How NOT to start your day… and other tips from an imperfect mum

A minion from Despicable Me close-up

Me in the mornings – how you don’t want to be

I am walking hand-in-hand with an unidentified handsome male on a deserted beach. I can taste the salty breeze, my companion – he has the same profile as George Clooney – turns to look at me…

The alarm on my mobile phone rudely interrupts my dream. I try to block out the sound, but the beach and the mystery man have gone and then I remember: It is 5.45am. This is MY hour, my window of opportunity in the next 24 hours to do something Just for Me before my day is swamped by other people’s demands and desires.

So, I get up quietly, slip on my airline socks and my husband’s fleece and sneak downstairs with my laptop to write on my novel or what I hope will one day become my novel. This is pure bliss, escaping into a different world of interesting characters created and controlled only by me.

A scene from a badly scripted sitcom

Like Cinderella dreading the moment when her carriage will turn back into a pumpkin, I watch the hands of the clock creeping closer to 6.45am, which will signal the end to my solitude, my calm and inner peace.

From the moment I wake up my daughter at 6.45am our house is transformed into a maddening, hysterical scene from a badly scripted sitcom.

My husband has woken up by now, grumbling about sitting in the traffic again while scavenging through his wardrobe for an ironed shirt. (He does his own ironing of course)  Any minute now the daily hunt for his company access card will kick off. He will be crawling around under the sofa, rustling through the washing basket and the boys’ toy box – cursing under his breath and accusing every woman and her dog of stealing or hiding his yellowing mug shot resembling someone on Prime Suspect.

Mutiny over breakfast

Poster of white text on red stating keep Calm and Carry On

More calmness needed in the morning

From downstairs my daughter starts her daily rant about the lack of choice on the breakfast menu, having dismissed 15 types of cereal and a selection of fresh fruit. Wait till she has a family and see if she’s still so keen on rustling up eggy toast or Nigella’s pancakes on a weekday morning.

The next one to surface is Max, 4, who solemnly announces that he’s not going to school today because his best friend stinks. This, rather than being a reflection of his best friend’s poor hygiene, is his latest ploy to try and stay at home because the novelty of school has worn off after just two weeks.

“I hate phonics. All we do is phonics. It is rubbish,” he moans through his Cheerios.

My husband, thankfully, has now left the house – minus his access card and dragging the overflowing bin behind him as he forgot to put it out the night before.

Child cruelty

The last one to rise is my 9-year-old son, Lukas, who tries to stay in bed as long as he can to resist my attempts at forcing him to do his 11-plus homework.

(If this sounds cruel – it’s not. We’re talking 10 minutes of maths or learning vocab instead of playing Fifa14 on the I-pad.)

Things start accelerating from about this moment. I realise there’s only an hour left before everyone has to be ready and out the door, including me.

My daughter is walking up the hill to the bus stop, the four-year-old is lying on the floor in front of my bathroom naked, refusing to move and Lukas is trying to see if he can take 30 minutes to put on one sock, one eye on the clock.

A race against time 

Max is refusing to get dress. I scream, cry, plead… in the end I challenge him to a dressing contest. I am halfway into my bra and knickers when the doorbell rings. My daughter has forgotten her bus pass and will now be late unless I drive her up the hill to the bus stop.

Lukas, seizing the opportunity, claims he absolutely can’t work out how many halves there are in three and a half without my help and downs his pen. Max, meanwhile, starts wailing because I’ve won the dressing contest unfairly as I had to quickly pull on my jogging bottoms and T-shirt to drive my daughter up the hill.

By the time I’ve deposited Lukas at the middle school 10 minutes late, having returned home once to fetch his forgotten football kit and dragging Max into the infant school, kicking and screaming, I’m very low on humour and badly in need of a strong coffee.

I return to my home office, climbing over discarded shoes and dirty washing, ignoring the mountain of breakfast dishes in the sink, ready to start my working day.

Does this sound familiar? What are your strategies for making the mornings easier?

If your mornings are more successful, please send me some tips and I’ll do a follow-up post with tips for other badly organised mums like me.

Scrabble letters spelling 'bad mum' words

Bad mums round-up on Britmums

And by the way, I am the editor of a monthly bad mums round-up for Britmums.  If you identify with my struggles and imperfections, drop me an email chenekoscielny@gmail.com or tweet me @CheneKoscielny your imperfect, humiliating, bad mummy posts and I’ll include them in the October round-up to make other mums feel a bit better about ourselves.

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What to wear to Wimbledon if you don’t look like Sharapova

Woman in dress for Wimbledon

Dressed to kill: Me in my Wimbledon outfit

Every now and then my husband does something that blows me away. It doesn’t happen often and it usually is a pure stroke of luck that required no planning or effort on his part, but I take what I can get.

