Tag Archives: motherhood

Rejigging my routine

I’ve been really rubbish at taking my own advice this week.

The first draft of my next novel is still oh-so-nearly ready to go, but I have not yet taken the plunge. I have managed to set up a new project in Scrivener – the word count target is there, and the slightly cursory deadline of the end of April. Essentially those are both contrived by how much I know I should be able to write in a day: 1500 words. And if I could do that – if every day I could sit down and just write – then in three months time I would have a novel.

Except to do that I actually need to carve out some time in my day for writing.

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People are always really impressed when I tell them I wrote two novels before my son was eighteen months old. But do you know what? That was easy. Sure I was sleep deprived, but he napped twice a day! And other than keeping this blog ticking over during novel number two I didn’t really have all that much else to do.

It’s different now.

I sat down yesterday afternoon to write. I told myself I had to make a start – it didn’t matter if it was rubbish, I just needed to get some words on the page. But they just wouldn’t come! I had the setting and the characters, I knew vaguely what was supposed to be going on in the scene – but there was just so much going on in my head that I just couldn’t focus. More than that, I just couldn’t hear what it was my characters wanted to say.

My mind kept shifting to my to do list, fretting about the press release I have to write for the Town Council, the GCSE specification I need to appraise for Ofqual, the increasing numbers of unread emails in my inbox. And in the midst of all that, my characters stayed silent.

If there is going to be a novel number three, I need to accept that things are going to have to be different this time round.

I’m really lucky that Arthur still has one nap a day – though the fact he’s finally shifted from the sling to the sofa makes it more tempting to use the time for things less static than writing! And even when I am at the computer there are so many other things I need to be getting on with. My life has taken on a new and interesting shape over the past year or so. Vague ideas I had when I first went on maternity leave – like getting more involved in my community and taking on some education consultancy work – have come to fruition. Alongside that my increasing interest in Unschooling, and general reluctance to rush Arthur into formal education, means that he’s still with me most of the time.

So I’m going to need to find some more time, somewhere.

I’ve toyed with the idea of trying to write in the evenings. I might yet be able to do that, but if my brain is starting to sag by mid-afternoon I’m not sure how much creativity it’s going to be able to muster after dark. Besides I do need to fit in spending time with my husband at some point…

So I think, despite this testing my own perception of my abilities to the limit, I’m going to have to do my writing in the mornings.

I am saying this here mainly so you lot can hold me accountable. Ordinarily, I am pretty useless in the mornings. But I figure with Leigh getting up for work at 6am and Arthur tending to sleep till 7.30 there is chunk of time crying out to be used more effectively.

It’s going to be a challenge, but I’m beginning to think it might not be impossible. And to be honest, it’s either that or something else is going to have to give. And I haven’t worked out quite what that might be yet…

So pre-dawn writing sessions here we come. Wish me luck!

 

Writing Bubble

Sunday photo: 6th December 2015

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We’ve spent a lot of time indoors this week. I’ve had loads of work to do, and between the weather and still not feeling 100%, Arthur has been more than happy to focus his energies on play.

He’s really been stepping things up in that department: his imagination has shot up again to a whole other level, and he is finding an independence, a freedom, that is quite exhilarating to watch. Along with this independence has come a new cacophony of playmates.

The taps in the bath have become a chicken who he will happily chat away to as he splashes about.

At night we hear him recounting his dreams to the bears who share his bed.

And here he’s initiating a new companion, the Arctic seal who appeared on the first day of advent, by teaching her all about his train tracks.

With all this has come a new role he’s developing for himself. There was one day this week when conversation turned on a few occasions to the things adults do with their time, how they define themselves – who they are. We discussed how Daddy is a doctor (almost). And I asked him what I was – a genuine question on my part. He instantly replied that Mummy is ‘a writer’. Which, you know, was pretty cool.

But back to our boy and how he sees himself.

The three of us were sat that evening, chatting and making plans, and I noticed a particularly clever contraption that Arthur had created from a digger, a torch, and a shoelace. Leigh commented that he could be a doctor with intricate skills like that. And Arthur’s reply?

“I’m not a doctor, I’m a… Playing teacher.”

It could not have been a more accurate reflection of where he’s at right now. And I cannot wait to discover all the things I have yet to learn.

 

Linking up today’s post with Darren at One Dad 3 Girls for My Sunday Photo and Jodi at Practising Simplicity for The 52 Project. 

