Who am I?

The last few months have given me a lot of time to think. As external influences from our weekly routines and interactions with the people we see disappeared, I found myself thinking a lot about identity and sense of self. This has been spurred on by the fact that the lockdown also coincided with the start of a cognitive behavioural therapy course that I’d been referred to back in January. Although no formal diagnosis, I scored highly for anxiety and moderately for depression on the tests and this was my lovely GP’s suggestion to try and get my head in a better place. And a lot of the work involves really examining yourself and your thought processes to try and change the way you think and consequently, act and feel.

Through my adolescent and adult life I have variously tried to identify and label myself as an activist, a musician, a sailor, a mother, a knitter, a doula, a writer, a runner, a weight lifter, a forest school leader, an employee… I’ve never felt I belonged in any of these categories, I didn’t feel I was accomplished enough, experienced enough, committed enough. I didn’t feel that I was good enough. During my CBT course, this theme kept emerging. Not being enough. Which has been traced back to having a really crappy sense of self esteem. I don’t know where this has come from,  I’ve been blessed (lucky?) enough to not experience any real trauma in my life and have got a blooming’ amazing support network of family and friends. 

During lockdown, I’ve particularly felt I’m failing as a mother. Work has been incredibly busy and I really felt for a while that I was living and breathing it, that I was constantly telling the kids I had an email to send, a phone call to make, a meeting to attend. My work-life balance felt totally out of sync. I’ve been beating myself up about it for weeks. However, one of the exercises on the CBT course made me take stock and actually reflect on what we’ve done over the last few months, not just take my perception of it for granted. And I realised that we’d not done too badly. We completed our WWII project, completed a science climate-change project, started a new history project and the kids have worked on their music practice and maths and English regularly. We’ve also taken a lot of day trips; to the woods, to the moors, to the beach and I’ve done a ton of running. So I guess I haven’t done as badly as I thought. 

I have realised two things though. Firstly that the why doesn’t particularly matter. It’s just one of those things I guess. What does matter is what I do about it now and how I build my sense of self to be more positive (or at least, more realistic!) The second thing is that I need to care a hell of a lot less about what other people think of me and a lot more about what I think of me (and preferably, it’d be good if I liked, or at least accepted, myself a bit more!) This also means that actually, I don’t need a label. I am not just one thing. I am multi-faceted and it doesn’t matter if I don’t fit into a box. 

I hesitated to write this blog. I don’t want to elicit any sympathy. In fact, I struggle to accept it anyway and find it incredibly embarrassing. Which is all part and parcel of the thing I’m working on I think; in lieu of being relaxed enough to really live in the moment, I want to be liked, to make people laugh, to want people to want to be with me. In fact, the realisation that I don’t laugh as much as I’d like to has been a real turning point to me and my self development. I love to laugh, those endorphins are addictive! But I’m too wrapped up in my own head and constant mental to-do list to really be present and relax. The favourite people in my life are the ones that make me fully embrace the moment and that I laugh with. 

Rather, I wrote this because I truly believe it’s important to be honest about mental health and if it helps someone else to be brave enough to reach out for help if they need it, it’s worth the vulnerability. I’ve put off getting help for many years, probably since Eli was born. I was embarrassed about it. On paper, my life is pretty damn good and I didn’t think I had any right to need help. I thought I just needed to get over it, to figure out my own way to worry less and be happier but turns out, I couldn’t do it alone. 

Recently, I’ve seen a few people in my sphere open up about their mental health and it both surprised and encouraged me. People who I thought totally had it together apparently, did not. And I realised that means that they might have needed support but same as me, not reached out for it. How can we be good friends and look after those in our ‘virtual village’ if we don’t know when people need support?

