Monday, 29 December 2014

A word for 2015.

Noel's out with the kids and for the first time this holiday I have a bit of time to spend to myself. So obviously I went on Twitter and read a blog written by Annie, which led me to discover a blog written by Ruth, which led me to discover somebody called Susannah Conway.

Straight away I downloaded her workbook Unravelling 2015 and now my day has a deliciously introspective shape to it. I can't wait to sit down and reflect on last year which was, for many reasons, my hardest ever.

Part of the exercise involves choosing a word for 2015, to keep in mind as something of an overarching theme for the year to come.

Before I even begin I know what theme will dominate my 2015, and so my word is….

….of course….


At the end of 2014 my brother, sister-in-law, niece and nephew moved to Singapore. My sister-in-law is my best friend, my brother is about my favourite person in the world that I haven't either birthed or married, and my niece and nephew are Cherry and Violet's best friends and soul mates. We have lived with, or round the corner from, each other since 2008 and our children have grown up together.

Now they're on the other side of the world. My village has flown the village.

And so this year I need to address the loneliness they have left behind. I can't replace my best friends and my children's soul mates of course. But having had close family close by at all times, it's safe to say I've been pretty lazy about making new friends.

So this year I need a new village. Friends. Friends for the children, friends for Noel and I as a couple, and friends for me.

I want company and community. We all do. It's a fundamental human need.

I want to be able to pop next door and ask my neighbour to keep an eye on the girls for 20 minutes while I run an errand. I want to be able to text a friend and arrange a playdate for Cherry if she's driving me bananas bouncing off the walls and just needs another child to be childish with.

I want to look after friends' children so they can pursue their needs, and have the favour returned. I want to talk to friends about the future, find out their hopes and dreams, listen as they work out what they will do next.

I want a house full of laughter, I want friendship and company, connections.

I want a village again.

So, we've kicked off by inviting the whole street to ours for drinks and nibbles on New Year's Eve in the afternoon. So far we have no idea who, if anybody, is coming. Many people are away, many others will be busy with plans and friends of their own.

But even if it ends up just the four of us and one solitary neighbour who has absolutely nothing better to do, it's a start.

Monday, 22 December 2014


I have been reading up on gratitude lately. Having always self-identified as 'ambitious', the concept of focusing on what I do have instead of striving for the next thing felt counterintuitive at first. Shades of resting on laurels, or even self-indulgence. Sitting around slapping myself on the back instead of looking at what can be improved and made better.

But I find myself more and more agreeing that to live in such a way is deeply harmful. Not only does it promote dissatisfaction and a constant sense of deprivation - endless wanting without having - but also it means that, as the old saying goes, you don't know what you've got til it's gone.

Here are 10 things I'm grateful for this week:

1. A family party which has made us all feel warm, festive and loved.

2. Beautiful Christmas flowers from my brother in Singapore.

3. The way Violet holds out her bowl or plate with both hands and says 'Eee-ished' (finished) when she's had enough to eat.

4. Giggling with Noel and feeling really close and reconnected after a long, hard and tiring run-up to Christmas.

5. The kindness and generosity of my late grandfather, which has helped make Christmas a little easier for us all this year.

6. Sitting in our living room with the Christmas lights on.

7. Eating party food for dinner and chocolates at any hour of the day - or night.

8. Planning a New Year's open-house drinks party for our street.

9. A good friend with whom I can be completely open and honest.

10. The boots I have bought Violet for Christmas. They're really more for me than for her.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Fiction and non-fiction

When people find out I am an author they get all excited and squeaky. 'So what do you write? Have I heard of you?!'

I instantly get squirmy. 'Oh, nothing exciting. Just non-fiction. Boring stuff. You won't have heard of any of it and I've hardly sold any….so what do YOU do?'

I know, I want to slap myself too.

My mystery conversationalist doesn't know that actually, I've always wanted to write a novel but I don't feel I'm quite ready yet. Or rather they probably do, because I'll tell them, apologetically, if they ask me if I've thought about fiction.

The way I present non-fiction you'd think it was some kind of inferior option. Writing for those who aren't (whispers) real writers.

The urge to write a novel has been plaguing me for as long as I remember. As a young girl I devoured all the children's and YA fiction, and even Mills & Boons, I could get my hands on. I'll see you a Sweet Valley High and I'll raise you a Saddle Club, The Silver Brumby, Phantom Horse, The Babysitters Club, The Black Stallion, anything by any of the Pullien-Thompsons, Mallory Towers, and Enter My Jungle to boot.

And I wrote too. Thrilling tales of girls and ponies, girls who wanted ponies but couldn't have them, girls who had ponies and went on adventures with them, exciting yarns about misdeeds uncovered by intrepid girls, the misdeeds inevitably involved ponies, you get the gist.

As I got older and added Jilly Cooper and her ilk to my reading list, I would throw a Handsome Man into my writings. He may or may not have been roughly based upon a combination of Liam Gallagher and Ronan Keating (criiiiinge). Our intrepid girl heroine usually stumbled - literally - across this weirdly handsome, inevitably Irish, rather rude ruffian while she was riding her pony, and they would have cross words, and off she'd gallop, fuming at his lack of manners.

But when she got home she'd find she couldn't stop thinking about him…and he about her, of course…and in the meantime, ponies...

A novel is in my future, of that I have no doubt. I have two drafts saved on my computer, both of which need A Lot Of Work. I flit between the two then have long, long periods of not attending to either. I have little creative and emotional energy at the moment for anything that doesn't involve my children. When this will change, I don't know. But I know I will know when I know.

I also haven't had the emotional energy to read much fiction lately. Or more pertinently, the time! But I have read a lot of non-fiction, and I can honestly say I love it as much as, if not more than, fiction.

