End of an era

(This was conveniently in the Express and Echo on the day of my birthday but I forgot to post it here until today, it also reads as a little gloomy but that wasn’t the intention, honest!)

In years gone by when I had more time to update my blog regularly, I used to write a special post for the kids whenever they had a birthday. I’d write about how they had changed over the last year, what I loved about them, what made them tick and what it was about them that was unique and made them, them. Recently I’ve stopped this habit. A combination of just being too busy and also wanting to afford them a little more privacy I guess. But this week, as I approach my 30th birthday, I thought I’d be a little self indulgent and reflect on my last decade.

Ten years is a long time and I am testament to quite how much can change in that period. Ten years ago, in 2007 I was midway through my degree in International Relations and Politics, I played (badly!) in a band, I was a little overweight with no interest in exercise and my biggest concern was getting my assignments in on time. I didn’t know it at the time but I had not a care in the world. I was responsible for no one but myself. I had the freedom to wake up when I liked, go where I liked, eat whatever I liked. I used to stay up late having endless deep conversations about philosophy and politics. I was in the early stages of my relationship with Dan; we went on dates, played board games and had no external constraints on our time or energy. I remember cycling to his house in the middle of the night in a cocktail dress just to say hi (although to this day, I’m still not sure the reason for my strange attire).

Fast forward to present day, in 2017. I am responsible for the emotional, physical and spiritual well-being of three small, gorgeous beings. I am trying to juggle that with a dozen hours of freelance work a week as well as sharing the running of the household with Dan and trying to train for a marathon and generally keep fit. I no longer play music (although I miss it) but now love weightlifting, pole dancing and running. I have discovered my passion for writing. My interest in politics has deepened although just like my university lecturers, I have subsided into a often hopelessness at the current state of affairs. My relationship with Dan, whilst strong, is not quite as carefree and fun as it was. Far too often our conversations are dominated by the children, by money, by organisation.

Which leaves me to wonder where I’ll find myself in another ten years. Will I come full circle, re-gaining some independence as the children grow up? Maybe 40 will be my sweet spot! That is not to say that I’m not enjoying life at the moment. Life is full, it is complicated and often hard. But I am trying to consciously embrace all that I loved about life at 20. My love of music, our spontaneous attitude to plans, my passion. I figure if I can align that with the awesomeness of raising my three urchins and love of writing then I’ll have it made! So I’m looking forward to what my thirties will bring (as long as Theresa May isn’t still PM in a week!) and will keep you updated here on my comings and goings as they unfold.

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Nothing But the Truth

In the interest of full disclosure, I figure that as well as sharing the funny or adorable ancedotes from my children with you, I should also share the downright ugly. My children have been nothing short of foul this last week. The fighting has been incessant, the whinging has been prolific, the singing annoying songs has been off the charts. Yesterday as we drove home from an afternoon on a beautiful beach near Kingsbridge (where to be fair, they had mostly put their grumpiness on hold) they were kicking off in the back of the car. Eli was shouting at me because I wouldn’t put his window down as we drove at 70mph down the A38, Sophia was grumpy about something Isaac had done and Isaac was howling because he’d been told off for purposefully annoying Sophia. We pulled in for fuel and I glanced over at the campervan next to me. In it was another family with two young children. The parents looked relaxed and happy, the children were smiling. They looked like something out of an advertisement! I was green with envy. Dan got back in the car….’why aren’t our kids like that?!’ I asked in desperation, nodding in their direction.

To be fair to my children, they are perfectly capable of being lovely. They often play long complicated make believe games, they give us lots of cuddles, they read books and build lego creations together. We have long periods of mostly harmonious living with just the odd niggle. But these periods seem to be interspersed with phases where everyone clashes, all the time. This time round, I think it is probably something to do with getting back into the swing of things after the Easter break combined with far too much sugar over the last week (we’ve finally finished the chocolate today). I’m hoping that the permanent sugar high will wear off and as their normal routine continues, they might ease back into a more peaceful state of being.

