I'M NOT PLAYING WITH YOU

This post was previously published on The Motherload on September 13, 2017.

Part of the joy of the kids getting a bit bigger, is the possibility of playing games as a family. Yes, board games, card games, things which don’t involve an iPad or a computer screen– hurrah!

Playing games– that is kids stuff, isn’t it? The easy part, the bit where we pretend we are living in a Boden catalogue and I don’t need half a bottle of wine just to relax.

But what if you have a child who prefers to play alone? Someone who won’t do board games, who runs a mile from a pack of cards on holidays or who just wants to be in their own little world?

One of the most amazing things about being a parent is how it takes all your expectations of what family life will be like, screws them up into a little ball, and chucks them right out of the window.

Having a child with dyslexia is a real education in game playing and what makes things fun; things I have taken for granted all my life, such as reading the board game instructions or quickly sifting through the numbers on a pack of cards to win a trick, were all complete turn-offs to my son. In fact, it became clear quite early on in his childhood, that he preferred to watch from the side-lines whenever board games came out. Sometimes he’d run away or throw a strop, but more often than not, he’d just quietly remove himself to his bedroom and get his Lego out.

It was only when we got a diagnosis of dyslexia at the age of eight that things became clear. It was really scary for him to be faced with lots of text on cards or to have to play games in which he’d have to read independently and he had worked out his own sophisticated avoidance tactics. He already felt a “failure” at school at this point because he couldn’t read as well as the other kids and so he didn’t want to feel that way at home.

This was confusing to his little brother, who was desperate to play and wanted his big brother to join in and for a while, used to get upset and frustrated too, so we had to explain why his brother liked to play in a different way.

As parents, we respected the fact that our dyslexic son was afraid and so we tried to find games which were “safer” for him and tried not to make a big fuss if he said no. The picture game Dobble is an absolute godsend to any parent with a dyslexic child– heaps of fun and lots of picture recognition which allows the whole family to have fun. The Warhammer game  – with loads of little figures for them to paint– is brilliant for kids aged about ten and above, although it does have lots of rules to read, the desire to have an army to fight with seemed to spur him on (plus my other half likes playing that one with both boys).

This summer, for the first time, he has wanted to learn how to play some card games and we sat down as a family on holiday and played together. Seeing his face light up when he understood the rules and worked it out on his own was one of the biggest highlights of the summer for me. Although I played cards with my parents until I was bored to tears on holiday, I will never take having fun as a family for granted with my children because I know what it is like to have a child turn around and say: “I’m not playing with you!”

BACK TO SCHOOL VS FIRST DAY AT SCHOOL

So, the beginning of September is upon us, and the gleeful whoops of children bouncing on trampolines in back gardens the length and breadth of Britain every hour of the day will soon be a distant memory.

But wait, there is another sound which fills the air. Well, two different sounds actually; one sounds a bit like hysterical laughter and the other is the sound of mums sniffling into hankies while simultaneously taking photos of their children at the front door wearing school uniforms.

Yes, schools are once again open for business and thank the good Lord for that.

Am I being too cynical? Well, I am a battle hardened Back to School Mum, one of the near-hysterical laughter brigade, so I can't apologise for feeling something approaching delight when the bell rings for the first day back. In fact, to prove my point that the holidays are well and truly OV-AH, this very morning, my youngest smacked my eldest in the eye with a tennis ball in an unprovoked attack. Yesterday my eldest tried to squish my youngest under a pile of cushions. The space hopper in the garden is now a near lethal weapon known as "Mr Slappy" and whichever child gets it first can be relied upon to whack the other around the head with it.  It's not a lack of discipline in the home, it's just a result of them being here too flaming long.

And it is not as if I haven't taken them out and done stuff over the hols, if you please. I actually learned to play basketball this summer.

Basketball. So don't tell me they haven't had a fantastic summer because they have. Anyway, all this brings me on to the chasm between Back To School Mum and First Day of School Mum, with a large pinch of salt.

 

1. The school uniform:

FIRST DAY AT SCHOOL has been planning the uniform for months, possibly since last Christmas. Everything has been pre-ordered, washed, lovingly ironed, tried on, hung in the wardrobe, taken out and tried on again in front of the grandparents. The shoes were a difficult choice, as they are to take the little one into the classroom for the very first time, but after tours of every shoe shop in town, plus a trip to a major shopping centre, a selection was made, but only after full discussion with other mums,  online and in real life.

BACK TO SCHOOL Uniform. Christ! Where is it? Probably at the bottom of a laundry basket or under a bed somewhere, in fact, wherever it was chucked back in July. OK, so, there are a few stains but there's no time to wash it now. Just a quick iron, no-one will notice. Yes, the trousers are a bit small but I will order some online and they will be here by the end of the week. Shoes- half a size too small, ditto. Sports kit... are you actually doing any sport this week? And so on...

 

2. Photographic opportunities and social media coverage

FIRST DAY AT SCHOOL stages the photo of little one smiling at the front door, bag over shoulder, the day before just to get the right shot, best lighting angle etc. This gives time for the correct filters to be sorted. The school gates are full to brimming with mums capturing the big moment on their iPhones so people keep bumping in to each other.

BACK TO SCHOOL takes a picture of the bottle of gin she will consume in celebration at getting the kids off her hands at last. Yogamums and Pilates lovers will of course instagram themselves in a variety of bendy poses, apologising to their followers for the six weeks' absence and which they have filled with a few shots of sunsets at Ibiza or Cornwall, when the kids didn't get in the way of course.

 

3. School dinners

FIRST DAY AT SCHOOL has prepared an organic packed lunch which would make Gwyneth Paltrow proud but by 11am is rather anxious about whether her little one will actually eat any of it so will fight the urge to casually stroll past the school gates to check if their child is looking hungry. If the meals are provided by the school, she will have vetted that menu and satisfied herself that there is something her child will find acceptable.

BACK TO SCHOOL If only the headmistress wouldn't make such a fuss, honestly. It's like having Jamie Oliver in charge. What is wrong with a bag of crisps and a chocolate bar? She will chuck in an apple if there is one loitering in the fruit bowl. In any case, it's not oven chips on the menu again at home. Yippee!

