Tuesday, 10 July 2018

I taught my son to make me tea - now that's what I call self care !

At the weekend me and Hubbie spent a couple of days on our own in Cornwall. We dropped off the boys with Grandma and Grandma and as we left she remarked on how surprised she was we were going so far away for just a couple of days. Yes it was a lot of driving and it was a long way, but it was entirely worth it.

Within minutes of being child-free we were joking and making each other laugh. We listened to the music we wanted to, we ate sweets without having to hide them from ears that can hear the rustle of a toffee wrapper, but not, "stop hitting your brother." I even managed to snooze for a while, made much simpler without the shrill demands from the back of the car for different tunes, a snack, a drink or a toilet stop. 

I had bought tickets for us to see Bjork at the Eden Project and we decided to make a weekend away of it. Blue Bear stayed with Grandparents and Brown Bear had a boys' weekend with Hubbie's brother. We went to a place we love and saw an amazing gig together almost 2 years to the day we did it last. Brown Bear went swimming, had Subway for lunch (which he loves), pizza for dinner and watched the World Cup games with his equally football-loving uncle. Blue Bear had his grandparents all to himself and when I called on the phone I could hardly believe how chatty he was. The weather was gorgeous, everyone got to do something they wanted to - even Grandpa who escaped to play golf - he loves his grandkids, but only for short periods of time and preferably only one at a time. 

It was a year ago that I went away to Brighton on my own and went to a show and stayed in a nice hotel. I had been looking after the boys full time for so long I was feeling resentful, tired and fed up. The room was fancy, I went shopping, had a nice dinner and went to bed in a huge double bed all by myself. I got up early to go for a run and felt amazing. I ate breakfast - which I often don't get to do - and went back to bed after a shower and watched TV. It was blissful and relaxing. 

A lot of people passed comment about my choice to be away from my kids - which was interesting as I didn't see them there when I was struggling to keep myself together. People often say the words "me-time" with a sneer, as if it's self-indulgent or somehow spoiled. I know it's not possible for everyone who needs a break to do that and I am fortunate that I can take time for myself if I want to. It's taken me years to value myself enough to do it though. For so long after we adopted Blue Bear it was difficult and emotionally overwhelming. I was trying to love and care for two boys who were in the throes of complete meltdown and I was left completely empty. I didn't want to admit that I wasn't coping as I was terrified that if I did they would take Blue Bear away from us. I'd be deemed an unfit parent - that might even affect Brown Bear. I started to believe that my incapacity was detrimental to my kids. I asked other parents at school to help me, but very few were willing or able to. I chose to be absent from taking Brown Bear to school so they wouldn't see how terrible a parent I was. As soon as Hubbie came home from work I would go out of the house to get away from the demands of my two little boys. 

Then my lovely friend Pippa advertised a Mama's retreat in Cornwall and I mentioned it to Hubbie. He said if I wanted to go he'd be happy to take care of the boys. I booked a ticket and took the car for the weekend. The long drive was wonderful. It reminded me of the days when I travelled all over the UK and delivered talks at schools and then later at Rotary meetings. I spent two days away from my boys, in a beautiful house in Cornwall with sea views and no internet. It was wonderful. I promised myself that I would take better care of myself and not let it get to the stage where I was that broken again. 

Self care can be a little thing we do every day. It might be drinking a cup of coffee on your own before anyone else wakes up. Going for a walk instead of sitting at your desk all day. Listening to music you love and singing loudly along with it (in privacy mind - don't destroy someone else's peace in order to enjoy yours). Having some nice chocolate instead of a rice cake. I take a cup of tea in a thermos mug with me in the morning. I drink it on the tram, then the train and by the time I get to work I am halfway human. It's the one I have after that which enables me to actually function. 

