. If you have read any of my other posts you will have an idea of the kind of issues that I struggle with on a day to day basis. I manage a seven year age gap between two feisty daughters, hide crumbs behind the sofa and every day lose the battle to get my teenager to wear a coat.

But that’s the daily grind stuff, the practical side of being a parent. What about Motherhood? Is that the same thing? ‘Motherhood’ as a concept, in capital letters, must be something more than that – a feeling, an ethos, a way of living. It’s hard for me, having given birth at 17, to separate the ideas of parenthood and adulthood. I have never been a grown up without children. I don’t know what it feels like to have independence without responsibility, so I can’t make a distinction – to me, being a mother is just something that has always been, and something that always will be.

Maybe if I had had children later, I would have had time to get to know a different me first, and would be able to say now with conviction that yes, motherhood for me means X, Y and Z, but I just can’t say for sure what that X, Y and Z might be.

Perhaps that’s normal though. Perhaps that IS the definition of motherhood, that it creeps into every aspect of who you are, grows as you grow, soaks into your very core. Once you have children, it is impossible to detach yourself from what that means. You can’t cut your life into neat chunks and define each slice individually and separately from the others.

So what does motherhood mean to me? I don’t know. And that’s not me just chickening out of an answer, I really don’t know. Motherhood IS me, I can’t remember a time Before Children, I don’t know how my life would be different.

And now I have to go and pick up Belle from a birthday party, hang out some washing and think about packed lunches for tomorrow. We can talk in broad terms, think about concepts, but basically that’s what motherhood is all about…

Win one of five Motherhood DVDs – out on DVD 8th March

Shot entirely on location in New York’s West Village, this bittersweet comedy distils the dilemmas of the maternal state (marriage, work, self, and not necessarily in that order) into the trials and tribulations of one pivotal day. MOTHERHOOD forms a genre of one – no other movie has dedicated itself in quite this way to probing exactly what it takes to be a mother, with both wry humour and an acute sense of authenticity.

Eliza Welch (Thurman) is a former fiction writer-turned-mom-blogger with her own site, “The Bjorn Identity.” Putting her deeper creative ambitions on hold to raise her two children, Eliza lives and works in two rent-stabilized apartments in a walk-up tenement building smack in the middle of an otherwise upscale Greenwich Village. Eliza’s good-natured but absent-minded husband (Edwards) seems tuned out to his wife’s conflicts, not to mention basic domestic reality, while her best friend Sheila (Minnie Driver) understands this – and Eliza — all too well.

MOTHERHOOD is a hymn to the joys and sorrows of raising children, and the necessity of not losing yourself in the process. Log onto www.motherhoodmovie.com for more competitions to be won and details about the film.

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I love books. I am a book person through and through and I’m not afraid to admit it, even if it does banish me from the cool kids’ gang. I love buying them, I love stroking them, smelling them and of course arranging them on their shelves. Sometimes in colour order, sometimes alphabetically, depending on my frame of mind. And it may be wrong, but I always judge a book by its cover.

I am however rather flighty, and after too much internet and not enough concentrating on Serious Things, I have noticed myself losing the ability to focus on a book for any length of time. That old friend Parental Guilt could also be to blame. As a child, I could lose myself in a book for hours, unaware of the passing of time. Now other things seem to intrude, and it is much harder to switch off, to silence that nagging voice in my head saying unhelpful things like ‘those dishes are not going to do themselves you know.’

In 2008, ashamed of the piles of barely read books by my bed, I set myself the challenge of reading 100 books in the year. All the way through. Right to the end. I managed 104. I completely lost touch with current affairs though…

Although I love buying books, I do try and limit myself. I love the look of floor to ceiling bookcases, and do cut out pictures of libraries and studies from magazines to stick on the wall, but I’ve found I have a tipping point with books. Not enough and I feel lost, too many and I start to panic – I calculate how many books I can reasonably read in the rest of my life and it doesn’t seem enough, there isn’t enough time, there is too much to be done. When I have too many piles of books they seem to taunt me every time I walk past. ‘You’ll never have time to read us you know,’ they whisper mockingly, ‘you’ll die before you can read 1% of us.’