I know it’s not permanent but it’s oh so annoying when it happens. I hate nagging and chastising all the time, I can’t bear them not listening to me and I feel oh so sorry for our neighbours or anyone in the vicinity! Mostly though, I feel so sad at the thought of them being so unpleasant to each other. Sure, I wasn’t best friends with my siblings at the time growing up but mostly I remember playing with them and getting on. Maybe my parents will remember it differently but I don’t remember being quite as mean to them as mine can be to each other. It’s probably rose tinted spectacles as I reminisce and this is probably completely normal behaviour but nonetheless, I hope this phase passes quickly and we’re back to giggles being more commonly heard than screams!

Itchy Feet

I think I’ve probably written about this before but having revisited the subject recently with friends and family, I thought I’d have a very public ponder about it here as well. During Easter we visited our friends in Brighton for the weekend. What followed was a relaxing few days, spent in the very best of company. We didn’t really do much but we ate delicious food, the kids played, we spent some time in the sunshine and of course, we took part in an Easter egg hunt on the downs (thanks Dan and Matt!) It was bliss.

On the drive home, Dan and I had the same conversation we always do as we return from Brighton. Namely, should we move back there or stay in Devon? The conversation went much the same as it always does. We miss our friends deeply but love so much of what Devon has to offer; an amazing home ed community and lots of friends, family, beaches, the moors, cheaper rent…. We danced the same old dance as we then moved on to re-evaluating whether we are happy in Topsham and whether we should consider moving somewhere else in Devon that has a bit more space and crucially…guaranteed parking!

I suspect we won’t be going anywhere soon but we do seem to have the same conversations over and over. I’m not quite sure what is but I think we are destined to have itchy feet. Since getting married in 2008, we have managed to live in a grand total of 8 different houses/abodes…not bad going really! However, we seem to have shaken the curse a little as this October we’ll have been in our current house for three years.

I can’t help wondering what it is that makes us constantly want to move though. Is it a touch of ‘is the grass greener’ syndrome? A desire to live out exciting dreams that then don’t play out how we imagined (our time on the yacht)? A case of genetics (both my parents and Grandparents moved often)? Or is it simply circumstance? It’s certainly easy to move these days when you rent rather than own, the housing market being what it is, a mortgage is a bit of a far off dream for those of us in a position to pay the mortgage but not the deposit.

I wonder though if we’ll ever get over this desire to keep moving and exploring. In the last few years we’ve discussed moving within Devon, back to Brighton, up North and even looked at the possibility of Canada and New Zealand! With Dan’s job being home-based and the kids being home educated, we are in a unique position of having no real ties to anywhere. The world is truly our oyster! But for now, I think we’ll stay in Topsham – good friends, convenient facilities, lots of fun to be had. Those feet will just have to wait for a bit before we start scratching that itch. But where to next when we do finally move on? We’ll have to wait and see I guess….

Green Therapy

Just before Easter a friend of ours kindly approached me to see if we would like to share their plot at the local allotment. We enthusiastically accepted and consequently, the last few weeks have seen me nipping up whenever we can spare the time to get a bit of digging in. I had forgotten quite how much I love gardening and just how therapeutic it is. This plot has a few fairly overgrown areas that need tackling and even just the simple act of digging and weeding has brought me much joy (and peace) recently. I’ve taken to digging barefoot, mostly because it irritates me less than getting soil in your shoes but I must admit that there is something wonderful about feeling the earth between your toes as you get to grips with the task at hand.

The children have been nothing short of delighted to have a patch of ‘proper’ garden to tend to although their efforts at helping me weed have often been waylaid by the far more attractive option of exploring the site or darting off to play with other children. I will give them their dues though, they are diligent (and sometimes over enthusiastic!) water-ers and I suspect none of the plants will be going thirsty with Elijah around… I’m looking forward to the Easter holidays being over and dedicating a regular chunk of time once or twice a week to the allotment as part of their home education.