So yes, at the beginning of the year I was having a bloody hard time. On more than one occasion, I sat in my car after a run or a visit to a friend not wanting to go home. And not because anything terrible was happening at home. Just because life felt too much. I wanted to get on the road and just keep driving. I wanted to lose myself. But in the months that followed, I’ve actually found myself. Irritating at times but passionate about what I believe and care about, not hugely accomplished at any one thing but happy with doing the many things I like at an amateur level, good at getting physically lost but always happy to take the risk anyway (just last week my patient family experienced this again, proving that even a coast path walk doesn’t always go to plan), flawed but ultimately, not too bad. This doesn’t mean I’m ‘fixed’. Just the last few weeks I’ve felt everything getting too much again. But I know now that I don’t have to run away or hide, that I have the tools and support to get through this rough patch, just like I did before. 

And if you’re struggling as well, I’d encourage you to reach out and ask for help. From your friends and family, from your doctor. If you’re in Devon, you can self refer to TalkWorks, a depression and anxiety service funded by the NHS. It might not be enough for you, but it’s a start. 

And a massive thanks to a few people in particular that have endured listening to me waffle on over the last few months and supported me through it all, you know who you are and I love you guys.

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Writer’s Block and the Bigger Picture

It’s been a good few weeks since my last offering to this blog, when I was rudely attacked by a buzzard whilst running! The weeks since have been busy, work has been pretty all-consuming, we’ve had two birthdays and fathers day and I’ve been working on trying to cure or manage my apparent new-found ornithophobia, trying to nip it in the bud (turns out there are birds bloody everywhere if you just look up!) Also though, I haven’t quite known what to write about. I mentioned this to Dan who suggested writing a post about writer’s block, apparently that would be ‘meta’.  I decided against this suggestion. I suspect it would be a disaster before I even began.

However, upon logging in to my wordpress and seeing that I’ve now been writing here since 2012, I realised that if only for the sake of my future self, it’s nice to try and post regularly so I can look back when I’m old, grey and forgetful at what we got up to in years gone by.  And let’s face, 2020 is turning out to be an absolute corker of a year, although in very few positive ways. By march we had already almost had World War Three, there were the horrendous Australian bushfires, Brexit was looming, (on a personal note) I had fairly major jaw surgery and then the global pandemic hit. It’ll be a year that goes down in history for sure…

So now we’re in July, over half the year is gone and to be honest, I’m not really sure where we’re at. The restrictions to try and slow/prevent the slow of covid-19 have been loosened over the last few weeks but arguably, they shouldn’t have been. This leaves some of us in the strange situation of being pleased to have more of our freedoms back whilst simultaneously fearing that it was a mistake (whether it was deliberate or not is another discussion) by our government. There’s talk of a second wave this Autumn, the guidance from the government is consistently inconsistent and contradictory and I’ve been second guessing every decision we make as a family.

This week coming is the first week since March that resembles a ‘normal’ week for us. We’ve got a few outdoor play-dates lined up with friends, we’re off to my folks for a music lesson inside (now it’s allowed) and then to the woods on Friday for a work thing. And I’m torn between looking forward to experiencing a bit more normality and feeling overwhelmed already and having multiple ‘things’ in the diary!

The last few months have been strange. In some ways they’ve been so challenging, and in others, they’ve simplified life in a glorious way. But of course, I realise that it’s not even really important at all how I’ve felt in the face of the big picture. It feels selfish and close minded to ramble on about what me and my family have been up to in our little patch, more or less safe from what so many people are enduring around the world.

Thousands of people have lost their loved ones, without being able to say goodbye, and I can’t imagine how they are feeling. Then just as we were all still reeling from that, the death of George Floyd has woken many of us to the horrific systemic racism that still pervades our society both here and over the pond and the many innocent lives that have been taken and are being taken on a daily basis as a result.  Like a lot of white people, I was guilty of knowing a little that it still existed (but not quite of the extent) but not doing anything. And that’s not good enough.

