Saturday, 31 January 2015

What can I do? Activism and real life.

When I was considering my career options I began from the rather ambitious premise that I wanted to change the world and make it a better place.

I talked to my dad, always a useful port of call for such matters. He explained he had felt the same as a young man and had considered two career options, politician or teacher.

Concluding that he was more likely to change the world through education than by fiddling his expenses and shagging his secretary (my inference, not his) he chose to become a teacher.

And for the same reasons, I chose to become a journalist. To change the world, by exposing the wrongdoings of the powerful and giving a voice to the disempowered.

I thought of these lofty ambitions today when I passed this sign in an Oxfam shop window. I wondered what had happened to that girl who wanted to change the world.

Real life happened, I suppose. I fell out of love with news journalism when I realised editors seemed more interested in distorting and overblowing truths and writing about WAGs than championing the common man and woman.

But more than that. I have bills to pay. I have a life to live. I wanted to progress and better myself, so I took promotions that led me further and further away from my initial goal to give a voice to those who needed one. I followed money, because I wanted a reasonable quality of life for myself, my husband and then later my children.

Writing about what I believed became more of a hobby, fit in around the serious everyday business of earning enough money to pursue the standard of life I want. I have never yearned for a huge house, an expensive car, a Tiffany ring. But we don't own a house. We have no pensions, no investments, no equity, no capital.

At some point it would be nice to have something in the way of security. The children need clothes. Microwaves break down and need replacing. Real life gets in the way.

When I saw the Oxfam poster I felt a little ashamed. Others manage to combine real life and principles. They work for charities, or set them up. They volunteer in their spare time. They work for six months, save up and go overseas to work on projects and give aid that makes a real difference to lives.

I'm at home with two children. I have never had less time, energy and capital to devote to fighting the good fight.

There's a saying 'charity begins at home'. And there's an analogy often used in discussions about parenting and the importance of self-care. The oxygen mask on the aeroplane analogy. Put your own mask on first, then help your children to put theirs on. The theory being you can't be of any help to anybody if you're unconscious. You can't help others unless you are in a position to help yourself first.

I don't want to be a lifelong member of Generation Rent. I don't want my children to start their adult lives with nothing - literally nothing - in the way of security. I would like a roof over our heads we can call our own.

I am 33. I still have probably fifty good years left in me to make some kind of impact, somewhere along the line. Not everything has to happen NOW.

In the mean time I think it's nice to remind myself of ways I can change my own world. Little bits here and there. Little gestures, acts of kindness and endeavours that may in some way touch the lives of others.

1. I can write about things I think need airing, whether that's exposing old-school sexism, standing up for my and others' rights or flying the flag for groups of people (usually women) who are by and large ignored.

2. I can concentrate on raising my children to be aware of the world around them and aware that some have more, and some have less. I don't personally like to use comparisons to hammer home points - the spectre perhaps of those starving children in Africa who would have been so pleased to hear that I cleared my plate back when I was a child. But I want my children to know that not everybody is born equal, opportunities are not equal, and I hope they will conclude, as I have, that this is wrong.

3. I can stop selling old clothes on eBay and Instagram and take them to charity shops instead.

4. I can begin to create more of a community for myself and my family - and join other community endeavours.

5. I can smile at and make conversation with people, mainly the elderly, who catch my eye while I am out and about with my daughters.

6. I can turn my political beliefs into fashion statements.

7. I can support local businesses, small online businesses and the businesses and endeavours of friends I have made both in 'real life' and online.

8. I can choose to focus on the joy in life, and love with abandon. And forgive myself if I do sometimes shop at Sainsbury's and order from Amazon because it's quick and easy, and remember that I am still a full-time mother to a three-year-old and a 17-month-old and give myself a break.

9. I can look inside and begin to truly know myself. Pythagoras had it right, and not just about the square of the hypotenuse. I really will know the universe.

10. I can follow my heart, because I am still that girl who wanted to change the world and make it a better place, and I still believe in myself and trust that in some very, very small way, I can.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Letting go as they grow

I had a nightmare the other night (well technically in the early hours of the morning as I'd been up most of the night with Violet.) So as I was saying, I had a morning-mare the other morning.

I dreamed we were in Singapore with my family and my brother took Cherry to a fair. When he came home he told me he'd lost her.