I always have. One of my favourite things to do when I was younger was read non-fiction. I had a library card and boy did I know how to use it. Having read my way through every single pony book (and magazine) in the South East of England by the age of six, I turned my avid, greedy eyes to anything else I could get my mitts on.

On any given week I would check out of the library books on herbal remedies, yoga, cooking, gardening, beauty, makeup, music, dance, gymnastics, hair care, DIY, design, geography, art, photography, the natural world, reflexology and massage….

Healing, nature and animals certainly featured heavily but I would read almost anything. Once I checked out a book entitled How To Be A Supergirl which was like a pre-teen equivalent of How To Walk in High Heels by Camilla Morton. The ethos was wonderful, here was a practical guide to being capable, a lifestyle handbook dressed up as aspirational.

Another time a friend dared me to find a library book that had never been checked out (we knew how to live) and take it out. The Complete Guide To Beekeeping was duly brought home in my rucksack. I read it from cover to cover and within a year I'd been to beekeeping classes and had a hive kept in an orchard a mile up the road.

I rarely, if ever, delved into anything around politics, economics, history, popular culture and celebrities. If it was historical and involved ponies, it might make the list but other than that these were - and still are - pretty much black holes for me. I can't explain why, these just aren't areas that have ever lit a flame within me in the same way the natural world or, well, ponies did.

Today I still read non-fiction in a kind of frenzy, devouring it until the words are coming out of my ears. I've read so many parenting and child development books I could probably write a thesis. The consumption of parenting books in particular is surrounded by snobbery and finger-wagging and the myth that good parents don't need to read as they somehow automatically just know everything. I am 100% happy in my decision to read as much as I can about the development of the two people I have chosen to bring into the world. After all, reading about what I do, is what I do.

I'm still that girl with the bruised, battered library card. I'm sad that libraries no longer keep dated records of checkouts in the front of books because if I could, I'd find a book that had never been taken out of the library, and I'd take it home and read it to this day.

I don't even know if any libraries hold my books. If they do, they may well be the books that nobody's ever checked out. But some day somebody like me might. They might take home The Girl's Guide to Life on Two Wheels, laughing to themselves. 'Who needs a book about riding a bike?' And they might read it, and fall in love with the idea of getting a bike and riding to work, just as I fell in love with so many things through the medium of words, and if they did, that would be just lovely.

Pix of Cherry circa 16 months reading The Girl's Guide to Life on Two Wheels.

Friday, 12 December 2014

My three new rules of eating: An antidote to Busy Mum Eating Syndrome

Last week I had something of a lightbulb moment when it comes to food and eating.

For as long as I can remember, I've wanted to lose half a stone. The most obvious barrier has always been a strong fondness for biscuits, cake, chocolate and general treats.

The quantity of treats and biscuits I consume directly relates to how busy, stressed, tired, resentful, frustrated and put-upon I'm feeling. When I'm feeling happy I can easily avoid them for days, even weeks, on end. If I'm down in the dumps it's a different story.

But a while ago I noticed no matter how many biscuits, cakes and treats I ate, I wasn't satisfied.

I was often over-full, bloated and even slightly nauseous, but I didn't feel content.

In truth, I barely tasted them.

And then I thought about it and realised actually I barely tasted much of what I was eating.

I've fallen victim to Busy Mum Eating Syndrome.

The meals I sat down to eat with the children were the only meals I ate that I actually noticed.

I was polishing off leftovers clearing the table without thinking. Picking at bits of their dinners without noticing. Snatching snacks on the go, wolfing down entire bars in two or three bites as I herded both girls out of the house and off on an adventure.

In the evenings Noel and I largely ate in front of the TV, at weekends I ate while browsing on my phone. Snacks and treats were consumed in front of the laptop in between updating Twitter and reading blogs.

The volume of food passing my lips that I barely even noticed was quite astonishing.

It's all entirely understandable. I'm a full-time mother of two children under three with a freelance career on the side, a family home to run and friends and family near and far.

What I eat and how I eat it isn't exactly important, is it? As long as I keep it as healthy as I can, can't it just slot in around other things?

Only we all need to eat, to live. And by treating eating as unimportant, something to just shove into my hectic schedule or revolve around the children's, aren't I kind of treating myself like I'm not important either?

In fact aren't I completely and utterly treating myself like I'm not important and that my fundamental human need to eat is nothing more than an irritating inconvenience?
 Pre-children. I still wanted to lose half a stone. SRSLY. 

So this week I decided to try something new and apply the following three rules to everything I eat.

1. Eat when I'm hungry.
Not because it's an allotted mealtime. Not because I might get hungry later but I won't have time so I'd better have a snack now. Not because I feel a bit restless, not because I always eat at this time, not because everybody else is eating and it'd be rude not to. If I'm not hungry, I'm not eating. And if I am, I'm going to eat whatever it is I want - yes, including biscuits - and give myself full permission.

2. Sit down to eat it.
Whatever it is, whatever I'm doing, wherever I am. If I'm going to eat, I want to notice and enjoy it, and standing up to eat is not conducive to enjoyment. The simple act of sitting down signifies permission to stop whatever I'm doing, take time out of my and everybody else's super-busy day, and nourish myself.

3. Do nothing else while I eat it.
No eating in front of the TV, reading while I eat, flicking through my phone, answering emails, having a chat on the phone, checking Twitter, writing a to-do list. NOTHING. Whatever else I want to do can WAIT. And if it can't wait, I can't be that hungry or want what I'm eating that much.

If you're hoping to read that I've lost that half a stone, I'm sorry to disappoint. I don't actually know how much I weigh and I've only been doing this for a matter of days.

But the difference is phenomenal.

If nothing else I have realised just how much I was eating - of all kinds of foods, not just treats and snacks - without registering what I was doing. How much I was mindlessly picking or shovelling my way through while my attention was a million miles away.