So I’m trying to educate myself, educate the children and find out things I can do to help protest this and bring about real meaningful change. There are numerous resources with ways we can help, real things we can do to not just say the right thing but actually act. But to name a few that are on my list for the next few weeks, I’ve just been lent ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race’ by Reni Eddo-Lodge and am planning to watch 13th which is a documentary on Netflix which explores the ‘”intersection of race, justice, and mass incarceration in the United States;”.  I’ll let you know how I get on with them.  My friend also shared this article which I found really practically helpful.  I realise I’m late to this and that the protests were a few weeks ago but black lives still matter, even if they’re not on your own personal feed anymore. The problem hasn’t gone away. I’ll leave you (a bit abruptly I know – sorry!) with two quotes, one from Perrie Edwards and one from Michelle Obama because they sum up how I’m feeling and they are both much more eloquent than I could hope to be.

“As a white person living in the UK, it’s very easy to look at the #BlackLivesMatter movement and believe it doesn’t affect you. Feel that it’s not your place to comment or get involved… What’s not so easy is to scroll past an innocent man being pinned to the floor, struggling and begging for his last breath… How can any human being, no matter your race, age, gender, not be deeply affected by that? I have been deeply affected by it… I acknowledge my white privilege and instead of allowing it to put a muzzle on me, I will use it to speak up for what is right and what is wrong.” Perrie Edwards

“Race and racism is a reality that so many of us grow up learning to just deal with. But if we ever hope to move past it, it can’t just be on people of colour to deal with it. It’s up to all of us – Black, white, everyone – no matter how well-meaning we think we might be, to do the honest, uncomfortable work of rooting it out. It starts with self-examination and listening to those whose lives are different from our own. It ends with justice, compassion, and empathy that manifests in our lives and on our streets.” Michelle Obama

Bird Attack!

I got attacked by what I think was a buzzard, but certainly a bird of prey, whilst out running this morning. And whilst certain people in my life think it was hilarious (a point I may concede later but not yet), frankly, I was bloody terrified.

I was settling into what was promising to be a strong, 10 mile (potentially more) run and feeling good. The sun was shining, I’d finally found paths I didn’t have to drive to that were mostly track based (often through woods) and I had 6 miles behind me and loads left in the tank. I was experimenting with my route and had just run down a track, past an idyllic farmhouse complete with gambolling lambs that came to greet me and successfully navigated a field of cows, lazily sunbathing in the morning rays. I made my way through the gate into the next field and started running across the obvious track, down towards the next copse in the distance.

I spotted a shadow on the hard ground ahead of me and a large bird swooped over head. I felt at one with nature, full of joy. Then suddenly, preceded only by a slight unexpected draft, my head was buffed by sharp claws as said bird decided to…attack me?! I jumped out of my skin, my (prescription) sunglasses flew off and I’m embarrassed to say I ran screaming back the way I came towards the gate and almost clambered into a bush so I’d be safe from further attacks.

The cows in the previous field were confused, to say the least. They all clambered up and trotted up to the gate to see what the fuss was about. I called Dan, slightly hysterical, who tried to calm me down. After a few minutes I decided I’d try and retrieve my sunglasses then make my way back the way I’d came. I stealthily started back down the path, not running this time, taking it slow. The bird came AGAIN. I ran back to the safety of the bushes, screaming (sorry cows); half hoping the noise would attract the local farm whilst simultaneously dying of embarrassment for my reaction.

I don’t think I was thinking clearly so I decided to message my work chat on Facebook, thinking that a bunch of outdoorsy types might have some useful tips on what was happening. Unless you count useful tips as requesting I record it next time and asking if I was dressed as a dormouse, I was wrong. In a bit of a panic, I threw my over-the-head headphones into the track, wondering if that was what the bird was going for. I ventured out to look for my glasses again and down the bird swooped, for a fourth (or possibly fifth time). Obviously, the headphones were not the target.

To my shame, I phoned Dan again, crying and asked him to pick me up. Clearly he couldn’t come into a field so I had to get to a road. I had two choices, take my chances with the bird and run as fast as humanely possible (for me) across the field or back through the field of agitated cows. I chose the cows. Now, I know that cows are generally docile and caring animals but walking surrounded by a herd of 20-odd large animals who are anxious, skittish and head butting your arse is not a comforting experience when you’re already a little, ahem, distressed. But I made it to the stile and hot tailed it back up the track and through the golf course to the car park where my ever-patient husband was waiting.