 

4. Home time

FIRST DAY AT SCHOOL will nervously chat to some of the other new mums at the school gates, as hierarchies are established and coffee mornings organised. All the chatter will stop as the little ones spill out into the playground for pick up, clutching a drawing and wearing a badge to show they have had a great day. The little one's creation will be treated with great reverence, like the discovery of a hitherto unseen Van Gogh, and proudly displayed on the kitchen wall, photographed, instagrammed, Facebooked etc.

BACK TO SCHOOL will dash into the playground ten minutes late, slurping the last of her complimentary latte, and praying that her nails won't smudge. It was just such bliss to have time for a mani/pedi. She will already have caught up with her real friends but will air kiss a few other school gate mavens and give others a wide berth as she pats her offspring on the head and scrumples his arty offering into her handbag.

She will traipse off to the park with a few mums, keen to snatch a few last rays of late afternoon sun and hear all the gossip, in the hope that her kids will have worn themselves out before tea and it won't be blue murder at bed time.

 

And repeat to fade until the Christmas holidays...

The Home Truths Behind 'Keeping My Sisters' Secrets'

It's brilliant to see Keeping My Sisters' Secrets in the best sellers' charts in Canada, prior to its release here next week (July 27th).

The memoir, which recounts the lives of three sisters born into poverty in London's slums, reveals how one family fought for its survival. It allowed me to dig deep into family relationships, which are the inspiration for all my writing.

The 1930s  was a time of huge social and political change, as the Second World War loomed on the horizon.

Peggy, Kathleen and Eva grew up in the crime-ridden slums of Waterloo, struggling not only against grinding poverty but the ever-present threat of violence from their father.

Their story centres on the unshakeable bond of sisterhood, as they support each other through thick and thin. Bringing the streets of Lambeth to life in the book sparked some fascinating research into how poor, working class women lived in the decades between the wars, surviving without many of the things we take for granted, such as the NHS and social care.

The community could rally round in times of dire need or ostracise people it felt had transgressed, with reputations created or destroyed by street gossip. The daily battle against the filth of the factories and the smogs of London, in homes without electricity or hot water meant that a woman's work really never was done - yet the front step had to be sparkling and the man's shirts neatly pressed or the neighbours would talk.

Eva, the feisty youngest sister, starts out stealing to help feed the family, after witnessing her mother suffering yet another beating when the housekeeping runs short, but finds herself drawn into the dangerous but glamorous world of the Forty Thieves shoplifting gang, which pillage many a West End department store.

Peggy, the studious eldest sister is so appalled by the conditions endured by women around her, in factories and in the home, that she becomes a Communist and is increasingly involved in the fight against Oswald Mosley and his fascist Blackshirts.

Kathleen, the middle child, is the most beautiful and dreams of being a star in the theatres across the River Thames but finds her spirit crushed first by the daily grind of life in the jam factory and then by the handsome boxer she wrongly believes will be a loving husband.

Seeing how Peggy, Kathleen and Eva coped during the war, facing up to the choices they made in the past and fearing for their futures, really brought home to me that love is the one constant in an ever-changing world.

Keeping My Sister's Secrets is due to be published in paperback by PanMacmillan on July 27th and is available for pre-order now.

 

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MY, HAVEN'T YOU BABYGRO(WN)

“Mu-um, I’m not wearing them, they make me look like a total dork!”

The new shorts I had bought him, from a – rather expensive – online retailer, which has perfect images of smiley kids doing fun stuff (OK, it was Boden), were thrown on the bedroom floor in disgust.

I almost wept. Had it come to this? And so soon! He was not even a teenager yet, for God’s sake, yet here he was having a full-on fashion crisis.

Mothers of girls would probably be used to this stroppy pre-teen behaviour, refusing to wear what their parents had chosen, I reasoned, but as a mother of boys, this was new to me.

I felt a bit rejected, to be honest.

Until now, my eldest had shown little interest in clothes, beyond getting up and pulling on something or other in the morning, not always clean, so that he could either build something out of Lego, paint a model figure, bounce on the trampoline, shoot Nerf bullets at his kid brother or slump in front of a computer game.

But now, blushing slightly and stumbling for the right words, he was telling me in no uncertain terms that my fashion choices would no longer do.

Apart from the practicalities of having spent the best part of twenty quid on a pair of shorts– I know, I know, but they looked SO nice– I could see where he was coming from. I was transported back more decades more than I care to remember to my 12th year, when my Mum gave me twenty quid and let me loose in Topshop for the first time. The thrill of it! Choosing T-shirts for myself, things I wanted to wear, that my mates were wearing too.

Then I remembered the time before he was born, all the excitement of choosing his babygros and little outfits for him, the PFB– the precious first born – washing them, ironing them and keeping them in a drawer in the bedroom, ready for his arrival, sneaking a peek and holding them up and imagining him in them.

Once he arrived, of course, all the delightful little pristine white suits were spattered with baby gunk and I was so knackered I couldn’t have cared less what he was dressed in, as long as I got some sleep.

But then came the thrill of seeing him going up sizes– you know, the bit when they go from newborn, to the next size up; one to three months, to six months and all that. The little funky outfits, the sunhats which you force them to wear for about three seconds before they chuck them out of the pram; the baby shoes, the first walkers, the first trainers. Crocs; so many pairs, in different colours each year and going up a size each time.

School shoes – trashed within an inch of their life by the end of the first week.

Wellies, splodging in puddles and stuck in the mud. Coats– lost, mostly, at school.

I remembered a whole childhood of clothes I had chosen for him but now it was time for him to start choosing his own.

We reached an agreement of sorts. He could buy some new stuff but he would still have to wear those dorky shorts at some point and he would have to finish his homework and maybe do a few chores, like feed his guinea pigs and help out around the house.

So he went online and picked out a couple of T-shirts and I found myself getting emotional, not least because the first thing he bought was made of polyester with a massive logo on it and was covered in camouflage.

