Tag Archives: kids

On choosing change (and the end of maternity leave)

If you can picture Dick Van Dyke dressed as a chimney sweep, bring to mind his terrible cockney accent and remember the tune of ‘Chim Chim Cheree’ then you can bring to life the words I’ve had floating round my head today. (If you can’t, brace yourself for some slightly random song lyrics from Mary Poppins):

Winds in the east, there’s a mist comin’ in
Like somethin’ is brewin’ and ’bout to begin.
Can’t put me finger on what lies in store,
But I feel what’s to happen all happened before.

(Ooooh, can you feel those tingles? Mary Poppins is on her way!!)

The seasons are a’changing. It’s true of national and international politics (about which I will make no comment here), it’s true in our garden, but it’s also true in our little family. Maternity leave has come to an end and the rhythms of our life are shifting. The shape of what’s coming is still unclear, but I feel excited; hopeful. I have been doing a lot of thinking in the past year, and especially the past months (you might have noticed the lack of blogs…), about what I want to do in the future. I thought I might have a roadmap by now, but it hasn’t arrived.

I find myself without a set timetable, or a fixed job (yet), but I have intention. I have thought about what matters most. I have thought about what I don’t want to do. I have found things I want to explore further. I have some strong instincts and I am learning to trust them, rather than needing exact plans. Just a few weeks ago I felt in turmoil over it all, but some convictions are settling.

If the idea of my maternity leave ending has confused you, since I announced in my last blog that I had quit my job, then let me explain. I am not going back to Tearfund or to my old job. But I am not staying in my maternity leave rhythms of full-time childcare. It’s maybe an artificial decision since I am still at home, but for me it is an important one. We decided on 9 months of maternity leave, and so I am moving into a different headspace. Jubilee has begun to settle with the childminder some of the week (very happily), and I have (the extraordinary gift of) some child-free space in the week.

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I could tell you that I have mixed feelings about the end of maternity leave, but that’s not really true. I have loved having so much time (in fact, all the time) with our little girl. I am deeply grateful for this country’s maternity policies and the situation of our family that mean I could have nine months with some income whilst staying at home every day with our kids. But I am also really happy to be able to start to work a few days a week outside the home, and share the care of the kids more with Andy and our lovely childminder. I am more alive and fulfilled when I have something else to do in my week away from my children. And I am happier when I come back to them (which they love).

I once had a slightly eccentric colleague who thought that married women shouldn’t work outside of the home because they flood the labour market when there are men out there who need the money more (the implication being that married women can live off their husband’s earnings). I have all kinds of problems with that philosophy, but the main one is this – it assumes that the only reason people work is for money, for economic survival. I think work (both inside and outside of the home) is so, so much more than that. It is a way to find purpose, meaning and fulfilment, it is a way to contribute to the wider culture and society, to serve and to show our love for the world, to express the people that we are. I believe that the work we do raising our kids is all of that, too. Work confers dignity on people – I’ve seen it in many corners of the world. When we believe we have something to offer, and can thereby support ourselves and our families, we feel worth something (and I don’t just mean as a capitalist unit). I know it isn’t always all of that, and I  undoubtedly have an idealised and privileged view. But it’s how I feel.

I believe that raising children is an extraordinary privilege. I also think it can be a brilliant life rhythm – when we (as women, at least) are of childbearing age, we also are at a point of life when we have the energy to change the world! (Or at least, we have some energy!) We could get ahead! And get stuff done! And then these tiny people arrive who demand every ounce of our energy. We have to switch gear and focus, and invest so much in the next generation. Having children upsets career paths and slows us down. But painful as that sometimes has felt for me (not that I even have a ‘career path’), I think it can also be a healthy life rhythm, and not just for mothers – if other members of the family also get involved. Andy’s life has certainly taken on a different, slower rhythm since Jesse arrived.

I believe in the work of raising kids, and I also believe it’s ok to want to be doing other things too. I want to go out into the world again and do some work beyond my family. Raising children is definitely the hardest job I have ever had, and I’m grateful that I can share that work with others (mostly Andy), and make some space for something else. If I have the choice, and I do, then there are other ways that I want to contribute to the world at the same time. There’s always a lot of chat about needing to go back to work after maternity leave for financial reasons. Maybe as women we feel we need to apologise for not being with our children full-time. (Did you see that BBC pilot, Motherland? Remember the impossibly perfect super-mum who says to the working mum demurely – “I don’t know how you do it, I just love my children too much”). Probably financial pressures do push a lot of women back into work sooner than they might otherwise choose. But I think returning to work can also be a positive choice, for a woman and for the whole family. It certainly feels that way for me, and (I think) for the other three members of the family.

In my next blog I’ll talk about what I’m actually going to do! And what I’m exploring too…but in the meantime I would love to hear about your experiences of maternity leave ending, or how you think about balancing family and work…

 

 

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Summer in the foothills of parenting

I’ve been waiting for a moment of divine inspiration and philosophical insight to begin writing but it has finally dawned on me that it could be a long wait. So here is another missive from the beautiful foothills of parenthood.