Whilst sympathetic, his first question was also whether I filmed it or not. As you can imagine, I was hugely impressed by this. However, he made up for it by driving to the nearest lane to the field and gallantly striding through (with a very eager middle boy) where he retrieved my glasses and headphones successfully with no sign of the bird in sight. I’ll admit though, there was a part of me that was disappointed the bird didn’t go for him to, if only so he knew how I felt!

My first thought was…how will I ever run again? This might have been one of the most frightening experiences ever for me (I’ve led a sheltered life) and I love running…but definitely do not want a repeat experience!

Now, in a more sensible space, I have realised that as a colleague helpfully suggested, the bird was probably nesting and protecting her young/eggs. A quick google has verified this theory. I also realised that I’ve been running regularly for almost 8 years now and this has happened once…so odds are it won’t happen again. I’m never running in that field again though!

But I thought that those of you in need of a chuckle this morning might appreciate my embarrassing tale which is why I’ve told the whole sorry thing to you! And fellow, runners – if this has ever happened to you, please tell me!

(Picture below is of part of the run, before the fateful field of terror)

Natural Therapy

Whilst doing some of my Forest School Leader Training coursework earlier this year I was tasked with researching the therapeutic and scientific benefits of spending time outdoors, specifically in the woods. I came across a lot of interesting articles, primarily from research done in Japan and South Korea. It mostly solidified what I already believed, that spending time outdoors in nature is good for both your mental and physical health, although it was interesting to see the research behind why.

Today, I witnessed a rather instant example of these therapeutic benefits first hand. The day started rather unpromisingly (for the kids, not me. I went for a 10k run at 7am and was feeling on top of the world!) The boys were play fighting so raucously it was regularly crossing the line into tears and accusations of wrongdoing and my big girl just seemed a little at odds with herself. She couldn’t put her finger on it but wasn’t feeling all that great.

However, after Sophia had sewn three face masks for my colleagues over the weekend, we had a legitimate reason to drive to Exeter Forest School as they needed delivering. After checking there wouldn’t be any students there for our school, I bundled the kids, wellies and some essential snacks into the car and we were off. And oh man, what a tonic it was!

We spent three blissful hours on site and piled back into the car much happier and more relaxed than we’d all been previously. I put the kids to work making a fire for my colleague who needed hot water and then collecting sticks to store for when things are up and running again. Then they just went off and played in the mud, collecting natural treasures and being beautifully absorbed in their own worlds. I pottered about, trying to make myself useful, nattering from a safe distance and just enjoying my time in the woods, not on a brisk walk to keep away from people, but just being.

I still can’t quite believe the sense of well being and peace we all felt upon leaving. It just seemed to relieve all tension as we soaked up our surroundings. The relaxation was almost tangible, the positivity imbibed throughout us. Obviously, these effects of time spent outside can be quantified and if you’re interested you can read some of the articles I found whilst doing my coursework here and here.

But mostly, I’d urge you that if you’re struggling during lockdown with your mental health and finding things increasingly hard, why not head outdoors and to some trees if you can? There are so many little pockets of woodland tucked around us, hopefully you can find some nearby and safely (whilst social distancing!) enjoy some time in them.

Look after yourself guys, I hope you’re all well.

Groundhog Day

It’s OK not to be OK. That’s the catchphrase at the moment right?

I’ve been thinking about the content we put online, about how we present ourselves on the internet. More than ever, in the midst of the Covid-19 global pandemic, this feels worth at least more than a passing thought.

Historically I’ve always tried to only post positive, hopeful or constructive posts on here, facebook and instagram. But I realised that actually, if everyone does that, we’re not being honest with our audience (which for me is mostly my friends and family, i.e. people I love). And I think there are two problems with that. The first is how your unending optimism might make others feel. And the second is about whether it’s healthy to pretend everything is marvellous when quite frankly, it’s not.