If I ever doubt the benefits of taking care of myself I cast my mind back to one afternoon in the summer holidays when Blue Bear first came to live with us. He was screaming at me for my attention and Brown Bear was doing the same thing. I was in the hallway with one child on the stairs who I was trying to protect from falling and the other was in the front room swinging the door which made me fear he would hurt himself on it. If I turned to help one the other would alert me to the imminent danger he was in and vice versa. It felt like I was being torn in two by these children who I love and want to protect with all my heart. The old saying about putting on your oxygen mask applies here. How on earth could I take care of my boys if I wasn't even taking care of myself ? 

When anyone makes comments about how I spend time away from my children I smile sweetly and say, "I've earned it - I've done my time." This parenting malarky isn't meant to be an endurance test. There are no prizes for suffering the most or for martyrdom. If there were I know plenty who'd compete for the trinkets. I taught Brown Bear how to make a cup of tea for Mummy at the weekend. Not pouring the boiling water you understand, but the practicalities of adding a little milk at a time and taking his time to get it right. I praised him for doing a great job and Blue Bear told me he wanted to do it next time. I explained that he is too young. 
"Mummy I'm nearly five !" 
Fair point, well made.  
Part of taking time for self care is also about knowing I've done enough to let go of the reins sometimes. After all, I'm not going to picking up boy socks my entire life am I ? 

Seriously, am I ? 

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

This is me - if you don't like it *shrugs*

Last night me and my mum went to a talk by Anita Anand about Princess Sophia Duleep Singh. I already knew she had been a suffragette and a favourite in the court of Queen Victoria, but I had no idea of her Indian pedigree. Her grandfather was Maharaja Ranjit Singh. I drew sharp intake of breath when I heard that - Mum just nodded and smiled. You don't grow up in a Punjabi household and now know who Maharaja Ranjit Singh was. He is an icon in Sikh history and was known as 'Sher e Punjab' - the lion of Punjab. The story of his heir Duleep Singh being brought to Britain and kept like an English gentleman is absolutely fascinating, but it's how Sophia came to be such a rebel that I was captivated by. A woman who was too Indian to marry an Englishman, but too English to marry an Indian. Who dedicated her life to the advancement of women. She broke the rules and didn't give a damn. She was a brown woman who had been a society darling and lived at Hampton Court Palace and sold suffragette propaganda outside the gates. She had been arrested, but much to her annoyance didn't get imprisoned.

In her later life when women had been given partial suffrage she became a nurse and tended to the Indian soldiers who were being tended at the war hospital in Brighton Pavillion. Horrified that they had been sent to fight for the British without the correct kit she made it her mission to raise money to buy them boots and coats so they wouldn't die of cold. This woman was just amazing. She was also a pain in the arse to the government and specifically to Winston Churchill. I am so in awe of her !

I like to think that the Sher part of her punjabi heritage was what made her so forthright. I should know, after all I come from feisty stock. My grandfather fought in the British Army, so he was told before partition that it was on the horizon and took his wife and 1 year old daughter (my Mum) out of Punjab for safety. It's possible that in doing so he saved all their lives. My grandmother went on to study to be a teacher while my grandfather took care of their children. She ran her own school and raised 5 children pretty much alone when she was widowed at a young age. Her energy levels were legendary, she had a wicked sense of humour and it was well known in the family that she loved ice cream. She would always say, 'give it to the children first,' be we would make sure there was plenty left for her. It meant so much to me when she met Hubbie and declared, 'he's definitely punjabi' - it was the highest possible compliment !

Then we come to my mother, a woman who while softly spoken and seemingly gentle has a core of steel. Kaur - see what I did there ? She is a licensee, used to play darts, worked full time until only a few years ago and to this day is the one person I know I can call to ask pretty much anything. "Mum how do I set my economy seven heating ?" She talked me through it over the phone. True story. Oh and did I mention that she can whistle. I mean proper fingers in the mouth ear splitting whistle. I have never had the guts to ask her in what context she learned to do this. She is in her seventies and can still do it. Mind blown !