In that illogical dream-like way, a translucent Cherry was by my side as I searched frantically for her, high and low. We revisited the merry-go-round she'd been riding when she disappeared. It was smoky and still. There was no sign of my baby girl and nowhere she could have possibly gone. I turned to my brother. The ghostly Cherry at my side had gone.

When I woke up Cherry - actual Cherry - was bouncing by the side of my bed. I have never been so relieved to see her.

I thought about the dream on the way to pre-school this morning as Cherry barrelled along ahead of me on her little balance bike. In a typically dramatic way, letting go and the associated risks are clearly on my mind.

The invisible rope between my older daughter and I has turned into elastic. It's stretching.

For the last three years and six weeks I've been entirely content that my role in life is to, slowly, become surplus to my children's requirements. It's to hold them close until they are ready to go, and then it's to let them. It's to help them learn to live in the world, and then watch them as they go off and do just that.

I am already not without regrets. I wish I'd held Cherry closer, for longer, when she was a baby. Back then I felt the best way was to urge her towards independence and I hurried her out of my arms, off my breast and gave her a wooden truck to 'learn to walk' with, a dummy to replace the comfort of my breast.

Then in her second year I felt I needed to reattach and re-establish the bond we shared. I held her closer than ever. I never urged, never pushed, never suggested she climb the bigger climbing frame as she stayed, content, with the smaller one. I never told her she was a 'big girl now' when she asked to fall asleep in my arms, never chastised that 'that's just for babies' when she expressed a desire to latch on whilst her sister was breastfeeding.

I know that my role is to nurture the connection and closeness I have with my children and trust them to move towards independence when they feel they are ready. I no longer 'help' them physically or academically, they learn things in their own time. If they're stuck or feel unsafe, I will try and help them verbally rather than physically (safety permitting, of course).

If they can climb up somewhere, my theory is they are probably entirely capable of getting down.

I have put huge amounts of thought, time, research and effort into coming to the conclusion that the less I interfere with my children, the better. They learn by watching me, so I watch my own behaviour and actions carefully instead of hovering over theirs.

I trust my children.

And yet. And now.

Cherry is running ahead of me, laughing as she plays games of her own, as I walk along at Violet's excruciating pace. She's hurtling around on her bike. She's sat proudly atop a fat black Shetland pony.

She's a whirling ball of energy and excitement and new skills and physicality and she swings between cautious and fearless.

All of a sudden I am heart-in-mouth. I am the cautious Mummy I never thought I'd be. I am fighting the urge to bubble-wrap her. To unzip my skin and put her back inside my body, keep her safe always, where no harm can come to her.

Having always believed so strongly in letting my children GO as they grow, now I have to put my theories into practice. I have to watch Cherry fall, and hurt herself, and cuddle and comfort her without trying to take her pain away for her.

I have to hold back my urge to scream CAREFUL! 100 times a day.

It's harder than I thought it would be. Knowing that I completely believe in what I am doing is one thing, but having to watch it and feel it is entirely another. I've always said I am far from risk-averse, but few things actually test your theories about yourself like your children.

I have no issue in trusting her to carry a china plate across the room, a glass of water, or any other breakable/spillable items or objects. She's been chopping vegetables with me with my sharp knife for a fair while now. I barely blink when she pick up a pair of scissors.

But watching her run so far from my side feels like another step entirely.

I have to trust her, and trust myself that I have empowered and armed her with the confidence and capabilities she needs for me to to let her go.

I wonder if it's this last part I find hardest of all. Her growing up feels so sudden and so fast.

Have I done enough, or by my own definition not done enough?

At least I still get hold her close when she does come back, because she is after all, just three.

(Good reading on this subject is Letting Go as Children Grow by Deborah Jackson and this post by Lucy, which apparently caused huge controversy but to be honest it just read like common sense to me)

Monday, 26 January 2015

Morning people

There are some people who just bounce effortlessly out of bed, refreshed, bright eyed and bursting with energy, absolutely raring to go, at 6am.

I am not one of them.

Unfortunately my husband and two daughters are. I say unfortunately because as a non-morning person living in a family of early birds, my days of lie-ins and morning procrastination are numbered.

