Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

Sarah. But Solo.

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013

This is my first post of the new year – and my first post being 31! My birthday was two days ago and I had a very lovely day with the girls and a friend. However it is not my first post in which I begin by explaining why there has been such a lengthy gap between now and the last. But this time I have a really good excuse. My best ever, possibly. This one would come with a big red bow to remove with a flourish and a ‘ta-da!’ feeling about it. So before I begin, I know it’s been a while since New Year’s Eve but I am officially announcing my resolution for 2013 – and that is that there will be a minimum of two blog posts a month, and hopefully a great deal more if I can find a way of writing about what my life will entail. More and more these days I’ve seen those letters ‘FML’ appearing on people’s Facebook statuses and I look at them and I think – oh yes, familiar feeling.

                My excuse, and the cause of all this misery is, as I posted on twitter a few weeks ago, that my husband and I have separated and he has moved out. It wasn’t a sudden thing, it’s been years in the coming if I’m honest, but about four months ago something happened that hastened the process. It’s not a particularly easy thing to have to live through and it’s even less easy to write about, well, I’m sure I could write about it in all sorts of detail but I don’t think that would be very fair on the parties involved so I shall confine myself to the impact upon me. Which has been, and I’m sure will continue to be, very interesting. Living alone with the two girls is an eye-opener, literally. No-one else is going to get out of bed at 7am to make their breakfast any more, or read endless bedtime stories, or check essay progress. For the first time in my life I am properly In Charge. I may get myself a badge to stop the girls looking at me sceptically.

                Before the separation I didn’t have to worry about a lot of things. For example, cooking. My husband was (probably still is) a very talented chef so he catered beautifully every night. The consequences of this were that he also did all the food shopping because he knew exactly which ingredients he wanted, and this, coupled with his claim that if I went I spent twice as much and came back with half the food, made sure that I was never allowed near a supermarket. I still don’t go near supermarkets, I have discovered Ocado – which seems to me a wonderful compromise. I’m still getting the hang of organising meals though. I can cook precisely four different things in terms of actual, grown-up, proper meals but the girls are getting a bit bored now so I’m having to branch out. But whereas dinner before involved braised chicken, tarragon and homemade sauces, or steak and dauphinoise potatoes, it is now far more likely that Sharwoods would make an appearance in my kitchen rather than a paring knife. But nobody minds and it all seems to go along with no real problems – there’s been no incidents of starvation or food poisoning yet so I think I’m doing all right.

                However, where homework is concerned things change and I find my heart sinking on an almost daily basis. Molly’s homework is completed at school during Prep so that’s not a concern, but the second term of Year 1 for Alice has seen her begin to bring home many and varied sheets of paper to complete each night, plus her reading book, plus her flash cards. If I glance at the sheet and it’s English, then that’s fine, we can do that. If however I glance at the sheet and it’s covered in horrible little sums then that is not all right. Obviously she’s only five years old so the sums aren’t very complicated (e.g. ‘9-3’ would be the toughest), but the problem arises when I find myself in the position of having to teach Alice how to work the answer out. Anyone who is familiar with me from Maths lessons at school will know that I am literally the last person who should ever be given the responsibility of teaching a child anything Maths-related, and if we run out of fingers to count on then it’s game over. I got the lowest grade in my entire school year for Maths GCSE – C, Intermediate tier. Luckily, 10 other GCSEs involving As and A*s, plus an AS-Level, plus 3 A-Levels at A,A,C and a Law degree do go some way towards mollifying me for the C in Maths. Perhaps it’s time to let it go. Anyway, after attempting the Year 1 numeracy homework I find my enthusiasm for ploughing painfully through a repetitive story with Alice about ducks and rabbits and running and hopping strangely depleted so that doesn’t tend to go very well.

                There are upsides though. With my husband gone I pay 25% less council tax and I have a lot more space for all my things. In his wine glass, for example. And also in his wardrobe.  And his shelf in the bathroom. And his space on the shoe rack. And his space on the sofa now that I come to think of it, I can stretch my legs out for the first time in nine years. Neither do I have to contend with his snoring, or stealing of the duvet; I’m sleeping more peacefully than I ever have. I can watch exactly what I want on the television or I can read in silence instead if I wish, I am currently working my way through the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books as light relief. I don’t have to talk if I don’t want to (apart from to the children which can be done on auto-pilot if strictly necessary) and nobody nags me about how much I use my phone.  It’s all rather marvellous actually. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before.        