So my point is I'm from a long line of fierce punjabi women - this is in my blood. It's my heritage and it's in my DNA. I can't be any other way. Woe betide you if you make the mistake of thinking I am a pushover. I'm not some passive indian woman - never make that mistake. Once in my days as a procurement manager I had a meeting with a salesman about a printer he wanted to sell my company. I went to the offices for the sales presentation and then we had lunch. Over nachos (or something) he said, "When I first met you I thought you were a small, quiet indian woman, then you opened your mouth." It was then I realised that being me, looking like I do comes with certain preconceptions.

Last week I went for a run at lunchtime - I'm training for a half marathon - and headed towards Bushy Park. I ran halfway across the zebra crossing and then came to a stop (still jogging on the spot) as a motorbike and cyclist came to a stop on the other half. The guy on the motorbike took out one of his earplugs and yelled. "Why you running ?" I looked at him with my head to one side, not quite understanding the question. "You're supposed to walk" and he helpfully made a walking gesture with his fingers in case I didn't understand him shouting at me. I looked at him, again said, "what ?" and he pointed at his head to indicate I was stupid so I slowly raised two fingers towards his face and said - with a smile. "Fuck you !" and ran the rest of the way. As I got to the end of the crossing the cyclist called out to me, "Don't worry, you're fine." I thanked him and carried on. As I processed my anger (and shame) through running I wondered, if I'd been a white woman would he have talked to me like that ? I bet he wouldn't. He would know bettter in case he got a mouthful of abuse. Oh well.

Today I was going to pick up the boys from school. As I got to the bottom of our road it was clear there had been an accident as traffic was building up and I decided to go back up the hill, park outside our house and walk to school so I wouldn't be late. As I turned my car round I saw a line of cars who had taken my road as a 'short cut' and were queuing on the wrong side of the road blocking my way back home. I waited for a few to pass and then inched forward to where there was a gap for the oncoming car to pull in so I could pass. He refused to move. I got angry. I shouted at him to move. He refused. I got out and said, " I have the right of way so I'm not moving." he told me to get back in my car - I guess 'like a good girl' was implied. Now his first mistake was in thinking he could talk to me like that. His second was in telling me what to do. Oh I will get back in my car. And I will sit here and wait until you decide to move. So I did. He shook his head. I smiled. We could both hear the drivers behind him getting impatient and I stood my ground - I was in the right after all. Eventually he reversed into the space - badly - and I couldn't resist shouting out, "See I knew you could do it." His reply to me is unrepeateable, mostly because I didn't stay to hear it. He tried to intimidate me and get me to move even though I was in the right - he lost. To a brown woman. Oh for shame !

Yep I was being a dickhead. I can be. And you know what I don't care. I don't have to be a good girl because it upsets someone else's narrative about me. I am done with anyone who wants me to be their idea of what an indian woman is supposed to be. If having an attitude and being angry is not what you expected from me so what ? I'm not a meek and quiet woman. For years I would beat myself up for being too outspoken. I'd try to train myself to keep my thoughts inside, to shut up and not express an opinion so as not to cause upset. It never lasted. I did this for years and I'm done with that. I am not going to apologise for who I am. Not any more.

Do you know what ? I'm pretty fucking awesome and if you don't think so then you know where the door is.*

*Yes I am angry. Very angry. I'm not really this arrogant.

Sunday, 1 July 2018

I wanna hold your hand

I woke up tired today. Right to the core of my bones tired. I was supposed to go for a run, but I knew it wasn't going to happen in the morning. I also knew that Blue Bear was in need of my care and attention today having been very unwell for the last two days. We were supposed to visit my parents today, but Hubbie had already said it probably wasn't a good idea to take Blue as he wouldn't be up to it. He was right. There I said it. It's out there in the world. Hubbie is the voice of reason when I am driven by guilt to go ahead with things even when they are not a good idea. Hubbie and Brown Bear went to visit the family and I stayed home with Blue Bear and we took the day slowly. We watched Paddington 2, painted a dinosaur (don't ask) and spent some time in the garden together. It was lovely and soothing and just what we both needed.

