A while ago I wrote…

A while ago I wrote… Tonight there is nothing to say. No news, no change, just family life. Somehow that seems the same really, as when there is news. What this is really all about is family life in the context of what seemed like an exciting adventure. Right now, it’s really boring. The solicitors all seem to be Out of the Office until the end of July. I guess they don’t have kids and are off on their holidays before the schools break up and the prices go through the roof. That seems bad. Supply and demand I suppose. It’s nice going on holiday with children, although a bit less relaxing and a bit more Work as Usual in a Different Place. Still it’s what I’d choose if it was still a choice. That’s good to know. I am not always quite so sure, just like most other parents I guess.

Good things come. In the end. After you’ve waited. This week I finished knitting a baby blanket. He’s been born a while but he kept us all waiting. I suspect his parents have been too busy not sleeping to have been waiting for a blanket, but still I’m glad I got it finished. There is not so much knitting time just now. At this point I feel I should confess that Birch is a great napper. I saw a mum of a seven month old who was thrilled her baby had napped independently for the first time today. Birch got that at four months. I should be even more grateful for that than I am. I am very grateful. It makes for good knitting time.

The land is a good thing. I hope it comes to those who wait. Seems like we’ve been waiting ages. It is a while.

Ecoselfishism

Several years ago I thought it would be a good idea to try to be more eco friendly in some of my choices, particularly in relation to cleaning products. I tried a few of the leading eco brands and tried making up my own vinegar and lemon cleaning spray. It smelled bad. The cleaning products didn’t live up to my expectations. I suspect my heart wasn’t quite in it. I wanted to make better choices, but not if that meant using inferior products. This sounds quite sensible but then I got to thinking about it. It doesn’t make much sense at all. If one of our roles as humans is to look after the planet as best we can, and I think it is, it seems odd to prioritise bubbliness over not harming the environment. So why did I think like that? That’s not such an easy question to answer. Maybe it is to do with the fact that it is socially acceptable to use the same products as the majority and it is not socially acceptable to be slightly smelly or to not have such a clean house, or just to be slightly different. This is uncomfortable.

I’ve recently started to look more closely at the products I use personally and to think about making choices that are more environmentally and socially sound. After all, it also seems encumbant on us to try to avoid exploiting one another.

I’m also a fan of The Blue Planet. It’s socially more acceptable now to be a bit more conscious of those issues and to try alternatives. That has also driven the market so that there is more choice and the choices are of higher quality. So I can’t allow myself any sense of smugness. I’m just following the crowd. Still, this crowd seems like a better crowd to follow.

So the things I have discovered so far:

the friendly soap company who make lovely soap including shampoo bars. Made in Yorkshire with only nice things and using a cold process.

funky soap which actually I like even more. There’s more stuff in their shampoo bars, made in London but it’s all good stuff as far as I can tell. They also do a refillable moisturiser which I have just ordered. Once you’ve used it up you return the tin for a refill. Seems like a good plan, and without plastic.

The natural deoderant company which I’ve just ordered from. About 20 years ago Ben used to use a rock deoderant thing that I was never quite convinced by. This company make a deoderant balm out of nice things. Lots of good reviews so I’m hoping it’s nice.

And my most favourite discovery of the year Lucy and Yak which sells the best ever dungarees of which I am a great fan. Ben is holding me to my word when I said I’m not going to wear anything else, which seemed like a good excuse to buy three pairs. They are a small company that do the Living Wage thing, use hand woven fabrics and have just my favourite type of comfy clothes. Back to the theme again: first I like them, second they are ethical. Ah well, at least I’m honest.

Anyone made other fabulous discoveries?

Transition

Birch is wondering whether it would be fun to walk by himself. The big children walked quietly into their new classes for a taster morning at their new school, and we walked round a rather dingy three bed semi for rent, a bit like our old one but not so nice. We are in transition. We are always in transition, just sometimes it’s more obvious than others. This time last year we were making the change from a family of four plus cat to a family of five. The cat is currently on holiday but we hope he’ll come back and be our “plus cat” again. We miss him.

Maybe that’s the trickiest thing about times of transition. You don’t quite know what you’ll miss when the change comes, you also know you’ll never get there, which is to say that you never get to a place of no change, at least not this side of the Big Box.

