Time to think

When was the last time you stopped to think? Perhaps it was in the bath? Or maybe in the early hours when you couldn’t sleep? I often bemoan the fact that I don’t have time to reflect on where I am in life. To think about what I have achieved and to plan what goals to aim for. I get frustrated that I am so busy that I can’t just stop and think.

When I do have time to relax, I fill it with friends and family. With weekend papers and wine. With dog walks and pub lunches, so I still don’t have time to think. When I go on my summer holiday, I devour books and sleep in the sun. I walk to cafés, drink coffee and explore new places and I still don’t have time to think.

Here’s a thought, perhaps time to think is overrated. When I schedule my bath (a week in advance due to having 4 daughters), I imagine that I will wallow in its comforting warmth and indulge myself in reflections on life and what the universe holds for me. Yet the reality is that I lie there and think about all the things that I should have done that day. I try to write them in my phone, which then gets wet and I worry that I will drop it in the bath. Why is it that as soon as my desperate body slides into those delicious bubbles, I feel the overwhelming urge to write a list? Not the inspirational list I had hoped my thoughts would take me to whilst lying in my bath. No. A list of must do’s and forgot to do’s and shit there was something else, but I can’t quite remember what it is to do’s.

Then there’s the tossing and turning at 3am, when I’m wide awake for no apparent reason. Unexpected thinking time that I can immerse myself in without fear of interruption. I can turn this negative awake time around and imagine what I want for my future and what I have achieved in my past. But these useful thoughts seem to escape me and in their place I am gripped by anxiety. Anxious thoughts that I didn’t give a toss about yesterday and by the morning I don’t give a toss again.

In the past when I worried about something I would dwell on it, turn it over and over in my mind. I allowed myself too much time to think: what could happen? What might happen? The more thinking fertilizer I fed the worry, the more the worry grew. Now I try and stubbornly refuse to give my worries airspace. Rather than stopping to think, I get my head down and hurry right on by.

When was the last time you got to stop and think? But more importantly, when was the last time you were able to use your precious thinking time well? Perhaps we shouldn’t seek time to reflect, but simply to enjoy the moment.

In sickness and in health

The following letter was inspired by a post on my local mums’ Facebook page. It is about no-one in particular, but some may relate to it. If you have a husband who is nothing like this one, then be eternally thankful (but don’t feel that you still can’t play the PMT card, when you’re just having a really shitty day).

Dear Darling Husband,

I married you ‘for richer, for poorer. In sickness and in health’. I just want to clarify the terms. ‘In sickness’ does not include man flu. I did not say, “I do” to watching you laying on the sofa with that irritating woeful look on your face, whilst telling anyone who will listen (your mum) that you have googled the symptoms and it could be Malaria. I am aware (because you keep saying it) that absolutely nobody understands how ill you are. I am also aware (because you keep telling me) what a shit nurse I am. You see, the thing is, I am not a shit nurse. When the kids have a temperature of 102 degrees and are covered in a rash, with tonsils the size of the Devil’s Marbles, I show huge concern. I place a flannel on their forehead and give them Calpol. If I indulge you with this much attention, you will miraculously feel better and want sex. No, a cup of tea on my way out the door is currently all my stress levels can manage. Especially as I am still feeling ill from the heavy cold I had at the beginning of the week. The same one that you now have, but you tell me that yours is a more virulent strain. The one you didn’t notice, because everything carried on as normal. Just as it did a few hours after I gave birth to our daughter. You remember – the birth that you fainted at and had to be brought toast and a cup of tea by two midwives, whilst I was screaming, “get this little fucker out!” Perhaps you should go to the doctor – that person who you resolutely refuse to have anything to do with. But don’t worry, while you are so stoically going it alone (whilst constantly fishing for sympathy), I will keep those balls in the air (no Darling Husband not yours, as you are ill, remember?) I will keep the flag flying in this house, until you are well enough to return. I will get my head down and soldier on. Until death we do part. (You are closer than even you can imagine).

