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.