Getting it right.

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011


Finally! I have time to write a blog! Apologies for my lengthy absence; I have been very unproductive for the last few weeks on all fronts, and I’d love to blame this on my children. But I can’t, it wouldn’t be fair. Because it’s my husband’s fault. He’s just had two weeks off work and although it’s been lovely to have him around (childcare is so much easier when there’s two of you) it has meant that my routine has rather gone out of the window, and especially as far as writing is concerned. I’m at a particularly delicate bit of the manuscript at the moment, my characters are in terrible emotional distress, the scenes are highly charged and it’s taking quite a lot out of me to write. In many ways I wish I didn’t have to get involved with their difficult and complicated lives, but there we are. So picture this scene if you will: there I am, focussing and concentrating, trying to think how I would feel if it were me going through these difficult emotions, and as any writer will know when you’re writing this stuff you are actually there with your characters. The scene will absorb you, you are living their lives. And then in wanders my husband and on goes the cricket in the background. And from that point on I am subjected to a running commentary of the game; who has thrown what ball, how many runs have been made by whatever player. I quickly become very familiar with the state of Kevin Pietersen’s limbs and how many spectators the ground can hold as my husband gently chatters away. All fascinating stuff, I’m sure, but not when I’m in the process of wrecking my characters’ lives. And interspersed with the essential cricket updates he’ll also discuss any interesting news articles that he’s found, “Darling, have you seen they’ve discovered a new type of worm?” etc. And then when he’s run out of ways to try and have a conversation with me, there’s the questions:

“I’m going to have a coffee, do you want one?”

“No, thank you.”

“Are you sure? Do you want anything else?”

“No, I’m fine, thanks.”

“Really? Not even a cup of tea?”

“YES. I’m sure.”

“OK.”

So then he bangs about making said coffee, he might flick the radio on for a minute and as he idles his way back to the cricket he might stop to glance over my shoulder or give me a kiss – all lovely but it does make me grit my teeth when I’m trying to write. So the sum of this is: I got absolutely nothing done when he was off work. Today is the first day in about three weeks that he has actually left the house to go to work and I am quite enjoying the peace, a whole day stretches before me with no cricket……or worm news.

Sophie Raworth was in the headlines yesterday on a rather interesting topic – how much time should we be spending with our children? And by spending she means actually focussing on and engaging with, not merely being present in the same building. It’s a very interesting question. The issue has come up because many parents are forced to work long hours and therefore some form of childcare is a necessity. In most families both parents work, and even more so if they want things like private education, foreign holidays, second home in Gstaad, Jaguars, boats – whatever it is. Sophie talks about the American concept FAST – Families and Schools Together – and experiments with spending a solid fifteen minutes focussing solely on one of her three children whilst her phone beeps with emails and texts that she cannot look at and her other two children vie for her attention. She finds it harder than she thinks. I imagine this is because she is a working parent and is used to being able to attend to her work duties freely. Fifteen minutes I could manage easily because I don’t have a 9-5 job and I’m used to being a stay at home mother, but therefore no-one understands better than me just how boring it can be sometimes to spend time with your children. There are times when I am deeply grateful to have my BlackBerry by my side so I can check Facebook while I pretend to watch Angelina Ballerina. It is all about balance. And so, the question really becomes – if you are working so hard to afford a nice lifestyle for your children that you barely see them, when is it better to forfeit some luxuries in exchange for simply spending time at home with them? I don’t know anyone who has an ideal balance, most of my acquaintances are feeling their way through life tentatively trying to make the best decisions that they can, whether they have one child or four or are just considering having a baby. I have a friend who has just begun a year’s sabbatical from her very successful career, enabling her to spend more time at home with her daughter, and from speaking to her there were a number of factors, not least that she felt that she could afford to at this point in time. I imagine a decision like that is a difficult one.

