Friday, 24 May 2013

Keep Calm and Carry On...Camping

After school today my kids played their current favourite game. It’s called ‘let’s jump about on the trampoline wrapped up in sleeping bags’. Admittedly it’s not much of a game, but they’re happy, so who am I to intervene? The game started when my other half ventured into the shed (there’s just enough room to get a foot in, then you have to reach in and pull things out one by one and hope they don’t come crashing down on you – particularly the hedge trimmer) to ‘check over’ our camping gear.

Always bring a mallet - and a very patient child
As you can imagine, given the weather over the last couple of summers, it has been a while since we have been camping as a family. We’ve had some short local bursts, and shared someone else’s tent on another occasion but this time around we are going en famille for four full nights. That’s the plan anyway. Let’s hope the weather plays nice.

This upcoming adventure has elicited various reactions from the family. While hubby has concentrated his efforts on ensuring we have fire and light, I have been obsessing about food and sleeping arrangements and the children have been collecting mountains of toys they seem to think they are bringing along (ha!). So far we have bought a roof box for the new car, since it has a smaller boot than the previous one, a food thermos and kettle (my demands), one new camping chair (I’m currently in negotiations about who will actually get to sit on it since this one has flowers on it and the others are a dull green) and a table (bought to use during meal times but already appropriated for colouring). And we haven’t even left yet…
'Actually, this chair is taken Mummy'

With all this fuss and expense, it got me wondering why exactly is it that people who normally live in a warm, insulated house with hot and cold running water and a kitchen full of food opt to spend a night, well, outside, basically. And this is what I’ve come up with:
Time out

No, not that thing you order your kid to take when you are worried you might swear repeatedly in front of them – but time away – from work, daily chores, school, the TV, the smartphone (deep breaths now Vanessa, you can do it), crowded towns and cities and the mountain of plastic junk and clutter you usually find in the average family home. Without all this noise and these distractions, it’s just possible you might dig deep and talk to and entertain each other. Maybe play cards (spice up poker by playing for toilet paper), tell stories, climb trees and explore. It’s called bonding. But you are not allowed to use duct tape.
Do something different
The good thing about a tent is that it is nothing like your home (although this is also the bad thing about a tent). You do not have a kitchen, individual bedrooms, radiators and, ahem, a bathroom. This means you have to do everyday things differently. Eating, sleeping, washing, cooking – all the usual routines go out the window (yeah, there’s none of them either) which can actually be quite liberating. You might find you are more resourceful than you thought. It’s at times like this you realise that you can build a fire, remember what the different constellations are called and tie a pretty mean knot.
Flexibility & budget
Although the initial outlay for a decent tent and a few essential items might seem a bit steep, if you look after your camping gear it should last. Thereafter, camp sites themselves are pretty cheap and obviously if you compare a trip under canvas to a holiday that involves a flight abroad or a stay in a hotel, you are still going to be quids in. Likewise, camping offers the sort of flexibility you can’t find in brochures. While the better sites are often booked up at popular times (like the summer holidays), there will always be the opportunity to go camping at a moment’s notice (and if torrential rain is forecast, the ability to put the tent back in the shed for another year!).

Your car keys - you can leave at any time...

So are you tempted? If you are, you might want to take some advice on kit from a professional (in case you haven't guessed I am not a professional camper...) – and take a look at these campsites (a partnership between the Forestry Commission and the good old Camping and Caravanning Club) or try The Guardian’s recent Top Ten of sites for location ideas. Alternatively if you don’t fancy full-on camping, you could try 'glamping', where there are a few more mod cons (in this case a vintage loo, sleeping ‘quarters’, a wood-fired oven – and yes – the proverbial kitchen sink). I’m strangely drawn to this option myself!!
Let me know about your camping experiences and tips below – or if you just can’t stand the idea – tell me why! It’s not too late for me to change my mind…!!

Friday, 17 May 2013

Swings and roundabouts...