I think I may have a teenager in the house sooner than I had imagined…

'Mr Make Believe' Launch Party Antics

Was I dreaming? Was it just make believe or was I really in a West End restaurant in my best party frock and Jimmy Choos, doing a full-on karate routine with the senseis from Kilburn Shotokan Karate Club at my book launch? As Marnie Martin would say, erm, well, yes, actually...

Mr Make Believe got off to a flying start  - and thankfully no-one twisted their ankle  - at a party at Polpo, in which the world of media, fashion, film, television, mum-bloggers, publishing and karate collided over prosecco and pizza.

It was fabulous to see so many friendly faces there, getting into the party mood and I signed a few books too.

Lots of people bought copies to take away on  holiday with them, on the back of fabulous reviews from The Sun, which called Mr Make Believe "a fun read that 'imperfect mums' everywhere will adore" and The Daily Mail which praised it as a "warm, witty and well-written novel" which is

"compulsively readable and entertaining". Wow!

And as these pictures show, Mr Make Believe has already jetted off to glam locations including - Antigua, Italy and ...the New Forest.

I'd love to see where you take Mr Make Believe. Why not post your #sunloungerselfie on Twitter?

Happy holidays!

Beezy x
 

LET'S GO FOR A NICE WALK

The sun is out, it's a beautiful morning, so what could be more natural than going for a walk with your family?

A nice walk. What a great idea!

Let's suppose, for a moment, you are beyond the baby and toddler stage because there simply wouldn't be enough space here to deal with the getting ready process. Yup, been there, done that: the failed attempts to leave the house, the tantrums, the sheer exhaustion of it. And that was just trying to get my husband off the sofa, where he was having a sneaky snooze.

So, back to our lovely stroll. Both children are now old enough to dress themselves (in theory at least). I say in theory because it is now half past ten and they are still in their onesies playing on the PlayStation. So, hey, kids! Let's go and get some fresh air! The silence that greets my request tells me I am being ignored, as usual, but I won't be put off, so they stomp upstairs to put some clothes on.

As the minutes tick by I ponder our current situation.

Luckily, we have countryside right on our doorsteps as we now live in the middle of nowhere, so that is a bonus. If we were in London we'd be sitting in traffic for an hour trying to go anywhere on this glorious morning, only to find there were no parking spaces when we arrived because everyone had had the same idea about getting out.

Two boys go into their bedrooms to get dressed but are replaced with a monster known as The Incredible Sulk.

"Why?" wails The Incredible Sulk. "Why do we have to go out?"

Sadly, my two horrors' only interest appears to be a trip to the cinema/ a fast food restaurant or, possibly, both.

A deal is struck. We can go to the cinema tomorrow but only if we get "fresh air" today.

"I hate fresh air!" mutters the eldest, as he pulls on his walking boots. "It stinks."

Meanwhile the youngest is having an epic battle, trying to get his foot into his boot. Has he grown that much since the last time we went for a family walk, oh, about a year ago? Suddenly I flash back to last summer, when we got chased across a field by some bulls. That was quite traumatic.

"Will there be bulls today?" says the eldest, with a worried look in his eye.

Husband is dressed and standing outside, boots on, tapping his watch. He is ready, so why isn't everyone else?

We set off down the lane and head towards the canal, with the children whingeing all the while. Well, this is lovely, isn't it? To liven things up, I bring along a birdwatching book. We usually have quite a lot of wildlife nearby but on this occasion we see a duck. One measly mallard. I treat its arrival with as much jubilation as the discovery of a dodo but to no avail.

"Can we go home yet?"/ "My legs are tired..."

And so on. So there you have it. What a nice family walk we had.

THE SCHOOL (FAKE) BAKE SALE

It's the school cake sale tomorrow!

These are the words which can strike fear into the heart of many mothers, if we are truthful.

I live in fear of the bake sale because, let's face it, I am rubbish at baking. There, said it. It feels good to get that off my chest.

My sponges are never quite light enough, my flans have a soggy bottom and

my kids even admitted they only ate my cupcakes "because they felt sorry for them".

I envy those mothers who turn up at the school, laden with gorgeous, home-baked goodies. Mine also look good these days, but only because I bought them in Waitrose or Tesco's and distressed them with a fork to give them that "home-baked" appearance.

Mums seem to be divided into three groups on the baking front - the sad and pathetic no-bakers (like me), who shuffle in apologetically, trying to hide the wrapping and pass off shop bought as one of their own. Then there are the "I simply haven't got time" brigade, who stride in with a tray load of cupcakes from the local bakery, with a glint in their eye that says "just don't you dare challenge me on this, I have a board meeting at 8.30am".

And lastly, there are the home bakers, who sally forth with their baking tins stuffed to the brim with delights, wafting delicious scents of scones and biscuits in their wake. They stand proudly at the cake stall, often wearing aprons, dishing up their fare to eager children, wreathed in smiles, and safe in the knowledge that their cakes are all home made - and they taste good!

The first time I helped out on a cake stall it got a bit embarrassing as I was trying to foist my Smartie cakes on an unsuspecting youngster who really didn't want them.

I learned from that mistake, hence the bakery-fakery.

So, baking mums, I salute you but I am not one of you. Now, I'm sure there must be something in the kitchen I'm good at. Ah, yes. It's the washing up...

MR MAKE BELIEVE IS OUT

Well, I'm thrilled to announce that Mr Make Believe is finally here!

I fought my way through a pile of laundry and two school runs to write this and I expect you did the same to read it.
 
I'm so excited to share my debut novel about the adventures of imperfect, blogging mother Marnie Martin and her search for Mr Make Believe. If you can wrestle the iPad or Kindle off the kids for five minutes, you can download it as an ebook, or you can just click on the link and order it from Amazon as a paperback. It doubles as a handy rest for a gin and tonic of an evening in that format, I find.
 
Getting the time to read isn't easy, I know. I often start a game of hide and seek with the kids and lock myself in the bathroom to grab a few moments me-time. It works, trust me.
 
Anyway, I really hope you enjoy reading about Marnie and her exploits, through motherhood, marriage and the mayhem of raising kids, while she struggles to work out whether true love is real or just make believe. You can have a sneak peek at the prologue, here

If you enjoy my book, I'd be so thrilled if you would give it an honest review on Amazon too.
 