There are a few scenes in the movie that Blue Bear finds sad. When Paddington is sent to prison and is alone, when the Browns appear to forget about him and when he is thinking about Aunt Lucy. I asked him if he was ok and he said he was. I even managed to encourage him to eat something - two bags of popcorn and some toast seeing as you asked. There are a lot of bits that make me cry, but one in particular is when he is trapped under water and Mrs Brown can't free him. She reaches in and holds his paw. I asked Blue for a cuddle at that point. He sat back into my arms and I held him close, my eyes thick with tears.

When Blue Bear first came to us he slept in the cot right next to me in bed. He would reach his hand out to see if I was there and I would hold his hand until he fell asleep. During the night I would stay close the the cot so he would know I was there if he woke up, which he did frequently. Earlier today we dropped off Brown Bear and Hubbie at the station and on the way there Blue wasn't feeling well. Brown Bear held his brother's hand to help him feel better. It's something Hubbie has always done and I think it's lovely. If he can see someone is upset or hurt he will say, "squeeze my hand," it really helps.

When I was single the thing I missed was touch. Not in a sexual way you understand. I mean the intimacy of holding hands, or gently stroking an arm. Arms around me while I slept. All those tiny gestures that are almost unconscious. When I walk past Hubbie I always touch him (not like that you dirty monkey !) and sometimes I will ask him to stop what he's doing so we can hug. The kids are appalled of course. They also get stroked on the face or kissed on the head if I'm passing. At night I go into their rooms and kiss them and stroke their heads while they sleep. Last night Blue Bear smiled and Brown Bear slightly opened his eyes then went back to sleep. I hope that even in deep sleep the comfort is there.

As I type this Neo is lying next to me. He loves being stroked and when the boys are close enough he 'kisses' them on the head. I like to think that all the touch and closeness is filling up our tanks so that we have comfort enough to see us through the difficult days. Blue has been asking me about his early life lately. "Where did I live when I was a baby Mummy ?" "Who did I live with ?" I answer him and then we hug. That seems to be working for us both so far.

Sunday, 24 June 2018

I'm ready for the good life now thanks.

I've been thinking about endings lately.

From the minor endings like the TV shows I love coming to a series finale, my favourite fragrance finishing (ooh alliteration !) and having to stop wearing Fit Flops after donkey's years because they're not suitable for work. To the biggies - going back to work and not being around all the time for my boys any more. Taking care of Neo in the full knowledge that he is old for a cat and all the pills we are giving him will only hold off the inevitable for so long.

Maybe it's the end of the long days and the slow progress towards Autumn and Winter. That inevitability of the nights getting darker a bit earlier until it's clearly a different season. I've been teaching yoga in the evenings and it's still light outside when the class finishes. That won't be the case for much longer. However it does mean I get to teach by candlelight again and that is magical.

Then I think about how I've coped with relationship endings. My first marriage ended a long time ago now and I barely recognise the woman I was then. We had been so unhappy and he kept telling me to leave him. One day it was completely clear to me that it was time to leave. It seemed so obvious that was the right thing to do. It was painful and difficult and the fallout went on for years. I had been thrown out of my family to be with him and yet they took me back when I left. I waited every day for 2 years for the pain to stop. I'm not sure when it did, but it must have because I'm here now.

In a very sad episode I lost a friend for a few years because he was in a relationship with someone who was toxic and unkind. I couldn't bear to see him being mistreated and we lost touch. I told him years later that I was always his friend, but I just couldn't be around her and he opened up that he hadn't been happy. Being a friend sometimes means having to be brutally honest and that isn't easy. I wish I had checked if he was happy instead of taking myself away to avoid her.

The finality of losing Soraya has been the most difficult ending - obviously. It has tested my mental strength and pushed me to the limits of my patience. Someone asked me how I manage to do so many things and I smiled and shrugged. The truth is I keep 'doing' because if I stop and think it just hurts too much.  If I start to cry I might never stop. There are things that help. Music, yoga, running, swimming, cuddling Neo, Hubbie, my boys, friends. I am very lucky.

Eventully I hope to think less about what is ending and instead focus on what is beginning.

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Fame at last...

