When less is more

It’s the first day back after the Easter holidays and I have just dropped the kids off at school. Now I have that sunken feeling. I am not good when they go back to school. Partly, its my (admittedly pathetic) inability to fully cut the umbilical cord – I have never been much good at letting them go and I seem to be getting worse with each child, not better. And partly too, it is because I am really quite lazy. Give me the long mornings, with everyone still in pyjamas at eleven and the complete lack of routine over 6.15 am marching orders and a jam-packed week any day.

But this time, it is also because we had an especially lovely holiday. And it was lovely despite the fact that we didn’t go anywhere exotic, nor did we do that much. In fact, the longer the holidays went on, the less we did. And as we did less and less, two rather magic things happened.

The first thing was that the kids found ever increasing amounts of space to let their imaginations run wild.

I wouldn’t classify myself as an overzealous parent when it comes to extra-curricular activities. Apart from swimming which I consider an essential life skill, I don’t encourage them to do anything in particular. And I have been a parent long enough to know that this is quite unusual.  Many years ago I worked temporarily as a teaching assistant in a pre-prep school in London. While I was there I was shocked- and not in a good way- at how the little Arthurs & Harrys & Alexanders were universally bundled into a car every afternoon by bored nannies or frazzled mothers to be taken from violin lesson and pottery classes to swimming lessons and tennis coaching, often on the same day and aged all of five. Sometimes these mini little people weren’t home before seven, and then they had to read and do spellings. Sure, some of them were violin virtuosos and others amazing artists, but give them a little window of time with nothing organised and they didn’t have a clue how to fill it. What about, I used to think to myself, simple play? When, I wondered, did they get time to mooch about and just make up games? Surely, we should be letting kids get bored. After all, ‘boredom is the mother of invention’ I would often misquote.

And so several years later, when I had children of my own, I was determined that we wouldn’t go down that road. It would be free-play and free range all the way for us. We would spend our afternoons building stick dens in the woods and collecting slugs in buckets. Our games would only get as structured as pooh-sticks. We would spend hours, days even, turning, weetabix boxes into strange creatures and create houses out of shoeboxes. And for a few years we managed it. We had no television, I kept the kids out of school for as long as possible and we took sneaky days- even weeks- off when everyone seemed tired. And yet, despite my best intentions, fast forward a few years, and everyone goes to school full time and we too have weekly diaries that are filled with netball and chess club and swimming lessons and mini-dribblers. Times it all by three and without even trying, I am schlepping at least one child to something almost every afternoon of the week. The sad truth is, our lives are as structured and as busy as the next person’s. We don’t have time to get bored or the space to allow our imagination to run wild.

And then we are handed the gift of an Easter holidays free from plans or a holiday abroad. Admittedly it didn’t feel like much of a gift at first. In the face of a weather forecast that was decidedly arctic for the whole of the holidays, I confess that I spent the first few days cursing my lack of a credit card that wasn’t maxed out (totally irresponsible I know, but it was just a momentary thought). I then made do by planning away the first week . We surrounded ourselves with friends and family, did more easter crafts than you could poke a stick at, bound from one museum and art gallery to the next and spent a fortune on days out bowling and at 3D cinemas. All of which were good fun of course, but in the exhausting kind of way.

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And then, completely brilliantly, we ran out of money and I ran out of ideas.

And I had a lesson in something I had long known but largely forgotten; that when it comes to children, less is most definitely more.

With no plans, and no money to make them, we were left with day upon day of nothing but time. Nowhere to go and nothing to do, just time to fill. Unleashed from their routine or their mother’s diary and increasingly unconfined by the weather, all three of them started doing proper, brilliant, imaginative things that the term never gives them time to do.

As every day past they would breathe an ever-louder  sigh of collective relief when their query as to what we were doing today was met with a resounding ‘nothing’ and then they would skip off to find something to do. And it didnt take long. Depending on the day they were spies, detectives, makers of secret camps or avengers. When I left them all to catch up some admin or put a load of washing on, I would return to find the kitchen looking like an art school, the table strewn with pastels or paints, or a pancake parlour with Skye complete in pinny and the boys the paying customers. Occasionally I would lose them all, only to find them in some far flung corner of the garden, bedecked in camo’ and staking out an imaginary enemy or earthing up a fox skull that then needed serious amounts of cleaning with an old toothbrush. The longer this went on and less I interfered, the more they imagined up their own entertainment and the less they needed any other.