It did feel like a lot was changing today. Myrtle was pleased to be in purple rather than green. She still seems so small but she set her chin purposefully and in she went. What a fantastic thing, to watch your children face a challenge and have what they need to take it on and come out the other side, smiling. They both had a good morning at their new school. Myrtle found a girl who shares her birthday so obviously they will be friends. I think it was harder for Red; he’s going into year five where the friendships are firmer and the new children will always feel new. He is one of three new starters in his class which may help, and the teachers didn’t put the new kids together which is a good sign. They felt welcome, and Red’s class had a discussion about a book we have at home (The Giving Tree) so he was well prepared.

I am so relieved and very thankful. They are going to be OK. It’ll get harder, but won’t ever seem quite so scary again. And they turned out to be resilient and courageous. It wasn’t too much. It won’t be for me either.

Still waiting on the land.

Scrupulous

The little girl ran to the first beanbag, turned and threw it to her friend who was sitting by the bucket. She turned again and ran on to the next one. Her aim was good. Straight to her friend and into the bucket. The last one went off course a little bit, but it was close enough. She crossed the line, well ahead of the other children. The ones who ran back to the bucket each time. A ten year old child, old and mature by primary standards shrugged and awarded her the “1st” sticker. A beaming parent lifted her off her ground, planted a kiss on her plump cheek, effusive with their congratulations.

I guess it’s human instinct. The aim is to win so humans find ways to win. The aim is not to play fair, stick to the rules and still win. Not really. Not when it comes to it. Maybe a sticker isn’t enough to compromise your integrity for. I wonder what would be.

It’s so ugly. That’s the closest word I can think of. And it’s everywhere. How do we preserve the innocence, the cleanness of those other children? With seriousness and focus they picked up their beanbags and ran with them to the bucket. Their intensity and gravity seems comical in an activity so inane yet here is a tiny piece of beauty. It is about to be challenged. There were enough children and parents watching, the cheating was so apparent and so generously rewarded, the conclusion is hard to avoid. If you want to win, be audacious. Cheat. It might be worth it.

It was a tiny piece of beauty. At the end of each of the races on sport’s day there was a slight sense of bewilderment. So this is what they had been practicing for, and now it’s done. It didn’t seem to matter much after all. A slight shrug. Did I win? Should I care if I didn’t? Or if I did? Why did I have to put that hat on and then step over that rope? Is it important to be able to jump whist in a bag? These are small children, mostly their loveliness still intact. This is something to hold on to. Tomorrow is the Key Stage 2 Sport’s Day. I wonder if there will be any left.

I am not sure everyone we are dealing with in our project is demonstrating the beautiful integrity small children show. It’s nothing major. Mostly in the handling of the wood pile. Perhaps in pondering if they can make money from us, without having to run back with the beanbag.

Still waiting for the beneficiaries to sign so we can buy the land. Maybe next week. That’s ok.

Time to turn, with a small shrug, and keep waiting. It doesn’t matter. I’m looking for beauty, not stickers.

Monotony and Contentment

Someone once said (to me) that they crave monotony and so they would hate to do what we are doing. This has played on my mind a bit, and led me on to thinking about contentment.

On the spectrum of monotony vs novelty (I spent some time wondering what the opposite of monotony was. This is my best guess so far.) I reckon I fall on the side of novelty, but not near the extreme end. Change can be good, it can be fun to try new things. But if life is in a comfortable place it can be a change for the worse. Hard to know until the change happens. I would say, I like my novelty in bite sizes portions. When we discovered we were having Birch we both thought of all the changes this would bring, including moving house. It was much more manageable in terms of brain power to decide to manage one change at a time. Turns out we were right about all the changes that would follow, but one at a time is enough.

It is probably a good thing that Ben loves novelty and change. When I told him about the monotony conversation he was pretty much aghast. Crave stability, certainty, consistency, but not monotony! Another word for boring. Music without tune or harmony. Not really music at all.