Much love, your Darling Wife xxx

So predictable

Since my daughters have hit their teens, I have had that recurring thought of the similarities between teenagers and toddlers: self-centered, attention-seeking and petulant. Unable to always communicate properly, other than via a series of miserable whines that extol utterances of ‘woe me’. The ability to make you feel like a worthless piece of shite, whilst you freely still slather them in love. Then there’s the highly irritating trait of being utterly charming to granny and friends’ parents, so that these duped individuals exclaim to you (in a voice that makes you feel like a nasty fraud), “difficult? I don’t know what you mean!” Usually said as they feed them another biscuit which, when they have cheerily and smugly said goodbye to you and your offspring, will leave you dealing with the carnage of the sugar rush.

Are you the parent of a toddler who is worried about time moving too fast? Fret not. It only moves like lightening in the bigger picture. The minutiae  of life, the bickering and the tantrums, can keep the cogs turning slowly. Of course, just like toddlers, there are many moments of wonder and unadulterated joy with teenagers, but we all know that the reality is that shit happens. Whatever lies your Instagram feed is showing you, with the best will in the world and as much as you would not be without them, sometimes being with toddlers and teenagers is hard bloody work.

Last night however, prompted by one of my dogs wanting a wee, when he should have been going to sleep, my thoughts turned to the differences between having little ones and having teenagers. As I lay in bed, waiting for partner to take the dog out to the toilet, it came to me that one of the most stressful parts of having babies and toddlers is their unpredictability. Weeks of colic with daughter 1, unable to predict what would set her off screaming for hours, sent my already high stress levels rocketing. I can clearly remember the pure relief I felt, when at 16 weeks I had got her into some kind of routine, her colic had subsided and she became more predictable. If as parents of tinies you knew the night schedule in advance: baby wakes at 11pm for a feed, toddler cries 1am-2am for no apparent reason, baby wakes at 2am for a feed, toddler wakes at 5am for Peppa Pig on loop and breakfast, it would actually be far easier to deal with, because you could formulate a plan. Not quite knowing makes it stressful, and in the early days it can feel quite scary.

As a rookie teacher it was the same. The more experienced I became, the more behaviours I had encountered and therefore the more predictable they were. I think it’s the same with teenagers; in many ways their behaviours are highly predictable. You get very little thanks for doing things for them as they feel it’s their right anyway. They don’t bring dirty mugs downstairs. They spend hours on their phones, they take hundreds of selfies…oh the list could go on and on, but at least you know where you stand! They can be so incredibly predictable.

Does predictability make life any easier? Sometimes. Although occasionally, of course, it is the surprises that make life interesting*.

*not when they involve screaming, shit, sick or wee. Smiles, flowers, pleasant behaviour, are all good surprises

“In fiction: we find the predictable boring. In real life: we find the unpredictable terrifying.”

– Mokokoma Mokhonoana

Beautifully flawed

Number 1 friend dropped round a large bunch of tulips the other day, as a gesture of thanks. They were beautiful and I knew the exact jug that would show off their full potential. It was the jug with a chip on one side. No problem, I thought, whilst arranging them with as much love and attention as the thought that had gone into the purchase, I can just sit the chipped side of the jug so that it isn’t on show.

They looked gorgeous and every time I walked into the room, they filled me with happiness. I thought about how well the jug fitted in with my cushions and the cheap rug that I had bought for a carpet when a mysterious stain had appeared from nowhere and had needed an emergency cover up a few months before. I didn’t think about the chip and I didn’t think about the stain, as both were hidden from my view.

Our house is full to the brim. It is bursting with people and animals. It is overflowing with make-up brushes and throws. Every sheet seems to own the reminder of a nose bleed from when my daughters were small and every duvet cover at the moment has circles of fur, where much loved molting cats snuggle in – especially when the heating stops working, which recently, on the coldest days, it has been prone to do. These are the days when we must hunker down with a paper and a bottle of wine in front of the gas fire in the sitting room, which has started to become temperamental. Yet candles still have the ability to save even the grimmest, most unlucky of days and make you feel that things will somehow be ok.

