The joys of the approaching “back to school” day.

As the first day back at school approaches, are you like me and thinking ‘Thank God, a bit of peace” or are you lying to yourself? Or have you just spent 2 months in your house in Tuscany?

When I say that I’m relieved about the first day back at school, I’m not talking about that first ever bittersweet day of school. You know, the one when their blazer is too big and they look way way too young to be let outside, into the world to fend for themselves, to endure the horrors of playground politics. Because that very first day is the one that is indelibly inked into your DNA for evermore.

I can remember spending a year skipping merrily about, telling anyone who would listen how much I was looking forward to my house being empty from 8.30am until 3pm every day for the first time in what felt like forever. My husband took them and I sobbed uncontrollably for an hour. I’m never quite as pragmatic as I like to think.

But for quite a few years now, the long summer holidays have produced an awful cacophony of emotions and feelings within me. Because I have felt that maternal mix of guilt at being a terrible mother whilst simultaneously experiencing the certainty that I’m being a terrible businesswoman. I would go so far as to say that when I used to want to scream at them every time they innocently asked ‘what’s for lunch?’ I’d even feel the guilt of being a terrible human being. Ok, I’m kinda lying here – I did used to scream at them when they asked about lunch, so much so, they stopped asking for a while and then started to make their own.

So, if you have a child or children ranging from the age of 5 to, let’s say 14, you’ll be doing that whole trying to find shirts in the only Marks & Spencer/Asda/Tesco that doesn’t seem to know your child’s size even exists.

You’ll be working out if you should bother sewing/ironing/sticking those labels in or even whether you should bother marking the clothes with a Sharpie. Because, quite frankly, if they’re stupid enough to lose their pants at the swimming baths, they’ll more than likely find someone else stupid enough to not notice that you’re walking around in theirs.

You’ll be queuing, yes, queuing at a shoe shop with a ticket system exactly like the deli counter at a supermarket. You’ll be waiting to see how much your child’s feet have grown in the week that you feel it’s been since you were last there clutching onto a ticket with an unfeasibly long number.   You’ll then have a mini heart attack and weep a little when they ring up the total on the till – or perhaps that’s just me with three children exactly the same size who needed shoes and trainers bought for them every 2 weeks because their feet grew so quickly (or is that just my imagination).

And, if like me, you’re a bit of a neat freak and you like the smell of a new pencil case, you’ll be questioning your children on what they need for their next year. Is it time for compasses? (does everyone know someone who tried to tattoo themselves at school with a compass? No? Just me then).

And so it goes that you’re buying protractors, erasers, pencil sharpeners that you know will be lost within three hours on the first day, and you’re grabbing some colouring pencils, and HB pencils and possibly a Lamy if you’re feeling flush or they got a WHSmith voucher for their birthday. And of course, you have to get them a new pencil case because the unidentifiable ‘matter’ that is crumbed into the deep recesses of last year’s case is actually starting to smell and you can’t possibly infect the new items with the dirt. At least not for the first week.

And as the day approaches, you’ll start feeling a little guilty that you’re excited about getting some semblance of a life back, that you’re really wanting to look forward to hearing the word ‘mum’ again without it sounding like nails down a chalkboard. Because however much you love your children and even like spending time with them, there’s nothing quite like that moment of closing the front door and being able to just get on with your own stuff.

Unless, of course, you’ve just spent nearly two months in your house in Tuscany with your family, living the ‘simple life’ with bronzed healthy children who haven’t spent more than an hour on their computer for the want of getting back in that pool with their cousins. In which case, console yourself with the vitamin D that has been absorbed to last you through the winter.

Although I can’t help but think you’ve been a bit laissez faire with your preparations. Have you ever tried getting a pair of grey Teflon trousers on the day before term starts? No? I have – it’s not pretty.

Oh, and if you’d like to buy some excellent and very special ring binders, refill pads, pencils and notebooks for the new term, pop over to the site and grab some. We’d love to inspire your little ones with some plans…

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Mid-Week Rant and Being Glad

I don’t do inspirational quotes. ‘She could so she did’ just all seems a bit obvious to me, and just a little bit too happy clappy for my more realistic sensibilities.  My teenage angst diary is filled with sentences like ‘for the love of God why does everyone need to share their emotions – it’s just so American’ and I would be simultaneously describing my feelings in overblown and minute detail’. Irony, thy name was Sarah (Ok – hypocrisy). I am now bombarded daily with photographs of sunsets and cursive script telling me to stay positive, to believe in myself, to believe I am invincible. Declarations of positivity in a once size fits all declaration of ‘here is a summary of the entire human condition in one sentence’ and those ‘life affirming’ quotes are everywhere; social media; TV; mugs; greetings cards; posters etc etc.