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I’m liking the summer. I’m a lot happier when the sun shines, and while the complexions of the other members of family mean I’m unlikely to get to spend much time in some serious heat in the next decade or so, I’ll take the gentle British sunshine any day over the rain. We were in Ireland recently and it rained every day (although all the hardcore natives wore their shorts and t-shirts, regardless). It does make everything over there insanely green, but I had an extra skip in my step when we landed back in Luton in the blazing sunshine.

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Can you believe we have a seven month old now? She’s trying out food and making a big, joyous mess. It’s fair to say her meals get a lot less attention than Jesse’s did at this stage, but that’s the joy of baby-led weaning. She just tries loads of stuff that we eat and I don’t have to make any purees. My old boss used to say many wise things but the one I remember most clearly was that “we’re all as lazy as we dare to be”, and this is a case in point. Lazy weaning. Not that baby-led weaning isn’t a bona fide and respectable strategy, but it especially appeals to me because of the lower level of effort involved. One of its promised benefits is a toddler who isn’t fussy with food but is much more used to a variety of flavours and textures from the start. I am under no illusions about these kinds of grand promises, however, since our toddler is still pretty darn fussy. We do weaning this way because I’m convinced it’s a healthy, happy way to go, and it saves me a heap of effort. Although there is a lot of mess. (Any creativity which I can muster up is largely thanks to the brilliant new website some friends have set up called Baby Loves Veg – check it out!).

We have just come back from two weeks away (during which our fussy toddler ate a bare minimum for survival). I wouldn’t quite call them holiday weeks because Andy was working to some degree for both weeks, singing, speaking and hosting at a couple of Christian festivals. And the word holiday suggests some kind of rest when, as parents, you’re actually still doing all the parenting stuff, just in a different place and probably with less equipment. Looking after kids in our own home is always easier than doing it elsewhere. I know some parents who avoid going away with their small children as the hassle just isn’t worth it (and conversely, I am in awe of Mel Wiggins who just went to Florence with a 5 year old and a 4 month old). Believe me, I really got that this summer. Flying with kids and all that stuff. Sharing a room with a baby and toddler while trying to stop them waking each other up all night. Persuading Jesse to eat unfamiliar food and not destroy someone else’s house. Spending evenings camped outside the bedroom door with a book. It was, at moments, gruelling. (I may have ended up one night holed up in the bath drinking red wine out of a sippy cup. Ahem). But then at other moments it was brilliant. And worth it.

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Jesse loved both weeks. The first week he loved the tents (not that we were in one…) and caravans, the kids groups he went to, the community, the muddy puddles. And the second week he adored having his grandparents available 24/7, and staying in a castle, seeing his cousins and having access to a whole room of toys. Jubilee rolled with it all and was happy as long as I was there (she even spent a few mornings happily playing in a creche). They both slept fitfully, and struggled at different moments. But we had so much love, practical help and prayer that it still felt like a good call to be there. And I just love seeing our kids learn to feel at home in a wider community, learn to trust others and be in new places. Even if we need a break afterwards,

And now we’re home. And I get to spend at least some of each night in our bed while the kids sleep in other rooms. I get to cook our food again (the carbs in Northern Ireland were so intense that I actually started dreaming about salads, which is a new thing for me). It’s nice to be in our own space.

Life is small right now. We’ve dug in because just looking after the four of us is exhausting. No-one is sleeping through the night, and the emotional toil of watching Jesse struggle and scratch and cry out at night with his eczema is worse than the more predictable teething cries of the little one. We’re trying all kinds of things to help him get better – seaweed and aloe and oatmeal and laundry eggs and water softeners (potentially) and so much cream we could just slide from room to room without taking any actual steps. It’s trial and error, life is gloriously normal one minute and agonising the next. But every day there are beautiful moments. Mostly, I feel peaceful and contented (and tired), which is not something I really expected from this year, so I’m savouring the feeling for however long it lasts!

 

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These are the days of…

Well, as the weeks go by it seems I have less time to write rather than more. Hello sleep regressions and early teething. I rack my brains for something interesting to write about but I can’t seem to pull it out of the daily practicalities. But then I remembered a post I wrote earlier this year, about a book called Simply Tuesday, and how it talked about the importance of marking and naming each phase of life, and so I decided to write something about the very humdrum, beautiful dimensions of my life in May 2016.

These are the days of small things. Of small people and small ambitions. These are the days of endless plates of pasta for the wee man who won’t eat much else. Except pizza. And cheese. And endless handfuls of grapes. These are the days of fighting an endless battle against his eczema with creams and medicines that he hates, of dressing him in vests and babygrows to limit his scratching. The days when we don’t take him swimming and might not get to put him in shorts for the summer.

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These are the days of new words multiplying on his tongue every day. Of hearing him call everyone ‘guys’, most amusingly when telling the bath water to listen to him and stop running away down the plughole. These are the days of cuddles and stickers and dens and putting out pretend fires every day with the help of the entire cast of Fireman Sam. Of big emotions and amazing comebacks.