How much I was eating, full stop. I was clearing my plate in record time regardless of quantity, not eating what I actually wanted. Just piling through whatever I'd decided we would eat that day, based upon many arbitrary criteria but never 'am I hungry and do I want this?!' as quickly as possible so as to get on with the important business of everyday life.

But possibly the most curious discovery of all is that I often have no idea what I want to eat. I've so lost touch with my body, become so disconnected from my wants and needs, that if I begin by asking myself 'what do I want?' I draw a complete blank. I have to think of a few things and wait for something to pop out at me.

If you asked me, I honestly couldn't tell you what my favourite meal is.

I could tell you Noel's, Cherry's and even Violet's. But not mine.

It's been a bit of a wakeup call that I need to take the time to get to know myself a lot better.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Two children and me

Every now and again I read a blog by a parent of two (or more) children about how much easier it gets. Once you're past the newborn stage/sleep regression/crawling/whatever, they claim, you suddenly realise life is getting back to normal and you're not quite as knackered and feral and dependent on Hob Nobs as you once were.

What really terrifies me is these blogs are often written by parents with second children younger than mine.

I've got to say I don't share their sentiments.

Here's my take on the first year (and a bit) with two kids.

0-3m. Easy peasy
You're terrified about how you're going to cope with a toddler and a newborn but what you've forgotten is that newborns DON'T MOVE. Or talk, or do anything really, other than sleep and cuddle and eat and smile. Well, my newborn did, anyway. My main memories of this golden hazy time involve going to the park with an energetic but happy toddler and a sleeping baby in a sling. We often had lunch out, and lunch for Violet was always on me. Even with potty learning to contend with life was easy streets. I had this two kids thing totally nailed, although I was curious about what would happen when Cherry turned two not long after V hit…

3-6m. Manageable

At around 12 weeks V started to show her personality, which was contented, happy, loving and cuddlesome. At around 16 weeks she started to wake a lot at night. I though this was just 4m sleep regression plus cutting her first four teeth, and I was in general pretty well rested thanks to Cherry sleeping through at night and napping 2-3 hours a day. V also didn't like being put down much but that was OK too - what are slings for, after all? Admittedly leaving the house was a bit of an effort, but other than that I still totally HAD this parenting two kids thing.

6-9m. Intense

Shit, the baby's sitting up. WHEN DID THAT HAPPEN? I'm fairly certain with Cherry I practically had a day chart. I only found out V could sit up when she started doing it EVERY TIME SHE WOKE UP AT NIGHT, which is A LOT. And she's eating solid foods and I'm a baby-led weaning fan, so there's MESS EVERYWHERE, ALL THE TIME. It's all very well saying 'just leave the mess and concentrate on your children' but it's quite tricky/life-endangering navigating a floor full of Lego, puzzles, books, half-eaten apples, bits of banana, breast pads, drinks, dirty nappies, felt-tipped pens and used potties with a baby in your arms and a bare-assed toddler following you chattering nineteen to the dozen. But it's all fine, once she can crawl it'll all settle down. And once the two-year-old decides that going to bed at night isn't the end of the world. And that in general, one does have to put trousers and knickers on in order to leave the house. But it'll be fine once V is…

9-12. Relentless.

Crawling. Then standing. Then cruising. Cherry can't just go somewhere else now if V's bothering her or if she doesn't want to 'share' with her sister because V CAN FOLLOW HER. I give up any hope of V, and therefore me, ever sleeping again. The mess is unfathomable, the volume of laundry inexplicable. I repeatedly wash a pair of grey knickers that don't appear to belong to anybody at all but are apparently permanently soaked in something that could be urine, could be drool, could be tears, could be snot, most likely is all of the above and more. But that's OK because everybody knows it gets easier once the baby turns….

12-15m. Hardcore.

Ah, the old 'it gets easier after they turn one' chestnut. What part of having a one-year-old and two-year-old is supposed to be 'easier', though? The one-year old starting to walk and being able to talk? The four molars she cuts in three weeks? The understanding what will wind up the two-year-old and doing it, repeatedly, then running away giggling? The firing endless breastmilk into the ether because she's too busy for more than about three sucks a day, but she feeds so frequently at night you've still got the milk supply of a Jersey cow? Both of them repeatedly turning off the Hoover and giggling madly as I frantically try and avoid our home descending into the kind of filth some people would pay good money to watch on the TV? The sheer effort of getting a contrary two-year-old who doesn't want to go out then doesn't want to go home once you ARE out into the few items of clothing she will actually deign to wear, not to mention a constantly on-the-go, wriggling, squirming one-year-old who has FAR better things to do than get dressed, have her nappy changed and put on some shoes? THE TWO OR THREE HOURS SLEEP YOU GET A NIGHT?!

15m+. Mayhem

I can't comment on the rest of this stage as V is approaching 16m and Cherry is about to turn three. But the signs for it 'getting easier' aren't good. I now have two children so bursting with energy and joy and excitement that sometimes it's rather like herding puppies out of the house and watching them gambol away onto the frosty grass. I now have to field questions like 'Mummy, why is my fanny a vagina?' while the one-year-old staggers towards the dishwasher, finger outstretched, intoning 'BEEP! BEEP!', pushes all the buttons to set it on a fruitless rinse cycle, then turns and heads towards the cupboard with the battle cry 'SNACK BAR! SNACK BAR!'. I spend my days quite often laughing until I cry and, occasionally, crying until I laugh. Going ANYWHERE takes 100 years as you might have thought almost three-year-olds walk slowly, but I respectfully remind you they have nothing on almost-16-month-olds.

I now have two fully formed little people and the shoulder-busting responsibility of helping them to learn and understand how to live in the world.

I can honestly say that for me life with two children has got harder. It's not bad hard - it's good hard, the best kind of hard. It's deeply rewarding and joyful. But it's exhausting and emotionally draining and maddening and frustrating and sloooooow and flying by in equal measure.

