The Christmas school term has one purpose. And one purpose only. To break as many parents (and teachers) as possible. And see who’s still standing on the last day of term.
Teachers’ Christmas Present Collections. Several weeks before the end of term, the first email will be sent about contributing to a Christmas collection for your child’s teacher, by your poor class reps (who, by the end of this, will definitely be cursing the day they volunteered for the role). All you have to do is give some money. Which is simple enough, really. And WAY easier than shopping for an actual present. Yet, somehow this isn’t easy at all. Because it means you have to visit an ATM. This month, as you will mostly be giving ALL your money to school for all the upcoming festivities, why not save yourself several trips and just transfer that month’s salary straight to their account? Note to schools: install an ATM in the school office for all the parents (like me) who find it really, really difficult to complete simple tasks, like GOING TO THE ATM.
The Christmas Fayre.‘The Christmas Fayre is coming! Put the date in your diary. Sign up for slots. Don’t worry if you don’t, because we will send you approximately 1,276 more emails about it between now and then.’
Donations for The Christmas Fayre. ‘Please bring in donations for The Christmas Fayre. Bake something. Maybe a Yule Log.’ (Which actually ends up looking more like a handgun and is probably highly inappropriate in a school environment.)
‘Dressing Up Day Because We Haven’t Had One For 11 Days (and we need donations for The Christmas Fayre)’. In return for not washing your child’s school uniform, they can come in a costume OF YOUR CHOICE (this is the dream eh, parent folk?) or even their own clothes. All you have to do is donate the contents of your wine cellar or several tubs of Celebrations for the tombola. This one? Totally worth it, not to have to scrabble around recycling yesterday’s tights and grubby old shirt because you watched Jane The Virgin instead of putting on the washing last night. Again.
Last orders for your Christmas Tree. Order a Christmas Tree from school and help raise funds for the school. This is a great idea. Unless you completely forget you ordered one, neglect to collect it and only remember on the 22nd December, when school has closed and your tree is lonely and bald. Because you have been mostly drunk, hungover or thinking about what to bake for The Christmas Fayre.
Buy your School Photo NOW. Somewhere, in the midst of all the Christmas chaos, someone decided it would be a brilliant idea to do the school photo at this, erm, quiet time in the school calendar. Presumably, so you can buy 15 of the buggers and give them out as Christmas presents to unsuspecting relatives who were really hoping for a giant bottle of gin AND despite the fact the school photo was taken AFTER lunch and anyone with a degree of eyesight can tell EXACTLY what your child had for lunch that day. Photos MUST be bought IMMEDIATELY and orders MUST be accompanied by a cheque. Even though it’s 2017 and you haven’t had a cheque book since circa 1999. Still, at least you don’t have to go to the ATM again. Every cloud…
Another email about The Christmas Fayre.‘We don’t even have anything to say in this one, we just want to send out another email. Just for the hell of it.’
‘Don’t forget The Nativity!’ The highlight in every parent’s year and a chance to video the back of someone’s head. Priceless and totally worth fighting over who gets the time off, with work colleagues who also have their nativity on the same day.
‘Or the Carol Concert!’ It’s Christmas! Cheer the F*** up and come listen to your child’s class play Jingle Bells on the recorder. If that doesn’t cheer you up, nothing will.
‘See you at the Class Christmas Drinks!’ Because you’ll have TONS of energy left after all of the above, ANOTHER date for your diary. Multiplied by X depending upon how many kids you have in school. This is the only thing you’d actually want to do but you haven’t got a hope in hell of remembering when it is or who you even are, by this stage. Shame.
Christmas Jumper Day. Wear a Christmas Jumper. Donate some money. Donate your kids. Donate something. ‘Oh just take it all. Here’s everything I have…’
‘Please bring in oranges for the Christingle Service.‘ PLEASE. JUST. MAKE. IT. STOP.
Last day of term. If you’re still standing, give yourself a massive pat on the back and help all the other parents off the playground floor who didn’t quite make it. (Or just step over them.)
Jokes aside, MASSIVE thanks to all the amazing teachers who patiently teach our kids, the bloody brilliant school offices who keep us (me) organised and the class reps who try their hardest to do the same. I wasn’t kidding though about installing an ATM…
Yesterday, at the end of another week of solo parenting, I was feeling a bit frazzled. It wasn’t a bad week. Far from it. ‘I recognise that conversation,’ said the receptionist at swimming, as I rang off from speaking curtly to their dad, through nothing but sheer tiredness. She didn’t have to say anything but those four, simple words spoke volumes – ‘I understand and I know.’ They made me remember I’m not alone, as a solo parent. So, I’ve written a letter for ALL you other solo parents out there, to remind you of the same. You’re an amazing human being.
Dear Solo Parent,
The end of another weekend. How was it? Did you spend it with your kids? Or did you get some time alone? Perhaps you’re feeling all manner of emotions. Again. Sad. Confused. A bit lost. Exhausted. You waited all week for a break or you waited all week to see your kids and then the silence deafened you or you found it hard to get back into the groove of parenting. Or you miss them, now they’re gone. I hope you’re feeling happy, instead. But, just in case, read on.
If you’re separated or divorced, once you’ve grieved the loss of your relationship, you don’t have to keep marooning yourself in the sadness of it. It doesn’t help, does it? To hash over what could have been. To dwell on what went wrong. To beat yourself up and try to make things right. That plight that clouds so much of what we do and just makes us feel bad, because the very definition of the word suggests there is only one way to do things. And we fail if we choose a different way. Our own way. But actually, when you look at it, there is only one way. Accepting it is what it is right now. However you’re feeling. Whilst trusting that you’re going to be ok. And so are your kids.