I think what change brings, and what not changing protects against, is not knowing how you’re going to get through the day. One of the biggest challenges when I had Red as a new baby was not knowing when he would sleep (not really ever), when it would be possible to both boil a kettle and drink a cup of tea. There was nothing predictable in our day so it was really hard to pace myself, navigate a route from beginning to end. Before a big change, it’s a bit the same, you don’t know the shape of your day so it’s hard to envisage getting safely through it. However, since having Red we have moved house four times so far. What you learn is that there is no escaping monotony. There’s no running away from it. Whatever place you’re in, there will be the same jobs to do, the same routine. It takes a few weeks of heavy sat nav use to find your way around and then the roads are familiar, the coffee tastes the same.

There is importance in noticing these things. If we were doing this to escape monotony we will fail to escape. If we think this path in and of itself leads to contentment we will find we are wrong. This is excellent news. Contentment is a decision which can be taken at any point. We don’t need to finish in order to get there. If we wait until then, it will elude us. If we can achieve it now, it will travel the road with us.

For contentment to travel at our side we need to accept the monotonous and provide the harmony for ourselves. This is something Ben is really great at. It is something to strive for and to enjoy as a choice.

The news I most wanted to hear

We are still waiting on the land. The trustees met on Thursday, but they are in no hurry to let us know that we can now buy the land. Assuming we can. What’s the hurry eh?

On the other hand, the thing that has had me must worried has zoomed through today and I am really glad of it. We applied for school places for Red and Myrtle on Wednesday, knowing that at the village school there is space for Myrtle but not for Red. I sent the letter on Wednesday and got a call today. They have a space for Red too, they can start at their new school together. And they didn’t leave us hanging on. I was on a run when the call came in. I could run really fast after I’d had the news!

We had found another school not too far away that we also really liked that had space for Red, but it wasn’t the nearest school. We also didn’t get quite the same feeling. The village school is small and not as well resourced but in each classroom the teachers were smiling, the room was calm and they all had time to say hello. I’ve worked in a lot of schools. I think the total is 16, all on a regular basis. Teachers are under a lot of strain, they can’t hide it when they are stressed and not quite in control when visitors come in. My work means I’m often the visitor, though rarely to directly observe the teacher. There’s so little time in teaching now to enjoy the children but with the teachers at our children’s new school the teachers gave a sense that they do enjoy the children and the opportunity to teach them how to spread their wings. This is a good place for them to go.

This is an enormous relief. Their current school is lovely. The teachers care and work together. The head teacher is on the play ground after school selling ice creams. Our children have not always been happy there but they have supported them through that to a place where they are as happy as our quiet, reserved, don’t like the crowd children can be. Moving them has worried me. I was always terrified of moving schools.

Feeling like we’ve found the right place, and that they can go together feels great. One mum I talked to moved a lot in her childhood and said it gave her confidence. To know you can walk into a room and leave it a few hours later having made a couple of connections is a good feeling. It needs to be the right room though. Now I think it will be the right room in the right school. And they knew I was worried so they let us know as quickly as they could. This is a good beginning.

And if the land falls through we will move anyway, rent for a good while, wait for an opportunity that seems like a good one. All is well. I hope it doesn’t fall through.

No news is.. no news

This is a waiting time for the most part. No news is no news. And then two (small) pieces of news at once. I think there’s meant to be a third? We can hope so. The news we are waiting for still hasn’t come. Which is to say we still don’t own the land. The trustees don’t seem to meet very often. We need them to confirm that we won’t trigger the overage if we build out buildings in addition to the house. It shouldn’t because the overage is a legal clause designed to prevent the building of more than one dwelling. If we did that, we’d have to pay the previous person the increase in value if the land. I have no idea how you’d calculate that if it counted the building of a garage. We just want to build one house. Plus a few useful bits and pieces like a garage. There is no incentive for the trustees to agree this in that they wouldn’t get the money either way so we just have to wait for them to get around to it.

This isn’t really that much of a problem. To live on the land in a caravan we’d need water and electricity, which will take up to three months to get installed so we are already tight for getting in by September. That’s the deadline because the children will start their new school (or schools, if they don’t get places at the same one) in September. Assuming that’s not going to happen we’ve started looking out for a suitable rental. Six months rental would take us through the winter which is a definite plus, and maybe we’d stick with it until the house is done or maybe we will go for the caravan plan in the spring. It’s a great feeling, that we can wait, we can go with it, it’ll be fine. We are applying for the school places from our current address so our rental address wouldn’t make a difference for that. And if the whole thing falls through we will just do some renting for a while, settle in, cross the next bridge when it comes.