And for the smaller of the two, these are the days of gurgles and early grabs, of smiles and dark hair turning blond. These are the days when we never know whether to expect long stable sleeps or waking every hour. When my little finger is the only dummy she’ll take and settle with. When white noise permeates our waking and sleeping.

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These are the days of being in the house and sitting on the deck and gazing at the broken fence and overgrown garden beyond. There are afternoons to bask in the sunshine and chase toddlers down with sunscreen and hats, and hold crying babies and try to fork platefuls of dinner into your mouth while calming and bouncing them.

These are the days of contentment one moment and drudgery the next. The days of a unique and short season with its inimitable but unpredictable rhythm which ends I don’t know where. The days that end with lying on the sofa because it’s already nearly time to feed her again.

These are the days of romcoms on netflix, even the ones I never thought I’d watch.  Of The Mentalist and The Good Wife. Of podcasts that always get drowned out by shouts and screams from small people. These are the days of spending nap time tidying up but never getting anything really tidy. Of baking just to have something to show for myself at the end of the day.  Of writing lists and menu plans to make myself feel I am achieving things. Of a weekly outing on my own to a yoga class where I am the youngest participant and I never talk to anyone.

These are the days of solidarity with other parents who share our small rhythms. Of playdates and improvised picnics. Of endless singing of nursery rhymes and doing actions, even after the kids are in bed, because it’s the only music in my head. Of blind panic in the school holidays when all the toddler groups stop too. These are the days when I walk the toddler up the hill to the childminder with his sister in the sling, and he insists that I carry him too, and so I waddle up the road with a child on each hip. The days when we plead with him to share his toys and to stay in bed at night and to eat something and to get in the car and to wear a hat and to take his medicine and to hold hands when we cross the road. And the days when sometimes we don’t bother (that’s not to say we let him run into traffic).

These are the days of longing for purpose in the world beyond my children (not that there isn’t full and deep purpose to be found in nurturing our kids) and an afternoon that doesn’t involve carrying a baby everywhere. These are the days of feeling spent and like there is so much I am failing to do. Of wondering when I’ll find the energy to talk to the neighbours or even get hold of a compost bin. Days that feel small and never-ending. And then there are days of blissful gratitude for these two most indescribably beautiful kids who are greedy for my attention.

These are the days that will be gone before I know it.

 

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The new normal

In the past four months we’ve moved house, moved city, seen our boy turn two and added a whole new person to our family (which also means I’m on maternity leave). ‘Normal’, for us, has had a facelift.

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We’ve moved from a community where our way of living was really deliberate. We knew why we wanted to be there, we made space and time for our neighbours, we wanted to be in the inner-city and make it a good place to stay. And now we’ve moved away, to a town, and we’re not sure what to be deliberate about. Except the two very demanding small people in our house. So whatever ‘normal’ looks like right now feels very time-bound, and it’s hard to see the shape of things beyond.

Today’s ‘normal’ has extreme highs and lows. These early weeks of a having a baby are full of blissful snoozy snuggles, but also the insane frustration of not being able to put the baby down to do anything useful like, say, pack away the shopping or use the toilet, without accusatory screams ensuing. The sling sometimes works as a way round this, when I’m organised enough to have tied it on, but often it just means resigning myself to being pinioned under a baby for large chunks of the day. And on my days when I’m just with the baby, that’s ok. Who wouldn’t want to hang out with her?

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And on the days with both kiddos, there are even moments when I sigh with deep contentment and satisfaction. We’re ok! We’re doing this! These kids are beautiful! Everyone’s happy! Seconds later, of course, everyone is crying and overtired and I feel entirely inadequate and how many hours is it till Andy gets back? Jubilee is strapped into her car seat and we’re about to go but Jesse has just done a poo and doesn’t want me to change him so now both of them are screaming and no-one is happy and how hard can it be just to get out of the house for one appointment?

There are no evenings in this new normal. There are only hours spent camped out on the landing, putting Jesse back in his bed, and hours spent downstairs bouncing and soothing and feeding the baby.

 

It’s hilarious to me how only months ago, looking after a toddler seemed like a really demanding job, and now it seems comparatively easy. Just one kid? And he doesn’t have to be carried everywhere and fed through the night? What a dream!

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The new normal also has a different geography. No longer are there a zillion coffee shops, main stream supermarkets and world-class (free) cultural landmarks on my doorstep. The new geography requires use of the car. If I’m going to walk into town I need to factor in the reality of pushing a double buggy back up a big hill on the way home, so I often think twice. I don’t know the lie of the land so well. We’re less spoilt for consumer opportunities, but the countryside is so close and we can go on walks!

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A huge part of our London landscape was church. We loved our church family in Camberwell. We felt so at home there, so loved and inspired, so woven into the fabric of what was happening there. It was a wrench to leave. And we’re not sure where we belong yet in Luton, church-wise. Finding a church family is a big deal for us, and there’s no perfect fit. Every family has its own mess and imperfections, but we really believe in being part of the conversation, learning to love and be loved by others, and to work out how to follow God together. So we’re looking around for a home.