Meanwhile, there will be plenty more to look forward to from Marnie Martin and her best mate Belle Devine over the coming months, with a prequel in production for starters which you'll be the first to hear about.
 

WHY DON'T YOU GO OUT TO PLAY?

A great deal of my childhood was spent up a tree in the back garden, just pilfering bits of fruit. I felt like the king of the castle up that tree, surveying the neighbour's cat and my mum hard at work digging her vegetable patch and tending the garden.

I didn't tend to go to the park but had the run of the streets around my home and would zoom up and down on my bike when I felt like it. From the age of 12 I was allowed "down the town" - a short stroll down our street, usually with my best friend from next door, to mooch about the shopping centre on a Saturday morning, with the other kids.

My eldest is now 12 and it would be unthinkable for me to tell him to just go off on his own in a shopping centre or "go out to play" in the street.

He grew up in London, where the neighbours were lovely, but we kept the front door locked and his trips to the park always included me or my other half. My kids never played out in the street because of traffic and also concern about "stranger danger"  - real or imaginary, but I wouldn't have felt happy with them out there alone.

Now we live in the countryside, my son could have more freedom to roam but is reluctant to do so without parental supervision. Instead, he bounces himself silly on the trampoline in the back garden or shoots nerf guns at his brother all over the house. We organise play dates with other kids but there is always a parent present. I don't think I'm unusual as a parent to keep my children close to me, safe at home, or within my earshot, even though one is just secondary school age and the other is ten.

My other son goes out around the village on his bike but I always keep a watchful eye and he rarely strays for long. They are both more comfortable with one or other of us parents around, because that is how they have been raised.

When we go to the park, I still go with them because they like it that way.

So, I couldn't help wondering, at what point will my kids have a childhood like mine?

When will they be old enough in my eyes and confident enough in themselves to want to go off into town for a while and wander around the shops? When will they want to go off exploring on their own? I don't know the answer. I think I may have raised them never want to strike out on their own.

On the one hand, I'm afraid of letting go in case something bad happens, some accident or some stranger danger which I could never forgive myself for but on the other, I worry they are not getting enough independence.

Don't get me wrong, I love the fact that I get to hang out with my boys.  I love going to the park with them and mucking about. We like going swimming together and they have learned to ride horses so that we can all go out on hacks around the fields and woods near our home together or practise jumps in the school.

But are they missing out on being independent and at what point should I step back and allow them to have greater freedom?

Perhaps the world has changed so much that they will stay by my side until they are strapping big lads of 15 or 16 and then just go off with their mates, overnight; just disappear and leave me to pick up the laundry in their bedrooms.

Will they look back and complain that I didn't cut the apron strings sooner?

At which point I will once again find a nice tree, climb it and watch the world go by...
 

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THIS MUM CAN

Lying in a hospital bed after the birth of my second son, with a catheter still in place, I waited for my next shot of morphine to kill the searing pain from a planned C-section for life-threatening complications of pregnancy and the surgical removal of a massive fibroid.

This was not how it was supposed to go in the birth plan. I almost wept.

My baby had been delivered safely after five agonising weeks living on a labour ward because of a condition called placenta praevia, which meant that I was at risk of a massive haemorrhage at any point. I had already suffered some pretty scary bleeds, as the placenta ripped away from the lining of my womb, endangering the life of my unborn child - and me.

Bed rest and sheer good luck had got me to 37 weeks.

On the day of the planned C-section I nearly fainted as a walked in to the operating theatre and saw that the doctors were all wearing wellies - and I had visions of my blood gushing all over the floor.  Some nurses and doctors asked if they could come along to watch as it was such a risky procedure and they might not get to see another one for a while, which didn't exactly fill me with confidence.

But the NHS was brilliant and it saved my baby and me.

The consultant also carried out a myomectomy  - a surgical removal of a fibroid, which would have got in the way while he stitched me back together again. My husband told me that I was unconscious for a full hour as the doctor sewed layer after layer of me back together, while he held our screaming new-born. The pain that the myomectomy caused on top of C-section was indescribable. So, I couldn't even lift my little baby and although the staff on the postnatal ward did their best, I had to laugh when the occupational therapist came around to advise me on the need to do sit-ups to recover my stomach muscles.

Well, to be honest, I would have laughed but that would have hurt too much.

I could barely walk, I couldn't bend down and was terrified of going to the loo in case my guts dropped out.

Fast forward five years, that same baby had me up at a karate class, punching and kicking my way across the room with him.  Four years after that, just after his ninth birthday, we both graded for our black belts.

I was 39 when I had him and if you had told me, as I lay in bed in the days following his birth, that by my late forties, I would have two kids and be a black belt, I would have laughed in your face.

That said, the road to regaining my strength was a long and hard one. I had always liked Pilates but 12 weeks after my C-section, I took it up again, slowly and steadily, working through the pain caused by scar tissue internally from the operation, willing my abdominal muscles to knit back together. I swam every week - even when I was dog tired, just twenty minutes of gentle swimming. I walked and ran about with my children, who ran me ragged, obviously because that is what kids do.

When it came to the karate, I was sitting on the sidelines watching when the sensei, a woman in her fifties who looked amazing, told me to get up and give it a try.

"Go on," she said. "You can do it."

I found that I could not only do it, but I enjoyed learning the techniques, of pushing myself that bit further, of engaging my mind as well as my body in an activity which was not something I was 'supposed' to do as a woman over 40. Karate was for sweaty blokes, wasn't it? Surely it was dangerous and violent? I'm rather petite, at only 5ft 2, so what could I do to defend myself? Quite a lot, as it happens...

For some of us childbirth can be physically very traumatic and it does take time to heal - which is hard when you are also raising little people. But one thing I have learned is that it is not only possible to rehabilitate after childbirth but to emerge stronger, fitter and healthier. It takes time and effort and patience with yourself but it is worth remembering when you are in the early weeks after birth and things may seem bleak.

I saw an advert recently for women in sport - #thisgirlcan. Well, I think there should be a hashtag for motherhood...

