04-09-2014

Sleep – It’s getting (a bit) easier.

IMG_9349Last night, Rory woke at 11pm, just as I was going to bed. I fed him, and waited for him to settle in his cot, before hitting the hay myself at 12am. At 2am, Rory was up again, and this time would not settle for being settled in his own bed.

I brought him into my bed and he spent the next hour wriggling at my breast, pulling my hair, tugging at my ears, and stroking my face with his hands (this sounds endearing, but when this is every single night, it gets damn tedious, let me tell you). After that, we both slept for an unconfirmed amount of time. I can’t check the time on my phone during this point of the night as it automatically makes Rory think it’s time to get up.

Then I woke with my back seized in pain from being locked in the same position for too long, and it took several attempts to unlock my back and prize myself away from Rory before I could successfully turn in the bed. Turning away from Rory disturbed him of course, and after a minute, I find myself turning back to him, hoping I can feed him back to sleep.

But it fails, and Rory is now sitting up in bed, chatting away, clapping, and climbing over my head as I pretend to sleep (sticking diligently to the ‘don’t talk to them or let them know you are awake’ tactic that never works). Rory breaches my man-made barrier and starts bashing Sam over the head, laughing because he’s spotted ‘fun dada’. Sam is pushed so far towards the edge of the mattress, he’s barely clinging on.

Eventually, Rory decides that he IS tired and he DOES want to feed. He settles back to sleep just as it’s getting light. And just as Arlo is waking up at 6am. Sam quickly intercepts and takes Arlo downstairs, at which point I get a glorious THIRTY MINUTES in the bed. Rory asleep, me dozing, more room for both of us.

Sam has to leave for work at 7am, so my lie-in doesn’t last long. But two things occur to me. 1. How is it that my quality of sleep is so poor that a mere thirty minutes can make a real difference to how tired I feel when I get up? (My 21-year-old self is crying for me). And 2. This twenty-minute GODSEND has only become possible recently, and what a difference that makes.

Before Arlo was weaned, he always had to come and see me in the morning. And that, of course, would lead to EVERYONE being wide awake, rather quickly. It’s so easy now – Sam can take him downstairs swiftly and with no fuss. It’s such a simple and small change, but I’m still getting used to this little bonus.

Week by week, the sleep thing is getting (a bit) easier.

We moved Rory’s cot into Arlo’s room over the summer, which has had the knock on effect of stopping Arlo pissing about in the evenings for hours on end. Gone are the noisy protests of “I’M NOT TIRED” “I’M HUNGRY”, “I DON’T WANT TO GO TO BED”, etc. Gone are the repeated episodes of him sneaking out of his room at bedtime. His 9.30pm bedtimes have crept back to 8pm.

Arlo actually seems to have some kind of consideration for Rory being there at bedtime, and so he stays quiet and relaxed in his bed, which naturally leads to ACTUALLY FALLING ASLEEP a lot faster than it does when he consistently fights sleep by refusing to be still for longer than a second.

It seems that Arlo has come out of his horrendous sleep phase FINALLY. It was about six months of dramatic night wakings, nightmares, wailing and writhing around, not settling again without considerable effort. He is MOSTLY going all night quite peacefully at the moment.

The change has really been quite remarkable. Arlo obviously feels massively reassured by the presence of someone else sharing his room. And on top of that, he is comforted by the increased presence of Sam and I in his room during the night, as we pace the floor trying to settle Rory.

Having our room free of children in the evenings has been a big change for me, too. I can turn the lights on in our bedroom and do my face cleansing routine before bed. I can read a book in bed.

Rory has (for the most part) cut out his 9.30pm wake up, which means I generally get an evening and he wakes just as I’m going to bed. The other day he slept right through from bedtime until 2am – that felt like a crazy amount of time to have so much space in my bed. Pure luxury.

I say “It’s fine”, “I’ve learnt to adapt, to live with it”, and “I’m managing”. And I am. But I’ve realised that I’m doing myself a disservice to play down the sleep thing in my own head. I’ve recently realised that it’s OK to accept that years of broken, unpredictable sleep has had some effect on my mental health. That light bulb moment really shouldn’t have even been a light bulb moment, because NO WONDER. Certain anxieties that are closely linked to sleep, and it makes perfect sense, and it’s OK to feel that way.

I’m not saying that my experience has been any better or worse than anyone else’s. It’s an aspect of parenting that we all have to deal with. But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t get hard. Or that we have to play it down.