It could be the age gap, it could just be my choices that are making it harder, not easier. But I suppose life is about choice, and the life I want isn't necessarily what's immediate and easy for myself or my children.

Joy, happiness and fulfilment, for me, don't come from quick fixes and solutions to ages and stages dressed up as 'problems'. I decided some time ago that my career can wait, but my children can't. They will only be this young for a very short period of time, comparatively speaking.

Thank Christ.

Sunday, 30 November 2014


Christmas seems to have come very early this year, so I have decided to go one step further and get my New Year's resolution in pre-December too.

For the last couple of years I've written a fairly long list of pledges that have ranged from 'buy a house' and 'write another book' to 'become slamming hotty'.

I don't own a house and my last book was published in 2012. What can I say? At least I achieved the third, yeah?

Every year the list of pledges I don't write down seems to grow. I need to lose weight. Get my hair under control. Become more stylish. Be a better mother. Earn more. Work harder.

The resolutions can also directly contradict one another. Earn more money BUT ALSO learn to appreciate what I have rather than striving for more. Learn to love my body BUT ALSO shape up to the point whereby I could just wander into a Sweaty Betty catalogue. Focus more on my children BUT ALSO get my name out there more and write for the nationals on a more regular basis.

I'm so far past setting myself up to fail it's not even funny. When I think about all the things I have promised myself this year - and every year - I think one glaring theme becomes very clear, and that's that I feel I have to change quite fundamentally.

I've unravelled myself to the point whereby I can clearly see that I am practicing severe self-criticism, masquerading as 'self improvement'.

Every promise, every pledge, starts with the premise that I have to change something about myself for the better.

Every resolution hides a deep dissatisfaction with the state of things, the way things are, the way I am.

This year has been monumentally hard in many ways, for reasons far beyond simply having two very young children. As it draws to a close part of me will be quite happy to see the back of 2014. I will look back at some wonderful times, but some very dark ones too.

And so as I look ahead it suddenly seems very clear to me what my resolution for 2015 must be.

I want to be able to accept what I see in the mirror. Inside and out. I want to accept myself as I am, this moment as it is, my life, as it is.

So I suppose I'm still looking to change, but I think it's a change that is long, long overdue.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Where do you go for inspiration? My online village.

If the plethora of motivational quotes over sunsets and willow trees that pervades Facebook and Twitter tells us anything, it's that we are all looking to be inspired.

I've got a bit of a love-hate relationship with motivational quotes. Some of them are patently absurd, and make no sense. Many are over-used - I swear to god if I see that bloody 'a woman is like a tea bag' quote wrongly attributed to Nancy Regan ONE MORE TIME…

But others do make an impact. 'It takes a village to raise a child', whilst not strictly motivational, has been a huge inspiration for me in recent years. 'Happiness is not a destination, it's a way of life' feels very applicable in my case. 'It is far, far harder to be yourself than it is to pretend to be somebody else' IS JUST STUPID AND MAKES NO SENSE. OK?

Just kidding. I get it. A bit.

I like to draw inspiration from real people. Not celebrities - I'm SO over celebrities. Even Beyonce. Over the last few years all my inspiration has been drawn from real people, most of whom I have met or become aware of online.

And that's the wonderful thing about the internet. You can find inspiration in whatever field you so desire, and in whatever form you desire.

At the moment I am interested in reading, thinking and learning about parenting, health and fitness, mindfulness and holistic therapy, and crafts I can do with a two year old and a one year old whose favourite hobby is finding something messy, toxic, liquid and preferably smelly and highly staining and PUTTING IT IN HER MOUTH then running away giggling.

Here are some of my favourite sources of inspiration in those fields.


Aha Parenting - It's no secret that I'm passionately drawn to attachment and gentle parenting, after initially rather scornfully rejecting it as 'hippy nonsense'. Dr Laura Markham's site was one of the first that helped me 'see the light' and it's a regular and hugely useful resource as Cherry in particular moves through ages and stages. The UK-based equivalent, Gentle Parenting, set up by Sarah Ockwell-Smith is just as useful and I find myself nodding frantically along with so many of Sarah's blogs my neck hurts. Her book Toddlercalm was one of the first books I read that helped me understand I didn't have to change my beliefs to be, or feel like, a good parent, and that you could parent with trust rather than control.

Lulastic - Lucy's blog used to annoy the tits off me. I enjoyed reading her extremely eloquent and radical views, but I often did so just to irritate myself. I just didn't 'get' the hippy, attachment parenting vibe and it irritated me particularly that attachment parenting was SUPPOSED to be about sacrifice and making yourself a slave to your children and indulging their every whim and yet she always looked SO BLOODY HAPPY. I kept coming back because I wanted to 'get it' but I was too afraid of moving away from many of the rather traditional, fear-based values I was carrying around. Then not long after Violet was born I just got it. I understood that attachment parenting is based upon connection and respect, NOT sacrifice and martyrdom, and that as a practice attachment parenting is about your attitude, not about slings and boobs and bedsharing per se. Once I'd made that distinction I understood what I loved so much about Lucy's blog. And I understood that the parts of me I'd been almost ashamed of when Cherry was little - the parts of me that refused to allow her to 'cry it out' and so on, weren't weaknesses, they were my greatest strengths. I also found Adele's lovely blog Circus Queen really thought-provoking and useful in helping me understand and separate my true beliefs from social conditioning. Now I find myself the radical, hippy one in many circles of mothers.

Mothering - A really lovely US-based site dedicated to attachment parenting and the practice - the ART - of mothering.

Health and fitness

Bangs and a Bun - Muireann's was one of the first blogs I read properly and I still love it. I have followed this amazing woman online for many years and I never fail to be motivated and inspired by her.

Challenge Sophie - a newer discovery. Sophie, like me, works with adidas UK. But unlike me Sophie lives in Chamonix and spends her days cycling up mountains and becoming an Ironman.