I always thought that in the future I’d only want to look back and see the good bits. That was my justification for only posting things that made me happy in one way or another. But our life isn’t just a series of good times and actually, I suspect an older version of myself might be quite keen to remember all of these times, to reminisce about the whole package. And aside from what want to see or read, I realise that if we only see things that are full of laugher, creativity or fun on our feeds, it might make us feel utterly shite when we’ve had another day of just hanging in there. A day where the kids have fought all day, where we haven’t outside, where the house hasn’t been cleaned, where we feel like we’ve gotten nothing done but simultaneously haven’t had any time to sit down. We want to know that we’re not alone on our bad days!

Obviously we don’t want to see nothing but misery but surely it’s about finding a balance between inspiring joy in others and being honest about what’s actually happening. It’s good to know that others don’t have perfect lives, that they are having up days and down days as well.  Which brings me to my second point. I’d like to think that the people I love trust me enough to be honest when they are having a hard time, when they need some more support. But trust goes both ways so I shouldn’t pretend everything is fabulous when it’s rather more bleak.

So this evening, I’ll answer the everyday question ‘how are you’? with an honest answer. I’m OK. The first week of lockdown felt a bit like a novelty, last week the kids were really struggling and I was focused on helping them but now, over the last few days, things have felt rather much like Groundhog Day. Things, personally, aren’t terrible. I know we are so lucky to have a home, our health, food…etc especially when there are so many people either suffering at the hands of this pandemic or working their fingers to the bone to fight it. But things aren’t great either. I miss my friends, my freedom, our routines, normal life. (I also miss the ability to chew but that’s nothing to do with the lockdown, jaw surgery recovery is SLOW!) And that’s OK, right?

Sending you all much love and virtual hugs right now, and if anyone needs anything, just holler – I’m always around to help if I can, from 2 metres of course!

Attitude Adjustment

As seasoned home educators, the thing I’ve heard a lot over the last few days is ‘Oh, you guys are used to this – won’t be too much of a change eh?’ (or words to that effect). But no, just like the rest of the country, our world has been turned upside down. Not going to our regular groups and classes, not seeing friends and family, not going freely outside, is just as discombulating for us as for everyone else.

Yesterday we attempted a “normal” day of home ed, we did work in the morning (Sophia had her Latin lesson over Skype, they all did music practice, maths/reading eggs and we played some board games), had a break after lunch whilst they did a treasure hunt for each other and then we went on a rainbow-spotting walk through the ghost town of our estate before dinner. This morning, we started with a Joe Wicks PE workout on youtube and then did some cosmic kids yoga. And then I was so overcome with anxiety and fatigue that I offered them a day off work which was eagerly received.

After some teething issues (translation: fighting, sobbing siblings), the boys are now happily building a theme park out of lego and Sophia is baking. I’m working through a backlog of covid-19 related Forest School admin (or was before I wrote this) whilst trying to wrestle with the constant stream of worries circulating round my head. Last week my anxiety was work-based, it consumed my thoughts. This week, it’s about my jaw! I accidentally tried to chew something without thinking on Friday and Eli then hit me in the same spot over the weekend which has resulted in pain, swelling and restricted movement where there wasn’t any previously. Last week my surgeon said to contact him if any such things happened as I’m only 4 weeks out from surgery. So I spoke to an on-call doctor yesterday over the phone who said give it a few days and of course, now I can’t stop thinking about it! It’s probably just my body’s response to protect itself after the new trauma but worst case scenario, I’ve caused damage to my jaw and the plates which would need repair. I think deep down I know it’s the former but now I am obsessively looking at my face and comparing it with pictures of last week to assess the extent of the new swelling.

To be honest, at the moment, as a natural born worrier, I think I’m prone to just grabbing any little thing to obsessively stress about. But that doesn’t have to be the case, I can own it but I don’t have to succumb to it. Because, as I said to the kids, we can make this lockdown much easier or much harder based on our behaviour and attitude. So it’s time to adjust my mindset!

