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What exactly am I doing here!!??

I’m sitting here on the first morning of a three-day writers’ retreat. And I have no idea what I’m going to write. In front of me is a huge sash window, beyond it fields, sheep and a lot of sky.  

Am I worried that I don’t know what I’m going to write? No, not really. For me, this weekend is about downloading some stuff just as much as pouring my creativity onto the page (I’m optimistically hoping it WILL make an appearance while I’m here). 

The last time I was here, in January, I was under pressure to crack out a 20,000 word eBook on Instagram, the final project for my MA in Online Journalism. Steam came off my fingertips (well, almost) as I bashed out the words, deleted them, reshaped them, threw in some new ones, reordered and polished them. In April, I submitted. In June I passed, with distinction. And in July I graduated. A huge part of my life for a couple of years completed. What now? 

First box sets, obviously. And lots of sitting on my arse on the sofa enjoying the feeling of not having to do anything. But I felt guilty, shouldn’t I be making more of my time? The MA gave me such satisfaction, such confidence, and I had hoped I’d use my ‘free’ time to crack on with my own personal projects, for pleasure. But I simply couldn’t be bothered. 

Other things have contributed to this, not just laziness. In April I went full-time and in a different role – the first time I’ve worked a 37 ish hour week since having my eldest, who is now approaching five. This change in hours coincided with the last few weeks of my MA and I can’t tell you what a head fuck that was. I had thoughts pouring out of my head at all hours, a billion questions I didn’t know the answers to and a ton of reading that went unread. I went to bed way too late during this time, and for the sake of my own mental health and the ever-growing bags appearing beneath my eyes, would prefer never to have to repeat that experience again. 

Back then, those full-time hours were compressed into 3.5 days with some ad hoc working from home, so I still had 1.5 days of the working week to tackle the other things life insists of you – washing, cleaning, general boring housey-type shit. But still, it needed to be done and got done. And quality time with the kids, of course. Parks, soft play centres, swimming, bikes rides etc. 

Last month I stretched those hours across five days of the working week. The last time I worked on a Monday was 2012! H started school and we’ve shuffled our hours to accommodate drop offs and pick ups, while my youngest attends nursery five days a week rather than two-and-a-half.  

It’s a big change for all of us:  

Big girl’s don’t cry (well, only when the lunch hall gets noisy)

H is now a fully qualified big girl, and learning all about books (but strangely thinks only men can be authors!!) and is making lots of new friends. This also means I have to give her breakfast every day, tea every day and spend lots of money on tights because she manages to ladder them EVERY day*. I’ve also discovered that ketchup and white T’shirts really don’t go and wearing the same shoes fives days a week makes her feet so stinky you could bottle the pong and use it to eradicate Donald Trump. She’s also asked me where babies come from what nits are. *scratches head* 

*Disclaimer: It’s that feeding my kids daily is unusual, bit I’m usused to nursery covering off two meals a day. Now I have to up my menu planning game.

Mind your winkle

A is now in nursery for the whole week, and without his big sister. With 11 months between them they generally do everything together. This new change has given him independence, he’s one of the older gang at pre-school and his close friendship with two boys there is blossoming. He’s becoming a man. Well, sort of. He burps a lot. Does that count? He’s also obsessed with the phrase ‘punch you in the winkle’ and for Christmas he wants a Batman sword, a Spiderman sword, a Hulk sword and a Captain America sword. Did all those super heroes even have a sword??!!! 

coloured pens

Everything strategic involves coloured pens, right?

Keeping our cool: fridge strategy

For me and Rich we’ve changed our hours, some longer days and shorter days for both of us. This means we have to remember who does what, including walking the dog, on each day of the week. A big chart  stuck to the fridge is my strategy for remembering all this stuff. And we’re both adjusting to working across five days of the week. Your body clock gets used to the pattern of your life and we’ve just upended ours. It will probably take some time to bed in. 

What I’ve realised about this new regime is that I don’t have it all planned out. That big chart on the fridge – my strategy – fails to include the washing. So at the end of week one I realised none of us had any clean clothes to wear. The house was a shit tip. And I had ‘to do’ lists for both work ad home that just weren’t getting done. That’s one of the reasons I’m here, actually, on this writing retreat. To reorder my thoughts. Rich thinks my constant need to write lists is my downfall, that I try and control too much and beat myself up when things don’t go to plan. On some level he’s right but I enjoy creative problem solving, I enjoy finding efficiencies that make life easier. And lists are a part of that. Reading Sarah Knight’s ‘How to Get Shit Done’ is also a big part, I’d recommend it to you all.  

