In the name of research for Cuddledry’s month of blogging, I have been busy this morning reading a selection of mummy and daddy blogs, and came across a post from Ellen at In A Bun Dance, an outpouring of confessions, secret habits and thoughts. The list struck a chord with me, as I could empathise with so many of them, and it reassured me that I am not the only person who avoids the phone and sometimes hides from my children.

Inspired as I was, I have decided to come up with my own list, in the hope that everyone will then tell me how completely normal I am after all. So here goes with some things that not many people will know about me:

I am a little bit afraid of pineapples. It’s the little spine marks that get left behind when you slice off the outside. The first time I cut up a pineapple I screamed out loud.

I am very easily distracted and get bored very quickly. Even though my Gran always used to tell me only boring people got bored. I spend quite a lot of my time wishing something exciting would happen.

I hate housework. No big secret there maybe. I have been known to hide dirty dishes in cupboards when I’ve got guests.

I only like drinking out of particular shaped cups. When I order a latte in Costa I have to ask for a different mug.

I never put in exact amounts of petrol. I don’t understand why people try so hard to get to whole pound amounts. I look away from the pump, sing a little song to myself, and when the song ends I finish pumping.

One of my children’s favourite treats is ‘garage tea’ – when you are out somewhere and stop at a garage and buy Dairylea Dunkers, Capri Suns and Pepperami and eat it in the car.

I just ate some ‘Hotel Chocolat Christmas Collection’ for my lunch.

Please tell me this is all fine.

Photo credit – mrjoro

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Friday at last! This week has been a varied one to say the least. As well as being a single mum to two gorgeous girls, I also juggle three home based jobs – writing, marketing and fundraising. Add to this my obsession with checking my emails and blog stats and a chronic inability to concentrate properly on anything for more than five minutes at a time, and I often find my weeks become a jumble of writing features, lurking on forums and trying to flog baby towels.

To illustrate my point and to try and give myself a sense of having achieved something, I thought I would write a brief summary of what I’ve been up to this week workwise. Picture me doing the following, whilst of course at the same time blogging, emailing and maintaining some kind of relationship with my family:

Monday: Writing day today. Wrote and filed a feature on green baby products for The Source and a piece on breastfeeding and friendship for The Green Parent. Did you know that oxytocin, the hormone that causes the let down reflex, has been shown to increase levels of trust in humans, making the friendships you form while breastfeeding deeper and longer lasting? Well now you do.

Tuesday: Today I was very excited as I went out of the house for a meeting with real people. I wore a dress and everything. I am Marketing Manager for Cuddledry (remember them from Dragons’s Den?) and we were planning a revamp of the website. I came up with a fiendish plan for a relaunch of our blog with a month of guest Mummy Blogging – please get in touch if you would like to contribute!

Wednesday: Not a productive start to Wednesday. After dropping Belle off at school I felt a little bit overwhelmed and, unable to face returning to my empty house, I walked around for a bit trying not to cry until the snow made my feet too cold. However, after an hour or so of mild panic and several cups of tea, I managed to write a feature on food labelling for The Spark. In the evening I watched Avatar and felt rather silly wearing 3D specs over my ordinary glasses.

Thursday: Hmmm… what did I actually do on Thursday? …consults work book… Ah yes, I was in baby towel mode today, finding Mummy Bloggers for my blogging month – I have lots already, hoorah! – and trying to find a celebrity parent to be a judge for our Baby Bubble Beard competition. When I needed something non-towel related I pitched a few feature ideas, mooched about on facebook and ate some of the leftover Christmas chocolates.

Friday: This morning I had another meeting away from home (aren’t I the social animal this week?) with my two lovely colleagues from my charity consultancy. Next week we are pitching to run a capital appeal for the building of a new community hall, so we met to discuss our proposal and plan our pitch. And I had a lovely scrambled egg and smoked salmon breakfast. Yum. After a very successful visit to the St Margaret’s Hospice shop, where I bought a Next suit for £4, I returned home to write the appeal proposal, recruit some more bloggers, try and woo Dr Miriam Stoppard and think up marketing ploys for the women’s news website I have recently become involved in. Oh, and I just ate a bowl of porridge. Rock and roll.