I really love the idea of being a morning person. Noel and the girls are always so full of life and energy as I stumble around bleary-eyed hugging my mug of tea. (Incidentally I am the only one of us who drinks tea - Noel doesn't do hot drinks and I sometimes wonder if his reduced caffeine intake is one of the reasons for his early perkiness)

A breakfast picnic

The morning is without doubt the most beautiful part of the day. All of the lovely, life-enriching things I am so drawn to - meditating, yoga, exercise, journal-writing - are best done in the morning. Morning people are said to be more productive, more energetic and more creative. Morning routines are a 'thing', a statement of intent at the start of each day, said to set the tone for what is to come.

Despite my AM sluggishness I'm no night owl either. 10pm is a 'late night'. (Children are tiring, OK? I don't know what my excuse was before that!)

I also don't really like being out of sync with the rest of my family, yawning along behind. Everybody waiting around for me to get on with it, or always being one step behind, chasing my tail from the moment I get up.

It's easier to change one person's habits than three people's, and it's probably easier to turn water into wine than it is to get my children to 'go back to sleep' once their eyes spring open at WTF o'clock.

So I had a bit of a trawl online for tips and tricks on becoming a morning person.

None of it was rocket science - go to bed earlier, no screens in the bedroom, keep the room dark and cool, but let natural light in in the morning, and so on.

Which leads me to suspect that actually there's little a person can do to turn into a morning person, you either are one or you aren't, and if you're not you have to rely on the one tip that's repeated over and over and over again….

…just GET UP and GET ON WITH IT.

It does make sense that the more you lie in bed longing for ten more minutes, the more you press snooze, the more you lounge about looking at Twitter and procrastinating, the more cups of tea you drink in bed before you get up, the longer it will take you to get moving.

As brutal as it is, just getting up and getting moving straight away is pretty much the most effective way to turn into a morning person. It might be tougher for me than it is for the morning people - or who knows, maybe the morning people just make less of a fuss about it than I do.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Living Arrows 3/52

You on your bike. Don't you just make me burst at the seams with pride. You ride to pre-school now. It's a good mile. I feel anxious sometimes, we're only going down residential streets but they get so busy especially around school run time. But I choose to trust you, with the odd (OK regular) reminder to be careful, stay close and stop when you get to the road. It's been freezing cold all week but there's no holding you back, little love. And there's no getting you to wear your coat either! This fluffy cardigan is as close as you'll get.

Your latest trick is…wait for it…SLEEPING! You still wake when Daddy and I come to bed at around 10pm, and then again at around 4am for the restless pre-dawn hours which you spend feeding, shouting for Cherry and dozing. But for the last few nights, that's been it! I'm so glad I let you get there in your own time. It's been a conscious decision not to night wean, push you to sleep through or 'train' you out of your natural restlessness at night. I had faith in you. It's not exactly the 12 uninterrupted hours we as a culture are so obsessed with, but if there's one thing I know about you, and your sister, it's that you do things your own way. 

Living Arrows

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

My name is Cathy and my children cry

The first time anybody commented upon one of my children's crying, I had been a mother for exactly four weeks.

The feeling of shame, mortification and outright failure has stayed with me ever since.

Cherry's crying as a baby was, I'm told, not normal.

I only have Violet to compare her to and certainly Violet didn't cry anything like as much as Cherry did. But then Violet also didn't, and still doesn't, sleep anything like as much and as well as Cherry did and still does! Swings and roundabouts.

Nonetheless parents and grandparents of other children chose to inform me that their children or grandchildren didn't cry like Cherry. For this reason, and many others, listening to either of my children cry sparks a powerful emotional reaction with me.

It's not always a desire to stop the crying, I have to admit. Sometimes I am the cause of the crying, after all. When I say no to Cherry, as I do, because I must, she is 99% likely to cry. This crying I can cope with. I offer love and support, cuddles and empathy, I'm sorry you're upset darling but the answer is still no, would you like a cuddle?

When I say no to Violet, as I increasingly must, I take the same approach.

Sometimes I find crying annoying. Cherry does go on, bless her, and then some, even if she's just crying because I haven't bought her a cake or she wanted the entire snack bar and I only offered her half. She's loud. Violet is LOUDER. She knows the exact pitch and decibel level to best drill through my skull. Her longevity isn't on the same scale as Cherry's but her pitch - oh her pitch, it just crucifies me.

Often I feel sympathy. They both cry when they've hurt themselves, when they're upset or fearful or shocked or experiencing some other powerful emotion. Cherry fell off her bike last week, a proper head-over-heels somersault, crashing to the ground with the bike tangled up on top of her. She cried for about 15 minutes and I sat on the cold ground with my arms around her, wishing I could carry her pain and disappointment and shock for her.

