“You’re not going to know yourself”.  I heard that one a fair few times when #4 started school in September.  They were right to a certain extent.  There was a transitional period when it felt strange only doing one set of school runs and not having a little person calling for a drink/snack/cuddle/new episode of Peppa Pig/bum wipe in the afternoons.  After years of having the logistics of small people in the house during the day, it felt a bit empty and definitely quiet.  Still, I knew exactly what I would do with myself and I set about tackling a decade-long to-do list.

One term in and I’ve actually never been busier.  My days are filled from eyes open to eyes shut (and as a poor sleeper, often bits in between that).  Yet when I stop and think about what I’ve actually done since September, it doesn’t seem to be much.  The house is still chaos.  The piles of photographs that I’ve been meaning to sort, file or frame remain, well, piled.  I’m still doing three loads of laundry a day in spite of the children technically wearing only school uniform during the week.  There are still all the meals to plan and prepare.  The groceries to collect.  The same dishes need washing and the same carpets need hoovering.  So here I am, doing everything.  Everything I’ve ever done since becoming a stay-at-home Mum but with no children in the house.  I also work for a friend on a Monday and do a fair few voluntary things for the school.  So why do I feel like I’m achieving nothing?

The hamster wheel of life is still turning, but I seem to be running faster and faster.  There are just so many things to do and remember.  I look back at the time when I had four children aged 5 and under, surviving on no more than a couple of hours of sleep a night, simultaneously juggling and struggling. One day blurred into the next and weekends didn’t feel any different.  We lurched from one mealtime to the next and attempted to fill the bits in between with as much laughter and as few tantrums (from any of us) as we could.  Fast forward to now with four children aged 5 to ten and I’m still juggling and struggling.  It feels like I’ve never got time to do the things I need to do and I spend all day, every day, doing but not winning.  In reality, this is probably because I don’t make the time to do a lot of these things.  I procrastinate, get distracted, start the 100th job without having finished any of the other 99.    I’m spinning cracked plates and smashing most of them.

I didn’t make any specific New Year’s Resolutions this year other than to try and spend a little bit more time looking after myself.  Having spent many years at the bottom of the pile, I’ve realised that it doesn’t have to be that way.  My children will always be my first priority, but that shouldn’t be to the detriment of my health or sanity.  After all, I’m not much use to any of them if I’m not present and functioning.  I tackled this last week when a planned lunch with my sister and a friend to celebrate getting our youngest children to school age with everyone still alive and upright evolved into a spa day at Calcot Manor in the Cotswolds.  This was an indulgent day celebrating us and our relative successes as Mums.  We laughed lots.  We chattered non-stop, we ate delicious food and we did none of our usual daily grind.  It was nothing short of bliss.  Our spa day included an hour-long treatment and the facial and back massage sounded exactly what this exhausted Mum needed.

My pristinely presented therapist glided into the treatment room, perfectly manicured, subtly scented and the epitome of calm.  I sat in the corner, caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and couldn’t have felt (or looked) more polar opposite if I tried.  The young lady was very kind, considerate and discreet as she left the room and gave me a couple of minutes to compose myself on the bed.  I clambered on like a giant walrus and all I could think of was back fat.  Back fat and side boobs.   I lay on my front and looked through the cut-out part for your face.  What I really needed was a couple of cut-outs for my boobs.  I couldn’t lie on top of them for fear of looking as though I was levitating (with the midriff rolls quite literally as the supporting act).  When the therapist returned, sashaying into the room to the sound of dolphins and tropical waterfalls, all I could think of was my pendulous appendages resting awkwardly under my armpits.  “Are you feeling relaxed?” she asked.  “Erm, no, not really,” was all I could manage.

It didn’t help that we had savoured a three-course meal prior to entering the spa and now I was fixated by the very real presence of trapped wind.  Oh God, no.  Please.  I tried to relax, but my mind was just going into overdrive.  Don’t come out.  Don’t come out.  Don’t come out.  My bum cheeks were clamped so tightly together in terror that cramp was beginning to set it.  Somehow (and I don’t know how), I managed to suck the excessive wind in and the urge disappeared.    Elated that the relief was internal and not external, I laughed to myself and my inexplicable new talent at conducting an inward fart.  However, it also then dawned on me that I am totally unable to switch off even in a situation when all the odds are stacked in my favour.

Part of my problem is that my mind is constantly ticking over and ticking over very loudly.  Overthinking and mental overload is often the cause of my insomnia and it really isn’t great.  I’ll be lying in bed at 3am thinking of who needs swimming kit for school and who needs a slip completed for a class treat and what are we going to have for dinner on Tuesday when everyone needs to be in a different place at a different time and what shall we buy my Dad for his birthday this year and don’t forget you owe Mum for the loaf of bread she picked up for you….and so it goes on until the sun rises…and then the sun sets.  Then there’s my propensity for over-volunteering, which doesn’t necessarily help my cause.

Anyway, back to the massage.  As I lay in the dimmed light (now on my back, ready for the facial), I decided to put all my focus and effort into the job in hand, relaxing.  And I did.  Sort of.  As cream was applied to the wrinkled bags under my eyes with a gentleness my face has never really known, I felt my chest fill.  Someone was looking after me and it felt wonderful.  I’m not very gentle with myself both physically and emotionally.  I have definite bouts of anxiety that knock me off kilter and my physical health and appearance could do with some more prioritized attention.  I thought of the children.  My four kind and sensitive little people who bring me more joy than I could ever have thought possible. I thought of my marriage and just how far we’ve come together.  I thought of my extraordinary family and how extraordinarily lucky we are to have each other.   I thought of people I know who are in really shitty positions at the minute – some in poor health, some with toxic family relationships, some who have lost a loved one.  I thought of the friends I have lost.  And the friends who I love.  I thought of all the glorious things in my life.  All the things I am so thankful for.  Then the treatment ended and the therapist left the room for me to get dressed.  I sat for a moment, smooth-faced and shining and I cried.  Not a big sobbing outburst, but calm and collected tears (accompanied by my signature wobbling, bobbly chin).  “You’re going to be fine, just fine.”

So whilst it feels like I’m always doing everything, achieving nothing but probably managing something in between, I’ve got a heck of a lot of good in my life.  And I’ll take that for the team.