Drawing breath

There’s a wild dance out there called the summer holidays. (And yes, it’s the footslog through the trenches too, depending on how long the holidays are near you.)

Every summer is different, I’ve found. One year, the kids need lots of structure – like going swimming every morning, so that you have something at the same time every day. (At least for a week.)

Another year, they need lots of rest: because school demands more of them, or it’s just been a really busy time.

Some years, they need lots of playdates outside the house, before they, you and the walls around you implode.

And sometimes, being with each other is enough. (Sometimes, even enough for you to grab another coffee and tentatively put your feet up for a bit.)

It’s also different every year because of you. What kind of a year you’ve had. What kind of a summer holidays you’ve steered everyone through.

Some years, it’s about keeping you afloat, through this five minutes, and the next, and the next.

===

Our dance is done for this summer. I can already feel the evening temperatures changing.

Soon we’ll be at that point where there are unexpected shrieks because the spiders have decided the same, and are coming indoors for the winter. (Usually early September, I find.)

When I was younger, I used to relish autumn the most. I don’t do so well in high temperatures, in general, and September is a great time for sunshine plus slightly cooler weather.

When you are at school, September happens to include other lovely things like choosing new pens and pencils for school, lining up the stickers for your pencil tin, maybe even finding the perfect bag to carry it all around in.

(That was me in my teens. I have moved on a little since then, but I still miss my favourite school bag, the one that I resewed so many times because it was the best, and I didn’t want to try to replace it.)

===

This year, September will be about brambling – because going for walks and coming home with free fruit seems like a good idea.

It will be about seeing lots of people at weekends. That’s the season we’re in at the moment.

It will be about finding new books at the library; working out how much homework we can actually get done while one swims and the other sort of works.

It will be about pushing the food boundaries a little more for one; protecting the sleep of another.

But mostly – and I am writing this to myself, to remind me – it will be about drawing breath. Because even though new pencil tins are lovely, drawing breath is what I need the most.

Organisation, relaxation or sleep

The evening has come, gentle reader. If you are a parent reading this, you’ve made it this far. And now a choice awaits you: what to do with that precious time when your wee ones are asleep?

(At least, you hope they are. Junior Reader has been back up already, but I left that to Dan to sort out.)

It seems to come down to three options: organisation, relaxation or sleep.

===

Organisation: we know this one. It’s called getting packed lunch boxes ready; doing the recycling. Trying to find the bits of the abandoned board game; corralling the (hopefully by now) dry washing and distributing it to its various homes.

It’s called any number of things that you couldn’t get done in the day – or were unable to finish – because of the stream of other items you needed to attend to.

These may or may not include sorting out arguments, reminding people where to put their school uniform once removed, dealing with food that didn’t last that well in the fridge after all, happily responding to sudden requests for a second rereading of a new favourite book, sorting out more arguments, and so on.

If you are a recovering perfectionist, or even just like to be able to move your feet across the sitting room floor of an evening, organisation is hard to escape.

Even if you do the bare minimum. Or kick some of it to one side. Or drape a towel over the things you can’t face looking at for a while.

===

Relaxation. That’s what we really want, isn’t it? A chance to stop; perchance, to chat with your other half.

There are all kinds of lovely books to read; things to make, perhaps; uplifting TV programmes that might be on catchup, that kind of thing.

There is also comfort TV, comfort eating, and comfort ignoring as much else as you can.

There are some evenings that are only about this category – because it’s been a really tough day, and I just can’t face any more have-tos. Or maybe even because it’s been a really good day, and hey, it’s a treat.

Relaxation is a an attractive land that is really not that far away, but I often forget to visit.
I am still stamping tickets in Organisation when the train has pulled out of the station.

===

Sleep. That’s probably the thing I really do need the most of. But I don’t necessarily do that.

This is because, despite all of the above, my body clock still runs on Evening Time, and I like to unwind a bit more when the house is a bit quieter.

Children tend to run on Morning Time. On occasion, they run on What Time Do You Call This? Whichever, it’s not a natural companion to Evening Time.

Last night, I fell asleep shortly after Official Bedtime, which messed with my own bedtime.

This was later joined by a) anxiety sleep (we all had to be out of the house in good time today) b) annoying dreams c) one child sounding like they were waking up an hour before they needed to d) losing the alarm inside the bedclothes e) someone else getting up earlier than normal.

Tonight, I really should vote sleep, and have done with it.

===

Tonight, instead, I’m on Writing Time. That, in a funny way, is organisation and relaxation together.

If it would only gain me an extra hour or two of sleep, I’d do so all the more.

A life through leftovers

Something happens along the way with kids.

You’re already accustomed to putting them first in so many areas: when you sleep, when you wake, when you use the bathroom independently (if you’re lucky) comes back to them.

And that’s OK. So too is planning a certain amount of things based on them: what they enjoy, their attention span, and how high their wellies are for certain active pursuits.

Lately, I seem to have added another level of awareness (or maybe it’s subservience, I’ve still to decide).

The one when you don’t necessarily make your own lunch: you just eat the various leftovers, after they’ve decided what they will or won’t eat that particular day.

===

I already have a commitment to leftovers (you may remember), so that’s one thing. I like seeing what supermarkets have on offer, and coming up with meals around that (you may also remember).

In defence, I think it sits as equal parts hating to waste food – and equal parts gluttony.

It’s easier when it’s fruit or veg on special: that’s pretty much a no-brainer. Other items…well, it may depend. On how much I want to keep items out of supermarket bins. (Particularly if they include marzipan.)