Violet bit her finger today whilst eating dinner and she cried loudly and indignantly, her little face crumpled and bewildered, holding out her poor indented finger for me to kiss and inspect, begging 'duddle! Duddle!' and straining to get out of her chair and into my arms.

Sometimes I feel frustrated. If one starts sobbing at the exact moment the other needs me the most. While I sat and cuddled a screaming Cherry after the fall from her bike Violet began to wail in the buggy. When Violet was a young baby if she cried Cherry would almost inevitably join in.

Nothing chills my heart like the, mercifully fairly rare, sound of both of my children crying. Sometimes there's not enough of me to go round. They both want both my arms around them, not an arm each.

But sometimes when my children cry I feel a deep sense of inadequacy, failure, hopelessness and despair. I would do anything - ANYTHING - to make it stop, but nothing I do has the slightest impact.

At three, Cherry is finally and thankfully past the stage of producing this kind of crying. I can nearly always comfort her and even if I can't, I know her well enough to know she is drawing something from my presence. Once or twice after epic emotional meltdowns she's cried herself to sleep in my arms, and when she wakes up she seems deeply at peace.

My reactions to her crying have changed too. I can remind myself that the world is a strange and often unfair place to her, and that contrary to popular internet photography memes she's not crying 'because the sky is blue', she's crying because of experiences and feelings and emotions and hormones she doesn't understand and can't control and couldn't name or tell me about even if she wanted to.

At 17 months Violet has just taken up the mantle Cherry has finally discarded. At the moment bedtimes and nap times are an excruciating affair involving feeding and settling and soothing and her chatting and shouting and yelling and singing and squirming and rolling about and crying and more settling and soothing and comforting and crying and feeding again and cuddling and crying and her asking for a cuddle, then crying and asking to be in her bed, then crying and asking for another cuddle, then crying and asking for bed, then just crying….

It breaks my heart. It tears me to pieces. It kills me. But not just because I feel so desperately for her.

I feel shame. I torture myself because I can't stop her crying no matter what I do. I wonder if it's what I do that makes her cry more. Scenarios and possibilities flit through my head. Perhaps I should wean her. Perhaps I should move her into Cherry's room. Perhaps I should night-wean. Perhaps I should stop getting into her cot with her if she seems to need it. Perhaps I should stop bringing her into bed with us.

I needle away at myself, convinced this doesn't happen to 'other' parents, convinced that attachment and gentle parents who follow the philosophies and practices to which I ascribe just don't have this problem, that their babies and toddlers are constantly smiling cooing happy contented chilled out peaceful bundles of joy.

I tell myself it's my fault and that I'm not a good enough mother. That truly good mothers have children who never, ever cry.

One of the many parenting books I read before I even had Cherry had written in bold, capital letters A CRYING BABY DOES NOT EQUAL A BAD MOTHER.

I believed this for just four weeks. Then the doubt kicked in, then I started to hear other mums talking about how they 'never let' their children cry 'even for a second' and all I could think was HOW? And what am I doing wrong?

When Violet cries and I can't comfort her I feel like the worst mother, the worst person, in the world. I used to feel exactly the same way with Cherry.

And I always worried about the impact of the crying. The effect on them, physically and psychologically, of prolonged exposure to cortisol and other stress hormones. If I believe, as I firmly do, that it's wrong to leave a child to cry alone, then how is being with them, cuddling and comforting and soothing and settling but being unable to stop them from crying, any different?

How can I truly say I believe it's wrong to leave a child to cry when I can't and have never been able to always stop my children from crying?

I don't necessarily have any answers but I found this piece by Sarah Ockwell-Smith, author of one my favourite books ever, Toddlercalm, very reassuring.

In particular I was strongly moved by what she says about being able to remain present with our children through unstoppable tears. That this takes strength and patience. I used to become highly stressed, frustrated and anxious with Cherry when I couldn't stop her crying, I wondered aloud what was wrong with me and what was wrong with her, and it's entirely likely my reaction fuelled her rather than comforted her. But as I said above, my reaction to her crying has, eventually, changed.

This gives me hope for Violet's crying too. I have more strength and patience, I feel less judged and scrutinised than I did as a new mother with That Baby Who Cries All The Time. I know I have it in me to stay present with V.