Mindfulness and holistic living

Headspace - yep, I'm a Headspacer and I cannot say this enough, it has changed my life. I meditate every day for 20 minutes come hell or high water, or sleep (often I only have 20 undisturbed minutes last thing at night!) When I began I took the approach that I'd do it 'if I had time' and I wouldn't force or pressure myself. But to see the benefits of meditation you need to take it seriously. Now it's a commitment to myself that I refuse to break. It, and green smoothies, are two habits that have stuck. On the busiest , most hectic and most overwhelming day, when I don't have the time or the energy to shower let alone work out, do yoga or any of the other lovely things I promise myself, I still meditate.

Mama - and more! This is a blog covering all sorts, but it's the way Zaz writes about yoga and the impact it has had on her life that interests me. I check in every now and again to look for new posts on yoga, there's usually something there.


Mum in the Madhouse - I follow Jen on Instagram and I absolutely love her! Bursting with creative and crafty ideas, her blog is a true slice of creative family life. Quite often crafting, baking and the like is thought of as something mothers and daughters do together, but Jen shows what a load of old crap that tired stereotype is with pictures of her two boys baking, cutting ribbon, painting and creating.

Capture by Lucy - again I follow Lucy on Instagram and I absolutely adore her sense of style, her positive attitude and - well I just love her. Apparently I really like Lucys in general!

I think what all of the above have in common is that they show me what is possible if you follow your heart. They also show that what we tend to consider barriers to personal freedom and fulfilment - families, jobs, careers, children - are all part of the journey. So I suppose we're back to motivational quotes again, because these individuals all help me truly understand that happiness isn't a destination. It absolutely is a way of life.

Instagram is my current favourite network, such a supportive and caring group of mainly women, beautiful images and constant inspiration.

So there you have it. My little online village.

Friday, 10 October 2014

World Mental Health Day: Motherhood and my mental health

Happy World Mental Health Day!

I have become increasingly fixated upon the link between motherhood and mental health.

I'm not talking about post-natal depression, a condition I feel entirely unqualified to comment upon. I mean general mental health in terms of 'how am I feeling today' and 'I feel a bit low and I don't know why'.

Much like physical health, I believe mental health isn't a clear-cut case of 'ill' or 'well'. In the same way you can physically function entirely competently with a cold or an ingrowing toenail, most of us can function entirely competently with a fluctuating state of mental health and wellness.

But in the same way most, if not all, of us get colds from time to time, I also believe most of us have times of feeling more well, and less well, mentally. Stress, pressure, lifestyle factors, and how we feel about ourselves at the core can all impact how well we feel mentally.

As a lifestyle factor motherhood comes with a degree of stress, pressure and a great deal of being flung into the unknown. How we react and respond does depend to some degree upon our mental health and our levels of self-care.

Deep breath. Here's the honesty bit. I've suffered from a mental health condition on and off for years. All my life, I think. Certainly as long as I can remember. But I've never had a name for it.

I'm not, as far as I'm aware, depressed. I can get anxious but I don't suffer from anxiety as a condition.

I'm well aware of the 'symptoms' of my own particular mental health issue. It's best summed up as being 'my own worst enemy'.

Self-doubt, getting in my own way a lot, relentlessly comparing myself to others but always comparing the best of them to the worst of me so I cannot possibly win, self-sacrificing behaviour rather than asserting my own wants and needs, then resentment at 'once again' falling on my own sword.

Lack of faith in my own judgement, a tendency to make poor decisions then viciously attack myself for the consequences, impossibly high standards for myself that I wouldn't dream of applying to other people, a relentless quest for nothing less than utter perfection in many areas of my life - perfect mother, perfect wife, perfect body, perfect diet, perfect career, perfect friendships - and constant and tedious self-flagellation when I fail to meet these self-imposed and utterly impossible standards.

A conviction that I can cope with more than 'other people' and 'don't need' basic human rights such as privacy, time to myself, my own needs to be heard and acted upon, my own feelings to be expressed and heard and taken seriously. A strong aversion to accepting any form of help - then deep resentment when others take me at my word and leave me to my own impossible struggle.

It's only quite recently that I have come to understand that what I suffer from is known as self-hate and that it has controlled much of my life and many of my decisions for far longer than I care to remember. I have always had a curious way of making life hard for myself, always making the wrong decision then throwing myself into the battle to rectify the consequences, always struggling against an inner or outer enemy - always struggling, but always, always 'failing' on some level. Lashing out at those I love when I am feeling overwhelmed emotionally then hating myself afterwards, apologising out of shame rather than genuine remorse because I wrongly feel I cannot control my behaviour or actions when I am angry or upset, and I know on some level the next time I get upset it will happen again.

It's motherhood that has brought this self-hatred to the forefront and insisted that I acknowledge and confront it. Cherry has reached an age whereby she has become something of a mirror of me. Every decision I make, from the way I speak to her to the activities we pursue and the food we eat - is reflected back at me in tiny, two-year-old form.

Her diet? My diet, because I am not so hypocritical as to stuff myself with chocolate cake whilst she eats carrot sticks. Her emotional expression? My emotional expression, down to the phrases she uses and the manner in which she expresses them. Her anxieties? My anxieties.

Much of this is not spoken. I have never applied the appalling language with which I castigate myself (feckless, useless, lazy, stupid, selfish, idle etc) to either of my daughters verbally or non-verbally, but Cherry is highly sensitive and empathetic, MUCH LIKE HER MOTHER, and there is much she knows that she cannot verbalise.

The most surprising part of all this is how much I like what I see. I strongly love the parts of myself I see Cherry reflecting back to me. Her compassion, her lovingness, her empathy, her strong sense of self. Her conviction that her presence is healing, that she is enough.

