My time with the Cleanfluencers

My time with the Cleanfluencers

Welcome to part 2 of Peta’s “Things to sort out before you die” series. Which I’ve been meaning to write for about a month. But, you know, life happened.

I promise it will be funnier than you’d expect (mainly because I’m incapable of talking about anything serious without adding a sarcastic aside or 5). So, strap in and have a think about housework (yes, seriously).

I’m a sucker for an Instagram “tap to tidy”.

If you’ve not discovered these deceptive beauties yet, they’re an Insta story where a messy counter full of ingredients becomes a cake decorated with delicate icing flowers, or a playroom covered in the remains of a day’s playtime is instantly tidy when you click to the next frame. Unfinished jigsaws are swept back into their boxes, half-dressed barbies are back in the dream house, relaxing after a day of shopping (or being an astronaut), Grimm’s rainbows are returned to the correct order on the top of the cabinet. 

It’s basically the modern-day equivalent of Snow White flouncing around singing while the forest creatures clean her house. And it’s about as realistic.

I have a stormy relationship with housework. There are some days when I like nothing better than blitzing the whole house in some sort of frenzy whilst listening to retro music (this seemed to happen more when I only had one child, go figure). But mostly, I am eternally frustrated that housework is a never-ending, never-finished list that swirls around in my head from dawn until dusk, occasionally returning at 2.15 am when I remember I didn’t turn the washing machine on before I went to bed.

Being ever-so-optimistic I follow an unhealthy amount of “organizers” on social media, and so scrolling through my feed I’ll gaze wistfully at cleaning checklists and wardrobes where all the coathangers point in the same direction. I’ve tried The Organized Mum Method, devoured Marie Kondo (it turns out I actually need some of the things in my house that don’t spark joy…nappies, for example, are particularly useful) and I am one of Mrs Hinch’s 4.1million followers, for all the good it’s done me.

But I have decided that this is a special form of torture that I seem to have brought upon myself. I have two children, a husband who runs his own business, and a busy job myself. I am also not actually that organized. Every time I print off a “change sheets on Monday, run the hoover round on Tuesday…” checklist I am giving myself one more thing to fail at. I will look at the missed ticks that start to appear by Wednesday and convince myself that this means I am slovenly and incapable of this adulting business. 
The reality is, there are not enough hours in the day for all the things that we need to do. And women fall foul of this more than men (with the usual disclaimer that some men fall into this category too, but not enough to break the stereotype). Take a look at this 2019 YouGov survey on the housework split between couples:

As women, we constantly underestimate our unpaid workload: when it comes to childcare, organization, cleaning, cooking, and the mental load attached. (For a succinct explanation (with pictures) of the mental load and how this affects women on a daily basis, check out this comic by French artist Emma.)

So, what has this got to do with preparing for our possible futures? 

Well, if you’ve read my blog on Life Admin then you’ll hopefully already be thinking about necessities such as a will, expression of wishes, and life insurance. 

But, when staring at screen-full of different levels of life cover, women tend to have a blind spot. We focus on making sure that the mortgage would be dealt with. But all this extra work that we do doesn’t go away if we die. 

Take childcare, for example. In 2017 Scottish Widows estimated that mums spend 23 hours per week on childcare – on top of their own career commitments. This includes things like taking the children to school, preparing family meals, helping the children with homework, doing the housework, getting the children ready for school, picking the children up from school and watching them play sport. 

Women consistently undervalue their contribution to the family when they think about life insurance levels. Without you running around dealing with these jobs, your partner would either have to pay someone else to do them, or take a pay cut in order to have time to fit them in around work.

Factoring these responsibilities into your life insurance and critical illness cover isn’t decadent (your husband is unlikely to be sipping martinis on his new yacht while the recently employed nanny and housekeeper take care of everything back home). It is acknowledging that our responsibility toward our family doesn’t stop if we get ill, or if we die. 

If you’re anything like me, putting a monetary value on the things you do (for nothing) every day can feel a bit weird, boastful even. The best way to manage the slightly icky process is to sit down with an objective (but sympathetic) expert. My friend Annika, who I mentioned in my last instalment of Life Admin Skills for the Pathologically Avoidant, specialises in helping women work out things like this. She can sit down with you and work out how much it would cost you to manage your household if you were sick, or for your partner to manage it if you died. And then she can find you the perfect cover so that no balls are dropped and you can focus on the important things, like hugging your children and buying a puppy (maybe don’t buy a puppy…).

Seriously, give her a call (or an email, we are in the 21st century after all). Scary things don’t go away, they just blindside us on a Tuesday afternoon. Do me a favour and get it sorted at least by Monday.

Much love

x

3 Whole Years!

3 Whole Years!

It was our 3rd wedding anniversary yesterday, and we finished the day under Heaven’s Gate in Newbury, eating sushi and looking down on the world (in an ever-so humble way, obvs!).

So, this seems like a good opportunity to repost what I wrote last year about how to plan a 2nd wedding (with all the fun, complications, and verbal gymnastics that it brings). If you’ve already read it then thanks! Maybe you could forward it on to someone else who’s having a quiet evening. And if you haven’t, then enjoy and let me know what you think!

It also gives me a chance to post one of my favourite wedding photos (for reasons which will become clear if you read the post!).

Love to you all!

x

Cancel the Time Management Gurus!

Cancel the Time Management Gurus!

