Getting back our family weekends

We’re like most families with young children – weekends are too short and too long coming. We try not to overbook activities for Saturday and Sunday, but we still seem to find ourselves rushing around far more than we’d hoped. Sunday night sneaks up on us as Milin and Jasmin, overtired, finally slow down – and once they’re asleep it always feels like we’re not ready to even think about Monday yet.

I spend our weekend days trying to make the most of being at home with Milin and Jasmin. But I also make sure I get time to myself as well. Just like during the week, it’s an impossible balance to achieve.

We’ve made a conscious effort over the last few weeks though to do less. We’ve entertained less, we’ve not made as many social plans, and we’ve said no to invitations. We’ve not lived like hermits (far from it!) but we’ve definitely tried to slow down. And it’s felt good.

After spending Easter in Cornwall, we came home knowing we need to make more effort to spend our precious weekend hours doing things together. Activities at home aren’t easy – I’ll always sneak away to get a meal ready, or tidy up a corner that’s needing it – and then realise an hour has passed and everyone else is still curled up on the sofa watching a movie. So nothing beats getting outside for having to switch off from chores or work or errands.

Over the last year or so we’ve got into the habit of doing our outdoor adventures as only half a family. Tony will stay home and get jobs done while I take the kids somewhere. Later, he’ll take them bike-riding while I get my jobs done. Sometimes, you need to do that – but actually, I think we’ve been doing it too much.

So over the last few weeks – our trips to the park, our forest walks, our heath rambles – all of those things have been done as a foursome. It’s made a real difference, I think, to how we’re feeling about time, and whether we have enough of it. Somehow, we’re squeezing in a few more hours spent as we’d really like to spend them. I feel like I’ve had more time with the children – even though I might not have done. I’ve probably had a few later nights because laundry or tidying or sorting etc has had to wait until later. But it hasn’t mattered.

The kids have noticed it too. Jasmin has a habit of asking me at the weekends, “Mummy are you going to yoga or work?” It’s been so bloody nice to say “No, I’m not.”

I’ve missed a few of the things I’d usually do by myself (I’ve done no yoga this weekend and normally I’d feel tense and stressed as a result – but actually, I’m ok); and some of my usual solo tasks have been done with three ‘helpers’ in tow. (The shopping mall a la famille on Saturday afternoon was not really fun!)

It’s not practical every weekend, but the last month or so has been a reminder. These weekend days and hours are too precious to lose. There’s no easy answer to finding balance – but I do think you need to switch things up a bit regular to make sure you’re balancing your priorities. The weeks of work and school and nursery pass in a blur – and the kids feel it too, to an extent, I’m sure. Having a bit of time together as a family, just to do nothing but trample through a forest, look at the duckslings, or take a tube ride a few stops to get to a different cafe – we need these hours like this. Between Monday and Friday there’s no chance of them. So for two days, while the kids still want me and Tony to hang out with them and have fun with them, that’s what we’ll do.

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I wasn’t ready

“Mummy, Lana’s not my best friend anymore.”

I wasn’t ready for Jasmin to say it. She’s three. She’s been best friends with Lana since they both started in the ‘big room’ at nursery in September. They draw each other pictures, they both wear Frozen dresses every day. They’re best friends. Or they were, apparently.

“That’s OK Jasmin, you’ve got lots of friends.” I tried to sound like it wasn’t a big deal. I changed the subject. To chocolate. Because chocolate solves everything. (It doesn’t solve anything.)

I tried to forget about it, but of course I couldn’t – so later, I told Tony.

Lana’s a bitch, we both said.

Two days later we were all in the car singing to Portishead, when Jasmin said out of the blue:

“Mummy, Lana said she’s not my best friend anymore and I was sad.”

I did that thing where you draw your breath in quickly because you don’t know what else to do. I mumbled something about how saying that wasn’t nice, but don’t worry too much, and you’ve got lots of other friends, and who else do you play with, and, and, and, let’s keep singing along to Portishead.

My heart is a bit broken for my three-year-old. I want to let her work through this herself, to hold her tight when she feels sad, to let her talk to me about it whenever she wants, and to let her know that she’s OK, that this is OK. But actually, I don’t really know what to do or how to do it. I’m not ready for this – for broken friendships and broken promises and broken hearts. For playground squabbles and words they don’t even understand making them feel things they don’t understand and won’t for years. Jasmin is three. Lana is just four. They’re babies. They don’t even know what a best friend is.