Wanted: a cave, no wifi

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You out can tell that winter’s setting in because it’s all about hibernating in our house: hiding away from the world, feeling the comfort of a small space to cosy up in. We made a sofa fort one particularly rainy day last week, but Arthur’s just as happy with simpler residences: cardboard boxes, suitcases, laundry bags… Especially laundry bags.

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I can totally see where he’s coming from. And it’s not just the chill in the air, or the increasing amounts of rain, or the fact it seems to get dark soon after lunchtime. As I watch Arthur taking such pleasure in climbing or crawling into tiny spaces, I find myself longing for a cave. Preferably one far away from anywhere with no phone line, and most definitely no wifi. Somewhere I could block out the world, work on my novel uninterrupted, and get this redraft finished.

I’m still managing to snatch an hour a day – sometimes two. And it’s going pretty well. Very well, even. So much so that it’s an an almighty wrench to tear myself away when my time is up. I find myself clinging to the keyboard as Arthur tugs on my jumper after his nap, desperate to finish my train of though, or at least one more sentence, one more word…

It’s not really Arthur though, if I’m honest. He is so much fun at the moment, and it’s hard to begrudge time spent with him. But all the other demands on my time seem to be piling up, just as I want to hunker down and write!

Council meetings, securing the future of our local lido, researching education provision for the Neighbourhood Plan, deciphering the impact of the mayoral budget, Governor meetings, presenting certificates at prize giving, helping to raise funds for refugees. Then there’s all the normal household stuff. And December, with Christmas and Arthur’s birthday, rearing up over the horizon.

All that has to be dealt with too, but as I try to focus on it I have the niggling voices of my characters in my head, imploring me to decide their fate, to put them out of their misery, to free them from the conflicting prose that I am in the midst of untangling.

I’m not complaining, not really.

I know that I’m privileged to have so much going on – so much that is stretching me and challenging me and (hopefully) making a difference in my community.

But still sometimes, selfishly, I just want to shut it all out. To lose myself completely in the world of my novel. To write.

And it is then that I hanker after that cave – with no wifi.

 

Muddled Manuscript

 

A new chapter

I never meant to be a mummy blogger. I stumbled into it by accident when I set up this blog, which if I’m honest I only did to give myself something to tweet about. Before that point I’d never really even read blogs, apart from the odd post a friend might link to, and I was blown away by how many people were out there, so many windows into so many worlds.

Before long I found myself getting caught up in it. Joining in with endless linkies, modelling posts on ones I read elsewhere, feeling elated when the words I wrote seemed to strike a chord, feeling frustrated when I began to focus on the stats that lurked in the background betraying how relatively few readers I actually had.

So many people were doing it better – funnier, cleverer, prettier. They were making a living from pouring their hearts onto the screens, whilst I was just taking up time that in my mind I should have been dedicating to ‘proper’ writing, or at the very least hanging out with my son.

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Of course that’s only part of the picture. Blogging has given me so much else: a voice when I felt I had no-one to talk to, the confidence to just write rather than panicking about having nothing to say, a community to keep me company as I made sense of my new, often lonely, existence as a stay-at-home mum.

I was reminded of this when I went to Brit Mums Live last weekend. In the run up to it I had wondered numerous times why I was going at all. I worried that in the real world I’d have nothing to say to these people I only knew online – that when it came to it I wouldn’t really know them at all. I worried that I would feel like a fraud – not ready to buy into so much of the blogging world, just hovering on the periphery whilst everyone else got on with the serious business of carving out their new careers.

There was a bit of that, admittedly. But it was actually wonderful to meet these women in the flesh – people I knew from the blogosphere and many others besides. I realised that everyone there was doing this for their own reasons, that none of those reasons were better or more legitimate than others, and that any attempt to directly compare our many different goals and aspirations, let alone the many different ways we’re choosing to reach them, is fraught with difficulty.

I realised that rather than looking out at the journeys others are on it is high time I focused on my own.

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My blog is only a small part of what I write. I cannot let it take over – not unless I decide that I want it to be an enterprise in and of itself. I need to refocus on how I can make this space one I am truly proud of, one which reflects my goals and aspirations rather than just the humdrum of the everyday. I need to refocus on my writing, on perfecting my craft. I need to refocus on my ‘brand’, however unmarketable that might be.

Because this is where I have that privilege – to write what’s right for me.

It’s the other words I need to be taking more seriously: honing my novels until they find a home with a publisher, seeking out opportunities through magazines and competitions to share my short stories with a wider audience. The time and energy and headspace that has been taken up by this blog needs to be invested there.

I’m not disappearing from here completely, but a shift in focus is long overdue. I have no idea exactly what that’s going to look like yet!