Misery loves company as they say. So if we all mope around the house, feeling sorry for ourselves and bickering endlessly, it’s going to be a really long few weeks stuck at home. But if we try and focus on the positives, devising new ways to have fun, work on keeping our cool and communicating effectively then things are going to be a heck of a lost better! (When I say ‘we’ I am mostly just referring to my rabble, not casting aspersions as to what the rest of you lot are up to!)

So here are my positives, if you’d like to share yours in the comments below that’d be AMAZING:

  • We are healthy and safe
  • The sun is shining and the sky is blue (and for the third day running no less!)
  • We have a roof over our heads, food in our cupboards and clothes on our backs
  • We’ve put a tent up in the garden and the kids are into their second hour of moving all their wordly posessions out there and showing no sign of stopping!
  • My family and friends are all healthy and safe
  • Whilst I can’t eat much for another 3-4 weeks, I can still drink tea and eat ice cream
  • Due to the wonders of technology, we can stay in touch with those we love
  • I have an endlessly cheery yellow hoody, new enough to still make me happy whenever I wear it
  • This crisis has brought out countless stories of the goodness of humanity, helping those that need it and generally being lovely and kind to each other
  • Local communities are going to great lengths to safely share useful information and provide entertainment for kids (rainbow walk anyone?!)
  • Dan and I already both work from home so we can still work
  • I’ve got loads of free time to write
  • We’re still allowed outside to exercise – moorland runs, here I come!
  • We’ve got a whole backlog of home ed work that we were planning on doing that’ll keep us busy for a while
  • I’m married to an absolute joker, who is absolutely keeping our spirits up
  • Dan has an awesome server (his contribution to this list!)
  • No one appears to be panic buying the chocolate ice cream

A short story (of simple pleasures)

Music coursed through her veins as she shed her jacket and slipped off her shoes. The sun was streaming through the bay windows and as she surveyed the scene in front of her, she basked in it’s warmth. The smell of jasmine tea brewing permeated every corner of the flat and she gathered her easel and paints and moved them into the sunlight. The beat of the music was rhythmic, infectious, and fast; she turned it up louder.

She took a few minutes to look at the view outside and then started to paint what she saw. The council gardeners had done a beautiful job on the communal green space opposite. Luscious green lawn was punctuated by bursts of colour as flowers bloomed joyously in their beds. Beyond the green, she could just see the sea, waves gently lapping at the shore, beach almost non existent, submerged by the spring high tide. It was mid-morning now and people were starting to migrate outdoors; runners moving steadily along the promenade, mothers and children playing in the park, teenagers and students lounging in strategically placed groups.

She painted until her hands ached, until she was happy with the result. She stopped to get some food from her small galley kitchen and ate it with the windows wide open, summer air streaming in, full of glorious scents and snatches of music played by the students on the grass. She spotted the time and realised she was going to be late; grabbing her towel and costume, she locked the door and walked quickly across the green.

The tide was starting to recede and on a patch of newly dry sand, a welcoming smile met her. Not wanting to waste a minute of the day, they changed and before long, were dancing in the surf, acclimatising to the chill of the water before finally diving in to start swimming beyond the shallows. The friends swam further than expected, along the shore until they reached the edge of the bay. Exhilirated, they clambered out and onto the rocks to soak up the summer sun. The friends talked, simulatenously about everything and nothing, relaxing and enjoying each other’s company. Time slowly sped by and soon they dove back in, swimming back to their spot on the beach. There, they resumed their chat, from the comfort of their towels.

They spent the rest of the afternoon sharing; their thoughts, their feelings, their food. As the sun dipped lower on the horizon, they parted ways and she strolled towards home, salty hair blowing gently on the evening breeze. She stopped and sat for a while on the green, enjoying the quiet and the mild summer’s evening. Eventually, she let herself back into her small home and put on some music. She tidied away her things from the day accompanied to a different music than that which started her day. It was mellow, soulful, relaxed. To start and end a day with music, filled her with joy.

Eventually, she climbed into bed, still smelling of the ocean. That these days happen are not a certainty she thought, but when they come around, the happiness is sublime.

A day of simple pleasures.