This is another thing in a long list, I suppose, of things which I’m not ready for, which Jasmin isn’t ready for, and which we’ll have to figure out along the way. I have felt her sadness when I’ve realised a friendship has ended, I have caused that sadness at the end of a friendship and I now feel rubbish about it. And I don’t want Jasmin to know any of it for herself.

But she will, whether she or I are ready. Because that’s what this is, I guess. This crazy, gut-wrenching ride that is motherhood. It is day after day of all that we’re not ready for, that nobody is ever prepared for – no matter how much you’ve read or studied or watched or talked about. And I suppose that’s all we can do – let them know we’re here for them to talk about it all. Because at least we can be not ready together.Sad Jasmin

Back to blogging

It’s been almost a year since I blogged – and easily a year since I blogged with any regularity. Suddenly though, it feels like the time to come back to it.

I never really set out to become a mummy blogger – or any kind of blogger for that matter- but having some time away has made me want to come back to it all.

I stopped writing here last year for a few reasons. Work felt increasingly busy and I was tired out by the evenings. I’d gone up to 4.5 days a week and didn’t feel like I also had the energy to put into my blog. More than anything, I had no desire to keep up with the competitiveness that seemed to have crept into blogging networks.

Instead, I thought I might spend my evenings finally getting that manuscript together for the book I secretly know I’ll never finish writing. I thought I might take up a more constructive hobby. But it seems the best part of a year has passed and there’s still more of the book in my mind than on paper. I’ve watched a lot of TV, drunk a lot of wine, and definitely not done anything constructive in the time I’ve gained by not blogging.

I’ve remained friends with the very brilliant and lovely group of women I met (years ago now), through my blog. I guess we started off as, largely, London mummy bloggers – now we’re doing all sorts of things. Those friendships aren’t based around blogging anymore, but there’s still something about blogging that I miss. It’s the wider connections, the community, the network, the being a part of something.

Whether we write for ourselves, for our children as a record, for our mental health for catharsis, for an income to support our families – whatever the reason, this year off has given me some perspective. It’s made me feel incredibly awed by what the blogging community is doing. I am amazed everyday by what the group of incredibly strong women around me who do this have achieved – be their successes very personal to them or wide-reaching.

For me – I’ve missed writing. I’ve missed adding my voice to the noise (because yes, even if it is noise, where else will it be heard if not here?), and I’ve missed recording the stories of my family’s life. Without my blog, I’m not very good at doing it.

I am, more than ever, determined that women’s voices aren’t drowned out. I spend every day at work trying to strengthen the power of our voices as a collective. And it feels like I’ve silenced myself in some way, by not writing, talking and publishing here.

I’m not quite sure whether this blog will stay the same as the children grow – they need their own space and this shouldn’t be it. But what I do know is that this was always my space for me to be me. It feels good to be back.

Kiran Chug back to blogging

The simplest third birthday gift

I asked Jasmin a few days before her third birthday what she would like for it. “Don’t go to work mummy. Stay home with me.”

Simple.

I’d already booked the day off, but I couldn’t stop thinking about what she’d said. She’d made her statement without hesitation and with such certainty. She’d already thought about this.

I went to the toyshop a day later and picked up some silly little trinkets. She loved them when she opened them (nail stickers, colouring pens, Elsa slippers…) but they really weren’t up there with the best things about the day of her birthday. What mattered was that we were all at home together, just hanging out.

Tony and I had thought about a day trip to the beach – but in the end, we decided we were tired and the kids were tired. We kind of all just needed a day together. And so it’s been lovely and simple. A slow morning, presents, and then a picnic in the park, just us four. We spent the afternoon pottering in the garden, watching tv, playing toys – and really just not doing very much. Milin and Jasmin have been happy – and, it didn’t feel like a birthday at all. (We’d had a few friends round and sang happy birthday the day before.) And so, on the day Jasmin turned three, the children unceremoniously ate leftover cake on the garden steps, Tony put up some shelves in their room he’s been meaning to do for ages, I washed the floors….

I take it for granted that the children are happy without things on their mind – but maybe I need to remember how young they really are and how much things do get to them, even if they don’t always say so. I know they’re happy while I’m at work, I know that I work for good reason (as well as necessity), but still, I’d give anything for more time with Milin and Jasmin.

I can’t always make that happen, but today – on Jasmin’s third birthday – I did. We didn’t rush anything, we didn’t do anything because we felt we should, we didn’t do anything apart from the stuff we felt like. And that felt right.