I know that you sometimes struggle with the sheer relentlessness of it all. Of the juggling. Of the guilt that occasionally seeps in, no matter how much you push it away. When tiredness hits, it causes us to derail. To be short tempered with our kids, because there’s nothing left in the fuel tank. To make us feel like we’re not holding this s*** together (we still are, you know). It can be exhausting. On the other hand, it can also be really empowering. Because when you’re firing on all cylinders, you feel on top of the world ‘I CAN DO THIS SHIZZLE! LOOK AT ME ALL EMPOWERED!’
Please remember what that feels like when you’re overtired, overwhelmed or hormonal and being touched/ asked a question/ touched again/ whined at/ asked if you know where something is/ explaining how to put on shoes AGAIN, makes you want to lie down/ sob/ lie down some more/ leave on a jet plane. It will pass and you’ll be empowered. Again. Just look at all the things you are holding down! Be proud.
Because the juggling can be really challenging, right? Being both parents, so much of the time. You find yourself missing sharing the responsibility of raising your kids. You really notice it at bedtime, when bathing them and putting them to bed feels like climbing a mountain. In the middle of the night, when there is no one but you to deal with a wet bed, a nightmare, a fitful/restless sleeper. At mealtimes when there’s only you to get up 1,325 times to a) rescue a fork b) take someone to the toilet c) get someone a drink d) rescue a spoon (slippery buggers, these cutlery items).
The guilt of being a solo parent can eat you up, if you let it, regardless of whether it was your ‘choice’ or not. When your kids are sad, struggling at school or anything comes crashing down in their world, it is so easy to lose perspective and conclude that can only be down to your situation. And, of course it’s your fault because you are supposed to make everything right in their world (there we go, again) and you haven’t. Well, guess what? Kids in families with both parents have problems too. Kids are resilient (and egotistical) and the crisis is more likely because so and so nicked their Shopkin, than because their parents split up. Also? It’s never on us to fix everything in our kids’ worlds. It’s our role to support and guide them so they can see the way forward for themselves. You’re already doing this every day and giving your kids an amazing gift, by diffusing the outdated myth of what constitutes a normal family unit. They will know that anything is possible, because of you. So, jog on Guilt, you have no place here.
Of course, solo parenting doesn’t only come about through separation or divorce. If you’re widowed, I just want to give you the biggest of hugs and tell you that I’m beyond sorry you’ve lost your person and found yourself here. That I (and everyone else) think you are the ultimate Parent Warrior, not only dealing with your devastating grief but simultaneously finding the strength, every day, to raise your children with grace, dignity and determination. Likely without much of a break, ever. You may say, ‘I have no other choice’, and that may be true. But, still, you’re doing it. And you deserve to know that you are incredible, in every sense of that insufficient word. Keep going. We have your back a million times over.
If you’re solo parenting as a result of your other half’s work location, it’s likely neither of you is finding this easy. The constant transition from solo parent to parenting couple and back to solo parent again. You feel like you’re neither one thing nor the other. I hope that the readjustment eventually feels more like a new routine. That you see you’re amazing because you’re both doing what you need to do for your family, even when that is hard and throws a curveball at the very thing you’re trying to protect.
Finally, I want to say to all of you solo parents… those days, which feel SO HARD YOU WANT TO GET ON THAT JET PLANE? Well, you have got through them all. And will continue to do so. Keep believing in yourself. And in your path as a parent, which has so far led you here. Remember, there’s nowhere else you can be but right now. Accept however you’re feeling. Trust in the good times that are coming your way. Love your kids. And don’t feel bad when you lose your s*** and shout at them (we all do). Share a few words with someone else in your situation, whenever you get the chance. It will ALWAYS make you feel better because no one else gets it quite like someone in a mirrored one. And remember to be super kind to yourself. You are a really lovely and amazing human being with SO much strength.
Earlier this week on Instagram and Facebook, I mentioned the lovely farmer who bought The New Mum’s Notebook for his wife, whilst on his tractor harvesting (it’s now on Amazon for a ludicrous £8). As well as the couple with the four month old baby, who I sat with in the pub on Sunday. Both examples of couples showing support and consideration towards one another, during the most challenging time of their lives. Parenthood. Eight years, three kids and one less husband on, I was totally impressed by this. So I thought I’d write something about being a kick a*** parenting team. (You can, of course, ignore this and think, ‘Well, what does she possibly know?’ She doesn’t even have a husband. But I hope you don’t and instead find it helpful.) **Not just for new parents. May also be useful if you’re older parents who have lost their way**
Be kind to one another. This tops the list every time, for me. It’s simple. It’s important. It can make up for a multitude of ‘sins’. To be honest? It doesn’t really matter if your other half never takes out the bin and always forgets to empty the dishwasher. If they tell you often that you’re doing a good job and they couldn’t do what you do, that’s enough, in my book. Partners, I’m not saying it’s easy for you, either. I know we can become a bit insane when we have babies. We’re really tired, not always sure what we’re doing and often, this baby lark is REALLY f*cking dull and relentless (yes, new mums, it’s totally ok to admit that). If you let us make it all about us for a while, when that baby comes along, if you remind us you love us and we’re awesome, I promise you, we’ll remember it. For the rest of time. Also, thanks for going to work and bringing the odd bag of giant chocolate buttons home.
Take out the bin. OK, so I lied a bit above. But it’s just really thoughtful when someone does something that you don’t then have to do. It’s always the little things, right?
Have sex. I don’t mean immediately. Obviously. Wait until you’ve left the hospital at least (joke). Seriously though, whilst you both need to feel ready, if you wait until your ‘baby’ is at university, you’ve waited too long. Sex connects. It’s what got you into this mess in the first place, remember? (PS some couples notice a direct correlation between the amount of times the bin gets put out and the amount of times they put out. Just saying.)