Well this happened. 

In January I decided I was going to cut off all my hair to raise money for Macmillan and donate it to charity. 

Macmillan contacted me and asked if I'd like to take part in a photoshoot for them and I said, "hella yeah !" 800 photos later they produced this for the new fundraising pack. It even features the hand of my wonderful hairdresser Alan. 

The hair was donated to Little Princess Trust who produce real hair wigs for children and young people with hair loss from cancer treatment. It's a wonderful charity and I'm so proud to have been able to do this. 

So the next big challenge is the Royal Parks half marathon that I'm going to run in October. It's the furthest distance I've run and it's a real effort for me to train for this. I am hoping my shorter hair will make me more aerodynamic so I don't make a complete idiot of myself ! The training plan starts next Monday and I'm hoping to add to the £1200 I've already raised for the fantastic work that Macmillan do to support people with cancer and those who care for them. 

Thank you so much to everyone who has supported my efforts so far, financially and emotionally. I'm touched by the care and kindness that so many lovely folk have shown me. It hasn't made the challenges (both people and things) easier to deal with, but it's been reassuring to have a hand to hold and a listening ear.  

You can follow my progress on Instagram and if you want to support Macmillan I have a fundraising page. 

Monday, 11 June 2018

I sound like a huskie...

This evening when I came home from work I let myself in and put my handbag by the front door. I could hear the boys outside so I went to see what they were up to. Hubbie had picked them up and brought them home early so they could play outside before going to bed. Since I've been at work they go to creche after school so I don't see them as much. I've been feeling guilty on the rare mornings Blue Bear is awake before I leave.
"Where you going Mummy ?"
"I'm going to work."
"What again ?"
"Yes Baby, every day."
"I miss you Mummy."
"I miss you too, but you'll have a lovely time at school and I'll see you later."

Brown Bear asks me if I've had a good day at work and even made me a celebration certificate. He has previous experience of me going to school, but it's all new for Blue. Since he has been with us I've been at home with him. It's been a big change for him and he's started climbing into bed around 5am to see me before I leave. It's exhausting, but very sweet. When I woke up today he was in his own bed, but I was still shattered. I've had a splitting headache all day and I'm losing my voice. Hubbie kindly picked the boys up so I didn't have to go to school and they were home already when I got back from work. I went upstairs to lie down in the dark and Brown Bear came in to give me a hug and to check if I was ok. Neo wandered in, miaowed then lay down next to me. He has a great instinct for when anyone is not well.

Blue Bear goes to bed first so while Hubbie was getting him ready for bed I talked to Brown Bear.
"Taylor's mummy sent a message to say she's coming back to school tomorrow and she's going to be using crutches as she's hurt her foot. Can you help her please ?"
"Ok Mummy."
"Maybe carry her bags into class."
"I can help her up the stairs. I'll put my arm around her."
"What a nice idea. I'm sure she'd like that."
"I helped Ray and Betty at school today."
"That's a kind thing to do. Well done."
"That's ok Mummy."
He gave me a hug and went back to his room.

Blue Bear was lying in bed and I went to say goodnight.
"Stroke me Mummy."
"Ok baby."
"Why you close your eyes ?"
"I'm very tired sweetheart."
I smoothed him on the back and head to help soothe him to sleep. As he seemed to be dropping off I went to leave the room.
"Where you going Mummy ?"
"I need to lie down, I don't feel well."
He reached for a Paw Patrol pillow on his bed and held it out to me.
"Put this on the floor and lie down Mummy."
"Thank you Sweetie, but I need to lie down in the dark. You don't like the dark."
"It ok Mummy you switch light off, I like the dark now."
It is no exaggeration to say he's really terrified of the dark and I was so touched.
"It's ok baby I'll stay with you."
I did. I stroked his back and smoothed his head until I heard the soft snores that indicated he'd gone to sleep.

I think we've got this.