This house is full of cracks and that is why I love it. That is why I feel at home. I don’t crave perfection. I relish imperfection. Maybe I see fuck-ups as a challenge and a distraction from routine. When things go wrong, there is the opportunity to put them right. In fact, to make them better than they even were before. Humans need fuck-ups. Fuck-ups rally the troops and give everyone a sense of community.

Perfection must surely make you anxious. Having to sustain perfection must be like never reaching the top of a mountain, but having the summit constantly in your sights. I don’t care if my children fuck-up; I did. Of course, I want them to do their very best and I want them to feel fulfilled, but the only way to achieve this is with knock backs, with things going wrong, with cracks. Because even with these cracks, they will still be fabulous. Even with all our human imperfections, we can shine. We can hide the cracks and we can mend them, but ultimately they make us beautifully flawed and most importantly, they are the making of us.

Dreaming of strike action

5am and you’re up, Monday to Friday, not through complete choice. No, just to get a cup of tea in peace. ‘Peace’, of course means whilst feeding the cats and rubbing the dog’s tummy (the dog they all wanted) so that he doesn’t wake up the entire house and thus, in one bark, negating the entire point of you being up so fucking early.

Whilst the tea is brewing, you unpack the dishwasher, lay out the packed lunches you made the night before and empty the recycling bin. Whilst drinking your tea, you write a list. On this list there are things that need to be done. In theory you are writing this list for the entire family to pitch in and share it out. Willingly and joyously. Like they would in a commune – each member taking responsibility for the chore that relates to their strength. But no-one in your family appears to have strengths in the chore department. Nobody notices that the clothes make a long and tiring journey from body to washer to dryer to airer to drawer. Nobody notices the donkey that carries them.

You hear voices upstairs and you sigh. Time up. Buckle up. Brace, brace…

“I’m in the shower!” “Where are my tights?” “Darling, have you seen my wallet?” “I hate you!” “Can you sign my planner?” “I need a pound for own clothes day”. “I need new shoes” …

You need to get to work. You dodge the missiles, but still manage to get hit. It hurts and you want to scream, but you know that you wouldn’t be heard. The storm cloud of husband and teenagers leaves the house just ahead of you. You shut the door behind you on a mess that will greet you with arms flung wide open on your return at 6pm.

Your train is cancelled due to the strike and as you clutch at your one bastion of freedom that is a Costa coffee, you dream of going on strike. You stand there on the platform and you imagine that one day your service will not be running: there were crisis talks, but no resolution was reached and the dispute continued. The two sides could not agree. One side felt aggrieved that she did all the work running the home, for no extra pay and the other side disagreed and felt that her allegation was unfair.

Work is spent juggling texts from teenage children who have lost things, who need lifts later, who want to stay over at a friends, who are wondering what you are doing a week on Saturday because they need a lift back from a party and, somewhat miraculously, it is also spent doing work: managing, delegating, presenting, answering questions, writing reports and feeling a little bit human.

Your key is turning in your front door and every night, Monday to Friday, you have a tiny hope that you will walk in to an oasis of calm. Perhaps some rose petals scattered, following a candlelit path to a bath overflowing with bubbles. Every night, Monday to Friday you walk into everything that hasn’t been done and more. Like a rabid dog you are on it. You are filling pans with vegetables and boiling water, whilst yelling for someone to feed the cat, as you put the dog out for a wee, at the same time as you are listening to a grievance about a teacher and it is all done whilst you are still in your coat.

Your husband walks through the door, the Clyde to your Bonnie. You are a team once more. Back-up has arrived. “I’m just going to take off my suit and I’ll be down” are his cheery words.

“Noooooooo!” You want to scream. “Not the fucking suit!”

The suit that means the lie down on the bed, the check my Facebook, the take a leisurely shit.

Every day, Monday to Friday nobody seems to care. Nobody seems to notice. One day…one day you will get your freedom. Just not today.