Don’t compete. Oldest parenting cliche in the book. But probably the most played out. Don’t. Go. There. You’re both tired. You’re both frazzled. You both dislike one another a bit (a lot) of the time. There are no winners here. It’s just a really crap game that makes you both feel lousy. Get out the Scrabble instead, if you really need to do something competitive.
Diffuse everything with laughter. Tricky, this one. Especially when you’re finding it hard to find anything funny. But laughing is up there with sex. It connects. Don’t take it all too seriously. Parenthood won’t always be this hard or intense.
Be on each other’s side. No one else is ever going to get your child like you both do. There is no one else who will love your child as much as you both do. Trust me. So bond over how much you love him or her. Bond over how much you wish they’d just go to flipping sleep, already. Bond over how irritating it is that they’ve just had a meltdown in the middle of Tescos. But be on each other’s side. Never blame one another. You made this person together. There IS no one else to blame. (Sorry to break that to you.)
Use banter carefully. If you’re a couple who liked to banter BC (before children), this can seriously backfire when you’ve had a baby. New (and old, tired) mums can be really sensitive and sometimes, we don’t get the ‘jokes’. They feel more like digs.
Go out. I’m not even going to say the phrase, ‘Date night’. It makes me want to hurl. BUT. Going out together is important. Don’t be that couple who wake up one day, realise that their kids are teenagers and they invested so little time in each other, they don’t have anything to talk about. I have friends with kids in very happy relationships because they always make time for one another and it shows. It really, really shows. If you don’t want to go out/don’t have a babysitter, have dinner indoors together. Bottle of wine, conversation and no TV or phones. Oh and don’t wait for the perfect time, or you’ll be waiting forever. You deserve to put each other first every once in a while. Partners often need this more than mums (from what they’ve told me) – to remember that they still mean something and to have their other half to themselves, for a change. No one said it has to be ALL about babies now, just because you’re parents.
Remember why you liked one another. Assuming that you did, of course and didn’t just create a life after twelve pints, four bottles of wine and 10 jagermeisters. No judgement. Focusing on that time before kids is a really good way of seeing yourselves through the challenging times. Go one better, and remember the little gestures you did for one another and reinstate them, occasionally.
Get a bit drunk together. It’s fun. It releases tension. Unless you get so drunk that you do no. 3 and get up the duff again. Oops.
Love the hell out of each other. No explanation needed. Most, if not all, of my friends have struggled at some point in their relationships post kids. But pretty much all of them are still together, because they love each other. Over and above everything else.
Do share this with your partner, new parents or anyone else who could do with a helping hand. There’s a whole chapter in The New Mum’s Notebook on relationships, as well as eleven other months (chapters) to see you through that first year of parenthood. On offer on Amazon now for £8 (usually £16.99).
Two weeks ago, we returned from our first solo holiday abroad. Just me and the kids. No one got arrested. No one got lost. No one drowned (the thing I was most worried about). On these counts alone, I’m hailing it a victory. But actually? It was a victory in more ways than that. We had fun. We reconnected. And I would do it again in a heartbeat.
Getting up (and stepping up).
There are ways to make travelling alone with kids easier. Especially for the first time.
Like maybe not booking a 6.15 AM flight, meaning you have to get your three kids up at 2.40 AM. (Even though your kids usually quite enjoy any sort of nighttime waking activity and an excuse not to sleep in their own beds).
This is the thought that was going through my head the night before our holiday, as I put them to bed at 6.30 PM, dressed and ready to go and BEGGED them to sleep IMMEDIATELY.
Actually, the thought was something more like this: ‘WHAT SORT OF CRAZY IDIOT BOOKS A 6.15 AM FLIGHT WITH THREE WAYWARD KIDS? YOU CAN’T EVEN DRINK GIN TO CALM YOUR NERVES BECAUSE YOU HAVE TO GET UP AT SODDING 2.40 AM.’
The thing I should know about kids by now? Mine, especially. They love to throw a curveball. The curveball being that, this time, they did EXACTLY what I asked. And then got up at 2.40 AM, full of beans and raring to go.
How can anyone be so awake at 3.00 AM?
(Thanks kids. You’ll never know how much this meant. If you never do what you’re told again, I will always remember this one, I promise.)
Check-in and passport control went smoothly. Suspiciously so. I made it a little easier on ourselves by travelling light (well, aside from the three kids that is). The lovely people at Samsonite lent me their amazing Cosmolite Spinner suitcase, which is lighter than my handbag. No joke. This meant that none of our precious 23kg of luggage was taken up with anything but all our cr*p.
Several times, people remarked upon the fact that I was travelling alone with three kids.
‘You’ve got your hands full!’
TRANSLATION: ‘If you’re on my flight and I’m sitting next to you, I’m going to kill myself (and possibly you).’
‘Wow, I couldn’t do that!’
TRANSLATION: ‘You probably can’t, either. You do know that, right?’
How not to lose your kids: giant hairbows
Then, it all went wrong. At the ridiculously optimistic moment I took us all into Jamie’s Diner for breakfast. What can I say? I was really inspired (tricked) by the flawless start to the morning and all the ‘encouraging’ comments.
That and the fact there wasn’t a McDonalds.
(Not a time to fail me, Golden Arches. Not after all the love we’ve shown you over the years.)
Before the pecan
Of all the things I was worried about – losing someone, losing everyone, finding the blooming hamster stowed away in our hand luggage – the thing that actually happened didn’t even make my Top 20. My eldest having an allergic reaction to a pecan on her waffles. (Insert emoji of disbelief here).
She started to panic, whilst I thought, ‘Seriously? This is happening right now?‘ The lovely lady on the table next to us offered to sit with all three (whilst reassuring me she wasn’t a child abductor – people do this a lot when you’re on your own and they kindly offer help) so I could dash to Boots for emergency Piriton.
