This weekend was an emotional one…

Having our own business and working on it full time has never made this ‘work life’ balance thing easy, particularly with our Little Miss and Big Lad. The Big Lad may be old enough and capable of seeing to himself most the time but that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to be there to do it for him. That’s what Mums are for, right?

Work has been crazy these last few weeks. We were offered a potential business opportunity that could possibly be life changing for our future. That has brought with it more work, pressure and stress than we have ever known. It’s been like being back at university again, pulling all nighters to meet deadlines. We’ve worked more, slept less, stressed more and relaxed less, and all of this is not exactly conducive to family life.  I am justifying this because if we manage to pull this opportunity off, it will change our lives and our kids are, of course, part of that.

Whether it’s been snapping at the Big Lad for not tidying his room (when I’ve already asked him 1037 times) or opting for episodes of ‘The Wiggles’ on Netflix as a means of entertaining the Little Miss instead of the usual interactive play, messy play and story reading we usually do together, I’ve not been the best Mum in recent weeks. More time has been focused on work and less time on the kids and whilst I can justify why we are doing it until I am blue in the face, it doesn’t feel very good. It feels bloody awful, in fact.

Despite having a whole boat load of work to do over the bank holiday weekend, we ditched it in favour of some family time. That sort of time is good for the soul. And our souls could do with some goodness. Whilst out at a farm, the 4 of us, we got to talking about the Big Lad’s plans for after he leaves school. Whilst university feels miles away, he’s already doing his GCSEs and it scares the shit out of me how quickly time is flying by.  University has always been part of the grand plan for the Big Lad. I didn’t take the conventional route to university and ended up doing my degree long distance whilst working full time and raising my baby boy (many moons ago!); it was tough going. Like really tough. I don’t believe that a degree is essential to get where you want to be in life, but he has a clear idea of where his future lies (which is more than I can say for me at his age – I think I still believed I was going to be a Radio DJ at that point….) and in order to break in to that sort of career, he does need a degree.

My Big Lad is quiet and sensitive, thoughtful and loving. He still holds my hand when we are out and about ( and I absolutely cherish those moments. Every single one of them.) and becoming a big brother has seen him flourish in to a mature, caring, kind and compassionate young man. He’s a home bird. He loves to hang out at home, he loves family days (he prefers the xbox but he definitely does like the occasional family day!) and he likes to stay close. When letters come out from school about skiing trips to France or trips to New York (I know! New York! New bloody York! Beats the glamorous outdoor pursuits residential weekend in the Lake District (in the torrential rain, no doubt…)that we were offered at school!) and we ask him if he wants to go, he answers instantly with a firm and clear ‘No thanks’ (or maybe minus the ‘thanks’ bit if he’s being particularly teenage angsty…). He isn’t interested in trips away, he’s quite happy remaining at home, in a familiar place with familiar people.

We’ve talked about university before. We have four fantastic universities within a 30-40 minute drive away so moving away to a university further away has never even been something we have contemplated in a conversation. Until Saturday. There we were, casually strolling around the worst smelling farm my nostrils have ever experienced, and the words ‘I think I’d quite like to move away when I go to university’ left his mouth. They left his mouth so carelessly. But with every new syllable my heart dropped further and further in to my stomach. I laughed it off. I used the, you know, ‘I’m smiling and I’m sort of laughing but on the inside I’m literally dying. Dying I tell you!’ laugh. I started off casual, with the, you know, old ‘Who’s going to make you a sunday dinner on a Sunday?’ ‘Who’s going to wash your clothes?’ ‘Who’s going to make sure there’s food in your cupboards?’ but when he answered (a little too promptly for my liking) ‘A local carvery, a local launderette and Tesco’ I needed to ramp it up a little. The conversation gradually built up and up until  I was metaphorically clinging on to the backs of his trousers screaming whilst sobbing ‘Pleeeeease don’t leeeavvve meeeee.’

It shouldn’t have hurt as much as it did. But I think because I know I’ve been the shittest mother ever to walk the planet these past few weeks, I instantly laid the blame at my door. He wants to leave home because I’ve not been home enough. He wants to leave because I’ve been nagging him about his room. He’s leaving because he’s sick of me questioning him on whether he’s brushed his teeth, changed his boxers and used deodorant every morning. He’s leaving, well, because he’d rather live alone than live with his Mum. The guilt. Oh the guilt. It washed over me like a wave. Actually, sod that, it washed over me like a fecking Tsunami.

