Saturday, 21 February 2015

The size of things

I took these photos this morning, for a different post (to come) on what I'm doing round the house.

I knew I'd got bigger lately but I hadn't realised, or wanted to see, quite how big.

Generally I dislike how I look in most photographs, the photos I like the most are the ones in which I probably look least like me. That's a complicated sentence to explain. I've been reading a lot by Geneen Roth recently (highly, highly recommend) and she talks about growing up waiting to look like a model and being utterly perplexed when she didn't.

I really identified. Growing up I read glossy teen magazines and the occasional illicit Cosmo. I was mesmerised by the girls in the pictures and desperate to be like them. But also, as a young impressionable girl, I was desperate to grow up and somewhere along the line my brain confused the two. I thought when I grew up, I would look like a model - because all the images I consumed suggested that would be the case.

I can see I've never really let go of that idea. I hope that doesn't sound too arrogant, I want to make it clear I don't actually think I look like a model. But I am so used to seeing images of women who are so slender in the first place so posed and airbrushed and manufactured that somehow my brain seems to think ALL women look like that in photographs - including me. Everybody knows there are only three body types for women. Tiny and petite and delicate, tall and willowy, or curvy. I'm neither petite nor curvy, I am tall, ergo surely I should be willowy, yes?

Well clearly not. But believe it or not that's the image of myself I've been carrying around with me. I like photos of me that hint at willowiness, emphasise my bone structure, disguise my broadness and softness. We all like pictures that emphasise what we perceive as our best features after all.

I actually don't have huge amounts of pictures of myself. My parents didn't take that many when I was growing up and I never took any during my 20's. So I don't have a lot of photographic evidence to counteract my mistaken belief that I am, somewhere underneath, willowy and ethereal.

When I looked at these pictures I think for the first time I truly let go of that idea and just saw myself. Truly myself.

I can't say I was thrilled. I look bigger than I want to be. Bigger than I've been in years. Bigger than I'm comfortable with.

I waited for the inevitable self-flagellation to start, the despairing thoughts about being fat and overweight and lazy and greedy and having no self control and all the other things we tell ourselves when we're not happy with ourselves.

But when I thought about it, none of that was there.

When I look at these pictures I see a woman who has given away too much of herself.

A woman who has lost touch with her body and what her body wants and needs.

A woman who hasn't slept through the night in 18 months and is still smiling.

A woman who has given as much of herself as she possibly, possibly can to her family and her very young children, and who is still giving.

I see a woman who is always carrying, wiping, lifting, fetching, helping, moving, pushing, cuddling.

A woman still breastfeeding a voracious 18-month-old (breastfeeding might melt away the pounds for some, for me it sees my body desperately hang on to stores of fat put down during pregnancy. What can I say, I make gold top.)

I see a woman who has put her children's needs way, way above her own longing for time and space and physical activity and breaking a sweat.

I see a woman who misses her fitness and the daily workouts she once took for granted.

I see a woman who feeds her family and often doesn't have the energy left to think about what she might want to eat, so instead eats snacks and treats and too much of the wrong thing because it's there.

And I see a woman who often does reach into the cupboard for a chocolate biscuit or a cake or a treat because she wants something for herself, even if it is just baked goods.

I feel great compassion for that woman. The last thing I'm going to do is give her a hard time for gaining a bit of weight.

What to do, though? I have never been on a diet and I don't believe in diets per se. They are a short-term fix for a symptom, and completely overlook the cause. I know what food is 'good' for me and what is 'bad' for me. I don't want to follow complex and restrictive regimes and I respond extremely badly to any sense of deprivation.

I need to get back in touch with my body and let my body guide me. My body likes to be active and move. It likes to eat food that nourishes it. I've known I was gaining weight for a while because I feel pretty uncomfortable most of the time. My body isn't happy with what I'm eating and how I'm eating it, that much is clear.

If I think about it, properly think about it, I don't want to eat rubbish and junk and endless chocolate and snacks. It doesn't make me feel good and it doesn't satisfy me. Nor does not exercising, sitting on the sofa watching TV, or any other weight-inducing habits.

