Friday, 27 February 2009

Compromise or copout?

The other day, C was reading this article about bringing children up as vegetarians. He read much of it out, getting annoyed about the mother who was forcing her children to be vegetarian and the father who was too weak to stand up for his omnivorous principles to insist on a different way. As he was reading snippets of it out he was clearly expecting me to be equally offended, but I was sitting there thinking ‘Do you actually know who you are talking to?’.

I am a third-generation vegetarian. My grandparents became vegetarian after the war, initially because it was easier during times of rationing, but continuing for ethical reasons. My mother and all three of her sisters were brought up vegetarian (and atheist) in days when no-one understood what it meant. And all of them brought their children up to be vegetarian, one of them going further and becoming vegan and bringing her son up as a vegan.

I always assumed that my children would be fourth-generation vegetarians. Never did I picture myself as a mum to someone bolting down ham sandwiches and roast chicken. Never did I picture myself (after the trials of shared accommodation) having meat in my house. My father and all my uncles gave up meat at home (none of them gave it up entirely and would sneak a bacon butty when out at the pub), so of course anyone I married would do the same.

So how has it come to pass that my fridge often contains meat and fish? Why are there cans of tuna in the cupboard and packets of chorizo sitting next to the olive oil? Because, as has to happen occasionally in any relationship, there had to be a compromise. And I lost this one. The first time C came to visit me in my studio flat in the wilds of Barton, Oxford, he brought pizza. Pizza with pepperoni on it. To my ‘You can’t bring that in here. I won’t have meat in my house,’ he responded, ‘It’s just pizza! It’s not going to contaminate you,’ and when I tried to insist, he offered to go home. Love-sick twenty-something that I was, I demurred and let him have his pizza and cook it in my oven.

And there was my first mistake. As with dealing with toddlers and teenagers, if you show any sign of weakness, you become open to manipulation… sorry, I mean being the compromiser instead of the compromisee. My previous partner had been the one to show the weakness and I’d had four years of blissful meat-free living, only having to be in its presence in restaurants. Suddenly, I met someone who could hold his own and who could see that I would give in so as to be with him.

Despite spending years living with him and his omnivorous ways, for some reason I still assumed that our children would be brought up vegetarian. When we got engaged, there were things we had to discuss. Things like where we would get married, and how we would bring our children up. At this point I discovered that he was fairly determined that any children would not be brought up vegetarian and that, despite being completely unreligious, he wanted to get married in a church. These were two things that seemed to me like deal-breakers. When I told my mother and aunt one day, they were shocked. ‘What are you going to do?’ they asked. And the answer was that we would find some kind of compromise. Because I didn’t want to not marry him.

We got married in a registry office and R is being brought up as an omnivore. And I have gradually become more and more happy with this decision, to the point where I will stand up for it when talking to other vegetarians who question my principles. The theory is that R will have tasted meat and fish and will therefore have experienced it by the time she is old enough to decide for herself whether she wants to eat it or not. She will also have tasted and experience plenty of delicious vegetarian food and will know about nutrition and so on. For the moment, all she knows is that Mummy doesn’t eat meat or fish. Occasionally we’ll say ‘Mummy doesn’t eat meat because she’s vegetarian.’ But it won’t be until she’s a bit older and able to properly understand the relationship between the beef on the table and the cute cow in the field, that she it will be explained to her why Mummy doesn’t eat meat.

Whereas the mother in the article is keeping her children vegetarian until they can understand the implications of eating meat and decide for themselves that they actually want to eat meat, we are waiting for her to be old enough to understand the same implications, but to decide if she wants to give it up.

I never had a choice. I was always told that I could eat meat at school or at friends’ houses if I wanted to, but could not eat it at home (only the cats were allowed to eat meat in our house). While I did try some fish fingers and some fish once, I had never had the opportunity to gradually develop a taste for meat and fish, so it always tasted disgusting. Most fish makes me feel sick, as does roast chicken and other stronger smelling meats. I never had the opportunity to decide that, yes, I enjoyed the taste, but I wanted to give it up because I thought it was ethically wrong. I tried going vegan for ethical reasons and lasted four months. It’s quite possible that I would have done the same with vegetarianism if I hadn’t been one from birth.