For me, I do consider myself a good parent. I make sure my children eat the right food at the right times, I make sure they’re in bed by 7:30pm each night; I make sure they drink lots of water and get plenty of fresh air. I take them to school and I pick them up. I watch school matches and swimming galas. I help  with homework, I ask my eldest daughter about her day in school and listen as she tells me about her lessons and her friends. We discuss the things that she enjoys and the things that she would rather not do. I help her make decisions about things she finds difficult or scary. I watch for signs that something is wrong. I read my younger daughter endless stories and help  her craft princesses out of plasticine (no mean feat, let me tell you). We bake cakes together and go for walks. Currently, I spend much time listening to her eulogise about the Ice Age films. BUT – this aside – I am very, very bad at playing with my girls. I can do all the above willingly and happily, but ask me to get on the floor and be a cat and I simply cannot do it. Neither can I do role-play with Barbies, Disney princesses or farmyard animals. Games of hide and seek – yes, a game where we all have to pretend to be a character from Peppa Pig – no. Absolutely not. In these situations I pass the baton to my husband, who is much, much better than I am.

Does this make me a bad parent? I have no idea. My natural sense of confidence in my parenting ability makes me think not. Again, I don’t know anyone who considers themselves a perfect parent, ultimately we learn as we go along and we hope not to make too many mistakes. But as Sophie ultimately concludes, I believe that if I give my children my time, love and attention they will want for very little else. Except perhaps a mother who can be Cinderella or Mummy Pig at the drop of a hat. Although I must be honest and say I don’t know any mother who has those particular skills.

My debate today will be: do I let my youngest daughter watch her new DVD twice in a row? Good parenting sense dictates no, my need to write dictates yes. If her father were here they would be watching cricket together. So there we are – I may not be subjected to interminable facts about Andrew Strauss and Freddie Flintoff today but I will have to entertain my four year old alone. Suddenly a whole day without her father being around seems rather long……..


Sophie’s article: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-12664259

From nappy to nib

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

And lo…..it is February. How did that happen?! It seems like just yesterday we were leaping around and singing Auld Lang Syne – badly. I suppose it has been a busy month, the girls went back to school which involved an absurd amount of uniform being located, washed and ironed. I mean, why does a nine year old need three different sets of sports kit? The answer is indoors, outdoors and house colours in case you’re wondering. Plus a special white set that I have never seen her wear. In addition to this it was my birthday and a good two weeks were occupied by me being ill; luckily all better now. The birthdays just keep on coming though; it is my mother’s this weekend, which means a jaunt up to Windsor. Before we confirmed that we were coming I asked if she was planning to go out and do anything and she replied “Well I wanted to go out for Sunday lunch, I love that, but no-one else can make it so what’s the point? Me and Steve and the boys can sit and look at each other over the breakfast table, we don’t need to do it in a restaurant.” I felt guilty, but just to clarify, by ‘no-one else can make it’ she meant none of her children. My sister is working, which is a decent excuse, and my two older brothers are at Uni a long way away. They did offer to come back if she paid the train fare but that might feel rather like hiring your own children, no? And I, being the eldest, bowed to pressure and agreed to spend most of the weekend there. This will be after my 8:30am meeting on Saturday (why do I agree to these things? I could have made my apologies but I did that for the last one and it gets suspicious). Plus we then have a four-year-olds birthday party to go to for most of the rest of the day. Because the children are little this means that all parents have to stay as well, you can’t drop-off, which is usually OK because they generally have wine/Bucks Fizz at these things but I fear this won’t be the case on Saturday. Just to give you an idea of the calibre of this party the mother was telling me at the weekend how the Cinderella she had booked to lead the party had let them down because she’d been offered a six-month job singing on a West End stage. And they’ve hired a train to take the children around one of our local country parks. For the four-year-old party circuit this is pretty impressive. I fear my own daughter’s party will not compare well. Mostly because I can’t get through to the place I want to book it.