He chose his moment carefully, waiting for me to be particularly annoyed with him for turning a blind eye to the overflowing rubbish bin spewing deadly fumes around the kitchen and feeding our children their own bodyweight in junk food.

Tickets to Wimbledon

“By the way, I’ve got tickets to Wimbledon.” Deadpan delivery. No emotion, no excitement – Germans don’t do excitement in my experience – as if this was as much part of our daily routine as the school run. (He won the tickets in a work lottery, but he only revealed this much later after I’d sufficiently swooned at his feet)

“Wimbledon! WOW!” I was beside myself. Jumping up and down and screaming  “Oh YEAH!” so loudly the grumpy old lady next door slammed her window shut.

And as it turns out, not only are we going to Wimbledon, we are going ‘corporate’ on Centre Court and we will be picked up by a chauffeur from home! This is seriously unlike us – we don’t do style. Our idea of style is shouting abuse at each other while repacking suitcases in full public view in airport halls because my curling tongs had caused the suitcase to tip the scales over the limit.

Panic attack

Once the excitement subsided, I had my first little panic attack – “OMG! What am I going to wear?”I knew straightaway that nothing in my wardrobe would live up to this occasion. What do you wear to Wimbledon if you don’t quite look like Maria Sharapova and your budget can just about stretch to the odd supermarket T-shirt sneaked in during the grocery shop?

I was actually getting myself into quite a state about this, when I happened to stumble across a free personal styling session by the lovely Kate Battrick @TwistedSkirt, a personal stylist employed by TK MAXX for the day at a conference I went to.On the impulse I thought I’d mention to her that I’m going to Wimbledon and had no idea what to wear.

Kate‘s face lit up as if she’d been waiting for exactly this challenge all day: How to turn a mousy, frumpy mum-of-three into a Centre Court sensation. She took one look at me and dismissed my toga-like top, especially chosen by me to hide the after-effects of two large glasses of Chardonnay every night.

Hourglass figure 

“This is exactly the wrong outfit for your ‘hourglass’ figure,” she said.

I almost kissed her.  No one had ever mentioned the word hourglass in relation to my figure and I was expecting the more familiar – heavy bottomed pear shape – so, I was willing to hear her out.

“You need to accentuate your waist,” she said, pointing to a rather garish, tight floral dress with an open back – the kind much more suited to the Sharapovas of this world.

I was beginning to worry about the lighting in the room, because if she thought I had a waist, never mind one that had to be accentuated, her eyesight must be worse than mine and I’d had a retinal detachment in one eye.

Dressing on a budget

Two women talking

Personal stylist Kate Battrick in action

To cut a long story short, she made me try on the dress – it was a size 10 (US-sizes) of course – I’ve been nowhere near a size ten since having my first child.

But believe it or not, the dress fit me and looked amazing (everything is relative of course, as my husband would say). It created a waist and the floral print made me look fashionable and dare I say- younger than my tender 43 years.

I knew I had to have the dress. My mind was working overtime trying to figure out how I would be able to afford the dress and whether I could wear it with flip-flops as I certainly had no matching footwear and would not be able to fork out on a pair of shoes too.

That was when she announced the price:  £20!

My jaw dropped to the floor. Not only would I never have tried this dress had it not been for the stylist, but I would not have dreamed that I could actually afford it without cancelling our summer holiday. Next, Kate advised me to buy a pair of almond court shoes for £49 from M&S and combine the dress with a white linen jacket, which luckily, I already owned.

My husband usually doesn’t get involved in what I wear, apart from telling me I didn’t need it – So, I was chuffed when he LOVED the dress – and that was BEFORE I told him the price.

So, I’m off to Wimbledon with my head held high. My shoes might just cut off all circulation to my little toes by the end of the day, but my flip-flops are in the bag, just in case.  No idea who I’m going to be watching, but if you’re watching telly – I’ll be the woman in the bright floral dress waving madly every time the camera points in my direction. I might even stand up and do a little twirl to show off the back of the dress.

Some good press for bad mums, finally!

A photograph of a woman drinking a glass of wine

Me and my Chardonnay – inseparable

For the first time in many years – since I had children, actually – I felt quite good about myself this week.  It lasted about as long as an English sunny spell, but I definitely felt a little spike of optimism in the dark and dusty pit that is my psyche.

Soul mates 

After years of skulking around shamefully on school runs and sobbing into my Chardonnay, I’ve finally found my soul mates – fellow bad mums who, though they love their children, find parenting to be wildly overrated.

In the US a flurry of new parenting books has hit kindles and bookshelves like a viral infection sweeping through a nursery.  The authors are mums who “curse a lot, drink to excess, reveal scary truths and draw twisted little stick figures of their kids pooping and whining relentlessly.”

Fifty shades of parenting

These ‘scary, dark and funny’ mums seem to have hit upon the fifty shades of parenting – their expletive-infused, boozing, warts-and-all anecdotes of what it’s really like to be a mum – are hitting a nerve!

