I was chatting to a friend the other day, a friend who has known me since before I had children (i.e. a long time) and who has recently had her first baby. She also reads my blog. As I always imagined would be the case, she is a completely natural mother and absolutely loves it. When she was talking about her baby though on the phone to me, she sounded almost apologetic – “I’m sure the novelty will wear off soon,” she said, “and I’ll feel more like you do about it.”

Oh dear.

I looked back through my posts and wondered if perhaps they were a little negative. I guess it is the nature of my theme that I am going to be venting frustrations, sounding off to an imaginary husband, and that I will tend therefore to be writing about things that have annoyed me. I don’t want this to be the case all the time though, and have been planning for a while to write something terribly wholesome and positive. Honest.

So I have been spurred into action this week by a tag from Mari at Mari’s World, asking me to write about Shiny Happy Things – the stuff that is guaranteed to make you smile. Obviously my first thought is of sitting quietly somewhere with a cup of coffee and the papers, but in an effort to nurture my maternal side, I am going to focus on the things my children do that make me love them extra hard. Here goes…

I love when Belle is in my bed with me (which until recently was pretty much every night) and she strokes my leg with her feet in her sleep.

I love it when Bee comes home from somewhere and she is really chatty – either because something has annoyed her or inspired her – and she talks non stop to me for ages about it.

I love that Belle is only seven but she has a fantastic sense of humour. She can be so sharp, so quick-witted, and very sarcastic. I know it is the lowest form of wit, but it is the basis of our whole family sense of humour, so it’s important Belle gets up to speed.

I love it when me and Bee go to the cinema on our own and laugh at all the same bits of the film, (often the bits no-one else is laughing at), and Bee makes me buy her a gigantic, hideous blue slush.

I love it that Belle is so self assured and confident, that she will happily just say hello to random strangers and ask them questions about themselves.

I love it when I look at either of them, when they are doing something completely normal, not knowing I am looking, and I think to myself  ‘gosh, I made them. I didn’t just physically make them, but I helped to make them into the people they are, I shaped them.’ It can be a massively daunting sense of responsibility, but with that comes a huge sense of pride.

Yes well, that’s quite enough maternal positivity for one day.

I was just 17 when my first daughter, Bee, was born. Her dad, Jonathan, was a year younger than me and was still at school until about three weeks before she was born. At the time I didn’t think too much about my circumstances, and obviously felt incredibly grown up and mature, as you do when you’re a teenager. Now Bee is a teen herself and I am beginning to realise just how much of a child I really was!

A little while ago, sorting through some photos, I came across a short birth report I had written at the time, fourteen years ago now. I read it and can imagine myself there, but it sounds like another person. A child. In some ways it makes me sad to think about how much growing up I must have done in such a short space of time, but at the same time it has an enviable casualness to it, a laid back, take-it-in-your-stride attitude that we often lose as adults.

So in the name of self reflection I have reproduced it here. Unedited. Even though parts of it did make me cringe a bit. I started having contractions at about 3am on the Saturday morning but the report starts when I went into hospital at around 7.30pm, when I was having contractions every 4-5 minutes….

7.30pm – Went to Musgrove hospital. Used TENS machine – lot of use that was. Jonathan sang me lots of nursery rhymes especially Baa Baa Black sheep. Had Columbo on TV. Waters broke at about 2.10am, which was a good job as they were on the verge of transferring me to a ward and sending everyone home. Was monitored lots but the bed was extremely uncomfortable and a nasty black-haired woman left me on it for ages. Had to keep moving the sensor thing on my tummy because Zippy kept dodging it. [Zippy was our name for my bump. We thought she was a boy so I refer to her as ‘he’ as well]. Contractions only peaking at 6/12 max on the printer.

