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.
The other day, my NCT girls, who I have known for eight years, gave me a present for my 40th birthday. It was a beautiful framed print. ‘She believed she could. So she did.‘ A phrase that many of us will be familiar with. It’s meant as much to me as anything could, at this stage in my life. Because it’s how I’ve slowly started to live in the past year and how I intend to approach the next 10. That said, whilst self-belief is something we can (and should) have more of, the belief in you from others, alongside your own self-belief, cannot be underestimated. Having friends and family by your side, and all the love they encompass, makes your ability to ‘believe’ in yourself a real possibility.
Keeping the magic.
When we are really small, the concept of believing largely relies on magic.
In Father Christmas. In (unreliable, often gin-soaked) Tooth Fairies. In the Easter Bunny (who often eats all the chocolate several times before Easter Sunday actually arrives).
In fact, from the moment we are born, ‘believing’ is instinctive. Like breathing. We don’t question it. Then, somewhere along the line, we discover ‘the truth.’ Father Christmas doesn’t exist. Our parents were the Tooth Fairy (when they remembered). And the Easter Bunny was a big, giant fraud too.
Suddenly, that magic is gone. And often, in the process, our natural instinct to believe.
As we grow, we are told, continually, to believe in ourselves. It’s certainly a buzz phrase, these days. BELIEVE.
Yet, at this point, most of us don’t even know ourselves. We don’t know who we are, what we value, what we desire. ‘Believe in yourself‘ can feel like empty words.
They don’t make a difference to the bills that need paying, the relationship that isn’t working or the job that isn’t progressing as we’d hoped.
Or do they?
Doubt or Believe.
Then. One day. The s*** hits the fan. Maybe, we lose someone we loved. Our job. Our home. Our relationship. Our security. And we are as naked as the day we were born.
We’re presented with a choice. Sink or swim. Doubt or believe.
Suddenly, there is no fear in daring to believe. We are at our most vulnerable. What can be worse than this? And, what if, just what if, there is something to believe in, after all?
What if WE are the thing we were supposed to believe in, all along.
ME. YOU. US. EACH OTHER.
On good days and bad.
If you’re lucky, you might reach this point, without something huge happening to you. But I doubt it’s the case for most.
I can’t describe the exact moment it happened to me. It happened very gradually after my separation. An evening doing a mood board with two good friends about how we wanted our lives to look (a mood board, which has already manifested several, pretty amazing things). Another friend, unintentionally, taking me under her wing and showing me what can happen when you just choose to believe.
And that is pretty much how I live now. Every, single day. I choose to believe. ALWAYS. In everything around me. In myself. In the love extended to me so generously by friends and family. Even when things feel rubbish (which they still occasionally do, of course). I have decided that I can just trust in ALL of it. In the Universe.
That thing that is SO much bigger than me.
The power of human connection.
But. I am no fool. I know how I am here. And it is not down to me, alone.
I look at the people around me now and I know they are a big part of it. That it is down to the brilliant friends, real and virtual, who said, ‘It’s going to be ok. You’re going to figure this s*** out. Good things are coming. We believe in you. And we have your back.’ The brilliant friends that made me believe I could dare to believe in myself.
And my 40th birthday has humbled me, way beyond the celebrations and champagne. The love and thoughtfulness from others has been unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. On Monday, a beautiful friend left balloons attached to my letterbox with a card, ‘In case you’re feeling flat after your many days of celebrating, I love you.’
So, yes. ‘She believed she could. So she did.‘ But, that’s not the whole story. We can totally believe in ourselves. And we absolutely should. But we must also believe in one another. Connect with one another. And radiate that positivity and faith that we all have within us, even if we haven’t seen it for a while.
Because, what greater gift can you give someone else than helping them believe that they can dare to believe in themselves?
(From experience, I can tell you. There is none.)
All the love to each of you wonderful human beings.
A year ago the thought of turning 40 made me recoil a little. (A lot.) Today, on the last day of my 30s, I don’t think I have ever been as excited or grateful about having a birthday. THIS birthday. Here’s why.