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And then, whilst this wonderful (though arguably predictable) unfolding was happening, the second magic thing happened. I started to play too. Unburdened myself from the dreaded need to multi-task and split my lack of daylight hours between work, child rearing and homemaking, I found I no longer had an excuse to respond to their requests for a board game or a penalty shoot out  with my customary ‘In a minute’ ( which inevitably always becomes five, then ten, then thirty minutes by which time they have given up and I go to check my emails instead).

I would still say my habitual ‘just a minute’ (old habits die hard) only to realise that actually there was nothing especially pressing I needed to do- because we weren’t rushing out the door all day. So I started to play garden football and ‘applegrams’ and hide and seek. And not only did I discover that I am no bad penalty taker ( Cosmo announced proudly that I should play for the England woman’s team- I left him with the delusion! ), but I also discovered that I too love to play. And far from being a chore- which subconsciously I treat it as- it is actually really enjoyable. And the more I played (and I mean properly played, as in not just for five minutes, or not going through the motions whilst actually thinking of something else), the more relaxed I became, and the more I began to feel I was on holiday too. Instead of just them having a lovely time, so was I.

And so, last night, when I tucked them all up in bed and they were lamenting that the holidays were over, I was seriously lamenting with them. Its back to work for us all, for I can hardly play penalty shoot out on my own.

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Begin it now….

‘Every journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step’

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 I have to confess that I am quite partial to a quote or two. To my mind, the only good thing about Facebook anymore seems to be the plethora of feel good quotes that appear on a daily basis in my news-stream. I have even started collecting them in their very own word document, with the excuse that  they will be good for my book, but really that is just a ploy to be able to waste a bit of time cutting and pasting

But if I am brutally honest, much as I love them, even the best of quotes very often illicit little more than a knowing a sigh or an appreciative nod before I simply soldier on with my daily life, grappling with the same old issues and no more enlightened than I was before I had happened upon them.

But occasionally, very occasionally, I read something and it seems to magically apply to something I have been thinking about for some time, and then the quote comes alive. I think that’s what they mean when they say ‘serendipity’.

It happened to me at the weekend. I was taking my kids to the Ashmolean museum in Oxford – which incidentally, if you live near by or happen to be visiting I could not recommend more highly.  It is beautiful, possibly one of the most beautiful museums I have ever been in- cleverly curated, beautifully lit and really well laid out. And as a helpful bonus they have really fun ‘treasure hunt’ trails for kids, which mean that even a six year old can be suitably entranced for a well over an hour on a snowy spring day.

On the wall in one of the first galleries was Lao Tzu’s famous quote ‘Every journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step’. Its not the first time I have read it, nor I suspect will it be the last. It is one that seems to be standing the test of time (to put it mildly).

On this particular occasion though, whilst I was standing in the moodily lit gallery and being dragged towards the really quite incredible Egyptian mummies, it may as well have been written as a pink neon sign. I had one of those proper ‘light bulb’ moments.

At this point, you probably need a bit of back story.

So, I am writing this book on motherhood. Or at least that’s what I say I am doing. And I genuinely have been doing a lot of research and thinking about it an awful lot, plus- as you can see- I am blogging, which – I tell myself- is all part of the process. I have even brainstormed chapters and worked out, tentatively, what will go where. The truth is, I am ready to write.  Not to say that I won’t keep researching, or brainstorming, or changing things around. But whichever way I look at it, I need to start getting words on a page. And yet, I haven’t been able to. In fact, for several weeks now I have found every excuse under the sun- sometimes as banal as ‘must put another load of washing on’- in order to avoid the simple act of sitting down to write.

But there’s the thing. It’s a simple act. It’s Lao Tsu’s ‘single step’. It could be as little as a sentence or a word, and I would have begun. I do not, as I have been saying to myself, have to ‘write a book’. I have to write some words, some sentences, and then some more sentences which become paragraphs and chapters and on an on.

And the key thing is, everything in the world is like this. Not just the more grandiose projects ike  ‘I am going to write a book’ or ‘build a rocket’ or ‘learn slovenian’, but everything everything everything we do or need to do can be broken down into tiny little, bite-size and eminently do-able chunks- be it making an easter bonnet ( this afternoons endeavour), throwing a children’s party ( the hardest by far, give me a book anyday) or running for parliament.