And when I have not been organising parties (or trying to) I have actually been writing. That’s right, I have imposed some discipline in my life and shut everything out of my mind except getting those tiny, vital words down onto the page. And to my surprise, it has been going superbly well. I’d reached a bit of an impasse with the manuscript – I simply could not progress it from where I had got to. I’d looked at it over and over again and just couldn’t do it. In this situation there are two options for me, either just plough on and write regardless and edit heavily afterwards, or erase ruthlessly back to an easier point and take it from there. I chose the latter because I learnt of the danger of writing yourself into a dead end when I was about fourteen. In this instance I didn’t have to erase too much and then the words flowed, much to my amazement. I know I’ve said this before, but the way that I write is by watching what is going on in my imagination and simply writing it down. Obviously I’m creating it at the same time but I’m not really aware of that bit. It does take a lot of concentration and, for me, peace and quiet, I’ve never been one of those people who can work with the radio on. Or cBeebies. And it isn’t foolproof either, sometimes my characters just aren’t doing the things I think they should be and then we fall out and I stop writing their story. But when it works, it’s magical. The people, the places that I’m writing about feel so real – even though I made them up. I’m aware this makes me sound slightly delusional, I don’t actually think they are real, but they exist, I can see them all so clearly in my mind’s eye. And if all goes well I can see the scenes created on the page in front of me with my real eye. As well as that, this time I have a more complete sense of the manuscript. I can clearly see the emotions that need to run through it and the ebb and flow of their fortunes in line with these emotions. I feel a bit sorry for my characters because they have to go through an awful lot before they get to where they want to in life, but they will be better people when they get there. So yes, writing is taking up a lot of my time, which is lovely.

Also this week I will be going to Cari Rosen’s book launch, which is tremendously exciting; we have exchanged a plethora of emails over the last few months, but never actually met. She is a very lovely, clever lady and her book, ‘The Secret Diary of a New Mum (aged 43 ¼)’ is published on Thursday 3rd February by Vermilion. Or it is is available online here: http://tinyurl.com/62vhw88. From knowing a bit of Cari and her – at times – self-deprecating sense of humour it promises to be an entertaining read, and possibly emotive too – from the subject matter there are issues it could raise. However, I shall reserve judgement and comments because I haven’t read it yet. I do find the question of older mothers particularly fascinating though because I am at the other end of the scale. I had my eldest daughter when I was nineteen, which technically made me a teenage mother for two months, yet I am so far from the stereotypical teen mother it’s laughable. It was a contentious thing to do certainly, especially because I was in my first year at University studying Law. But I was determined and, somehow, it worked. I completed my first year, had my daughter at the beginning of what would have been my second year, took a year out to be with her at home and then went back to Uni full-time, completing my degree and graduating one year later than planned. My then very young daughter went to the nursery on campus so I was never far from her and the whole thing worked very well, I was lucky. And whilst I have never regretted my decision for a second, having a baby at nineteen whilst in your first year at Uni is not something I would necessarily recommend to my own daughter, which is an interesting juxtaposition. Just to complete ‘The Short History of Sarah Haynes’: I never went into Law – I decided to write instead. But it is definitely a good thing to have that degree safety-net.

But if there are accusations to be levelled at older mothers for choosing to have children late in life (whether a preferred option or not), therefore surely there are accusations to be levelled at very young mothers too and surely I would be in line to be accused of these? I’m sticking a tentative toe into the water here, I’m aware that this is a hotly-debated subject. But really – can there be any such thing as a perfect time to have children? And if there were, it would surely be determined by factors which are true of women at different times in their lives, financial stability for example, so you could certainly never arrive at a perfect age. Unless you were doing it on grounds of physical ability alone and who would ever have a baby if they were not emotionally or practically ready just because now was the right time for their body? It’s an interesting subject and I suspect those people at extremes of the baby-carrying scale will always come in for some criticism, deserved or not. I think I am right in saying that Cari is on Women’s Hour tomorrow, Wednesday 2nd February, where perhaps some of these issues will be discussed.

Right, it’s all very well to eulogise about having these children and how it was definitely the best thing to do but I have now reached a moment in time where I must actually go and care for them; feed and dress and wash their clothes, etc. Oh and organise parties to celebrate the day of their contentious birth…….that sort of thing, the list goes on, as ANY mother will know, even if they are 43 ¼…….