If I listen to my body, really listen, I am pretty confident the weight will take care of itself. And even if it doesn't, when I look at these photographs, I can still find plenty about them that I like.

(I just want to make it crystal clear this is a personal post about my personal feelings about my body and my weight and relates to nobody else's body, feelings, size or weight but mine!)

Friday, 20 February 2015

Half term

Motherhood can be really hard sometimes. I think the hardest part is the pressure we put ourselves under. For me it's to ENJOY EVERY MOMENT. I am conscious my children will only be so young for such a short period of time. I'm also conscious that, having chosen to have children so close in age, the baby years are already behind me and the toddler years will follow in the blink of an eye.

Which means these times now are all the more precious and I want to enjoy them all, I really do. But it's so hard sometimes! We've had a rubbish half term. I was so hoping to enjoy this holiday.

We had a few playdates planned and some outings and trips, the obligatory visit to Granny's house and a day out at Wisley and some fun in the butterfly house. February half term is always my favourite as it usually kicks off with or incorporates my birthday. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, Violet got sick.

Then I did.

Then Cherry did.

Then it was Tuesday already and all I'd done was wipe up sick and smell sick and deal with sick and generally been surrounded by sick.

We did make it to Granny's house for a very lovely afternoon and night, but the next day our trip to Wisley was a complete disaster. Cherry, still not 100%, fell asleep in the car on the way. That's always a bad sign these days. She rarely, if ever, naps any more. If she does sleep during the day it's really heavy sleep, she's groggy and upset when she wakes up and it can take her a good hour or two to really orientate herself again - then she won't go to bed again til 9pm. All in all, naps are BAD.

But she fell asleep, which meant she woke up groggy and disoriented and proceeded to scream and cry for the 50 minutes we were actually at Wisley. One thing after another - she was cold, she didn't want to wear her coat, she was hungry, we had to wait for a table, she didn't want apple juice, she wanted orange juice AND SO ON.

Eventually I took pity on everybody (myself included) and just took her home.

It's hard to know how to deal with Cherry sometimes. Much is made of ages and stages - terrible twos, threenagers - but I tend to just think kids will be kids and that as parents we tend to over-apologise for what is often completely ordinary and normal behaviour.

Some children breeze through the early years without so much as a blip, others hit every 'stage' going full throttle and stay there for ages. Cherry is a challenging, emotional, passionate child with a very defined personality and a clear sense of who she is. She is not malleable, easily influenced or obedient and she is prone to resistance, especially if tired or unwell - the more run-down she is the more resistant. She's a wonderful untamed spirit and I wouldn't change her for the world but sometimes she is completely exhausting and there's only so much I can give.

Today has been a struggle, although it did end very happily and positively. One thing I will say for Cherry, she always lets me know when things need to change. I've never really prioritised one-on-one time with either of my children thus far, it's basically been completely unviable other than the odd bit here and there with one of them.

But Cherry's made it clear that this has to change, and I can see that there is a need to carve out a small portion of time every day for just me and her. I'm not quite sure how we will manage this yet, my preference would be to get Violet into bed nice and early and have half an hour or so with Cherry before she turns in. But both girls are super-early risers and Violet is often tricky to settle, meaning Cherry could be left waiting for up to an hour for her 'Mummy time'. Plus after an hour of settling Violet and 12.5-13 hours of parenting I'm usually ready for a bit of child-free time to be honest!

The other option is the morning, we're all usually up some time between 5.30 and 6.30am and Noel doesn't usually leave until gone 7, so there is potential there. Mornings are not my preference, Cherry usually wants to play with Violet and is full of the joys, so really it's in the evenings that she could benefit from a bit of quiet, close, loving time with me.

The other thing this half term has once again highlighted is how much I need to be looking after myself. I actually struggle with that concept overall - I know I need to look after myself but realistically and practically speaking what does that actually mean? Cliches of massages and bubble baths abound, I love massages and yes I love a bath too but I am increasingly feeling it's my emotional and spiritual needs that could do with a bit of focus. More on that soon no doubt, in the mean time I found this an interesting read on that subject. And this, from the same site, on changing the shape of your mornings, which has become something of an ongoing quest for me.