The implications of thinking like this are HUGE. In fact, borderline terrifying because it means that the world really is our oyster and we can, in theory at least, do just about anything. But it also means that nothing needs to be that terrifying, massive, impossible project that we can’t even possibly start.

In fact, rather aptly, it reminds me of another quote by Goethe- who is apparently considered to be Germany’s Shakespeare – which goes something like this

  ‘Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now’

And thanks to Lao Tzu, there really are no more excuses.

When the days feel long, remember that the years are short.

A few years ago, when I was dealing with the endless demands of three children who were all much younger and needier, I was given a piece of advice that I am eternally grateful for. On a day that had begun at six am, in which I hadn’t had the time to sit down for a proper meal, and which had involved being seemingly surgically attached to at least one of my children for the whole day, a family friend who was staying with us at the time, said to me

‘ Just remember, when you can, and in amongst all this chaos to stop and notice what a wonderful time you are having. Because I don’t think I ever did. Looking back, the time when I had young children was the happiest of my whole life, and yet I didn’t know it until it was over.’

All too often, and especially when we are doing something that relies on our every resource, we haven’t to the time- or more importantly don’t take the time- to stop and disentangle the joys from the hardships. We – often in a sleep deprived haze and convinced we haven’t enough hours in the day nor energy to use them well- see only the work, the tantrums and the ways in which we might be doing something a little better. All too often, and without realizing it, we live as though it is some sort of marathon, and we are striving to get to a particular point or past a particular threshold. We often put things off, in the mistaken belief that one day we will be ready, or everything will be in place. And yet, as John Lennon is so often quoted as saying ‘Life is what happens when we are busy making other plans’.

I confess that I don’t remember to think like this all the time. Far from it.  Like most other people- I get caught up in my daily existence, forget to see the wood for the trees, and am so often deep in random thought that I barely notice who is in front of me let alone take time to appreciate them.

And yet every now and then, those very wise words ring in my ears and I do stop- even if its just for a moment- and take the time to breathe it all in.

And god I am grateful that I have done, because the truth is from this

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has felt like the blink of an eye.

If you have a spare minute and fifty eight seconds, I really recommend you watch this video which says it all, much better than I possibly could.

 

brownies, glorious brownies…..

If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world. — JRR Tolkien

I have to confess that I find this time of year torturous; taunted by a day of brilliant sunshine and all the signs of spring only to be plunged back into winter proper. It’s grim out there today, again. And I read (though am choosing not to believe) that winter is not over with us at all yet and March is going to be anything but balmy.

So what to do, when faced with the prospect of another cold and rainy weekend?  Only one thing – and it’s the same one that I have been doing all winter but the only one that hasn’t yet lost its lustre- and that is to hunker down, and feast. If it sounds as though I am advocating comfort eating, then I am. But it’s more than that. I am talking the whole cannon of food- the reading about it, the cooking it, the feasting on it, the gathering friends over it. It is one of the great plusses of the modern age, that food and everything spawned from it has become such a pleasure, a virtual art form. We don’t exactly live to eat, but we are doing a lot more than eating to live.Cookery books themselves have become like veritable works of art and markets and farmers markets and specialist food shops have sprung up out around every corner- and if you really do live in the middle of nowhere then there is (dare I say it…in a whisper maybe) that the internet can get you the ingredients for an Ottelenghi special practically overnight.

I am not always in the mood to cook- and when my kids were very little it was literally the last thing on my mind. The fact that you never actually get to eat a hot meal for the first few months and the prospect of cooking it one handed – like some sort of circus act – is enough to put off even the most avid culinary expert. (But for you there are the cookery programmes – all now on tv catch up- which you can breastfeed in front of. So even you don’t have to miss out entirely on this food- fest that I am advocating.)

The truth is, there is the possibility of whiling away hours and hours, no even days, of dreadful weather with food. When I was young I used to find my mum, propped up on three pillows in bed, voraciously reading a cookbook as though it was an un-put-down-able novel. It used to seem strange to me. I think I might even have laughed at her. Fast-forward thirty years, and that is me (yes its true, there’s no escape, we will become them). I confess to liking nothing more than to trudge from my larder, arms laden with books, only to sit by a fire (or propped up in bed with three pillows) dip into them all, ripping out stubs of magazine pages to mark the recipes I will probably never get round to but love the look of.

(Obviously this particular activity can only take place when your children are otherwise engaged i.e happily ensconsed with a film. BTW- Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is especially good because it’s over two and a half hours long. You could even suggest they watch it twice.)