A girl’s determination

Partner and I sneaked off to London this week on a work day, and one of the instructors who covered my Taekwon-do classes texted me in the evening to say how well behaved the students had been. “They were so determined” she said.

Her use of the word ‘determined’ really struck me. It leapt out of the phone screen and filled my heart with pride. I said it out loud to myself, “determined”, and smiled with satisfaction once I’d done so. It is surely onomatopoeic, as you can only say it with a sense of purpose in your voice. Here is a word that is so full of possibility, that for a negative to be the outcome of its usage would be a travesty.

Wanting to keep my thoughts of this wonderful word positive, I thought about it in relation to the book that I have written, ‘Raising Girls who can Boss it…and Staying Sane’. Because if there is one thing in life that girls are going to need in order to boss it, it is determination. Determination to smash their way through stereotypes. Determination to make sure their voice is heard. Determination to close the gender pay gap. Determination to be taken seriously. Determination not to be sucked into a fake world, that is based solely on looks and likes.

By hovering over our daughters and protecting them, we are diminishing their determination. By expecting too much of them, they are losing their determination to succeed. The obsessive nature of the waterfall of social media, too easily dilutes a determination to be happy with who she is and what she has.

To me, the word ‘determination’ screams of resilience, resourcefulness and independence. It shouts to me of a girl who is single minded and confident. One who has success in her sights, whatever the odds that are stacked against her.

Say this word out loud: “determination”. Its power is already there linguistically; you have just given it a strong voice.

This is the voice we must give our daughters. The voice of determination is what they are going to need to boss it in this world and its strength almost speaks for itself.

A Day in the Life of SAHM (Shit-shoveller And House Maid)

You’ve been up all night with the kids: teething, vomiting, screaming – them, not you (but it’s only a matter of time. Don’t get ill. Can’t get ill, you repeat deliriously, whilst listening to your husband’s snores competing with your toddler’s wails). He’s got work tomorrow and you haven’t (because clearing up toddler’s shit, wiping streams of snot, just keeping everyone alive does not appear to constitute a working day).

He gets up and complains that he can’t find his tie and you want to strangle him with it when you spot it, slung over the chair where he left it. But then you remember that there are some things you can’t do without him (not many to be fair) so instead you just ignore him until he leaves. At which point you cry. For no reason, other than your toddler shat on the rug – a really cool one, with lots of hygge. The only piece of Scandi chic that you own. That’s now full of shit. Shit that landed mere inches away from acres of wipeable laminate. Tears are also shed for the baby who won’t shut the fuck up, so you stick her on your boob, at which point the toddler dumps his sodding Lego man down the toilet. Because of this, you’re leaning over the toilet with the baby on your boob, whilst fishing for a Lego man with the toddler screaming, when the doorbell rings. 

Thank god it’s only the postman, who has seen your boob before. He does appear to wrinkle up his nose though, when the whiff of crap wafts from the shag pile rug as you shut the door. You start crying again. You cry because you have just shut the door on human, adult contact. Right now you want to be a postman, skipping around the houses and posting things carefree. Or you want to run off with the postman and lie on a beach, just staring at the sky. You’re crying at the sheer humiliation of being a crap mother and you hate your kids and you look at your watch and it’s only 7.30am. 

By 8.30 you are sick of Peppa Pig and your toddler resembles one of the refugee children you see on the news, will ill fitting clothes and a bobble hat on, because this morning (every morning) it isn’t worth the fight. 

By 9.30 you are texting your husband – telling him what a fucking (you reread and delete ‘fucking’) – awful day you’re having and you hope he’s enjoying the peace at work. He texts back ‘x’ and you tell the phone to piss off. 

The struggle to the toddler group, the milky tea, the yellowing posters on the church hall wall and the mum you get stuck with who is droning on, do not elevate your mood. 

The circus that is lunch: juggling two very different demanding clients, whilst listening about how your husband’s important meeting went, with the phone balanced under your aching chin. Right now, you really don’t give a crap, as you quite literally have a nappy on your brain. 