I don’t subscribe to any of them. Seeing a sentence encouraging me to stay strong, or informing me that I can do anything I put my mind to is pithy at best, downright depressing at worst. It’s an assumption that we’re all going through the same shit, but surely, by its very nature, the human condition is as diverse as the faces on our individual faces. I’d like a ‘cheer up ya miserable git’ or ‘yeah, it probably has already happened, but then it could be worse, you could be dead’ mug/fridge magnet etc etc because it is, at least, not trying to make me feel better with ‘inspiration’ and will, in all likelihood, make me laugh through tears.

So, now that I have set myself up as an entirely miserable git, I would like to point out that I derive my joy from the very little things (this it isn’t a precursor to a new Two Little Boys range of ‘take joy in the little things’ mug/fridge magnet etc)  I suspect it’s already been covered…. ad infinitum.

My glad list needs to start with my first thought this morning (and the prompt to this rant):

I have the ugliest mug in the world (yeah yeah, I get the inference) but this particular drinks receptacle was given to me by one of my children, so although I’ve never been on a horse and have no desire to ever be so. This particular mug with all it’s ugliness holds an entire pint of coffee and I will lie in bed at night thinking about that ugly mug and its contents in the morning. I am glad of that mug and that mug comes with me everywhere where I’m likely to stay overnight.

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I’m glad of my morning view as I approach the coffee machine, glad that the flowers I planted a few months ago are still alive and add some colour to my life at 5.30am.

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I’m glad of films written by Neil Simon. Hard days disappear when watching Oscar and Felix attempting co-habitation. (I’d be Felix minus the cooking). And Maggie Smith complaining she looks like Richard the Third with her imaginary humped back in her new dress never fails to make me giggle (The Odd Couple and California Suite).

I’m glad I have copies of every published word that John Steinbeck penned. The beauty, kindness and tragedy within us all reflected back in every sentence. Check out Mac and Doc in ‘Cannery Row’ if you were forced to read ‘Of Mice & Men’ as a teenager, oh and then read ‘Of Mice & Men’ again – it’s beauty in written form and his books genuinely soothe me through troubled times.

I’m glad of my dentist when I get up to leave.  And I’m glad that although he doesn’t understand my phobia of being ‘numb’, he agrees to drill fillings without anaesthetic and he winces more than me.  (It really isn’t as bad it sounds – Marathon Man it ain’t).

I’m glad of my bedside lamp.  I think it’s ugly but it’s very reliable, was a gift and every night when I read myself comatose, I’m glad not be jolted back to consciousness by finding a light switch – I just touch as I drop my book and glasses onto the table.

I’m glad of the bed.  My marshmallow of comfort and my sanctuary; I will climb up into its folds at night and feel thankful to my friend (who’s bed it is) and equally fearful that the long loan will come to an end.  I’m glad of the little piece of paper on my bedside table with the badly spelled words ‘I love you mummy’ written within, from my son when he was still chubby and bursting with affection me.

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And so I’ve hit on the ‘mother’ inspirational quotes, and boy, do I have something to say about those…

I don’t subscribe to that appalling commercial that says ‘mums – you’re doing great’ it’s merely another catch-all. Do we need reminding or validation from a large conglomerate cynically tapping into our maternal neuroses .  There must be bad mothers out there, so it’s a downright lie to them and if we’re good mothers and ‘doing great’, that’s what we bloody well should be doing – there is no need for an impersonal congratulation.  If your child is alive, vaguely happy, hopefully healthy and not a psychopath then you’re doing exactly what you signed up to do.  Yes, it’s really hard work and relentless and frustrating and all-consuming, but it’s being a mother and if you’re lucky enough to have a scrap of paper written by your son with the badly spelled ‘I love you mummy’ on your bedside table, then that is, quite frankly, all you can hope for.  And don’t get me started on the stuff about ‘loving’ your children – watch an expletive filled Chris Rock stand up set about exactly that – it basically ends with ‘YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO TAKE CARE OF THEM YOU DUMB *********’.  I think I’ve made myself clear.

And then there’s the ’strong woman’ myth; the ‘you are strong, you are mother’ or ‘you can do anything’ or ‘believe in yourself, you’re just amazing’. Words used include ‘wise; beautiful; good; perfect; accepting; letting go; blah blah blah’.  Well, I’m not strong, I’ll let you know about the wise if I live long enough and I don’t often wake up thinking that my mistakes have just been doors that have opened for me.  I’ll cry until the snot streams, I can say stupid stuff, I can’t blindly accept anything without proof, I think letting go can sometimes be counterproductive (it is, after all, what makes me me) and I wake up to drink coffee, period.