I love to see my children reading, because I know how amazing it feels as a child to be consumed by a fantastic book. When I was younger I loved all the usual suspects – Secret Seven, Famous Five – proper escapism. As an adult, I still enjoy reading children’s books and have a particular fondness for the titian-haired girl detective Nancy Drew. Despite coming of age in the 1930s, Nancy is a role model for adventurous young girls everywhere. She is independent, fearless and never attempts to solve a mystery without a matching hat and gloves. If I find myself in a difficult or scary situation I often think to myself ‘what would Nancy do?’.

As well a Nancy Drew mysteries, I have some old favourites from my childhood that I will reread now for comfort – Winnie the Pooh and Adrian Mole in particular are guaranteed to sooth an overactive brain after a hard day – and I want to encourage my children to read not just for pleasure, but also as a useful coping strategy. When times are tough, a good book is a powerful weapon. Books can comfort us, inspire us, or simply provide us with the opportunity to escape from real life into a simpler world, a world of adventure, endless blue skies and lashing of ginger beer.

So I’m interested to know which books you enjoyed reading as a child. Are there any that have stayed with you, old favourites you turn to when you want to be whisked back, albeit temporarily, to a different time or place? And how do you find the time now to read with so many other aspects of life clamouring for your attention?

Amazing photo that I’m so jealous of: chotda

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This is something I have been thinking about a lot lately, but I’ve yet to come up with an answer, or formulate an argument, so I am writing here as a way of exploring the issue and how I feel about. So I apologise in advance if the post gets a little fragmented – it’s me thinking out loud.

So my question really is how much emotional vulnerability is it ok to show in front of your children? As a single parent, a mother from the age of 17, I have become an expert at suppressing my emotions to always appear positive and in control. This comes I think not only from taking on responsibilities so young, but also from my relationship with my family.

I’m sure my mother will forgive me for saying that being a parent coincided with a difficult period in her life, a tearful period, in which emotional vulnerability featured highly. Because of this, I think I learnt to be sensitive about how I behaved and the things I said, not wanting to upset anyone or make anyone cry. I have taken this forward into my adult life and am still very anti-confrontation. If I can act in a way to minimise upsetting someone else then I will.

This of course comes at a price. I have always known this on a personal level – people see me as hugely positive and confident, difficult to upset, detached even. One long term boyfriend actually told me I was cold hearted. The danger with this is that people don’t worry about upsetting you. They think the positive exterior means I don’t worry about things, that I am a tough cookie. But this is not true. I am just an expert in the brave face, practised at making the best of things and seeming to shrug off criticism or rejection.

I have always known this sometimes hard exterior has an effect on my relationships with men, but recently I have begun to wonder how it affects my relationships with my children. Bee told me recently that I am annoyingly cheery, that she sees me cry so rarely that it scares her when I do. So how does this make her feel about me and, more importantly, about herself? Does she think I don’t care? Or will she think that letting down your guard, being prepared to open yourself up emotionally, and admitting to feeling sad sometimes are weaknesses?

I’m on my own as a parent. I don’t have anyone to offload negative feelings to on a day to day basis, and I am loathe to become the teary parent that my children are constantly afraid of upsetting. I am also very aware that it would be all too easy as a single mum to use an older child as an emotional crutch, and I really don’t want my children to feel in anyway responsible for me. But then maybe I should accept that family members do have a responsibility to look out for each other. This is hard for me though. My tough teenage mum shell doesn’t want to rely on anyone for anything. Dependence feels like a weakness. I need to be able to look after myself.

I am starting to wonder though if showing a bit more vulnerability sometimes and asking for help more often might actually endear me to people more. I’m sure it must be hard for friends and partners to feel useful and needed if I appear so capable. And maybe it would show Bee that actually it is quite normal to often feel lonely, bored, fed up and sad. We are all human after all, but perhaps I don’t show it as much as I could.

I’d be really interested to know what other people think about this. Do you cry in front of your children or do you believe in putting on a happy face at all times? Have the relationships in your childhood shaped the way you parent? How as a parent can you show vulnerability at the same time as being the person who provides security? Answers on a postcard please…

Photo credit: Cesar S

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