Time for a little sit down.

Flickr image by Helico

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I had my first baby when I was just 17 years old. Not on purpose you understand, but that is another story… Now I was under the illusion that young bodies were stretchy and supple. I imagined my baby would form a neat bump and that I would spring pertly back into place two weeks after birth.

Oh how wrong I was.

At about eight months pregnant my stomach erupted into a mass of hideous purple stretch marks – it turns out my young skin just couldn’t take the strain. I know I’m not alone – a friend of mine recently wrote about the frightening array of pregnancy body nasties, and it turns out that all kinds of things can happen to you – cankles anyone?

Two babies and over two years of breastfeeding later and my 31 year old mummy body could certainly do with a bit of work. Not of the surgical kind of course, just the ‘me getting myself off the sofa once in a while’ variety. I kid myself that typing counts as exercise, but I know I am clutching at straws.

I was pleased therefore to read in The Mail today about It’s Complicated, a new rom-com starring Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin. The Mail claims the film is testimony to the fact that ‘wobbly bits can be sexy too!’ I really hope that is the case, as I certainly have my fair share.

As a single mum, I feel more conscious than ever about the parts of me that are not so perfect. When you are in a relationship with the father of your children you can take comfort from the fact that at least they can remember what you looked liked before your tummy bulged over the top of your jeans. When you’re single, you have to deal with the daunting prospect of at some point having to reveal your naked body – stretch marks and all – to a new man. A scary thought indeed.

But then as It’s Complicated shows, perhaps we should be a little more accepting of ourselves and realise it’s not just women who feel the effects of ageing. At least I don’t have to worry about balding. Well not yet at least.

Flickr image by bies

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As a single working mum, I often find myself bogged down in the day-to-day nitty-gritty of parenthood, so busy finding everyone matching shoes and remembering to at least offer fruit regularly, that I forget to notice the wonder of life.

One of the joys of having children though is that they make you stop, think, and see things through their eyes. Their enthusiasm and imagination is infectious and if you spare some time to step into their world, you can gain a whole new and inspiring perspective on what you would normally take for granted.

Take last night for example. Yesterday was a busy day, and in my rush to meet deadlines I forgot to buy yeast for the breadmaker. A forgivable crime I’m sure in the grand scheme of things. On our way home from Badgers therefore, Belle and I stopped off at our local newsagents for a loaf of bread.

When we got home, I gave Belle the bread to carry in, and as she picked her way carefully to the front door (I obviously haven’t done anything sensible like clear the snow from the path) she looked at the bread curiously.

“Mummy,” she asked me, “is this bread sliced?”

“Yes,” I answered.

“Already?” she asked, a look of amazement on her face.

“Yes,” I said again.

“Wow!!” she exclaimed.

If only we could all see the wonder in something so simple…

Flickr image from nettsu

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As many of you know, I have something of a soft spot for Lib Dem politicians… if you haven’t already, you can read about my Clegg-crush here at Mookychick.

Clegg’s appeal increased further today then when he openly scoffed childcare guru Gina Ford and her controversial childcare routines.  Talking about his experience of using Ford’s ‘Contented Little Baby Book’, Clegg is quoted in the Times as saying “With our first one, like all new parents, we religiously followed Gina Ford. Instructions like, stick him in a broom cupboard at 7.46am. At 7.48am, take him out, do not look at him . . . Absolute nonsense.”

I couldn’t agree more! Although millions of parents swear by Ford’s strict regimes, I have always been shocked by her attitude to raising children – not just because of the trauma I believe her harsh routines can expose babies to, but also the pressure it puts on parents. How can it feel good to have someone tell you to just sit and listen to your baby cry??

Books like Ford’s take the power away from parents, making them question their own judgement and instincts. As a species, we have managed to survive for thousands of years without parenting manuals like these – as women, we are designed to bear and nurture our children. We don’t need anyone to tell us how to do it.

Ford hit back at Clegg, warning him that his outburst could cost him much-needed support at the general election. I think she’s wrong – anybody who is prepared to stand up to Gina gets my vote.

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Make cup of tea, stare vaguely out of the window for a little while, check emails in case someone interesting has decided to spontaneously offer me work and/or a love affair…

And so begins my first day back at work.