I am very happy to have been brought up meat-free and am proud to be a third-generation vegetarian. But I have come to realise that bringing up a fourth-generation vegetarian isn’t necessarily that important. There are other ways to do things and by flooding R with delicious vegetarian food (much of made by C, who has compromised a lot himself and happily cooks and eats vegetarian food these days), if she does decide to follow in my footsteps, she’ll know that she can do so and still have a healthy and extremely satisfying diet.

What have you had to compromise on, or is your other half the main compromisee?

Monday, 23 February 2009

It's my party and I cry if I want to...

Well, my girl is growing up. She got her first invite to a birthday party at nursery school today. In a church hall, so presumably one of these big ones (though, maybe they just have a small house?).

The whole birthday party 'thing' freaks me out. Friends with older children tell me about competitions between mothers over who's going to have the best entertainer, who's going to spend the most money, who's going to have the best hall, who's going to have the fanciest goody bags... And apparently it costs them a fortune in presents for all the parties they have to go to. And, if you do one of these big parties, it costs a fortune. Some people spend a grand, apparently. And even for a fairly low-key one you're talking a few hundred quid.

Is this true? Or is it all just part and parcel of the scare stories people tell you, like the blood and gut stories of giving birth, and the claims of continual sleepless nights for years and years. That last one does seem to have come true for us and, actually, now I think of it, there was a fair bit of blood and guts during R's birth. Damn it. I guess the parties aren't a myth either.

But is it like weddings? The media tells you that the average amount people spend on a wedding is £20,000. But how many people really spend £20,000 on a wedding? It's not necessary. We spent about £1500 on ours and everyone gave us money for the honeymoon, so we maybe spent £200 on it ourselves. And we had a fantastic and very memorable time for both. No-one said 'What an awful wedding, why didn't they spend more money on flowers and fancy cars?' (as far as I know).

When I was kid, we all had birthday parties. They were at the child's home and there was party food, consisting of sandwiches, crisps and pineapple and cheese on sticks, followed by jelly and ice-cream, and slices of cake to take home. There was a party bag, which would have the cake, a balloon and a one of those things you blow and they unfurl and make a noise (what are they called?). And there would be party games. Musical chairs, musical bumps, musical statues, dying flies, sleeping lions (?) and, of course, everyone's favourite - pass the parcel. And that was it. They lasted about an hour and a half. And everyone did the same thing. Surely that will do now? Won't it? Please?!!

So, if we do budget parties is R going to be ostracised, or teased? Will she not be invited to any parties, because we're not reciprocating in the correct way? Or will there actually be plenty of normal (old-fashioned?) parties and nothing to worry about?

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Go Bananas!

Today I had my first experience of a soft-play centre. Some of you may wonder how I have managed to go two and a half years without experiencing one yet and some of you may be wondering why anyone in their right mind would go to on in the middle of half term.

For some reason I had been put off the places by comments about hygiene. Which is quite strange, because I’m not really hugely bothered about hygiene at home. Not in a disinfecting everything and sterilising all children’s eating implements until they are two sense. Not in a washing the floors more than about once a month. But the idea that children might be sick or something like that in the ball pit, put me off. 

Why I was there in the middle of half term was to meet an old school friend and her children. We hadn’t seen each other in over ten years and our children are all fairly energetic, so she suggested Go Bananas, because her children always want to go there when visiting their grandparents.

Oh. My. God. We walked in and there was a wall of noise. I looked around the tables stuffed with coats and shoes and piled high with cartons of juice and coffee cups, searching for my friend and hoping that I would still recognise her. Another very kind mum gestured to me and said we could have her table as she was just leaving. I plonked R down on a seat, whipped my phone and manically texted ‘Where are you?!’, just as she walked through the door. Phew!

Her children waved a cursorily hello and then ran off to play. R and I had no idea what to do, but fortunately my friend was able to point  us in the right direction. R went and dived into the toddler area and was running around going up and down the slides. At first, I was standing up every five seconds to check she was alright. She was fine, holding her own. I chatted away a bit and then stood up again.

Looked. And looked. Not in the toddler area. So off I went into the rest of this huge room of slides and tunnels and holes and nets… Searching among all these children, for a purple cardigan. There she was. Climbing up through a hole from the second floor to the third. She’d made friends with an older boy and was having a great time. I made sure she knew where I was and went back to my friend, popping back to check every ten minutes or so.