I don't always manage it, I do become despairing and anxious and stressed sometimes, but increasingly I don't. I think having read this piece I will be able to stay calmly present with her more often, accept that I am being good enough rather than anxiously fretting about not being good enough, and whether it helps in the moment or not, in the long run I know it will make a difference. Until it passes, which it will. It always does.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Living Arrows 2/52

Oh just look at you. Look at you! You fell asleep in the buggy on the way back from a mini playdate while Cherry was at pre-school. When we got home I left you asleep and put on a workout DVD. Halfway through you woke up. You toddled in and stood watching me for a while, not sure what to make of all the jumping about. Then you said 'Eep. Eep. (Sleep)' I asked if you wanted to sit on the sofa with a nice and warm (what we call blankets thanks to Cherry!) and you nodded. So on you got, with your 'warm' and Spag P, who used to be Cherry's favourite and seems to have found favour with you too. You chatted to him while I finished my workout. "Ba Pee! Ba Pee! Eeep? Warm?'

No competition for my favourite image of you this week. I took about 100 pictures of you with Trigger. Every time I watch you ride a pony my heart bursts with a mixture of pride and longing and hope that you will inherit my deep love of our four-legged friends. The signs are promising and you're fearless even though Trigger is a good 14.3hh. I find it particularly emotional watching you ride this gorgeous old boy, as long ago in the mists of time when I was 19 I spent my holidays from university working in a livery yard breaking and schooling young horses, and one of the horses I worked with was none other than good old Trigger. I had a ride on him too, just for fun. If you'd told me back then I'd one day pay £1 to be led around by a 14-year-old on a horse I backed and schooled myself, I'd have laughed my head off. 
Living Arrows

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Styling the seasons: January

Taking down the Christmas tree at the beginning of January was the perfect opportunity to begin the Styling the Seasons project, hosted by Katy at Apartment Apothecary and Charlotte at Lotts and Lots. The project involves styling a surface in your home each month to reflect the season and express what it means to you.

I wanted to create a mixture of a fresh, hopeful, springtime feel, but not hide the fact that it is still winter and Christmas isn't a distant memory just yet. January can be so dark and gloomy, all the glitter and sparkle of Christmas packed away but months to go until sunshine and abundance. I wanted an antidote to the January blues and a fresh start for me personally in our new home.

To begin I took the opportunity for a big clear-out and declutter of some spaces we hadn't yet organised around the house, and pulled out a ladder shelf which had been gathering dust and clutter in the cupboard under the stairs. I originally bought the shelf for the porch in our old house and hadn't thought until now how to incorporate it here.

These berries and glittery pine cones were part of a gorgeous bouquet of Christmas flowers. I also bought these beautiful gold birch twigs for Christmas this year. This part of the display is the remnants of Christmas, just a tiny bit of magic and glitter and sparkle that I'm not ready to let go of yet.

The second shelf is a bit of greenery, a couple of blooms that are still going from the Christmas bouquet and a big dark green leafy fern. This glass bottle is so cute, it's actually from the diffusers my sister-in-law used in the toilets before they moved away.

Next up I wanted more of a springtime feel, for a bit of colour and a reminder that light and new growth aren't far away. This rose reminded me of the beautiful cream and pink roses I used to admire in gardens as a child. The way the blush pink tipped the soft cream petals just captivated me every time, they made me think of ice cream and I couldn't decide if I wanted to smell the flowers or eat them! I popped it in this cute glass decanter I found in a charity shop.
To make the display practical as well as beautiful I added the pleasingly distressed watering can I use for the houseplants I manage not to kill off.

For the final shelf I wanted something quite robust and sturdy in case V in particular got her mitts on it. I spied these vintage keys in a gorgeous interiors shop near Cherry's pre-school before Christmas and couldn't resist popping back for them. I'm not sure they represent anything in particular at the moment - perhaps they will in future - but for now I think it's enough to just like the way they look!

I really love how the whole shelf looks now - a big improvement from holding Noel's sweaty cycling helmet and assorted bundles of precariously-balanced crap. I like how neatly it fits into the corner, and on a practical level I can put the phone and wifi router on the top shelf to keep them out of small mitts.

I also love having a part of the house that feels like it's just for me. As a full-time stay at home mum I spend a lot of time in the house and most of the time it's covered in Lego and blocks and the usual kiddy clutter. Being able to glance over to the corner and see this little display has really lifted my mood on the traditionally dark and gloomy first week 'back to normal' post-Christmas.