I couldn’t even count on my husband for moral support. He made a comment like ‘Good for you, son. Get yourself out there’ or something of that nature. I couldn’t hear the exact words for the deafening sound of my heart breaking. I know what you’re probably thinking right now, you’re thinking I’m being dramatic, aren’t you? Well, there is nothing more dramatic than your son telling you that he actually wants to leave home at an undetermined point in the future. That’s just not okay with me. Jokes aside, I’m not ready to let go of his coat tails just yet. And a couple of years isn’t going to make me feel any better, I am certain. I’m being selfish. I know I’m being selfish because what if him leaving home is the making of him? What if this is his chance to make his mark on the world? And I want all that for him. I want his life to be limitless. I want him to have it all. Because he deserves it so much. But I just want him to come back to me afterwards. I love him so much.

This one conversation sent my hormones haywire for the rest of the weekend. The following day we set out on a day trip just the hubby, Little Miss and I (despite my best attempts at persuasion, the Big Lad decided that the Xbox had more appeal on this occasion) and we were travelling in the car when I glanced back at Little Miss. I glanced at her like I glance at her a million times a day, every time we are in the car together, only this time something got me. She was asleep, her little head resting against the side of the car seat. Her eyes closed tight with her long, day eyelashes so still. Her tiny, puffy little hand laid gently on top of the other. Her little feet swaying with the motion of the car. She looked so beautiful. So fragile. I felt something. Like the biggest pounding to my stomach. It was the realisation that in no time at all, she would be having the very same conversation with me too. Because I can’t even begin to emphasis how quick those years have flown over. Time is so precious when you are raising children. You can’t get time back. Every day we spend is a day that we lose. Every moment we share with our children is gone in an instant. I have never been surer of the need to cherish every single moment with my two children. Even the moments where you’re frazzled, drained of all energy and surrounded by poo and vomit. Because these moments are time limited. We will spend a lifetime afterwards trying to recall the every detail of these precious moments as we create a lifetime of memories in our minds.

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That realisation flooded me with emotion and I instantly began to cry. I think some of those tears was about the fact that I feel like my time with the Big Lad is running out and the guilt of wasting some of the time during his childhood being wrapped up in work; and some of them were about me becoming overwhelmed with the fact that I have another childhood to enjoy, treasure and cherish with the Little Miss. I wished I hadn’t bothered spending so much time on precision eye liner because within seconds I looked like someone out of Kiss. Thanks goodness it was sunny enough for me to realistically justify wearing sunglasses, avoiding the ‘I’m wearing sunglasses in the dark like a Z-Lister’ look.

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They may be 15 years and 18 months old but I want to protect them until my dying day. I want to see to their needs every single day of their lives. I want to protect them from heart break. I want to protect them from disappointment, upset, feeling sick, scared – the lot. I know that they have to get big and grown up one day. I’m not daft, I know they can’t stay with me forever (although that won’t stop me trying to come up with reasons why they should….) but I don’t want to think about that right now. I’m not ready to think about that right now. This weekend has served as a reminder that being Mum to my two children is a privilege. It’s a privilege that not all people get. Whilst life will invariably place a strain on me being Mum of the Year from time to time, I want to be the best Mum I possibly can be because when I wave them both off to enter in to the big wide world on their own (when they’re like aged 62 or something….) I want to know that I did the best I can and made the most of every single precious moment of their childhood. I don’t want to think ‘I wish I put my mobile phone down more’ or ‘I wish I put the laptop away on an evening and spent it with the kids instead’ or ‘I wish I’d taken more time as a family’ because I can only imagine how difficult it would be to live with those thoughts. As mums we feel guilt as a default emotion; most of the time it is misplaced and it is certainly a pointless emotion as no good can come of it. I don’t want to feel guilt. I just want to know, in my own mind, that I’ve done the very best I can. Because, then, I can live with that.

 

Don’t befriend me. I’m not good at the whole friendship thing.