We were there for about an hour and a half. She came back for a bit and had some juice and then went back and played some more, this time making friends with an older girl. She had no inhibitions about going up to people and chatting to them. No worries about climbing round this huge obstacle course and waiting her turn, but not letting anyone push in front of her. Why can’t I be like that?

It’s a pretty amazing place, though I think that, if we go again, it will definitely be during school term.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Where does the water go?

down the plughole

At the end of bathtime the other night, R said, as she often does ‘Where does the water go?’ She used to be satisfied with ‘Down the plughole’, but more recently she needs more information, ‘Down the plughole, then through the pipes and down through the drain pipes outside and into underground pipes that go along under the road, and eventually go into the sea. I think. I’ll have to check.’

And suddenly I realised I was going to have to brush up on a lot of things that I haven’t really thought about for a while, so that I can answer her questions as accurately as possible. I missed out the water treatment plant, by the way. And, of course, she now needs to know where the water comes from, so I had to brush up on evaporation and precipitation. Quite often I ask resort to ‘We’ll have to check with Daddy. I think he might know that one.’ or ‘I think … but I’ll check on the Internet after you’ve gone to sleep.’ I need to get better at remembering to look it up.

Do your children ask questions you can’t answer? What do you say? Do you know of any websites with lots of simple answers to the sorts of questions children ask? (I found the water answers on one of the water companies’ websites.)

Photo credit: Vertigogen

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

It's carnival time!

Head on over to Laura Driver's Are we nearly there yet mummy? for the fortnightly British Mummy Bloggers Carnival. As always, there are some great posts to read (reminder to self... bookmark on netbook, so can read between games of Doctor and Schools) and you might even find some new blogs to add to your blogroll.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Flexible childcare?

I’m sure there are people out there who manage to stick to a 35-hour (or 25-hour or 10-hour or whatever) week, every week of the year, except the five weeks when they go on holiday. Well, yes, there are. They’re called employees. Even then, there are plenty of employees who don’t manage that, anyway.

Running your own business, though, generally means you have to deal with fluctuations. Seasonal fluctuations. Tri-annual fluctuations. Fluctuations from one client and different fluctuations from another. It is very difficult to balance this out so that you can provide a consistent workload that keeps you happy, your children happy and the house clean.

Since R was born, we have been fortunate (in some ways) to have one average year and one not very good year. In terms of our finances this is a bit of an issue. In terms of quality time that R has had with both of us in her first two and a half years, this has been pretty darned good. This year is looking like it’s going to be a very, very, very busy year. The kind of year where we might not be able to do all the work ourselves and will be using freelancers to help out.

But we come up against a problem that faces many self-employed parents. We will need extra childcare. On an ad hoc basis. So that, when we have a calm couple of days we can shower R with attention and take her swimming and to the zoo and fun things like that. And not have to pay someone for not looking after her.

We are fortunate that, this year, the nursery school where she goes is pretty quiet (2006 was a low birth-rate year, apparently), so there are certain sessions when we can phone the day before, or even that morning and say ‘Do you have the ratios for R to come?’

But, if it weren’t for my mum, I honestly do not know what we would do. She already looks after R three mornings a week, though that will be less when R starts at playgroup in May. But she is happy to keep for an extra couple of hours, at short notice. She’s happy to have her for the weekend, at short notice. She’ll even come and look after her here for a bit, if necessary and give her her bath and put her to bed.

This week, for example, she has swapped her days round, because it’s half-term and we have plans on Thursday and Friday. In the summer holidays, she will be called on a lot. And, in March, when we are going to have to work double the hours we currently do, she will probably have to an extra couple of hours most of her days and at least one weekend, possibly two. Thank you Mama!

So… Do you need flexible childcare and, if so, where do you get it? Do you use grandparents or other informal childcare? What do you do in the holidays? Do you take the whole time off? Do you cut back your hours?

Friday, 13 February 2009

Apples, oats and greedy dogs

After making Nixdminx’s Grandma’s Cheese Flapjacks a couple of days ago and not eating a single digestive biscuit since then, not to mention having considerably more energy, I thought I would have a go at adapting them to make a sweet version, to satisfy any sweet cravings.

This is what I came up with (my quantities are fairly haphazard as I tend to just throw ingredients in, without measuring):

2 cups of porridge oats
1 grated apple
1 grated (or mashed, if it’s quite ripe) banana
1 cup of dried fruit (I used sultanas, cranberries and goji berries)
Sprinkle of cinammon
1 tablespoon of melted butter
2 eggs

Mix everything together and push into a greased swiss roll tin, spreading as evenly as you can. Bake at 175 C for 25 minutes.

