Tuesday, 23 May 2017

A few of my favourite things: Waterstones Cafe, Southampton

In the first of a new series (you can find out my method behind my favourite things here) it isn't anywhere fancy or high-end, but a coffee shop on the ground floor of a bookshop in West Quay shopping centre, Southampton.

I've always had a love of bookshops so adding in coffee and cake couldn't really go wrong. What I love about this little cafe is that while it is advertised on the windows for people passing by the first floor as well as being visible from the new and very shiny Watermark eating area, it still remains a place to escape the madness of the shopping centre, surround yourself with books and breathe. 

Nic nacs in the cafe area

There is a very obvious seating area right by the cafe area itself as well as seating outdoors (blankets are provided for chilly days) and by the children's books area making it perfect for everything from 15 minutes by yourself, coffee with friends or a sit down while the 4 year old looks at the books and plays on the little climbing area. There's even the most amazing bright red leather sofa at the far end by the windows that you can melt into despite the sofa clearly having seen better days! The cafe area is bright and airy thanks to the floor to ceiling windows and despite people entering into the bookshop a few meters away, you don't feel like you're sat in a walkway.

Now the food and drink! Jammie dodger cupcakes, carrot cake, massive cookies the size of your child's head and cappuccino cake are just a few of the sweet treats we've tried. There's even gluten free and vegan offerings usually available.

Hummus, sourdough and falafel, or banana and peanut butter toasties (along with lots of other things on toast available) provide welcome and bloody tasty fuel to continue your slog round the shops or in our case just to make it home sometimes. The joy of shopping with a 4 year old.

Drinks wise they do a very decent cappuccino plus the usual selection of cold drinks (Diet Coke, fentimens, fruit smoothies for the kids, etc) and a fantastic selection of teas, which they used to offer by the pot or by the mug but only seem to do pots now. Shame as the mugs used to be just the right size! 

Prices are on par with what you'd pay outside, maybe a little cheaper particularly with the drinks, but the atmosphere is much nicer. Staff always chatty and helpful when stuck on cake selection, as well as understanding when 4 year old knocks over water. For the second time.

While I know you'd love it there, a bit of me wants to keep this little coffee shop to myself, but that would be selfish.... just promise to leave me a slice of cake and that sofa free would you? X

Monday, 22 May 2017

A few of my favourite things

If I lived by one saying, it would be this

I've been doing lots of behind the scenes blog work trying to get myself into a proper schedule and setting time aside each week to write. One of the things that helps is having topic headings that I can add to as and when I have something to say so "A few of my favourite things" was born. The title works because if you remove all the swearing, sarcasm and dark humour I'm practically Julie Andrews anyway!

A few of my favourite things does just what it says on the tin. It could be a coffee shop, a park, a bar (less likely - what's a night out again?) or anything that takes my fancy. It is less likely to be raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens. The only criteria is that unlike all the Costa Coffees and Nando's of the world which I still frequent (and love), these things are a bit different and a bit special.

I'm always up for finding new favourites so if you know anywhere, do let me know!

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Separation: Staying strong for International Women's Day

When I knew my marriage was over, I started the grieving process. I'd lost something that was a huge part of my life and one day it wasn't there anymore. What was and remains the hardest part to process was that I wasn't just grieving for my marriage and the way all the good memories from the past were now tainted by how horrible the end was, but I was grieving for my family. I was grieving for what my daughter had lost. In one fell swoop she lost the normality of two parents, she lost her dad as a constant in her life and I lost my back up.

I'd always wanted to "do things properly" so marriage, kids, buying a house together, holidays arguing in caravans in Cornwall and whose turn it was to do the dishes. That was gone. I couldn't at the time imagine a way it was going to work just the two of us. I cried reading stories when the daddy comes home - Tiger who Came to Tea was particularly hard. My phone drowned in tears thanks to Adele, Coldplay and Spotify's break up list - yep that actually exists! 

Then last weekend, I found myself sat in our local Bill's with my little girl having a cocktail (lemonade for her!) to celebrate one year of surviving each other. It wasn't sad and I didn't think about what could have been, I celebrated what we had achieved. Sometimes I'm her best friend, sometimes she doesn't like me and she doesn't want to talk to me. Either way I stick around because at the end of the day, she's a bloody great reason to celebrate life, not commiserate. 

For International Women's Day I pledge to create a positive female role model for my daughter by being a single mum working hard to provide the best she can. This blog hopefully goes some way to showing my daughter that women can be strong, but still show emotions; tired, but still fighting; and thoughtful, but still fun.