If you bear with me, hopefully we’ll both like what we find.

Writing Bubble

Who am I?

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When I started this blog, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. Not just with the blog itself, though that was definitely uncharted territory, but more generally too: over the previous couple of years everything I thought I knew about my life had changed. I liked where I was, most days, but I couldn’t help being curious about where I was headed.

The name of my little corner of the internet, ‘Sophie is…’, was the beginning of a sentence that I hoped I might be able to complete some time soon. With actions at first, and then, as time went on, with a label – something to replace the title of ‘teacher’ which I had worn with pride for the preceding decade.

There were obvious contenders – ‘a mum’ being the strongest one. I remember having a conversation with one of my oldest friends a few weeks after I’d entered the weird and wonderful world of blogging. Like me, she had recently celebrated the first birthday of her first child. Like me, she was struggling to come to terms with putting to one side the career she had worked so hard for. And also like me any regret or guilt she felt at that was still superseded by a strong sense of relief at being allowed, if she so chose, to be ‘just’ a mum.

We spoke about the power of that little qualifier, how hard it was for us – and for society – to accept that nurturing a child was a worthwhile use of our time. We discussed how there were days when being a mum felt more than we were capable of, even with all the time in the world, and others when we longed to be filling our time with something that reflected more of who we used to be, not just this new person we had become.

I think about this a lot, still.

I have not yet been able to relinquish my son to nursery or any other form of regular childcare. I worry that we would both miss too much. But at the same time I have not been able to entirely throw myself into being a mum.

I have needed something more.

And so, as well as ‘a mum’, Sophie is… ‘a writer’, ‘a school governor’, ‘a local councillor’, ‘an education consultant’. All of these things are exciting and fulfilling, and take an increasing amount of my time. Only the last is guaranteed to bring in any income, though I’m still holding out for those novels finding a publisher.

I know I am incredibly lucky to have the choices that I do.

But now I worry that I am spreading myself too thin. I still have not found a satisfying way to complete the unfinished sentence that began this blog.

And the blogging itself is confusing me recently – not the act of doing it, but what it’s all for. I found myself in a heated discussion about this a few weeks ago with someone who shall remain anonymous but whose opinion means an awful lot. The nature of the argument is too complicated and personal to go into here but it left me feeling a bit empty, a bit pointless.

Except I love this blog. I love how it jumps from one topic to another, piquing the interest of a wide range of people even though it never lures them in as deeply as it might if my writing was more focused. I know I don’t play by the rules, I know my target audience isn’t clearly enough defined to attract advertisers, I know that I’m not interested in making the blog in itself a commercial enterprise. I know I could channel my efforts much more effectively if I picked an area and stuck to it, but I don’t want to – not yet at least. And that is where this blog, still, is a mirror of my life.

It hasn’t yet decided where its priorities lie, it’s enjoying making the most of all the new opportunities that are presented to it, being able to say ‘yes’ to all the ones that look like they might be interesting or fun.

It’s hard, though, going from an existence where you think you have it all figured out into one where you’re not even sure what your goals are any more, let alone how to reach them. It’s particularly hard for a validation-seeking, confidence-lacking, perfectionist like me.

But I’ve never been one to shy away from a challenge.

And so I think I’m going to have to put to one side this desire to figure out who I am and what I’m doing with my life. It may be hard to get my head round, but I think I’m going to have to accept that, for now, Sophie just is.

mumturnedmom

The evolution of fear

Out of all of the phases of development I’ve observed in Arthur so far, this one seems to me the most bittersweet. It appears to be emerging hand in hand with his increased understanding, linguistic ability and imagination, and all of those things are obviously to be desired and encouraged. But this emotion above all others is one which has the potential to hold him back, to curb his curiosity, to keep him firmly within his comfort zone.

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This emotion is fear.

The first time I remember witnessing fear take over his little body was at a festival last summer. We’d bumped into a friend of ours, someone we don’t see very often but who had met Arthur several times since he was tiny. This time, though, he had a big orange beard. And Arthur was petrified.

He’s never been super-keen on beards, but this was something else. He went from being chilled and cuddly in the sling to screaming and trying to climb up me to escape, and no reassurance would convince him otherwise.

Several months later, I went to take him swimming. We were in a pool we’ve swum in many times before – in fact Arthur had his very first experience of swimming there when he was just six weeks old. But this time he suddenly became aware of the shadowy hole at the end of the pool which houses the cover. He wouldn’t go anywhere near it, and panicked even when I moved towards it. Over the half an hour or so we were in there he built it up so much that he wouldn’t actually stray from the steps at the very opposite end, and even then he was tense and wary.