Cut into squares/rectangles/whatever as soon as it’s out of the oven, then leave to cool for half an hour before removing from the tin with a flat spatula or similar.

They were delicious. They were really sweet, without having any added sugar or syrup or anything. They were a bit cake-like, so I might change the quantities a bit next time to make them crunchier. I might also see if they work without the butter – to make them even better for keeping slim!

I loved them. C loved them. R didn’t have a chance to try them, because apparently the dog also loved them and finished the lot when someone (not entirely sure whether it was me or C, so I will assume it was him!) left the kitchen door open and someone (me, unfortunately) didn’t put them away in a tin as soon as they were cooled.

I will be making them again tomorrow.

Thank you Nixdminx for the inspiration – and for the lovely cheesy flapjacks, which are helping considerably in keeping me good.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

The best-laid plans

After a shouting match yesterday morning at getting-dressed-and-out-the-door time, I decided to try a different approach today. I decided that we would make sure R was dressed at least an hour before she had to leave the house.

This was achieved by refusing to play doctors, shops or anything with her until she was dressed. I told she could play on her own in her pyjamas, but that I wouldn't join in, unless she was dressed. She played by herself for about 5 minutes and then came over to me, asking 'Do you want to play Doctors?'. When I said 'No, not until you're dressed,' she said, 'OK.' and got dressed. Wow! I was so pleased and proud of both of us. No shouting, no tears, no door slamming. Hoorah.

Half an hour later, she had an accident and her trousers, tights and knickers had to come off. Would she put a fresh lot on? Nope. She spent the next 15 minutes playing on her own with nothing on her lower half, refusing every time I suggested she get dressed. Grr!

But... I still managed to avoid shouting. She stopped playing and went and sat at the table to finish her breakfast (about 10 minutes before we had to leave). So, I brought the clothes through and said 'Why don't we see if I can manage to put your clothes on you, while you eat your breakfast. Do you think I can manage it?' She was game for the challenge and we did manage it without either of us getting cross.

But can I manage it all the time? Do I have enough imagination to come up with a new game or challenge every time she starts being contrary? We shall see.

Oh, yes, and I was so excited that I was jumping about saying 'Don't you have an ingenious mum? Isn't Mummy ingenius?' and she turned to me, put her head to one side and said 'Yes, Mummy. You are a genius.' Now, if only everyone else would concur!

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Falling off the wagon

For a couple of months now, I have been on a low-GI diet. I took a break over Christmas, so as not to be awkward for my in-laws (and enjoy roast potatoes on Christmas Day!) and, while I haven’t been hugely strict since then, I have mostly stuck to it. It’s gone pretty well. No drastic weight-loss, but fairly consistent and steady weight-loss or maintenance. More importantly, I was enjoying it and the vast majority of the food has been really, really nice. (A lot of the recipes in the book above are gorgeous, even if they have been taken from an old book and re-packaged as low-GI!) Unlike many diets I have tried, where you do it for a month and, as soon as you stop, you go straight out and buy a dozen cream cakes, this was one where you want to stick to it. You can eat as much as you like, just keep off certain foods. In fact, even some bad foods can be made into low or medium GI by accompanying them with a big bowl of salad or fruit. Perfect.

But… I have fallen off the wagon and gone back to my old, bad, high-GI ways. Since we have been trying to save money and therefore keeping to a daily grocery budget, it’s become more difficult to maintain. Why? Because potatoes are really cheap. So C said that we really need to add potatoes into the repertoire as it was difficult coming up with cheap meals without having potatoes sometimes. Fair enough.

I could have just gone with some occasional potatoes, but kept it up in other ways. I could have made sure we always had salad when we had potatoes. I could have said OK, but I’ll not have any potatoes when you do. I could have planned out menus, like I did at the start and make sure they use cheaper seasonal vegetables, and no potatoes. But instead, I’ve fallen completely off the wagon. I’ve been eating toast and peanut butter, drinking squash, eating chips, eating lots and lots of digestive biscuits, instead of the low-GI Nairn’s fruity oat biscuits (which are gorgeous, though not cheap), having cheese sandwiches for lunch...