What I also love is how easy this display was to create using mainly things we already owned. I've never considered myself 'into' interiors or decor and as I've said before on this blog, our rented houses have always just been where we put our stuff. The last house we lived in did start to feel like a home, but this house is really inspiring and motivating me, it's such a beautifully blank canvas and so irresistibly light and bright. It doesn't take much, just odds and ends kicking about, to create a lovely display that makes you happy every time you look at it.

Of course first and foremost it's a family home, not a show home, and in the spirt of keeping it real I have to add the most of the time the bottom half of my lovely display is all but hidden by the guinea pigs, who have to live indoors most of the time at this chilly time of year.

The light in the bottom three photographs isn't great, and that's something I want to work on in future posts. I'm quite keen to keep any editing or filtering of my photos to a minimum at the moment, for various reasons, so I look forward to it getting lighter, brighter and easier to photograph my home in a way that does it justice.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

The invisible link

The girl in these pictures has big blue eyes and thick brown hair. She is exuberant, joyful, loving and full of wonder. She is also passionately emotional and deeply sensitive. 

Life often delights her, sometimes it can overwhelm her. She draws comfort from loving arms and a sense of feeling understood and accepted, just as she is. 

The woman in these pictures is warm and wise. Deeply loving, endlessly giving. Becoming a mother gave her life definition, but it never defined her life. She has been and remains many things other than a mother, but she was and still is a mother first and foremost.

My daughter and my mother. Separated by a generation, their bond is entirely their own. Their link is seen but unseen. I see it so clearly in these pictures, in the girl and the woman.

I can see both the girl I was and the woman I am to become.

The invisible link, me.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Living Arrows 1/52

For a few years now I've watched as bloggers I love have charted and documented their children through photography, week by week.

I absolutely love the idea of recording my children as they change and grow. I'm going to take part in the Living Arrows project, in which you share a photograph of your child (or children, in my case!) every week.

The project, now in its third year, is inspired by the following quote by Khalil Gibran:

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth

As I watch my two children grow and change I can't help but see myself, the bow, reflected back, in good ways and bad. I understand more and more that my role is to fire my children into the world armed with the weapons they need - courage, kindness and love, always, always love. 

I take photographs of my children all the time. To the point whereby I have to tell myself 'no, STOP' sometimes when actually taking a picture would be a really, really bad idea. Like yesterday when Cherry and Violet were wandering along holding hands and giggling and I thought 'that would be such a cute picture' but in between attempting to grab my phone out of my bag and keep hold of the buggy my concentration wavered and when I looked up again Violet was marching determinedly towards the road!

Lapses in judgement aside, I have plenty to share.

First up is V.
The softness of your face! Sometimes I want to freeze time and keep you forever my little baby. It's been a long time since you were that tiny peaceful contented baby and now you never stop moving, chatting and making mayhem. But when you sleep, I see that gentle, contented peace you carry around inside your perfect little self. 

Oh, this girl and sleep - will we ever get there? It's been nearly 17 months and she's as erratic as ever. Over Christmas she actually gave us two separate nights in which she only woke once - once, not until 4.30am. I felt like I'd been on a spa break! But with the new year came two new teeth and we're back to waking hourly. Last night she was inexplicably awake from 11.30pm until 4am. CRY. 

But all it takes is one look through my burning, reddened eyes at her beautiful face, captured here in that rarest of states, asleep, and I would forgive her anything. She's at the most delightful age, her comprehension and speech impress me every day and her sense of humour is particularly advanced for one so young!

You announced this morning you were a princess and needed a crown. You went to soft play with Violet and Daddy and napped in the car on the way home. When you woke up you were all at sea. You climbed onto my lap and rested your face in my chest. 'Mummy! I don't want to be a princess any more.' I asked if you just wanted to be a Cherry and you nodded into my jumper.

Cherry has started properly at her Montessori pre-school this term. Last term she did two three-hour sessions a week, this week she is doing three three-hour sessions and going to lunch club for two of them. All in all she's out for 11 hours a week. After a year at home with the pair of them full-time, being able to hear myself THINK for 11 hours a week is absolutely heavenly! She's so funny about pre-school, she seems to enjoy it when she's there, talks about it a lot, she's MAD about lunch club and is making friends. But every single day when we get up (at 5am, this week!) she asks not to go to pre-school. 

