Sunday, 19 January 2020

Roaring into the twenties

panoramic image of Penzance with St Michael's Mount in the background
Beautiful morning run /walk in Penzance 
Waking up to a sunny sky is one of my favourite things. Being able to go for a walk or a run in that sunshine is just the perfect start to my day. In the morning I went for a walk / run as the sun was coming up over the horizon and the sea was gorgeous. I stopped at the end of this stone walkway to sit and listen to the waves against the rocks. The peace and joy it brought me was suprassed only by the sight of St Michael's Mount in the distance.

Plate of Indian food on a floral tablecloth
Incredible eats from my lovely friend Sara 
Cornwall is my happy place. It's where I take the children on holiday and where I go to relax. Yes it's a long drive, but it doesn't faze me at all. However, being in the car for hours and not eating properly is something that I do find challenging. My lovely friend Sara not only had the boys for a sleepover the other night, but she also made this amazing food for me to enjoy when I got here. I've mentioned before that I don't always take the best care of myself when it comes to eating so this has been an incredible gift on my journey of self-care. Sara has her own food business which I have to say from personal experience is brilliant. She packed me off with delicious veggie curries, rice, a salad, yoghurt and chutney as well as a lovely personal note. I will definitely be ordering from her again. Maybe I will even share it next time.

Tortoiseshell cat sitting on windowsill behind a shell curtain
Gorgeous Miss Florrie 
This time I booked to stay in the centre of Penzance with a lovely host who has a cat called Florrie. Now I'm not saying that the cat was the main draw for me to choose to stay here, but, ok yeah she was. Since we lost Neo last year I have missed having the company of a cat in the house. As soon as I arrived on Friday night Florrie came over to be fussed and in the morning she came to see me for snuggles. Love her. Being around her had been calming and I feel so loved when a cat comes to say hello. She was baby-sitting me in the afternoon while I was relaxing post retreat and it was lovely.

Notebook, gel pens, yoga clothing on a wooden floor
Yoga and free writing 
It's become an annual tradition that I go for a new year retreat with the fantastic founder of Story of Mum - Pippa. Mostly mums attend and we arrange child-care for the day so that we can practice yoga, do some free writing, create vision boards and eat amazing food. I know it seems a big thing to come all this way, but it means a lot to give this gift to myself. It's what gets me through the emotional and social anxiety that is Christmas and New Year knowing I have this to look forward to. Of course I stress about the boys right until I am actually here. This is where I find my happiness and joy and the impetus I need to get through whatever the year ahead will bring. This morning I was reminded how much I love yoga and that I have neglected my practice for the last few years. Yoga really does help me feel more centred and I remember how much my body can do when I am on the mat.

Teapot, mug and vegan snickers bars
Breakfast of champions
Now, I'm not saying the vegan snickers bars are the reason I come all this way, but they are definitely a strong pull factor. I could probably go to a retreat in say Putney or even closer, but without the sea view and the hugs from Pippa it just wouldn't be the same. We started the day with tea and a delicious bar - it was such a special treat and brought so much joy. I cannot tell you how much it means to eat without guilt or to finish an entire cup of tea while it's still hot. Simple pleasures.

vision board of cut out images on a white background.
Beautiful, Bold Beginnings for 2020 
The vision board exercise is always revealing. In it you choose images that 'call' you and then see if they have some meaning when you place the on the board. It's a calming activity sitting and cutting out images from magazines and then arranging them on the sheet, discarding any that don't resonate. Sometimes it's puzzling what catches your eye and doesn’t make sense until you look at the whole page. I thought I'd share the one have done for this year. The thing I noticed first is that there is a lot of space on the page. Usually there are lots of overlapping images and fewer words - cluttered with  a lot going on. The overriding theme I noticed in this one is that it is all about me taking care of myself. Putting me first and believing that I am worth it. The white spaces tell me I am seeking that space for myself too. As for Rob Lowe, well if you don't ask you don't get do you ?

sea with waves and bright sunshine
Morning sea swim

This morning I went into the sea with lovely Pippa. It was very, very cold so I didn't stay in for long, but I closed my eyes and stood with the waves crashing around me and felt the sun on my face. It was amazing. When we got out and dried off we sat on the warm rocks drinking coffee and chatting.