End Of An Era

Eli, my youngest child, is turning five today. He has been an absolute joy in the run up to it, such pure excitement and so utterly undemanding. All he wanted was to go to the ‘dinosaur soft play’ with his best friend and to have a hammock and lock up note book like his big brother got just a month ago for his birthday.

His birthday marks an end of an era, the end of babies and toddlers. And boy, I’m glad to say goodbye to that stage of our life! Obviously there were lots of amazing things about them being small. The other day, a friend reminsced about the indescribable feeling you get when a teeny tiny baby is asleep on your chest and that is hard to beat. All the firsts are exciting in a way you haven’t experienced before; smiles, foods, movements, words. And toddlers can be so very cute, so full of laughter, love and arms-flung-tight-round-your-neck cuddles.

But it’s also physically exhausting. It is an all consuming time; a whirlwind of nappies, feeding, crying, carrying, holding and caring. Your body is not your own (especially if you breastfeed) and sometimes it’s hard to remember who you are, or at least who you were and how that fits in your new life. I wouldn’t change it for the world but having had three children five and under changed me in a way I wasn’t expecting. I feel harder and more cyncial than I used to be. I think my temper is shorter and I’m less sympathetic than I once was.

But it’s also shown me how much I can cope with, albeit not always successfully. And ultimately (and most importantly), when I look at our kids, on the whole, I think they are amazing. They are loving, easy-going (mostly), thoughtful, interesting, articulate,  funny, kind, considerate and stark raving mad! And it’s pretty bloody cool knowing that, at least in part, that is due to the way we’ve raised them and interacted with them over the last decade. That’s a kind of proud I didn’t know I could experience.

Now Eli is 5 (and the others 8 and 10), I’m looking forward so much to the next five years and seeing where we are once he hits double figures. I love seeing their personalities develop and independence grow and I would be lying if I don’t admit how much this makes my life easier in a lot of ways as well. Going for a run, out for a meal with friends or to work is so much simpler than it was just a few years ago. It also makes family outings and life in general much less stressful, not having to factor in how to keep a baby happy for a long drive, calculating naps, nappies and feeding times.  It was an amazing part of our life but I’m so ready for the next chapter! Of course, I’m not naive and I am expecting it to be difficult at times but it will also be full of even more laughter and fun. Besides, nothing worth having comes easy right?!

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Five years ago today

 

Perspective

Two things have happened this week that have left me thinking.

The first was when we were doing a ‘Growth Mindset Journal’ with another home ed family on Monday. For those that don’t know, growth mindset is the belief that you are in control of your own ability and skills and that you can learn and improve. Our journal has covered all sorts of things from being kind and helping others to looking at the brain as a muscle that needs exercising. This week was about positivity. We spoke a little about the difference between having a positive and negative attitude towards things and both my big two piped up cheerily ‘oh, I’m negative. Yes, I have a negative attitude!’ And it made me really sad! I actually don’t think it’s true when I look at their reactions to things in life and their general interactions and disposition but it made me sad that this was their image of themselves.

I got to thinking why this might be the case and pondered whether it could be due to my attitude. They say children are your mirror and I’ve been rather more ‘glass half empty’ over the last months than I used to be. I think this has been mostly down to being ill so much this year and to some epic over-scheduling in the last academic year. But I’m determined to make an effort to be more positive and focus on the good things in a situation, rather than the bad. This used to come so easily to me so I’m not sure why it doesn’t so much anymore but I’m going to practice positivity until hopefully it becomes the natural choice in my reactions. So apologies in advance if I start being annoyingly cheery again – I’ll try to dial it down where appropriate!!

The second thing that happened was online. In a facebook group I’m on, a lady of two very young children reached out, asking if other mothers ever felt totally overwhelmed, touched out and with no sense of self or time to do things they wanted to do. I realised with a sense of surprise that after years of feeling like this, on the whole I actually don’t anymore! Having three kids so close together was tough, especially when they were all under 5, and I often felt like I was madly treading water to survive. I remember feeling like there was nothing more to me than being a mother. They needed me mentally, physically and spiritually all the time and it consumed me. I was touched out, tired and bloody irritated with the whole affair.

