Top tips for the temporary and unaccustomed lone parent

Disclaimer: I understand that for the many many single parents in the world this post may seem like a lot of fuss over what is their normal life. You are right and I salute you. Ditto if you have a partner who works all-hours or gives bugger all help with the house and kids. But I suppose we are all used to getting along in a certain way and when that changes for a while, it can seem a bit tougher, hence this post.

It’s just two more sleeps until Olly gets back form his ten-day work trip, which means I’ve almost done it – woo hoo! I usually find the reality of him being away far easier than I’ve anticipated and that by day 3 or 4 the sense of dread has been replaced with quiet determination (except daily at 6.45pm when there is often a distinct fraying of nerves).

Olly’s been doing a global job since before Elsie was born, so I’ve got pretty used to his absences which are normally about a week long. This one of course had extra significance as we’re uprooted from our support networks but I’ve got through! So I’ve been thinking about what are my top tips for surviving when your other half goes away. And here they are:

1, Get organised – plan your week, plan your meals, plan your playdates, make sure your cupboards are filled with treats (for you) and invite friends over at least one evening to break the monotony. It might seem like a lot of effort to cook for other people but as long as they’re close friends and don’t expect fine dining, just getting some adult company will make it worth it.

2, Stay tidy – boring but necessary. You’re going to get bugger all time for keeping the house clean, so do it as you go. Most important of all, do the dishes before bed otherwise you are DOOMED.

3, Eat with the kids – OK, so fish-fingers at 5.15 might not be for everyone but frankly, if I’m on my own I am only clearing up one dinner sitting. Once I’ve got the kids to bed and washed up from their tea I am not starting all over again. Plus, I’m usually starving by about 5pm and end up eating half the children’s dinner anyway, so it suits me.

4, Don’t get stuck in a rut – over the years I’ve got into a habit when Olly goes away of putting the kids to bed, pouring a glass of wine and vegging in front of the telly. This will get you through but it can make you feel a bit bleak. Like you’re just surviving whilst your other half is away – almost like being in prison (albeit one where good Pinto Noir is available). So this time I ditched the glass of wine and have tried to do other things in the evening, like write this blog. I have to admit that I’ve also watched a lot of episodes of Nurse Jackie, so it’s possible that this is more of a personal goal than a well-worn ‘tip’.

5, Prepare for some fallout – so after a week of struggling with kids who all miss their mother/father terribly, said parent comes home to be embraced by their family and to muck in with childcare, creating a warm glow of re-unitedness about the household, right? Well, not necessarily. First up, shock-horror, you might find you’ve quite enjoyed being the sole-carer for the kids. The two or three or four of you will have got into a rhythm and having someone come in on that might feel like an imposition. Secondly, the travelling parent is probably exhausted from a crazy week of meetings and a long-haul flight. Not that you care because they’ve stayed in a hotel every night and have been woken up by an alarm clock instead of a child wanting something. Then throw into the mix your children’s emotions which rather than overflowing with joy that mummy or daddy is back, they may well feel quite angry that the bastard ever went away in the first place. Elsie is usually a total pain in the arse the first couple of days after Olly comes home, which is all anybody needs after a tough week. You might therefore want to consider making plans on your own the day after your other half gets back to be sure that you get the break you deserve and they have to deal with the stroppy kids regardless of how knackered they are.

7, Be specific about gifts – it’s not a good look to throw things at your partner when they fail reward your temporary lone-parenting efforts with a present. The frequent-flyer especially might not think it’s necessary to buy you something on every trip. If this is not the case, then make yourself clear in advance of their departure. Better still, make it easy for them and tell them what you want. I’ve done very well for posh duty-free make up over the years. I’m not sure I reciprocated when I did work trips before Belle was born. Maybe I bought Olly some gin once. But there you go, he obviously doesn’t feel he needs presents and I do. So if you’re reading this at the airport, Ol, just veer towards the Lancome counter. Thanks.

Beware the killer fruits

We had a bit of a drama this week when I thought that B had consumed some poisonous berries. Last week Olly came home from work with a warning to watch out for ‘date-like’ fruits falling from trees, which were reported by a couple of his colleagues to be extremely toxic. On a par with a death cap mushroom in terms of deadliness, Olly was lead (or lead himself) to believe. I was to take great care, as Belle is still at the stage of indiscriminately shoving things into her mouth. I’m forever removing wood-chip, pebbles, sand etc, so sticky, date-like fruits could obviously be a problem.

So the other day at a playground, where I’d put Belle down on the floor in order to push Elsie on the swings, I turned around expecting to have to deal with some munched-on wood chip (which is ubiquitous in New Zealand parks) only to find Belle squishing two yellow, sort of date-shaped fruits in her hand. I couldn’t be sure if any had gone in her mouth but there did seem to be a bit of something yellow on her chin. At first I thought, oh that’s OK, picturing the shriveled-up brown things which you eat with a strange plastic prong at Christmas – dates are brown. And then got a flash of the outside of a turkish grocers and realised that fresh dates are yellow.

Quickly I got Belle back in the buggy and coaxed Elsie down from the crow’s nest she’d climbed atop of. I sent a text to Olly, trying to sound all casual -Y’know those poisonous dates , what colour are they? – and started to head back up the hill home. A few minutes later a reply came in from Olly – dark, red – sometimes yellow. At this point, I started to feel a wee bit anxious. Soon followed a photo from Ol, as it just so happened that he was passing by one of the trees in question.