Then when baby and toddler co-ordinate their sleeping patterns for 30 minutes, you waste spend 15 of them staring at them and feeling so full of love for their cherub faces that you almost forget to clear up lunch, clean the loos, hoover and put a wash on. When they wake you think: what the fuck can we do until tea? And after tea you think: what the fuck can we do until bath time and by bedtime, you are all screaming. 

And then Daddy walks in. Relaxed Daddy. Smiling Daddy. Happy Daddy. Fun Daddy. Daddy who chases and tickles and throws into the air to squeals of pure delight. Daddy who can do no wrong. Only Daddy will do. 

So you seize the opportunity to slink off, for some moments unnoticed and clear up the carnage of the day. Your husband comes downstairs beaming with love and pride and you try to muster up something to give him back. But today, you can’t.


That moment…

That moment when two cells collide, in ecstasy. In desperation. In denial. In hope. In disbelief. The DNA is now the writing on your wall. Its destiny is already partially decided. The way you nurture your creation will give it shape and substance. But what of you? What of its creators? In one explosive moment you have changed. You are no longer just two lovers. Two beings who could spend hours wallowing in passion. Indulging in each other with fun and abandon. Sharing intimate secrets and little jokes. Those subtle moments of unadulterated love.

Quickly, she is consumed. A rush of hormones confirm to her that there is someone else who wants her. Someone else who needs her. She is sick and tired and he takes his cue to change sex for sympathy. He is already an outsider, who is drawn close to her for reasons he hasn’t exactly felt before. Unwittingly and instantaneously they are lovers of a different sort. She has a new obsession that isn’t quite as tangible to him. So he gently lays his head on her ever growing belly and only hears the swoosh of the cup of tea he made her because she said she was so tired.

He feels detached. He strokes her bump and tells her that he loves her swelling boobs, that she tells him not to touch. The start of her pain. The start of their painful separation from selfish lovers to givers. She gives them the ultimate gift and he watches the agony. He experiences the fear and whilst feeling very close to her, he has never felt so lonely, or so far away.

Then joy. An overwhelming desire to protect them both. They are a family. They are no longer two souls entwined in love for each other; they must now share. They must give up their special moments to exhaustion and physical pain. They must give everything they’ve got to another being, whose need is far greater than theirs. Their needs are neglected for the greater good. For something that they didn’t realise could make them feel the way they do. Milky love and tears. Smells they have never smelt on skin they never knew could be so soft.

Relentlessly giving. Never any time to step away; to step back to being two. Even on a longed for date night, you are three, or now four or five. Talking about what they do. Sharing in your joy at their milestones reached and worrying over everything you possibly can. Consumed. Exhausted. Fulfilled as a family. Separated as a couple. You know what’s going on, but you just don’t have time to act on it.

You will. You must. You know.



Be Real(istic)

Be Real is a national movement made up of individuals, schools, businesses, charities and public bodies, who are coming together to campaign to change attitudes to body image.’ They are aiming to create a more accessible, more real vision of beauty.

Now, I am all for this. As a woman and mum to 5 girls, body image is a subject close to my heart. It worries me how much pressure girls are under to look good, to conform to a certain image. An image that is, in reality, completely unattainable for various reasons. Those glossy photos they drool over in magazines that are photo shopped to hell. Then, there’s the often overlooked fact that to a large extent, you are what you’ve got. If your mum and grandma were short with large thighs and an ample bust, then there’s a very good chance that you may be too and there just isn’t a lot you can do about it. It’s very difficult to turn a pear into a banana.