All of that is her, but it is me also. Her personality is hers alone, a beautiful concoction of my and Noel's genetics and her own unique Cherry-ness. But her behaviour, her reactions - these are a combination of raw instinct and learned, shaped responses.

I have learned through my daughter that I have a strong sense of self-preservation and an empathetic and compassionate soul. These exist within me as strongly, stronger I hope, than self-hatred. These are what carry me and nourish me, these are the parts of me I have listened to at truly crucial junctures in my life.

I have learned through my daughter that I must heal myself, for her and her sister and for Noel, but more than that. I must heal myself for myself. 

Nobody deserves to carry around a burden of impossible standards and a side-order of near-constant self-flagellation.

I wouldn't wish that for my children and I wouldn't wish it upon myself.

I wouldn't wish it, truth be told, upon my worst enemy.

(If you have read this and thought 'that sounds like me!' then I strongly recommend reading an excellent book called Compassion and Self-Hate by Theodore I Rubin.)

Saturday, 6 September 2014


So many of us women seem to believe, because we have been taught, that to take care of oneself in the way we would take care of others without even thinking, is 'selfish' or 'self-indulgent'.

How I hate that last expression in particular.

What's wrong with indulging oneself? What does 'indulge' even mean, anyway? According to marketers, aka 24 year old men in skinny jeans and thick-rimmed glasses who have absolutely no idea what it is to be 1. female 2. a mother or 3. anybody but a fucking 24 year old bloke in thick-rimmed glasses, it means having a bubble bath or eating a low-fat yoghurt.

The sheer lack of imagination is breathtaking, as is the concept that soaking in tepid soapy water or eating reduced-fat sour milk with a chocolate-substitute-covered bit of cereal pulp as an accompaniment is in some way extraordinary, a way to 'thank ourselves', a bit of 'me-time', to 'get away from the daily grind'.

With a yoghurt? Seriously, is that the best you can do? Shouldn't we be able to just have baths and eat, or in my case choose not to eat, those infernal fucking yoghurts without feeling that this is it - this and only this is our prize, our reward for being good girls?

On the flip side the positive language around self-care is equally trite. Magazines and newspapers urge us to 'treat ourselves' to a top we don't want and won't suit us, or 'pamper ourselves' with a 'spa day with the girls', like such a 'treat' is within financial and practical reach and all that stands between us and giggling over Babycham with mud-masks on our faces and cucumber discs over our eyes is the simple fact that we haven't thought of it ourselves.

Whether negative or positive all the language around self-care unites to imply that to look after yourself is a 'treat', 'indulgent', and in some way sinful or 'naughty' because to put one's needs first, even as a 'pampering experience', is taboo. An unnecessary and frivolous extra.

This, of course, only applies to women. For men, self-care, pampering oneself, treating oneself and self-indulgence simply does not exist, or rather, it is known by its proper name of 'doing things I like doing and don't have to justify because the fact that I like it is enough'.

You may also know it as football, cricket, beer, music, films, video games, computers, books, crochet, cooking, cycling, driving, gardening, beekeeping, golf, watching television, painting, writing, meditating, potholing, collecting, or whatever it is that men like to do, which curiously absolutely never features skimmed milk products.

Our boundaries of self-care are narrow and demeaning. Beauty treatments, food that 'tastes just like the real thing!' but won't blow the inevitable diet we're all supposed to be on, shopping. Even genuine healing arts like massage are shoehorned into the catch-all of 'beauty' which is stamped with frivolity.

Looking good is self-care, this we know, as even self-care must have an end-goal of self-improvement and a greater conformity to socially accepted yet utterly impossible standards. But we should feel ashamed of wanting to look and feel good, at the same time, and categorise it as a 'treat' or a 'guilty pleasure' rather than just something we do because we want to and that is enough.

I've spent 33 years thinking my wants and needs are frivolous and unimportant. I find it sad that it's taken two young children to make me realise that as the epicentre of their world, I am the epicentre of my world and it's important that I take care of myself. Full stop.

For a while I have been almost ashamed of the recognition that I have to take care of myself 'for my children' and 'to make me a better mother,' which is entirely true.

But actually I have to take care of myself for myself.

I don't need a reason, or a justification.

I am enough.

All summer long I've had this little fantasy of getting on my bike and cycling to the lido, spending the morning having a nice swim, drinking coffee, reading, writing in my journal, then upping sticks and heading to a Lebanese restaurant Cherry and I used to frequent for lunch, all by myself.

All summer long I've found reason after excuse as to why I can't do it. Every glorious Saturday or Sunday morning while the sun beat down over that lovely hot summer, I've managed to put obstacles in my own way, driven by a compulsion that to do something just because I want to do it, with no goal or end or purpose in mind, is wrong.

I'm not training for a bike ride or a triathlon. I don't need to ride my bike or swim. I don't have an end goal.

I just want to.

It's been a huge realisation, a wake-up call of epic proportions, to realise just how much I entirely voluntarily deprive myself of, just because I cannot give a reason other than 'because I want to'.

So, I think I'm going to the lido on my bike, and for lunch. Today.

Because I want to.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

10 things that surprised me about breastfeeding *this* one-year-old

1. That it's an entirely different experience to breastfeeding my older daughter, who I weaned at nine months. Hence this is ten things that have surprised me about breastfeeding *this* one-year-old not *a* one-year-old. Because every child is different.

2. There are no thought processes involved at all. I don't think about how much she feeds, when she feeds or why she feeds.

3. I have no idea how often she feeds. Somebody asked me this a couple of weeks ago and I was genuinely completely stumped. This is because, as per point number two, I give it no thought whatsoever. She asks, I feed. She doesn't ask, I might offer. I have no idea when, or how often, or for how long, or how much she takes.

4. It's not about 'giving her milk'. Breastfeeding Violet isn't an act. It's a relationship. It's a two-way thing. At her one-year review the HV asked 'does Violet drink milk at all?' and I immediately said 'no', because she drinks water or occasionally juice. Then I understood what I was actually being asked!