I started my business when Erica was 8 months old, and Ethan was homeschooling because of the pandemic.

As it often does for mothers I’ve discovered, my copywriting journey began by starting my own blog about the trials and tribulations of motherhood. In my case, I started this blog to talk about the weirdness of my situation: widowed with a 2-year-old son at 31, now remarried and expecting another child. A friend reached out and asked if I’d like to write some blogs for her sustainable fitness brand about keeping fit and being a mum. She paid me £40 and I was pretty chuffed that someone else wanted to read what I’d written. 

Before Erica was born I was balancing 10 hours a week of bookkeeping from home (that I was terrible at) with the part-time position of Chief Exam Invigilator at a local secondary school (which I was awesome at, but wasn’t exactly inspiring). Neither of these were going to work once Erica was born, especially when Covid hit and finding childcare was an impossibility. I was going to have to think of something else.

Nick was listening to a business podcast and heard about this website called Upwork, where freelancers could find paid writing opportunities. It suddenly dawned on me that I could actually get paid to write things. 

This is a pretty familiar story on the copywriting podcasts. People who have always found writing easy, through school, college, and work. People who get asked by their friends all the time to “just take a look over my CV”, or “what do you think of the wording in this essay paragraph”, don’t necessarily think this is a skill that others will pay for. Surely everyone finds writing fairly easy? 

It seems not. It seems that I had a marketable skill just sitting there, only pulled out for heartfelt messages in birthday cards and wedding speeches. So in I jumped, going from zero in September 2020 to July 2021 and my first $2k month. I’m incredibly proud of my progress so far, but I’m not going to pretend it’s been easy.

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I’m an all-or-nothing kind of girl. When I decide to do something new I want to find out everything I can about it. I’ll read all the books and scour all the websites until I know all there is to know. These days it’s all about the podcasts. Partly because they’re so very in right now, and partly because I haven’t had the time to crack a book since January 2020 (can’t think why).

There are about a million (at a conservative estimate) podcasts about running a business, and a million more about copywriting and digital marketing. I’ve been binging them all on the school run and in my earbuds while I feed the baby to sleep, clean the kitchen, make dinner and sort the washing. 

As you’d expect, among the common topics of conversation, time management features quite heavily. For a lot of freelancers, or solopreneurs, their business starts of as a “side hustle” that they fit in to their evenings and weekends, once they’ve got home from their regular jobs. So time is a factor. 

But not all busyness is fixable.

I was listening to one particular podcast the other day, where a time management guru asked the listeners whether they valued entertainment or learning more. And challenged them to look at whether the way they spent their time reflected this. Basically, if you say you value learning, but you spend 3 hours every evening watching Netflix instead of working through the digital marketing course you bought or starting your novel, then you’re kidding yourself. 

As I drove along the road from school I realized why this particular podcast episode was making me cross. It was because I’d consistently heard from business guru after business guru that we all have time to do the things we want to do (workout, learn a skill, start a business); we’re just not looking hard enough. 

Trust me. I’m looking pretty hard. And, unless you want me to stage my client calls at 3 in the morning while I’m breastfeeding a baby, I’m a little confused as to where all these magic pockets of time in my day are. Because I do actually value learning. But the last time i sat down to look through the digital marketing course I bought I realized that there were two loads of washing to put away, one to put in the machine, and the breakfast things still hadn’t made it to the dishwasher. 

2 weeks ago I downloaded a 14 day bootcamp from a very well-known copywriting business that rhymes with snottypackers. Now I appreciate a no-nonsense tone as much as the next impatient person. But Day 1 focused on setting up your workspace, and argued that unless you had a specific area that was just for you to work in, with a door you could close, and scheduled times that you coud go and do that work with no distractions, then basically you were playing at this whole business thing and no-one would take you seriously.

Life doesn’t work like that if you have kids, especially small ones. 

This blog post for example. I was meant to write it after Erica went down for her afternoon nap. But she didn’t. After I’d spent 45 minutes trying to get her to drift off. So it was written in 3 minute blasts between getting her food, getting her to eat the food and not throw it all over the dining room, changing her nappy, explaining to her that eating chalk was not sensible, and finally giving in and finishing it off later in the evening.

But I am a freelance copywriter. I have regular clients who pay me for work and give me glowing testimonials. My earnings pay bills. And I’m serious about growing my business. So where does that leave me in this story?

Maybe there are a whole bunch of people sat on their bottoms watching Schitt’s Creek who just need to be told to get up and work towards their goal. But I reckon that (especially during the pandemic) there are even more people who are trying to follow their dream of a small business or a freelance career whilst teaching their daughter long division, battling zoom parents evenings, and bouncing toddlers who suddenly decide sleep is for losers at 18 months old.

I want time management and business tips from people who are making it work while balancing a baby on one hip. I want to hear their top tips for how to deal with a pile of client work when they were up every hour the night before. 

I really don’t want to hear fresh-faced and groomed women on Instagram lives talking about how getting up an hour before their children has been the best thing they could ever do for their business, as now they can get their workout/meditation/journalling/scheduling of social posts done before they embrace their cherubs over breakfast.

I want to hear from the parents typing blogs one-handed (not that I’m doing that right now, obviously….) whilst holding a poorly preschooler, hoping little hands don’t lean over and delete the last paragraph. I want to hear from the business owners who arrive at school 15 minutes early for pick up so they can answer emails while the baby is contained in the car seat.