I have come back energised and filled with hope for the future.

That is my 2020 vision.

Sunday, 12 January 2020

The pleasure principle

Today I ate tiramisu.

It was an enormous slice - the last piece our waiter told me, that's why it was so big. It was the perfect blend of coffee, amaretto and cream and tasted amazing. I don't eat dessert. I always used to, but for years now I haven't. I've been too self-conscious or full, or on a budget so I just don't have it. Today, though, I really fancied a dessert. My boys were delighted to see the plate smattered with powdered chocolate and the chocolate straw on the top - Brown Bear snaffled that and it was gone in seconds. I think they are so used to me not ordering anything they just didn't expect it.

Feeding myself isn't a priority really. I make sure there is nice food in the fridge, but I don't always want to eat it. I'm either too tired to cook for myself or I just don't know what I want to eat. I used to think ahead and plan meals - often all day I'd be planning what was for dinner. Now I only eat if I feel like it and often it's whatever needs to be finished rather than something I've been looking forward to. The other evening I made myself a nice dinner. The boys had eaten already and were watching a movie so I went into the kitchen to prepare myself a meal and decided to have something a bit more involved than usual. It was delicious and I felt so much better for having had it. There was also enough left for the next day.

Slowly the fog is lifting. I am actually taking better care of myself. Sleeping, eating, exercising, resting.

It's been quite an emotional period.

Ok that's an understatement of epic proportions, but I don't want to go into it. One day my kids will read this and it's happening in their life too so I don't want to treat it like a soap storyline. It's enough to say that I have cut ties with some folk and have stronger bonds with others. The truth of it is I don't know what is for the best. Where I feel things are negative or difficult I have decided to put space between me and that situation. A few people have been keen to tell me exactly what's wrong with me and while self-reflection can be helpful and ultimately improving, at this point I have been in survival mode for so long I can't respond to anything that feels like an attack. You don't have to actively be a cheerleader for me, but please don't go out of your way to tell me why I'm so terrible. Chances are I already think it anyway.

I sat with the boys one evening and we talked about how we're feeling. It was prompted by some behaviour that had concerned me so I thought we should talk about what might be behind it. When we were done I asked if it was ok and if they would like to do it again another time. They said it was like 'circle time' at school and were happy to make it a thing we do. It's been a long road to get here. Blue Bear hasn't talked about his feelings since I've known him so hearing him say he felt "sad all over" was heartbreaking. It did, however, give me a chance to offer to help him.

Now the door is open to talk about these things with my boys it is a sign that were are finding a way to be open and honest with each other. It's taken a while, but the boys are being truthful about how they feel and I am truly grateful for that. I've been pushed and pulled around for so long that being able to just concentrate on my little family has been a relief. We do what makes us happy. Often that is swimming, eating and watching movies together.

Today we did all of those things and I ate a dessert.

Right now the best of life is in these simple pleasures.

Saturday, 4 January 2020

Evolution - not revolution.

I'll refrain from doing all the new year new me stuff and just ask if you're alright. Did you make it ok ? 

I know how difficult it can be to participate in the enforced jollity of the festive season and to be honest I just take myself way from it all now. If it's too much I make my excuses and leave or I just don't attend parties. As I'm about to turn 50 I've finally acknowledged that I just don't do socialising with more than a few people who I already know. I'm no longer putting myself in places that make me uncomfortable. I'm confident enough now to choose not to go the work party, or the 'big do' that I really don't fancy. 

There is always a lot of emphasis on new beginnings in January and again it's pressure to make changes and be new and shiny. To go vegan, give up alcohol, take up running - whatever your particular flavour of "New Year New You" might be. On New Year's Day I saw people go sea swimming en masse, park run was full to the brim with hungover runners and the Nutri bullets were dusted off so that New Year smoothies could be made. I am not a cynical person at heart. If you want to do a new thing I applaud your efforts and will cheer you along. I set myself a goal to run a half marathon and managed it - despite people doubting I could do it. One 'friend' said, " I didn't think you had trained enough so you did well to finish." Thanks mate - don't let the door hit you on the way out. I guess what I am saying is you can choose to make the changes any time and sometimes not putting pressure on yourself to do it on the 1st of January might make it a bit more achievable. 