Both of those were pretty much isolated incidents, and beyond trying to work out what was going on in Arthur’s magical brain I didn’t think too much of it. But in the past few months, as his language and memory skills have developed further, so has his capacity for fear.

He is particularly terrified of hand driers. It’s the sound of rushing air I think – he doesn’t care much for vacuum cleaners or hairdryers either, and is pretty wary of the extractor fan. But hand driers – the sort that are ubiquitous in public bathrooms – they are something else.

It’s got to the point now that if I even mention needing to go to the toilet when we are out a flash of fear crosses his face and he exclaims repeatedly ‘no hand driers!’. If I have to take him in with me, he will cower in the corner of the cubicle, trying to shrink away from the potential threat even if there are no hand driers to be seen. And heaven forbid one is actually activated in his presence! I brushed against one accidentally in a particularly cosy cubicle the other week and I thought he was actually going to climb over the walls.

The other thing that he reserves a special kind of horror for is doctors, particularly if they’re working in a hospital. I think I can trace this back to the immunisations he had when he was only eight weeks old. I will never forget his face in the aftermath – the look of ultimate betrayal he gave me. We are fortunate that he hasn’t had many dealings with doctors, but his dislike of them has escalated nonetheless.

We had to take him in to A&E over New Year with a particularly nasty bout of croup, and the way he screamed when the (very lovely, gentle) doctor tried to examine him took even the emergency room staff by surprise – though at least it showed that there wasn’t anything too seriously wrong with him.

It happened again at his two year check. I was chatting away to the health visitor at our community hospital whilst he happily played with the toys she’d set out when I made the mistake of mentioning this fear of hospitals. His ears pricked up, he looked around him, and he began to wail, scratching at the door to escape. It took both of our best efforts to calm him down enough for the most rudimentary assessment, and I’m just glad she was experienced and  open-minded enough not to conclude there was something seriously wrong with him!

This fear is one which is potentially a little tricky for us to get around, what with his dad currently training to be a doctor and all. Friends advised me to get Arthur a little doctor’s play set so that we could work to familiarise him through role play. I did, but he literally will not go anywhere near it – running away if I approach him with the cute little case in hand, eyeing it warily and keeping a wide berth if he suddenly realises it’s in the same room as him.

I guess the next stage is actually going in to see daddy at work. We’ve talked about it, and he’s gradually transitioning from being upset at the prospect of Leigh even being there himself – “No daddy work at hospital!” – to being able to discuss it without the rising panic.

I find it all very interesting, objectively, because on the whole Arthur is a very brave, very confident little boy. He’s intrigued by new experiences, loves getting to know new people, will pick himself up if he stumbles without as much as a whimper. But clearly there is something about these particular triggers that has captured his imagination.

Avoiding the things he is afraid of doesn’t seem like a sensible option: I don’t want him to become fearful, to put his demons in boxes and not face up to them. At the same time, though, it is horrible to see him quite genuinely terrified. So we will proceed very gently, easing him into a place where he can see that his fears are (largely) unfounded.

I’d be curious to hear about other people’s experiences around toddlers and fear – what it is that scares them, and how you’ve helped them to overcome it. I realise that to some extent being afraid is part of what makes us human, but I hope that I can learn to help him learn how to embrace his fears and use them to make him stronger rather than shrinking his world and shying away from the things that make him scared.

 

 

mumturnedmom

Top tips for taming anxiety with a toddler in tow

The last few weeks have been pretty bonkers. So much so that this week, now that everything has started to calm down just a little bit, I’ve found myself struggling to focus and teetering on the edge of panic at the slightest thing.

It’s a tendency I recognise from periods in my life when I have been overcome by anxiety. Not the anxiety that is borne of a genuinely nerve-wracking situation, but rather the insidious and potentially overwhelming feeling that the world is about to spiral out of control.

It’s frustrating to say the least – there was so much I wanted to get done this week, and sitting here now at the tail end of it there is so much I haven’t achieved. But most of what I wanted to do required focus, a clear head – and those are the things that have been most elusive.

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The difference though this time round is that I’ve recognised my symptoms for what they are – my sometimes fragile mental health crying out for a little attention after a relentless period where I was embroiled in the unknown territory of election campaigning (it worked by the way!), and my core support network of husband and mum have themselves been tied up in finals revision and preparing for my brother’s wedding respectively. But my anxiety hasn’t got the better of me, and I have made every effort to make sensible choices to enable myself to keep going.

Being accompanied by a toddler pretty much every minute of every day has definitely added a different dimension to that process. And not necessarily in a bad way.