Happy International Women's Day to all the amazing women, mums, daughters, sisters and aunties just trying their best.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

One year on: being a single mum

Today marks a day I've dreaded for the last couple of weeks and as it's got closer and closer, I've wished it would just disappear. Today is the day our three became a two. I still remember getting that text message saying it was over and due to it also being my first day in a new job, having to keep calm and carry on. It hasn't been the easiest year but here's what I have learnt.

  1. I'm not perfect. This has been a hard one to learn as I want my daughter to have the best, but sometimes I can't do that. I have low days, high days, stressed day, happy days and in between days just like everyone else and while I have to function, I am not a cBeebies presenter that always operates at full speed.
  2. Mum guilt. I've really struggled with this one especially while working full time. I'd throw myself into weekends and want to have days of just the two of us, but would forget to have days for me, which would leave me cranky and tired. For the next 12 months I am going to try and claim a bit of me time back and make sure I'm looking out for me too. In order to be a good mum I need to feel able to be a good mum and getting stressed and anxious won't do anything to help that.
  3. It's lonely sometimes. Christmas, New Year, birthdays, Friday night.... Wednesday night! Despite number two saying I don't get me time, it's amazing how you can still feel quite lonely. I've got friends and family I can turn to, but we also have to function on our own and sometimes I find myself sat in the living room in the evening and just feeling so alone. There's no one else to help with the tantrums, late night wake ups, mountain of washing or messy dining table. It's just me. If I'm poorly and feeling ill... it's just me. Learning to deal with the silence has been quite a learning curve.
  4. I'm stronger than I knew. There's been some serious ups and downs but we've come out the other end the right way up. The bills get paid, the lunch boxes get made and clothes get washed. What more can you ask for?
  5. Laughing and hugs solve everything. Sure my kid may have just screamed down debenhams because she wasn't allowed a £20 Easter egg and I've turned a funny shade of horrified, but she's said sorry and given me a hug. Add a few laughs in and all is forgotten.

Being a single mum isn't what I signed up for, but it's what I've got. So time to look at the positives - more hugs, only one person to argue with not two and the chance to give my little girl a really positive female role model who works, cooks, cleans, plays, laughs, cries and most importantly is the best mum she can be*

*warning hangry is really a thing. She will learn arguing with mum when mum is hungry = no win!

Friday, 9 December 2016

Full time mum, full time job, full time grown up, part-time me

Sometimes I really struggle with feeling as though not only do I have to do everything, but I have to do it well. If I'm bad at my job, I could lose it. If I'm bad at being a grown up and staying on top of bills, we would get angry knocks on the door. If I'm a bad mum, well so much could go wrong there. I spend so much time worried about doing badly in my full time existences that I forget about me.

My roots start showing, I stop sleeping, forget to eat fruit and veg, never finish that book that's been by the side of my bed for months and continuously get half way through a movie before getting restless and never finding out how it ends. Me time is half an hour once the mini one is in bed, I've washed up, folded clothes, made lunch for the next day and picked up all the toys off the floor. I collapse in a head on the sofa, flick through the tv to find there's nothing I want to watch before bailing and stumbling into bed.

But I think some of what holds me back from going to get my nails done (apart from money!) or having a coffee on my own is the dreaded mum guilt:

"I don't see her enough..."

"I don't play with her enough...."

"I don't sit down and teach her things in the evenings like numbers..."

"I hurry bedtimes sometimes because I'm just so tired..."

If she's poorly we go to the doctors and I try to make her feel better, if I'm poorly I plod on until I end up really ill when just giving myself a day at home resting probably would have stopped it getting so bad.

The end of a year always makes me a bit philosophical and for 2017 I want to tell myself more that I AM ENOUGH. I may not be this great superwoman of a mother with perfect hair, patience and endless energy for Pinteresting my entire perfect life, but I am doing what I can with what I've got and with who I love. 

I'll always have that mum guilt in the back of my head, but for now I am going to cuddle my grumpy three year old who has just crawled into my bed and look forward to whatever adventures lie ahead. And for me, right now, that is enough.

Monday, 10 October 2016

World Mental Health Day: PND and Me

I debated whether or not to post this because despite my work for an NHS Trust that specialises in Mental Health and my usual openness about my experience after having the mini one, there is still such a stigma surrounding postnatal depression.

If you've ever read my birth story, you will know the mini one arrived on this planet through quite a traumatic way. The emergency caesarean was certainly not the way I had planned for things to go and as I shook on the operating theatre with adrenaline while the anaesthetist tried to get an epidural in hearing "failure" and "not working" linked to the way my body was performing got things off to a bad start.

I was beyond happy when I found out my little girl was healthy and love her with all my heart, thankfully that was something I never lost even in my darkest days... but I felt a failure from very early on. From a difficult pregnant to traumatic birth to the first couple of days I just couldn't do anything right. I struggled with getting her to latch on, she cried a lot, I cried a lot! I remember crying to the nurse who came to check on me in the middle of the night that I was rubbish... she told me to keep trying and left me sobbing in the dark.