She's a sensitive soul and not the most adaptable child, she's very resistant to change and responds well to routine. So I am hopeful that going to pre-school more often will help her adjust. If I thought she genuinely didn't like it, I would stop her going immediately, but she is so bright and happy and full of chatter and confidence when I pick her up, and talks so often about her teachers and friends, that I am sure it's the right thing for her. 

She's at such a wonderful age, such a funny, creative, loving, capable little thing. Bursting with energy and happiness and love and a total motormouth. She's a real handful!. 

I am so, so, so grateful to be these incredible girls' bow. 

Living Arrows

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Bringing creativity into my life

This year I want to become more creative.

I became a journalist primarily because I loved and excelled at writing, but the role of a news journalist is really to channel the voices and opinions of others. There is very little room for actual creative expression.

(As an aside, I find blogging surprisingly difficult, because I spent ten years being very proficient at removing all trace of myself, my opinions and my creativity from my daily output.)

It's probably no coincidence that since cutting dramatically back on work, I have found myself wanting to become more creative. When I'm being paid to write reams of content for clients, I don't really want to spend what little free time I have writing.

Creativity isn't exactly limited to writing - by definition, it's limitless. I have picked out a few areas in which I would like to become more creative this year.

They are

Might as well start with the obvious! I want to work on different types of writing and as a start have chosen to commit to a journal, this blog, and letter-writing to my family in Singapore. I am pondering adding short stories to the list, but that's probably enough writing for now!

God I love photography. I am not very good at drawing, so I have carried around for years the belief that I'm not 'arty' or can't 'do' photography. In fact I've always loved the concept of photography and been quite drawn to it, but lacked the confidence to actually begin to learn anything in earnest because 'I'm not arty'. Although once I thought about it one of the things I love so much about photography is it allows you to create art without having to draw anything yourself!

My home
Since moving into a family home I have come to understand that home-making is a skill and an art. A home can be functional and beautiful. A home can reflect the individual and collective personality of the people living within it. As a lifelong member of Generation Rent, until now my house has basically been where I put my stuff. It's only now that I have the freedom to make the house we are fortunate enough to live in, a home.

Working out
If I could I'd ride my bike for hours and hours every day. Unfortunately I have years to wait before my children are at school and such an ambition is feasible. Most days I work out in the house and there's not much I can do about that, but I can make the space I work out in more creative. I can also be more creative with my workouts in general rather than going through the same tired old motions.

My children
V is still a little young for true 'crafting' but Cherry loves cutting and sticking and painting and anything involving masses of mess and things that V shouldn't but always does end up putting in her mouth. They can however both decorate the s**t out of a cake, and V's pretty good at 'drawing', if by 'drawing' you mean sitting in her chair saying PAPER while eating Cherry's crayons and throwing stuff on the floor.

I'm intrigued by the concept of creative meditations and adding visuals and other tools to the practice.

At the end of last year I took an introduction to massage course, which I will blog about another day. I learned a lot about myself during the five-week duration as well as much about the way in which we make connections. Human connections are far more than just verbal and massage is an entirely unspoken but deeply powerful way of making and nurturing connections. I'm excited to explore this more this year.

That'll probably do for now. I would love to hear any tips or recommendations for good learning sources on any of the above - particularly photography, as that's really dominating the list at the moment.

Friday, 2 January 2015

Gratitude list 2/1/15

1. Being reminded of an unpaid invoice I'd totally forgotten about *fires up Sweaty Betty website*.

2. The hyacinths my auntie Lizzie sent over for Christmas. They're groaning under their own blooms and the kitchen is full of their sweet scent.

3. Listening to Violet call 'Cherry? Aa-oo?' (Where are you?) in her adorable little voice.

4. A 30-minute Skype chat with my sister-in-law that left me feeling really close to and connected with her.

5. That people actually came to our open-house drinks party on New Year's Eve, and we got to meet and chat with several neighbours.

6. The house I live in. Every day I look at the enormous, graceful tree directly opposite and can't quite believe I actually live here.

7. The amount of love Cherry can convey just by looking at me with her beautiful big blue eyes.

8. The continued integrity of my twice-shattered pelvic floor through a vicious chesty cough over Christmas.

9. Being reminded I'm due an upgrade on my mobile phone and having a fancy new one winging its way to me as I write.

10. Noel, who reminds me of things like unpaid invoices and overdue upgrades.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

My stomach, my self

How it is, and how it was.