#thismumcan
 

BABY, I LOVE YOU

My second baby will reach double digits soon. How did that happen?

Note, I still call him a baby, even though he can ride a bike, jump a horse and do karate kicks like Bruce Lee.

I was still in the grip of precious first born (PFB) mania when I got pregnant with my second.

I was thrilled but also worried  - would I love him as much as my first?

There is this little diary for the PFB in which I detailed what he liked to eat at various stages, when he first walked, what his first words were... you get the picture. I proudly took photographs of his earliest months and stuck them in a beautiful little album and then sent copies of his sweetest ones to the relatives.

I had every intention of doing the same for my second, of course, but the pregnancy didn't quite go to plan. I should have known then that this was just life getting me ready for what happens when you have two little people.

But in my head, I still stuck to the fantasy of how it would all run smoothly  - even though I spent five weeks in hospital before the birth, due to serious complications.

Luckily, he was safely delivered but with a toddler and a baby - who threw up most of his feeds  -

I began to understand why sleep deprivation is a form of torture.

To my shame, there is no special little photo album for baby number two or diary detailing his every waking moment (and believe me, there were a lot of those). I was too busy trying to wipe sick off the carpet, yoghurt from my hair and gulping down double strength lattes to get through the day.

With two kids, when things go well, it is twice as much fun and when they go wrong it is double trouble. Chickenpox was like a relay of itching and scratching and once when they got a sickness bug from the pick and mix at the cinema, I ran out of clean bedsheets as they threw up on everything in unison.

Anyone who has been there knows motherhood with young kids is a bit like being on a rollercoaster  - the most fun but also the most scary at times and you can't get off that easily. There were such highs and lows, I even used some of my own experiences as inspiration for the main character in my book Mr Make Believe, about an imperfect mother, which is out soon.

But despite all the tiredness, the broken nights and the tantrums, my biggest worry - about not loving him as much as baby number one - was never realised. Somehow, through it all, there was more than enough love for both of them. And that is the most amazing thing about being a parent.

Your energy runs out but your love doesn't.

Beezy boys dressing up as robin hood

NEW YEAR, NEW MUMMY - YEAH RIGHT.

So, Christmas has left the building and you (hopefully) survived the joy and tantrums and the total exhaustion of having the kids off school for weeks.

Now you are probably setting yourself some goals for the coming year. If you are anything like me, this will involve ways of being a "better" parent, of running a more harmonious home and generally having a brilliant time with your kids.

Here are a few of my favourite New Year resolutions, which really are fantasies. I really should know better by now but I just can't help myself. Sorry. So, the harsh reality follows after.

1. Food. It will be healthy, home-cooked, lovingly prepared and organic. The children will devour it gratefully but with impeccable manners. We will find time for some interesting conversation and I will be astounded by their growing knowledge, while they will be amazed by my culinary skills.

It will be home-cooked on the first day- when I will slave over a hot stove all afternoon, ending up rather flustered- but by Wednesday I will be reaching for the oven chips and Friday will see the me dialling for a take-out pizza. They will eat with their fingers, smothering everything in ketchup and the youngest will spit out his "healthy" vegetables on the floor. Eldest will sneak an iPod to the table and they will both collapse in fits of laughter at the world's silliest videos, as I lose my temper with them both.


2. The school run. I will make a real effort to be smart - maybe a dress and boots for a change. I will get up in time to apply a bit of make-up, to show off how proud I am to be a mother and also to look presentable if I go on for a coffee with the other mums or if I stop to chat to a teacher or even the headmaster. Breakfast will be nourishing and the kids will brush their teeth without being asked, before we have a lovely drive to school, singing together and perhaps discussing what the coming day will bring.

Oh, crikey! Is that the time? I fling some sugary cereal into two bowls and then run around like a mad thing trying to locate youngest son's school tie and/or homework. Eldest pretends to brush teeth and then sulks when I catch him out.

No-one brushes their hair, not even me. Look at the time! Go! Go!

Get in the car. De-icer required, which means we lose vital minutes. Looking down, I realise I am still wearing pyjama bottoms. Too late to worry about that now. Set off down the road and then turn back as eldest has forgotten his pencil case. Tell off both kids, who are now arguing in the back. Turn on radio but then turn off due to inappropriate rap song lyrics about the size of some woman's backside. Arrive at school, with seconds to spare. Can't get out of car to say "hello" to anyone in current state. Seriously consider wearing dark glasses and pretending I'm a new nanny or something before driving off, quite quickly.


3. Running the home. Children will tidy their own rooms and clear away their toys when required. Dirty laundry will be placed in the basket in the bathroom. Coats and shoes will go in their proper place. The bathroom will not smell like a public urinal because no child will pee on the floor.

Need I say, there is failure on every level with this resolution. Why do I do this to myself? Coats are chucked on the floor in the kitchen, shoes are flung off somewhere near by but never make it to the shoe rack. Dirty laundry languishes in bedrooms. And don't get me started about the bathroom.

Let's just say I'm thinking of getting a sign made, saying "LIFT THE SEAT".

But despite all the above, I love my boys to bits and there is one resolution, which I make every year and I'm happy to say, it does seem to work out. I resolve to love them just as much as is possible and then some more. 

ART FOR ART'S SAKE

Hands up who has a drawer full of their children's paintings? OK, how about a cupboard full? A wardrobe and a cupboard, a pinboard so full that bits keep dropping off and several boxes stashed in the loft? Err, that will be me.

I don't know whether it is something to do with being a writer, but ever since they first put pen (or rather, splodgy paintbrush) to paper, I have been the most avid fan of my children's creations. Don't get me wrong, I don't expect other people to think my kids are Picassos-in-waiting, but I just get such joy out of what they make that I find it hard to let go. Ever.

Number one son caused a lot of anxiety by being rather late to want to explore his artistic side.

"When will he do some painting?" I used to ask the kind teachers at nursery, as he charged about the playground, dressed in his Spiderman suit.