Meanwhile, my poor girl was sick in a bag (all over her newly purchased Havaianas), sick a further three times all the way to the gate, and had to be cleared by First Aid, before we could fly. We were last on the plane, though that part didn’t surprise me all that much. She was sick again on the flight and then it was done. Leaving us loads of time to recover fully, throw hot chocolate around, empty our hand luggage and ALL our toys (no hamster though, phew!) and generally make a nuisance of ourselves.
Essential items to pack: headphones
What I learned? There’s no point worrying about anything, like ever. Because whilst you’re worrying about that something, the thing you hadn’t even thought about will sneak up and bite you on the bum.
And, anyway, when it does happen, you’ll totally handle it. Because what other choice do you have?
Home from home
Arriving in Turkey was, thankfully, uneventful. And when we drove through the gates at Club Letoonia, it was like time had stood still for the past year, even though nothing in our lives has. The familiarity was exactly what I had hoped for – comforting. I’d wondered if it might feel strange being somewhere we’ve always been with Daddy. But it wasn’t.
It was like going home. And when Sarah in Guest Relations greeted us like long, lost friends, commented on how much the kids have grown and I saw how insanely happy and instantly comfortable my kids were, I knew we were all going to be just fine. We were better than fine.
No filter needed
We were on the beach by 2.30 PM, me with a glass of rose in hand.
Free as a bird (with three kids).
If I had to sum up our first solo holiday together, I would use these words. Happy. Free. Empowering.
Our little crew
My kids felt it too. Knowing the resort so well, I could afford them the freedom to roam. I had to. There is no way you can police three kids all of the time. At some point you have to learn to trust one another, respect rules and understand consequences. I really felt that my kids got this, even my three year old. I put proper lifejackets on the two younger ones and that took away so much worry. With our every need catered for – food, entertainment, housekeeping – I finally got to be the fun parent where once I was only the ‘responsible’ one. We played in the pool, we went on the waterslides and enjoyed the evening show, every night.
But perhaps the thing I noticed most, especially seeing other families, was how much easier it was doing it on my own, in so many ways. No relying on someone else to (hopefully) do the sun cream. To do shower time and detangle salty hair. No tension when you momentarily lose a child because you both thought the other one was watching them. It was down to me and we just got on with it, with everyone taking a little more responsibility for themselves. The eldest showered with her sister and brother and washed her sister’s hair. She’d escort them to the buffet and they’d often get their own dinner.
Even if the boy did have mash every night, in his pirate costume, which he refused, point blank, to take off. Ever.
Go. For. It.
Going on holiday alone with your kids is no small feat. It’s a little strange to begin with. Perhaps less so for me, because we know Club Letoonia so well. But there is a point where you realise that, not only can you can do this, you are actually enjoying doing it. Your kids are happy. You are happy. You are spending more quality time with them than you ever get to do at home. You see a different side of them. They see a different side of you. And there is a new and deep-seated respect for one another.
Having each other’s backs
So, to single parents out there feeling slightly overwhelmed by the thought of a first holiday alone (as I was), I will say this. Go for it. And, when you do and you are safely back on home territory, make sure you take a moment to recognise your success. Your victory.
Because, one day, your kids will draw great strength from these holidays you championed as a single parent. Where you showed them it isn’t just holidays that come in many different and wonderful packages.
But families, also.
Our wonderful Turkish family
Thank you Club Letoonia for hosting us this year, welcoming us as ever and making our first solo holiday one that will be in our hearts forever. Yay, we did it!
Club Letoonia, Fethiye, is a 45 minute transfer from Dalaman airport
You can book an all inclusive package through Thomas Cook or First Choice or book flights separately and all inclusive accommodation directly with the resort. Easyjet, Thomas Cook Airlines, BA and Monarch fly to Dalaman from all major UK airports
The facilities are immense: Family bungalows with one/two rooms, Mini-club, Mini-disco, 3 restaurants, 7 bars, 3 outdoor pools, 1 indoor pool, Water slides, Daytime activities programme, Children’s playground and pool in kids’ club area, 3 private beaches in addition to the vast peninsular with sun loungers and hammocks, Evening entertainment, Spa
4 km to Fethiye town by shuttle boat, departing every 30 minutes
Next week, me and my three kids are off on our first holiday abroad, post separation. To Club Letoonia in Turkey. Just me. And them. (And a large bottle of gin, haha.)
Holidaying alone with kids is one of the things the two million single parents in the UK dread.
At first thought, the prospect of going it alone in a strange place, of keeping the kids alive ON YOUR OWN and getting anything resembling an actual break isn’t exactly a thrilling one. Is it even worth it?
I thought long and hard about what I wanted to do this year for a holiday. Daddy Pig and I talked about going away together, as separated parents. We’d actually separated two weeks before last year’s trip to Club Letoonia. And managed not to kill one another. We had a good time with the kids. So we knew we could do it again.
But when it came to it, getting time off work was difficult for Daddy Pig. And I knew, deep down, that a holiday abroad on my own with the kids was something I needed to do. So, when the lovely people at Club Letoonia invited me and the kids out for a week, there was obviously no doubt in my mind. It will be our fourth year at this amazing resort and there is nowhere I would feel more comfortable doing our first holiday abroad. Just me and the kids.
It’s another milestone to hit. Like getting rid of the Christmas tree. And lighting my first BBQ.
I need to know I can do it.
A chance to reconnect.
Me and my girls
When I think about going away with the kids on my own, I am actually quite excited. It’s been a whirlwind summer, where I haven’t seen that much of them. I’ve been frantically selling The New Mum’s Notebook. They’ve been looked after by a combination of me, the au pair, Daddy and grandparents.
I miss their little faces and quirky ways. Nine days away with them is going to give us that chance to reconnect. (Also bicker, despair and seek out the Mini Club haha.)