I grew up with women's magazines. My parents didn't like me reading them, but I got my hands on them anyway. They were a gateway into a different world, a delightfully girly world of fashion and makeup and skincare and pleasantly obvious quizzes and what he REALLY wants in bed.

All I wanted was to be willowy and ethereal like the girls in the pictures. I was confused and slightly in denial about my own body. Everybody knew there were only three body types. You could be tall and willowy and slender, you could be eye-poppingly voluptuous with a tiny waist and opulent, soaring breasts and hips, or you could be tiny and petite and delicate, waifish to the point of emaciated, with bones hollow as a bird's.

I didn't want the broad shoulders, wide ribcage and thick waist with which I was gifted. I hated most of my body as a teenager, from my wild hair to the keratosis on the back of my arms to the way my thighs touched together at the top. But my midriff was my absolute fixation. My bete noir.

I read from cover to cover any magazine that promised a flat stomach in five days. I followed wonder-workouts for the belly slavishly only to see no difference other than a burning, aching midriff after a week of angry, frustrated sit-ups.

I wish I could say that as I got older my distaste for my body left me. To some extent I have made peace with myself. My hair I have embraced. The keratosis I have accepted, for want of any actual solution, and I bare my arms in summer unsightly pimples and all. I can smile indulgently at the phrase 'thigh gap', shrug my shoulders and move on. My shoulders now actively please me. They are magnificent and powerful and I love them.

My stomach, not so much. And not just because it's been ravaged beyond all recognition by two children. The stomach, the gut, is the very centre of the self. The gut is where instinct and intuition lie. Until I am at peace with my stomach, I am not at peace with myself.

It's hard to be at peace with a baggy, stretch marked, mysteriously fluctuating midsection. It's always been my 'problem area', it's never been flat, it can start the day quite unimposingly and end it looking six months pregnant.

Once upon a time it was quite pleasantly softly curved - at the time of course I loathed every single one of the many millimetres I could pinch between my fingers. Now there are many more millimetres - many more. I am not shaped like a high-street shop model. Most cuts of jeans and trousers dig in in all the wrong places, creating extra inches, spilling ingloriously over waistbands that aren't even tight.

Looking at my stomach in isolation it seems very simple. If you don't like it, change it. Work out more. Do sit ups. Wear Spanx. Go on the *insert wonder diet* diet.

Only I'm pretty fit and you only have to look at me to see, objectively, that I do not need to go on a diet. Waif-like and ethereal I am not, but you would be hard-pressed to convince me or anybody that I have a weight problem.

I have been reading a lot by Geneen Roth recently and I have come to know that it's not my stomach that's the problem - a problem - at all. It's quite the opposite.

My stomach has the answer.

It's my stomach that has been trying to show me the way all these years, while I have raged against it.

My stomach is where I pin all my hopes and fears. My stomach is how I have delayed and postponed life, when life gets scary and real.

I will do X, once my stomach is flat. When I have got in shape and my stomach is nicer, I will buy different clothes. I will pursue a different path. I will do different things.

I will be a different person.

(Only I won't, because on the odd occasion I have had a flatter stomach than usual I was still me)

My stomach is an extraordinary thing. It's a living, breathing, flesh and blood barometer. I know everything I need to know about myself at any given moment, through my stomach. I know how I feel about myself, how I feel about life, how I feel about the world, based upon how I feel about my stomach.

If I am feeling tolerant and loving, my stomach is a gentle friend, the home of my wisdom, the once-upon-a-time home of the children I grew.
Cherry, 36 weeks.
Violet, 36 weeks
If I am feeling angry and frustrated my stomach is the blancmange-like colossus that stands between myself and everything I feel I should be, or want to be. It is the wobbly, white, porridge-like roadblock to my destiny. My destiny as somebody else.

My stomach is a chameleon. It is the changing, shape-shifting monster of my nightmares and the comforting haven of my dreams.

My stomach tells me the truth. I know things in my gut, my stomach shows me the way, it cannot be ignored.

My stomach wants - needs - to be trusted. It demands attention, it wants to be listened to, it will not deceive me.

My stomach, my self.

What My Stomach Did part 1. Cherry

What My Stomach Did part 2. Violet