And most of all, I want to hear from them because I’ve spent the last year struggling with my brand voice and communications. I didn’t want to post about the realities of running a business as a Stay at Home Mum, because I was worried clients (and potential clients) would think I wasn’t a professional. I didn’t want them to think I was half-assing my work. 

But, if anything, I work harder because of my limitations. Just because a blog post might be concepted while I cook spaghetti bolognese doesn’t mean it’s any less of an effective marketing tool. Just because I might be answering their email at 2am while I’m feeding Erica doesn’t mean I’m “phoning it in”. Just because I’m not at my desk (or in a hipster coffee shop) from 10 till 4 doesn’t mean I’m not a credible business woman. I’m just slightly more covered in humus than business women tend to be. 

So, podcast hosts: bring on the mess and the honesty, and lead me to the women (and men) who I know are knocking it out of the park while literally holding the baby!

And, if you’re looking for a copywriter to polish your website, or inject new blood into your blog, you can find me here: www.wordsbypeta.wordpress.com

Being helpless

Being helpless

So, Erica made friends with a bee today.

She decided that the best way to make friends with a bee was to stroke it and then to grab it so she could give it a cuddle. It did not go well. She was very angry with the bee, but mostly she was angry with me.

And it was really, really hard because I knew that, besides popping some lavender oil on the sting, (or where I thought the sting was because she wouldn’t let me see properly) there was nothing that I could do. I had to wait for the pain to pass and give her cuddles while she got through her hand really hurting. It wasn’t only the pain but also the confusion of not really knowing what was going on and not really connecting it to the bee. Mostly she just looked like she was thinking: “Mummy, why did you let this happen to me?!”

As I was sitting there cuddling a grumpy baby, it got me thinking. We’ve been having problems with Ethan at the moment. Well, that’s a terrible way of putting it. We’ve not been having problems with Ethan. Ethan’s lovely, Ethan’s fabulous. Ethan is a kind and caring and empathetic and loyal and hilarious little boy who loves his friends and loves his family and feels things very deeply (and who is occasionally a 9-year-old with a teenager’s attitude). Right now we are trying to help him deal with his anxiety. We’re not entirely sure what jumped it up a notch, but for the last 6 weeks there’s been a lot of anxiety, worry, and sadness about going into school.

Now, his school is fabulous. I would give almost anything to go back in time and be able to go to his school, spend time doing the things that he does, and be in such a caring environment. My brother often gets quite jealous that he is 28 now and can’t go back to school (he’s quite tall, I thnk they might notice). We’re incredibly lucky to be able to send Ethan to a private school, and this is one of the reasons we made the decision. The staff have the time and energy to be able to support Ethan, to give him the space and encouragement he needs, and we haven’t had to wrangle with CAMHS waiting lists.

But Ethan is incredibly worried that he will have a bad day and that school will be terrible. The school counsellor has told us that he meets the clinical level for separation anxiety and is borderline for social phobia. It seems his main issue is that he’ll miss me and Erica and he’s worried about bad things happening when he’s at school. Nothing catastrophic, but things going wrong, or him getting into trouble, or falling out with friends and them not wanting to play with him. There is no logical reason for any of this because he never gets in trouble, people always want to play with him, and he always has fun, but he’s worked this all up in his head.

The separation anxiety doesn’t come as a huge shock to me. I’ve always known that the experience of losing a parent would come back and rear its head at various times in his life. I know that some people looking on might think that he’s always been clingy, but when you stop and look at it from his perspective, one of the most important people in his life completely disappeared without warning when he was 2. If you were him, wouldn’t you hold on tightly to the one that was left?

I did ask him about the whole missing me thing, and rather amusingly he said: “Well I don’t know why but I think liking you has just kicked in a little bit more”. I wasn’t quite sure how to take that. Did he not like me before? Did he think I was terrible, and now he’s suddenly realised that I’m quite lovely and a pretty good mum?

Anyway, every morning I drive him to school. Sometimes in the car he’s very quiet, sometimes he’s listening to music, and sometimes he talks to me about how he’s worried. And we try and logically go through his worries, and we try and focus on the positives, and we do all the things that I know from my training and that his counsellor has suggested. And then we get to school and we sit in the car and he says: “I can’t do it, I cant’ get out”. And we talk about why it’s something we need to do (We don’t push the legal thing because then he got worried that Nick and I would be arrested). We talk about all the things that have been put in place by the school to make him feel safe and secure. And we try breaking it down. So the first step is we take our seatbelts off, and then step 2 is I open the door, then I walk round to his side of the car, I open his door, step 3 is swinging his legs over the side of the seat, step 4 is standing up, step 5 is picking up his bags, and step 6 is walking to the gate and saying “See you later” (we don’t do goodbye). Now, that took all of 15 seconds to tell you. Generally, it will take between half an hour and an hour for it to actually happen. Sometimes he does it just with me, sometimes we need a staff member to try and intervene. 

Honestly, having to sit there every morning and pretend to be so calm and collected, and so matter of fact. Having to be that safe space. Watching him fall apart to the extent that on Monday he had a panic attack in the school corridor, and this morning he wouldn’t let go of my waist even though 2 teachers tried to reason with him. To have to watch him do that every single morning is slowly breaking me. Because I can’t make it go away. 