I am a little apprehensive, of course. Anxious, even. It would be weird if I wasn’t. This is not just the life of a separated parent but also the life of one who is prone to anxiety. FEAR of the unknown. But fear is just that. False. Evidence. Appearing. Real. It isn’t real. It hasn’t even happened. And it probably never will. Over the past year, the beloved universe has helped me process these anxious thoughts. It’s helped me plough on, regardless, reminding me every step of the way that it has my back. Reminding me to have faith in myself. Reminding me that it is always there.
I’m not at all worried about being ‘alone’ on holiday – you’re never alone with three small people in your world – or tackling any of the typical ‘couple’ things alone, like mealtimes, chasing the kids around the room to put on suncream or having a late night drink on the balcony.
I just want to keep us all safe. And maybe, that is something I would like to share. The responsibility of keeping us all safe. Of getting us all onto the plane, without realising I’ve actually left the boy in Duty Free. (Mum, if you’re reading this, please don’t lay awake at 3.00 AM worrying. I’m kidding. We’re going to be just fine. I’m sure I won’t leave him in Duty Free.)
Because, it’s always a little unnerving doing something for the first time, isn’t it?
Then you do it. You look back. And you wonder what on earth you were even worried about.
Because you totally smashed it.
Home from home.
Our Letoonia friends
I am so grateful to be going back to Club Letoonia, a paradise in Fethiye, Turkey, which we first discovered back in 2013 when we had two kids.
There is great comfort for me in going somewhere we know so well. And it is going to take away a lot of the unknown. We have good friends there (both staff and guests) and, when we drive through those security gates, it’s like arriving home. Just with way more sunshine, spectacular coastal views and never having to cook or put the dishwasher on. Amen to that.
Every year, Club Letoonia manages to surpass itself. Or maybe we just fall a little more in love with it. Returning to the same place, far from being boring, saves days acclimatising and trying to figure everything out. Our holiday starts the moment we get there. When we arrive at Letoonia, we know what the room will be like (we usually have a lovely family bungalow with two rooms – this year we’re having one big family room), the kids are comfortable roaming the beautiful piazza, we know the swimming pools, what time the mini disco starts and we all look forward to Showtime in the amphitheatre, each evening.
Every year, I get to see my kids become a little more independent and exercise even more freedom, without me worrying about them. This is going to be of paramount importance this year, with only one pair of eyes to watch over them. Although, the Turkish love kids so much that there are usually a hundred pairs of eyes on mine, especially my blond boy and girl. Our dear friends, the boat boys, are expecting us and the boy’s adopted Turkish family are already there.
Our Turkish family
Oh. And there’s a free kids’ club. For five hours a day.
(Say. No. More.)
We can do this.
I obviously don’t really know this yet, as I haven’t done it. Yet.
But I have Christmas trees and BBQs to remind me that I can.
I also know, from the messages and emails I get, that there are A LOT of us facing milestones through separation, bereavement and solo parenting every day. Two million of us, to be precise. And that these milestones can be unnerving and downright scary.
But, I am ever coming to the conclusion, that the unknown is not the scary place we sometimes envision. It’s a place of illumination. A place that allows us to discover desires, strengths and abilities we didn’t even realise we had. A place that takes our vulnerability and turns it into something magical. Something powerful. Something so much brighter than its origin.
So actually? I do know that we can do this. You. And me. Whatever milestone or hurdle we’re facing today. We can do it.
In fact? We’re going to go one better than that. And totally smash it.
A Letoonia sunset
All the love to ALL of you out there facing milestones head on today. Shine brightly. Club Letoonia are kindly hosting our family on our forthcoming holiday this August. All opinions are, of course, my own and this will be our fourth visit to this wonderful resort for our summer holiday. You can follow our first ‘solo’ holiday abroad (pictures and videos) on Instagram and Facebook.
Club Letoonia. The facts.
Club Letoonia is located in Fethiye, Turkey a 45 minute transfer from Dalaman airport
You can book an all inclusive package through Thomas Cook or First Choice (1 week all inclusive based on 2 adults with Thomas Cook from £1320 this September and £1051 in October. 2018 prices from £1318 in May/June, £1610 in July/August and £1530 in September decreasing again in October. Children under 2 are free)
Or book flights separately (Easyjet, Thomas Cook Airlines and BA fly to Dalaman from all major UK airports) and all inclusive accommodation directly with the resort (1 week all inclusive based on 2 adults sharing, from £1282 this August, £1013 in September, prices decreasing in October. 2018 prices start from £690 in May/June, £1192 in July/August, decreasing in September/October. Children under 2 years are free
Unlike some destinations, all inclusive here means all inclusive. There are NO hidden extras. Only the a la carte restaurants, candy floss and popcorn are additional
Facilities: Family bungalows with one/two rooms, Mini-club 4-12 year olds
Mini-disco, 3 restaurants, 3 additional a la carte restaurants, 7 bars, 3 outdoor pools, 1 indoor pool, water slides into the sea, daytime activities programme and evening entertainment, weekly beach party with dancers and fire eaters, children’s playground and pool in kids’ club area, 3 private beaches in addition to the vast peninsular that also has sun loungers and hammocks, Serenity Spa, boutiques, gated premises and security guards, 4 km to Fethiye town by shuttle boat, departing every 30 minutes, 4* plus rating, 4.5 Tripadvisor rating
The summer holidays. They’re a marathon. Not a sprint. Anyone who’s peaked on day one and done an ACTUAL day trip will know this (ME last year). And be regretting it right about now. Also. If you’re fed up of haemorrhaging money, here’s some stuff you can do for well under a fiver. This post is written in partnership with BT TV Kids.
