23-11-2014

Life decisions make my head hurt

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I’m hungover, lacking a lot of sleep, and my head hurts with decisions to be made. So I’m brain-dumping.

When we moved here, we didn’t give a second thought to schools. It wasn’t that I didn’t think it was important. It was that it wasn’t a choice.

We went with the only London town (and anywhere within reasonable distance inside AND outside the m25) that came up when we put in our budget on Right Move.

School choice was a luxury that we didn’t have. Even if it had been a choice, I think it would have been a massively complex thing to attempt to gain knowledge of when our heads were busy with the adjustment to becoming an overnight family. We were on a race against the third trimester to find somewhere to live on an impossibly small mortgage loan that wouldn’t buy us a studio flat in most parts of South East London. (Why didn’t we rent instead? Couldn’t afford that either. Renting was actually more expensive than a mortgage repayment).

The fact that we couldn’t think about schools but I felt we probably should be thinking about schools was another thing to feel guilty about. And so I pushed it to the back of my mind, like a lot of things.

Fast forward four years and we are about to apply for Arlo’s primary school place. And maybe, just, maybe, we might be in a position to ‘upsize’ in the next year or so. Decisions are suddenly hurtling towards us at once.

Moving house year the same year your child is starting school is not the best (“we should wait until we know he’s happy at school before moving”, “But waiting delays all other life plans… I’ll have another baby in this house but I will NOT entertain the idea of having another baby in transit”) – and apparently it’s also not the best to do either of these things in an election year.

2010 was a GREAT time to accidentally start a family.

Our town is still the best for us, budget-wise, but ideally we want to move to a house we can comfortably live in for more than the next seven years. But I HATE what this stupid government has done to the secondary schools in Croydon. I am not sure I agree with the grammar-schools-in-disguise tactics of the borough Academy sponsor, and they really do have the monopoly – unless you are going non-secular you have no option. So will that mean another move in 6 years or will things have changed again by then?

Does anyone have a crystal ball?

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And then there’s the more pressing primary school decision. I thought I’d quickly find a clear favourite between the schools Arlo is likely to be offered a space, but they all have their very good points and they all have rather strong negative factors for our family. But none of those factors were total deal breakers. I figured schools would be much of a mucness but it’s been an eye opener to realise just how different all the schools have been, they all have their own identity, and each of the schools we’ve visited has been a completely different experience. I definitely need to expand on this further in a dedicated blog post.

If we apply for and get the school that’s a decent drive away, how will that affect my work options? I couldn’t get in to London and back again in time to pick up the kids even with wraparound care. Am I then opting to remove the choice for myself of having a ‘proper’ job in London for the next 11 plus years? But if I choose a school based on our nearest, it might not be our nearest school in two years (moving house, remember?) So then where does that leave me, work-wise?

Trying to work out every single future scenario right now is just not possible.

I thought the important thing was to focus on the best choice for Arlo, and for Rory, who will be following him. Which school will best fit their needs? But this decision isn’t just about the kids, it’s a decision that will affect the whole family. I’ve found it’s making me do a lot of soul searching about what I might possibly want out of my life over the years my children are at school.

I promised myself to try and be all cool about this decision making process, to focus on my gut feeling and to not look at it as the be all and end all. But my mind is feeling pretty engulfed right now. The school decision and the house decision are going to dictate the next decade of our lives.

I guess the norm, or perhaps the ideal, is to be settled by the time you are choosing a primary school, and to have your family home by then. We aren’t there yet. But I really don’t want to be chopping and changing the boys’ schools. In an ideal world, I want to give them the same stability as I had – the long term family home and the same school from reception all the way through to year six.

Having choice feels exciting and important and scary. And also a bit like a Mumsnet thread calling for opinions on schools in not-so-desirable areas and whether it’s ‘safe’ to live there.

But these are good problems to have, I think. Because although I will be in a perma-fog until my brain sorts the overload of impressions and information, it’s reminding me that this is the first time I’ve actually had these big family choices to make. Before now, it’s felt very much out of my hands.

But the luxury of choice is slowly increasing for our family. It’s been an interesting few years, but we are steadying ourselves now. We are getting there.

 

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17-11-2014

Christmas sightseeing in London with children – A walking route

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I know I’ve said it many times before, but hopping on a train to London is one of my go-to entertainment options for the children when we have a full day to ourselves. Arlo just adores London, and I’ve done public transport with two kids enough by now that the journey doesn’t seem as daunting or tiring as it used to.

Walking around London is one of our cheapest child entertainment options too – sightseeing at the cost of a travelcard or less. And if we wind up near the museums, there’s even more free entertainment to be had.

Another great thing about Soho, in particular, is just how close together everything is. It’s so easily walkable, even with young children – no need to attempt tube escalators with a buggy. Just pack a waterproof, an oyster card, and a buggy board if you have preschoolers, and you have everything you need to cover a lot of ground in all types of weather.