Resolutions aren't really my thing. I have aspirations, wishes, ambitions, but not resolutions. I don't know what is coming up in the future so I would rather work on my resilience to deal with the twists and turns that might come. I have had a lot of practice now and while I don't feel anything like as bullet proof as people tell me they think I am, it is heartening to know that I can take things in my stride. 

So what does a new decade bring ? Well I think it's worth a bit of a review of what has gone before.

2000s: were all about finding my independence. I had left an unhappy and damaging relationship that had isolated me from my friends and left me depressed and lacking in confidence. Once I was out of that I cut my hair and lost weight. I moved house a bit - travelled for work and eventually bought my own flat. I went to Romania and Sierra Leone with my job and did a lot of public speaking. Meeting lots of different people and visiting pretty much every town and city in England was a mission, but it was amazing and gave me confidence and self belief. 

I did internet dating when it was still like the Wild West out there. The whole of London reminds me of places I have been on dates - none of which went on to become a relationship, but as I had never dated in my younger years it was a lot of learning for me. I worked out where to meet for a first date, what places were best for daytime or evening and where to get a coffee or go for a walk. I learned the hard way that you will know very early on if it's not working and if you have agreed to go for dinner it will be a painful experience unless you go for one course and no coffee. 

2010s: I found out I was having a baby. My miracle boy was much longed for and when his brother came along by adoption my status as Mum was set. I was lucky enough to be able to stay at home with my kids, but it was far from easy. I had no idea how much it would test me to parent these boys and I had to learn how to do the best for them without losing myself in the process. I was home with the boys for a long while so the eventual decision to go back to work has been a big transition and I have had to learn the inevitable 'working mum juggle.' 

This last decade has been about being a parent. Putting my kids first and finding ways to make it all work. I came to parenthood older than a lot of other people I know. If anything it made me more grateful and I have tried so hard for my kids. They are my life and being her for them has been an honour. It has also shown me that I am loyal, passionate and driven to do what is best for my loved ones. 

2020s: Well this is the new big unknown isn't it ? I am now a single parent and this is a whole new challenge for me and my kids. We have made it through our first Christmas and New Year as a family of 3. Our beloved cat died and the boys have shown me they are resilient and brave. They are also very protective of me and it makes me so proud that they are good people. As they grow older we are finding new ways to be a family. It is all about negotiating what we all need in order to be mentally well and happy. 

I know whatever life throws at me I have to roll up my sleeves and get on with it. I have two amazing guys by my side and an entourage of incredible people who love and care for me too. I am learning to ask for what I need and to accept help with gratitude. 

So many people have said, "I hope this year is better for you." I will tell you something though. Everything that has happened has shown me what I can do and who I can be. I may not know what is coming, but whatever it is I'll take it on. 

If I were to make resolutions they would be something like: 
  • Say no more often 
  • Prioritise my needs
  • Trust myself

Tuesday, 31 December 2019

Love is all you need

At the start of this year I had no idea what would unfold. I had been unwell over Christmas and couldn't eat properly or drink alcohol. I had fallen ill immediately that my Mum had the all clear from the oncologist and I came home, fed by husband and kids and then went to bed. No one checked on me or brought me as much as a glass of water. It wasn't ideal.

I knew that things weren't right and had been blaming myself for being so preoccupied and absent with Mum's cancer diagnosis and treatment and prior to that my return to full time work that meant I barely saw my boys. At the beginning of last year a wonderful friend of mine had died unexpectedly and that had been such a shock so all in all the year was pretty full on.

Little did I know that 2019 would knock the stuffing out of the previous 12 months. Fairly early into the year I became a single parent and it was messy and ugly and stressful beyond belief. All the fears I had about struggling for money and managing on my own came to fruition at once. I have no idea how, but I kept working full time and tried desperately to make more time with my boys rather than less. I took them on the holiday that was already booked and my Mum came with us. I cried almost the whole time and she took care of me like she had when I was a kid. It felt so unfair to be asking anything of her when she had been through radiotherapy and the stress of cancer. What it made me realise though, was that being a Mum doesn't stop. You want to make things better for your kids and if you can't it breaks you. Mum made me food, she made sure I went to bed and rested and she kept the boys busy so I could go for a walk or just have a break.