I hope your half term was better than ours! Still, there's always Easter…fingers crossed.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

RideLondon 100 and overcommiting

Last year I overcommitted to a whole heap of things. A theme of the year became letting people down and backing out of commitments.

One of the commitments I failed to fulfil was RideLondon 100, the 100-mile London to Surrey and back again bike ride. I had pledged to do the ride for Tommy's, the pregnancy and baby charity. I had sponsorship, I wrote about it in the Telegraph. But as time went on finding the time for training became harder and more stressful and it became obvious to me what I had to do.

There are a million and one reasons - excuses - as to why I eventually chose to defer my place.

I'm not proud of it, but rather than sit and beat myself up, I chose to learn from it.

There is a big part of me that wants to do loads of sportives and try loads of new things and write more books and set goals and challenges and follow through on them and tick them off my great big to-do list of this gift we call life.

My 'New Year's Resolutions' for 2014, written when Cherry had just turned 2 and V was four  months old. I mean seriously.

But the bigger part of me - the biggest part - means what I say the most when I say I want to be a stay-at-home mother first and foremost and put my children first. All the time.

As it turns out the specific children I have and the specific lifestyle I chose and the specific parenting approach to which I ascribe and the specific challenges I wanted to do were just incompatible.

Once I really thought about it the truth was quite simple. I was not yet ready to devote a significant amount of emotional energy to anything but my children and family.

2014 was all about learning and cutting back. I did complete a 10K run and a 60K Cycletta at the end of the year but considering at the beginning of 2014 I'd had 100-mile rides and potential London to Paris adventures and new books and buying a home and career expansion and diversification and all sorts of other enormous targets and goals in my head, these didn't end up being celebrated as achievements so much as 'well at least I managed…'

This year I have so far made one commitment and that's to fulfil the RideLondon place I deferred in 2014.

In truth little has changed, and I have no guarantee that I won't find the process stressful and frustrating and even come to regret it this year. 100-mile bike rides don't happen by themselves. I am not 'cycling fit' and I have a long way to go until I am physically capable of the feat.

I don't have any more free time than I had last year. Cherry goes to pre-school for three mornings a week but Violet is still at home full-time. They remain my absolute and number one top priority.

But what I do have is just a small spark, the tiniest fragment, of a desire for something just for me. Some part of me separate from my children and my family, not completely engulfed by and absorbed in them. Nothing huge, nothing dramatic - just a little bit of time and space carved out as my own.

I also have the great good fortune to have the help and support of the awesome Kerry Bircher at Revolution Cycling. Kerry has kindly offered me a place on her bespoke training programme for RideLondon and other distance sportives. We will have a coaching ride together once a month, along with her other trainees, and I will have a fully tailored training programme, help, support and advice.

I can't deny I feel a great deal of apprehension at taking on this challenge. But at the end of the day it's just one day, one bike ride, and if it takes me 100 years to complete it and my arse hurts and I cry - so be it.

*Jacket and jersey complimentary from adidas

There are still places available to train with Kerry for RideLondon 100 or a similar distanced sportive, including monthly training rides and a bespoke training plan. Perfect if, like me, the mind is willing but the flesh is probably a bit weaker than you'd like it to be!

Friday, 13 February 2015

Travel and children: Living the dream closer to home

I wrote a piece for the Telegraph's Men section this week. Frustratingly cycling content, unless it is specifically related just to women, is filed under 'men'. SIGH. Anyway, I happened to be browsing the men's section to see if my piece had gone up yet (you can read it here if you so desire) and I found this piece on travelling with children.

It's a really great read that is actually becoming a bit familiar. Among the online circles I haunt a fair few families have had the courage to rip up the rulebook and follow their dreams.