There’s friends and then there’s ‘Facebook Friends’, i.e. people you once knew but will never see again, yet you remain interested in gawping at the wedding dress they have chosen , their Great Aunty’s third cousin’s ex husband’s holiday photos, or their weekly mirror selfie demonstrating how their weight loss journey is going, or what their third boyfriend in six weeks looks like, or how perfect their brand new high gloss white kitchen looks (they’ve got no children, obvs). They are the friends that never forget your birthday, but they only ever speak to you (aka type) on your birthday. They don’t speak to you on any other of the 364 days of the year, but you get a happy birthday from them at the very least.

I have a group of amazing friends. One bestest best friend, a couple of really squeally good friends and a number of friends that I’ve met in various circles that I see every so often. I know that I could call on them at any given time and they would be there for me, without question. They bring so much to my life and by God have I needed them in recent years. Since having Little Miss though and going back to work from maternity leave, I feel like I don’t really deserve the title of ‘friend’ in return. I am fast fading in to the Facebook realm of no return. I am going to be one of them. I am going to end up a Facebook friend. A Facebook friend to someone I genuinely love and care for. They’ll have a neb at my photos every so often and nothing going on in my life will be of any interest to them. Nor will they need me. Because they’ll have real life friends for that.

Is it because I’m a horrible person? I don’t think so. Is it because I don’t want to be their friend? Hell no, I love the very bones of each of them. Is it because I don’t care? Absolutely not. In fact, I think about them more so now than ever before. So why? Why am I paling into insignificance in the friendship stakes? Because I’m just not good at it anymore.

My best friend lives on the other side of the world and, frankly, it’s a good job she does, otherwise she’d have binned me off by now too. I can manage the occasional phone call, the weekly text messages and emails and Facebook exchanges; that’s all good. But when it comes to doing friendy things, like actual things with my friends, hanging out with them, coffee dates, long drawn out telephone calls where we put the world to rights, cocktails and drunken chat, delivering McDonalds the morning after the night before and devouring it in our jim jams because we have both never been so hungover in our lives before – all of this I once did. Now not so. It’s getting less and less (and I’ve definitely not drank enough to have the mother of all hangovers since circa 2003 so that last one definitely hasn’t happened this century) and every time I say ‘no’ to an invitation I can feel myself slipping further and further away from my friends.

It’s not even that I don’t want to go. Show me a frazzled mamma who doesn’t want to meet their friends (for either caffeine or alcohol, one wakes me up, one sends me to sleep so at this point in my life I favour caffeine over the good stuff. Falling asleep on my friends wouldn’t do me any further favours in this situation after all…) and have idle chit chat, refreshingly adult conversation and find common ground as we compete as to how sleep deprived we are and how bad our baby brain has become. If I could, I would accept every single invitation I received and I’d rock up those coffee mornings, cocktail nights and soft play nightmares with bells on. I’d be there every single time. But it’s just not that easy.

The reality is that I am a mama to an 18 month old baby and a 15 year old boy. They need me in equal measures right now. My boy has his GCSEs round the corner and suffers from social anxiety so we spend a lot of time working with him, supporting him and ensuring he is equipped to go to school and fulfil his potential. Then there’s my Little Miss, she is currently getting sick a lot; almost on a twice monthly basis right now. Even when she’s well, she’s not always a great sleeper, and with her going to nursery Monday to Friday, I really value the time I have with her after nursery and on weekends. Our time as a family on weekends, bank holidays and so on is so precious. More precious than anything I’ve ever known or seen. After years and years of building our businesses and working seven days a week, we know how lucky we are to have our weekends as a family. Because we know what it is like not to have that quality family time, it’s not something I ever want to happily give up.  Then there’s the working full time thing. I manage our family business, which doesn’t allow me or my husband the privilege of knocking off at 5pm. It’s not that easy to promise lunch dates or ‘after work coffee meets’ because every day is so unpredictable and at the end of the day, our only income is from this business. My husband and I have no choice but to give it every single thing we’ve got in order to take care of our family.

Even when that is all taken care of, I just don’t even have the energy most days. Once I’ve got the kids sorted and to bed, I’m literally lucky if I can muster enough energy to carry my sleepy (and rather big) ass to bed. The thought of getting dolled up to then go out and hold down an adult conversation without falling asleep mid sentence and drooling over a Mojito, is enough to make me cry. I know I’d feel much better for going out but that doesn’t change the fact that I am completely exhausted.