And what about work? When I went back to work after my last maternity leave I was a happier person again. Getting to spend half my week doing a grown-up job and having uninterrupted grown-up conversations – PLUS a commute during which I could read books – felt like a gift. I loved the mix of days with Jesse and days at work. But right now, I’m good with the days at home. We have the little man at a childminder he loves for two days of the week, so for a couple of days it’s just me and the little lady. Andy freelances from home a couple days a week and it makes a big difference having him there for back-up. The days don’t feel monotonous, like I feared.

Now is fine. Now I am sleeping more than I anticipated. Now I have more friends than I expected and more support than I dared hope for. Now I am enjoying my kids more than I realised I would. Now I have a little space to dream. Now I am learning to not be on top of all the practicalities. Now we get through the tough days. Now won’t last very long so I’m trying to dive deep into the moments of joy.  In the blink of an eye it will change. It will be different in a month, in two, in three, in six. Jubilee won’t need to be carried around so much, she’ll be more awake and will interact with the world more. She’ll vomit on me less. She’ll be less fragile, she’ll interact with her brother more and they’ll play together. Sometime, she’ll sleep whole nights of sleep. Before I know it she’ll be eating meals and moving around on her own.

We’ll work out what else to be deliberate about as the weeks and months pass. And part of that will be working out what to blog about. I’m writing less often (you probably noticed!), and more about our small family life right now, whereas I set this up originally to explore our experiments with living simply in the inner-city – where we no longer live! I’m pretty sure I want to keep writing, but I’ll be thinking some more about the kinds of things I’m want to write about (and what I won’t write about anymore).

I’d also love to hear about the kinds of posts you like to read, and those that are less interesting to you. Write a comment or email me at jennyflannagan at gmail.com.

 

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Life with two kiddos

We have reached the first milestone of the little lady’s life – six weeks – so I figured it was a good moment to take a breath and write something about how life is going.

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Newsflash: We’re still alive! And miracuously we are more than just surviving. I am enjoying life. When I thought ahead to life with two kids, to my days being full of nappies and toys and playgroups and naps, and my nights being broken, I was more than a little afraid. I was bracing myself for a struggle. I had all kinds of tactics and mantras ready to get myself through. But I forgot the bit about a gorgeous new human being joining our family and all the joy that would bring. Somehow I hadn’t anticipated the flood of love for these two tiny people that would carry me (and us) through. (I don’t think it’s just the hormones). I am crazily grateful for my incredible, kind, resourceful husband and our amazing kids.

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Ok, our house is in permanent toy chaos (the laundry chaos ebbs and flows), but I feel calmer, so much calmer than last time, and I’ve been trying to figure out why. It helps that our life is already structured around caring for a small person and so the shift in our family routine doesn’t feel so enormous. Then there’s the fact that Jubilee was born fairly healthy and has had no major health scares since. Feeding was tough at the start, but we’ve emerged into a place of calm and stability, and it’s nothing like the emotionally traumatic experience we had first time round. Sure, sleep is broken, but I know it’s not forever, and right now we can cope with it (she says, ignoring the horror stories that surround her from friends with slightly older babies…). Without the background of grief and fear and emotional exhaustion, I’ve felt able to enjoy these past few weeks, and enjoy this beautiful, irresistable new baby, much more than last time. And that has been an indescribable relief and gift.

Another part of the puzzle is the incredible tide of practical help we’ve had from the people of Luton. We’ve been here just three months, but a group of local friends organised a food rota for us that meant we were still getting dinners brought to us every other night, a month after Jubilee was born! (and you know, there were some pretty amazing meals too – one night we had rabbit stew!!). We are taking ALL the help we can get right now and not feeling at all guilty (actually Andy is better at that last part than me). Our friends (some of them old, some of them new) have come and cleaned our house, brought fresh flowers, filled our fridge and freezer with good food, put together furniture, done DIY, organised our kitchen cupboads, plumbed in our washing machine, brought homemade salted caramel and oreo cheesecake, had us round for dinner, chauffeured us to and from the hospital, soothed our sick and overwrought  toddler to sleep in his hospital cot when we were wrecked, done our grocery shopping, gone out on emergency shopping trips for nipple guards and breast pads, babysat Jesse while we escaped for some downtime, built train tracks with him whilst we napped upstairs, installed waterproof roofing on our garden cabin, and kept us sane. And I’ve probably forgotten plenty other things. Seriously, we have been so well loved and cared for, it’s hard to even imagine the state we’d be in without this amazing crew.

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I know it’s early days, but they are good early days and I’m grateful. This season has shot me right back into living one day at a time, and my planning horizons have shrunk back to about a 36 hour limit. So I’m not worrying about next week (actually I’m rejoicing as my in-laws are arriving) or next month, I’m just thinking about the night and the next day, and I reckon they’ll be just fine. As Elise Blaha Cripe, another blogger and new mother of two wrote recently:

I know that this is all just phases. I know these phases are so extremely short. I know that there is magic coming tomorrow and the day after that. More importantly, I know that TODAY is magic.