Being the kind of person who tends to want to BE the people she admires, immediately I also want a VW Camper and a spirit of adventure. I want Noel to take a sabbatical from work, I want us to pack up and off we will go.

Only we don't have a VW camper and I don't know if Noel could get a sabbatical and we've never really travelled and I'm not sure, truth be told, that I'm the travelling type.

I'm not sure I'm not, but I'm pretty terrified of flying. Also I'm not really that interested in sightseeing and bargaining in markets in Marrakech (isn't that what travellers do?) and I don't smoke pot or want to lose myself on a beach in Thailand and I think I'd probably prefer a nice hotel to a camper van and insert 90's travelling cliche here.

And I love our home and our community and our family life here. And sometimes the best part of the day for me comes after I've been out in the cold and the mud with the children and we can come home and climb into a hot bubble bath together and then put on our pyjamas and watch Frozen.

None of this rules out travel but it's probably something I think we would need to work up to. Noel might not even want to, I've never really discussed it with him, because it's only just become That Thing I Have To Do and between you and me, I'm a bit faddy.

But there are a few signs pointing to travel becoming more of a force in our lives in the coming years.

We will be going to Singapore in May to stay with our family, and the girls and I will be staying for about a month after Noel heads back. With family based there for the foreseeable future it's a great springboard to the other side of the world.

I could probably place much more travel content now than I could have done a year or two ago.

We have just over 18 months before Cherry starts school and our travel options are limited - but that said I wouldn't think twice about taking her out of or delaying school to travel. Noel might have different ideas of course, again, it's not really come up yet.

I could write a book about our travels with our children.

I now own a travellers notebook - I mean of all the signs, this is surely the biggest?

What is it about the idea of travelling with children that appeals so much? Logistically speaking it could be a bloody nightmare, all four of you crammed into a tiny camper van alongside all the minutae of family life, the parts that you spread between the four walls of your house, bundled together and compressed into such a small, in our case probably quite smelly space.

I can feel I have no space and no headspace living in a roomy three-bed semi. What would I feel like in a VW camper?

But I do recognise it's day-to-day life, and the obligations and burdens we put upon ourselves, that make us feel cramped, not the physical details of where we live.

Outside the camper van, is the world.

We could all see things we never thought we'd see, try things we never thought we'd do, we could learn so much about ourselves and each other, the world around us. We could be so free, and our children so wild, the world their teacher, the classroom chalkboard (or electronic screen as I suppose it is now) and having to raise your hand if you want to go to the toilet a million miles away.

I love the idea of my children experiencing freedom - true freedom - and of the children that still live in often quite pronounced ways within Noel and I getting to do the same. I can't speak for him but my inner child would love a year or so running wild and free. I would look like I do in this picture ALL THE TIME, windswept and romantic and faraway and knowing and wise.

So far we've managed two holidays since the children were born - one lovely week in a villa in the South of France with a six-month-old Cherry and a week in the Lake District last April which was summed up quite accurately by Noel as 'knackering and really, really hard work in a different house'.

We've certainly never attempted anything as down-to-earth as camping yet, although it's definitely on the to-do list. But having never even spent a night under canvas as a family, twelve months in a VW feels like a stretch at the  moment.

One thing I often think about the fantasy of travel is that we can dream we will become different people, our cares and worries will melt away, but in truth you're always still you, you're just you in a VW camper.

There's also still so much to be discovered and seen and learned in the country in which we currently reside.

Forests and hills and mountains and trees and beaches and cobbled streets and flea markets and adventures to be had right on our doorsteps.

There's a museum less than two miles from our front door.

There's an ecology centre, a community allotment, a co-operative farm, art galleries, lavender fields, festivals, fairs and poetry readings. We live within 20 minutes of London. Two hours from the coast.

There are adventures to be had every single day, if we want them.

Travelling and learning and exploring are a state of mind as much as about physical location.

There's a world outside our front door, so much I can show the children and so much I can learn to see through their eyes.

The idea of travelling the world is so very big, but often we're so preoccupied with the big things we forget the things that are small. Outside our front door.