Jenny was the name of the midwife who delivered Zippy. She was the nice one. The nasty midwife broke the rest of my waters with this big crochet hook. Jonathan suggested a big pin but I don’t think she thought that was very funny. When my waters broke it was a bit gross. I was on my way to the toilet and got loads of gunk on the floor. It got quite unbearable and nothing much seemed to be happening. I had a dose of pethedine at ten to four. I didn’t much like Jenny at this point as she said I would have to stay on the bed all the time, as it would make me drowsy – like I wasn’t completely exhausted already. I didn’t though. I sat in the chair. Jonathan had to practically carry me to the toilet and I kept falling asleep. I don’t remember the next few hours because I was so drowsy, but things definitely seemed to be happening. My contractions were coming every two minutes or so and it was horrid.

At quarter to six I had an internal exam and they said Zippy was ready to pop out. Lots of people seemed to be running around putting on plastic pinnies. Jenny said she would give me until 6.30am and then she wanted him born. We had Jenny and a fatish midwife there. Jenny made me lie on my side – she said it would make it much easier. To start with I had to not push which was practically impossible. I had some gas and air, which helped me not to push, but made my mouth feel really numb and dry. I kept falling asleep and Jonathan had to keep waking me up and giving me drinks. He was really brilliant and I couldn’t possibly have done it without him. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that towards the end my contractions were so bad I had to be sick into a kind of bedpan thing.

Finally I was allowed to push which was much more satisfying. I think it hurt a lot but all I can remember is the relief of being able to push and do something productive. Jonathan got really excited when he could see the top of the head. I felt it, but I didn’t fancy the mirror thing. I did one massive push and Zippy kind of catapulted out all at once. The cord was really long but it was all so lush. She was a bit cold but apart from that, perfect, loads of hair.

I was really shaking and I couldn’t push out the placenta very well. She was born at 6.23am but that whole last bit seemed to take about 5 minutes. It was a bit undignified with my leg up over a midwife’s neck but it was worth it when Jonathan saw we had a little girl and cried so much he made all the midwives cry. I was so proud when I saw him holding our little girl. I wanted to cry with happiness, but I was too exhausted and shaky. She put her hand in her mouth to suck it and I tried feeding straight away.

Eventually everyone went home and I had a bath. Then me and Zippy went back to the ward. We went back to the Mary Stanley at about 4pm and I stayed until Thursday morning.

It is a few weeks ago now that I confessed to some of my most secret habits, including occasional hiding of dirty dishes in cupboards, so I thought it was time to justify my Slummy Mummy status by revealing some more of my slummiest habits.

I love reading other people’s confessions. There is something fascinating and comforting about reading other people secrets – the blog equivalent of reading Heat magazine. Just when you are feeling inadequate and lonely, you read that other women feel the same, that even celebrities sometimes go out with chipped nail varnish, and suddenly the world feels like a better place.

I felt particularly vindicated today reading confessions from Ella at Most/Least – what a relief to read I’m not the only mother who sometimes prefers writing about her children to actually having to speak to them…

Today though, I want to focus on housework. I know… GROAN…. who enjoys housework? Well not me. Of all the responsibilities in my life – being a single parent, holding down a variety of jobs, not to mention a nice selection of voluntary roles, housework really is my lowest priority. In fact, I suspect I became a school governor just as an excuse not to clean the toilet. So when my juggling gets tricky, the first ball to crash to the floor is always the cleaning one.

There are some forms of household chores I enjoy. Arranging my books in colour order for instance is always a pleasant way to pass an afternoon, especially if I have a particularly pressing deadline that I am trying to avoid. I’m not sure that tasks like sorting my make-up into pretty boxes really count as housework though…

So if you are looking to save time and effort around the house, here are my top five tips. Those with a fetish for cleanliness or who are easily disturbed should switch back to facebook now:

1. Crumbs – they get everywhere don’t they? My house is always full of bits. Sometimes I feel motivated enough to pick some of them off the floor (I don’t have a Hoover) but then what to do with them? The kitchen is too far away, I have yet to install a bin in the living room. So when you’re pressed for time, throw your crumbs behind the sofa.

2. Children’s toys – again, they get everywhere. And Belle gets as much fun out of a toilet roll or a piece of cling film as anything else. When the toys threaten to overwhelm you and you can’t be bothered fighting to get the kids to tidy them up, just collect them all up off the floor in a black bag and take them to Oxfam. It will make them appreciate what they have left. Honest.