When we arrived there was an impressive strawberry patch, an asparagus bed, rhubarb and raspberry canes galore. Since then potatoes, beetroot and sweetcorn have been planted, I have tomato and brussel sprout seedlings at home ready to go up and just today, my spaghetti squash seeds arrived (I’m a bit too excited about the latter…here’s hoping they are bountiful)! It has been a real pleasure to be up there in the recent run of beautiful sunshine and I don’t see our initial enthusiasm wearing off anytime soon, even if the weather does turn.

All three of the kids seem to have inherited my love of gardening and are keen to see the process of growing your own through from the admittedly sometimes boring stages of weeding and preparing beds to the exciting time that is harvest. I sometimes think that if I achieve nothing else significant with their home education, as long as they love being outdoors and can grow food, I’ll be happy. Nothing tastes quite as good as fruit and vegetables you’ve grown yourselves and although I might sound a little kooky, the conspiracy theorist in me thinks that in this day and age, it’s probably one of the must useful skills to have. So a huge thank you to Jess for letting us share her plot, we will do our best to help keep everything green and growing!

All is a state of impermanence

All parents reading this will know that at times in your parenting journey, certain phrases become akin to mantras as you struggle through a challenging phase. Whether it be something you tell yourself or partner (this too shall pass, your child is your mirror…etc) or something that you tell your children, it’s easy to liken yourself to a broken record as you trot out the same old tired pep talks to an increasingly uninterested audience. For us, currently it is reminding the big two that Elijah hasn’t yet developed impulse control.

Having just turned two, he is doing what all toddlers do…smashing down towers newly built by older siblings, biting when rough play gets too exciting and generally trying to include himself in everything going on around him without any care or caution. When there are no older siblings, this phase is generally easier to manage. But when you have a lego mad 5 year old who keeps getting his creations kicked apart or a 7 year old suffering a tiny terror walking through the midst of her beloved card games, it can be a bit of a struggle to maintain the peace. A common shout in our house at the moment is ‘Muuuuuuuum!!! Elijah just….insert random act of destruction’ usually shortly followed by Eli bursting into tears as his older sibling reprimands or tries to stop him.

Obviously I try to stay nearby to manage situations pre-emptively but often, that is simply not practical or possible. Instead, I find myself comforting a wailing toddler whilst trying to simultaneously explain to him why his brother and sister shouted at him and to said aggrieved party that he didn’t do it maliciously but doesn’t yet have the impulse control to resist the urge to disrupt their play so physically. When Sophia was around the same age and doing a similar thing, I remember tearing my hair out wondering why my lovely little girl was behaving in such a manner. I tried all sorts of parenting techniques to curb the behaviour before someone pointed me in the direction of some well researched articles explaining that the area of our brain that manages our impulses doesn’t develop fully until we reach an older age.

It was like a lightbulb moment. This is not naughty or deliberately mean behaviour. It is age appropriate, innocent and most importantly, temporary! Of course I think it is still important to explain to the mischievous toe rag why their actions are undesirable but I’m not going to punish a 2 year old for something they can’t help. Of course this is not of much comfort to Sophia and Isaac as they endure his exuberance but we have developed strategies such as decoy towers or simply playing in a separate, enclosed space from him. Luckily, this unwanted and often trying behaviour is balanced out and more than made up for by his deep belly laughs and overflowing affection at the moment, epitome of cute he is! How about all of you parents out there, are you going through a challenging phase with your little ones at the moment? How are you managing it? I would love to hear from you!

Feasting and Famine

Like many people, I’ve heard with increasing horror about the latest emerging famine in Somalia. Tales of children starving to death after more failed harvests have shocked us in a country where food is bountiful and often, wasted. It has only been six years since the last major famine in Somalia which left a quarter of a million people dead, a shocking statistic in these supposedly advanced times that we live in. What I can’t get over though is the huge gulf between ‘us’ and ‘them’ when it comes to food.