Before we had Jubilee, I had friends tell me that things would be much easier the second time around, and others tell me that the hardest transition ever is going from one to two kids. Six weeks in, the first of those predictions feels most accurate, so whatever else is coming I am thanking the cosmos (well, more specifically I am THANKING GOD) for these past weeks and our beautiful kiddos.

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Only boring people get bored

It’s come back to me recently that when I was a kid complaining about being bored, I was told that only boring people got bored. That’s to say, that if I was bored, it could only mean I was a boring person.

Photograph: John Slater/Getty Images

Photograph: John Slater/Getty Images

I couldn’t tell you whether that philosophy was offered in a one-off, flippant fashion, out of frustration with my constant whining, or whether it was a deeply thought through and oft repeated mantra; I don’t remember whether it was said once on a bad day, or repeatedly over many years. But I realise that it has stayed me.

Before you get too concerned, let me be clear that It didn’t make me think I was a boring person. I didn’t silently and morosely internalise a belief in my essential boringness. No. I remember thinking “Ok. I get this new rule. I must never again own up to being bored.”

So I’ve always been good at hiding it, at sucking it up and dealing with it.

But over the past few years I have started to come across the wise words of others, telling me to lean in to the discomfort of my life – and specifically (if only I could remember who to credit here), to lean into the boring and frustrating parts of life, as much as the heady joys. And I guess that the reason those words have kept bouncing around my head is because they offer a philosophy so different from the approach I have taken for most of my life.

Boredom, rather than something to acknowledge and reflect on, to question and to sit with for a while (maybe even to embrace?), has always been something to hide, to ignore, to pretend I have never really encountered before.

The truth is that I often get bored.

I did one of those psychometric tests at secondary school to tell me what jobs I was best equipped to do. I don’t remember what careers it suggested (at the time all I cared about was that actor appeared somewhere on the list of suggestions, which I think it did), but one of the first comments it made said something like – ‘you need a job involving variety and challenge as you will get bored very easily.’

Earlier this year, during my quest to find a new job, I revisited the Strengths Finders tests (it’s a great tool for working out what you’re best at and what you bring to a team) and was reminded that my ‘top strength’ is activator. Yep, I like to get things done. And guess what? My compulsive need to make things happen can often lead to “boredom and impatience”.

It’s not that my life is quiet or dull. You might have noticed my constant quest for self-improvement?! But the truth is that I get bored. Looking after a small child is joyful and rewarding and grounding and exhausting, but it is also repetitive and mundane and, dare I say it, sometimes boring. And how do I deal with that?

I’ll tell you the main answer: I pick up my phone.

It probably ramped up when I had Jesse, because in the early days of motherhood I was so often pinioned under a sleeping or feeding infant, unable to move and undertake other tasks. Which has the potential to be really boring and frustrating. And so distraction became my friend. In longer stretches it could be box sets or iPlayer. But during the day it was all about short bursts. Email, facebook, twitter, Instagram, blogs…these have all become my daily companion over the past two years. Hourly, in some instances.

It’s got to be something of an addiction. And if I added up all the time I spent on my phone (which I will NEVER be able to face doing) it would make me feel pretty bad. Not because phones are evil, but because my phone just turns me into an endless spectator and consumer of often fairly mindless information – because I’m just hiding from my own boredom, whilst never giving it the chance to propel me towards something more worthwhile or interesting.

I’ve been thinking all this for a while, and then I watched a random stand-up set from comedian Nick Offerman (the exquisite and inimitable Ron Swanson from Parks & Recreations). He had a riff about social media and phones and how we can’t really handle just being where we are anymore, or being content with where we are. We have to constantly check in with what’s happening elsewhere, probably comparing where we are with what else is happening to our friends and feeling less content as a result. Anyway, maybe it was just the straw that broke the camel’s back for me.

So I’m trying to break free from my phone addiction in order to face up to my own boredom. Because maybe leaning into reality a bit more will help make me that bit more present to my own life. And hopefully that extra time will allow me to think about what I could do which has a little more substance and participation involved than surfing social media. Maybe I’ll dream up some creative projects. Maybe I’ll become a compulsive baker. It’s hard to tell at the outset.

I realise that trying to do this at the very point at which life is about to become more fully consumed by the care of small children could be viewed as just being a bit hard on myself (it’s not an unfamiliar pattern in my life choices!). There’s a certain amount of ‘doing what it takes to survive’ that will inevitably characterise this next year. And some touchpoints with the adult world, if only virtually, can be sanity-saving. But I’m going to head into it with some different boundaries and see how I go.

To start with, I’ve deleted my work email from my phone (really, there is nothing I do that is so urgent or life-saving that it can’t wait till my work days), and facebook too. And I’m going for longer stretches without looking at it. Small steps, people.

I’d love to hear how you deal with boredom, and any stories of weaning yourself away from smartphone addiction…

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We are moving house, so maybe you’d like to see around?