Of course, the point of this campaign is to spread the message that you don’t have to change your body shape to conform. They want kids to see beauty as confidence and are saying that it’s not what you look like, it’s who you are. I applaud this, but they are really up against it with this campaign and without trying to sound as if I’m pissing on a brilliant parade, here’s why:

Parents are our kid’s role models. Kitchen shelves all over the world, are heaving under the weight of low carb diet cook books. At the moment, my Instagram feed is full of photos of shredded veg. Photos of every meal, meticulously prepared under Slim fast rules. Mum wants to lose weight. Nothing wrong with that. Mum is obsessed with losing weight. Every pound lost gives rise to an exuberant shout out in her Facebook news feed. We all know that losing weight is bloody hard work and making the ordeal public helps keep the momentum going. Meanwhile, her daughter is taking all this on board. Her mum’s desperation to change her body shape. Her daughter can see that it’s not about who her mum is: a hard working, amazing person who is always there for her family and who gave birth to wonderful human beings. No, her daughter is seeing through her mum’s eyes that it isn’t, in reality, about who you are, it’s about what you look like. Because ultimately, for many, this does go quite some way to defining who they are. 

Then there’s the Social media obsession with make up. Driven at high speed forwards by beauty bloggers, who are telling our impressionable daughters that it is vital to have a different make up brush for each part of your face. Trust me, I know. I know because my daughters are keeping Chinese factories in business. 

There are the models who are starving themselves to within an inch of their lives, only to have curves photo shopped on to their bodies. Oh, the irony of it! Meanwhile, our daughters are lapping up the images. Images that are reinforced by celebrities, who further feed the obsession with looks. In a warped kind of way, they make it all seem more real than the photos of models, because their whole business is built around making people connect with them. 

We’re telling our daughters that they are, ‘beautiful’. Mums proudly post photos of their daughter on social media and the comments of how ‘pretty’ she is, flood in. Perhaps there’s no harm done. Perhaps we are telling her that looks matter. Almost unwittingly reinforcing that thought.

The ‘Be Real’ campaign is spreading such an admirable message. Dove are one of the supporters of this campaign and they have tried to change attitudes to body image before, using ‘real’ women in their adverts. This served to hi light awareness of the issue of body image in advertising and that is, of course, a good thing. My point is that despite a global conversation being initiated by the campaign, kids continue to be bombarded by unrealistic images. The internet is too vast, self esteem is too fragile, humans are too easily influenced and peer pressure is too great to stop our children, especially girls, ever being completely happy with what they have got. 

We really are up against it: from the media and from our own insecurities and inbuilt gender stereotyping. Unfortunately, it isn’t so much, ‘Be Real’ as ‘be realistic’. But we still need to fight it. We must do our best as parents to lay strong foundations from when they are very young. We must try to keep reinforcing the message that it’s not all about their looks and we must continue to encourage them to be active. We must keep on trying to fight what seems like a losing battle and even small victories may count.

I am always here

God, teenagers can be miserable buggers. I mean, I know that they have to deal with a whole load of shit on a daily basis, mainly parents, and I am also aware that life must be really hard when quite literally the whole world is against you. But surely it wouldn’t kill them to muster up a “hello” in the mornings? Are they in danger of cracking the layer of make-up with a smile? Don’t for Christ sake say that you actually liked the fact that I made you a cup of tea, or that you are grateful that I brushed up your crumbs and wiped the jam off the table (again), because you will be dropping your teenage guard and leaving yourself exposed to the possibility of a conversation with your mother. 

I have decided that I am actually battle scarred, because I can laugh about this now. A few years ago I was reduced to tears and screams of frustration almost on a daily basis. I don’t care less now, I am bothered less and I believe that there is a subtle difference. I seem to have developed an armour that protects me from teenage moods. The occasional sword still gets through and stabs me, which reminds me how cruel they can be. But mostly I am hardened to their sarcastic comments that try to put me in my older person’s place; their disgusted looks that are trying to tell me how sad I am and how I need to get a life. I have grown a turtle shell that, rather than pointlessly rising to comments, bounces them back in a jovial tone. I can smile at their tantrums and stand back from their worries a little, which makes the advice I can offer more meaningful. My own worries are less now too. I still want them to achieve, but I see their achievements as their own and that they must reach them on their own.

I am always here, a mere step away. They can still reach me with their voice or with two arms outstretched. I am here, I’m just not sitting in their space.