We can live the dream right here. And I can find out if it's really a VW camper and a year globetrotting I want, or if it's just the idea and the promise of becoming a different, and of course infinitely happier person, that I'm so drawn to.

*This post is not sponsored by VW. Other camper vans are available.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

A year of unravelling

'Another book?!'

Another parcel arrived for me today. Noel didn't even need to ask what was in it.

The fact he knew it would be 'another' book is actually significant on several levels. It shows that I have been reading recently. Lots and lots and lots, in fact.

Which means of course that I have the time to read. Enough that book-shaped parcels are shoved through our letterbox regularly. Enough for Noel to comment on it.

Which means that somewhere along the line, I have settled into this life as a mother-of-two enough to have regular and reliable evenings in which I can do everything I want and need to do and then, before I go to bed I can read books.

I don't know if it's taken me more, or less, time than is 'normal' to get to this stage, nor do I particularly care. Life is still unbelievably full-on a lot of the time and Violet's sleep is still at best erratic but there is more energy, more predictability and more shape to our days and weeks as a family.

Truthfully speaking one of the reasons the last 18 months have been so relentless and exhausting and draining and downright hard much of the time has little to do with the day-to-day aspect of being a mother to my two children. It has been prompted by becoming a mother to these two incredible little people, but it's been a process all of my own making and doing.

I have been, as it turns out, unravelling.

I only found a word for the mental and emotional process I'm still toiling through when I read This I Know by Susannah Conway. Unravelling is her word for the journey of self-discovery. Starting from a place where who or what or where you are is no longer tenable.

For her, the process was kick-started by the death of her lover. For me, it was when Violet reached four months and I realised the way I was attempting to raise her and her sister was incompatible with the people I hoped they would grow up to be. Which made me then look at myself and ask if I was the mother I really, truly and honestly wanted to be.

I wasn't.

And the process went deeper, I unravelled further, to realise that not only was I not the mother I wanted to be and by definition then the person I wanted to be - but I had in many ways no real idea who I actually was at all.

No idea.

It's not surprising. My life has changed irrevocably and at a lightning pace in the last four years. Having spent ten years building my identity based upon what I did, the vital question of who I am had slipped away.

And then there are the personal factors, the belief that to reflect upon oneself is self-indulgent, narcissistic and to be discouraged. The loss of fragments of myself every time I found myself admiring or inspired by another, because inevitably this admiration translated itself into feeling I had to become more like them, and therefore less and less like me.

Much of what I thought to be true about myself was built on the opinions of others, some of whom I no longer see or know, formed in most cases well in excess of ten years ago.

It turns out once you start questioning your beliefs and thought processes you realise how much of what you do is borne of habit, assumptions, or of just not knowing or considering any other way. The process of opening one's mind and heart to change - true change - is absolutely terrifying precisely because it involves questioning and challenging these beliefs. I wrote a little here about some of the beliefs I had identified about myself - none of them good - and it was from this starting point that I came to understand that just because I think or believe something, that doesn't mean that thought or belief is true.

Such a simple concept but once truly grasped, the implications are radical. I look at some of the most truly happy and alive people I know, and the one thing I can see they all have in common is that their minds are free.

Free from the tedious, limiting, exhausting cage of thoughts and beliefs and habits and patterns that has steadily built up and built up until it becomes so intertwined with our very existence we truly believe the world would crumble beneath us without it.

Initially I thought I was simply on a quest to become a better and more patient mother. I can say with 100% certainty that I have achieved this, but this ceased to be the aim long, long ago. At some point not too far into the process, it became clear that what I was doing was about far, far more than what kind of parent I am.

It was far, far deeper and it was incredibly scary. A small part of me already wanted to back out. I feared the end result. What kind of person would I become? How would the people who love me now feel if I changed? Would I change into a person that Noel could still love, would still want to be married to?

On a very real level, I feared losing everything and everybody I loved. But the only thing I feared more was not changing. Spending my life feeling lost, like my identity was swimming somewhere out at sea and I was paddling at the shore.