I’ll drink to that!

Share the grief

Finally, it may be time to ditch the anti-depressants and share the grief openly in stead about the seemingly never-ending daily grind of raising ungrateful little brats.

Maybe that will finally shatter the perfect mum with perfect children, perfect husband, perfect pets and catalogue homes illusion we all partake in at coffee mornings and school gates.

Perhaps it will be safe soon to own up to nasty rows flavoured with unwholesome language with our other halves about where the money will come from and whose turn it is to unpack the dishwasher – sometimes even in front of our kids.

Not-so-proud’ mummy moments

What a relief it would be to see a fellow mum post a ‘not-so-proud’ mummy moment on Facebook in stead of yet another carefully censored postcard glimpse of a perfect family leading a candy floss life.

Maybe we’ll soon be able to have real discussions about the mind-numbing boredom of building Lego spaceships or reading stories about dinosaurs, when all you want to do is check your email, play Candycrush or read a book about bad mums.

Shouting very loudly

Could we dare to come clean about shouting very loudly at our children in stead of gently guiding them to the right behaviour in soothing tones  – in line with parenting guidelines from childless experts?

Would you admit to fantasizing about life before children – all the time – not dreams about steamy sex (though that would be nice) but going to the toilet with the door closed, having a lie-in and spending money on yourself in stead of on football boots or swimming lessons?

I wouldn’t want to push it – but perhaps we could even admit to a less than perfect pelvic floor and how easy it is to lose yourself in the pursuit of being everything to everyone else.

Health warning

At some point I considered putting a health warning for doe-eyed first-time mums on my blog like the ones on cigarette packs for fear of shattering their dreams with my honest accounts of parenting.

But now that I know I’m not alone, I won’t. I only wish that my own library of early parenting guides had included a few titles from scary, dark, bad mums.

It would have comforted me so much to know that I was not alone in my moments of weakness when I couldn’t find anything to love among the tiring tantrums and endless whining.

It would have made me realise that I didn’t have to be perfect – and that guilt, bitterness, jealousy, frustration, cursing, shouting and drinking too much wine are as much part of being a mum as happy snappy moments of love and fulfilment.

PS. If you enjoy my writing, please spare me a few pence… no, seriously please VOTE  for me as  I’m a semi-finalist in the Britmums Brilliance in Blogging Awards in the Writer and Commentary categories, If you like what you read, I’d be so very happy if you voted for me.

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Norovirus vs. the tango – which one would you choose?

Couple dancing the tango

A couple – not us – dancing the tango.
Photo credit: Flickr Serge Kuznetsov

“By the way, darling, I’m going to Argentina tomorrow.”

He drops the bombshell on his way out, ensuring he’s put the M25 safely between us before I fully clock the impact his latest business trip will have on my life.

By the time my husband settles in front of his computer with a coffee and I’m halfway through my second load of washing, I’m seething, resentment oozing from my pores like sweat during a hot yoga class.

A single mum

Face it, my inner voice says cheerfully, stoking the internal flame of disgruntlement: “You’re practically a SINGLE mum.”

It’s got nothing to do with being pathetic or jealous, you understand. (But Argentina? Really, why can’t they send him to Finland or Manchester for God’s sake?)

Normally, when he comes home from the office I can take a well-deserved break, handing over the baton of sibling warfare arbitration and toddler taming, while they jubilate over daddy’s daily return from work.  (Even when I went away once for a ladies’ weekend did I not qualify for that kind of reception, but that’s a blog post for another day.)

No respite, no Zen

When he’s travelling, there’s no handover, no respite. No time to work, no time to play, no me-time, no yoga, no Zen…

I become Godmother, Mother Theresa: the omnipotent fulfiller of every physical and emotional need three children aged between four and 11 could possibly have over a period of five days. And the need can be considerable, particularly as at least one of them usually comes down with the Norovirus in this time.

Of course my husband knows to choose the grimmest backdrops for our Skype conversations when he’s away and there’s a lot of mournful shaking of the head, bemoaning the ‘bad food’, ‘terrible company’ and ‘total exhaustion’ delivered with an expression befitting a funeral service.

I think he understands I might just change the locks, if I spotted any sign of a stunning sunset, endless sandy beach or Latino woman with killer calves in the background.

5 ways of keeping resentment in check

As you can tell, I don’t like it when my husband travels.

But over the years, I’ve developed a few strategies to keep the resentment under control, which I’ll happily share with you:

  1. Babysitter: I refuse to miss a yoga class or book club meeting: I pay a babysitter. It keeps me sane, which helps everyone.
  2. I do everything I would do if my husband were around – if I’m invited to a dance, I go alone. If his trip coincides with the school holidays, we go on holiday without him.
  3. We go out for a meal (and a few glasses of Chardonnay –for me) or get take-aways at least once, so I get a break from cooking and washing up.
  4. We watch films my husband won’t enjoy, play board games he doesn’t like and listen to music he hates.
  5. I have learned to appreciate my own company again.  After the children had gone to bed – I read my book for as long as I want without having to endure long conversations about who’s backstabbing who in his workplace or explain why I need more chocolate or another glass of wine.