And then there is the feasting and merriment that comes with having friends around. As that can sometimes be stressful to prepare for, the (rare) joy of winter is that it suits one pot wonders; tagines, curries, slow cooked beef stews or the ‘prepare in advance and then chill out on the day/night’ dishes like lasagnes and fish pies. And did you know, that that lovely uplifted feeling you get from being around a table with friends is not just the wine talking. Studies have shown that our oxytocin levels actually go up when people are around a table and eating together (oxytocin is the ‘love hormone’, the same one that is produced having sex, and apparently – I recently heard- when eating dates?!), so whats not to like about that.

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Best of all, children seem to all really love cooking. Two year olds can mix cake batter, three year olds can crack eggs. And then twelve year olds can do a five course meal on their own if you’ve start them young enough! So when you are fresh out of ideas for indoor play that does not involve a screen – which quite frankly by this stage I am: how much drawing and Uno and ‘shithead’ can one stomach?- then head for the kitchen.

And if the prospect of a family cook-in this weekend tickles your tastebuds, then I have the ultimate recipe- chocolate orange and beetroot brownies. Cosmo and I have made three batches in as many weeks and as yet we have suffered absolutely no diminishing marginal returns. They are just as good third time round as they were first, and I defy you to eat just one. I only stop at three because I know I should.

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The recipe is care of Kitchen & Co By French and Grace, which has been my bible this winter – and has gone straight in at number one in my ‘top five recipe books of all time’ list. Desert Island stuff it is, and if you haven’t got it I would recommend buying a copy (Amazons sells them here but even better hot foot it down to your local book store and ask them to order you one in- its often as quick- and that way we keep those little treasure troves alive)

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  chocolate orange beetroot brownies

 Makes 1 large tray

 3 small uncooked beetroots

250g dark chocolate (minm 70% cocoa solids)

250g unsalted butter

250g caster sugar

3 free range eggs

zest of I orange and juice of half

160g self-raising flour

~Boil the beetroot for about half an hour until tender to the point of a knife ( I often do a massive batch and then use half for these brownies and the other half for a beetroot dip).

~Blitz the beetroot to a puree in a blender and set aside.

~Preheat the oven to 180 degrees/gas mark 4. Lightly butter and line a baking tin at least 2cm deep.

~Break the chocolate into pieces and place in a heatproof bowl over a pan of barely simmering water. Add the butter in cubes and leave to melt, stirring once or twice.

~In another bowl, whisk the sugar and the eggs until smooth and creamy. Stir in the melted choclate, orange zest and juice and then add the pureed beetroot. Sift in the flour and then stir until combined.

~Pour the mixture into a tin and bake for 15-20 minutes.

~Attempt to resist eating them all at once. Almost impossible.

 

 

Lessons in Death

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Our neighbour, the one of a kind John Kalinowski, died very suddenly & completely unexpectedly this week, and it has cast a real shadow.

Death is a funny thing, because we know it is the one certainty in life and yet it always seems to come as a shock and we are, for the most part, wholly unprepared for it.

I confess to feeling knocked sideways by John’s untimely departure. In part, I am broken-hearted for his wife and worry about how she will ever recover from the shock. More selfishly, I feel we have been robbed of a truly unique character- ex-manager of madness and Procol Harum, a great liver and lover of life, a man of endless positivity and boundless enthusiasm. What is remarkable to me, is that it is only with his death that I realise how much I valued his being here, and how in all the small ways- the talks over the garden wall, the crossing paths on dog walks, the borrowing tins of tomatoes when we had run out and were desperate- he was in fact, a big presence in our lives.

Community is like that. It provides a framework of small encounters that then make up the fabric of our lives. We know that immediate family are important; our children, our partners, our parents and we might actively cherish our close friendships. But it is actually the other people; the neighbours, our babysitters, the couple who run the local shop or the flower seller at the weekly market who calls you ‘love’ and looks delighted to see you- it is these people that inform your every day and stop the world from being the anonymous place that it is sometimes accused of. It was these relationships I moved to the country for and it is them, as much or perhaps even more than anyone else, that sustain me day to day. I often lament, in that kind of broad brush way, the loss of community in the world and the loneliness we all often feel because of it, and yet I have a very real community here, one that I wasn’t even properly aware of, and one that now has a very big hole in it.

As my eight year old son, Marcus, said rather movingly on the day he found out about John’s death ‘We have lost a friend today, mummy’. Indeed we have. And he was a dearer friend than I had ever really contemplated.

