Are You OK, Mama?

I like to think I have an open and honest relationship with my partner. This willingness to share, combined with my emotional Cancerian tendencies, led to me admitting that I’m concerned about my mental health now that the school holidays are here.

Scared.

Terrified.

I had been cruising along nicely with my little nursery and university routine. That’s not to say I had any sort of timetable to my university studies, because, mom life. However, I knew I had that to keep my mind busy during Noah’s first ever academic year, as well as the knowledge that I had roughly two and a half hours, five days a week, to myself, whilst someone else looked after my child for free. Heavens.

It crept to July and suddenly, I had finished university – yes, fully, hurrah! – and Noah was unknowingly looking forward to a whole six weeks in the primary care of his mama. Uh-oh.

We had no holidays planned, no saving pot for extravagant, or even average, days out with him. Aaron had managed to blag the final two weeks of August off work to spend with us, leaving four whole weeks for yours truly to entertain this energetic, hyper, sometimes too hyper, three – almost four – year old.

See, one thing you may or may not know about me, is that sometimes I find this SAHM stuff a bit, er, difficult. I love it, the majority of the time. I love being there for him and knowing that I’m there for him and feeling no guilt whatsoever in that department. I love all of the baking, the colouring, the learning, the all-singing-dancing, silliness of being a mom to a small child. I’ve even come to terms with managing his moods and tantrums, the discipline and the developmental stages that have understandably been left to me, mostly, such as the toilet training. It’s fine. I feel like a kick-ass mom, a lot of the time! Everyone comments on his manners, his sense of humour, how he’s a joy to be around. I could say the typical ‘couldn’t imagine my life without him’ stuff – which I can’t – but this kid is genuinely an extension of who I am. I live and breathe for him. He’s incredible.

But sometimes … It’s rare … Sometimes, I let thoughts creep into my brain which aren’t welcome. They tend to stick around for up to a week at a time. Sometimes, it’s only a day. They shout at me, things along the lines of: ‘I hate being stuck inside.’ ‘I need a job.’ ‘Aaron’s so lucky to be working.’ ‘I wish I hadn’t quit my job for this.’ And, eerily, ‘I wonder what my life would be like if I wasn’t a mom.’ My whole persona shuts down when I feel like this. I don’t want anyone and I don’t want to be myself.

It’s been OK to have these thoughts now and again while Noah’s been at nursery, because I’ve had things to do to distract myself away from them. Even if it’s just been time-wasting on Netflix, or cleaning the bog. University deadlines are great in that they force you to get your butt into gear and forget the negativity for a bit. But that had finished.

So, long story short, four weeks spent alone with Noah was a daunting thought. ‘I’ll be working by the end of summer,’ I said to Aaron.

But then I watched a video from my favourite YouTuber, fellow Brummy Emma Conway, aka brummymummyof2, which made me change my mind a little bit. Her scrapbooking idea sent me into an overload of activity planning for Noah. More activities? More stuff to put in the scrapbook. It’s like a delicious, busy circle of parenting that will avoid too much tablet time, encourage a bit of learning here and there (phonics, especially, in our case!) and give us something to look back at when he visits from uni and we have the cases down to pack for our seventh holiday of the year. We can dream.

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This in turn has inspired a blog post for any parents of preschoolers who may feel a bit overwhelmed, as I did – and probably still do – about the long summer ahead! I’ve therefore compiled a list of things to do with the littl’uns this summer, that a) do not cost the earth, b) encourage at least a little brain power, and c) either give you five minute’s peace, or give you amazing memories to look back on. Bare in mind, Noah’s age: the things I’m planning with my three year old probably won’t cut it with your seven year old, but you may just find something for you in this fairly comprehensible (if I do say so myself) list. Let’s begin:

  1. Pasta painting. First, purchase some poster paints – they’ll be invaluable for many activities. Then, grab yourself a 60p bag of Basic’s pasta from the supermarket. We went for Penne, because it’s pretty versatile for crafts. Noah loooves to mix paints until it all turns into a murky brown, but we managed to use a few colours on the pasta before he did this. We left them to dry, then he decided he wanted to make monster pictures – one for him and one for his nanny. We even have a few of the coloured pieces leftover, so we can just whack the PVA out another day and get gluing. The beauty of this activity is that we have absolutely loads of pasta left in the bag to last the summer. Instead of painting, I plan on buying a ball of string or wool, and making necklaces, to get his dexterity on the go. Grab an empty bottle, pop some pieces inside – painted or not – to make an instrument. There really is so much you can do with a simple bag of pasta! (And if you really want to push the boat out and make a huge mess, use cooked spaghetti and slosh it around the paint pots. I haven’t tried that yet, but I imagine it would keep the younger ones very busy! Just, obviously, don’t mix little mouths with the paints, etc.)

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2. Picnics. We live in England. Summer for us is a bag of shite whereby we have a heatwave or it’s murky/raining. Rarely an in between. So I get the deal with the idea of picnics (I can’t be arsed with them, either). Grab a blanket – hell, grab a bed sheet, or grab nothing, I just didn’t want to risk ants crawling up my crack. Chop up their favourite foods in a fancy manner – there doesn’t need to be any waste or extra purchases, here, just a bit of creativity – plonk them on a blanket in the garden and have a picnic. Noah was buzzing about it. It was something different. We didn’t have to traipse to the park in the heatwave, but he was still outside in the elements having a picnic with his mom. Speaking of elements: rain. I know some people aren’t lucky enough to have a garden, or are unable to get to the park. Maybe it’s raining. Maybe it’s inaccessible. You can do exactly the same thing in your living room. Lay out a blanket and pillows. Stick something on the TV. Sit down and munch. If they’re not thrilled by the idea, pop their food in a lunchbox (Noah LOVES eating out of tupperware – no idea why), or get them involved in the preparation. A bit of variation will keep you sane, too, mama.

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3. Build a den. We aren’t going on holiday this summer, but Noah seems thrilled by the idea of camping. He already loves when I make a den out of a single blanket (good old blankets!), so who says we can’t bring the camping to our homes? If we had a tent, we would 100% be camping out in the garden. As we don’t, and I don’t want anything up my crack at night, we’ll camp out in the living room! Skewer some cheap marshmallows, stay up late, sneak some bowls of chips under your blanket den. Then, come bedtime, if they’re not massive on sofa or floor sleeping, it’s only a few steps to actual beds!

4. Chalk. It’s cheap, it’s colourful, and it’s just the outdoor version of a pen and paper. I mean, that’s obvious, but it’s a slightly more fun way of getting Noah to learn his phonics and numbers. Oh, and Hopscotch. Physical activity and maths. You could even make up rhymes as you go. Let’s not forget about the old school stuff we were raised on! Look at us now … barely holding shit together. Next!

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5. Water. Must be the Cancerian in me, but I really believe in the strength, beauty and in this case – versatility – of water. Kids love it. We don’t want them to soak us or our houses, so naturally, kids go against us and love the stuff. Whilst at Nursery, Noah was lucky enough to have weekly sessions with a forest school teacher. He brought something called ‘Silly Soup’ home, whereby he fills an old bucket full of water and hunts for his ‘ingredients’ for the soup. Grass is ‘tomato’. Weeds are ‘chilli’. Stones are ‘potatoes’. Mud is ‘oil’. He plays with his Silly Soup for bloody ages, honestly. I think it’s the combination of his love of cooking and you guessed it, water. Included in this is the opportunity to practise counting, e.g. as he adds his stones to the soup. Then I’ll get him to show me the number on his fingers. What’s that you say – more water fun? Grab some cheap paintbrushes from somewhere. Poundland will stock them – I guarantee. They’ll even stock the crappy, bristly decorating ones, which would be perfect for this. Paint with water. Simple. Beautiful. Thanks for the idea, Hayley (@danglefootnailpolish)!