5. It doesn't 'interfere' with my life in any way, shape or form. Or perhaps it's more accurate to say I have readjusted my life, and myself, so as not to interfere with breastfeeding a one-year-old. I don't drink alcohol any more so that's not an issue. We co-sleep most nights so night feeds aren't an issue. I can be away from her for hours on end and my breasts will feel full, but I think this has happened twice in the last year. It's just not an issue because I have chosen not to separate myself from my children for any length of time other than on very rare occasions. This comes back to breastfeeding being a relationship not an isolated act. It's part of the whole.

6. She has eight teeth and has bitten me frequently, usually when another tooth is coming. And yes, it hurts! Cherry had no teeth when I weaned her so the experience is completely new, that said, V cut her first tooth at four months so I've had plenty of time to get used to it.

7. Having done it before with another child doesn't necessarily make it 'easier' second time around. I've had more issues to overcome feeding Violet (blistered, cracked nipples at the start due to incorrect latch, nursing strike due to thrush, those teeth!) than I had with Cherry.

8. I have no idea for how long I will continue to breastfeed. As long as we both want to, is my stock answer.

9. I loved breastfeeding Cherry and expected to love breastfeeding Violet too. But when I think about it 'love' isn't really the right way of putting it, because that implies breastfeeding is something of a 'bonus' or a 'treat'. I think lovely Adele at Circus Queen really sums it up in her post here when she says that breastfeeding is 'our joint right'. It's our right too. Do you love your rights? They're more fundamental than that.

10. Nobody else seems to think it's 'weird' that I'm breastfeeding a one-year-old. Even if they did, I probably wouldn't notice. You don't tend to pay much attention to what others think of your rights.

Thursday, 28 August 2014


She has it!

And she almost has it!

Do I have it? Oh god no. It's been a year and I am still struggling to balance the rights, wants and needs of myself with those of my children.

Our rights are, as I see it, equal. Their needs have to come first - of course, this is without question. Their wants, however, cannot and should not always come first. That I genuinely believe.

That said, neither can or should mine, or mine and Noel's. It's all a balance.

I cannot pretend to be close to having it right all or even most of the time. There is so much joy, but I also have periods of feeling overwhelmed, exhausted and quite despairing. Much of this relates to my own internal balance - or lack of it.

Putting two young children and even a very minimal amount of work on top of this, not to mention wider family, friends, and it's often game over for my wants and needs.

(That's not to say it's particularly a win for anybody else, mind. It's just often how life is.)

Of course without due care and attention to my own wants and needs I cannot be the parent I want to be, the mother my children deserve, and the person in whose skin I feel comfortable.

But I do have it right some of the time, and that's something I can, and am going to, feel good about as my younger daughter prepares to turn one.

I can look back on a year of two children, four months of it with the notorious TWO UNDER TWO, and think that while this has been without question the hardest, sometimes the most soul-destroyingly relentless, year of my life, there are many times in which I really have got it right.

Yesterday afternoon I took both girls to the park. Sometimes I feel I need to be free of both children physically for a short time - just to have a few moments to myself without one or both of them clambering over me or asking me to lift, carry, push, move or generally assist them physically.

Taking them to the playground doesn't often solve this problem as both instantly want to be pushed on swings. Which I did, because this is their right to want, if that makes sense.

But it's also my right to want to prioritise my needs once in a while. So after ten minutes, I got both of them down from the swings and said 'I am not pushing, carrying, lifting, moving or helping either of you for the next ten minutes.

'I am going to sit down and I am going to watch you and drink my coffee.'

Off they went, Cherry going round and round and round on the climbing frame with that ferocious toddler concentration, Violet crawling about in the sandpit bashing sand and saying 'did did did' a lot, smiling her head off.

I watched them, and I drank my coffee. Every last full-fat drop.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Just wait until… What I know about mothering

When Cherry was a baby I never felt able to legitimately talk with any authority about motherhood because I would be met with indulgent laughter and 'just wait until….'

Just wait until she can crawl. All hell will break loose! Just wait until she's walking. You'll never sleep again! Just wait until she's talking. You'll break all your vows about not shouting at her or using punitive discipline!

Just wait until she's 35, THEN you'll know how soul-destroying parenting can be….

It felt like there would never be a time when I would be qualified to talk honestly and openly about mothering. I couldn't talk about it when Cherry was a baby because what did I, a judgemental and starry-eyed new mother of The Most Perfect Baby The World Had Ever Seen, know?

But the sense always was that I would 'forget' how she was as a baby or 'rose tint' it so therefore I couldn't talk honestly or reliably about it as she grew.

'Oh, you've forgotten,' replaced 'just wait until.'

Now Cherry is to turn three at the end of the year and V is nearly one. I feel a bit more qualified to talk about mothering. I have not forgotten what it is to have a baby nor am I unaware of what awaits when my baby grows into a walking, talking, infuriating, exasperating, incredible toddler.

(If you 'just wait until she's a threenager' at me I swear, I WILL END YOU)

Here's what I know about mothering:

Mothering isn't a job - a role. It's a state of being. We can 'do nothing' all day and have still mothered our children. This is not 'doing nothing'. This is active. Even passivity is active. Sitting feeding a newborn. Cuddling a hysterical toddler. Lying next to a two-year-old who is afraid of the rain, soothing them to sleep, stroking their hair, holding their hand. Carrying a teething baby up and down the stairs at night because it soothes them. This is not work. It is mothering.

It is hard sometimes - I have found the last year in particular relentless - but this is not to say it is bad. On the contrary it is life-affirming. Easy is good too, don't get me wrong! But hard is good because it is purposeful.

If it's too hard, it's not the child that's at fault, or usually the mother. It's the support networks around the mother or more accurately, the lack of support around the mother and the lack of respect for her status.

