I was lucky enough to be asked to shoot a wedding in Italy on the 1st September this year so decided to take a few days to myself - a massive work perk! As much as I’ve adored spending more time with the girls this Summer I didn’t hesitate to book a few days to have some time alone.Read More
The crazy six weeks are over and we are a week and a half into the routine of the girls going to school, childcare, after school clubs, breakfast clubs, tennis lessons.. and also finding the time to get to the gym and have some time for ourselves at times too.
The night before Vivienne went back to school was also the night before Sylvie going into childcare for the first time (more on this later..), and David and I found ourselves drawing out a timetable whilst sitting on the couch like we were divorcing; working out who picks up and drops off each day, when we can get to the gym ourselves, booking in a free night for us to have as a family and working out who exactly is responsible for what. (Then we stuck it up in the kitchen so it was *official*).
Turns out having two kids is wonderful - really wonderful - and not *that* complicated until you throw in all the other stuff you have to do too. (Like feeding yourself, and homework, and the washing.. and the other unimportant adult shit that comes with trying to be a 'responsible'.)
But, anyway, the routine wheels slowly started turning again. Vivienne ran off into school, seeing some friends for the first time in weeks, and loved being back. We started getting the ten emails a day from her school again (FFS bullet points and brevity, please), we even managed to get her first homework in on time *and* remembered her PE kit; even if the night before school started she announced that it had been in the cupboard, unwashed, for the past six weeks.
The biggest change was Sylvie starting to go to a childminder. I admit, I really cried when David took her to drop her off the first time saying things like "It's too soon!"/"But she has a cold!"/"She's just too little", but very soon I realised we were both absolutely fine; Sylvie loved being there and I got more done in a day than I had in ages. Our childminder lives about a 5 minute walk away and is lovely - she's been taking her out to different activities during the day and sends Whatsapp pictures of how she is and what she's up to. We have definitely done the right thing here.
There was no routine in Summer, apart from the fact that routinely throughout the day I would have to exclaim "I'M SO TIRED", but it was the holidays and it was the chaos that the holidays naturally bring. I guess for the most part it just can't be changed and to some degree it just has to be embraced.. But I have to admit that having a proper routine now really helps. I now work intensely Tue/Thu/Fri and prioritise doing things, playing and spending quality time with Sylvie on Mondays and Wednesdays. (I even went to a nursery rhyme sing-a-long group the other day, but we don't need to talk to much about that...)
We have split the pick ups/drop offs for both the girls exactly down the middle. David and I both have the same opportunities to get to the gym and enough evenings where we can see friends and have some time off too. It sounds dramatic to say it but it really is sanity saving. We are still very much feeling the effects of the holidays - my workload is just as big but now I'm more desk-based - but letting go and resisting being proud and "I can do it all myself" has made the biggest difference to the balance at this end.
I didn't really get much maternity leave (I may write about this soon), but now I'm also making a conscious effort to take quality time for myself (I may write about this too). Sometimes it just takes a little stepping back to reassess the balance of everything going on.
It's not cool to admit it, and years ago I never thought I'd be one to live with such structure, but routine is 100%, definitely, where it's at.
I was going to write a post about 'Mum Guilt' and how everything's felt better the second time round until I had a dream a few nights ago that made me have a little cry the following morning. In it, I found a guest at a wedding telling Vivienne that I was a terrible mother and didn't devote enough time to her and Sylvie, and when Vivienne came over to me afterwards she didn't reply when I said 'I love you'. So yeah, it appears there's still subconscious guilt going on no matter how rational I try to be.
Isn't everything just *enough* without guilt creeping into parenting? Isn't the mess and busy-ness and juggling routines and homework and general chaos just *enough*? It starts when they're born and you find yourself second guessing some answers you give to the common (and sometimes loaded) questions ("Are you breast or bottle feeding? But they're not meant to have solids until six months, are they? How long are you taking off work? Who are you going to leave them with when you go to work? Are you worried she'll have separation anxiety at that age? Wouldn't you rather a family member than a childminder?") and never. bloody. stops. It's pretty exhausting trying to be the best version of yourself in all areas when sometimes you just want to curl up and lounge about for a day reading all those books you haven't started yet and watching that film you've been meaning to for months..
Before the Summer holidays hit we've been to see a childminder who will start minding Sylvie two days a week from September and my impulse is still to question myself and wonder if I *really* need a childminder or whether I can manage on my own working and juggling her daily wants and needs. I've never been one to feel anxious about leaving the girls with people to mind them while I work, and my husband and I have been away numerous times without them (cueing some lovely loaded questions and comments such as, "Aren't you worried something will happen while you're away? Good for you, though.. *I* couldn't do it, myself.") but when I'm feeling a little delicate those guilty thoughts creep in like little voices trying to persuade you that you're not doing as well as you could be.
On top of that in our house there's me being self employed and working some silly hours, a partner who is pretty much self employed and the Summer holidays to 'make the most of'.. it's pretty exhausting. Being self employed in the Summer holidays means knowing you *could* spend this day with your kids but shipping them off to someone else because you need to work, it's being technically able to work flexibly but still needing to get a full day's work done in not-enough-time, it's emails while they're on the swings at the park, admin while they eat dinner and starting the bulk of your working day the second they're asleep.
I do try not to beat myself up about the little things, and most of the time I do pretty well at shrugging that feeling off but here is a little list of things I've felt guilty about over the past few weeks (and subsequently tried to tell myself to pack it in..)