It’s like that bee sting. I can’t stop the pain. I don’t have a quick fix. I can’t give him medicine, I can’t give him a solution. I can’t do anything other than sit there and be with him as he’s going through it. And as someone who likes to fix things, as you’ve probably realised by now, this is not my comfort zone, this is not my area of expertise. 

Well, that’s a lie, it is my area of expertise, and that is probably the only reason that I am able to stay calm and collected and not completely burst into tears and fall apart every morning. I think that, probably, I am compartmentalising and putting my work head on. Just like I did when Mark was sick, just like I did when he died, just like I did when I had to answer those questions over and over again when Ethan was small, and help him, and explain, and be that safe space. The problem is that I don’t know whether that’s the best thing to do anymore, but it is the only thing I’ve got right now.

So I’m just going to have to continue to sit there and be with him while we all go through it together.

Checking off the dates

Checking off the dates

For the last 3 weeks or so I’ve been seeing a stream of emails in my inbox from companies whose subscriber lists I’ve ended up on. They’re all asking me the same thing, and it’s not the usual “buy all of our stuff”. Instead, they’re all suggesting that I let them know whether or not I’d like to hear about Father’s Day. I don’t remember this being a thing last year, but I’ve probably had about 25 in the last month.

Although the cynic inside my head wonders whether they’re banking on some goodwill purchases as I marvel at their selfless sensitivity, I’m pretty happy about this development. The recognition that National days of celebration are not always celebratory occasions for everyone, or devoid of complicated feelings is a welcome change.

Father’s Day can be a wonderful opportunity to celebrate those in your life who have played the role (and you can read all about mine here).

But it can also be a day of confusion, guilt, sadness, regret, and a lot of cookie dough ice cream.

So, in the spirit of making things a little easier on social media for some people today, here is an article that my friend Angeline shared with me.

“Father’s Day for those Widowed Young”

It’s from Care for the Family, and gives some clear tips on how to support someone dealing with loss on Fathers’ Day (and any other day).

Let’s celebrate our father figures, and be there for our friends.

With love x

Life Admin Sucks

Life Admin Sucks

There have been a fair few think-pieces and magazine features about how the mental load of household admin often falls disproportionately on women. We are (generally) the ones who not only book the appointments but constantly keep a complicated calendar in our heads of when the next GP, dentist, haircut appointment needs to be. We keep an eye on when new clothes are needed, when the toothbrushes need replacing, and when the birthday present for your mother in law needs to be ordered so it can arrive, be wrapped and still get to her in time without handing over your life’s savings to Hermes in return for next day delivery.

It seems, however, that a lot of us are still putting off thinking about a rather large area of life admin, which is actually quite important, and which I have a rather unique insight into. Ok, so technically you could call it death admin. Or I could, anyway. While looking after your children’s teeth, trouser hems, and relationship with their grandparents are all very important; most of us shy away from thinking about what would happen to our family if we died.

If you’re new then, first of all, “Hi, welcome! Pull up a chair and get stuck into the archive!”. 

A quick intro: I was widowed in 2014 when my 32-year-old super-healthy husband was diagnosed with and died from stomach cancer. I spent the next couple of years bringing up our 2-year-old son and then met my current husband. We’ve been navigating the world of death, blended families, remarriage, new babies, and now a tweenager ever since. This blog is where I like to explore the intricacies, complications, and frustrations of our unique situation. 

If you know me, and you’ve been here a while, then you’ll know I don’t shy away from talking about tricky subjects. Hell, we’ve discussed things like how to introduce your new boyfriend to your late husband’s parents, getting pregnant, post-partum bodies, my sex life, my laundry pile, you name it I’ll chat about it. 

Every 22 minutes in the UK a parent of a child under 18 dies. (See, I told you we talk about the tough stuff here)

That stat was from 2015, so imagine what the last year and a half has done to the figures. 

There are many ways that children are affected by losing a parent. I’ve written quite a lot about how Mark’s death has affected Ethan. But the one thing we hardly talk about is probably the one that makes the most practical difference: money.

I’ve been chatting with a new friend of mine who is a financial advisor. Annika is passionate about helping women get a grasp on their finances and their future, as women tend to think less about pensions and life insurance and all that jazz. After our conversation, I realized that I haven’t talked about money very much in the context of becoming a widow. It’s not an area that I’m very comfortable in. In fact, it makes me want to run away and hide. But that should drive home for you how important I think it is that we all take the initiative, instead of assuming that everything is going to be fine. 

Usually, a couple will make a joint decision to have a baby. They will plan to raise that baby together and to take joint financial responsibility for the child until it is 18 (and let’s face it, probably a lot longer with rent prices these days!).

I know that the reality is not as simple as this. I am not dumping on single parents, people who have unplanned babies, or anyone with experiences that are different from the traditional route. I am just pointing out that people make life decisions, and employment decisions, and schooling decisions, based on the assumption that the adults who birthed the baby will be there for the whole ride. When things unexpectedly change you are left not only dealing with the loss of your life partner and your children’s other parent but also probably with half (or more) of your income. 

When Mark was diagnosed with stage 4 stomach cancer in the August of 2014 I definitely wasn’t thinking about mortgage payments. I was thinking about how we were going to get him through this, as well as the minutiae of how I was going to balance childcare with chemo appointments, whether I should wash the rug in the kitchen that he’d been sick on or just throw it away, how to find a safe space in the kitchen to store all the meds, who was coming to stay when and whether I had enough time to wash the sheets, and whether I was going to have to sell a kidney to pay for all-day hospital parking.