(Yes I was emotional and got all soppy reminiscing about the day she was born and how loud her cries were… and then I saw how bloody lovely she is now, at three, and I got even more teary about the present than the past.)

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What can I tell them?

Roses

In these days of hate, it’s hard to find any ways to describe our responses to terror attacks. Each awful time that the news channels show us an unfolding tragedy, we move through grief, anxiety, fear and confusion. I think a lot of us feel a little numb and unable to really think about or process these events when they hit. We are tired and scared. We are sad. But how do we talk to our children about terrorism?

I’ve been thinking about this so much recently. It’s been impossible not to – because as much as I wish this wasn’t a subject I will have to talk about with my children, that just wont be the case.

I think that as adults we look for answers. We try to apply logic and rational thinking to order the chaos. I know that I keep asking why. There are no neat or satisfying responses though. No tidy explanations. Instead, the world around us today is messy and ugly and very far removed from anywhere that provides something close to a fix.

Children, though, still look to us for answers. We usually have them, or we at least like to pretend we do. As parents, we normally have a ready stream of set responses for questions, we iron out problems with them, we serve up solutions which are simple and non-negotiable. But this isn’t the case when it comes to some of the horror unravelling around us. There aren’t any answers. It doesn’t matter that our children come to us for straightforward replies to their questions. It doesn’t matter that usually those replies offer certainty and grounding and a sense of security. It doesn’t matter that this is what our children need. Because right now – the world has run out of answers.

My children are young. And while I whole-heartedly agree with the practice of avoiding having frightening conversations around them – I also don’t believe this is fully possible. We often have new radio on in the background to life at home, in the car. There are newspapers lying around, the tv news channels are our default ‘sit-down-for-a-moment’ entertainment. I’m a hack by trade, a news journalist who spent years on a national daily – I’ll never stop being an avid consumer of news.

So while I won’t push it under the nose of my children – they will see this, they will hear this, they will know it. And they will have questions.

I guess what I’m grappling with is knowing how to make my responses age-appropriate and comforting. I haven’t faced questions yet – but I know they will come. Sadly, awfully, unbearably: they will come.

And I’m angry – because really there is no appropriate way to talk to a four-year-old and a three-year-old about hate, about prejudice, and about terror. These are not concepts they should have to know or see. These horrors of our days are not ones they should have to witness.

I hope, when the questions come, I can show them images of tributes which bridge difference, pictures of people from every corner of life holding each other, and photographs of communities coming together across barriers which shoudn’t have ever existed. I hope I can explain to my children not only that there is hatred in our world – but more than anything there is love and acceptance. I hope that I can say with enough belief that they don’t doubt it – that more than anything, this world is good.

Children will ask about guns – we will show them flowers. Children will ask about prejudice – we will show them inclusion. Children will ask about hate – we will show them love. How will I talk to my children about terrorism? I don’t know. But I will want to address their fears by comforting them with hope.

What I want my daughter to know about beauty

She watches me every morning, transfixed. Her eyes follow the strokes of my hand as I layer on mascara. She peers in closer as I run a pencil along the lower outline of my eye. When I’m done, she pulls her very own lip balm out of her jewellery box. It is a prized possession. She watches herself in the mirror – and then she smacks her lips together. A kiss. “Mummy, one day can I have make-up?”

Next week, she will be three.

She asks, sometimes, why I wear it. But I don’t have an answer that I want to give her. I don’t want her to know that this is my war paint, this is my armour, this is my wall – this is my mask. I don’t want her to know why I need this injection of self belief in a few bottles and pencils that fit into my hand. I don’t want her to see that this is a front, painted on with a few strokes of magic which I need to confront most days.

She is too young to know about the years and years that have preceded these mascara strokes, these eyeliner flicks and these layers of foundation. She is two for one more week. She is too young to know that for years and years there is a gradual crumbling of self belief, a gradual wearing down, a gradual fraying at the edges. The concealer helps to make things look like they are being held together.

It hasn’t started for her yet – the slow process that changes you into a woman who can’t always face the world as herself. More than anything for her – I want her to be stronger against it than I was. I want her to know that it’s coming, that it might try and break her, and that she is better than it. But not yet. She is two.

For now, this is what I will one day tell her: she is stronger and better and wiser than me. She doesn’t need a mask or a wall or a front. She is beautiful – and that has nothing to do with anything she will one day buy to paint on her skin. For this, this is what I want her to know about beauty:

Beauty has nothing to do with what anyone else tells her. Every person who tells her she is beautiful will have their own reasons for their words. She should know them before really listening.