Just wait until your baby grows into a toddler! It gets better and better and you will love it more and more.

Judge less and understand more. Other than in very, very unusual circumstances, there is no such thing as a 'bad' mother, only a mother who does not have enough support.

It really, really, really doesn't matter when your child crawls, walks, talks, reads, writes. You can no more 'teach' a baby to roll over or stand up than you can 'teach' a goldfish to dance. Your child will meet all the milestones, with very few exceptions, when he or she is ready.

If all of your friends' babies are sleeping through the night AND eating everything put in front of them AND talking AND walking at six months, all or at least some of your friends are, I'm afraid, lying. People lie a lot about their children. Often they don't even realise they're doing it. They just stretch the truth because they're proud and they care what you think.

If your friend's baby really is sleeping through the night OR eating everything put in front of them OR walking OR talking at six months this doesn't mean they are a better mother than you or that your baby 'should' be doing what their baby is doing. It means they are a different mother who has made different choices with a different baby who has developed at a different rate to yours.

If it's YOUR baby who is sleeping through, walking, talking and eating everything at six months this does not make you the World's Greatest Mother and qualified to dole out advice to those lesser than you. It means you have a different baby and have made different choices to your friends.

If it does get hard and you do complain this doesn't mean you're a failure as a mother or hate being a mother or hate your children or should do something else with your time. It means you're human and have given birth to a human child, not a robot.

All new mothers will be starry-eyed and slightly judgemental, just as we were. They will learn, just as we did, that nothing around mothering is as clearly defined as it first appears.

It is wiser to be kind than it is to be 'right'. So if a mother does change her mind, or change her approach, or change her views - as I have, as we all have I don't doubt - it is kinder to support her choices than to crow 'I TOLD YOU you wouldn't stick to it!'

Another mother's choice is not a reflection, criticism or judgement of your choice. It's just her choice.

As with marriage, mothering is best practiced with great kindness. Kindness to ourselves, kindness to our children, and kindness to those starry-eyed new mothers whose romantic ideals we may want to laughingly dismiss with 'just wait until...'

Monday, 11 August 2014

Now what?

I keep thinking of Buffy the Vampire Slayer - I mean, who doesn't? But there's one scene in particular I think of. At the very end of the last series, when Sunnydale has collapsed into the hell mouth (oops SPOILER ALERT!) and Buffy and the Scoobies stand at the edge of the precipice. And Dawn and Willow ask Buffy 'so what are we going to do now?'

'Yeah Buffy, what are we going to do now?'

And Buffy just smiles.

I don't want to directly compare having two children in the space of 20 months to a fictional town collapsing into a hellmouth, so I'll leave it to you to make that association. Violet turns one in a few weeks time. Here I am, a mother of two children.

I have a family. We have a family. We are a family. Our family is complete.

Now what?

This is a strangely bittersweet time. My baby isn't a baby any more. My other baby definitely isn't a baby any more!

There are no more newborns in my house, there isn't a little crib set up at the side of my bed (admittedly there's an eleven and a half month old usually IN my bed or in the travel cot at the end of my bed but still), there aren't muslins all over the house.

There are no more tiny sleepsuits - just HUGE sleepsuits and pyjamas. There is no more helpless infant mewing at my breast, nuzzling into my heart, blinking into my gaze, wrapping tiny, soft fingers around mine.

There's a gigantic squirming nearly one-year-old wriggling and chattering and turning herself upside-down gymnastic nursing, and a two-year-old who laces her fingers through mine as she falls asleep - but there's no more baby.

Now what?

There is much to look forward to, this I know. But there is deep sadness. A couple of weeks ago I took a pregnancy test and I was as desperate for it to be positive as Noel was for it to be negative. It was negative.

I will probably never again experience the glory of a positive pregnancy test. I will never pee on a stick in ecstatic anticipation, if I do it will always be tinged with 'oh god, REALLY?'

My breasts will probably never again explode with life-giving sustenance on the third day. My perineum can rest assured it will not once again have to separate itself giving birth to yet another gigantic tiny one.

I will never know the awe-inspiring, primal beauty of childbirth again, the irritating, frustrating, exhausting joy of pregnancy, the blissful bubble of those first few days and weeks, falling in love with the tiny person you have created.

I will never know what other combinations of Noel and I could meld together to form another entire person, distinct and different from him and me and their two sisters, but curiously also the same, and very much of us, all of us.

Noel absolutely adamantly doesn't want another baby. I absolutely adamantly do, but I think it's quite telling that I wanted two children, and now I have them I want another baby.

When I think about it it's not even a third baby I want. I want my children as babies again.

I want Cherry so helpless and tiny and huge all at the same time, so noisy and sensitive, so vibrant and emotional, so frustrating and forgiving.

I want Violet so loving and gentle, her tiny beautiful blue eyes peeping out at us, entirely peaceful and tranquil, sure all was well with the world if I was near.

I want myself as a new mother again but with the confidence and knowledge I have now. I want to go back and do it all again with the experience I can only have gained by having done it before.

When I was pregnant with Violet a part of me was already looking ahead to now. Violet at a year old, Cherry to turn three in December, the baby days gone, the toddler and pre-school days full of fun and energy and exasperation and chaos just around the corner.

My body my own again, my breasts are Violet's for as long as she wants them but the rest of me is all for me. My brain capable of taking in snippets here and there that don't involve my children.

Now I'm here I'm not emotionally ready at all.

I feel I have changed fundamentally, and that I cannot go back to the life, career and world I lived in before.

But I don't really know what my new world is yet, because it's been full of pregnancies and babies since March 2011.

Now there's no more pregnancy and there's no more babies. Now there's toddlers and fun and splashing and running and shouting and jumping and cuddling - but there's no more babies.

Now there's possibly, even, at some point not too many million miles away, a bit of time for me.

Now what?