I work at home, and most of the time I love it. It can be difficult sometimes to get motivated, and admittedly a lot of my time is spent in forums, obsessing over blog stats, or compulsively refreshing my emails, but I’m pretty sure that’s what most people do in offices anyway, I just have the bonus of not having to worry about anyone looking over my shoulder.

School holidays are hard though. My study is right there at the top of the stairs, trying to lure me in every time I go to the bathroom. My laptop stares at me, sometimes I swear it winks – it is trying to seduce me.

I want to switch off, to be spending Quality Time with the children, baking cookies, toasting things on sticks around an open fire and other such wholesome activities I am led to believe happen in other families. But it is difficult. How do you leave work behind you in the holidays when your office is inside your house??

Today Belle went back to school and I had six whole hours in the house on my own, the solitary day to myself that I have been craving for nearly three weeks. Oh the joy! The decadence of roaming the house alone, no Disney channel soundtrack to my day, nobody asking me things or wanting things! It is bliss.

For an hour or so anyway. And then it gets a bit dull and I wish there was someone there to gossip with, to look over my shoulder and ask if facebook really constituted work. Perhaps I’ll just have a little check of my emails, who knows what the last twenty minutes may have bought me…

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“Please wear your coat to school today,” I beg of my teen as I leave the house at eight this morning.

“Why?” she replies, a look on her face of genuine bemusement, tinged with disgust at the very notion of dressing sensibly.

I hesitate for a moment and the ridiculousness of this as a response. “Um… the sub-zero temperatures?” A solid argument I feel.

“Ergh,” not a very witty comeback, “but where am I supposed to put it?” she asks.

“The general idea is that you wear it,” I reply.

This kind of exchange is endlessly frustrating and demoralising. I really feel I am being quite reasonable in requesting that she doesn’t make the two mile round trip to school through icy winds in just a thin shirt and unbuttoned blazer, (it is apparently a complete faux pas to actually do it up), and yet I am made to feel like that most irritating of all mothers – a nag.

It is very tiresome to have to repeat this sort of conversation over and over, and it can often leave me feeling lonely. On the family battlefield I am, quite literally, one man down – one woman on her own against two children. Two very opinionated children at that. It is in these kind of situations that I miss the voice in the background, the often ineffective but nevertheless reassuring deeper voice, dispensing supportive one liners – “Listen to your mother!”

When you parent alone, you have to be good cop AND bad cop, maintain friendly relations yet still command respect. Maybe I could try developing a multiple personality disorder? Or recording an authoritative male voice off the radio – John Humphries perhaps – to be played back in times of crisis. Hmmm. Or maybe not. I’ll get my coat…

Flickr pic by Dangerpup

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Tonight I spent a tedious hour and a half sat cross-legged on the hard floor of a freezing church hall, my senses overwhelmed by the din of 30 noisy badgers. Not the striped, hairy type – this was the ‘small children learning useful skills’ variety – a group run by St John Ambulance. It’s along the lines of scouts, but with a rather simpler and more elegant black and white uniform.

This was Belle’s first taster session, an effort on my part to engage her in some kind of non-tv based out of school activity.

The minute we step into the hall my exuberant, often overwhelming seven year old transforms into a timid bundle of nerves. At home, grown men and feisty teenagers have been known to cower in fear – some have actually fled. The one day I am banking on her over confidence to carry her through and she bottles it.

It takes half an hour to persuade her to join in at all – a half hour with her spent clinging to my arm – and only then with the promise that I will remain sat in the corner, shivering, just in case.

An hour in and I can’t feel my nose or my feet. It’s alright for the kids, they get to warm up with parachute games. I think of it as an investment. I get her established here and I buy myself 90 minutes every Monday evening to do whatever I want – drink cocktails, learn Salsa, take a lover… Or maybe just go to Sainsbury’s on my own, which in single parent land is the biggest treat of all…

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Parenting alone can be dull at the best of times – you don’t get out much in the evenings and find yourself taking pleasure in the simplest of things. A quiet cup of tea alone becomes a ‘treat’ and the anticipation of sitting down on your own to watch Come Dine With Me is what gets you through the day.