One of the biggest reasons that things have been quiet on the blog for the past couple of months is because I have been CONSUMED with the intense experience that is trying to sell a house (or rather. flat). Of course, I don’t mean that we’ve moved house in the past two months, because we all know it takes FOREVER (in the UK, when buying and selling is involved), but we have been doing the hard yards of transforming our flat into a clutter-free oasis of beauty (or something a little more in that direction, anyway), getting it on the market and then thinking about what next. There have been days when I have felt done in by the whole experience.

There are a lot of questions you are probably asking: Why are you moving? When? and where to? To be honest we’ve been feeling our way as we’ve gone and it has often felt like an epic treasure hunt, so I’m going to try to tell the story bit by bit, a little like the manner in which we have uncovered it.

As I have mentioned many times when writing about where we live, we absolutely love this flat for so many reasons – the community, the neighbours and the neighbourhood – but the stairs are killing me. Carrying a wriggly toddler up and down them (all 6 flights) repeatedly each day is pushing me to the edge of sanity. And once we add another munchkin into the mix it will just be too much, so we have to lose the stairs. (Farewell beautiful views of the London Eye, the Shard and Big Ben). And then we try to find a stair-free way to stick around in the neighbourhood.

After all my battles with clutter, who knew that the incentive of needing to sell the flat would finally drive Andy and I to go the many extra miles to get rid of it? You remember that below-stairs area I was trying to take in hand a while ago? Well, look at it now. I hardly believed we had it in us.

This is what it was like for months...

This is what it was like for months…

well, here it is now.

well, here it is now.

I’m really not one to offer up my interiors as a thing of beauty – neither my decor nor my photography are up to it – but seeing as it’s all so tidy now, and seeing as we won’t be here too much longer, I thought you might like to see some corners of our home? Because it has been such a lovely home.

Here is the sofa which the previous owner found abandoned on the street, the day after praying for a sofa. She had it fumigated.

Here is the sofa which the previous owner found abandoned on the street, the day after praying for a sofa. She had it fumigated.

The dinner table, and the painting Andy gave me on the day he proposed.

The dinner table, and the painting Andy gave me on the day he proposed.

And the kitchen.

And the kitchen.

I don’t have one of those nifty lenses that estate agents use which make your flat look twenty times bigger than it actually is, but obviously those photos are somewhere on the internet now. In fact these are low-fi, badly lit iPhone photos, as you can probably tell. My nice camera is at the back of a big cupboard.

We’re not going to win any Ideal Home awards but living here has been a total delight and a privilege, and there will undoubtedly be some serious grieving to come. I have been here, in this very flat, nearly seven years, and in every way it has been a grace and a gift to belong here.

The stuff that has been shuttled off and out of our flat is sitting in other friends’ houses and garages. There’s nothing I miss (apart from my maternity wardrobe, now there was a lack of foresight), which begs the rather large question of what we’re doing with all that stuff in the first place.

Even Andy (who is usually less bothered by the clutter than me) has reflected that it’s nicer to have a tidier home, so maybe this might kickstart us into a new season of pared down living. (If it wasn’t for the toys).

So there’s our beautiful home, ours for only a couple of months more (I’m guessing…). Stay tuned for the sequel.

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And then there were 3: Cornish holiday part 2

Welcome to the second instalment of our holiday saga, featuring a reduced cast and much less sunny weather.

But first, I thought I’d reflect on holidaying in the UK vs going abroad. There are obvious arguments for staying in the UK if you’re committed to living more lightly on the planet and not contributing to the aviation industry’s disproportionately large carbon emissions (or if, like us, you’re at least trying really hard to be better). The UK is beautiful and there are so many corners of it to discover and enjoy. It can also be cheaper, although not necessarily. (We are big fans of house-swapping, house-sharing and cultivating friendships with holiday-home-owners. And of course, someday we will have to camp…).

On the flip-side, it can be expensive, the weather is wildly unpredictable (you may laugh, but it has a big effect on my happiness levels!), and there’s definitely something to be said for experiencing life in other cultures.

I grew up having a mixture of holidays in mainland Europe and some in the UK, although we always got there by car (the advantages of living near major seaports to France). I like the idea of our kids being at home in different kinds of environments, amongst different languages and cuisines, but also of them not taking that privilege for granted. When we were away I started dreaming up ideas like going abroad every fifth year, and plotting and saving as a family as to where we go. I’m not sure we can predict enough about our future to make plans like that, or that we’ll necessarily be able to afford to go abroad, especially once we have to go in school holiday season. But I like planning anyway.

Returning to our recent holiday, after a week of sociable, chaotic holiday fun in Port Isaac, we were extremely happy with our decision not to rush back to London. Instead we drove down further into Cornwall and stayed in a friend’s converted barn, in a village not far from St Ives. So far, so blissful.

We loved spending a week with friends but also really wanted some time with just the three of us. We’ve never really holidayed as a three – last year we went with my parents to France. And of course summer holidays of the future will now feature another little Flannagan. So some quality time together seemed like a good plan.