Weekends do see us eating leftovers reasonably often. Whatever Dan didn’t use up at the office during the week, whatever is still in the bottom of the fridge.

I think of these as ‘eatie-uppies’: everyone ends up with something different, but it means that there’s not waste. (Although I am struggling to find new uses for leftover mango chutney after a takeaway, I must confess.)

===

Today’s leftovers, for your delectation (and mine too):

- a small box of leftover chicken and rice. (Junior Reader is eating more – but I am still trying to gauge the quantities right.)

- a quarter of a tuna sandwich from yesterday. (Someone else couldn’t quite manage the whole thing.)

- a Babybel cheese. Because in my current run of food research, they may say they eat them – and they certainly like playing with the outside waxy bit – but they don’t really eat them. So this was the last one.

- a slice of raisin bread. Last one in the packet, also a supermarket discount item. And someone’s tummy dictates no more dried fruit for a little while.

- Along the way, and possibly yesterday, I believe that a certain quantity of cold baked beans may have been consumed. Probably because they needed to be used up. (Also because I have a certain fondness for cold baked beans.)

- I failed on finding a use for a small amount of uncooked cauliflower (food waste bin), but succeeded in adding a spare carrot and a certain amount of yellow pepper into a rice salad. (That one was pretty good.)

===

Despite all of the above activity, the fridge has a small amount of a ground rice pudding in a pot. And some leftover icing from a baking project, where the lead baker really wanted the icing – then decided they didn’t actually like the taste.

There is also apple puree and pumpkin puree which have been taking up space in the bottom of the freezer – and might just make it into a smoothie over the weekend.

I really don’t know what to do with the icing though. Other than dunk biscuits into it. Which I really shouldn’t be writing about at this time of night.

The summer in numbers

There’s a whole load of counting going on here now.

Counting the number of sweets in a packet; grapes in a box. How many sleeps til this, and how many seconds til that.

It seems only fair to respond with some numbers of my own. With the beginning of term just upon us, here is the summer in numbers.

===

One: outing on which we spontaneously bought ice cream cones. (But there have been plenty of ice lollies at other times.)

Two: different softplays visited. (Thank goodness for sunshine, and not needing to go there much.)

Three: sets of good (kid) friends seen – the ones where it’s always a treat to catch up, especially when we don’t live near each other.

Four: pots of playdough open at any one time. But No More Than That!

Five: the minimum number of minutes left when it’s time to leave the park. (Don’t even think of making it any fewer.)

Six: children on a bench. How many could we get to look at the camera at one time? (Maybe four.)

Seven: ways to come down the slide at the park. I’m sure it must be that many. I know I’ve been told to watch all of them.

Eight: the number of episodes on a Shaun the Sheep DVD. (Good to know. Shaun can cheer up anyone, even if their tea has arrived a bit late that night.)

Nine: sleeps until…well, anything really. Because counting sleeps is very important.

Ten: different outdoor places visited. Parks, beaches, botanical gardens. Several of them have been visited umpteen times, even in the rain. (Because there has been rain. But it certainly hasn’t stopped play.)

===

I count a few other things myself. The number of new foods tried. The number of days of new beginnings.

The number of freckles on a nose. The number of stories needed at bedtime before it’s time for sleep.

The number of times you can read the same book – and find different things to comment on.

The number of new soft toys acquired over the summer – and the limitless love that lies behind the people who gave them.

Missing in action

I am here, honest – it’s just been one of those weeks. Ones where there’s lots occupying the mind as well as the body. Harder to decide what to write about, let alone to engage the mind and fingers to do so.

Missing in action – is it a parent thing too? We are so often in a whirl of activity (I am currently, anyway), our bodies carrying out any number of tasks, our heads trying to keep up with multiple conversations and questions from small people around us.

In between times, there might be a few moments (or Moments) to be in, but, well, it’s hard to hear yourself think. Let alone to slow down and experience the moments too.

Luckily, for all the clamour, small people are great at enabling us to spot the moments too. Because they are in them, up to their armpits in the present moment, often yelling for us to stop and view it with them.

Sometimes it doesn’t seem to matter if the moment is mine – or theirs. It’s more often theirs. They are better at stopping. For now, I’ll claim the moments as mine too.

===

The focus and concentration of little people in pursuit of next door’s cat. Not directly running after it, just desperate to be next to it, stroke it, and so on. Occasionally, the cat gives up its sunbathing and complies.

The ‘on switch’ effect of an evening shower. I’m sure they should come with a health warning for parents – or at least a complementary pair of earmuffs for when the decibel level goes way up again.

The tip toe attempts to see into a pram, and catch sight of a baby next to us in a cafe.

The tail end of a playdate. Never mind parallel play, here are five children playing independently, having nothing to do with any of the others, but all focused on their own task.

Two minutes later, there is competition to be the first to complete their tidy up task. (We notice that the pre-schoolers are much better at it than the school kids.)

The delight of pedalling your bike down a slight incline: along the path, through the garden gate and onto the grass.

The exuberance brought on by the prospect of Weetabix. (Or indeed porridge.)

The appreciation of new shoes that allow for more stamping in puddles, squelching in mud, mucking about in sand and water, and so on. Truly, crocs are the summer equivalent of wellies – and self-draining too.

===

Sometimes, we manage to stop at the same time. We share our stories over meals, our memories of the day. We bring Daddy up to speed as to what has been going on.

And I try to bring to mind all the many moments, big and small. The brilliant eating. The trying of new things. The way that we let one bus go by, because we wanted to wait for a double decker one.

Teatime is a second chance to be present, even if I wasn’t fully the first time round. Marking the stories, celebrating the day. All present and correct.