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A few weeks ago, Arlo, Rory and I were in London for a pizza making class at the launch of Rossopomodorro at John Lewis Oxford Street. Arlo is always keen to see more of London, so in between our lunch stop off, we walked the following route – stopping by at some of London’s famous landmarks, finishing off in the heart of Soho after dusk in prime position to see the best of London’s Christmas Lights.

Christmas Sightseeing in London with children – A walking route:

Starting off at London Victoria station, Buckingham Palace is just a five minute walk away. The changing of the guard happens at 11.30am every day in Summer, and every other day in Winter. The ceremony runs from 11.15 – 12pm – check here for the confirmed schedule.

From here you can enjoy the greenery of St James’s Park. We stuck to the right side of the lake and came out at the Great George Street exit, a short walk away from Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.

Next, we turned back and walked up Whitehall for a view of Downing Street and the guards on horseback outside Horse Guard parade (you can also watch the changing of the guard here if you are out and about slightly earlier than the Buckingham Palace timings – full schedule here.)

The top of Whitehall spits you out right at Trafalger Square. If it’s summer, you can easily nip back into St James’s Park for a packed lunch.

Walk up Pall Mall and Haymarket (if you’ve had enough of walking, there are plenty of buses that will take you on this route towards Oxford Street too) and you’ll find yourself at Picadilly Circus – Arlo loves seeing the Picadilly Lights.

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Head up Regent’s Street and you can show your children the wonders of Hamleys. However, if you don’t fancy your chances of inducing toy shop tantrums, you can cut through Carnaby Street instead.

If you need to stop for lunch or an early dinner nearby Oxford Street, check out John Lewis’s dining options. This part of Soho is hugely busy. with queues and waiting times for most eateries. However, being inside John Lewis, Rossopomodoro is slightly more off the beaten track, and a less chaotic, in-and-out, dining experience as a result. Despite it being within a department store, it’s secluded location means it has just the same vibe as a standalone restaurant (definitely no cafe atmosphere here). And if you don’t fancy pizza, there’s a burger restaurant just next door (still within John Lewis).

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With tummies fuelled and the day growing darker, you are a stones throw away from the best of London’s Christmas lights on Oxford Street, Regent’s Street and Carnaby Street. Still in the mood to explore after that? Check out the festive window display at Selfridges, and even hop on a bus to Knightsbridge to see the Harrods all decked out in its Christmas lights splendour. From Knightsbridge it’s approximately a ten minute bus ride back to London Victoria.

Arlo LOVED this route (his favourite thing was seeing the BT Tower) and Rory was pretty content with watching the busy sights and sounds of the city from his buggy. I have a feeling I’ll be walking this route a few more times before the year is out…

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We sampled a complimentary lunch at Rossopomodorro as part of their launch events. I was not obligated to write about the restaurant, but it left an impression on me as a good option for young families in a very busy area of London, and I wanted to share that. 

17-11-2014

Video: An interview with Arlo – one year apart

One thing about this whole parenting business that really fascinates me is the rate at which my childrens’ speech and vocabulary changes so rapidly at this stage in their young lives.

Watching old videos of Arlo chatting away, remembering all the cute mispronunciations he used to make, and suddenly being confronted with the stark difference between THEN and NOW, is always guaranteed to make me come over all emotional in a “OOOOHH THEY ARE GROWING UP SO FAST!!” kind of way.

Every year, as Arlo’s birthday approaches, I think it would be a great idea to record a little interview on camera (and I will do the same with Rory once his conversational skills develop a little further than “Up” and “Dog”).  And every year, I almost forget to do it.

I think the three year video was filmed in November last year, and this year’s interview was filmed at least three weeks after Arlo’s fourth birthday. I decided not to keep the questions the same – who has time to remember what I asked last year? – and I’m not confident that the same set of questions would still be relevant to a twelve year old, and so they are very much tailored to what he is most ‘into’ that particular year.

I’ve put Arlo’s three year old interview together with this year’s interview under the guise of it being an interesting experiment to see the two years side by side. But really, I just forgot to edit his three year video until now.

I honestly have no idea why he has given a special mention to cooking at both ages – he couldn’t be more of a fussy eater if he tried and I’m pretty sure he actually HATES cooking. Don’t believe everything you hear in this video, it’s probably a lie.

 

14-11-2014

Eleven days alone

11 days alone

Eleven days alone.

…Not that I was counting or anything.

When Sam’s away, life becomes a series of numbers. Days counted down until his return on a calendar in my head. Stats that are immediately telling as to whether I’m happily coping or a sleep deprived mess. So, I thought it would be fitting to write this post ‘my week in numbers’ style.