They exchanged glances and made some comment about him making "meaningful marks" when he was "ready". Ready? I had a whole kitchen wall prepared for his miniature art works! I didn't want to be pushy but I almost told them to hurry him a long a bit. It turned out he was averse to holding pens and pencils for a long time, so when he did produce a wobbly drawing, a sort of circle, two eyes, a nose and smiley mouth, I was beside myself with joy and pride and stuck it on the wall beside my desk. It was there for years, actually, until I took it down
- and only because we moved house.

Yes, moving house revealed the full extent of my kiddie art hoard. 

Second son was more into painting than the first one, so his portfolio grew quite early on. I was almost moved to tears by his picture of himself in the park by a slide at the age of three. And he then did a family portrait in which we all had huge round bodies and stick legs. I stuck that on the wall too.

My family. Can you see me? I'm the orange one...

My family. Can you see me? I'm the orange one...

Not to be outdone, first child had graduated to what I like to call the "licking and sticking" stage. Yes, model-making using old cardboard. That was the moment that the cornflakes packet and all the inners of the loo rolls start to mysteriously disappear. I didn't mind that but I did draw the line at him nicking the inside of the kitchen roll before it was finished. These creations were quite bulky, which brings me on to another issue.

Do you give in, keep everything, and have a house which looks like an extension of the reception class, with massive splodgy paintings all over the walls and every shelf space covered with play-doh models and strange objects made out of clay?

I have yet to see a child's creation in clay which resembles anything recognisable. They are just sort of squashed brown lumps.

But I kept those as well and I did have a few on the shelves in the kitchen for a time, because I found it hard to say goodbye.

In the summer holidays I made matters worse by sending them to art courses for a week at a time. They returned with yet more paintings, puppets on sticks and massive papier mache dinosaurs (I still have one). A trip to Ikea helped with some of the storage issues but where do you store the storage boxes when the cupboards are full?

I know some mothers who are quite ruthless about it. I'm not judging, in fact I admire their strength of character, as they murmur "That is lovely, darling!", and then chuck yet another finger painting in the bin, before their little one notices. But the fact is, I find it hard to do likewise. Moving house did make me carry out a mini-cull of artworks but there is more to do and I am dreading it.

I love the idea of keeping their pictures, to show them when they are older  - even if we are living in the garden, because we can no longer fit into the house...

HOW DO YOU SLEEP?

As a writer, I'm something of a professional dreamer, so I was intrigued to read the latest lifestyle advice from movie goddess Gwyneth Paltrow about "clean" sleep being vital for health.

Don't get me wrong, I love being asleep - some of my best ideas appear as dreams and rather like Marnie, the main character in my first novel, Mr Make Believe, I'm prone to daydreaming too. But the fact is, as a mother-of-two, I simply don't get enough shut eye and judging by Gwyneth's standards, the quality of my sleep is far from clean and verging on the dirty side, really.

Maybe Gwyneth gets so exhausted by whizzing up kale smoothies that she really needs to go for a lie down but she almost binges on sleep, apparently, getting a good ten hours a night. I don't begrudge her that.

Good for you Gwynnie!

But I did have a laugh, as sleep is the one thing most parents don't have in abundance. And now it is the mainstay of wellbeing and we simply must get more of it, she advises. Well, great, but who is going to do the washing up and the laundry of an evening? And what about having a bit of sit down in front of the telly after the hell of children's bedtime?

And what about the broken nights with babies and toddlers, and young kids  - and, let's face it, older kids, too. Mine are 12 and nine and if I get them both asleep before 9pm most nights I consider that a total victory. Even then, bad dreams, trips to the loo... all these things get them out of bed and they still have a habit of coming into see me and telling me about it, in the small hours of the morning. I don't mind, I think it is sweet, and my mum radar twitches every time they get up in the night anyway, so when they wake up, I do too. Motherhood has made me a really light sleeper.

The last time I had ten hours flat out, I'm afraid there was a quantity of gin involved, which is definitely not on the kale and chia seed healthy foods list, is it?

I have had some really great arguments about sleep. Early on in my marriage, when the kids were babies, there was a sort of guerrilla warfare going on, with me sneaking in naps whenever he went out of the house and him "going for a quick lie down" on Saturday afternoons while I huffed my way with the babies around the park, muttering under my breath that he really should be here, to share the joy of their childhood, never mind that he was knackered from working all week. We even ended one fight, yelling: "Well, you got seven hours in last night and I only had four!" before we realised how ridiculous we sounded.

The rules of Gwyneth's "clean" sleeping mean no food or snacks after 8pm. Ok, so I know I shouldn't but I might sneak a biscuit or two in front of my favourite TV show before bed, which makes my sleeping a bit grubby, doesn't it? Does gin and tonic count as a snack?

No ipads or smart phones are allowed in the bedroom, which must be a technology-free zone. Oh dear, I use my phone as an alarm clock because the kids nicked the clock and stole the batteries. My sleep is looking quite mucky now.

Pillows  - they must be infused with copper. Well, mine are from John Lewis, probably quite nice, but I can't afford copper-infused ones, sorry, we have only just had Christmas. Sleep rating  - dirty.

Relaxation  - make sure you are completely relaxed, by having a head or foot massage. Nice idea, but the masseur is having a day off, Gwynnie, and my other half is already unconscious.

Sleepometer - filthy.

HOW'S YOUR DIARY LOOKING?

Have you signed up for baby music? Baby French? How about baby yoga, then?

Caffeine-fuelled new mothers bring their babes-in-arms along to little clubs, just for the sake of their sanity (I know I did) and sit with a glazed look in their eyes as their babies drool along to the music. 

Swimming lessons  - oh my!  - the competition to get signed up with the best teacher can sometimes be a military operation. Dads are sent out at dawn, armed with a flask full of hot coffee, to queue up before the gym even opens, in order to get the toddler's name on the list for the Ducklings club.

We are not talking Olympic swimming here, just splashing about with water wings, but if your name isn't down, you're not coming in.

By the time we get to schools, a child's busy diary could make the CEO of a major national corporation blush.

After school activities, weekend sports fixtures and clubs and - let's be honest  - tutors too. Yes, I know people who started tutoring their children aged five, admittedly in the private schools system in London, but that was seen as the norm. Then they wondered why the kids were so tired they were badly behaved at bed time.