I’m not quite at the stage where I look forward to his next trip, but  I’m beginning to see some positives in the situation.

And that stops me obsessing about him sipping bubbly in business class or tangoing the night away with a rose between his teeth.

PS. I’m a semi-finalist in the Britmums Brilliance in Blogging Awards in the Writer and Commentary categories, If you like what you read, I’d be so very happy if you voted for me.

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So motherhood didn’t turn out the way I expected

Image

So motherhood didn’t turn out exactly the way I expected.

It has all but ruined my career, erased my social standing, shrunk my social life and nearly wiped out my self-confidence and my pelvic floor.

My carefree, wild spirit is hopelessly lost within the discipline and military order needed to make a busy household run smoothly.

Daydreams and ambitions have been replaced by worries about the ever-shrinking pot of money that has to stretch ever further for never ending piano lessons, school trips, dance outfits and party gifts.

Guilt has become my constant companion…   taunting me, paralyzing me every step of my busy, frantic day.  Guilt about working, guilt about not working, guilt about not being involved enough in my children’s lives, guilt about being too involved. Guilt about reading, guilt about not reading enough. Guilt about drinking, guilt about not drinking enough. Guilt about everything I do (or don’t do).

Cooking, once a favourite past time, an opportunity to explore exotic ingredients from around the world while listening to French Café music, has turned into an every day headache of serious hangover proportions.

Come dine with us… Chez Koscielny – Here’s the challenge:

Three children, who between them like only five ingredients, but they don’t all like the same ingredient – so we’re down to about three ingredients.

Throw this in the pot and come up with something that doesn’t look like the dog’s dinner, tastes better than a MacDonalds Happy Meal, and includes your five-a-day.

Oh yes, you have about 10 minutes to produce this before they attack the cereal box or cookie jar like a pack of hungry wolves, completely spoiling their appetite and rotting their milk teeth.

And then produce a scrumptious meal for your husband and yourself, unless you want to eat the cold leftovers of the three-ingredient meal described above. Actually, not bad washed down with a few glasses of Chardonnay.

Sex – the kind that would have turned Mr Grey a few shades redder in the face, has been replaced by very sporadic efforts with about the same level of energy and spontaneity as an afternoon tea dance for geriatrics.

Yet, from the moment I squinted myopically at the first little wrinkly face and held the squirming little body in my arms – nearly 11 years ago, I was completely hooked.

On Facebook childless school friends show off their still shiny hair, line-free skin and pert bodies. They sip cocktails in expensive bars and go on mid-week short trips to exotic destinations, where I’m sure they have show-stopping sex.

But I wouldn’t swop lives with them. Not for anything in the world.

Motherhood didn’t turn out the way I expected, but it has given my world a depth of emotion it didn’t have before. It made me understand love.

Through the eyes of a 3-year-old

We were on our way somewhere – the destination irrelevant –  the same frantic rush that precedes every family outing, irrespective of whether it is a carefully planned holiday or an impromptu dash to the park.

The scene is reminiscent of passengers about to board a train at a busy station, scuttling in all directions, searching frantically for missing shoes and lost gloves, dashing for final wees and collecting stray coffee mugs and juice cups for the dishwasher on the way out.

In the midst of this chaos, my husband sees his sole responsibility as rising from his chair, locating his unmissable size-11 shoes which are usually to be found in middle of the entrance hall where he left them, and then shouting at the rest of us to get a move on.

After three children and 10 years of marriage it doesn’t ever occur to him to pack a nutritious bag of snacks, wipe a bottom or two or help a screaming toddler into his coat to speed the process along.

This time my three-year-old, Max, by some miracle managed to find his shoes and coat quite quickly and was standing proudly aside his dad frowning disapprovingly at the rest of us as we desperately fell about our feet to get out the door.

My husband unhelpfully said: “Why is this taking so long? What ARE you doing?”

This is never a good move and I made it clear in no uncertain terms that I would take exactly as long as I deemed necessary and that if he wanted us to get there on time nothing prevented him from getting his hands dirty and helping.

It was at this point that Max looked up innocently at his dad and asked very seriously: “Why is her always so stroppy, dad?”

For a few minutes I was speechless…  and then it dawned on me, he’s only three and has had limited conditioning of traditional male/female roles and a good dose of feminism from my side, but he’s already cottoned on that a man’s role is to look after himself only and any woman who questions this is being demanding, difficult… and stroppy!

It’s been the story of my life and I’m facing an uphill battle!IMG_1574