Three pairs of feet standing in a circle on sandy beach
Beach Days 

The stress did still show through though. I had a car crash which wrote off the car. That was disappointing as we hadn't had the car long, but to be honest it wasn't economical to run and I made it out unharmed so that was ok. I just feel incredibly stupid for doing it. For losing concentration and causing an accident. In hindsight it's a wonder I didn't do more damage. My mind was like a bag of spaghetti for so long and I am fortunate to have some lovely people in my life who help me unravel it when I am at my most 'squiggly.'

I also learned who the people are who care and who I can lean on. It was a hard lesson and I was quite surprised when I realised that some people just weren't going to be around any more. I let go of more than one person who I had been holding onto out of loyalty. It hurt like hell to realise that they weren't going to make it, but then I have always struggled to throw stuff away. When I asked someone who meant the world to me if they would still be in my life they said, "You need to get on with your life without seeing me." It felt like I'd been punched in the gut. I had no idea what I had done to deserve such rejection, but I accepted it - I had to.

It wasn't all unrelenting doom though - we had some adventures and highlights this year that are worth a mention.

In the Summer me and the boys went to watch Dick and Dom at the Eden Project - it was fantastic.

multiple images - of beach, wristband and sky in Brighton
The Edge of The Sea 

I went to a music festival on my own in Brighton and loved it. I've been going to the Edge of the Sea for years, but this time I was there by myself. I've already got my ticket for 2020.

I swam in the sea in Cornwall more than once - that was exhilarating and I hope to do more of it.

My boys decided they want to visit Australia - well actually they want to visit Auntie Hannah and Uncle Greg who they met in the Summer and immediately took a shine to. I have to start saving up !!

We just had our first Christmas as a family of 3. It was lots of fun and I did what I could to keep the emotions at bay, but it did catch up with me. I have been a wreck all day.

After everything that has happened I am thankful for the kindness of those who love me. I am grateful that we are in our home, that the boys are safe and well and that we are together.

I couldn't ask for more.

Sunday, 15 December 2019

Refilling the empty cup

A one year old sat on the dining table shovelling fistfuls of cake into her mouth and searching for any leftovers on other plates. Unconventional I grant you, but in the context of visiting my parents in grandparent mode it is perfectly normal. Yesterday Blue Bear turned into a 6 year old. I had planned to visit my family so the boys could spend the day with their cousins and have a mini party for Blue. However he was not himself at all and was unwell most of the day. He barely ate anything and was tired and pale. I asked if he still wanted to go and he said he did, so off we went with a tired and sleepy Blue Bear and Brown Bear negotiating screen time with his distracted mother.

When it came to party time I hadn't had time to get the dinosaur cake that Blue had requested and he was disappointed. However, nothing is impossible in my family and within minutes we had the best dinosaur cake you have ever seen. It was a team effort and he was absolutely delighted with it. In Nani's house dreams do come true. What can I tell you - my parents love being surrounded by kids and noise and the mess that entails doesn't phase them. Yesterday as I looked around I saw my niece happily seated on the table and my boy with his mini Jurassic Park. The expression on my Mum's face with all her kids and grandkids there was pure joy and I felt so incredibly lucky.

a birthday cake covered in toy dinosaurs
Jurassic Cake 

We've spent a lot more time with my family in the last year as our home life has changed. It gives me a chance to get a little break as the boys play with cousins and get fed and spoiled. Yesterday I wasn't allowed to leave my boy's side as he was feeling so poorly, but I still got to eat something delicious and  rest for a little while. Both things that have been difficult to achieve since I've been parenting alone. In the last few weeks I had a complete shutdown as my body finally gave in to the stress and exhaustion that has been piling on for months now. Well, probably the last two years if I'm being accurate. It's been a relentless conveyor belt on which as well as the traditional cuddly toy there has been a grief, loss, stress and worry. It's hardly surprising that at some point it would be overwhelming. 

