Tag Archives: children

Allowing the apron strings to fray.


Like many mums, the apron strings between myself and my kids have always been tightly bound and double knotted. They are growing up far too fast and every day I wish I could stop time, preserve them as my – mostly – delightful little boys. My eldest would definitely take umbrage at being called little but in my eyes he and his brothers will always display that kernel of babyhood, however tall and hairy they become. For years they are our shadows, having no choice but to be wherever we are, in the trolly while we shop, playing in the corner of the doctor’s room on the rare occasion we’re there for ourselves, in the creche at the gym while we claw back some ‘me’ time, even squashed into the cubicle of a public loo.

Of course we know from the moment they are born that the day will come when their reliance on us will be at an end, the hope being that our efforts are rewarded with the emergence of a thoughtful, articulate, well rounded and capable individual. Knowing this makes the stark truth no less horrifying: ultimately I will no longer be needed. So I have decided to put myself into training. Independence will not be an overnight severing of the apron strings, more of a gradual fraying as the boys slowly start forging their own path in a organic way.

I have always been guilty of doing things for them that they should probably be doing themselves since doing it myself is quicker and easier. Uniforms are put out the night before, I make their lunches, pack their bags. I’m sure it would teach them all sorts of life lessons were I to ask them to do these and many other pesky tasks of daily living but I know my stress levels would go through the roof. They are so easily distracted that it’s a battle just persuading them to put the damn clothes on most of the time.  With a little planning I am changing things up. Before they go to bed their uniform has to be looked out, before the tv goes on in the afternoon their bag must be unpacked. I deliver a pile of clothes to their room and ask them to put it away. Baby steps.

I used to walk them to school, delivering them to the gate with reminders and hugs. When I went back to work last year I began sometimes only taking them halfway, peeling off towards the bus stop. They were, of course absolutely fine. They stayed together, adhered to road rules, my eldest making sure the younger two stayed safe. It turned out he relished the responsibility and it wasn’t long before he suggested they could go all the way by themselves. The first time I followed them. Yup, I felt utterly foolish but somehow compelled to shadow them back as they had me for so long. These days none of us thinks twice about it and they are always raring to get to school for half an hour of playtime.  The only stipulation is that they have to give me a hug first, something my twelve year old is unsurprisingly much more comfortable doing away from his mates –  wins all round.

The boys recently upped the ante when they suggested they could go and buy the milk we needed to save me a trip. That they also took their own money and added chocolate to their shopping made the experience all the sweeter! I came home from work one day to find they had decided to bake their own afternoon tea (my husband was working at home). Muffins and pancakes had been made and half the fruit in the house cut up. Hot ovens, open flames and knives, OMG what was my husband thinking? However there were no burns or cuts, just three very self-satisfied boys and a kitchen on which a flour bomb had dropped.

With my eldest moving from primary to high school next year there is no doubt the time is absolutely right for him to be emerging from beneath my wings, his brothers following in his wake. The knots are still holding for now, just fraying ever so slowly. And at the end of the day they all still ask to be tucked in and once they’re asleep are still my delightful little boys.

The unexpected benefits of (mildly) sick kids


off schoolI remember when my youngest started school, “you won’t know yourself” was the common refrain. Of course rather than the inferred endless time to myself, I instead managed to fill my time with chores, as much writing as I could find motivation for and, I’ll admit, quite a lot of faffing about.

It is a well-documented curse of our age that we all feel permanently run off our feet, pulled in different directions by myriad demands. This can then lead to a complete lack of appreciation for the things we are able to do once our children are out of the house for six hours a day. Like go to a yoga class, eat a sandwich while reading the paper, grab a coffee with a friend for an hour, make a phone call involving a call centre (have you ever tried this with children anywhere near you? It’s as though they have a radar alerting them to the most rewarding time to bug you).

Last week I had one or more children at home Every. Single.Day. I had to make the call to school daily, sounding no doubt more and more unhinged as I laughed manically, “Me, again, you’ll never guess what….”. A friend tried to bolster me midweek when I described the week as a write off – “it’s only Wednesday!” she reminded me – yeah, you don’t have the parental power of insight that somehow lets you know optimism will be wasted here, you just need to give up, focus on next Monday and breath deeply.

However, it had its surprises too. On Tuesday my son felt well enough to play so we made a train track, played Jenga, hide and seek, eye spy over lunch, had a teddy party and to top it off I taught him patience, a game I haven’t played for years and which reminds me of being little and poorly. We connected in a way that we never really do at the weekends when the rest of the family is around. We enjoyed each other’s company. Once I had come to terms with not getting a thing done, (and I mean not a thing of use – we all had fish fingers for supper) – it really was quite relaxing.

calvin and hobbes sickness

After three days of course the playing vibe was threadbare. Money was chucked at the problem – a new comic, a jigsaw puzzle, and the latest Weird Oh book were grimly chucked into the shopping basket in an attempt to claw back some quiet time at my desk. And when the novelty of those wore off I turned on the TV.