I have friends who don’t work or work part time. They meet through the week, soft play one week, baby sensory class the next, swimming the week after. They think because I own my own business that I should be able to make it to these play dates. I tried it once. I thought I’d actually take a lunch hour for once and meet my friend for a coffee at a coffee shop nearby my office. It ended with me being away from my desk for an entire half day because once we got chatting, we lost track of time and before we knew it hours had passed by. We hadn’t seen each other in months and months (obviously) so naturally we had a lot to catch up on. I ended up coming back to work to find 108 unread emails, five squillion phone calls to return and a mound of paperwork that would give Mount Everest a run for its money.

Maybe I’m getting boring. Or Old. Or both. Yeah, definitely both. On a Saturday night I look forward to getting in my jim jams (supposing I actually made it out of them that day…) at like 5pm, getting the kids sorted, lighting a few scented candles, ordering a take away and watching something on the TV that doesn’t require a brain cell, wrapped in a duvet on the sofa. My days of standing in the taxi queue half drunk (actually, disclaimer: I was never ‘half’ drunk, I was definitely ‘full’ drunk, whatever full drunk actually means…) wearing next to nothing in the bitter cold, dipping chips in to the smelliest garlic sauce on the planet, are definitely numbered. Maybe even over for good. These days I prefer the simpler things in life. There is nothing more important in my life than my family. Doing simple things with the people I love the most means the world.

I feel like I say ‘no’ a lot when invited out by friends. There was a time when I said yes to everything but never actually made it out due to poorly babies, a work deadline I had to meet, lack of babysitter, feeling ill and exhausted myself – the list is endless. I felt like I was letting them down every single time. I worried I upset them. I would feel crap about it for days after. But, let me tell you, there’s only one thing worse than having to say ‘no’ to a friend when they invite you out and that’s not to be invited out at all. I’ve been there with friends that I have now lost contact with. The term ‘party animals’ doesn’t really do them justice; ‘Party Beasts’ suits them better. They went at it hardcore every single weekend. A couple of drinks and a meal with them only ever ended one way: passed out on the (very sticky) floor of some dated nightclub at 3am. I like a drink as much as the next mama but pulling chewed chewing gum and washing spilled beer out of my hair the following morning is not the way I like to start my weekend. I did think that our friendship was deeper than me just being another person to add to their night out headcount but obviously not because after saying no a couple of times, the invitations stopped and now I’m a Facebook friend to them and vice versa. But even though the way they spent their Friday and Saturday nights wasn’t my idea of fun, it still hurt when they stopped inviting me. I felt like they’d given up on me. I’d now become ‘the one that never says yes’, ‘the one that never goes out’, ‘the boring one we don’t waste our time on anymore’. You know what social media is like, there is no hiding the nights out that I was missing. The pre-drink selfies, the dance floor selfies, the eyes rolling into the back of your head drunk selfies and the like. I’m sitting at home in my jim jams watching the photos update over the course of the evening and the most exciting thing to happen to me all night is that I missed my mouth and spilt strawberry yoghurt all over my PJ top. It’s not like I even wanted to be there! Why does this upset me! I am a crazy lady! I go from ‘not caring’ to feeling totally left out and isolated in three point five seconds. My feelings about it all were completely nonsensical but I was feeling them regardless so they were real to me.

With that life lesson under my belt I don’t want to lose my support network because I’m no longer present in their lives. I need to find a way of making it work. My friends, particularly my close friends, love me unconditionally as I do them. They are there. Always. So I need to work it out. I feel like the worst friend on earth. I feel like I’m never there (or ‘available’) when they need me, I’m never able to make plans when they are free and I rarely say ‘yes’ to invitations anymore and busy or not, exhausted or not, they do deserve better than that because they are good people and beautiful friends of mine. They deserve better.

They say life is all about balance, don’t they? I’m not sure who ‘they’ are, but if ‘they’ are able to advise me of how to keep all the plates spinning and keep up my friendship duties, I would be oh so grateful to them. After all, we all need friends. It doesn’t matter how solid our family network may be, you will always need a friend at some point in your life and that works both ways. Life is short; we are here but for a while. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life as a ‘Facebook friend’ to people I love and adore. Besides, my craic on Facebook is piss poor so I’d probably be demoted from even being that.