I repeat, what am I doing here?

So why am I REALLY at this writing retreat? When I booked it in the summer my intention was to dust of my old novel, written around seven years ago, and actually do something with it. But I’m not putting myself under any pressure. This is about creating head space, finding creativity that’s not linked to an agenda, objective or deadline, and unwinding a little. Part of me thought I might use the time to catch up on work when a colleague told me that would be an utter waste of ‘me time’ and she was so right. 

Don’t cry over a forgotten bear. Or maybe do

We all need this sort of time, whatever our responsibilities. Time out. When I arrive here last night it hadn’t been a good day. I’d yelled at the kids while getting ready for school (not how I wanted to part ways when leaving them for the weekend); I forgot that H needed to take a special item (see images as proof of special-ness) into school and while I am not an overly emotional person I felt I’d let her down and cried when I got back to the car.

I was awkward, shy and self-conscious at school, in any new situation, and still am to some extent. Don’t get me wrong, in my comfort zone I’m the life and soul but outside of that the mouse in me squeaks to the surface. H is so like me and I don’t want to be the cause of any anxiety. I’m small chunking here – I just went home, retrieved Pooh Bear, wrote a little love heart post it note and dropped it back at school. All fine. No one emotionally damaged. Well, maybe me. I don’t forget things as a rule and this time I had. When I went to call Rich to fess up my parenting faux pas, I found I’d left my bag at home too. Another trip back to retrieve it. Grrr. And then I was late for work. FFS. 

So here I am, yesterday a good reminder that everyone needs to take time out every once in a while. That thoughts and tasks and responsibilities and wish lists all mount up and it’s either time out or implode. 

If you are still reading this btw, pat yourself on the back and go and grab a cuppa and a biscuit. There’s  still a bit more to come… 

So, enough of the whining, here are some positives… 

Play Doh roast dinner

Halle’s Play Doh version of a roast dinner. Thankfully we didn’t have to eat this one.

What’s your beef? 

Since our routine change, we’ve recognised how bad we are at eating together as a family and have introduced the tradition of Sunday roasts. Hardly groundbreaking, but hey, we all have to start somewhere. This is awesome on lots of levels: who doesn’t love roasties smothered in gravy? The kids really enjoy a) the food b) the chance to chat to both parents at the same time c) getting involved by clearing plates and choosing and dishing up dessert. They recognise it as a weekly tradition and look forward to it. Plus Ralphie gets leftovers so it’s win-win for all of us. So simple, so brilliant. 

#TeamAwesome 

While work is relentless, there’s never enough time and I often don’t feel like I’m achieving much on a day-to-day basis, there are some huge benefits. I have an awesome team who I genuinely enjoy working with: talented, funny, hard-working and on the same page as me. I’m lucky on this count, most defo. And we’ve just been nominated for two awards – some proper recognition of the awesome work we do. This feels good. 

lots of peopleForever friends 

I have an amazing set of friends. Like-minded, not perfect, spinning multiple plates. And, most importantly, not prolific Facebook status updaters. Second to that (just kidding) talking to them reminds me that I’m normal. We all feel like we fail a lot but we take comfort in each other’s situation and how much we do. That we live in a busy world and we’re in charge of how we manage that world. We share coping strategies! One of those pals is here on the writing retreat with me – she’s just scarpered upstairs with a bowl of snacks, and is both an inspiration and part of my support network. I also have lots of funny stories to sell the tabloids when she gets really famous. 

I’ve been styled by… 

This is worthy of a blog post all of it’s own. In short, there’s a lovely lady called Susie who dishes out the most wonderful style advice. She makes people feel good about themselves and her USP is that she is a regular, normal person. Someone we can identify with. She hasn’t turned me into a fashion icon (she can’t work miracles!), but she has reignited a passion for clothes (not good for ye olde bank balance, mind you) and made me feel more comfortable about my body shape. I’ve also just lost a stone in weight – you need to take action when your clothes are actively hurting you! I’ll write more Susie in another post, she deserves one. 

We have a cleaner!

Move along, nothing to see here.

And finally… the future 

I still think I want to be a journalism lecturer when I grow up. I’m in my late 30s so I hope this happens sooner rather than later; the growing up bit I mean. 

But before all that, I’m using this time at Stickwick Manor in Devon to rearrange my priorities. So come Monday, when I return to Milton Keynes, I’ll be a new woman. Or probably the same woman with a shiny new, and focussed ‘to do’ list. 