Thankfully, my super-organised and practical husband had taken out life insurance when we got our mortgage and one of the first things he did after his diagnosis was to talk to his employers about their death in service benefit. This meant that, even though I had only gone back to work part-time after Ethan was born, I didn’t have to think about whether I could meet the mortgage payments on my own. I had that bit of breathing space while I worked out what our life was going to look like now. And I didn’t have to think about uprooting Ethan from the only home he’d ever known so soon after his Daddy had disappeared. Not everyone is this lucky.

Without life insurance, I would have had to sell our home, as there was no way I would have been able to find a job that paid well enough to cover the mortgage, living costs and full-time childcare. Without life insurance, I wouldn’t have been able to take the time I needed right after Mark’s death to be the stable presence in Ethan’s life. So I’m constantly telling people that they need some. The younger you are when you take it out, the cheaper it is, and the peace of mind it can give you is invaluable. Also, although your mortgage is probably your biggest expense, life insurance can be put in place to cover all sorts of things we don’t necessarily think about: food, household bills, children’s clubs and even the endless clothes purchases that I mentioned earlier. 

But, even super-organized and practical people have blind spots. Mark and I didn’t have a will. It was one of those things that we always said we should sort out, but that we never got to. In hindsight, I don’t think this was busyness or forgetfulness, I think it was a willful (pardon the unintentional pun) refusal to consider the topic. I think we both worried that sitting down and signing such a document would be tempting fate. Well, you know what, fate doesn’t care about what you think, and neither does cancer, Covid, heart attacks, or that car coming far too fast around the corner on your commute. Death happens, and you don’t get to decide when. 

So that was how I found myself sitting on the windowsill of a hospital room watching a solicitor and her very uncomfortable intern asking all the relevant questions while my dying husband lay in bed with pain written all over his face. We signed our will 24 hours before he died, although we didn’t know it was going to be quite that soon. We waited until the doctor had told us, kindly, calmly but clearly that there was nothing else they could do other than move Mark to a hospice to make him more comfortable. We waited until there was absolutely no hope left before we phoned the solicitor and made the decisions we needed to. And do you know what? It was more unnecessary pain at a ridiculously painful time. We didn’t need to wait that long, and we should have talked about guardianship, finances, and wishes a long time ago, in a less stressful situation, probably over a glass of wine. We could have chuckled over how everyone would react if we’d decided to leave our worldly possessions to Cats Protection, and debated at length which one of our friends and family would have the skills, knowledge and patience to bring up Ethan in our absence. We could have had these conversations, and more, calmly and without pressure. And then we could have sat back in the knowledge that, although we couldn’t predict what life would throw at us, we could be assured that neither of us (and more importantly, Ethan) would have been left dealing with a financial shit storm as well as losing the love of our life. 

So, we got in under the wire, with me fighting back the tears because it was ridiculously important to me that I be strong and stoic and hold everything and everyone together. 

Since that day, I’ve had conversations with a lot of friends about how prepared they are for the worst. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve not turned into some kind of doom and gloom merchant, but I no longer have any patience for, or belief in the whole “it would never happen to someone like me” thing. Death and taxes, and we pay people to sort out how much we owe HMRC. So we should really invest some time working out the practicalities of death so that it doesn’t make our lives that much harder. 

I’ve never been a fan of homework, but I’m making an exception now. If you haven’t already got an (up-to-date) will or life insurance, then you need to stop reading this and go and sort it. Now. If you need some help then you can talk to Annika, she’s really friendly, won’t try to sell you anything, and will make the whole process as stress-free as possible. She can sit down with you (in person or via your favourite video call software) and take you through a Lifestyle Financial Health Check. It’s not scary, and it can help you work out what you want your family’s life to look like if you weren’t there. Next week I’ll talk about some other important, finance-related things that she can help you with. But for now, grab a glass of wine (or two), sit down with your partner, and work out whether you’re going to leave all your money to the Hedgehog Home. 

Get in touch with Annika here

Let’s talk about sex…

Let’s talk about sex…

I don’t write about sex much on here, partly because my Mother-in-Law reads this blog (Hi Wendy!), and partly because I’m not sure that’s why you’re all here (and if it isn’t, then maybe skip back to the archives!).

But, if you’ve been around here for a while, then you’ll know that I’m all about busting taboos. There are so many things in life that we don’t talk about, and that makes dealing with them more difficult. Sharing is caring, and all that…

I’m a married mum of two, so, although sex isn’t as big a part of my life as it was before sleepless nights and being covered in porridge on a regular basis made an entrance, I’m just tired – not dead.

That said, we need to talk about expectations, and not the ones that we put on each other, but the ones that we put on ourselves.

The first time I invited Nick over, I deliberately scheduled my leg and bikini wax appointment for the following day so that there was no chance of anything happening. Turns out, sex can still happen (and be pretty awesome) even if your legs have more in common with an orangutan’s than Chrissy Teigen’s. Who’d have thought…

I spend far too much time in my head (as you may have noticed), and I’m prone to the belief that everything has to be perfect. And by perfect I mean, the dishwasher has to be empty, the washing has to be put away, the floor has to be hoovered, the meal has to be delicious, legs have to be shaved, hair has to be washed, children have to have been in bed and quiet for at least an hour…. The list goes on and on. Not only is this because remembering that I’ve not put the leftovers from dinner in Tupperware and into the fridge (and, more importantly, realizing that I’m going to have to do it before the school run in the morning) is enough to put me off spending quality time with my husband.  It’s also because, at the moment, I don’t feel as if I’m my best self.