I can feel my stomach being stretched again, I can feel all the good being undone. The descent into unhealthiness has almost certainly contributed to me feeling really really rotten today. I have a sore throat and a horrible cold, I am exhausted and I ache. My creativity, which was bursting out of its box at the weekend, has been put away again and buried at a bottom of a pile in the basement.

But, despite knowing all this, what do I want now? A bowl of ice cream.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Snow days and short fuses

We had two snow days this week brought on, not by the closure of schools or nurseries (though I think most of the local ones closed), but the non-running of the buses. My mum was stuck at home bored and missing R, who she hadn’t seen for almost a week, due to our trip to Wales and C and I were stuck at home with a two-and-a-half-year-old who has inexplicably lost interest in the TV.

The few of you saints who manage without TVs will perhaps not understand how this sudden inability to be entranced by the moving pictures on the little box in the corner of the living room could affect us. But most of you will. It means you can’t get anything done. At all. It means you can’t sit down and rest. At all. And it means your sanity makes a quick escape out of the cat flap. Oh yes, and there’s really no time for writing or reading blogs!

Thursday and Friday were spent playing hundreds and billions of games of Doctors, Dentists, Schools, Shops, Mummies, Daddies and Babies, Goblin Kings, Peppa Pig (yes, she won’t watch it now, but she can still make you alternate between being Mummy Pig, Daddy Pig and George for half an hour) and feeding every piece of plastic food in the house to one or other cuddly toy. There was some snow play (courtesy of her father – she was not interested when I suggested it), some drawing and some book reading and food eating. There was even quite a bit of tidying up and some loading of washing machine and pressing of buttons.

Toward the end of Friday, however, I found myself reaching the end my tether. C had picked up something (so had R, but children have this amazing ability to run around with seemingly more energy than normal, when they are ill) and I had sent him to bed (no deadlines, weekend, snow days, etc. so I didn’t have to do any work; forgot about the whole need for a break, though).

I need to make the (very simple) dinner. So I sit R down in front of Toy Story, with a cup of milk and a biscuit. Two minutes later, she appears asking ‘Can I see?’. I pick her up so she can see the vegetables I am about to chop. ‘Can I help?’ ‘Aren’t you watching Toy Story? Go back and watch Toy Story, and I’ll call you when dinner is ready.’

R drags a chair in from the dining room and climbs up on it, so she can help. I sigh and give in. But I have absolutely no patience. And R knows it, I’m sure. She hands me the vegetables, but in between she bangs the things hanging from the shelf. ‘Don’t do that. You might break something.’ Bang, bang. ‘Don’t do that.’ Bang, bang, bang, giggle. ‘I said, don’t do that.’ Bang, bang, bang, giggle. ‘If you do that one more time, I will put you back in the living room and shut the door.’ Bang, bang, stare.

I put her in the living room and shut the door. She cries. I open the door and sit on the floor to explain calmly why she can’t bang those things and that I need to cook dinner or else we won’t eat and it will be bedtime and she’ll be hungry. She nods and sits down on the sofa. I go back to the kitchen. Within two minutes she is back in again. ‘Can I see?’ ‘No! I said stay in the living room. Go back to the living room. Now!’ ‘Right now! I’m getting very cross!’ ‘I’m getting very cross.’ I pick her up, put her in the living room and shut the door.

I go back to the kitchen and very quickly finish chopping the vegetables and start them frying in the wok. I go to the living room to check she’s OK. She puts her hands up to picked up and (fake) cries. I pick her up and say that I’m sorry I shouted. I put her down on the sofa and go back to the kitchen. She comes back in again. I’m distracted and pour balsamic vinegar into the stir fry instead of sesame oil. I lose it. I screech ‘Go back to the living room, now! I need to cook the bloody dinner and you need to eat it before it’s time for bed!’ Really screech.

She goes back to the living room. Comes back quite quickly, but dinner’s almost ready, so she gets to sit at the table and wait. We sit down to have dinner and have a pleasant time. She eats loads and shares with me, telling me how yummy it is (balsamic vinegar didn’t do any harm, might even have been an improvement). And then it’s bathtime, which is also fun and pleasant with no problems and then it’s bedtime, which goes remarkably well. I am extra nice and cuddly through most of this. Guilt can do that.

And then I go downstairs, sit down and kick myself for not being able to contain my temper, when all she is doing is what is perfectly natural. For making incredibly stupid mistakes. For extraordinary lack of consistency.