Make slime. This is the latest craze and all my kids want to do. It’s super easy. Two ingredients and that’s it. PVA glue (250 ml per portion) and some Bio Washing Gel. Simply pour the glue in and add the Bio Gel a teaspoon at a time until you can knead it without it sticking to your fingers. You can add food colouring or even glitter to really bling it up. Cost: around £2
Go to the park. There are some amazing parks out there. You don’t have to stick to one on your doorstep. They’re free and I can wow my kids with all sorts of stuff (I don’t, incidentally; I’m definitely on the ‘underwhelming’ spectrum these days) but they are always happiest in the park on their bikes. Some park cafes charge a small fortune for lunches and ice creams (especially when you have to buy three of everything) so you could even take your own ice lollies in a freezer pack. It’s not like they’re going to wait until past 10.30 AM to eat them anyway, is it? Cost: food from your weekly shop
Film and TV afternoon. You don’t need to go to the cinema and remortgage your house to have a fab film and TV afternoon. Get the sofa prepped with your kids’ duvets and cushions (show me a kid who doesn’t love the novelty of this), a bowl of popcorn and cola bottles and sign up to BT TV Kids and get nine channels for just £4 a month. Plus over 2,000 episodes of on demand kids’ entertainment. They have all my kids’ favourite shows and more – Paw Patrol, Ben and Holly, Be Cool Scooby Doo, Spongebob Squarepants… Cost: £4 per month, sign up here
Harness their creative spirit. Usually, when we do anything creative together, it ends up with me wondering if I need to call a psychiatrist. I think you can see why. That said, I’ve recently realised that my kids love an organised creative activity – you know, a wordsearch or a join the dots or a maze. Something that’s a bit structured. Now they’re getting older, they’ll happily do this ALONE for hours (OK, that may be an exaggeration but definitely upwards of 25 minutes, which is a result in any parent’s book, right?). The lovely people at BT TV Kids have made this super easy for you. And created a FREE summer activity pack with 26 pages of stuff to do, whilst you put your feet up, have a well deserved cuppa (or gin), and coo the odd word of encouragement. The best bit? You won’t have to set foot near a sodding pipe cleaner. Phew. Also, BT TV has launched a competition that challenges children to get creative and design their own PAW Patrol character. Great for competitive siblings. Visit metro.co.uk/drawpatrol to enter (the deadline is Friday 11th August). Cost: A few pages of printing. FREE if you use someone else’s haha.
Make and eat pancakes. We do this a lot in our house. The kids help. Then I let them go wild and decorate them with whatever we have in the cupboard. Chocolate sauce. Strawberry sauce. Honey. Sprinkles. I’ll be honest. The pancakes look pretty vile by the time they’ve finished with them. And it takes me about three hours to ‘unsticky’ all the surfaces and all the errant flour that’s made its way into every crevice. But just look how happy it makes them. Cost: food from your weekly shop
Let your kids get bored. Someone recently gave me an amazing piece of advice. ‘Kids need to learn to amuse themselves.’ When they are allowed to be bored, they find stuff they want to do. So now? When one of my kids tells me they’re bored, I don’t feel guilty or that it’s my responsibility to relieve this instantly. I suggest lots of things they could do before leaving them to figure the rest out for themselves. Cost: Absolutely flipping FREE.
Hang out and (try and) enjoy being together. Because in a few weeks we’ll all be back to the daily grind and helping our kids remember what shoes are again (the biggest conundrum of all time). PS It’s totally fine if you don’t enjoy being together ALL of the time. There are points in the holidays where no matter how much fun you’ve been having, you just need a little space. Put the kids in a holiday club or ‘lend’ them to the grandparents. Set them up with their favourite shows from BT TV Kids. No guilt. You’ll all be better for it. You especially.
A year ago today my husband and I separated. A strange anniversary to mark, perhaps. But it’s a notable one, nevertheless. Because, today, I am a million miles from where I was that day, last year, which was full of sadness and relief, confusion and inevitability. All at once. And I want to share where I am now, for anyone who is going through a separation, for anyone who is thinking about it and for everyone who is wondering if they will ever feel ok again. I AM ok. And I know that you will be ok, too. One day, you will laugh again.
A good year.
I cannot believe that 365 days have passed since my marriage ended.
I don’t want to make light of a situation that was a sad and difficult decision to make. Separation is painful and uncertain and no one would go into a marriage hoping it ends that way.
That said, the past year has been one of the best of my life. And I know that must sound really odd. But it has. Because it has been full of love, opportunities, amazing energy and personal development.
It has shown me, over and over again, that I am never alone.
And that I can pretty much do anything I set my mind to.
I don’t know that I would ever have realised this, otherwise.
Making peace with yourself.
I remember, a few days after separating, sitting in the garden with my sister.
I was confused more than sad. The end of my marriage had been inevitable for some time. I knew that, deep down. There was no way it could have gone on.
Yet there was a niggle that I couldn’t shake. Was it all my fault? Could I have done more? Would I ever feel ok again?
My sister was resolute on that. She told me that I had done everything I could. That she believed in my decision. And that the place to put my energies was in moving forward, not soul-searching something I would never find the answers to.
That conversation was the last time I ever let the doubts take over. I didn’t have them again, after that. I simply chose not to. I chose to believe in my decision. In what lay ahead.
And I kept moving forward.
Going it alone is liberating.
The thought of being alone can be scary. Especially after 15 years of being with someone and having three kids together.
I realised in the early months how our society is built for couples. To have a person by your side. To do ‘stuff’ with someone. There were so many things I hadn’t factored in that took me by surprise. The sinking feeling of going to parties on your own. Trying to get the sodding Christmas tree out of the house. Building my first fire. Most recently, doing my first BBQ. Having to do everything ON MY OWN.
And, for a girl who thought she was pretty independent, there were so many things I had simply never done. Because I had always had someone else to do them for me.
Suddenly, it was just me. And three kids. Suddenly, there was no one else.
And you know what? We survived. I managed.