Give yourself a break from beating yourself up because you feel that you should be stronger. It’s OK to be kind to yourself.

photo (3)

 

02-09-2014

Five things I’ve learnt from my first (pre) school summer holidays as a parent

summer holidays

To me, next summer:

Have an action packed start
I originally assumed it would be best not to exhaust our summer bucket list too quickly and instead spread out activities to last the full duration. In fact, I found the first few weeks were when the plans for all day outings, etc, came in most useful. At the start of the summer holidays, you have more energy and enthusiasm, the new routine is disorienting so the thought of whole a day at home with all the kids is daunting. Save the quiet / low-key activities for the later weeks when you are exhausted and in the swing of your new summer holiday routine.

Don’t buy clothes or shoes at the start of the summer
Those clothes you bought to stash for next year in a bargain summer sale? Suddenly looking like they won’t last till this autumn. Kids grow like weeds over the summer. Don’t buy ANYTHING till late August or September. Or, if you do, always size up by a couple of years.

Let them eat snacks
I spent the first couple of weeks being really strict about sticking to appointed snack times. Half way through the summer, I could no longer be bothered to deal with hourly conversations battles over snacks, and so I relinquished all control. There were snack times every hour. But no one was moaning. Your kids are hungry ALL THE TIME. Keep the snack cupboard freshly stocked, let them at it, and give yourself an easy life.

Don’t schedule in any important appointments over summer
I’ve lost all sense of a schedule. I am never sure what day it is or what time it is. Appointments during the summer holidays are just an extra headache to work around and are likely to be forgotten about.

You will have fun
Children do a lot of growing over summer. Physically, emotionally, and in terms of milestones. It’s an exciting and fulfilling time to be around these little people 24/7. It’s been tiring, but it’s been the best.

school summer holiday tips

01-09-2014

Me And Mine (August)

With a toddler who won’t sit still or look at the camera if it’s on self-timer and there’s no one behind it to distract him, and a preschooler going through a big “NO PHOTOS” phase, I opted for the lazy option this month, by just letting the camera roll and selecting a still from a recording.

My-new-video-project12-copy

 

It was just FAR easier than trying to wrangle everyone into a specific ‘shot’, and the kids weren’t even aware that they were on camera.

This was taken during our trip to Morden Hall Park. Of course, as it’s a still from a video recording, it will be of too poor quality to print, but the upshot of not waiting for that shutter click  is that it created a completely natural, unforced image.

Taken on the very last day of the month at a family gathering at my Uncle’s house, I also have this photo to share: photo (2)

Yep, we did that thing where you recreate a photo from the past. A few people are absent, and we’ve gained a few new members, but everything else is the same (just 15 years older!)

———————————-

This month I’m sending you to see Lauren over at her awesome blog, Real Housewife of Suffolk County. She’ll be sharing a photo of her family from this month, and sending you along to visit someone else. You can follow the circle around to see what all the hosts have been up to.

Have you taken a family photo this month? Link it up below!



 

26-08-2014

Lollibop Festival 2014 – The day we spent queuing

lollibop festival 2014

We were given our Lollibop tickets with no obligation to write a review. Because a whole blog post about queuing is pretty boring, and we didn’t experience much else at the festival, I was ready to be done with the whole thing and not write a post at all.

But then I figured that if I were to brush every negative experience under the carpet (and bear with me, because it’s not ALL negative), I wouldn’t be doing a proper service for anyone looking to go in future years – family days out set you back a decent amount of money, and I know the importance in weighing up the positives and negatives and doing your research to make sure an event is a good fit for your family.

I have written many reviews for this blog, and as far as I can recall, not one has been majoratively negative – which goes to show just how much fun and value we get out of all the experiences that come out of this blog.

After having done three consecutive Lollibop’s, I am of the firm opinion that the festival is what you make of it.

2012 was probably our most enjoyable experience – The upside of Arlo being just short of two was that we were able to amble around, stumbling upon entertainment as we found it, with no particular agenda (disclosure: my view MAY be slightly clouded by the fact that we had access to the VIP area and the free booze that year). The downside was that he was a bit too young to appreciate it, and had we been paying for our tickets, I would have said it wasn’t worth it, wait a year. We were guests of someone else, and so we weren’t obliged to write about or review our experiences.