When I found him watching the ABC educational channel – about women’s working conditions in 1950’s Britain I almost frogmarched him to school. Clearly his mind was in dire need of sustenance. But then his brother was off the next day and the whole cycle began again.

At least on Friday they were both off and managed, thank you universe, to play harmoniously – with the new toy monkey and another jigsaw. At least the local shops will be happy with me.

So, unexpected though it was, the week wasn’t wasted as it both helped me have fun with my kids in a way I haven’t for ages and most definitely made me appreciate those precious few hours I have without them most days. In the week to come I imagine I won’t know myself.

let board game end


*While I wrote this very lightheartedly I do want to acknowledge that my kids simply had a virus. I can’t imagine what it must be like to care for and worry about a chronically or seriously ill child and honour and admire those parents who do.

For my next trick…

Happiness is...

Happiness is…

One year ago today I started this blog, then called ‘me without sav b’. It marked the beginning of a month of abstinence while I trained to run the Mothers Day Classic four weeks later. I raised over $1000 for a boy called Darcy (who is the same age as William on whose birthday Darcy’s treatment began), who was undergoing treatment for the awful childhood cancer neuroblastoma.  I would like to think that people sponsored me to run – I am no runner – but, truth be told, it was probably as much about my forgoing of alcohol as the exercise. Recording my month ‘off’ ensured I was accountable. This in turn helped make the venture much easier. For this reason, among others, I have decided to ‘go public’ with my latest undertaking – a twelve month stretch off the booze. Here’s why (stop reading now Mum):

Following a particularly vile hangover, details of which I won’t inflict on you, I came to the realisation that I was missing too much of life to carry on in this vein. I have been stressed, crabbit, disorganised, forgetful and only just managing to keep up with the day to day tasks of managing a family of five. Everything was last minute, I thrived on pressure, – or so I thought – all mothers of young children need something to help them cope with the daily grind, the expectations, the sheer bloody monotony that accompanies this choice. And yet a few months before I had begun a fledgling career as a writer, people paid me for words, one of the things I love most in the word. But it seemed that the more I drank, the less the words refused to flow. And the early mornings stopped, and the unhappier I became, and the greater the need for that ‘witching hour’ snifter became and with it the loss of another evening.


I have signed up to do a 12 month HSM through Hello Sunday Morning, an amazing and inspiring organisation which aims to ‘change your relationship with alcohol one Sunday at time.’ You can be as active or passive as you like once you have completed a short profile – there is real support from people of all walks of life in many countries and at various stages on their personal journey. You can set yourself goals, large or small and tick them off as you go. Checking in, monitoring progress would not be for everyone but I find it invaluable.

I am claiming my evenings back, and the early mornings, sometimes featuring a walk with friends in whom I have confided and who are my cheer squad. The fog is lifting. I am still forgetful and disorganised but some things I might have to admit are just me (I’ve always joked that I was born to be blonde after all) which I can live with.   What I can’t live with is the knowledge that I am failing to do everything in my power to live a happy and fulfilled life, thereby hopefully passing on positive examples and ethos to my children. There is no doubt that even in the 13 (count them!) days since ditching the vino I am a nicer wife and mother. I have oodles more patience and I’m simply enjoying my family again, laughing at their foibles, giving them more time.

Lorna Jane (a trendy exercise-wear shop for those of you not familiar) featured a slogan in their window a couple of months ago that I read every morning on the school run: ‘Be the best version of yourself you can be.’ I can now say proudly that I am trying.







 The other morning after speaking to my parents on the phone William asked me why I was quiet (I know, it doesn’t happen often).  “I’m homesick” I told him.  “But you’re at home Mummy” was his response.  Quite.  So why, seven years after landing in this Great Southern Land, do I still not call Australia home?

It has got me thinking about what ‘home’ means and the link between home and identity.  According to the OED home is ‘the place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family’.  So on the surface where I am now fits; it’s just that pesky ‘permanently’ I have a problem with.  I don’t have a problem with commitment on the whole, and I am the sort of person who, when I do commit, gives it my all to make it work.  Even in the short term, I hate to be seen as having failed but more that I haven’t tried so I have employed the mantra try, try and try again (heralding the Lions?)

 We have a fabulous life here, as I talked about on May 2nd.  Our needs are more than met, the boys are thriving in their respective school and pre-school, we have some lovely friends, and yet.  And yet.  There is a need in me which I almost cannot name, which defies definition and yet which somehow exemplifies homesickness.  It is an ache I carry for much of the time, a tug that I feel when I see a tall, grey haired grandpa or yearning to be where my soul can rest.  I worry that I cannot be the best version of myself without repairing the roots I yanked from the loamy Scottish ground seven years ago.