11 days without Sam.

1 hour in a 24 hour day with no children awake or needing me.

2 evenings where Rory actually slept from 8 – 10.30pm leaving me with a glimmer of an evening to myself.

2 4am starts to the day.

6 interrupted dinners.

7 nights that Arlo slept all the way through without needing me for any reason.

0 nights that Rory slept all the way through without needing me for any reason.

2 takeaways ordered. (Pretty good by my standards)

4 engagements not attended due to lack of babysitters.

A million times I was asked “What time is dada getting home today?”

5 nights of fireworks. 5!! (The perils of bonfire night falling midweek).

1 new phone game obsession.

1 mini meltdown from me (speaking from past experience, the 8 day mark seems to be where I lose it).

264 hours where I was ‘with children’ all the time.

0 complete disasters.

Now that Sam’s back I can say this without feeling like I’m going to jinx the whole thing, BUT…

This solo stint was definitely one of the best I’ve had (despite being one of the longer trips, too).

I had really started to dread Sam’s trips away. It eats away at my thoughts constantly in the week leading up to him going, the days drag whilst he is away, and my first thought every morning is “Thank god we got through another night”. It feels like surviving – stumbling through a haze, rather than living my life. And I hate it being that way.

Usually, when Sam’s away, I am too anxious to eat or sleep properly. I feel that I need to be alert at night, to jump to attention as soon as one of the kids needs me. And it’s always only ever a matter of hours before someone will need me.

My mind races thinking about all the things that could go wrong, and I’m constantly tweaking my plan of action in case something does happen. I lose all appetite, so I neglect to eat. And then it’s a repeating cycle of no sleep, no fuel – spinning myself out until I feel there’s a very thin line between OK and breaking point.

I have written before about the anxiety and sleep deprivation I feel when Sam is away (I have two kids that don’t sleep well, even without the anxiety it feels like running a marathon). But it’s time to face up to it all, because Sam’s work trips are very frequent now. For at least one week a month, this is now our life. And I owe it to the kids and to myself to attempt to function as best I can and lead our normal lives when it’s just me at home. I will try my very best not to have my issues affect my children.

So, this time, there were a few differences.

As much as it doesn’t come naturally to me, as I get older, I can better appreciate the benefits of talking. I am currently seeing a counsellor and we are in the midst of overhauling and attempting to finally process the many things that have happened, the last five years in particular. Working through my specific anxieties is a part of that. Knowing that I have a dedicated person to debrief with seems to have made me feel more calm.

My usual routine is to push everything down, not make a fuss. I’m always “fine”. Mainly, this is because I don’t like asking for help and I’ve always just tried to do everything by myself as best I can. It’s not because I don’t like having help, it’s because I’m not very good at recognising when I’m not coping very well. There’s also a small part of me that insists on berating myself for feeling like I can’t cope with simple parenting stuff when I know single parents with three kids and 6 day a week jobs who don’t have any fall-back, like I do. But comparing myself to others isn’t going to change my struggles or the way I feel about my situation. Recently, I’ve allowed myself to make allowances for the things that I struggle with, at least to myself, taking time to be aware of the things that tend to set me off.

I guess this is another big part of my ‘Year of Me’, but it was a bit too big a topic to tackle in my last post.

I ate fresh food, proper meals, not snacks (scrambled egg, avocado, mushrooms, and asparagus were my staples – things that I can finish cooking in less time than it takes before a child that has just woken up will need me desperately), and I made sure to give myself an hour on the sofa each day, even if the kids needed something (they always do) and even if there were a million tasks I needed to do (there always are). And I slept better. Maybe as a result of the first two things.

Arlo made a big difference, too. When he sleeps well at night, it’s a game-changer. I can concentrate all my night time efforts on Rory, I don’t have to run between the two of them. It felt like we were on the same team, rather than exacerbating each others stress.

For now, I am holding onto the memory of the last 11 days. Reminding myself that it doesn’t always have to be overwhelmingly stressful and exhausting.

06-11-2014

Brand love – Gap Holiday Collection

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I have fallen completely in love with the Gap Holiday Collection.

It’s not often that I want absolutely EVERY ITEM. But, just look.

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I am a fair isle print sucker, and you know how I feel about a rainbow colourway.

The children’s sizing goes all the way up to the teens. I was particularly excited to snap up the holiday striped sweater in older sizes as I know the selection of colourful boys clothes is about to PLUMIT when Arlo reaches school age.

If I had a baby, I’d definitely be loading up on the striped onesie.

There might be a fair few items from the womenswear collection winging their way to me via the postman as we speak.

And Arlo, Rory, and I, may or may not all have matching stripey leggings.

(They also conveniently emailed a 40% off code, which suddenly makes prices very enticing indeed).

Gap, what have you done to me??

gap holiday collection