And I pray to any deities who might be listening that the no-TV phase will not last long. I need my 3-4pm Peppa Pig fix and my half an hour of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse while I drink my tea and wake up.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

It will be fine

As we pull out of the station, my phone rings. It’s my aunt calling to persuade us not to go. I’ve been checking the weather all morning, and for the last few days and it will be fine. She has also been checking the weather and it will be far too dangerous and we should not be travelling. No-one should be travelling. My mother has also been trying to persuade us not to go for the last few days. My sister and I think it will be an adventure. And that it will be fine.

My sister and I alternately shush our mother, who does not quite seem to understand the concept of a quiet carriage, and the fields flash past us, growing slightly whiter. Out of the corner of my eye, I glimpse some snow circles. Who has gone to the trouble of making these perfectly geometric shapes? The snow doesn’t seem very deep and I can see gaps of green and drips of water, suggesting a thaw. I text my aunt: it will be fine.

We reach Swansea at four to find a city strangely deserted. The streets are awash with slush, though there is still some ice causing me to slip and slide in my sensible-looking Clarks shoes that somehow do not have any grip. Most of the shops are shut, but it doesn’t look too bad. It will be fine.

The flat-screen TV in our hotel room greets us with reports of a country ground to a halt. Six hundred schools closed. Though how many schools actually are there in Wales? For all I know, there could be 6000. Many people couldn’t get to work; others manned deserted shops before deciding, or being allowed to, close early. Farmers had been clearing some of the rural roads, where the gritters could not reach. The country is now facing a night of freezing temperatures that will turn all the thawed snow into ice. The coverage is all about worst-case scenarios. Of course. That’s what people want to see. It will be fine. 

While my mother has a late siesta, my sister and I explore the quiet streets, casing the area for potential places to eat. We find an open Pound Shop, where I buy junk food and my sister gets an exotic 20s-style hat and a jar of Galaxy hot chocolate. We sit in an American Diner and have milkshakes and fries and listen to 50s music.

Later, after much indecision, grumbling and sighing we go to a lovely Italian restaurant called Il Padrino. I have a creamy tagliatelle with sundried tomatoes, white wine and pesto. My sister has a margherita pizza and a side salad drenched in a delicious dressing. My mother has a huge calzone; she cannot eat it all and, when the waitress comes to clear our plates my mum grabs the remainder of her calzone and hides in her napkin, not at all surreptitiously. We really can’t take her out in public.

During the meal, my uncle calls to say that he cannot get out of his road. The main roads are fine, but his road is completely blocked, so they will be unable to join us the next day. In some ways this is good, because we don’t have to be on our best behaviour. But then, not having to be on our best behaviour could mean we snap and bicker at each other, instead of pulling together. R calls as well to say ‘Goodnight’. She seems very unconcerned about my absence. Good for her.

I want a dessert and the waiter tells me about the two desserts (Italian Panna Cotta or Tiramisu), both of which he has made with his own hands. I choose the Panna Cotta, since I really don’t like Tiramisu, though I would much rather have some profiteroles. It is a beautiful dessert, with a lovely chocolate sauce drizzled to make a smiling sun.

We return to the hotel, where my sister has a long bath and I tap, tap, tap on the computer, very disappointed that the only wireless internet available is the very expensive one offered by the hotel itself. My internet usage is limited to occasional forays onto the BBC weather site using my mobile.

Despite not having to get up to a crying child two or three times during the night, my sleep is still restless. My mother wakes in the middle of the night and wanders round the room, stubbing her toes and turning the wrong light on. She goes back to sleep, but has woken my sister who, sharing the double bed with me, tosses and turns for some time before falling back to sleep. When I do wake up properly, I am pleasantly surprised to find that it is 8.15; more than an hour’s lie-in! And almost all the snow has gone and there is no ice. There are cars and buses on the roads.

Much bickering and grumbling on the part of my mother follows, while she tries to get herself together enough to go outside and have a cigarette. Meanwhile, my sister and I use a teaspoon to transfer some of my father’s ashes into a freezer bag, which we then place in a pretty tin, to give to my Gran.