I can now do a pretty kick arse BBQ (even if I did initially have to call a friend to talk me through it). As for the Christmas tree? Thanks to my Instagram followers, this year I know exactly how to get the b*stard out without first shedding all 13,457 needles in my hallway and just removing the carcass.
And in three weeks time, we are doing our first family holiday abroad to the amazing Club Letoonia in Turkey. Just me and my three kids. This is the ultimate milestone for me. Once I’ve done that, I’ll feel I’ve done it all. (Sort of).
So, being alone? Turns out, it can actually be really, really liberating and empowering.
THIS is a real family.
Of course. I am not naive. And I am sensitive to the situation I am in.
Because, as happy as I am, I know my kids would rather have their parents together than apart. Of course they would. It’s how we are conditioned. It’s how society tells us a family should operate.
And I do live with the knowledge, every day, that we have affected our kids’ lives. There are days where I feel terribly guilty about that. Where I internalise any of my kids’ struggles and wonder if our separation is the route cause. Did I put my happiness before my kids? Until a good friend said this:
‘You are teaching your kids something I can never. That leaving a man can be the most empowering thing in your life. Never stay with someone because society thinks you should. You’re the epitome of a strong woman. And your girls will thank you endlessly one day.’
In a rational state, the guilt doesn’t touch me. Because I can see how much better we all function. How much happier we are.
And I will always stick by what I said in my post on New Year’s Eve. That separation can be positive. That we will continue to do the best by our kids and show them that this is making their lives better. That they still have two parents who love them to the moon and back.
That we are still a ‘real family.’
Day by day. And then a year!
So, one year on, life is very different. I feel that we have come a long way.
And there are things that have happened, like The New Mum’s Notebook and my book deal with Penguin, that I don’t think would have happened if I’d stayed. Because the energy channels were so blocked with negativity and low self-esteem.
Since my separation, lots of you have got in touch. Sharing your stories. Your worries. Some of you have confided in me and asked me what you should do. That’s always a difficult one. Because do I advocate separation? No. Of course, I don’t. Do I think it’s an easy option? No. Of course, I don’t. It took me a long time to have the confidence to face up to what I needed to do. And then to do it.
What I do believe is trusting in yourself. In how you feel. And recognising that, sometimes, when you know you’re in the wrong relationship, the best thing you can do is make the break and have faith that everything will be as it should be, in the end.
The last year has shown me this over and over again.
I would just like to express my love and thanks to everyone who’s supported us this last year – I couldn’t have got here without you. And to anyone going through a separation, I will say this. It’s so hard. I know. And so uncertain. But, one day, you will laugh again. That I can certainly promise you. More of me over on Facebook and Instagram.
When I had my first baby, she slept quite well. So well, in fact, that I made Daddy Pig swear on his life never to tell ANYONE. He got to go to work during the day. But I needed other mums to hang out with. My second girl slept even better. ‘TELL NO ONE,’ I reminded him. Then I cocked it all up. And smug old ‘I’m so good at this baby making s***’ had to go and ruin it with a third child. Who frequently gets up at hideous o’clock and makes me want to stick pins in my eyes come bedtime. These are the main stages of our bedtime routine. Every. Painful. Night.
Stage One: Denial
ME: Ok, it’s time for bed now. In we go.
HIM: That’s not my bedroom.
ME: I’m sorry?
HIM: That’s not my bedroom! Look at it! THAT IS NOT MINE!
ME: (Under my breath) Good grief. Good f*cking grief. Where’s the gin?
Stage Two: Debate
ME: Time for sleep now. Lay down. That’s it. Put your pirate ship down too. Good boy.
HIM: But I want to touch it. I won’t play with it.
(He says, playing with it. Incidentally, this is the same conversation we have about his willy.)
ME: Well then you don’t need it there, do you? Let me put it on the side for the morning.
HIM: Are you going to take my sword too?
ME: Yes. Yes, I am.
HIM: No you’re not.
ME: Yes. I am.
HIM: You can’t take it if I don’t say that you can.
(Repeat the above conversation 2,378 times until I am literally thinking about stabbing myself with his sword whilst cursing it for being blunt and plastic.)
ME: (In that really happy/delirious/patronising/’I’m losing the f*cking will here’ voice) GIVE ME THE PIRATE SHIP. (And then I ruin it ALL. And lose every bit of control I never had). IF YOU DON’T GIVE IT TO ME I WILL SMASH IT INTO A MILLION PIECES AND PUT IT IN THE BIN.
HIM: Where’s your hammer, then?
ME: OMG. I am in actual, physical pain. Where’s the gin?
Stage Three: Remorse
HIM: I’m sorry, Mummy. I’ll put the pirate ship down.
(97 minutes have now elapsed since this whole sorry process started).
ME: OK. Great. Night then. (Turn to leave the room. FINALLY.)
HIM: Sleep with me, Mummy. And hold my hand, Mummy.
ME: (Under my breath) Oh dear God. No. I can’t bear it. I’m not getting out of here alive. Ever.
HIM: Can you pat me too?
ME: (Look at watch. 8.45 PM. He’ll be up again at 5.45 AM. I want to cry. I actually want to cry.) WHY ARE YOU RUINING MY LIFE LIKE THIS? WHY?
HIM: Can I have my pirate ship back?
ME: (Legging it out of the room) ARGHHHHHHHHHH! JUST GO TO F*CKING SLEEP!
As I write this, I can hear him. He’s still awake. Playing with the sodding pirate ship. I’m off to find my hammer… SERIOUSLY, THOUGH. WHY ISN’T HE TIRED? More of me on Facebook and Instagram.
How on earth have I been a mother for eight years, had three kids and NEVER written a post about threenagers? Well, finally, here it is. How to spot one.