Nick met me after I’d been pregnant and given birth. He saw the C-section scar, the stretch marks, and the tattoo dedicated to my late husband (which could have been a little awkward). But, I’d worked pretty hard over the previous few years, and even I would admit that I looked pretty good considering all my body had been through. There was no reason to expect that I couldn’t do the same thing again. But a global pandemic, home schooling, lockdown and starting a new freelance business has meant that my usual 5-6 times a week workouts have dwindled significantly. And, as all those health experts keep telling us, regular sleep is so important for your metabolism… I am still around a stone heavier than I would like to be right now, and if I’m completely honest, it’s affecting my confidence.

As women I think we feel as if we have to put on some kind of show (no, not that kind of show, unless that’s your thing). It’s great that we’ve busted out of the shackles of prudish misogyny that imply once you’re past 30 and you’ve got kids then you shouldn’t be bothered about sex. The freedom to explore all aspects of your personality, and to enjoy jumping your husband as well as playing peekaboo with your baby (probably not at the same time), is welcome. But with this magazines have found yet another thing to sell us, to make us feel inadequate about. Yes, you can be a mum and have good sex. But to do this you have to make sure you’ve kept your grooming appointments, sweated through your 4 x weekly workouts, filled your underwear drawer with expensive knickers, met all of your child’s needs and tucked them into bed, changed the bed sheets and spritzed some light but alluring room spray around the bedroom, dressed yourself in relaxed but intriguing nightwear, and chosen a suitable playlist. Then you can have sex as your reward for ticking all the boxes.

No wonder we’re all so exhausted that, by the time we get upstairs, we’d much rather snuggle.

This idea that only when we’ve shed those last 5 pounds, only when we’ve managed to get an appointment at the salon to sort our roots out, only when we’ve attended to our more intimate grooming, only then will our husbands fancy us, is bollocks.

Sex can still be good when you haven’t shaved your legs.

Sex can still be good if you have spent lockdown falling slowly farther away from your exercise routine and so are carrying a few extra pounds.

Sex can still be good if you’ve generally not been feeling very sexy recently and have instead been feeling a little like a cleaner/taxi driver/personal chef to 2 ungrateful children and a very tired husband who’ll eat anything/PA to said family members.

And sometimes, it can be better, because then you’re more real, more yourself and not performing. And when you’re real, you’re more likely to make a connection, rather than just letting it be one more thing to tick off your to-do list.

I got 99 problems, but mould ain’t one…

I got 99 problems, but mould ain’t one…

It’s been a while, so I thought I’d write you all a little catch-up on what’s been going on chez O’Brien-Day.

Nick bought donut pops last night on his emergency wine run to Co-op (yes, I am aware that it doesn’t really count as essential shopping, but he was getting the boy outside for some fresh air at the same time, and copywriting deadlines and a non-napping baby meant wine was definitely necessary). They are ridiculous. I have eaten them all, which doesn’t really fit with my Noom food plan.

We’re 2 weeks into home-schooling (I think, time has lost all meaning), and Ethan seems to be coping with it a lot better this time around (although there were tears this morning when he got 3 maths questions wrong, every 8 year old has a bad day). He is more confident in asking for clarification from his teachers, much more independent in tasks (which means I’m not parked permanently next to his desk), and to be honest his teachers seem to have gotten into the groove a little bit more as well.

There are still the little hiccups that come from having to balance a day’s worth of live lessons with a toddling sister who just wants to be involved with whatever is happening on that screen. At the moment, to the extent that we have any routine, Erica’s afternoon nap coincides with Ethan’s lunchtime, so we can’t go outside as she refuses to sleep in her buggy. Nick has decided that he and Ethan will “walk to school” every morning to start off the day with some fresh air, so they head on out around 7am for a speedy walk around town, coming back red-cheeked and hungry, ready to hunker down in front of Miss Byrne and the rest of 4B. We’re having 15 minute speed scooter sessions out the front of the house at break, and Ethan and I take Erica out for a tour around the Marsh after last lesson. It’ll have to do, and we try to make up for it with an epic walk at the weekend with our lovely support bubble peeps. With nerf gun enticement you can usually get them to walk 4 miles (parenting is around 65% bribery in my extensive experience)!

As if the baby, home-schooling, housework, washing, cooking meals for constantly hungry people, and trying to claw back some semblance of mental health through exercise wasn’t enough, I’ve been ramping things up with the freelance copywriting too. Let’s not be coy – I needed to go back to bringing in some money. However, the original plan was that lovely Auntie Heather would come and hang out with Erica for a few afternoons a week so that I could concentrate on a piece of work for more than 5 minutes in a row. Then lockdown happened, and our options narrowed to…well…none.  This coincided with me suddenly winning a fair few jobs that I now have to fit in around fixing audio problems on the Chromebook during French lessons, removing the piece of pasta that Erica has found under the fridge and is currently on it’s way to her mouth, making sure everyone is fed and isn’t wearing the same pair of shorts for the 5th day in a row, paying my husband a little attention, and sleeping.