We manage to miss two buses: the first because we just leave the hotel and then look to see what time it is; the second because the timetable I printed out from the internet is wrong and the bus goes ten minutes earlier than we had thought. This gives my sister the opportunity to go and look at lots of shoe sales. She is strong and manages not to buy any, though does persuade herself that The Body Shop is still a good place, despite being owned by Loreal, thus enabling her to buy a new (and thoroughly gorgeous) lipstick. I get five minutes to tap, tap, tap on the netbook and my mother gets the chance to smoke a few more cigarettes.

The bus journey is beautiful, even though most of the snow has disappeared. I love bus journeys, especially in areas I don’t know. If you drive, you have the tendency to go directly from A to B. You might look in a guide book and pick a scenic route, but that is not the same as being on a proper country bus, which winds its way through villages, taking detours down cul-de-sacs and showing the real world.

We are dropped off at a lovely pub, where they very kindly draw us a map and allow us to leave some of our bags. We set off down the road, doubling back on some of the journey we had just made on the bus. We pass five bus stops then turn off at a post office, after my sister buys some postcards of the bay.

The road starts off as a small, but car-friendly bendy road, but gradually thins out until it is just a mud track. There may not be any ice or snow now, but the mud is enough to make me wish I had popped into Shoe Zone and bought some cheap shoes with actual grips on them while we were waiting for buses.

We do not walk together. My sister rushes ahead, taking on my dad’s place (he always walked about 100 yards ahead of us, wherever we went). I follow, slipping and sliding and grateful that my sister has taken the rucksack with the incredibly heavy urn in and my mother struggles on behind.

My mother and I veto my sister’s idea of going down what looks like a very steep and treacherous path and we continue on the main route instead. But then we come across a river with no visible crossing, so we have to turn around and take my sister’s way. And it’s not really treacherous, just a little bit challenging.

We reach the bay and sit down on the pebbles. The sea is rough and grey and beautiful. The salty wind stings our faces and nobody wants to say anything. My mother had some music that she wanted to play, but the sea and the wind is too loud for us to be able to hear it, so we don’t try. My mother grabs a handful of ashes and puts them in the bottom of her camera bag to take home. If she had asked in advance, she could have had them in a nice receptacle like Gran. As I said, though, you can’t take her anywhere.

My mother goes first and takes a handful of ashes and throws them into the sea. While she is gone, my sister cries and I hug her. I don’t cry, though I am relieved that my sister is crying and I can comfort her and therefore have more purpose than just being the very inept organiser of this strange, strange trip.

It’s my turn and I shake about half the ashes out of the urn. Some of them land in the sea and briefly form a grey sludge; many of them blow back onto my coat and I wipe them off. I feel nothing. There is no connection to my dad. I can see why he liked the bay and it pleases me that we are finally here, though it would have been better to have come with him. But really, I feel nothing.

My mother throws another handful and then my sister finishes off. I watch her hopping about at the water’s edge, shaking the plastic bag and the urn, trying to get all the ashes out and it makes me think of a trip to Weston with R and my dad; my sister hopping back and forth among the waves while she videoed me; my dad taking over the videoing, so we could all be in it. One of my sister’s feet gets wet and we all laugh a bit. Which is nice.

That’s it. It’s all done. I’ve been putting this off for over a year, finding excuse after excuse not to do it. But the actual act is so much of an anticlimax that I wonder why I was avoiding it. My gran is right. There was nothing of my dad in those ashes. My gran believes he is up above. When I speak to her I concur, though I don’t think so. To me he is here all the time, in our memories and our tears and laughter when we think or talk about something he did or things he used to say.

It’s not until I’m going to bed, after the uneventful journey home, after the big hug R gives me, after reading her her stories and listening to her fall asleep, after eating the lovely warming stew that C has made, that I look at the picture of Papa on the mantelpiece and remember that it is his birthday. I kiss my finger and touch it to his lips and say ‘Happy Birthday, Papa. Rest in peace.’

It will be fine.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Absent mum

Today, I will be staying away from home without R.

For some reason, this feels like a big moment. A milestone, if you will. It’s not as though we haven’t spent nights apart before; she quite often stays over at my mum’s so we can have a night out, or just so she can stay over with her Granny. It’s not as though she’s not going to be in safe hands. She’ll be with her dad. It’s not as if C hasn’t put her to bed many times before and bathed her and cooked her dinner. it’s not as though he doesn’t collect her from nursery school all the time. While I do tend to do the morning getting up, breakfast, getting dressed and so on, it’s not as though he’s never done it.