We weren’t really in the mood to make the most of it in 2013. Sam had gone straight from a long haul overnight flight to the festival, and I had just spent a sleep-deprived 10 days alone with a toddler and an 8 week old baby. The festival had also moved sites to Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, there was a confusing new layout which made it hard to see where to go and what there actually was to DO at Lollibop.

This year, THIS YEAR, we were primed for Lollibop Festival. The new, leafy location of Hatfield House sounded promisingly similar to our enjoyable experience at Regent’s Park in 2012. We knew the Lollibop organisers had listened carefully to the calls for more activities and a better space for the festival. Arlo was almost 4, and at a good age to get REALLY stuck in with most of the activities and entertainment on offer. He had spotted the posters for Lollibop every time we travelled on the underground, and was seriously excited about going to a place where all his most-watched characters and presenters from Cbeebies would be.

IMG_9506

A little back story: Arlo is a serious Cbeebies fanboy. Yes, he probably watches far too much of it. In fact, we don’t really watch any other channel or programs, aside from a brief dalliance with channel 5′s ‘Milkshake’ during his die-hard Thomas phase.

In case you hadn’t already gathered from the heavy mentions in pretty much ALL of my recent YouTube videos, Arlo’s absolute favourite is Andy Day. He watches Andy’s Dinosaur Adventures EVERY DAY. He can recount every single scene from every single episode. He knows all of Andy’s phrases. He re-enacts the adventures at home. We listen to the dinosaur raps EVERY MORNING. I know all the words. (I actually really quite like the raps, there are some great puns in there. Kudos to whoever wrote them, Sam and I both agree that you are a bit awesome).

So, if there was one main goal for our time at Lollibop, it was to see Andy’s show in the Lollipalladium. What we didn’t count on was that it actually would be the ONE (and only) thing that we got to do at Lollibop.

Now, everyone knows that the number one rule of parenting is to never tell your young child that you are doing something, until you can 100% guarantee that you ARE doing it. And so the first thing we did when we arrived on site at 12pm was to suss out where the Lollipalladium was in good time for Andy’s show at 1.55pm.

And that was when we saw the queue – snaking up and down and round and round and round the main concourse of the Lollibop site. At this point we faced a decision: Not mention anything to Arlo and forget about seeing Andy entirely, or start queuing.

Sam and I both wanted Arlo to see Andy. We knew it was the thing that HE would get the most from, out of everything at Lollibop. Plus, we are British, and we feel compelled to join a large queue when we see one.

So that’s what we did. We also figured it wouldn’t be too much of a bad thing if the queue did move quickly, as Arlo would most likely be interested in seeing Show Me Show Me and Mr Bloom too (who were on before Andy).

We ate our lunch in the queue and watched as it grew to what must have been over a mile in length. During this time, we saw no one doing crowd management (the queue was starting to get in the way of the through traffic of people and buggies, this was resolved about an hour later by chopping the queue into two sections), and no one coming over to apologise for the long wait, or to explain how the queue system worked – which was all we wanted, really.

This queue was entirely unmanageable for one adult to tackle alone – Sam and I could tag team taking children to the toilet and going on a snack-run, but what happens if you are the only adult and your child needs the toilet?

A lack of research was probably my downfall. Had I been keeping an eye on the tweets of Lollibop attendees from the Friday, I would have known in advance about the queue, and the fact it was a seated tent. I had assumed the tent was standing, like it had been the two years previous, when we had been able to wander by at any point and catch parts of any show without queuing.

I could see that the tent this year didn’t have the open sides like in previous years, but in all honestly, I was baffled by the huge queue. And it wasn’t until we reached the front (after one hour of queuing), that the staff there told us it was a seated tent, and that we would only be allowed in for one show, and then everyone was booted out again.

 

Once we’d reached the front of the queue, we then faced a further hour waiting right outside the tent, in order to see our chosen show. Arlo had been amazingly patient with queuing up until this point, but it was a step too far for a three year old sitting two feet away from a tent where he could hear Mr Bloom but didn’t understand why he’d reached the front and wasn’t allowed to go in and watch.