Sunday, 3 June 2018

Got my work shoes and a packed lunch all ready to go

I was queuing at the till this afternoon to pay for my shopping. I decided that as it's my first full week in my new job I was going to be well prepared so I bought all the food I needed for lunches, breakfasts and any snacks. The boys were at home lounging in the sunny garden having returned from cricket and we had all been for a fun swim earlier in the morning. In the queue I noticed a man behind me who had only two items to pay for. I asked it he wanted to go ahead of me and he looked a bit surprised, but thanked me and moved forward. The woman in front of me was frantically packing her shopping, she had already rolled her eyes and castigated her husband (who had disappeared now) and was clearly not in a good mood. The man in front of me stood next to her waiting his turn to pay and she looked at him and sharply asked him to move away so she could put in her pin number.  He was quite elderly and didn't really understand so I gently took his elbow and explained that she wanted some privacy to put in her number and he mumbled something. She swore at him and he looked baffled. It brought me up short, because I can remember days when I have been like that. I've not been patient or especially nice and it's embarassing to see in another person the rotten behaviour I've probably displayed myself. 

This was on my mind because we just had a half term holiday in Cornwall where we spent time relaxing, eating outside, being active and generally doing things as a family. I have tried to manage the worst of my moods and temper, which is much easier when it is sunny and now the boys are older they even sleep in sometimes !! I noticed Blue Bear has more energy, he asserts himself more (well he shouts a lot), he is funny and engaging and lots of fun. Brown Bear blew my mind when we all went on a long cycle ride by being brave and sensible and working as a team with me and hubbie. I have wanted to ride the Camel Trail since I first visited Cornwall about 18 years ago. Now that Brown Bear can ride a bike confidently we hired bikes - and a buggy for Blue Bear to sit in behind Daddy's bike. We took to the trail and it was just fantastic to be able to cycle as a family and to see my son pedalling away and taking the lead. Even when he came off his bike and scraped his arm - quite painfully - he got back on and kept going. I recalled how when I fell off my bike my dad would tell me off rather than comfort me. It showed me that some of my worst traits are learned behaviours and it is entirely my choice to take them on. I didn't tell him off, I reassured him that falling off is part of cycling and he had done nothing wrong to make it happen. Then we sang as we cycled along to take his mind off his injury. 

I noticed that I'm letting go more and giving the boys more space. It's been on my mind that the shift from full time parent to full time work is something I just wasn't prepared for. The boys are great, they love creche and hopefully Blue Bear will eat supper at school this week instead of expecting me to feed him when I'm home from work. Brown Bear often asks me, "How was your day Mummy ?" and made me a certificate to signify how well I'd done for going back to work. They are fine with it. Hubbie provides the encouragement and practical support to enable me to do this at all. On my first day as I was leaving for work he gave me a massive hug and whispered in my ear, "I'm so proud of you." That carried me practically all the way there. 

It's taken what seems like forever, but now I am here and I have put things in place to help me feel calmer. I disclosed to work that I experience anxiety and stress. This is the first time I've ever done that. I decided it was best to just be open and I'm glad I did. They need to know that if I am being asked to stay late and it means I can't pick up my kids that is going to cause me anxiety. Being late for my children makes me stressed. Over the years I realise that people have thought I'm being unreasonable or picky when actually I'm anxious. It's not logical or directed at anyone in particular and to a certain extent it is out of my control. If I am on a train that is delayed I will be getting anxious - even though there's nothing I can do about it. If I have an hour for lunch and the food is late I will be anxious. I'd rather just leave it, but I don't want to be rude. 

So when I saw the woman today I kind of sympathised with her. I have no idea why her day was going that way or why she was upset with her husband or why him changing the orangeade for lemonade caused her to react as she did. I have no clue why the man standing close to her caused her to get so upset. In fact, I blamed myself for letting him in front of me and putting him in that situation. Still, I hope she felt better later. 

I came home and put out four outfits for this week. I organised the things I need to take to work and put the food in the fridge that I am going to eat tomorrow. I am managing my potential anxiety in the only way I know how - by organising the hell out of it. Now I'm going to bed so that I at least have a fighting chance of getting enough sleep.