My 30s, bar a year or two, have been ALL about raising kids. Three of them. As my sister pointed out, I have been changing nappies, continually, for eight years. As of last week the boy is potty trained (with the odd poo in his pants). And whilst I realise I still have a lot of ‘raising’ to do, they are not the dependent beings they were. There are no more babies in my future. And I have slowly been sneaking in a little more time for ME. They say the 30s are about your kids and your 40s are more about you. BRING. IT. ON.
Getting older is a blessing. If recent events have shown me anything, it’s that getting older is the most precious gift we’re ever given. I am grateful. SO grateful. Getting older gives you experience and that experience reminds you that you can a) get through anything b) do anything you put your mind to and c) light your first proper BBQ at 39 years of age (me, last night. Seriously, I feel as proud of this as anything I’ve achieved in the past year. Haha).
Things don’t turn out the way you thought, and that’s MORE than ok. My plan at 40 was not to be separated. But, we are all doing ok. Daddy and I are finding our way, more peacefully. The kids are settled. And there is something REALLY invigorating about starting my 40s in a new, fresh place with a lot of the turmoil behind me. Things weren’t working, we have dared to change them and that motivates me every single day.
A lot of stuff has fallen into place, just by chilling the F*** out. I am a completely different person to the highly strung 29 year old, who turned 30. Obviously. Three kids have mellowed me, beyond belief and made me realise that actually? The best things happen when you swim downstream, not up. When you accept things AS THEY ARE. And you choose to have a little faith in everything you do, rather than forcefully try and influence it. It will happen when it happens. And, if it doesn’t, it was probably never meant to.
I have the career I always wanted, but it didn’t happen until now. I used to think if you weren’t sorted in your career by aged 25, it was game over. I couldn’t seem to get my writing gig off the ground. Traditional journalism didn’t suit me, for many reasons. But what I failed to see then was that there’s more than one way to skin a cat. And, sometimes, you need life’s rich tapestry to give you something worthwhile to write about. This has certainly been the case for me. At the ripe ‘not so old’ age of 39 I have a book deal. 39! Which says to me, it ISN’T over until the OLD lady sings. And it’s NEVER too late.
‘It’s my birthday and I’ll cry if I want to.’ Historically, I am a dreadful birthday girl. Just ask my mum. I used to cry at my own parties because I was sad when I didn’t win Pass the Parcel or get a party bag (yes, I was THAT child). As an adult, I (unfairly) expected my other half to orchestrate the perfect birthday and, then, when he got the gift/plan/whole thing wrong, I would be a bit, erm, p***ed off. And interpret this as some sign that he clearly didn’t know/love me at all. Just me? This year? I’ve bought my own present – something I’ve wanted since I was 30. I’ve planned a week of celebrations – so many that my friends are starting to drop eye contact when they see me, in case I invite them to ANOTHER one. (Yawn.) And it feels really good to know what I want and just do it, myself. I will probably still cry, at some point. When I’ve had too much gin. Leopard, spots and all that.
I am surrounded by the nicest bunch of people I could ever hope for. When you’re separated, your family and friendships become EVEN more important. I’ve made effort this past year to reignite friendships, make new friends and I have been blessed with people who I can count on, who lift me just with their smiles and make me realise my pelvic floor hasn’t reached 40 in the same positive way as the rest of me.
I may fall in love again. Right now, this isn’t on my radar. But the possibility and hope is there. And it’s a different thought to falling in love in your 20s, when so much of your future rests on it. I have my kids. I have my work. So the next time I do this romance lark, it’s going to be for no other reason than me. And him.
I am happy on my own. Let’s face it, no parent is ever on their own THAT often. But, as our separation has settled, I now find myself with regular weekly occasions where the kids are with Daddy and I am on my own. Although I’ve always been happy with my own company, it took me a while to adjust to this way of life, after so long of NOT having time. To enjoy it rather than work or clean my way through it. The past month, I have got myself back out there again. I have made plans. Socialised. And what I’ve realised? It’s pretty fun ‘back out there.’
I’m not 50. But you can bet your life that, by the time I get there, I will find 10 positive things to say about that. Never look back. Always look forward. Because if you’re not looking where you’re going, you’re going to trip over.
Much love to everyone who has supported me this past year. And to my mum, dad and sister who have put up with me for 40 of them!