There’s nothing better than Cornwall in the sunshine. When it rains, however, I can go to a dark place. Internally I howl and curse our decision to stay in the UK, because I just find it so depressing. And my former coping mechanisms are useless when confronted with a bored toddler (‘darling, let’s just curl up and read our books, or relax in a nice pub, or go to the cinema…’). We had to develop new strategies. And here follows our top recommendations and favourite places.

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1.Paradise Park. I have a minor phobia of birds (or beaks to be specific), so an award-winning wildlife park specialising in birds wasn’t immediately appealing to me. But it was really close, and what’s more they had soft play. We set off one drizzly morning and it was a complete winner. Jesse was utterly captivated by all the amazingly coloured birds. He loved the shows. He loved the farmyard. And he loved the soft-play.  They had a deal whereby if you bought a return ticket it was only £4 (per adult – he was free), and so it became our new favourite place. he always wanted to see more birds, or go down the slides again. And even I was pretty impressed by some of the birds.

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This is a parrot trained to pick up a £1 coin from your out-stretched arm and drop it into a donation box. Sadly neither Andy nor Jesse really understood the premise.

2. Heartlands. I discovered this place on a flyer in Port Isaac, but it was only 20 minutes from our base near St Ives. And it was FREE. It’s basically a regeneration project that celebrates Cornwall’s mining history, and includes a big outdoor adventure playground, a cafe, a museum and various artisan workshops. You have to pay for parking but then you can claim the fee back inside (I got a coffee and a cookie for free). Highlights included the 270 degree film experience in the museum, the kids’ art studio (where Jesse painted a beautiful tea light holder), and the pic playground. Sadly our visit was slightly curtailed when Jesse head butted some concrete and we had to detour to the minor injuries unit…but otherwise it was an excellent outing.

Jesse the artist at work

Jesse the artist at work (with mentor)

3. DVD rental. Can you believe anyone still does it? We had no wifi for streaming, and were basically housebound in the evening once Jesse was in bed. Our solution: daily visits to a fab little rental place in the local town (Hayle), where the guy running the show made daily recommendations which generally proved excellent (or at least were based on true stories that were interesting). Hurray for human contact! It was indescribably more helpful than iTunes, where we have spent many a depressing hour scrolling through scores of films, struggling to find ANYTHING that looks vaguely appealing. (FYI viewings include Long Road to Freedom, Promised Land, Hector & the search for Happiness, Parkland, and The Theory of Everything).

Polishing off a Cornish tea

Polishing off a Cornish tea

4. The train to St Ives. It’s hard not to love St Ives with it’s beautiful cobbled streets, endless ice-cream parlous, beautiful beaches and harbour, and scores of art galleries. But we especially loved going there by train from where we were staying (St Erth), following the shoreline to central St Ives. The views are incredible, and Jesse always loves a train ride. (What’s more, with a journey time of 15 minutes, we can keep him interested enough in the views not to need to run up and down the carriage continuously).

 

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Family news

I’m sure by now plenty of you have guessed that we have some family news. Yes, there is a new Flannagan on the way, due mid January 2016 (so we’re coming up to 15 weeks).

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We are completely thrilled, and I haven’t really been ill which is a bonus.

I’ve been wearing lots of loose fitting tops and getting a little concerned at the size of expanding bump, wondering if maybe there was more than one bambino in there, but it turns out it’s just the one. Which is probably about all we can handle!

It does of course raise all kinds of questions which friends have been asking.

Given the difficult nature of Jesse’s birth and that traumatic first few weeks, how am I feeling about doing it all again? And getting past that stage, I’d be the first to say that Jesse’s first year was really hard for me. I felt like I was drowning for good chunks of it. And now we’re going to do it all again, with a toddler on the side as well?!

(The toddler part is actually less concerning than I thought it might be. Jesse is a complete delight right now. Endlessly fascinating, increasingly communicative, joyful, brave, inquisitive. I’m so glad he’ll be on this adventure with us every day).

Right now, I feel weirdly optimistic about the whole thing. Life is so full that there isn’t a lot of time to think about it very much, so I’m happy to file it under the ‘next year is ages away’ section in my brain.

Amazingly, I don’t feel anxious about the birth itself. I’d love to have a natural delivery, and after swotting up on my sister-in-law’s Masters dissertation on birth-place choice (she’s a midwife) I feel informed and empowered and would love to avoid being in a hospital. But I can deal with however things play out.

The first week (the stroke, the seizures, the time in intensive care) all seem like a distant, hazy memory (which I guess is part of what the hormones do?), and I don’t feel scared of a replay. There is no reason to expect any of those things to happen again, and there’s no way I would be allowed to have such a drawn-out delivery this time (the stress of which probably caused Jesse’s stroke).