- spending too much time working and not seeing the girls
- spending consecutive days away and having to tell a crying Vivienne over the phone it'll be another two days until I see them
- not doing enough with the girls when I do have days with them
- not 'making the most' of the Summer holidays in general
- saying 'one minute, I just need to send this message/email' too many times
- not being able to go away in the Summer holidays like a lot of other families we know
- asking a lot of my mother-in-law and mum for childcare (forever grateful)
- feeding Viv lazy lunches and teas of sandwiches, omelettes and old school kids' dinners like *something*, chips and beans
- feeding Sylvie shop-bought purees instead of making up baby-led weaning recipes
- asking Viv to feed Sylvie while I sort something out
- not cooking enough in general
- not doing enough stimulating stuff with Sylvie
- asking Viv to 'keep an eye' on Sylvie too often while I sort something out
- letting Viv watch a fair bit of TV and films instead of encouraging her to finish her library 'reading challenge'
- worrying that people will ask Viv what she's done in the holidays and she won't be able to tell them much
- being generally flustered and busy instead of appreciating the holidays
- being absolutely terrible at replying to messages and keeping on top of group messages (being a bit of a rubbish friend in general)
BUT, on a good day I will look at this array of little guilts and think, "This guilt is such shit. I do try my best. My kids may not have been further than an hour away from home these holidays but we've been to parks, we've been cycling, we've been swimming countless times.. Vivienne loves a living room floor picnic in front of a film, and she adores her little sister and feels grown up minding her for me and genuinely doesn't mind it. I have to work, and I enjoy work. It's good for my daughters to see both parents going out to work and it's good for them to spend time with their grandparents and cousins. Furthermore, their grandparents have the energy and the time to do some wonderful things with them and I can get work done - it's win-win. Life is inherently magical and exciting for children and they won't see a day in the holidays as a wasted day; they'll see it as the day they climbed to the top of the treehouse at the park, or the day I let them have ice cream before lunch, or the day they finished a crafty something-or-other on the dining room table."
So yeah, in summary, my kids are OK, they are fed, usually clean enough, they get fresh air, the house usually has at least one tidy room (sometimes even 3-4.. but not for long), the clean clothes dumped upstairs may never get put away before they goes back in the washing machine, I may send too many emails that start with 'sorry for my late reply..', coffee may run too strongly in my veins, but *IT'S OK*. Trying your best is enough. And 'Mum guilt' can get in the bin.
This post should probably be called "Childcare and help in the holidays is an absolute godsend".
I don't like to get all moany because I really do love working for myself but *bloody hell* it's difficult being a seasonal worker when the Summer holidays hit. I absolutely love spending special days with Viv (and now Sylvie too) when school's out but this year I've had to really give in to the fact that I'll need proper and arranged-in-advance help with the girls so I can work too. It's so true that parenting often feels like doing a million things at once and doing none of those things particularly well. This year I wanted to manage my time working quite strictly so that on days off with the girls I can 100% be present and do some memorable holiday things.
One thing we decided to book in was Deershed festival. I made an active decision to keep that weekend free so we could have at last one family weekend together in the holidays. I also forced myself to be less proud and "I can do it all myself" and accept very kind offers of childcare from my mother in law and my mum. The diary is chocka with dots for dates with who has the girls which days, days I'm working at weddings and I've made sure there are a few blank days too (*and* a few things for Dav and I to do as a couple.. hello, The Libertines 💛).
I asked Vivienne to make a list of holiday things for us to tick off over the next few weeks and the activities she wants to do are such lovely simple things that make me so glad that we can take time to do things a little slower. The list includes things like going to the park, doing a reading challenge through the local library, making slime (don't ask.. it's some kid craze I think..), going swimming, going for ice cream and making YouTube videos.
When we've had help with the girls they've been getting up to some lovely things too; as much as I'd love to be there for them every day I do feel that this planning this year is giving both of them a really full and exciting few weeks of being off. So far they've spent lots of time with cousins, been baking and making dens, planning tree houses and Vivienne's had a mini party for her cousins ahead of her birthday on Monday.
From my point of view I'm getting so much done in these work windows that it's taken a huge weight off my shoulders. Everything still feels stressful but I can't imagine what it would be like without the support around us these holidays. It really does take a village to raise a child.
Well, it's not the easiest thing, let's be honest. A month before Sylvie was born I was all "Yeah, I'm not having any primary-coloured-plastic-noise-making crap in the house" and when she hit four months I found myself texting my friend asking if her Jumperoo was going spare.. Give me all the baby entertainment options you've got for an extra ten minutes of getting things done!
Work is getting busier now and will continue to be a real juggle until the end of September/Mid October when it'll get a bit lighter again. So far there have been a few nights working later than I'd like and also a good few moments of 'oh shit I didn't do that' and dragging the laptop back out in front of the tv on an evening.
What's still working well for us, even though it can be restrictive at times, is having a routine for Sylvie. She wakes up and has a bottle, I'll work and do the school run before her porridge feed at half ten, then I have a bigger window where she'll usually have a longer nap until a milk feed mid-afternoon and I'll work until the school pick up. I do enjoy her being around while I'm working, and most days we'll get out in the buggy and I've also been enjoying seeing friends during the week and taking more time for myself and 'breathing space', otherwise the Monday-Friday work week at home starts to feel very intense.
Sylvie, this week, has started rolling around - oh. the. joys. We were hoping this time would come a little further down the line and all of a sudden I'm having to strap her into a buggy/secure her in the baby bouncer before I can even nip to the loo - now I feel I'm looking forward to her sitting up so she can be propped up with toys and things to play with properly.
I do feel working at home with Sylvieboo is going to get harder as she gets more mobile and even more vocal - I think it'll very much be a changing situation over the next few months. The next step for us is really planning out the Summer holiday stretch while Vivienne's off too. I feel quite strongly that I take some full days off to see the girls properly - I've asked V to make a list of things she'd like to tick off during her Summer break for us to work through, and plan on having on lots of down time in the garden and crafting/baking at home too. It may be time to enlist the help of a little childcare here and there now!