Beauty has nothing to do with the make-up she will wear or the reasons why she wears it. Beauty has nothing to do with the way she looks or wants to look, or the way anyone else wants her to look.

When I watch her turn three next week, I will watch my brave, stubborn, spirited, fun-loving daughter being herself. I will see a little girl who is kind and compassionate, a little girl desperate to learn and grow, a little girl soaking up the world and everything that is new. A little girl who is nothing but good. One day, I want her to know that this is beauty. She already has it, and it doesn’t matter what the world does or tells her. This is what I want her to see, to understand, and to believe.

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Peace will win

Oh, Nice.

The world is heartbroken.

It is hard to make sense, though, of this world at the moment. The anger and hatred and grief is all around us. It’s incomprehensible in its scale, unbearable in its manifestations. And while it shifts the ground beneath us, unsteadies our stance and disrupts our consciousness – it also strengthens our resolve.

We repeat the mantras: peace will win, fear will lose, we stand together, terrorism has no religion. We say them louder and louder as we hold each other. Determined.

And even as we tuck up our children and check on them in the small hours, we whisper the words: peace will win. Because this has to end.

Last night, I held my children close to me, kissed their soft skin, and cried for the families for whom life will never be the same. For the children whose parents won’t come home. This has to end. I held my children for as long and tight as I could before I thought they will wake. I didn’t want to let them go and be alone in the night. It’s silly. But what is this world they will one day make their own way intro. How can we fix it?

There aren’t any answers. There are, just now, only searching questions in the dark and cries into the void. This is not, though, the way it will be now. For we have to be moved to stand together, to talk, to unite.

Words wont change the world. But we have to start somewhere. By holding hands and talking about why, by making people listen, by telling our children, by being angry, by doing, by bringing about change. This has to end.

Sea Life London and Shrek’s Adventure – all in a day out

With the long summer holidays looming I feel very lucky to be in London – there are so many options for things to do with the children We were invited along to Sea Life London and Shrek’s Adventure recently and it was the perfect summer holiday day out.

I took Milin to Sea Life almost exactly three years ago, when he was just 18 months old. He loved it then and both he and Jasmin had the best day this time round too. I’d forgotten just how much there is inside the attraction – but it really is amazing and provides easily at least a couple of hours’ entertainment.

You walk in over a glass floor and so see sharks and stingrays directly beneath you. It’s phenomenal, and the children thought it was great too right from the start. We admired jellyfish, octopus, seahorses, and so so many fish up close, before coming to the stingray which they both loved. Seeing them in such clear water – I was amazed at how graceful they were.

Enormous tanks holding sharks, more rays, and turtles were incredibly impressive – but Jasmin’s favourite was of course the clownfish. “Look Mummy, there’s Nemo.” She was beyond excited, and I was beyond blown away with her cuteness. There were penguins too – watching them swim around was brilliant, as was seeing one close up on the ice. A little touch tank was great fun and the children loved getting their hands wet and gently touching a starfish.

We could have spent all day at the aquarium – it really was amazing. Watching the kids completely enthralled by the fish was wonderful, and they came home wanting to read more about the creatures they’d seen. I can imagine too that if we went back next year or the year after, they’d still love it and would simply get more and more out of it as they grow up.

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It really was a big day out for us – we managed to fit in Shrek’s Adventure as well. This is just next door to Sea Life – they both have a wonderful spot on the river Thames opposite Big Ben. It is worth doing the two together. I thought it it might be a bit much but the children coped fine. We even ate out together afterwards and had a super, stress-free meal. I think they were so happy about their day that they were on their best behaviour! (Either that or they were too tired to talk or play up.)

Jasmin was a bit young for Shrek’s adventure. Things started well as we met characters from the movies and looked for a bus to take us to meet Shrek. But once on the bus, she freaked out. It was an amazing 4D experience which Milin loved but Jasmin just couldn’t understand. Milin is four and I’d say he just about coped without being too scared. Jasmin at three next week, was too young.

The adventure is a lovely idea though – after being on the bus driven by Donkey and suffering a mishap, the tour group goes in search of Shrek, meeting various characters along the way. It is so believable and fun for the little ones – Milin was transported to a magical world and totally captivated.

We got to meet Shrek at the end which Milin thought was amazing. There’s also a waxworks section and the kids were thrilled by that – Kung Fu Panda was a highlight! The older children on our tour absolutely loved the whole experience and I’d say that in a couple of years time, my two would as well.