But judging by the number of times these words of ‘inspiration’ are shared on social media to other women, there’s clearly an epidemic of females who don’t feel as strong as they ’should’.  Like a quote from some guru is going to make it all alright.  If your friend is going through a tough time, or if you think they need to be reminded of their triumphs and their ability to survive the shit that life throws at us all, then put it in your own words and tell them – by instant messenger, by email, by text, by letter, by phone or even in person (radical stuff here!)  don’t just have a gift company write their name on a print you’ve clicked on to purchase online.

Do I wake up on #motivationalMonday and think ‘this is going to be an excellent week full of surprises and joy’?  No, because I’ll be going downstairs to clean the kitchen again.  Of course, the day I went down to see it sparkling bright and clear and realised that one of my sons had taken the time at 11pm the night before made me burst with love and pride – so I was glad of him for that.

So, what else am I glad of?  I’m glad of a jumper that my husband bought me years ago that is soft, falling apart, warm and very comforting.  Anyone who has seen me in the last eight years when the temperature has dropped below 15 degrees will have seen that jumper. I’m glad when I’ve had the time to wash that jumper and it smells fresh and new.  I’m glad that some people smile when they see me approach and am often genuinely surprised (and glad) that they’ll even engage in conversation. I’m glad of the text conversations I have with old friends who will always reply and remain a constant in my life – even if I don’t see them year in year out.  I’m glad I got to tell my favourite person as a child that she meant the world to me before she died.  I’m glad of my black duvet in the shape of a coat, I pull it around me on cold winter days and literally think ‘ooh, I do love this coat’.

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On a business level, I’m glad when customers take time to personally write us a good review. Actually, I’m glad when someone buys one of our products.  I’m glad if you got this far in my rant and you’re still reading and I’d be glad if it made you smile or convinced you to read Steinbeck.  You see, I can take joy in the little things (see above), but I don’t continually need to be reminded to do so. Now, I must get on with a new project range that includes the words ‘miserable git’.

Here endeth the lesson/rant.

Oh, and I’m available for motivational speaking whenever and wherever 😉

 

 

 

 

 

‘Holidays’ with Children

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I will never forget our first ‘holiday’ as three. Our daughter was 7 months old and I was already 4 months pregnant with identical twin boys so we kept the holiday simple. Stayed in this country, chose a delightful ‘family very friendly’ hotel just outside Bath and packed the car to the roof rack with all the paraphernalia involved with a ‘baby comes too’ holiday. At 4am on the first night of our holiday, we were starting to pack up again as baby daughter decided to cut what we could only imagine was a sabre tooth in her gum and she cried. She cried all night. Contrary to sense, we decided to remain with a typical British grim determination.

My husband is a very calm, reasonable and gentle man who takes his responsibilities in his stride and works very hard with little complaint. He SULKED for an entire week as the dawning of an understanding swept through him like molten lead. Holidays will NEVER be holidays again.

A year later, we were five and have remained so ever since. Holidays have, indeed, never been the same. They became less relaxing and our expectations for ‘quiet time’ were lowered somewhat (entirely). We did, however, have a lot more fun and I look back on photos and we chat over the dinner table about holidays past with misty eyes as I remember just how much fun we had.

So, as is a proud mum’s wont, I have a fabulously selective memory. I have forgotten the two weeks of packing an enormous trunk suitcase with everything that three babies will need and I have forgotten that the same suitcase filled was still necessary for a weekend away; I forget the fact that my daughter always wanted to be on the move – no time to settle in to a hotel before she wanted to go to the beach, before she wanted to go back inside, before she wanted to see what was in the nearest town, all before lunch. I forget the drug addled me at Heathrow airport sobbing with fear of the flight and convincing the children I had stubbed my toe.

I simply remember sitting at a table, asking (and receiving) a spoonful of each of my children’s ice-cream, telling them to ‘point at the clock, to mummy, to the door, to the sky, to the window, to the salt, to the (you get the picture)’ just so that we could finish our coffee. I remember playing the A-Z of swear words when one of my sons decided that he could simply put an animal in front of the word ‘arse’ and that would be rude enough. I remember the day that I took the photograph that became the Two Little Boys logo. My husband was in the pool with our daughter and our two little boys were sitting on the edge; aged only aged two at the time, they had been told not to move and stock still they stayed; waiting their turn to go for a dip with daddy. The blue of the swimming pool, so Mediterranean and yet we were in Bournemouth. And just after that photo was taken, one of my sons fell over on some stairs and chipped his tooth. But I forget that.