3. Dishes – now we know I sometimes hide them, but this is obviously only a temporary solution. My least favourite dishes are the ones my teen brings down at intervals from her bedroom – cereal bowls encrusted with fossilised coco-pops, mugs stiff with mould. What to do? Just put them in the bin. Really. Out of sight and all that…

4. Baths – yuk yuk yuk. I particularly dislike cleaning that involves getting my hands wet. If you can’t face all that bending and stretching but need to scrub the tub, children’s bath time are ideal. While they are in the bath just give them some soap and a cloth and get them to clean the tiles and other surfaces. You might want to give them a rinse down afterwards to get rid of scum (the child, not the tiles), but this is much simpler than cleaning the whole bath.

5. Beds – sick of changing sheets? Ditch your partner. Become single and suddenly the need to change your sheets more than a few times a year goes out the window. Tada!

So that’s it. Slummy Mummy’s guide to housework. Some valuable advice there I’m sure you’ll agree. Do share your own time-saving tips!

Photo credit: suesviews

It was meant to be the perfect date, but it definitely did not go to plan! If you're looking for perfect date ideas, here's how NOT to do it.

This morning I wake up in a state of eager anticipation. I take a little more care than usual getting dressed – I put on a skirt and brush my hair and everything. Why such glamour you may ask. Well, Bee is visiting her Dad and Belle has been invited to a birthday party, so I have a rare Saturday morning to myself.

And so this morning I am going on the perfect date. (Not like this one.)

A date with myself. An illicit coffee shop rendezvous with the weekend papers.

I find the papers make a perfect date. They are interesting, able to talk about a wide range of topics, they make me laugh and most importantly the don’t judge when I dip my croissant in my coffee and drop soggy crumbs on my cardi.

Of course the time limit and the rarity of the opportunity combine to pile on the pressure – that urgent feeling of having to Make The Most Of it that most parents will appreciate. In a bid to really enjoy myself as much as possible I end up visiting three different cafes, trying to find the perfect retreat, before settling on one that really looked very much like all the other two.

My perfect date starts well, and I’m half way through the Guardian when my secluded corner starts to become rather crowded. I have bagged myself a comfy sofa, and am happy to have well behaved extras occupying the two chairs opposite. However, the longer I stay the more I find my space being overtaken.

A small boy plonks himself down in one of the chairs and helps himself to my sports section. Fine. I don’t like sport anyway. His Dad joins him in the second chair. Still manageable. But then the boy’s grandparents arrive and suddenly things are not so fine. I am forced to take my feet off the sofa so Grandma can sit down. I toy with moving but want to stand my ground – I was here first after all. And so long as I ignore Grandma’s shuffling and awkward glances I can still pretend I’m on my own. Just about.

But then it all gets a bit much. I am already starting to feel a little overwhelmed when another couple plus child appear – apparently friends of the family. “What’s going on here then?” says Dad number two.

“Just a little family outing,” says Grandma.

“Who’s that then?” asks Dad two, nodding his head in my direction.

“I’ve no idea!” exclaims Grandma loudly, as though I have just attached myself to them and they are humouring me.

“I am sat right here!” I want to yell, but of course I don’t. Instead I keep my head buried in the paper, hoping they will feel uncomfortable and drink up quick. No such luck though. Dad two plus family are invited to join them. There are now seven of them and me and everyone knows one’s company but eight’s a crowd. I do my best to stick it out but my presence at the crowded table now feels vaguely ridiculous.

It’s not long before I give up, make my excuses and push my way out through the family party. Hmph. Not exactly the romantic coffee for one I had planned. Still, I got as far as the Review section of the paper, which is further than I normally get before about Wednesday, so I probably should be grateful…

Today has not gone according to plan.

It was supposed to be my day off. I had things planned.

But instead I am at home with a sick child. Sick children really cramp your style don’t they? I know she can’t help being ill or anything, but still.