Weekends see parents charging off in different directions, with kids going to music lessons, riding lessons, karate club and the rest, with just time to shove a quick sandwich down for lunch.

Our children seem to have so many opportunities now, it is just fantastic. But on the other hand, do they ever get any down time with their parents?

Just hanging about the house together, going for a walk - doing something which doesn't require a termly fee and a large overdraft, perhaps? How about  - gasp  - watching the telly together! 

Board game anyone?

As my kids get older, I worry about them getting to the weekend exhausted from school and then not having enough time to just, well, do nothing. Sometimes making a window in our diary to flop on the sofa is what is needed most, for us and our children.

MY CHRISTMAS READING LIST

Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier

Simply reading her first sentence, “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again”, is like diving into a box of my favourite chocolates. Grabbing a sneaky five minutes on the sofa with this book amid all the festive debris from two kids feels like a small victory.

The Jolly Christmas Postman – Allan Ahlberg and Janet Ahlberg

I don’t care if my boys are getting too old for this now, they will have it foisted upon them every Christmas until they are twenty. It is a tradition to go through the book and open up all the letters which have got mixed up, as the brave postie makes his way through the snow.

You Are All Just Jealous of My Jetpack – Tom Gauld

Cartoons, clever ones, have long been a Christmas tradition for me. I grew up reading the annual book of Giles cartoons from the Daily Mail, which my Grandpa bought for us every year, flicking through and probably not understanding half of it. Tom Gauld is a genius and his cartoons make me laugh so hard, it almost counts as exercise, which is great after too much turkey.

Shocking! The Art and Fashion of Elsa Schiaparelli – Dilys E Blum

I adore this coffee table book, which I got for Christmas a few years ago. I get it out and lust after her witty and fabulous designs. Reading it actually makes me feel feverish, so I have to save it for special occasions.

Celestine, Voices from a French Village – Gillian Tindall

There is something magical about this book and the best bit is, it’s all true. A bundle of letters found in a ruined house in deepest France are the starting point for a historical treasure hunt, in which a family’s story down the generations is brought vividly to life. The characters she unearths bring to mind those of Balzac. Perfect fireside reading for Francophiles.

YOU BELIEVE IN FATHER CHRISTMAS, BUT I DON'T, MUMMY...

I knew it was going to happen one day but that day always seemed so far away, I never gave it much thought.

Then, one frosty morning last week on the school run, my youngest - aged nine - piped up:

"Father Christmas isn't real, is he?"

"Don't be silly," I said. "Of course he is."

"No, he isn't, because (eldest son, just turned 12) told me he wasn't real. It's just you and Daddy buying all the presents and putting them under the tree."

I gasped and the car almost swerved.

Eldest child had already been dropped off at that point, or I think I would have told him off, there and then.

I stewed on it all day. I looked back through photographs of Christmases past, when they were both so little, they could barely sleep with excitement and I was so tired, I just wanted it to be over, to be honest, so I could put my feet up. The memory of one Christmas, when the wrapping paper ran out at midnight and I had half of Argos still to do is still seared into my subconscious. But now, nearly a decade later, I wanted the magic to continue forever, for them to dress up as singing Christmas trees and elves in the school play and really, truly believe that Santa Claus was coming to town, rather than some bloke from Amazon with a delivery van.

On the afternoon school run, the pick ups were reversed and once I got the eldest into the car, I gave him quite a talking to. He looked at me with bemusement.

"You believe in Father Christmas, Mum, that is OK, but I don't. It's like Jesus. I don't believe in God or Jesus either."

"What!" I cried. "This is nothing like religion!"  - yes, I'm quite happy for him to be a non-believer as far as the Holy Trinity is concerned.  "It's Christmas, it's magical! You can't go spoiling it for (the youngest) by telling him Father Christmas isn't real. Because he is. I said so."

Honestly, I'd lost the plot a bit. Since when did it become a crime not to believe in Santa at the age of 12?

"OK," he sighed. "It's just if I say I believe in Father Christmas at school, I will get picked on. So I kind of have to not believe. I can just say Father Christmas is real when I'm at home, if it helps?"

I looked at him in the rear view mirror, as I drove along. He was actually humouring me.

"That's right," I said, I just couldn't stop myself. "Because in our house Father Christmas does exist, or you won't get any presents! Don't you dare spoil it for your little brother!"

He was right. I was being ridiculous. But I couldn't let the dream die, not yet, not this year, maybe not ever! Who am I kidding? Am I expecting them to have to pretend that Father Christmas is real at the age of 14? Or perhaps at 18, as they heading off to the pub on Christmas Eve. Will I be waving their stockings at them at the front door, shouting, "be back before midnight or Father Christmas won't leave you any presents!" like some mad woman?

I don't know, but I fear the answer is: probably.

ARE YOU LISTENING?

It's amazing how having children can induce selective deafness  - in ourselves and our partners, and of course, our children.

When they are little, the slightest "goo" from your baby can induce raptures and if you are stuck at home all day with them, of course you want to share news of the baby's verbal prowess with your other half, who probably wants to just switch off and watch telly when he gets in from work.

So, they pretend to listen to you, occasionally throwing in a "Mmm",  "Did he?" "That's incredible!", with one eye on the screen and the other on their glass of wine.

That is not to be mean to them because you will be sitting there while he drones on about his day - when he gets to talk to adults! - thinking "Jesus, I'm so tired, I just want wine/ sleep/ chocolate/ coffee/ more sleep" but you will say "Amazing!", "You're so clever!" "Fancy that!" and so on.

This cycle of not really listening also extends to asking for things to be done around the house - "Don't you remember I said to put the bins out?"/ "Could you pick up some milk?"

And if you're ever thinking of going out of the house and leaving him with the kids for more than five minutes do NOT expect him to have heard anything you said before you left.

COMPLICATED STUFF LIKE WHAT THE BABY IS GOING TO EAT/ WEAR/ PLAY WITH -  FORGET IT.

Once I went out for the afternoon and left my husband with our six-month-old. When I returned, the baby was fast asleep on the floor in the living room, while the husband was busy playing with the Playstation. This counted as "childcare" in his head, never mind that I had left a heap of educational toys and strict instructions on nap times. He hadn't heard that, apparently.