Disclaimer: I love my boy. More than anything. He is loving. And considerate. And sweet. He notices when I wear a new dress or do my hair. He sometimes puts his plate on the side after dinner. This is how I described him to our new au pair, the night she arrived. A GLOWING TESTIMONY OF HOW BLOODY LOVELY HE IS. Then, the next morning, he woke up, acted like a total s***bag and terrorised us both for 12 hours. She looked slightly horrified and, after he was in bed, I introduced her to my good mate, Ginny Gin Gin. Twice. Welcome to the life of a threenager. Here’s how to spot one.
Size. Threenagers are not really that different to toddlers with their illogical, irritating behaviour. And they look much the same. Still pint-sized. So how do you even tell them apart? Well, if you look a little closer, threenagers are getting a bit taller and leaner. They’ve got that, ‘Look at me, I’m cooler than you,’ vibe starting, in their skinny jeans that they haven’t been able to wear until now. And they’re not afraid to use it.
Vocabulary. Threenagers talk. A lot. Sometimes, all day long for 12 hours solid. Around this time, you wish you’d thrown that sodding ‘First 100 Words‘ book out, along with those equally annoying, ‘That’s not my… ARGGGHHHH PLEASE F*** OFF AND STOP WRITING THESE BOOKS‘ series. Because all you’ve done is arm them with the skills to torment you for 12 hours solid. Every single day.
Folded arms. When threenagers fold their arms, they mean business. When accompanied with the lowered head and ‘Death Stare,’ this basically means you’re screwed and you’re not going to do any of the things you wanted to do. For at least the next year. Or maybe ever again.
Hand on hips. Sometimes, threenagers alternate the folded arms and throw you off track with a hand on the hip. This is just another way of them telling you they’re not doing it. Any of it.
‘It wasn’t me.’ Threenagers say this A LOT. Ahhhhh. Welcome to their disillusioned world. You saw them hit their sister over the head/throw their crisp packet on the floor/take something that isn’t theirs WITH YOUR ACTUAL EYES. They swear blind it wasn’t them. ‘I saw you do it!‘ you say. Several times. They look at you with disgust. To them you are nothing but an idiot. And a lying one at that.
Bouts of joylessness. No one does joylessness better than a threenager. Their vocabulary completely fails them at this point and they have no idea why they are completely and utterly miserable. The only thing they do know? It’s definitely your fault.
Independence. Threenagers are all about doing stuff for themselves. Getting in and out of the car. Putting on their own shoes. Sadly for you, they don’t necessarily have the skills to do any of it. Meaning you’ll be even later for stuff you were never on time for anyway.
Attitude. Threenagers think they are cleverer than you. The End. (There is a distinct possibility that, after spending 12 hours with one, they are. Mainly because you have lost the will to live, several times over. And are a little drunk.)
Thanks to my boy for inspiring this post and providing me with the photographic evidence. More of me over on Instagram and Facebook.
Eight years ago this week, I became a mother. FOR THE VERY FIRST TIME. I look back now at photos of my younger mum self (not just that hilarious post-birth picture) and, beneath the love and contentment, I can still feel how green I was. How unsure I was. I remember that first night at home with her like it was yesterday. ‘What on earth do we do with her? Can we put her down, do you think?‘ Eight years, three kids and no nappies later (yes, new mums, it really does happen one day), this is what I’d tell my first-time mum self (if she’d have listened).
‘It’s going to be ok.’
Yesterday morning, I dropped the boy off at nursery, the nursery I will have been at for eight years by the time he starts school. (Don’t think about the money, don’t think about the money. Haha.)
Sarah, who co-owns the nursery, opened the door and we started talking about The New Mum’s Notebook. What the next Notebook is going to be. And she reminded me how far I’ve come as a mother. ‘Do you remember,‘ she said, ‘when you first started here and you told us that Beaver was a Gina Ford baby and had to nap at this exact time in complete darkness and silence? You left and we thought, how on earth are we going to do this in a nursery environment?’
It made me laugh. Because I do remember that. Vividly. I remember my first-time mum self well. The one who was so scared of things going wrong. Who once shouted at her own mum for daring to look under the muslin whilst her baby was sleeping. The one who felt the need to control EVERYTHING (and foolishly thought she could).
I want to go back and give her a hug. Tell her that it will be ok. That the world won’t implode if things don’t go to plan. That there are NO PLANS when you have a small baby in tow.
There is love. And there is cake.
And that is all you need.
My first-time mum self did a good enough job, as good as she could. After all, she didn’t know any better.
But she missed out on some stuff along the way. She worried about spoiling her newborn. She could have cuddled her more. Indulged herself in that intense and beautiful feeling of a new baby on her chest. And forgotten about the ridiculous things she’d picked up elsewhere, like needing to stimulate a tiny person who already had all the stimulation she needed. The warmth and security of her mum.
The thing is, my first-time mum self was lucky. Really lucky. Because she got to do it all again. Twice. To have another two children, who mellowed her a little more each time they came.
The second baby reminded her that she could do this. Because she’d already done it once before.
But, it wasn’t until the third baby that the penny really dropped. Maybe it was the knowledge that this baby was her last and that made him more precious. Maybe it was the frailty of her mental health and her need to feel that newborn on her chest. To feel that closeness, that warmth, those two hearts beating as if they were one.
Because when she felt that, she felt less desperate and alone.
And the crazy thing is that, despite being unwell for so much of those early months, her third time was a charm, indeed.
The fear of going out and the safety she felt when she was tucked up in bed with her new baby and a boxset made her slow down for the first time in years. For the first time in her life as a mother.
In that respect, PND was both a curse and a blessing. Because, when she started to get well again, she had learned a lesson, albeit the hard way.
She had learned to slow down. To catch the moment. That it would be ok. All of it. That the world wouldn’t implode if things didn’t go to plan. Because things hadn’t gone to plan. They had veered so far from any plan a new mum would ever make.
‘It’s a good job then, that there are no plans when you have a small baby in tow,‘ she thought.