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6. Bugs. Listen, you don’t even have to touch them yourself. Plus, regular exposure to them will get rid of any fears you have. It’s true – it’s a psychology thingymabob. Either print off a list of common bugs from the internet, or if you have no printer, challenge yourself to think of them yourself! Get the brain ticking! It’s a timeless activity that only requires pen and paper, and I’m pretty sure you know what I’m going to say next. Go and hunt for them. Not actual dagger and spear – leave the poor critters to get on with their day – but go and find them in your garden, local park, woodland: wherever! It’s summer! They’re everywhere! Your little one will learn some stuff, and it gets you both/all out in the fresh air whilst you tick everything off your list.

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7. Baking. I used to hate it. But listen: there are actual recipes which don’t even require you getting your hands dirty, or mixture stuck under your nails! And the more you come to terms with a few things f**king up, the better. Because they’re gonna get covered in flour. And you’re gonna have a mismatched batch of gingerbread men or cookies. But that’s the beauty of it. We introduced Noah into the kitchen from around the 2.y.o. mark and he already knows lots about food, where it comes from and how to cook it! There is learning to be found in every activity. You don’t even need to spend a fortune on ingredients: the ready made cupcake mixtures, for example, usually only require an egg and a little oil (and they’re soo much easier!).

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8. Scrapbooking. All of the above brings me to documenting your time together in a scrapbook. I picked up a couple of cheap books from Amazon, however places like Poundland are bound to stock something similar. Along with some little stickers and coloured pens, it’s an activity guaranteed to calm the summer hype down a little, encourage some writing, drawing, and general chatter about what their favourite activity has been so far. If you have a printer, even better: pop a few photos in and it will double as a photo album.

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Other ideas for you are:-

  • The free zoo! Aka the pet shop – which is sometimes even better for us dog owners, as we can combine a visit with making sure the dog has a walk.
  • Another idea if you have one locally is a garden centre for them to run around – even better if it has a cafe!
  • Disposable. Cameras. I know. My mind was blown when I saw this suggestion, too. Remember them? Document your summer holidays by giving them a disposable camera to capture their favourite bits, or even nab one for yourself, too (I am). You’ll have photos to scrapbook or look back on in years to come – rather than just the dusty old snaps we have hanging around from the nineties. It’ll be another outing when you go to pick up the developed photos, too. Or do they take less time than the week or two that they used to? I have no idea – how fun! Thanks again to Hayley for these suggestions. Too excitable over the cameras?
  • Museums. Sometimes they can be child friendly, and sometimes they can be free. Even better if they’re both!
  • Flower pressing. Leave enough for the bees and other beasties, of course. You can make some beautiful pictures that will double as memories of your time collecting the flowers.
  • Go to a new supermarket. Bare with me on this. Perhaps you could make tea (dinner) together and make a day of it. Pizzas, for example. Find a recipe, make note of the ingredients, and go to a supermarket you wouldn’t normally. Make it the child’s job to find all of the ingredients and tick them off. Make it a weekly thing: you may even continue it on the weekends when they’re back at school! But I guess there are only so many supermarkets …
  • A treasure hunt with purpose. Take an activity – the pasta painting, for example. You could use your house or garden, hide the elements around, i.e. the paint brush, paint pot, bag of pasta, and so on, and get them to tick everything off a list. A sure fire way to extend that activity!

Absolute kudos to you if you made it this far! Sitting at 2367 words, as it is! Please – if you have any amazing, dirt-cheap activities to add to this list, do list them in the comments. I think sometimes, we forget that we don’t need all of the money in the world to create experiences and contribute to our children’s learning. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a trip abroad, a £7 cinema ticket, a £10 zoo ticket, or a meal out. Technology, I think, has taken away a bit of our creativity as parents, and old ways really can be the best ways.

I hope I’ve managed to alleviate at least a teenie bit of any stress you may have felt about the summer ahead, and that you also give yourselves a bloody good rest! Until next time,

Claire x

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