My House is a “Squash and a Squeeze”

Christmas 1979

Before Christmas, my husband and I were bemoaning our cramped living quarters overrun with under-5s and the trail of destruction left in their wake. Sticker books, paint pots and glitter on the dining table, three (yes, three) buggies in the hall, a toddler scooting around the kitchen, puzzle pieces and items of plastic (and non plastic) food behind the sofa cushions, 150 ball pit balls upturned onto the carpet.

“Our house is a squash and a squeeze!” said we. So, as we had learnt from Julia Donaldson, we asked a wise old man (let’s call him Santa) what to do. “Take in your hen. Take in your goat. Take in your cow,” said he. In the absence of such items in our immediate suburban vicinity, we took in a 7 foot tree, decorated it with yellow lights and gaudy baubles and placed red and gold parcels at its foot. We took in 45 Christmas cards and hung them from ribbons down the walls. We took in miniature animals in festive attire: a 20 inch reindeer, an owl sporting a woollen hat, a medallion-bearing baseball-capped Snowman which sang a rendition of Ice Ice Baby when you pressed its foot. Our children papered the front of the fridge with scribbles of goggly-eyed snowmen and stuck twenty pencil drawings to the bifold doors with festive tape. We took in candles, clementines, eight rolls of wrapping paper, bottles of champagne, platters of cheeses and boxes of chocolates. And we took in friends and relations: grandparents, siblings, nieces, nephews and close friends.

“Wise old man, what do we do now?” “Take them all out,” said he. So we drank the booze, scoffed the chocolates and packed the relatives off onto trains and planes. And yesterday, while my husband took the children to bike and scoot at Bushy Park, I purged the house of all things Christmas. I packaged up the paraphernalia in tatty old boxes long ago marked with the words ‘Xmas Decs’ and put them back in the loft. I ruthlessly removed the festive drawings and stickers from the windows and household appliances and chucked them in the recycling. Gone are the festive candles in jam jars, the gingerbread men in snow domes and the seasonal stuffed animals. And you know what? The house is enormous. I could swing ten farmyard animals in the living room and I can see my face in the fridge door.

It is wonderful, liberating and just a bit disconcerting. With no pine needles to absorb the noise, our voices echoed around the living room yesterday evening and the one remaining vase looked lonely on the mantlepiece. We sat on the sofa, the children sleeping upstairs, and wondered what on earth to do when there was no wrapping, no hosting, no more excuses for Baileys and bumper biscuit selections. Get back to the day job seemed to be the solution, whatever that was, before festive hysteria swept away all notion of normal living. But we shall enjoy the temporary peace, calmness and ten minutes of tidiness before the new school term craft projects and the January sales fill the house with yet more possessions and there is no wise man available to tell us what to do with it all.

This Mum's Life
One Messy Mama

When is a holiday not a holiday?

In France circa 1987. We were a bit older (and therefore ‘easier’) than my children at this point…

It’s summer holiday time: that must mean lazy days sipping cocktails by the pool, long lunches followed by indulgent siestas and G&Ts in the early evening sunshine. Erm, no. One of the hardest adjustments to having children is accepting the reality that the annual holiday has changed unrecognisably. In fact, it’s no longer a holiday; it’s like being at home, but worse: the children are even more excitable than usual, they rise at dawn, demand ice cream for breakfast, run around in pants like Mowgli, go feral and pee in the flowerbeds, don’t let you nod off on the lounger even for a second in case they fall in the pool /slip and hit their head /run off and get lost or abducted. And try putting sun cream on hot, sticky, sand-covered and writhing octopi-offspring.

And that’s not even the worst part. Nope, much more hair-pullingly stressful and, at times, excruciatingly embarrassing, is the actual preparation for and journey to your place of paradise.*

1.       Going away pre-children

a)      A month before you set off you cut down on chocolate and take up running. It doesn’t do much but you feel better about wearing a bikini (not realising that your 20-something body is pert and toned compared with what is to come. Yup, that’s the best it’s gonna get).

b)      You organise a haircut, mani/pedi, wax and spray tan for a few days before you head off.

c)       You plan your day and evening outfits well in advance, with co-ordinating shoes, bags, flowing scarves and jewellery. You have three different bikinis, sarongs and a large sunhat.

d)      Your suitcase is full of heels, toiletries and make up. In your small handbag there is a Kindle stocked up with great summer reads.

e)      The night before you leave you read the Lonely Planet and make a iPod playlist especially for your interesting and far-flung destination.

f)       At the airport, you wheel a well-behaved suitcase behind you, head for the bar and hope that there aren’t any young children seated near you on the plane.

g)      During the flight you have a glass of wine and watch the latest feature film.

h)      You return two weeks later, tanned, well-rested and probably quite hungover.

 2.       Going away post-children (3 young ones, to be precise)

a)      A month before you set off you make a six-page spreadsheet of things to buy, to take and to do, which you keep adding to at 2 in the morning when you awake in a panic. You still forget your phone charger.

b)      You clip your toenails one evening when you’re sitting on the loo.

c)       You make a last-minute internet purchase of a “flattering one-piece swimsuit”. There’s no such thing as ‘bikini-ready’ any more.

d)      Last season’s maxi dress for evenings lies crumpled in your suitcase beneath bottles of ready-made formula, plastic musical toys and inflatables. Your enormous hand luggage holdall contains snacks, tissues, nappies, wooden cars, dummies, Frozen stickers, Lemaze crunchy toys and board books.

e)      You do 7 loads of washing the day before departure and in the evening you sit weeping beside piles of unironed laundry. Your holiday playlist consists of the Frozen soundtrack and 8 Julia Donaldson audio books. There are 32 episodes of Peppa Pig on the iPad as they love Peppa.

f)       After a noisy ride in the too-small airport taxi, at the airport there are long queues for your budget airline and the children keep running away, so you push a buggy with one hand and pull a toddler along the polished floor by the ankle with the other. There is no time for the coffee and pastry you’d been hoping for so you all eat Garibaldis.

g)      On the flight you have a kicking toddler on your lap. He wants to lie on the floor and your only potty-trained child needs the loo but the ‘seatbelts’ sign is displayed for most of the bumpy flight. They won’t share the iPad. They now hate Peppa. The baby is crying and sicking up the milk that you gave to placate him. The person sitting next to you who was initially friendly sits stony-faced with spilt squash in her lap and crumbs from your children’s Organix snacks hand-printed on her shoulder.

h)      You return home two weeks later, exhausted and sunburnt (through lack of time/motivation to apply suncream to yourself), with squashed raisins, crushed mini cheddars and broken smarties in your handbag. The children cry all the way back. There are no more healthy snacks so the children, including the baby, eat pain au chocolate. You’re covered in snot and sick but you’ve run out of wipes and don’t have a change of clothes. If you did you wouldn’t bother changing as you don’t care anymore. You’re probably quite hungover.

*obviously it’s all worth it, they’re wonderful really, blah di blah.