The news we did get, was that the DNA test to detect Great Crested Newts came back positive. Kind of bad news in that it makes things more complicated, but sort of good in that it shows the land is not particularly polluted and the ecosystem is doing well. And we might find newts,which would be exciting. It might delay the demolition and building, but if we aren’t living in a caravan that’s not such a big deal.

This undertaking is all about patience and so far we have a little more than I expected. That feels great. This is good. All is well.

The other news is that I think we are going to build a bungalow. The planners are being quite rigid about size; they are focusing on volume rather than footprint and we can increase only by the 35% permitted development rights that all buildings have. By building on one storey we save the footprint and volume of a staircase which is not insignificant. We used to live in a bungalow. I loved it. No twisty tree spiral staircase though which we were both excited about. Worth the sacrifice though. And I did love that bungalow.

Yesterday I thought it might all be over. The planning department were not keen to answer the question of how much bigger the new house can be. This is a big question as the current house is two up two down with a little lean to kitchen. If they weren’t prepared to answer that question it seemed like a big risk to go forward given that for a family of five it would be tight to fit and perhaps not worth our efforts.

It seems that planners don’t like to put things in writing. I guess it isn’t their job to give advice but we weren’t looking for advice, we just needed a number. By phone, we got one. We can have 35% additional volume under permitted development rights. We were hoping it would be measured by footprint as then we could have done clever things with volume. What it means is our house is going to be small. But it will be big enough. And we can have out buildings.

It’s good to know how much we want to go on this adventure. I’ve wondered a few times about whether it would be better just to buy a house, or even to rent one. We rented for ages after we were married and it was great.

Phew! For now at least, the game is still on. And I’m tired! Ben was away with work last week, the first time since I was pregnant I think. Usually it’s a week + travel time (typically two days) but this trip was a total of seven days, and we are at my parent’s so we were even more fine than I had hoped. I had to do the nights with Birch though, and I think he thought snuggle time with me was worth waking up for. Three or four times. Every night. Alas a habit that could do with breaking, especially before we are all in a tent together next week. Now Ben’s back, jet lagged but still doing the nights (he says he’s awake anyway..). I’m glad it was just a week.

Boy jobs, girl jobs?

Before we completed the sale on our old house we had to have identity checks to make sure we were not laundering money. They asked me questions about the mortgage. I got them wrong. I don’t know about the mortgage, Ben handles that. So I had to get my passport certified to confirm I have not yet developed a way of illegally making lots of money.

This got me wondering and a bit worrying. It seems old fashioned to be some kind of “kept” woman, but not in a good way. I certainly don’t like to think of myself that way. Images of that “boy jobs and girl jobs” interview that Theresa May gave flashed through my mind. I definitely don’t see us that way.

I’ve been reading a bit lately about mental load. This is the thing that makes doing the shopping easy but writing the shopping list really difficult. I think this is the thing that results in the over whelmed that I mentioned the other day. It’s the brain power required to have an overview of family life so that the swimming things are ready on Thursday, the meals are planned through the week and are suitable for the people who are going to be eating them. It’s remembering when the bins go out and knowing that Myrtle has a school trip on Tuesday, whilst Red’s trip was last week but he has a concert on Tuesday as well. It’s shopping around for the best utility services and managing the mortgage. And that’s why we don’t divide the work of family life along gender lines, or any other lines. We do what we can and between us everything gets done. Everything essential anyway.

I’m very aware that at least at the moment the work is not divided equally. Ben has a full time job, and does the mortgage stuff, the bills, takes the kids up to school, gets up in the night with Birch (not so much lately, yay!) and often helps with the laundry (not the money kind). I do as much as I can and flop into bed at the end of the day. But that’s what it is to be part of a family. You do the best you can, you don’t compare, everything that’s important gets done, not important stuff gets relegated until tomorrow.

My ignorance about the mortgage is not something to be ashamed about although I’ll admit to feeling both embarassed and amused. I don’t need to spend my mental energy on something Ben has got covered. I know enough that if something awful happened I could navigate it at that point. For now there’s plenty to be getting on with. And that’s life.