Earlier this week I met a friend who I haven't seen in a while. She lives in New York, is in London at the moment and kindly made time to see me for a catch up. She listened patiently as I explained what has been happening and how events unfolded earlier this year. As I got tearful she reached across and held my hand. Even after all this time I can't talk about what's happened without crying. I apologised for talking too much, she said, "I'm sorry I wasn't here for you."  We talked about my boys and she recalled when I told her I was expecting Brown Bear. I was 37 weeks pregnant at her wedding. A few months ago her husband was in London. It was during the rugby World Cup and we met up in a pub in Twickenham then went for a curry and just had a sweary, quippy, fun evening together. It was the first time this year that I felt like my old self. I am so thankful to have them both in my life and that they care enough to make time for me and that when we meet it's like no time has passed 

A bouquet of flowers in Christmas colours - red and gold.
Christmas in flowers. 

I received a beautiful Christmas bouquet this week - absolutely gorgeous and unexpected. It's from a lovely friend who lives in Australia and when she was in the UK for two weeks earlier in the year she invited me and the boys over to her parents' home in Surrey. The boys pottered around the allotment and played cricket in the garden with her husband while I talked to her. She listened to me, hugged me and it was just wonderful to spend time with her while my kids laughed and played. At one point I looked over at my sons laughing wildly as one was held upside down by the ankle and the other one was being chased with a cricket bat round the garden. My friend knew that I needed her and made time for me and found a way to do it that ensured the boys would be busy and happy while we caught up. Both bears now want to visit them in Australia so I've got to save up for a while to make that happen. Having friends like this is such a blessing in my life and I am so grateful. 

Of course I have equally wonderful friends in this country too. My friend who will pop over to bring things down from the loft for me and who helped manage my boys' expectations when they decided they wanted to take 4 kittens home from Foal Farm in the summer. The friends who are there for me at all hours when I am having a terrible day or feeling fear or sadness that is overwhelming. The friend who was on the other end of the phone while the worst events of this year were unfolding. She has been a constant and firm reminder that whatever comes I have it in me to get through it. I have such amazing people in my life who reassure me that whatever happens I am not alone. They are the gifts in my life that I don't know what I did to deserve.

Woman standing in front of Christmas tree wearing a black dress and holding up a sequins mask to her face
Who is this mysterious woman ? 
I've only just started to do things just for me. Up until now everything was for the boys and that has been exhausting and at times thankless. Being out of action for a week showed me that the saying, "you can't pour from an empty cup" is true. If I don't take care of myself I can't take care of them. I've been feeding myself properly instead of thinking, "it's only me why bother ?" Going for a walk every day and swimming as often as I can. Taking care of my appearance. Treating myself to a spa, or a gig or a show just for me. Spending time with people I love and who love me.

A cake covered in dinosaurs is a good start. Followed by a night out thanks to my lovely babysitter who stayed with my poorly boy and her mum who dropped me off at the golf club so I would get to wear my  gorgeous frock, have a boogie and just have a few hours 'off.' It was just what I needed.

Today it's the birthday party for my 6 year old. The sun is out and he's feeling so much better today. Mum and sons recharged and ready to go.

Sunday, 10 November 2019

From hurt to happy

Big emotions in our home this week - grief, sadness, disappointment and a lot of hurt. In what has been an unrelenting (almost) 2 years we have all been through a lot. It's felt unending and despite my capacity to be like a Weeble and never fall down I am the closest I've ever been. Yes I can handle it, I know I am strong, of course this will be the making of me. You know what though ? I'd just like a bit of breathing space. A break from the punches that keep raining down.

I'll be damned if this state of mind takes me over. I have made it out of a situation in which it was like my head was being held under water. I was fighting to breathe and yet I kept putting myself back there because it was what I knew. Now I have no idea what happens next. Yes I can keep putting one foot in front of the other and take it one day at a time. You know what though ? That isn't going to cut it any more. Fearing that someone can pull the rug from under me. Looking over my shoulder or waiting for approval. Waiting for recognition or kindness in return from those I have given it to. Nope.

So this is how I plan to get to the next stage. The bit where I start to move forward and things improve.

Do less - a lot less.

Stress less about how to fit everything in

Worry less about keeping the house tidy

Have fewer things on my 'to do' list (or not have a list at all !)