I’m obviously very grateful to have work that I can do from home. This was the goal, and I know mum’s who have had to send their children to nursery, or who have been furloughed because of their childcare responsibilities. I am beginning to fray around the edges though, hence the need for an emergency wine run, and probably the mainlining of donut balls. I have also considerably widened my writing repertoire: last night I wrote an article for a fashion wholesaler about how to start an online clothing business, and the day before I was collating a list of 40 Easter decorations you can make with your kids. Life is a weird thing.

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I have also recently (re)discovered that I am a terrible person. Every time someone messages me to check in, or ask me how things are going my heart sinks. Not because I don’t appreciate the lovely people in my life who care about me, but because I am so stressed right now with a million things going through my head, that taking 2 minutes to try and craft a positive and reasoned response that won’t send them running to social services feels like the straw that that bloody camel just couldn’t carry. I’m obviously very ungrateful, I know this. If I didn’t feel like it was terribly self-indulgent and attention-seeking (says the woman with the public online blog…) then I’d put up a Facebook status at the end of each day so that people could collectively find out that we were all still alive, no-one had glue gunned their hand to the table during DT, and we had managed to get outside for approximately 3.5 seconds in-between online school lessons and family Zoom catch-ups. Thinking about it, that idea may have merit…

In other news, this week’s house purchase from Facebook marketplace (within Covid restrictions, obvs) was a dehumidifier. Even with windows open and radiators on for an hour daily this mid terraced house struggles with condensation. The ridiculous amount of washing we have to dry through the winter probably doesn’t help, or the fact that we have, you know, 4 people wandering around breathing all day. But the new machine (hello increased electricity bill), combined with us finally getting around to bleeding the radiators only to discover everything above ground floor level was 95% air (just award me my house maintenance badge immediately), has definitely helped the situation. Now we can stop worrying that everything we’re storing in the loft is going to be completely ruined. It’s the little things…

Courtesy of Chris Riddell
Dealing with Disney

Dealing with Disney

Ah, Disney, companion of my childhood, the reason for so many hours spent rewinding VHS tapes and learning the words to “Under the Sea” (in a terrible (and probably racist, now I come to think of it) Jamaican accent.). Trips to the cinema to watch Belle dance around a spooky old mansion with a tea set, or snuggled up with my Dad watching his favourite Jungle Book. (Fun fact, the vultures at the end of the film were meant to be voiced by the Beatles, but John Lennon said no, so the animators kept the Liverpudlian accents and changed the music style to a barbershop quartet instead. Don’t say I never teach you anything!)

We’re all a bit nostalgic when we have children of our own, and I am no exception. I was looking forward to movie nights on the sofa munching on popcorn whilst I watched Ethan’s growing delight at Robin Williams’ Genie,  Dumbo’s soaring triumph over adversity, Simba’s singalong with Timon and Pumba, and the surfer dude turtles in Finding Nemo.

Well, this has yet to happen. Firstly there is the fact that Ethan seems to have off-the-charts empathy levels for characters in films and TV programmes (although read him a book with death and peril and end-of-the-world stakes and he’s totally fine – go figure.), so can’t deal with anything going wrong in a film. Even if you sit there and assure him that it will all be ok in the end.

But then we add in the additional complication that pretty much every Disney film seems to feature the death or disappearance of one, or both, parents. You think I’m exaggerating?

We have, ahem, deep breath:

The Lion King

The Good Dinosaur

Frozen

Finding Nemo

Cinderella

Sleeping Beauty

Beauty and the Beast

Bambi

Snow White and the Seven Dwarves

Tarzan

Lilo and Stitch

Ratatouille

Aladdin

The Jungle Book

The Little Mermaid

The Sword in the Stone

The Fox and the Hound

Peter Pan

Pocahontas

The Princess and the Frog

The Rescuers

Told you. It’s bonkers. Disney is messing with me.

So, what do you do? Do you decide that, as a bereaved child, bringing up a painful topic for no other reason than to introduce your son to a talking crab that you think is funny, is probably not the best parenting choice? Or do you reason that, actually, seeing his own circumstances reflected on screen (minus said talking crab) might help him normalise the situation? Or do you do what I did, and decide that really, the second choice is best for his long term mental health, but that right now you just don’t want to have to deal with tears over a 2D lion?

I’ve pushed this issue down the road for quite a long time. And that’s fine. Like I said – it’s no big deal for Ethan if Sebastian isn’t a part of his life (I really loved that movie…), it’s mainly my nostalgia at play. But more and more, when we’re trying to think of things to watch together, old and new, we are coming up against the plot device of a missing parent. It’s not going to be something I can avoid forever.

It makes perfect sense, when you think about it. All stories are essentially the same: Hero, obstacle, guide, lessons learnt, things improve, things get worse, it’s all ok in the end. A dead parent is a tidy and easily explained obstacle to put in the way of your hero. I don’t really blame Disney. But I am going to have to start dealing with it.

When I step out of my initial panic mode (Argh! Crap! The dad dies, can’t watch this then! He might cry. I might cry. He’ll ask me all the really tough questions again), I need to remember that it really will be ok.

I need to remind myself that I may not have answers to all of the possible questions, and that’s ok, as long as I’m willing to listen.