It seems pretty apt, with this week being Mental Health Awareness Week, that I share a little of what’s been on my mind. So without further ado, these are my top tips for taming anxiety with a toddler in tow.

1) Catch up on sleep

I reckon this is possibly the most vital, though also the trickiest, part of the plan. I have tried to get to bed a bit earlier this week, though I’ve never really been very good at the discipline that involves (especially as we’re deep in the midst of season five of The Walking Dead).

For me snatching sleep has mostly happened during the day – taking my iPad up to bed so in the morning the toddler can snuggle up with a movie whilst I get a few extra zzzs, and for the first time in ages trying to nap when he naps.

I realise I’m lucky he still does, else I’m not entirely sure how I would have coped…

2) Eat healthily

I’m ordinarily pretty good at keeping a healthy diet going for all of us, but it had certainly started to slip over the last couple of weeks. I couldn’t face the battles that potentially ensued if I moved too far from toast and pasta, and didn’t have the energy to prepare something different for myself so ended up having my diet dictated by a two year old.

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It’s silly, because I know how much good food makes the difference. This week I’ve been upping the fruit and veg, cutting down on carbs, (mostly) remembering to take my supplements – and feeling all the better for it.

3) Get some exercise

There’s been an awful lot of walking involved in the election campaign, but that was accompanied by a sense of drudgery in the later stages. This week I’ve, albeit tentatively, started reintegrating yoga and hula-hooping into my routine. With that and the Friday trampolining sessions that I’ve just about managed to keep ticking over I’ve started to feel the spring returning to my step.

4) Get outside

I have a real tendency when I’m feeling overwhelmed to go into hibernation mode – even opening the doors to the garden can feel like too much at times. But having a little person around who would ideally spent every waking moment outside definitely comes in handy.

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We’ve had lunch outside a couple of times this week, and spent time just lounging around and looking up at the sky. The sunshine has helped – but actually the fresh air simply works wonders whatever the weather.

5) Tidy up!

Now this is something I’m rubbish at, and I still have a long way to go, but it is amazing how getting rid of the mess and the clutter makes the world seem so much more manageable!

I had a bit of a manic afternoon on Wednesday getting the kitchen ship shape as yesterday morning we were visited by a reporter from our local BBC News to interview me in relation to the local elections. It felt a little bit like torture at the time, but the kitchen is now definitely my happy place, a little oasis of calm amongst the widespread detritus which has come from just not having a second to get things under control (at least not without the toddler wreaking his own brand of havoc).

6) Tick some things off your to-do list

Now I have to admit first of all that the ever-increasing list of things I have to do is still residing mainly in my head. I know this isn’t helpful. My poor diary, that gave me such satisfaction when I first filled it in back in January, hasn’t had a look in for weeks.

I’ll work on that…

But in the meantime I have been having stern words with myself about just getting things done rather than ruminating over how much I need to do them. Writing blog posts, for example. Or emails. Or paying bills. All sorts of little bits and pieces that have literally felt like a weight off my mind once I’ve actually achieved them.

(It still took me until this evening to get round to writing this post. I never said I was perfect.)

7) Be kind to yourself

This is another biggie, and is one that is challenging to put into practise when your head is full of noise. But in order not to be consumed by it, it is vital to work on your internal dialogue.

I say dialogue, because at times like this there are two voices in my head rather than just the one. There’s one that seems determined to pull me down – with comparisons, with regrets, with paranoia. And there’s another, the one that needs to fight to get heard, that is trying its utmost to focus on the positive – to remember that it’s ok to feel overwhelmed, it’s ok to slow down, it’s ok not to achieve everything I wanted to, because actually, on balance, I’m doing a pretty awesome job of this whole life business.

8) Make the most of all the cuddles

This is where the toddler truly comes into his own, where having an extra little shadow really does become a blessing rather than just another cause of messiness and having too much to juggle.

I don’t know about yours, but my little person absolutely loves to snuggle up. Not all the time, but certainly more than I normally slow down to give him credit for. And this week I have been making the most of all of that physical contact filled with warmth and love – whether it’s lingering in bed a little longer in the mornings, cosying down together to watch Chitty Chitty Bang Bang for the umpteenth time, or seeing off an approaching tantrum by whipping him up into the sling.

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There have been many times when I have been the centre of calm for my child, but it is a wonderful realisation that he can return that favour too.

 

My word of the week this week is anxiety.

The Reading Residence

Also linking up with this week’s prompt of calm. I’m getting there!

mumturnedmom
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