IMG_9540

There was no way to time the queue accurately for your preferred show. The only option was to join the queue and hope for the best. However, I do feel that we wasted that second hour waiting right outside the tent, had there been someone to explain the queue system and the fact that it was seated and you could only stay for one show, we wouldn’t have joined the queue as early as we did, and we could have had 45 minutes or so exploring the other areas of the festival.

lollbop festival andy day

It was 2.45pm by the time Andy’s Show finished. We had been at Lollibop for almost 3 hours, and had only done one thing. We watched the start of Mr Tumble on the main stage, took sight of the crowds for Andy’s Meet and Greet and decided we couldn’t face another queue, spent an enjoyable 4 minute slot at the Little Tikes zone, and by then we were all well and truly spent.

lollbop festival little tikes IMG_9544

How cute is Rory in this massively oversized Little Tikes vest??

As I said before, Lollibop IS what you make of it. I have heard reports from fellow bloggers who had a great time doing lots of different things. We chose to play our day the way we did, but for me, it felt like a big shame that we didn’t have the time or energy to explore the rest of the festival – there were loads of activities that I think Arlo would have loved.

In the interest of being fair, I emailed all of this to Lollibop one week ago (awaiting response), so they know my opinion and what I was going to write. I think Lollibop did a really good job of addressing the comments received about last year’s venue choice, and the criticism that there wasn’t much to DO – there was loads of stuff to get involved with this year, and it was all clearly laid out and easy to access.

The problem was, that I think Lollibop seriously misunderstood their target customer. You can’t ask any Cbeebies-loving preschooler to queue for such long periods or to choose between their favourites. Three year olds form rather obsessive attachments, and nothing else will do. The Cbeebies acts are one of the main draws of Lollibop Festival, and anything generating queues of that size should be on the main outdoor stage, rather than in an exclusive tent with a capacity that can only house a tiny fraction of the overall visitors to the festival.

IMG_9545

———————-

We received press tickets for Lollibop 2014.

20-08-2014

Tips for self-employment / working from home with no childcare in place

 

As well as my photography business, I am a freelance writer, and I also offer SEO and social media advice and management, and a bit of design work here and there.

Oh, and then there’s maintaining this blog, which is clearly more of a therapeutic and personal endeavour, but it is also the springboard for the all the paid work that comes my way.

Arlo is at preschool. But Rory isn’t. And his naps amount to no more than an hour in the car during Arlo’s pickups/drop offs. This means that 100% of the time, I am juggling work with my children at the same time. There is no guaranteed, scheduled time just for work, and on the other side of things, I have to actively make sure that I give the children enough of my focus without work-related tasks taking over all the time.

Given the amount of people I know who were unable to return to work post-babies due to childcare costs, the people I know who can’t afford to save a deposit for a house, and all the other things that have become increasingly tricky in the last decade or so, I figure there must be a lot of people out there like me. People for whom it’s necessary to bring in money to cover all the essential living costs, earning a living at home, at the same time as caring for their young children, Because paying for childcare would offset any earnings made. Or because the amount of work you have varies from month to month.

But how come ALL the articles I read about being self-employed, freelance, or working from home always assume that there is some form of childcare in place?

Because it would be bloody impossible to do both at the same time, wouldn’t it?

working from home with no childcare

I hardly ever see a work / childcare / life balance piece that doesn’t read along the lines of “Keep work and time with your children separate. Turn off your phone when with your children. Don’t try to work around them, use their childcare hours wisely”, etc.

But what about the tips for those of us working from home around their small children? We know we are never going to have a clear distinction between work time and family time, it is always going to be hectic and most often leave you wishing you could do more of both.

Granted, there is no advice that can actively revolutionise the productivity of those of us working from home around small children, but here are some things I’ve learnt along the way about managing expectations.

Tips for self-employment / working from home with no childcare in place:

If you have children that don’t nap / unreliable sleepers, adopt a ’10 minute schedule’ approach to avoid the frustration of starting a task and having to pause. Lots of tasks CAN be accomplished in 10 minutes, and although creative tasks sometimes take a lot longer (and, if your me, require uninterrupted concentration to really give it my best), if you can find a way of subdividing those creative tasks into 10 minute segments, you will feel a lot less frustrated at the interruptions.

If you have children that reliably sleep past 7am (what?), consider getting up at 6am to get an hour’s work in before they wake.

If you have night-wakers, or are sleep deprived, I don’t recommend this approach unless you have no other option, because it WILL lead to burn out. You need SOME sleep to work and to function. Sleep comes first, although it’s tempting to sacrifice it.

Of course you will need to work in the evenings. Which is also the only time you get alone to yourself or to spend with your partner. If you can, schedule in advance the evenings that you will be working so you can more easily see any windows of opportunity to have a ‘date night’ or, y’know, a decent shower.