 There is a saying which suggests that the most important things we can give our children are ‘roots and wings’.  I suppose the whole point is that they are mutually dependent; we can push push push ourselves as long as we have that starting point to return to if we fail.  But if that starting point is shaky and unconvincing, what kind of support structure is in place?

 I am incredibly lucky; I still have four uncles, four aunts, many cousins who also have children.  At two out of three of my children’s christenings (all taking place in the church in which my brother and I were christened, Andrew and I were married – where we have a family pew, yes really!) my cousin Naomi’s children and my own have gone from a shy hello to a plaintive, ‘When will we see X again?’  The joy I felt being at Cowbog (see header photo on this blog) two years ago was renewed every time I saw my boys with their cousin (now plural) and the children of my close friends.  The strong, binding web of family and shared history is impossible to break entirely and it seems can survive neglect but as a sad version of itself, like a holiday house that would be nice to visit if only you had the time or money to invest in it.

 Cahills in Scotland July-August 2011 057 Cahills in Scotland July-August 2011 228 Cahills in Scotland July-August 2011 492

 For many people The UK means London or some other urban centre.  Some friends we have here had a wonderful few years in Oxford, others in Bristol.  All of them enjoyed their UK hiatus but treated it as such, a break in the norm.  They always knew they would return home.  My UK, my Scotland is the glorious, soft, fresh-aired countryside of The Borders.  Rich in history and legend, The Borders is populated by canny, determined souls whose passions run deep (apart from when it comes to the rugby where jersey sleeves are singed by emotion).  For my first 20 years –  probably more if I’m being honest – I was ‘Julia Wilson from Cowbog’; the farm was central to my very identity and like a ripple on a pond, Cowbog at the centre was supported by gradually bigger areas and layers of family.

In this age of international travel and expatriation perhaps it is unusual for place to play such a large part in the formation of identity.  So many people chase the dream, be it corporate or lifestyle that it is easy to identify only with those within the immediate family bubble, wherever that bubble may journey.  While I admire the ‘us against the world’ ethos that such a family habitat naturally demands I’m not sure it’s what I want to give my children.  Perhaps I am not strong enough, perhaps I need my comfort blanket of family, perhaps I don’t want to grow up.

Going beyond myself though, I think about the boys and their identity and sense of belonging.  We joke that the Scottish brainwashing has worked on William but only partially on Sam (Edward I could claim as mine but that is only in a maternal sense, not a patriotic one just now).  In fact, in the car on the way to school recently we were discussing the Lions tour as the boys had just received their shirts from Gran and Grandpa.  William said something like “I’m Scottish, the same as Mummy but you’re not, you’re from here.” This was to Sam and Edward. Obviously there was no malice intended but the division is there (Should we prepare for massive psychological bills?).  I of course told them we all had the same passport and that was that!  Gorgeous Sam though had insisted on wearing his green shorts with his Lions jumper as he ‘supports both’.

boys in lions shirts1

 I recounted this conversation to Sam’s lovely teacher at pre-school whose take on it was typically lovely and caring as she suggested that we are all citizens of the world and all just the same.  If only this were true.  Unfortunately patriotism has a large part to play in our identity and though of course our family loyalty is first and foremost to the people we love, I wonder about the impact of identifying ourselves differently within that unit.

One of my favourite poets, Eavan Boland explores this theme wonderfully in her poem Lost Land.  I considered just putting a link here but, just in case people were too busy to read another page and didn’t click on it I thought I’d make it easy and include it.  I would hate for anyone to miss out.  I first heard this on my post-colonial poetry course at Edinburgh and it still gives me goosebumps.

The Lost Land

By Eavan Boland

I have two daughters.
They are all I ever wanted from the earth.
Or almost all.
I also wanted one piece of ground:
One city trapped by hills. One urban river.
An island in its element.
So I could say mine. My own.
And mean it.
Now they are grown up and far away
and memory itself
has become an emigrant,
wandering in a place
where love dissembles itself as landscape:
Where the hills
are the colours of a child’s eyes,
where my children are distances, horizons:
At night,
on the edge of sleep,
I can see the shore of Dublin Bay.
Its rocky sweep and its granite pier.
Is this, I say
how they must have seen it,
backing out on the mailboat at twilight,
shadows falling
on everything they had to leave?
And would love forever?
And then
I imagine myself
at the landward rail of that boat
searching for the last sight of a hand.
I see myself
on the underworld side of that water,
the darkness coming in fast, saying
all the names I know for a lost land:
Ireland. Absence. Daughter.