There is no reason to worry. And I’m not worried as such. But I do feel weird. Weird because R will be going to sleep in her own bed without me in the house. Weird because when she wakes up in the middle of the night, I will not hear her and go through to her. Weird because when she wakes up in the morning when the light manages to peak under the black-out lining on the curtains, it will be C getting her to greet her, not me.

I also feel quite excited about the prospect of a child-free train journey. The prospect of reading the paper and a book, of playing multi-player brain training games with my mum and sister, of maybe drinking a beer in the hotel bar. And then I feel a little guilty, because the purpose of our journey is to scatter my father’s ashes, not have a fun night away.

It's carnival time!

If you need a bit of reading to keep you warm amid the snow, or something to keep you amused while you wait for the washing machine to finish its cycle, or something to help you procrastinate, or if you just want to find some new Mummy and Daddy bloggers to add to your blogroll, then head on over to the witty and wonderful Jo Beaufoix's blog, where it's Carnival Time!

Monday, 2 February 2009

Money, money, money

Today, I have mostly been sorting out finances. Juggling money in order to pay the taxman. Phoning credit card companies and asking them what interest rate deals they would like to offer me to dissuade me from transferring all my money *cough*debt*cough* to another card. Telling them that, no, I really, really, really do not want payment protection insurance. It is a complete con. They might as well stop the sales pitch. I will not be swayed. I am a strong, confident woman... Changing the Sky package from the all-singing, all-dancing, stupidly expensive one to the Children's Pack and Variety Pack. (Not giving it up entirely, thank you - it is essential for R to be able to watch Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and Dora the Explorer. Essential, I tell you.) Cancelling the ISA payments and pulling the money out of it (oops, should have done that before the stock market went kabloom). Moving money around to pay off teeny tiny loan that is costing silly money every month (monthly payment more than decimated). Already got the tracker mortgage payment lowered in line with the interest rate falls (you'd think it would be automatic but, no, you have to call and tell them to do it). And probably some other stuff, too.

None of this is down to the credit crunch. We did have some quiet months at the end of last year, but are going to be very busy over the next few months and things are already being booked in for the summer months. Last year was a bit under on average than usual. The problem was, I had been 'managing' the finances. And I'm completely and utterly useless at it. We're not entirely sure how I ended up being the one doing this, but it was a combination of the business being mine to start with, my having set up most of the utilities, my having officially had the mortgage to start with (though it's been in both our names for a fair while now) and C having a tendency to panic about money. The thing is, though, his tendency to panic about money isn't and wasn't a thing to avoid. It is not a thing to hide away and cower from. It is a thing to embrace. To love and to nurture. Because then, perhaps, we will live nicely within our means, instead of some way without them.

Don't worry (if you were at all inclined to, of course), we're not about to declare bankruptcy or anything. Though it's possible that if I'd continued for a few years like that without calling help to C, we might have ended up at that point. We're not going to starve. Or lose the roof over our heads or anything like that. So we're doing very well compared to many people. This is more of a belt-tightening exercise (put carrots and mushrooms in the pasta sauce instead of courgettes and aubergines) but also an exercise in judicious money management.

Be systematic in paying off debts - in order. Make sure good safety nets are in place. Don't use overdrafts in the wrong way. Don't use credit cards in the wrong way. Know how much money you need to make each month and chase new work in plenty of time, even if you're really busy. It might take an extra fifteen minutes to send out a similarly-worded (check carefully you change the names and the details!) email to a number of contacts, but if it means you make the money you need to the next month (or more), rather than dip into the safety net, it's worth it. Pay the safety net back first when the money does come in. All these things are things I know, but I somehow fell out of practice with them over the last couple of years (perhaps it's down to the Total Fuckwit Chip they installed when R was born).

So, from now on, the money management in the household is being shared (though R's part in it will be limited to not being allowed to make money out of the coin jar and post it through the floorboards anymore). There will be some of that there communication.

And can I suggest, if any of you do not share the financial decisions, maybe talk about it occasionally. If you're bearing the burden on your own, ask for help. If t'other half is, check in with him/her and make sure they're not sinking. And if they are don't blow up. A problem shared and other clich├ęs. I'm pretty sure (and if I could be bothered to look it up, I could probably find some evidence to back it up) that money troubles are one of the biggest catalysts in marriage (and relationship) breakdown. Don't become a statistic.