And it’s Christmas soon, right?

 

 

 

2016: It’s all about me

2016, it’s all about me. Sound a bit selfish? Abso-fucking-lutely. But there’s more to it than that; it’s about looking at things from a different perspective, making the most of the year ahead and doing things that make me happy, and that I enjoy. Not because I feel obliged. Life is too short to make other people happy by making yourself unhappy and I must accept that I can’t do everything.

For me, 2016 is about being honest, liberating myself from the constraints of the ‘must do because you should do’ and being mindful. A happy me, generally, means the people around me are happy too. That all sounds a bit gushy and deep, but I’m keen to tackle this year in a different way; I’m bored with the same old shit approach. So… I’m writing my New Year blog post in February…

Collapsed gingerbread house

This year I’ll say no to the kids if they ask to build a gingerbread house. Here’s why.

1) I’m saying no and I won’t feel bad about it

I’m actually pretty good at this anyway, but this year I’ll be better. No more agreeing to go to works dos/family parties/events if I won’t enjoy them/don’t have time/can’t afford it/or just don’t feel up for it. After reading this Guardian article, it reinforced something I already knew: it’s okay to say no to things and not feel bad about it. I can’t make that leaving do but best of luck in your new venture. I can’t make the family party but send love and hugs to Uncle Bob. I can’t make training tonight but I’ll see you at the game tomorrow. I’m not up for that cinema trip, but maybe next time. And you don’t even need to give a reason, just saying no is fine. I’m saying goodbye to obligation and it feels liberating.

 2) Only working for me, myself and I

No more crappy freelance. I’m being harsh here, freelance isn’t crappy but helping other people out leaves no time for me. It means that my notepad full of ideas and personal projects get left right there in the notepad and never put into practice. Whenever I get a surge of motivation I’d think ‘Gah, I don’t have time, I need to finish something for someone else.’ As 2016 is all about me, not taking on anything outside of my day job (apart from point number 4 below) frees up time to focus on these projects. No more displacement activities, or whatever you want to call them, means I can crack on with my ‘me’ projects.

Robyn Bateman3) Making an effort

Last year was about family really and I think, like a lot of parents, I let a little bit of me go. This year, while time is and always will be an issue, I want to make the effort to wear earrings, paint nails, buy boots with heels instead of flats and trainers, and occasionally pop on some red lipstick (thanks to my Secret Santa!). They’re small things but they make a difference. I’m currently writing this post in knee-high boots… (not JUST boots, you sickos, I’m fully dressed!).

4) Return of the MA
The year I fell pregnant, I was part-way through an MA in Online Journalism with Birmingham City University. I was awarded a scholarship and supported by my employer; opportunities like that don’t come around every day to degree-less, non-academic bods like me.

I decided to interrupt study to enjoy the last months of pregnancy and birth of ‘Bean Child’. And I use the term ‘enjoy’ loosely.  I then popped out the Boy Child, endured a period of mania, lack of sleep and resettling into work. Now is my last chance to get on and finish the MA and I’d be an absolute idiot to ditch it now. Hard work is ahead but it’ll be so rewarding and challenging. I know I’ll love it, moan about it, get excited, swear a lot and other contradictions but it has to be done. I work at The Open University and see, firsthand, the amazing educational achievements of our students who complete qualifications while spinning many plates. And I see their proud families, their new careers, their sense of self-achievement and I want me a slice of that. Distance learning makes it possible and BCU have been really accommodating, putting more flex into flexible so I can work at my own pace. When I get my arse in gear, you can read about my progress here.

Cocker Spaniel Ralphie in trainers5) Pass the endorphins
I’ve started running. It should be noted that I am not a runner, and I don’t really like it that much. However, given time and budget constraints lack of time and cold, hard cash (MUST shake off the work jargon!), running can be done anywhere, at anytime and is completely free. I walk the dog every other evening anyway (me and hubby take turns) so I might as well run a bit, even though Ralphie’s not so keen because he likes to stop and sniff. I now say I’m taking him for a drag, not a walk.

Also, and this is important, I’m setting limited expectations (there I go with the work jargon again). What I mean is, just doing it is enough – the time/distance/pace/calorie burn etc doesn’t matter. I’m not working my way up to run 5km and I’m fully accepting of my run/walk/run/walk approach. I can only run in short bursts and that’s okay because it’s better than nothing. And if it gets easier and I can go for longer, great. But if it doesn’t and I can’t then that’s okay too. Secretly, I’m kind of enjoying it. I feel great and smug that I’m excercising beyond my weekly netball match and thanks to my new running trainers (Christmas motivational present from hubby, modelled by Ralphie over here ——->), I’m positively bouncing off those pavements. Well, almost.