So I am in a bit of a no-mans-land today. My head was all geared up for switching off for the weekend and being away from my desk, but now here I am, confined to the house for the afternoon, and I am rather at a loss for what to do. Working from home, my daytimes, evenings and weekends tend to get tangled up. I work during school hours but really I am snatching any free time I can find to sneak off to my study. I know I have been working a lot lately, and it has got to the point where I’m not quite sure how to do anything else.

Past about 9pm I can relax a bit, as my brain begins to switch off, but during the day it won’t keep quiet. It’s always buzzing, swirling ideas around, overwhelming itself with possibilities. Often it gets so wound up turning over ideas, plotting and scheming, that it has no energy left for actually doing anything. In fact, if I sit myself down to focus on an idea, my brain starts to panic, worrying that all of the other thoughts will have to pipe down, that they might get forgotten.

All of which of course often results in me doing nothing at all. I can’t bear the thought of having to choose and leave some ideas behind, and I don’t want to start something just to have another task interrupt, so I end up staring blankly at the screen instead.

That’s what I’ve been doing this afternoon anyway, until I gave myself a good metaphorical kick up the backside and wrote this instead. It may be nonsense, but it is words on a page, and it gives me a temporary sense of accomplishment at least. Plus it has kept my fingers busy and stopped me eating marzipan fruits for twenty minutes, which can’t be a bad thing.

I’d be interested to know how other people feel – does your brain brim over, leaving you paralysed to do anything at all? And how do you cope with it, how do you focus on one thing at a time? And more importantly, how do you manage to go into the kitchen without eating a handful of leftover Christmas chocolates every time?

Photo credit: eszter

I have recently become a member of Judith’s Room, a new forum for women writers, through which I have been able to share my writing, read what other people have to say, and generally pass the time when I should be working. The group is launching a series of new themed writing weeks and is kicking off with the seven deadly sins – a different sin for each week. What a fantastic idea! I love it. So this week I am writing about envy…

Envy is one of my favourite sins – not the practise of it of course, lust and gluttony are a lot more fun – but the fact that it always makes me think of coveting my neighbour’s ass, and that makes me chuckle. What can I say; I have a childlike sense of humour.

My dictionary describes envy as ‘a feeling of grudging or somewhat admiring discontent aroused by the possessions, achievements or qualities of another, the desire to have for oneself something possessed by another.’ Envy therefore is a particularly destructive emotion, not only for the individual, but also for the neighbour whose ass is being coveted. Envy isn’t just about wanting what someone else has, it’s about the twisted pleasure you get from seeing someone else lose it.

The problem with envy is that once you let it suck you in, it will never be satisfied. A bit like a tapeworm, but without the bloating. Become a victim of envy and the grass will always be greener. It may serve to drive your ambition, help you strive to attain a higher status, gather more Stuff, but ultimately it will leave you unfulfilled, never quite able to get the Right Kind Of Stuff, to reach the status you feel sure will make you happy.

That’s not to say envy is all bad – it can play an important part in helping you to develop aspirations and motivate you to achieving goals, but the important thing is to be sure your goals are the right ones and that you are striving for the right reasons.

When I find myself envying another person’s job, husband, income (or indeed ass), and it happens often, particularly when I am feeling a bit rubbish about myself, I try to follow through the process in my head. I might start off by reading a well known journalist’s column in a newspaper and thinking ‘that’s not fair, I could write that, why don’t they realise I am FUNNIER and give me her job instead?’ Quite a normal thought pattern I’m sure. So then I try to think about what that would actually mean. It would mean I had a strict deadline every week, which would probably bring on some kind of panic attack, I would forget to feed my children, they would run away from home…. Worst case scenario perhaps, but it temporarily prevents me from descending into a pit of silent jealous rage at least.

What would the world be like without envy I wonder? When you begin to unravel the forces that drive us in our day to day lives, the seven so called deadly sins are really what make us human. How much of what we do is driven by our desire to have what other people have, to look how other people look? Without envy, would the diet industry collapse? Would everyone stop having affairs? And more importantly, would I ever be motivated enough to get any work done at all?…

Photo credit: Rev Guzman