 

“You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.”― Mae West

 

Less Instinct, More Art

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‘Becoming a mother makes your life twice as hard but twice as good ’ is the best summing up of motherhood I have ever come across.

All too often, dialogue about mothering gets split along the overly-simplified lines of mothers who find it hard work vs those who find it a blessing, yet the simple truth is, it is both. They are two sides of the very same coin.

There is no doubt that it is tremendously hard work to be a good mother, and for a lot of new mothers, this little fact comes as something of a shock. If I had a pound for every cry of ‘ I had no idea it would be so hard’ then at the very least my heating would be on full bore and I wouldn’t have cold fingers and toes.

Very often as new mothers we get thrust into a world we had no way of expecting, and more often than not, the intensity and immensity of what it means to be a mother takes some serious getting used to.

And yet getting used to it, or more importantly, accepting that it is hard work is the FIRST thing we need to do if we want to stay sane.

The thing about motherhood is that until we have done it, we have no idea what it entails. As my grandmother used to say, ‘mothering is the only thing they don’t do degrees in’. And if it was true in her day then it is even more so now. In a time when ‘leisure studies’ earns you a qualification, motherhood can really feel like the last bastion of muddling through.

There is an (often subconscious) assumption that because mothering is this natural thing that we are designed, in evolutionary terms at least, to do that we will be able to scoop up the baby after birth and skip through motherhood with little more than flowers in our hair and a permanent beatific smile affixed our face. And implicit in this (admittedly slightly exaggerated) assumption is that something natural could not possibly be the incredible hard work that it turns out to be.

Yet the truth is, our instincts only take care of part of the picture. Even the most maternal of women will come up against elements of mothering that will be test them- often a lot. You might well find yourself very good at the nurture stage, happy to snuggle up with a milky smelling baby and able to cope with night after night of interrupted sleep, only to find that an opinionated toddler is the undoing of you. Other mothers spend their child’s entire babyhood proclaiming with dismay how un-maternal they are and how unnatural it all feels, only to find that they completely thrive when mothering becomes more of an organisational enterprise. Then, whilst the nurturers are all running late for school and have forgotten their reading record books for the umpteenth time, these mothers are waltzing in with children ten minutes early with children who have actually brushed their hair and then hot-footing it off to some exceedingly intellectual job.

Whichever particular camp you fall into (both, neither?) mothering over the long haul is going to test your every resolve and strain your abilities but CRUCIALLY (and this is the magic bit) give you an opportunity to work hard and grow in the process. Nothing worth doing is easy, but as they say, nothing easy os worth doing either. Just because we are designed to mother doesn’t mean we will be any good at it at the beginning, that it will come naturally or isn’t just as hard- even harder- than anything else we set out to do well. But the sooner we accept that it is difficult, that it is meant to be difficult and that everyone else at some stage finds it hard too, then it will no longer be so. Because the fact that it is difficult will no longer matter.  

Malcolm Gladwell talks of the 10,000 hours it takes to be good at anything. As mothers we have a lot more than 10,000 hours to perfect our particular craft.  And the sooner we see it as a craft we can hone, as a labour of proper love and as something we will have to work hard at, the quicker we can get on with just that.

 

Further reading – The Road Less Travelled by M Scott Peck ( brilliant on mothering and mother love)

 

Picture borrowed from http://phraseologyproject.com/ – great website, worth a look!

 

A manifesto of sorts….

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I have been a mother for twelve, almost thirteen years now, teaching mothers and mothers-to- be for nine and actively researching a book on mothering for almost a year, and I thought it might be useful to gather my thoughts into a ‘manifesto’ of sorts. I don’t proclaim to have inside information on this whole jaunt, but over the years I have pondered it all more than I probably needed to, have scribbled down ideas on every scrap of paper available and have gleaned what I could from every corner. Though books have been a source of great wisdom and ideas, I have undoubtedly learnt the most from conversations with honest friends and a process of on-going and serious trial and error ( with the emphasis very much on the latter) inspired by that smiling trio above. They are undoubtedly and often the source of my biggest frustrations but they are also always my greatest teachers.

The idea was to write this all down for myself, to give me some sort of direction with both my blog and my book- so it is more for me than for you- but I then thought I may as well blog it- its as good as anything else I have to say today!