I remember holidays with their grandparents, helping with the application of an endless stream of sun cream, the brushing of tiny feet with towels to stem the quantities of sand entering the hotel or rental house. And the lie-ins the grandparents gifted us on a regular basis.  The effort needed to ensure that they had a good time was exhausting, but as they look back with laughter and fondness of those times, I feel nothing but pride.

I always ran a tight ship bringing up our children because I didn’t have the luxury of a third arm to grab one who might decide to misbehave. I was very lucky that I had three children in 12 months because I had no ‘life’ other than bringing up children, and, I say again, expectations for ‘me time’ were set very low. I dedicated their waking hours to them; displaying an enthusiasm for the most mundane of activities (Let’s clean the cupboard!). An enthusiasm that I wouldn’t be able to muster now even if you placed me in a room filled with chocolate oranges. I played Snap with a pack of cards that I loathed the sight of, cleaned up after painting sessions tirelessly and played pretend ‘customer in the restaurant’ more times that I care to admit. I had weekday help, for which I will be forever grateful that I was able to devote more time to my children than most.

When they reached nursery school age, I started Two Little Boys Ltd to produce products that could help time poor parents entertain their children and for those same parents to keep memories alive without enormous effort.

I had been given an excellent cookbook for children and the author’s opening statement stuck with me. I paraphrase (massively) here, but he was opining that it is when children are young that they should be given the best food available, whether that is the best premium sausages instead of the cheap ones given on kids menus at so many restaurant chains or a piece of delicious darker chocolate than the cheaper white stuff; it is when they are young that they are taught to differentiate, to appreciate and to be educated in every area. I felt exactly the same about games and toys. Rather than go for the plastic and quickly designed imported stuff that was available at the time, I wanted my children to grow up with beautifully designed games and I wanted them to learn whilst they played. So, out went those sodding cheap Snap cards and in came sets that I had created with my own photography and each image was labelled because children don’t know that most adults can’t differentiate a plumbago from a cosmos flower (well, my children can now!). I should also mention that I’d like to think I kept a company called Orchard Toys solvent with the purchase of pretty much every game and jigsaw they ever produced.

Along with various mind-saving record books and the aforementioned Snap cards I initially devised, the ‘This is my Holiday’ playpack. It was, at the time, presented in a bag with a cute 35mm camera and it was a perfect way for my (and others) children to capture memories from a holiday. The pack was extremely well received by the press at the time and I was commissioned by the Mandarin Oriental in London to produce a bespoke version.

We still have our children’s filled in books with photographs taken from a child’s height of my bum and slightly blurry images of meals eaten; they are truly delightful to look back on and my kids loved taking the photos and writing about their holidays. In fact, I can remember after the trauma of getting on a plane with them for the first time, their ‘best thing about the journey’ was the snack! I could only think that after all of that expense and my much depleted bottle of tranquilisers, I could have given them a small bag of pretzels on a coach and they’d have been just as happy.

The ‘This is my…’ range of books continue to sell really well, and we still produce the Snap cards, activity books and lots of other stuff that a hassled mother of Irish triplets thought might make life a little more fun, colourful and, on occasion, quiet.

And as my children are getting older, I can’t help but feel a little wistful that they no longer need my attention 24/7, but then, I forget just how tiring that actually was.

So, for anyone about to take their first holiday with a baby, don’t sulk…

it get’s a lot easier ;).

Happy summer all.

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Embarrassing things I did at The Stationery Show

IMG_0054If you follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook or suffered through my various blog posts (well done and thank you!) you’ll probably have already gathered that we returned, after a five year absence, to the National Stationery Show in Islington this week.

I have waxed lyrical about my thoughts on trade shows before, so, just to sum up the general gist of my feelings for these events, it was with enormous trepidation that we set up our little stand on Monday afternoon.  The costs, the energy, the emotional investment and the general rolling of the die in the gamble of ‘do I put myself through that again or not?’ have all been spoken of before.

I should also mention that there was an added cost/benefit aspect to the decision to return to the Stationery Show this year. It’s a very expensive business having to taxi from West to North London every day! No prima donna me, just a messed up panic attack sufferer – and trust me, I still had to take pills for the cab rides as I’m phobic of traffic jams (I know, a Londoner phobic of traffic jams!! Go figure!)).