I wonder whether the smartphone/iPad obsession has made all the not listening worse?

AS A PARENT, IF YOU HAVE ONE EYE ON YOUR SCREEN, CAN YOU REALLY BE LISTENING TO YOUR CHILD?

I am not judging here, I am guilty of this more than most. It also allows me to juggle being a mother and working from home, for a start.

We also don't often listen to ourselves. I say things I never intended to when I first had children. My first baby wasn't a "no, no, no!" toddler because I consciously made an effort not to say "no" all the time and to find other ways of persuading him to do things. By the second one, I was so knackered I couldn't have cared who said yes, no or whatever, as long as I got some sleep.

The most shocking thing is when  your kids reflect back to you what you say to them, or they say it too each other. On a recent car journey, my two boys were having an argument. "Shut up!" said the eldest to the youngest. "Just SHUT UP!".

"We don't say that!" I said.

"BUT, YOU TOLD ME TO SHUT UP THE OTHER DAY!" SAID THE ELDEST, "WHICH MAKES YOU A BIT OF A HYPOCRITE."

Oh dear. And I thought he hadn't been listening...

Floral print.jpg

THE GOOD (ENOUGH) PARENT

From the moment they are born, you worry about your babies. Back in the old days, your mum, your gran, your aunties would offer you sensible advice and help you through those difficult early months.

Maybe you are lucky enough to have family on your doorstep but what's the betting, that for the majority of us, that is no longer the case?

You are left to struggle alone or with your partner ( increasingly tired from work) and you turn to magazines, websites and your friends for help and advice. For me, there was a little internal voice, which grew louder when I was most tired.

It was the voice which told me that I wasn't good enough, I was doing it "wrong".

Unfortunately, there were other voices out there in the real world- on the telly, in magazines and in mother and baby groups - which would also reinforce that sense of doubt; the preaching stuff about breast is best, the endless advice on healthy eating, on routines. I felt guilty that I "only" breastfed my babies for three months before I switched to bottles. I found it tiring and to be brutally honest, my body was not my own and I wanted it back. Is that wrong? There were some breast feeding fanatics out there who made me feel I had failed and my children's immune systems would never recover.

I wept at midnight as a pureed yet another batch of home-cooked veg and poured it into little ice cubes so that I wouldn't let my baby down by giving him jars of babyfood. Why did I do that? Baby jars are perfectly healthy and balanced and fine. Sometimes sleep is better than whizzing food up in a blender in the small hours, isn't it?

But I was trying to be the best parent.

Luckily I was able to have a "normal" birth with my first rather than a C-section or I would really have had to hang my head in shame, wouldn't I? Why do mothers make such a big deal of that? Yes, you may have managed to squeeze your baby out - and torn yourself to shreds in the process- but it doesn't make you any better than someone who has chosen a C-section or had one as an emergency to save their baby from brain damage or death. So, at least I was not like my friend who felt a failure over her first "birth experience" and desperately wanted a vaginal delivery for the second. When she didn't get one, she pretended right up to the last minute that she was "getting ready for the big push", sending texts out to all and sundry. The baby was delivered safely by C-section. Big deal. She still felt guilty though.

As our children grow up we want to be the best parent for them, to always be there, to keep them occupied, to help them learn. In fact, part of the learning process is to allow them to be alone, to be bored, to play by themselves. It is OK for them to see that we have needs too and jobs and friends. The world out there is a big place and in the real world they are not the centre of attention all the time.

Sometimes when that internal critic rears its head and tells me I'm a rubbish mother, I take a deep breath and say:

"I'm not a good parent but I am trying to be good enough."

Good enough means you will give them tinned spaghetti on toast rather than organic home-cooked, you will at least try to take them to the park with a hangover, you will lose your temper but then say sorry.

You will love them just as much as you can and then some more and they will still be ungrateful for it when they are teenagers. That is when you know you have done it right. That is good enough for me.

MAD FRANK AND SONS FILM

I'm really excited that my biography of the Fraser crime family, Mad Frank and Sons, has been optioned for a film. I hope to have more news on this soon but for now, here is the official press release...

MAD FRANK AND SONS by David Fraser, Patrick Fraser and Beezy Marsh optioned for film by Bill Kenwright Ltd.

Bill Kenwright Ltd has optioned film rights to MAD FRANK AND SONS, the exclusive story of Mad Frankie Fraser’s life becoming one of the most feared and respected West End crime lords and head of a legendary gangland family. Fraser’s gripping life story as told to writer Beezy Marsh, featuring interviews with Frank before his death and with Frank’s bank robber sons, was published in June 2016 by Macmillan. Rights for a feature film were acquired by Bill Kenwright Ltd from Jonathan Sissons at Peters Fraser and Dunlop.

Bill Kenwright is known for his theatre productions but has many film credits to his name: The Day After the Fair, Stepping Out, Don't Go Breaking My Heart and most recently Cheri, starring Michelle Pfeiffer, and Rufus Norris' Broken, starring Tim Roth and Cillian Murphy, which won Best Film at the British Independent Film Awards and opened the 2012 Cannes Film Festival Critics' week. Craig Tuohy of Bill Kenwright Ltd was also behind recent gangland film, Rise of the Krays.

Author Beezy Marsh, said: “Frank Fraser's story continues to fascinate; from his humble beginnings in the slums of Waterloo and his rise through the seedy gangland of Soho, to his notorious 42 years in prison. It is really exciting that Bill Kenwright Ltd has seen the potential for Mad Frank and Sons to make a brilliant film.”

David Fraser said: “I’m looking forward to seeing my and my family’s story on the screen. The truth can be a beautiful thing but it can also be hurtful, and that is very much the story of our lives.”

Craig Tuohy of Bill Kenwright Ltd, said: “Frankie Fraser’s story has all the elements of classic cinema. He was anti-authority through and through yet he lived and died by a code of ethics that made some people see him as a folk hero and others as a danger to society. Bill Kenwright films looks forward to bringing this amazing story to the big screen in 2017.”