When we got home things got worse. I'd expected to be this glowing new mother who - as I'd always been quite a strong person - somehow managed to make dinner, clean the house, look after baby and catch up on books while she fed. How wrong I was! I stayed in my pyjamas for a week and despite a couple of visitors had never felt so alone. Everyone told me how gorgeous she was and how happy I must be, so I smiled and said thanks and did the usual muttering about lack of sleep (I was on about 3 hours of broken sleep a day) and so on.

I ate a pack of Oreos and drank water everyday, but when the water next to the armchair I said on in our bedroom ran out I didn't move until the now ex-husband came home and help the mini one while I restocked then sat back down again. She cried when I put her down so I never put her down. I bought a sling but was so terrified it would hurt her never used it until she was about 6 months old. I was a total failure in my eyes. I'd made a huge mistake thinking I could do this and as gorgeous as I found her and as much as I loved her I didn't think I was enough.

It all came to a head when my mum came to visit when the mini one was about 3 weeks old. I cried on her that night and she told me to go to bed and sleep when the mini one was asleep... she couldn't understand why I couldn't. My head wouldn't let me. I wasn't just failing my daughter, I was failing myself too. Mum forced me to get dressed and for the first time since I'd left hospital I went outdoors. I wanted to be proud as I saw people look and remark at how beautiful my daughter was but I felt like a flabby, useless lump that just wanted to put her pyjamas back on and cry.

There was no postnatal check in Oman, no one asked if I was ok... it was all "how are the scars doing?" I knew I couldn't continue with what I was doing when a paediatrician told me I was starving my daughter because she had a low birth weight. Not only was I failing at meeting her emotional needs I now couldn't even feed her properly.

We decided I would come back to England with the mini one and within a week of being back I met an amazing health visitor who listened and suggested support. She sent me to my GP and booked me onto the next new mums group running locally so I could deal with the isolation/fear factor by meeting new mums. I got help and it is much better now. Still there are dark days when I just feel a failure again, but I remind myself what a strong unit my daughter and I. How we have been through so much and each time somehow come out the other end.

She has become my everything, my reason for waking up and jumping out of bed when I want to lie in, the reason I'm considering buying wellies so we can both jump in puddles and the most important thing of all. She made me a mummy.

My advice to anyone suffering postnatal depression or finding themselves struggling and putting on a different face when venturing outside? Talk to someone. Whether it is your GP, a friend, health visitor, neighbour, lady you always see in Costa and chat to! Just make yourself heard and know that with the right help it will all be ok. X

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Jumping around Gambados

Now as much as I love playing in the park with the mini one, throwing autumnal leaves around and going to feed the ducks... the good old British weather tries the most hardy of waterproofs and occasionally you just need to surrender and head indoors. The mini one has never been great at staying home for too long, despite lots of things to do so it became essential early on to have good back up plans.

The first we signed up for was a localish soft play centre in Eastleigh called Gambados, which opened in 2007. Unlike a lot of other play areas we've visited, the mini one never gets bored here as there's lots of age appropriate stuff for her to do.

There's two main play areas: the first caters for under 4's and features it's own slide, sensory area and ball pool, plus a small toddler area which is very padded so great for little ones learning to walk. The second is for the older kids but the mini one has been climbing up it's 3 floors since she was about 2.5 and squealing with joy down the big wavy slide! There's also a teacup ride (unlimited rides are included in your admission) and a climbing wall.

There's lots of seating for adults and a handy little cafe that does limited hot food (nachos are yum), sandwiches, cakes and kids meal boxes. It can be very busy and we have left early before when we've failed to find anywhere to sit or just felt it getting too cramped, but early Saturday morning and weekdays (term time) are all pretty safe bets. They do offer parties so you can sometimes notice the place get busy then suddenly quieter again as whole groups go. There's a dedicated seating area for parents involved in the parties.

It can get pretty pricey if you have a couple of kids, but as season pass holders now, I pay less than £10 a month for unlimited entry for the mini one plus two adults plus we get discount in the cafe and off parties.

It's also really secure. You check in and check out so the kids can't leave without you, however I have noticed this be a bit slack lately with staff just buzzing people out without checking cards/child/adult etc. People can't get in without being with a child which makes it feel safer.

Negatives - the noise. This is not a place for anyone with a sore head and feeling a tad fragile! But time it right when a friend is also their with their kids and you can sit back, eat cake and catch up while the kids are happy.

If you want to find out more about Gambados, please visit www.gambado.com

Disclaimer: I received no payment or incentive for this post, we are annual pass holders but pay ourselves.