Cleaning is the last priority. Your job is taking care of the kids, and your work. Save for the washing up, wiping down highchairs, and clearing up food mess, I don’t clean or tidy during the week. It is a task that Sam and I blitz together at the weekend, or that Sam does in the evenings if he has the time. Yes, there are toys EVERYWHERE, and mid-week visitors might be taken aback by the state of the unhoovered floors. But really? It’s the least of my concerns.

If your partner is taking the children out so you can work, make sure they know in advance that there is no time allowed for dawdling in the morning (No leasurely breakfasts and browsing the internet). Let them shower and get ready first. And DON’T attempt to start work until they are 100% ready to assume ALL childcare duties.

Communicate with your partner and be clear on your roles and what you need from each other in order to maximise your time. When you work from home around the kids during the week, you are used to jumping in on the kids requests all the time. It won’t be automatically assumed that this will be any different when you partner is around, unless you are both clear on your roles and your set times for ‘uninterrupted work’. It may be that your partner takes over the whole of the bedtime routine so you can get an hour’s work in for tasks that you are behind on and need to be completed THAT day, or it may be that you need a good few hours at the weekend to work. Whatever set times you decide, make sure that everyone knows their roles, and that all kid requests for drinks / general whining / entertainment / whatever are deflected immediately by your partner.

(Communication is the key with this point. It can be incredibly tricky to execute. Especially because it’s confusing for young children to understand why your work balance is different at the weekend than it is during the week, when you are also doing lots of tasks for them too. And especially if your workspace is in a common living area in the house, where your children may be in the same room as you whilst you work. Generally, I’m FAR more productive if Sam takes the children out – but this is not so simple in winter / when you don’t drive / when you have a small breastfed baby. More often than not, I end up working with the noise and chaos and demands of my children two feet away from me. In this case, you just have to get really good at shutting off from all distractions.)

If your children have a ‘quieter’ time of day when they are more likely to be happy playing independently, use that to your advantage. Our usual routine is to go out and do something fun in the morning, and then have an hour or two of TV time in the afternoon. Because I know they will (usually!) be happy to sit and do that with little input from me. This is when I do the bulk of my ‘Urgent. Needs to be done TODAY’ work.

I try to avoid sitting down to work in the morning, even if I think I have a good window of time where the kids are pre-occupied. Because I tend to find that the emails breed more emails and the ‘Urgent. Needs to be done TODAY’ work starts stretching into the afternoon, and before I know it, the kids have been fobbed off for a whole day with nothing fun planned for them.

Untitled-1-copy

Be realistic about your short-term ambitions, and don’t give yourself a larger workload than is possible to do when you are also the sole carer for your children during the week. Yes, this may mean that you feel like a very small fish in a very big pond, or that you can’t imagine EVER earning a decent living, or that you have to do something that feels very wrong business-wise and turn down work that doesn’t fit with your schedule. But if the long-term goal is to increase your earnings so you CAN afford childcare / to expand your workload once your children hit school age, then the short-term ambition is to not burn out before you get there.

Don’t panic if people chase you for emails before you’ve had time to respond that same day. Don’t worry that they will feel abandoned. Unless it is really a matter of grave importance or the difference between you losing or keeping a client, they can wait a day. I’ve considered putting an out of office disclaimer in my email footer: ‘I have young children, emails may take more than 24 hours to be answered’, but I’m pretty sure that is NOT recommended in Business Sense 101.

Use an organisational system that works for you. In a complete flout of my rule above, I am ALWAYS checking my emails on the go. But I find the iPhone mobile email system kind of crap, and it’s all too easy to open an email, read it, realise your reply needs a bit more thought than you are able to give right now, and then forget all about that email 3 hours later. I’m currently using the Mailbox app, which allows you mark emails or move them to folders with one swipe, and is also really great for removing unimportant emails from view, so you can concentrate on the ones that DO need attention.

You won’t be able to make time for yourself without it being at the sacrifice of family time, work time, or partner time. If you class your three yearly smear check as ‘me-time’, that’s OK. This stage won’t last forever.

Allow yourself to feel guilty that you are not giving your children your ‘all’ at all times. Acknowledge your worries that they perhaps watch more TV than they should. Let yourself feel sad that your family time is compromised because you need to work at the weekends.

And then remind yourself why you chose to work this way in the first place. It might be the best option, it might be the only option. Either way, you are doing the best you can.

IMG_6450-copy