The other week I forgot non-uniform day. I wasn’t the only one of course, and after delivering the kids to school on time, I returned for their morning break with their own clothes so they could get changed to ‘civvies’. To be fair to my girls, they didn’t make a fuss; there were no scenes or tears, I volunteered to come back with the alternative outfits. If anything, I think they were a bit stunned that Mummy had dropped the ball. I can honestly say it’s the first time I’ve forgotten a school event/special day sort of thing.
The dreaded work/life balance

Just the once in four years isn’t bad right? But I felt bad. I thought it related directly to the fact that I’ve been flirting with the idea of going back to work since September. That’s seven months of writing this blog, managing a couple of Pinterest accounts, completing a smattering of creative writing projects and a smidgen of networking. My life is no longer ‘just’ about the children – I have some other responsibilities and other interests.

More recently I have noticed my mind wandering and wondering. What do I want to ‘be’ in the future? How do I want to spend my time? What impact will my working have on my children, both emotionally and in a practical sense? Alongside that I’m left questioning if I’m actually capable of working again? Have I been out of the loop for too long? Do I have the confidence to meet new people, in a territory beyond the mummydom I’ve become a native of? I don’t even have a copy of my CV to hand…
And it seems I’m not alone.  A quick check on the Mumsnet boards reveals the agonies mums returning to work face. Members are asking if they can go back to work, if full time or part time is best, how they will manage to fit a career around their children, which careers are most flexible, if they can cope with parental guilt and where, oh, where, can they get a decent cleaner?! Further Googling brings up plenty of advice too – how to decide the type of career that might suit you, how to choose childcare and more practical info on tax and benefits. Bloggers too are discussing the merits of mothers in the workforce.
Childhood should be cherished - not put on a schedule
At the top of my list are concerns about achieving a balance – really asking myself how much time I want to spend working and whether I am motivated by money or the need to challenge myself or even to set an example for my girls? Alongside that, it’s suddenly dawned on me that just as I am getting my business appetite back I’m fast approaching six weeks of ‘summer’ holidays. Even during term time there are sick days, inset days and half terms to allow for. To achieve my goals in both my career and as a mother would I turn into an OCD organiser – flapping my things to do list in my loved-ones faces and running what should be the halcyon days of childhood with military precision?
I feel like I have a lot of questions – and that my answers still need a bit of work. I think it’s likely that I’d remain working from home, living the freelance lifestyle I enjoyed before babies came along. In some ways that affords me the freedom to juggle my working day to suit my own schedule, but it could also mean that I’ll find it difficult to say ‘no’ to clients, and assume responsibility for far more than I would as an employee. In fact, today is actually National Work from Home Day, which is set up to get the UK to re-evaluate the work/lifestyle mix.

I’d love to know what you feel about the difficulties of combining a family with work, and if you are considering returning to work after a career break. Please use the comment box below to add your thoughts. Maybe my concerns are common ones – or maybe this dilemma is different for you?

Friday, 10 May 2013

The Best and Worst bits of a sickness bug!

This week my youngest had a vomiting bug, so I had plenty of time to examine the high and low lights of this common parenting experience. Turns out it's not all bad...

1. You can’t leave the house. Which gives you a chance to do all those things you forgot to do yesterday. But you CAN’T LEAVE THE HOUSE, so if you need milk, bread, cereal, anything, you are stuffed (I guess you should have done it yesterday).
Tip: Never tend to a vomitting child while wearing a ball gown...

2. You can’t go to the gym. So you will get fat – but it’s not your fault you can’t go to the gym, so you’re blameless (this time). You could always make up for it by cleaning windows or scrubbing floors (yeah, right!). Or maybe I could practice a few of the Darcey Bussell Pilates moves a friend told me about…

3. Your little darling can’t go to school so you don’t need to hurry them up in the morning.  But arrrgh, your other child does have to go to school – so how’s that going to work? (Thank heavens for other mummies). Repeat this thought process at 3.20pm.

4. You can get all the washing done – hurrah! Now you have a pile of clean washing to put away – boo!

5. Lunch is already made. It’s sitting in a lunchbox in the fridge. But that’s all that is in the fridge (see first point).

6. You can plant out those hardened off veggies you have because it is a lovely sunny day. Which means you can get a break from CBeebies (Mr Bloom doesn’t do anything for me I’m afraid). But don’t forget your SPF cream ‘cos it’s the one day of summer we’re getting this year – ouch!!!
Mr Bloom: I don't want to cuddle up to his courgette thank you very much

7. You aren’t using your washing up bowl for washing up ever again – good. But that is only because it has had vomit in it – which you have had to clear way – BAD.