I need to remind myself that, yes, he may cry, and that may be simply because the story is sad, or it may be because he feels some link to his situation, and that’s ok, good even, because dealing with hard emotions only comes with practice.

I need to remind myself that, even if I cry, he will not feel anxious or unsafe, because I’ve done all the groundwork to show him that grown-ups cry and it’s not the end of the world.

I need to remind myself that introducing hard themes through books and films is one of the best ways we can teach our children that life is tough sometimes, but that it can always get better. And that losing a parent is never the end of the story.


Today is the last day of my daily posts for Children’s Grief Awareness Week. I hope that you’ve found my musings interesting or helpful. I hope that I’ve drawn your attention to the importance of tackling the subjects of death and grief with our children, even though they make us feel awkward. I hope that you’ll follow Grief Encounter and other organisations on social media, because this is an issue that families all around the country have to deal with every day of the year. And I hope that you’ll stick around.

From all of us in the O’Brien-Day household, take care.

I get by with a little help from my friends

I get by with a little help from my friends

I grew up in the era of Friends: Rachel, Monica, Phoebe, Chandler, Ross and Joey were aspirational to me. Not just because they had amazing wardrobes and apartments but didn’t seem to do much work, but because they had elevated friendship to the level of family.

I love my family, all the different strands of it, but my friends are just as important to me.

For Ethan, having a large support network was invaluable after Mark died. I’ve spoken before about the “People who love Ethan” list that we compiled after he got a bit anxious about me dying too. A whole A3 page filled with names people who cared for him, and would look after him and support him in any way they could. The exercise was abstract, but the ways in which this support was shown were anything but.

My friends took time off work and came to help me with funeral arrangements. They sat with me while I tried to work out who I needed to call first. The loft room was a revolving door of my favourite people coming to stay for a few days so that I wasn’t alone and so that Ethan knew his world was not small. People dropped everything so that the two of us would feel loved.

My 22 year old brother took the train and went with Ethan to his Dad’s@Nursery day so that he wasn’t the only one without a person.

At Christmas I realised I’d have to buy the tree by myself. And I wasn’t sure how I was going to get it, and a 2 year old, into or out of the car, let alone put it up in the house by myself without burying us both under pine needles. So Susie and John arrived. Not only did they makes sure that I wasn’t found under a fallen tree the next morning, but they made the whole experience more fun for Ethan (and for me) with carols and giggles and mince pies.

Ali and Bekka came to stay for New Year, and they helped me take the tree and the decorations down, Ali ending up with half of the tree in her hair in the process.

Susan drove across the country with 2 month old Ben in the car, so that Ethan and I could meet him, and see our circle of people get bigger.

Sam and Sarah and Susie and Cath stepped in as Ethan-sitters so I could go to work, or have a night off with other friends. They allowed me breathing room from being in sole charge all the time.

My sister came and baked with Ethan, patiently helping him make a mess and turn it into something tasty.

One Easter, when I faced another 2 week stretch of trying to occupy a 3 year old by myself, Ali and Bekka offered to take him for a whole week, and planned the most action-packed, child-focused holiday ever with day trips galore. I got to clear my head for a bit, and Ethan got to have lots of fun.

Daniel and Bryan came to stay, throwing Ethan up onto their shoulders in a way I wasn’t able to anymore and whisking him around the Common to the sound of giggling.

I could go on and on (and I’ve missed loads of lovely people, but it’s quite early in the morning so I hope they won’t be offended!).

The phrase “it takes a village to raise a child” is well worn and often seems a little cliched. But my village is large in number, widespread geographically, and varied in age, background and interests. They are the perfect community within which to raise a son, and now a daughter too.

My ideal child-rearing scenario is living in the same street with as many of my friends and their children as possible, doors always open, kids hopping in and out of each other’s back yards. People taking it in turns to do the school run, or walks to the park, or running an impromptu football match. Massive BBQs, handing babies around when they won’t go to sleep. Parents and Grandparents close by to join in. Essentially I want to live in a commune, I just have to convince everyone else to move to one with me!

Life is easier when you’re not trying to do it alone. And when you’re a parent you’re basically modelling to your child every day how to do life. To me it makes more sense to show them that life is at it’s best when it’s a communal experience, and that is harder to do when you are suddenly a solo parent. It also helps the feeling of uncertainty and anxiety that children have after a parent or sibling dies: they feel as if anyone in their lives could disappear at any moment. Visibly filling the room, and your lives, with all the people you are connected to won’t replace the person who has been lost, but it will reinforce that they are not alone – that they are loved and protected.

It helps to show them that grief is a collective experience, that should be dealt with in a community, not alone. Its important to me that Ethan spends time with people who knew Mark (and who knew me with Mark) and also people who have only ever known us with Nick. It is important that he sees people grieve and remember in different ways. That he can talk to people about different facets of Mark’s character.

At the funeral I asked people to write down their memories of Mark so that, when he was older, Ethan could have a record of the sort of person his father was. Some people even wrote letters to Ethan, talking about how proud Mark was to be a father and how much fun they had had together. I will treasure these forever, and one day soon we will get them out and read them properly, now he’s a bit more grown up. And Ethan will discover how his Daddy made everyone laugh, was the life and soul of every party, would do anything for you, and loved his little boy to the ends of the earth.

Gather as many people around you as possible. They will be your lifeline.