I’m not sure how I’m going to top tis as a day out with the kids. We did so much, and they were so happy at the end of it. I’m looking forward to this summer in London – and doing things like this with Milin and Jasmin more and more. We’re pretty lucky,  I think, to be in this city! Happy summer holidays all…

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*We were given review tickets to both attractions.

Making someplace home

It is a year since we moved into our new home and we’ve all grown up so much in that time. I’ve changed jobs, Jasmin has started nursery, Milin is getting ready to finish nursery, Tony has been back to New Zealand for a month – and as well as all this we’ve just been getting on with things.

The children have moved into a shared bedroom, we have bought some furniture, done little in the garden, and put up some shelves inside but not much more. We have plans to convert the shed at the bottom of the garden into a studio, to convert the loft into two rooms, and a sandpit is half built on the edge of the lawn.

We’ve made new friends in our new street, Milin will go to school with them from September and Jasmin will go the following year. We’re regulars at the park at the end of the road, we’ve got our local hangouts – my favourite yoga studio, the children’s favourite bridge for Pooh sticks. This place is feeling like home.

I’m still searching for the right paintings for the walls, the children could do with shelves in their bedroom, and we need to put in a wall and open up another one to give us more space in the kitchen. But, this place is where we come at the end of the day to gather each other up and talk and hug and sigh and smile. It’s the place that we’re together, as each night falls and new day starts, it is where we can be us.

In this year, we’ve have made this our home. We’ve done it together. The children seem so much older than they did when we moved in. Jasmin now talks all the time and surprises me constantly with her smartness and fierceness. Milin, who found it so hard to settle in, is taking life very much in his stride.

Life has felt busy recently, and as we are on the home stretch to the summer holidays, it is perhaps feeling like more of a race to the finish than usual. But looking back on this year, I realise how much we have done, changed, grown, lived… And it makes me realise that taking a bit of time out just to be together and notice all we’ve done is a lovely way to look back on a year. A year that we made some place home.new house red door

EU Referendum: now it is done, we are bereft

The votes have been counted, the decision made, the argument done. And now, after the weeks and months that have brought us here, there is disbelief, terror, and hurt.

While the politicians made their speeches, while they made their claims and accusations and promises and predictions, while families exchanged cross words, friends fell out and acquaintances were strengthened or nipped in the bud – while all of this, something shifted.

It was a crumbling at first, of usually solid exteriors, and a quiver in the foundations. But it didn’t stop. The cracks grew. And as we got closer to the point, of the votes being counted and the decision made, the fractures zigzagged their way across the country – into offices, social gatherings and our homes. The glue that bound us was forcibly pulled away, leaving a gash we can’t fix.

And this is why I’m hurting. We should never have been asked to choose – because in choosing, we have exposed the worst of ourselves and each other. It was a job too big for us. How could we know the facts, the answers, the future? How could we protect each other from the fear? We couldn’t. And what has been left behind, now that the votes are counted, is a country divided and reeling from being torn apart. We are bereft.

It has become the thing, to shout and fight and accuse. It has become the thing to voice prejudice and act on hatred. In this land where I was born, I see battle lines and divisions where they’d not been before. Had they been hidden from view, or have they grown from this sorry mess that has left us bereft? For now here we are, in a Britain that has woken up after harsh words uttered in haste, in the heat of the moment. Like a nightmare that comes back to you through the day, the hangover of how we acted, what we did and said, isn’t going away.

A family member was racially abused on the street this week. I have never before felt so detached from the country I have grown up in. This isn’t home. This place where the language tells stories of us and them, where the people are filled with resentment. Where dissatisfaction has bred fear and hate.

The voting is over and we can’t undo what’s been said, the words that have been shouted, the hurt that’s been felt, the seeds of hate that have been planted. I’m angry that we were made to vote. It was never going to be the answer. It has made our problems much, much worse. The vote became a vehicle for people’s anger and resentment and it ran away with it. It became a symbol of dissatisfaction over a changing world, it became an outlet for expressing disappointment, it became a beacon of possibility where people couldn’t understand how to change the lives they weren’t happy with.

I am distraught, but I am also terrified because none of us know what this will mean.

And now it is done, I look around this country, and I know I can’t forget. The scars of our referendum tell the story of a place divided, where there is bitterness instead of humanity, where prejudice is rife and where simple kindness is lacking while fear and mistrust have won. What this will do to us fills me with horror.

This morning, my children are waking up in a country which doesn’t feel like home. With my brown skin and Indian name, I’m not sure this land wants me anymore.

 

 

 

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