Tonight then I am in heaven. I am watching The Big Fat Quiz of 2009, I have a cup of tea in one hand and a box of After Eights in the other. Belle is in bed reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – very wholesome – and Bee is barricaded in her room on msn, probably swigging from a can of Relentless – not quite so wholesome, but out of my way at least.

And I get to spend two hours imagining what it would be like if David Mitchell were my actual real life friend… I indulge myself with a fantasy that we casually meet at a party and David is impressed with my ready wit, laughing out loud at my sarcastic take on the news events of the day. Maybe one day I will get to go out in the evening and then who knows. A girl can dream….

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Dating as a single parent is a tricky business, requiring a lot of determination and very supportive babysitters. When you’re part of a couple, going out is easy, but who exactly is supposed to have the kids for you when you haven’t got a useful partner at home? Rather a chicken and egg scenario there I fancy… So imagine dating a single Dad – how on earth do you carve out time to spend together as individuals and exactly when is it ok to introduce the children?

As a single mother of two daughters and a serial online dater I have yet to find time to regularly leave the house on my own, let alone establish a Proper Grown Up Relationship. I don’t count the elderly ladies I meet at checkouts who woo me hilarious tales of cut price cruises and mixed up prescriptions.

When I recently met a single Dad online, with kids the same age as mine I thought I might be on to a winner – here would be someone at least who understood my predicament and would be able to cut me some slack if I turned up to a date half an hour late and covered in playdoh. What I wasn’t expecting was for him to propose we each take our kids on our first date! I’m a fairly liberal parent – I have been known to buy Fruit Shoots – but this was moving too fast even by my standards.

Needless to say I politely declined, but it left all sorts of unanswered questions for me – just how to you manage the practicalities of dating as a single parent? Should you go for a single dad, or does that just complicate matters even further? And really – kids on dates? Is it a sensible solution to a simple problem of logistics or just too creepy…

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New Year’s Resolutions:

  • Write blog – check
  • Get people to read blog – hmmm…. trickier. Top tip from a friend – ‘make it interesting’. Damn. I knew there was something….

In true New Year scrooge style I went to bed last night at 11pm and turned my phone off. I have never been a huge fan of New Year, which is a good job seeing as I was stuck at home Being A Parent. I did have my first child free afternoon since December 19th though (not that I’m counting) and had a lovely time in the pub drinking gin and playing pool badly. Gin in the afternoon really is the way forward.

I staggered walked swiftly home to be back for Belle at 6pm and even managed to throw together a wholesome supper. I then set about finishing up the red wine in a bid to make myself feel thoroughly sick and hence ready to embrace an alcohol free January. I reinforced the teetotalism by emptying some Baileys into the sink at 9am this morning. Nothing like the smell of Baileys on a slightly queasy stomach to put you off drinking completely…

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Forget trying to impress your toddler with the latest from Annabel Karmel – a recent study of 4,000 mothers showed we rely on a grand total of just nine dishes to feed our families.

Nine dishes. I’m pretty impressed. I have two. Pasta with tomato sauce and pasta with cheese sauce. Or sometimes, when I am feeling particularly disenchanted with motherhood, we have shreddies for tea. Who are these women whose children will happily eat casseroles and curry? One of my daughters once refused to eat cucumber, claiming it was ‘too spicy’.

With two children and a seven year age gap, catering for everyone’s tastes, at mealtimes and otherwise, can be a struggle, and I do find myself offering up the same bland dishes again and again. It’s just laziness. I’m a busy woman and, unlike 81% of the mothers in the survey, I don’t have the time or enthusiasm to create two or three different meals every night.

But cooking is just one of the many areas of parenting I could do with improving. As a single mother, juggling two kids and three home based jobs, I admit sometimes the boundaries blur between work and family. I know weekends and evenings should be about the children, but I often find myself having to encourage ‘independent play’ while I sneak off to reply to emails.

My teenager is fine with this. A can amuse herself for days at a time with just an iPod Touch and a family size bottle of Fanta. Belle is not so easily amused. What I need to do is encourage her to take an interest in cooking – maybe I could do something Wholesome like teach her to make a nice cheese sauce…

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