So consider it a less of a manifesto- that is to come, that’s the book- and more a spilling forth some ideas onto a page……

WHAT AM I TRYING TO SAY…….

 

That there is huge hidden value in what we do as mothers; it needs acknowledged by society at large but most especially by ourselves as it will give us the motivation to keep going on the hard days.

 

That the sooner we accept how hard it is, the easier it will be. There is an irony to it, but if it works for the great spiritual seekers with regard to life then it will work for us as mothers.

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That we are not designed to mother alone. Everything is easier when you do things in company. Even the most banal drudgery can be turned into a delight if you can talk – or better still laugh- your way through it. Women need each other most when they are mothers.

That real happiness is to be found in the simple things; craft, nature, endeavour, creativity, adventure and play. However much we already have, we all need more of  this in our lives.

 That very often the things we most resist are the ones that make us the most happy. It is a strange quality of human nature and almost universal. We need to recognize this in ourselves and fight it. As a sign stuck on my fridge says ‘ say no to no’.

That the spirit of competition in the West is unequivocally harmful for mothers and women. We need to live and let live and banish the tendency to judge others. If we are really honest, our criticisms are really often just envy or self-doubt masquerading as something else.

That at all costs we must ignore the allure of the perfect ‘postable’ existence. Its just bullshit, exhausting and alienating.

That in every single regard, our children need quality rather than quantity.

That happiness will never come from being parsimonious. Every now and then give up trying. Everyone will still be alive tomorrow.

 

A mission…..

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Motherhood; that crazy rip-roaring roller coaster of an experience. At once life-enhancing, overwhelming, magic, mayhem, all consuming and sometimes even- dare I say it – just a teensy bit boring. It seems to be an all or nothing experience- when your children are young all you long for is a bit of space, a moment to yourself, a trip to the loo without an entourage, but then when you finally get space, when they are all off at school or when they – god forbid- actually flee the nest, you have nothing but space, a home gone quiet, no one in it but your lovely little self and whatever animals you might have collected along the way. All or nothing. Days so busy that you feel your head might explode and others so repetitive that the routine feels like torture. There are all the good bits, of course there are the good bits- the nuzzle of a sleepy newborn, the knuckle-less fingers of a toddler, the wide eyes, the enchanting turns of phrase, the school plays with their sincere performances that make your eyes mist over and those sunny days when you are all together and the world and its cares seems to recede. There is no doubt that the good bits really are good. Someone said recently that far from making her insane, her son had given her her sanity back. And there is no doubt that having children reminds us about what is essential in life, what really matters. We also know in our heart of hearts that we need to make a good job of it. Science is now telling us we should, but long before the scientists started dissecting our hearts, we instinctively knew that good mothering was important, and that how we mother matters.

But being a good mother is no mean feat. Motherhood is hard, and sometimes very hard. It draws on our every resource- physical, emotional and intellectual. It requires endless energy, steadfast resilience, the organisational skills of an events organiser and the diplomacy of the UN- not to mention, and this is the big one, the patience of a saint. I defy anyone to tick all those boxes on a daily basis? Twelve years in and I haven’t yet. In fact, the list alone is insanity inducing. Enough to make me give up before I even start. Or not. Because there is a little niggly part of me that knows that being good at this whole mothering thing- as well as being good for my kids- actually makes me happy too. The days – and admittedly they are rare as hens teeth- when its all going well, when the mornings are strangely under control, when three pairs of shoes are where they should be, when the swimming bag isn’t in the boot from the week before, when the animals are fed and I have held my breath when the little one has thrown a tantrum, when I havent been distracted and we have done a bike ride rather than three hours of cbeebies and at supper everyone is still smiling, myself included, then those are the best of days. The kids get tucked up happy and then I tuck myself up- usually not long afterwards- happy too. ( In the same way that if I have shouted like a ninny, the house looks like a bomb has exploded, the fridge is empty and my husband has been reduced to an irritating list if things he hasn’t done, then I go to bed frazzled, sleep frazzled and wake up frazzled, and the whole sorry cycle starts again!) 
So this is my quest for the next year. How do I do it? How do I be a good mother without going insane? How do I stay on top of things without losing myself in the pile? How do I stay patient at the end of the day when I am dog tired and no one is listening to me? How do I nurture everyone else without forgetting to nurture myself? How do I make sure that the good days dramatically outweigh the bad ones? And how do I make sure that I don’t wish away what I know I will look back on as some of the happiest years of my life?

All ideas and advice very welcome!