I digress…

I woke up on Tuesday morning to make my first coffee of the day and found our beautiful 2 year old cat dead on the kitchen floor. She was a rescue cat who, in the short 5 months of her occupying our home had wormed her way into our hearts and it was horrifying to see her just lying there dead. Vet can only surmise a congenital heart disorder and family of five were left in shock and rightfully really upset. Not the most auspicious of starts to the first day. I was quite relieved to leave the home/office that morning as I’m sure that I would have moped all day waiting to hear for the cat flap clicks.

So, we were at the stand by 9 for a 9.30 opening. The doom set in at about 10am (possibly the wearing off of pre-taxi ride pill, who knows) but our stand was empty and the usual doubts whirled around my head like chattering dementors (bad enough when they don’t speak, but these ones are really verbal with the usual insults of doubts). And yet, at 11am, all heaven broke loose, PEOPLE! Not just people, stationery people. Stationery people who actually buy stationery for their stationery shops to sell to other stationery people. Yes, I know, the clue was in the title of the show, but I’m not so used to the joy of the ‘build it and they will come’ concept. Come, they did and we were busy on both days, taking a few orders, but more importantly, having the right buyers take the time to look through our products and to talk to us.

Time folded to speed the days and the monumental traffic jams on the way home were a good opportunity to catch up on emails and orders that had came in.

So, here’s to the embarrassing stuff:

  • Like an idiot, I noticed a name badge bearing the hallowed company name ‘Scribbler’ and literally just shouted “Scribbler” at the top of my voice (I wasn’t known as ‘foghorn’ for nothing at school). He duly turned around and I tried to style out my shock at my outburst as best I could; mumbling my way through the ranges and hoping that my initial impression of being an utter loon didn’t stick.
  • I told a very important potential client after she took a photograph of one of our notebooks, that should her company copy me, I would personally track her down and kill her. She then went on to tell me that she had run out of business cards but would write her contact details down. I duly pointed out that I now had a way to find her, hunt her down and kill her should her company copy us. She pointed out that, perhaps, if I thought rationally, should she be devious enough to copy our designs, she would probably have the guile to write an entirely fictitious email address in our pad. I couldn’t disagree with her logic. I liked her. I really hope they don’t copy our designs.
  • A really lovely lady from a multiple retailer that we would dearly love to stock actually turned up on our stand, declared herself and made all of the right noises about stocking us later in the year. I grabbed her, with no warning, and hugged her. I suspect she will be reporting to her boss as I type, that the woman at Two Little Boys is possibly a little too weird to deal with. I genuinely hope that she felt the love, but understand I may have overstepped the customary business parameters.
  • A wolf pack of ladies turned up from another multiple retailer, splitting up and checking out the stands. The tension amongst the exhibitors around us was palpable. Even though these ladies had partially hidden their name badges, we all knew. Two stopped at our stand and, as usual, produced no business cards when requested and left with a catalogue and impervious expressions on their faces. I then promptly followed them to see if I could get a glimpse of their names, but forgot to take my glasses with me and now apologise for what must have looked like a middle aged female stalker staring at boobs.
  • My body failed me and my immune disorder that is normally kept under control with drugs spiked through a little, so my chin and bottom lip swelled up – which meant that I left the after show awards ceremony way too early and, if anyone had noticed, would have assumed I was a sore loser.
  • Two young ladies wordlessly approached the stand, took a photograph of a few products and left without a single acknowledgment. I said ‘how rude’ quite loudly (and I still hope they heard). A further lady came to the stand, had the foresight to smile and then she took a photograph. Like a caged lion, I pounced, demanding to know what she was doing, to which she flashed her badge and meekly responded that she was ‘press’. I looked at her badge and apologised profusely.

Other than periodically making a fool of myself, I had a great time! The lovely couple on the stand next to ours had travelled all the way from the US to sell their leather pen holders and on the rare occasions that we had time to chat, we put the world to rights. I should also mention that knowing the guys who had put the entire show together and being able to thank them personally and acknowledge their hard work and success was an added bonus.

I loved catching up with old neighbours from years gone by, seeing delightful existing customers and hugging a lot of people that I was genuinely really happy to see again and I also met a silly number of new people.

And yes, only 2 of the 10 buyers who we had specifically asked, nay, begged to ‘pop by’ on their rounds did, in fact, pop by.

But right now I’m so buoyed by the response from everyone else, I actually spent a couple of minutes this morning thinking – “Their loss.”

Have to stop now – I have got a lot of emails to write starting with the words:

“Sorry we missed you at the show….”

And then I’ll have another cup of coffee and fill in the contract for next year.

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