Karaka fruits – native to New Zealand.

Oh christ, this was indeed what Belle had  been sucking. I had to get home and drive to a hospital – quick. I got Elsie on the buggy board and somehow mustered the strength to push them both up the hill from the beach back to our flat. I imagined myself as the wolf-mother who’s able to rip the door off a burning car to rescue her child as I huffed and puffed up the steep incline. I was hot and I was sweaty but I didn’t care – my baby’s life was in danger!

A minute from home, another message came in from Olly, they are called Karaka seeds, it’s the inner part of the fruit that’s deadly, the rest isn’t so bad. At this I felt my panic  lessen. The inner part of the fruit that Belle had been handling was a hard, large stone. There was no way she’d eaten that. She’d have choked to death before she was poisoned. But still, she may have eaten the fruit which I still believed to have toxic qualities.

Once home I thought I had enough time to give the girls some lunch whilst I googled this nasty. Belle seemed fine, munching on a cream cheese sandwich, oblivious to the fact I was still imagining her on permanent dialysis. But within seconds of accessing the world wide web I discovered that, in fact, the fruit of the karaka is, edible. A little bitter perhaps but nonetheless not in the least bit harmful.The kernel is poisonous, although not necessarily deadly and certainly not equivalent to one of the UK’s most poisonous fungi. Actually the karaka has more in common with an apricot, which also has edible flesh and a poisonous kernel and rather than being avoided, is sold in most green-grocers and often fed to small children.

So why had I been given such a grave warning about this fruit? It’s not likely that my daughters would have eaten its hard stone. I thought, from the way the information had been conveyed, that this must be ‘a thing’ in NZ, a phenomena. I imagined that a few infants and children die every year from eating these soft, squiggly, date-like fruits. But no, it was nothing of the kind.

Belle shoving stuff in her mouth
Belle shoving stuff in her mouth. Luckily sandwiches on this occasion.

My explanation for this scare-mongering is that it relates to Kiwis huge national pride. Most people who know a Kiwi will recognise a bit of the Kiwi psyche which has enormous self-belief in their little country. They believe that their mountains are the most beautiful, their coffee tastes the best and that the flavour of New Zealand kiwi-fruit is far superior to those grown in Italy. This isn’t boastfulness, it’s a very gentle form of patriotism. But whilst the coffee is great here and the mountains are stunning, this tendency to want to claim difference or superiority sometimes strays onto territory upon which New Zealanders don’t have such a sure-footing. (Best not to mention to a New Zealander that kwi fruit are not actually native to NZ.) And rather than leave certain topics alone, they still need to make a claim. So instead of settling for the fact that New Zealand is a ridiculously safe country and leaving the shit-that-can-kill-you to their Ozzie neighbours,  Olly’s colleagues apparently felt the need to create a sense of danger from the presence of these sort-of but not-so poisonous fruits.

Anyway, in this case, the danger was none-existent. Belle was fine and continues to shove things in her mouth indiscriminately. Thank god for Wikipedia, which saved me a first trip to New Zealand casualty.

This is why mums drink wine

Olly and I have made it to the end of our first working week. Him at Greenpeace and me looking after the kids. I was expecting the week from hell but surprisingly had quite a nice time. I’m not predisposed to the role of stay at home mum and don’t intend to be one for much longer (work, please – anyone?) but definitely felt I was doing a much better job of it this week than I have been in London. So what’s different? Well, a few things. (Surely a great opportunity to do a list? That’s what you do on blogs, right – lists?) So here it is –  my five things which make being a full-time mum more bearable. And I’ve resisted putting wine as number one, despite overhearing a mum making the comment, “This is why mums drink wine.” to a disobedient toddler the other day.

1, Sunshine – sunshine makes everything good, so that’s a no-brainer.

2, A car – there, I said it. A car makes your life easy. One little move to the other side of the world and I have become climate criminal No. 1. I can’t deny it though, bundling children into a car instead of drudging around pavements and on buses is much less hassle. A friend sent me an email today about sitting next to a smelly man on a London bus  and I thought, thank god I don’t have to do that anymore.  Not that I use the car everyday. Today we walked to a local park because I want Elsie to remember she’s got legs but when I got home I was absolutely exhausted. Cream-crackered. And I wondered how much of the last year’s tiredness has been because I’ve been pushing a bloody buggy and buggy-board around? Anyway, this is merely an observation and not an endorsement of fossil-fuel use. Ahem.

3, Sleep – no shit Sherlock. But I thought it’s still worth stating for the record in case any parents reading this are humming and harring about sleep training. Getting more sleep makes you a better parent – fact. The move to NZ has jigged B out of her ludicrously early mornings and it’s made a huge difference to my demeanour.

4, Open plan living – yes, I was surprised too. I thought having fewer gates, barriers and doors would be a pain in the arse with two small people but actually it works quite well. The girls cause merry havoc but at least I can be doing something useful in the kitchen whilst they do.

5, Slowing down – maybe I’m in holiday mode but I’m feeling pretty relaxed and therefore spending better time with my kids. It helps that I have no friends to meet, so don’t mind that it takes Elsie 15 minutes to walk 200 yards. Plus my new phone’s too big to fit in my pocket, so I no longer fiddle with it absent-mindedly whilst ‘playing’ with the girls. And generally am just being more ‘present’ nstead of trying to get other stuff done. I’m sure that’ll change as life gets a bit busier but still, I feel like I’ve learnt a bit this week.