On one side of the world, a drought occurs and the consequence is so severe that millions of people are displaced, left hungry and searching for food whilst their loved ones die along the way. There is obviously no significant store of food, no back up for when the weather or nature doesn’t behave accordingly. And on the flip-side, here in the UK (and most of Europe), we have food coming out of our ears. Our supermarkets, lit by their bright lights, are eternally stocked, drawing us in with their bargains and offers. The average family in the UK throws away around £500 worth of edible food each year (a staggering 7.3 million tonnes nationwide). Our cupboards are often stacked to the hilt with tins and packets and perishable goods. We have the luxury of choice and not just a little choice but a veritable smorgasbord of delicious edibles are on offer. We can cook from scratch, we can buy ready meals, order take out, eat at restaurants. We can feast on Italian cuisine, Indian delicacies, Mexican street food, seafood…anything our hearts or bellies desire.

We’ve come a long way from the ‘meat and 2 veg’ of earlier decades and even longer since food was simply a necessity for survival, something that was consumed for fuel with little more thought beyond where the next meal was coming from. Obviously I, like most people, am a big fan of food and love the fact that we can enjoy it more than we used to. But when I think about how primitive (and not guaranteed) it still is for millions of people all over the world, I can’t help but feel guilty. As always, I have no answers. Of course there are charities that I could donate to and I intend to try and find out who is able to directly help those suffering the most.

However, I suspect the problem is bigger, it’s systemic. I’m sure I’ve read that there is enough food for everyone in the world to survive and more. But it is not distributed evenly, not at all. And I don’t know how we can change that. It can only happen if led by governments and international governing organisations. I don’t think though that that is an excuse to bury our heads in the sand, ignore and carry on though. We can at least try to adjust our own consumer habits to make our tiny difference to things. We can stop buying food that we don’t need, stop throwing away things that we can still eat. We can try to buy food that is in season or produced locally. It’s not always possible but perhaps if we were all just a little bit more considered in our approach to food, we would start to see things shift for the better. Call me a naïve optimist if you will but I’d rather try than not. There must be a healthy mid point between feasting and famine.

Back in the Game

After three weeks of no running due to an ankle injury, I’m finally back to pounding the pavements and continuing training for my impending marathon (which, I just spotted, is only 13 weeks away – yikes!) I feel relieved to be able to run again with no pain although a little frustrated with the dip in my stamina and speed from having had the enforced break. Although I stayed active and continued to lift weights during that time, just three weeks of no running has caused a bit of a setback. Still, nothing insurmountable so onwards and upwards is the goal.

It got me thinking though about how, when nothing is going wrong, I (and I’m guessing others) tend to take our bodies for granted. During this time of recovery, I’ve been doing my best to get more sleep, drink more water, consciously spend time outdoors and to choose healthy options to fuel myself. Although I’m always aware of these things in the back of my mind, it’s taken an injury to make me try and be more consistent in my approach to caring for my body. If I don’t let it rest, feed it properly or move enough…how can I expect it to perform at optimum capacity?

In an era where we are more busy than ever, I dare suggest that a lot of us skimp on the self-care in order to fit more and more into our schedules. Choosing the pre-packaged, unhealthy meal, staying up until gone midnight to fit in just a few more tasks, forgetting to get outside and breath fresh air, even if just for a few minutes. It’s so easy to just keep pushing and pushing our bodies, giving them no consideration or maintenance in order to fit everything in. Until that is, something goes wrong. Then everything grinds to a halt and we have to cut out everything and painstakingly start from scratch in repairing our physical vessels that carry us from A to B. Much easier to maintain something from the get go than try and repair it once it’s on its last legs (metaphorically of course).

So I may be back in the game with my running but I’m trying to carry the lessons I’ve learnt from the last few weeks with me; sleep more, eat well, drink lots of water, go outside. And most importantly, to remember that I don’t have to do everything. It’s ok to say no to things, to go to bed early and try again tomorrow. It is absolutely fantastic that there are so many opportunities available to us these days but (carrying on from last week), we don’t have to take them all. It’s ok to go slow, to rest or concentrate on doing whatever your body needs you to do in order to be revitalised and ready for the next challenge.