8. Your parenting duties are pretty minimal since no food or activities are required for your sick offspring. Apart from the occasional retching sound, your child will be happy to sit still; wrapped up in a quilt on the sofa (I’d be happy with that too…). However CBeebies will drive you around the bend and the parenting duties you fulfil are likely to involve bodily fluids and neurotic worrying.

9. Since the fridge is empty you can see the shelves clearly – and what you can see it that they need a clean. You don’t have anything else to do so you have to clean them. So don’t look at the oven, too late – now you’ll have to clean that too (this is getting way out of hand). There is no upside to this.

10. It’s all over in a few days. Just as you were beginning to enjoy seeing your little sausage that bit more, just as you had rearranged your schedule and re-organised your life to adapt to current limitations, it’s all change again. Suddenly you’re back on the school run, knocking up pack lunches and spending the day by yourself. And I’m still working out if that is the best or worst scenario…

And how about you? Do you enjoy the extra cuddles you get with a child off sick from school – or have you had your fill of kiddie illnesses?

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Your trash is their treasure

There’s a moment when the doors to the Reception Class first swing open at 3.20pm (or thereabouts) that the eager parents outside visibly swell. I think they are all hoping that their child may, just this once, get out first (that is what I am wishing anyway). My child is rarely out first of course since she is arranging and rearranging her multitude of bags and outer garments. Just. The. Way. She. Likes. Them. (One does not simply leave school…)
Those 'roof tiles' took ages...

Frustrating as this is, it does afford me the opportunity to watch with amusement as an enormous mound of gummy cardboard, masking tape and plastic yogurt pots exits. This happens at least once at every pick up. And above the creation there will be a pair of eyes wild with excitement while tiny little legs protrude below. Usually the child will be met with parental enthusiasm, some vocal praise and the subtle question ‘what is it?’. Oh, how those kiddies love their junk!

And indeed junk modelling is firmly on the academic curriculum. Only the other week I was in for a ‘mummy helper’ stint while the whole school got busy with old boxes and other random reclaimed items. This time much of the focus was on planning beforehand by making a diagram and working as a team to bring that imagining to life. Hopefully that led to the use of interpersonal skills such as presenting ideas and negotiating (yep, I heard some negotiating alright). And there was certainly a lot of imagination (as well as PVA glue) being used that day.

In fact there are bona fide reasons behind crafting with 3D items. Believe it or not all that rubbish can help teach about balance and symmetry, size and shape and spatial relations. It also involves problem-solving, trial and error and creative-thinking. There’s a fair bit of motor skills involved too. Best of all from my point of view, it can get girls into building, skills which they sometimes skim over in their desire to nurture everything from a floppy plastic doll to a collection of wilting daisies.
'A dinosaur, a tree for him to eat from and some grass for him to stand on'

Perhaps one of the things that will also delight your little ‘un when they get to junk model at school or home or toddler group, is the freedom they get to create what the heck they like. Unlike us adults they tend to be very open-minded and can try out their own ideas, free from pre-conceptions about what will and what won’t work. And of course they have the kind of crazy fancies we can only wish for, because for kids, when they are junk modelling, the sky is the limit (and sometimes as you trudge home with a million bags as well as your child’s delicate yet colossal construction you may feel you are reaching your limit).
Every girl needs accessories

So if you can cope with all your recycling coming back to haunt you, and all the clear space in your house cluttered up with crafty creations (I know, I know, deep breaths will help though), why not encourage your kids to get busy with some boxes? You can use it to discuss school stuff such as differing shapes and measurements – or just leave them be to enjoy the liberty of learning by themselves (or as you and I know it, actually making yourself a cup of tea and then actually finishing it before it gets cold). Of course you can also do it and feel smug that you are a little bit of an eco-warrior too, since you are kind of reusing your rubbish. And if you’re stuck for ideas, I’ve trawled Pinterest for you (for research purposes clearly) and popped all the best ideas from marble runs to mermaids into once convenient location

Let me know if you enjoy a bit of junk modelling – or if you can’t wait to dissemble the designs and get them back in the bin ASAP!!!