But now at 9, 7 and 4 this has passed. And it happened so gradually that I didn’t even realise. They have more independence, need me less and I am lucky to get a heck of a lot of time to myself, be that at the gym, out running, at work or just generally seeing friends. I’m aware that a lot of my friends don’t get this so I don’t want to take it for granted. At the same time though, I don’t think it’s a luxury but a necessity to my sanity and one that I think everyone needs and deserves. Being a parent is amazing but it’s not all I am.

So I guess both of these things made me think about perspective. I’ve had a few conversations about this over the last week. It’s easy to be so absorbed in the present that taking a step back to see what has changed can be hard. But I think it’s really important to practice doing this. Often you are able to take stock and realise that things are massively different and hopefully, in a really positive way! It’s easy to forget about the small achievements and progressions that you (and your children) have made if you’re not looking for them but important to acknowledge and celebrate them I think. It’s easy to feel stagnant and like nothing has changed when actually, micro-steps of moving forward have happened. Perspective helps us identify where things are going in our lives and using it, we can fine-tune what happens next.

I think perspective, like gratitude, is a practice and one that is worthy of regular practice.

Raising Girls Who Are Switched On, Not Scared

When I’m running on my own on trails or secluded country roads and I spot a man coming the other way, regardless of the time of day or light levels, I make a mental note of his appearance and what he’s wearing. Just in case. I am not alone in doing this.

When a man in a pub makes lewd comments about my appearance, I do not always respond the way I’d like to. Just in case. I am not alone in doing this.

When heading home by myself at night, I will choose the route that is more public and better lit, even if it’s a substantial detour. Just in case. I am not alone in doing this.

I’ve been having lots of conversations with the women in my life about this recently. And how about how frustrating, unfair and angering it is that in 2019, we still need to take these precautions more than our male counterparts. We’ve discussed how we first knew that we needed to take these precautions, about the undercurrent of fear that we experienced as we first started to venture into the world by ourselves as teenagers, all those years ago. About how really, by doing these things, we are perpetuating the myth of victim blaming; that if she was more careful, she would have been safe. And this is not OK. Violence against women (and obviously men) is the fault of the perpetrator. Always. End of story.

But more pressingly for me at least at the moment, is how to raise girls to be women that are switched on, smart and safe but not scared. How do we prepare them for the reality of the world once they’ve left home or are starting to be out without parental protection. You don’t want to put the fear of God into them, to leave them instantly distrustful of anyone who crosses their path. But you also want them to be sensible and have a good awareness of how to stay safe. Obviously this is something we teach all of our children. Learning how to behave in society is essential for a future world that is hopefully kinder and more productive than the one we currently exist in. But it breaks my heart that I will have to teach my daughter this with more of an emphasis on personal safety than I will my sons.

When it comes to the how though, I am so very open to receiving wisdom and suggestions from those around me raising girls, whether they be younger or older than mine or already grown up. My instinct is that it will come down to lots of honest, open conversations. It will mean answering hard questions truthfully, to philosophical discussions about why things are the way they are. We’ve already spent a long time dissecting why I’m less comfortable with her being topless in public spaces than her brothers even though she’s only 9. She wasn’t satisifed with the reasons and I don’t really blame her.

We’ve come a long way since the suffragettes in terms of representation and rights of men and women. We no longer need male guarantors to have a mortgage or a credit card. We can spend our own money in a pub (up until 1982, we could be refused service). We have the right to equal pay (although the pay gap is far from closed). We can work on the London Stock Exchange, access the contraceptive pill and obtain a court order against a violent spouse. All these examples have come from this list, a simultaneously depressing and celebratory read. But not far enough. I want my daughter to live in a world where she’s feel as safe as her male counterparts. To feel as valued and listened to as her male counterparts. To feel as powerful as her male counterparts.

And for want of knowing what else to do, I think it starts with talking. Talking to her, to her brothers, to anyone who will listen! So please join the conversation with me and let’s raise our girls to be switched on, but not scared.