Then the trauma of the weeks that followed – feeling like the living dead and also like a monumental failure because breast feeding wasn’t giving him enough calories, all the crazy solutions we tried, getting to the end of myself in every way… That stuff I’m less confident about because there’s no way of knowing how it will go. I’m fairly rubbish when I have minimal sleep. I hope I produce enough milk to fully breastfeed this time because spending more than an hour doing both breast and bottle at every night-feed was a killer for months on end. But if I don’t, I think we’d make different choices about the alternatives this time round, and go a bit easier on ourselves. Knowing we’ll weather it all together makes all kinds of things feel possible.

I have friends with two small children and they give me confidence because it doesn’t look like it’s killing them. Most of them tell me that the newborn phase is easier the second time round.

I have another friend who felt like her life pretty much disappeared when she had two because it revolved so entirely around two small children. And that’s definitely a fear (not that there’s anything wrong with life revolving entirely around kids, especially for a season. But it doesn’t fill my heart with joy, if I’m honest, because I like the other bits of life).

But in the big picture it’s amazing and exciting news. Jesse will have a brother or sister (and we’ll find out which this time!). Our family is growing. We’re so grateful to have been able to get pregnant. And 2016 is ages away!

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Going on holiday with other people (and their children)

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We’re just back from two weeks of holiday (that’s the excuse for the latest radio silence) and I have two blogs for you about our adventures. The second one will cover our second week when it was just team Flan, and our reflections on holidaying in the UK as a young family. But we’re starting with group holidaying.

For the first time ever (since having a kiddo) we went on holiday with other people who weren’t related to us. Which was something of an experiment, and so I thought I’d tell you how it went, what was brilliant and whether we’re now converts to a new way of holidaying.

Since we got married we’ve really only holidayed on our own. Regular life tends to be relentlessly sociable and busy and so we have always tried to protect our downtime together and keep it quiet, But then once we had Jesse we realised that parental solidarity and sharing the load (especially around 5.45am) were hugely appealing, plus who doesn’t want playmates on hand to entertain your child? (I had visions of one brave dad entertaining all the kids simultaneously while the rest of us supped wine on the veranda).

There were 11 of us, all in, and we stayed in one big beautiful house in Port Isaac, on the north coast of Cornwall. Mercifully we were able to go outside of school holiday season (how does anyone afford holidays at peak time?), and sharing a house rental (and food bill) across three families made the whole thing way more affordable.

Here we all are. Except Matt who took the photo,

 

Our highlights of the week included sitting on the shore on Friday night listening to the Fishermen’s Friends sing sea shanties (they’re pretty famous).

We had a pretty good view

We had a pretty good view

Long afternoons on Polzeath beach watching the kiddos dart in and out of rock pools.

(and stop for crackers)

(and stop for crackers)

The ferry from Rock to Padstow, where Jesse joyfully demolished Andy’s ice-cream (bought at Rick Stein’s deli – the boy has classy tastes).

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And for what it’s worth, here are the lessons learnt from the great adventure:

1.Choose your companions well. I had a definite head-start here in that the whole thing was basically orchestrated by my two best buddies and myself, and we knew we liked each other. Two of us had lived together pre-marriage, and we’d certainly holidayed together before in our single days. It’s definitely easier to be with your favourite people rather than your partner’s favourite people, although I’m pretty sure the boys all like each other too…Or if not, they did brave faces well. So I guess really really making sure that you’re both down with the plan is pretty crucial before committing.

2. Don’t do everything together. Every family had different routines or habits. Our little man was up around 6am, and one of the other families wasn’t usually ready to hit the road much before noon (they did have triple the number of children). So we devised our own adventures, sometime meeting up on the beach later in the day, sometimes just for dinner. Getting a large group of people to agree a shared plan each day is way too much effort. A mixture of family time and group time worked great for us.

3. Snacks are really important. For all ages.

4. Pick a great location. We came up trumps here, and not just because we accidentally ended up in fictional Port Wenn where Doc Marten is set (if that means nothing to you, join the club. We were completely ignorant on arrival). We scored a beautiful big house (through friends of friends), where we had enough space not to need to kill each other, with incredible views, but which was also right on the doorstep of a beautiful village. Children of any age could set out on foot (with responsible adults…) and adventure down to the harbour or the cliff top or just the winding village streets. Beautiful sandy beaches were only a brief drive away, and there were loads of gorgeous pubs and restaurants for meals out.

5. Make the most of people power. Each couple had a great date night out, and we happily babysat for one another. Andy and I had an amazing seafood dinner, despite the fact that that he doesn’t really like seafood.

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It was a brilliant week and has got me thinking that I’d love to do more shared holidays. (Share the cooking! Share the cost! Share the wine! Eat other people’s snacks!) I have so many happy memories of family holidays growing up, but we never really went with other families, and I think it’s such a great thing for kids. Saying that, I can imagine scenarios where it might be a nightmare. If we went on holiday with people who liked to be really tidy we would probably drive them bananas. Or if our kids were all really different ages and weren’t interested in hanging out or doing the same kinds of things. Or if you just didn’t like the people so much. Parenting is a pretty intense thing to be doing around people who wind you up, whereas genuine parental solidarity – I can’t get enough of it.

Do any of you have good or bad experiences of group holidays?

 

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