One of the practices I began was keeping a journal and as I was scribbling yesterday I happened to flick back to the date of my first entry. It was exactly one year ago.

One year and so much has changed. But also, so little.

I am still me. I am still a mother. I am still a wife. I am still loved by the people who loved me at the beginning.

On a superficial level, the only thing that's changed is I read more books, go to group therapy once a week and don't drink alcohol any more.

But underneath, everything is different.

This time last year life was characterised by waiting. Waiting for things to change. Waiting for life to get 'easier'. Waiting to 'get back to normal'. Waiting to be the person I was before even though this person was clearly a person I no longer wanted to be. Waiting for things to click into place, waiting for life to stop being so uncertain and difficult and challenging and such a struggle. Waiting to be a different person.

Waiting to be happy.

Now, I'm not waiting any more - for any of it.

I'm not waiting for anything at all.

I just am.

I am.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Living Arrows 4/52 and 5/52

I'm late with these already! Where does time go? I had a meeting with some friends on Box Hill to discuss a really exciting cycling project at the end of January, all of a sudden it's practically mid-Feb and I realised I haven't even got back to them. Such is life with two children. The days used to be long and the years short, now the days aren't even long any more.


Little one. Aren't you just a joy, a treat? You might be back to your old tricks sleeping (or rather waking) but how can I hold it against you? Your favourite word at the moment is 'silly'. Everything is silly. 'Silly Derry! Silly mama! Silly At-dat!' (you can't say Violet yet) You're very physically adept, you've started running and even jumping! It always amazes me how much you can do. I find you do things very quickly, but I'm not sure how much of that is you being a quick little stick and how much of it is you having a big sister to copy. One thing's for sure, you're determined. You want to be doing EVERYTHING Cherry is doing and you won't let anything stop you. 

I really don't want to force my interests and passions onto you but I am so, so glad you love being outdoors as much as I do. You barely feel the cold, and as long as you've had enough to eat and drink (VITAL) you are the most energetic and outdoorsy little person. You can't spy a hill without running up it. We went to Box Hill for a breakfast picnic and all the way there all you talked about was running up the hill. Look at you go, mighty girl! This was also the day we heard the woodpecker in the woods, and the next day you came home from preschool with your own woodpecker made from a cardboard tube, a bit of paper and a pasta twirl for a beak. 


I couldn't resist snapping you playing at a lovely cafe in a nearby park. They have a gorgeous illustration on the wall and you were just in the right spot for the fox ears. You and your sister were SO funny, you charmed the entire cafe and had everybody in stitches with your antics. I love your dynamic, you're both natural entertainers and love an audience, and you can really spark off each other to put on a show. I lose count of the amount of people who are charmed and entertained, by you two. Sometimes people compliment your dad and I on your behaviour and I have learned to take these compliments at face value and smile. In truth they make me uncomfortable, you are both normal, healthy children with strong wills and very defiant streaks and I hate the idea that people would think you 'do as you're told' or any other behavioural values I don't want to nurture in you. You don't 'do as you're told' because I don't 'tell' you. I ask politely and you usually co-operate. Sometimes you don't, but we always work out a solution in the end. It's very different from you 'doing as you're told' although often to outsiders it can look that way. 

You really, really wanted to get your bike up that hill! It was hard work and the bike is quite heavy and the hill was steep and muddy. More than once you screamed that you couldn't do it, you howled with frustration, you fell onto your bottom again and again. But you got that bike up that hill. One of your defining characteristics is your persistence. You're like a dog with a bone, you find it hard to let go, give up and give in. You needed every ounce of that amazing persistence today. It's incredible to see you empower yourself like this and I had to distract myself with your sister to stop myself from rushing to your aid and taking your feelings and your moment away from you. 
After you'd hauled the bike all the way up to the top you decided to bring it back down again which was another tough physical challenge, but you were so pumped you picked the bike up and carried all the way across the grass to the pathway. Your whole body language had changed, you were as confident and powerful as an Olympic athlete doing a lap of honour. It's a privilege to watch these moments and bear witness to the making of a girl.