6) Recognising those who support me
Being truly selfish requires help. And there are lots of people I could mention, I thank them all, but there’s one who needs naming. Richard Bateman. Our time together has been a whirlwind of romance, marriage, kids and juggling all the things we love to do. And it’s because we’re really good at the sharing, supporting, balancing act of being responsible adults that I’m able to do all of the above as well as raise two children and get to work on time Richard and Robyn Bateman(dressed and washed, too). For me, the juggling of our family life is split between us and I recognise this is not the norm: mums often play the lead role and make more personal sacrifices when it comes to raising a family. We are not traditional in that sense and take an equal role in family, work and social stuff. And it’s not easy. It’s not easy for me that the kids often run to their dad when they’re ill, instead of me, or for him to manage running a business when he’s expected to be flexible. Yay for us!

So, here’s to tackling 2016 in a different way. But I’m not totally selfish… if you’re stuck in a rut, I can offer you this: read Thrive. It’s an eye-opener (how to reprioritise and emasure success in different ways) and this book by Sarah Knight, if for nothing more than the fact is has a swear word in the title.

Bateman is back blogging in 2015. You heard it here first…

New Year’s Resolution number one: to blog more. Well, to actually blog at all. Given that much of my husband’s Christmas break was spent firefighting the billion hack attempts on this site, I owe it to him, at least, to put up some content.

I won’t blather on about why the last couple of years have been a bit thin on the blog side (two kids born in 2013!), I’ll just get on with it…

This is what I’m up to as we break into 2015… Continue Reading

What I’m doing now…

It’s been a while since I blogged, and even longer since I blogged regularly. Somehow, having kids and all that that entails, has seen my writing slip to one side and I fear I’m not as good at it as I once was. I’m out of practice. So, stealing inspiration from this post, here’s one to ease myself back in…

Reading: Well, I’m not actually reading anything at the moment, in anticipation of the publication of The Atlas of Us – tomorrow! It’s author, my good friend Tracy Buchanan, had two dreams: to have a baby and to get a UK publishing deal. Typically, both arrived at the same time but she’s so super talented (and a bit bonkers) that she’s managed to write a book and raise a lovely little girl all at the same time. Hats off to Buchy! The last book I read was The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult and it’s utterly amazing. I urge anyone to read it and not want to change their life for the better afterwards. It’s just fantastic. Continue Reading

Twas the night before Christmas… when I had a baby

Twas the night before Christmas, when all was still, except for… the fact I was in labour in Milton Keynes General Hospital.

After rolling over in bed on the morning of Christmas Eve, I didn’t feel excitement that Santa was coming that night. What I did feel was my waters break. I was 38 weeks and five days pregnant – and this is exactly the point when I had my daughter in January of the same year. That’s right folks, I was definitely having two children in 2013, despite my early 2014 due date for number two. Crazy, huh!? I would have said we couldn’t have planned it better, but we didn’t plan this at all!

After dropping Halle at nursery and Ralphie (the dog) with a super helpful friend, we headed over to the hospital to get checked out. Yes, my waters had broken, they said, and if labour didn’t start naturally within 24 hours I’d be back in hospital to be induced on Christmas morning! Timing! Continue Reading

I was hacked

Head in handsFeckety feck. I’ve FINALLY gotten around to writing a blog post – my first in the best part of a year – only to find out my website has been hacked. And I have no idea how long for! Note to self: even if not blogging regularly, check your website!

So, while my magnificent husband has managed to reclaim my site from the gremiins, I’ve lost a couple of posts. Quite important ones too: the story of the birth of my first child, and one on breastfeeding. I was amazed by the huge response I got to the latter post and was hugely saddened to find my breastfeeding story is the norm, rather than the exception, and that so many women out there face pressure, guilt, and extreme pain trying to feed their children. (Both posts have been reposted below, as they were).

But a lot’s happened since that first post, not just the fact my boobs are now purely ornamental and not for touching, I can’t stand it. My daughter, now 11 months old, accidentally pinched a nipple while trying to climb me the other day and if she wasn’t my child and I didn’t love her terribly, I may well have flung her across the room. God, it hurt. Continue Reading