Not so much FOMO - honestly if I don't go to that gig or watch that show life will go on

Then there's what I have to do more of:

I need to sleep more

Rest ie. sit down and relax

Drink tea from a proper cup, not in a travel cup while running out of the door or balancing in one hand while driving

Watch TV and lounge around with my kids

Onesie & movie Thursday should be extended to the other days too

This evening Brown Bear gave me his biggest soft toy and said, "Keep it to cuddle." So I am typing this with Sully on the pillow next to me and Suits on the TV.

Monsters inc. went from being powered by screams to harnessing the power of laughter. That sounds like a pretty good aspiration to me right now.

Sunday, 27 October 2019

From tealights to titanium...

I bought a squash the other day. Not a pumpkin, a squash. Blue Bear is really keen that we carve a pumpkin for halloween so this is my compromise.  I have bought a pumpkin and craved a face out of it in the past, but we ended up with a lot of vegetable leftovers which no one wanted to eat. There is only so much curried pumpkin one family can eat and we hit our limit pretty quickly. It's also the fact that I don't really see this as a 'holiday' we should even participate in. When I was a kid it was all about Guy Fawkes and bonfire night. There were kids who would push around a bundle of clothes in an old pram and chant 'penny for the guy' rather than knocking on doors demanding 'trick or treat.'

It's not being a misery to say I don't want to do Halloween. I just don't have any associations with it. I would much rather celebrate Diwali which is colourful, delicious and much more meaningful to me. As we will be away for Diwali this year I'm making sure I take some tea lights with me so that I can still celebrate the festival of lights and remind the boys of their Indian heritage. Wherever I have lived I've always done this. When I was in a shared house at Uni I recall my housemates loved the tea lights and Indian sweets and wanted to know how it meant. I went to the Sikh Temple in Coventry in my Indian clothes and phoned my Mum. It connected me to my family in a way that I needed when I felt as if I was all alone in a place full of people.

So today I took the boys to a temple in Derby. The extra hour helped ensure we were able to fit in a visit to the Sikh Heritage Centre that was also there. I was so proud when I watched my boys go up the holy book and bow their heads as I've shown them since they were babies. We say down to eat in the communal kitchen and they devoured the food that I never make at home. As we walked round the museum of artefacts showing the contributions Sikhs have made in wars all over the world and the atrocities visited upon Sikhs in history my boys asked questions and I told them, "when we go to India I will take you to the Golden Temple so you can see it for real." It means a lot to me that my sons are aware of their Indian roots and that they know about Sikh history and oppression.

It wasn't an easy day. All the firsts are painful. The first wedding anniversary since the break up was this week. I had no idea what to expect. I worked from home so I wouldn't have to interact with anyone and pretend to be ok. It was pretty rubbish actually. Not because I wanted to celebrate or because I miss being married, more the overwhelming grief and loss of a relationship that I wasn't expecting to end as abruptly as it did. At least I didn't have to deal with anyone in person who I didn't want to see that day.

I drove the kids on Friday night for many hours to get to our holiday destination for half term. It as a very long journey and it took hours, but they watched movies in the back of the car and we got here late on Friday night. When they woke up on Saturday morning it was tipping down with rain, but they still got to see the sheep in the field and a rabbit that scampered past the window. It was all I wanted for them this weekend. We stayed inside and watched movies while the rain lashed down outside. We made a den, ate snacks in bed and snuggled under blankets to watch Back to the future (part 2 - we''re working our way through the trilogy).

This morning Blue Bear climbed into bed with me in the early hours - bad dreams again. The extra hour in bed meant nothing as they both woke up at an unearthly hour demanding to watch TV. Still, I did manage to get a bit of a lie in and we did so much today I was genuinely surprised. We went to the temple, met up with lovely friends and made it back in time to watch Back to the Future Part 3. I have never actually watched it before so that was a first.

Everyone is telling me I can do this - that I am strong and capable. I'm not convinced actually. I often feel overwhelmed, sad, lonely, angry, bewildered and guilty, Oh so guilty, For not being a good enough mother, for not getting it right and for being a failure. Then today I looked at my boys laughing and playing in the park with the friends they see rarely. Blue Bear pushing the roundabout slowly because the little girl was scared if it went too fast. Brown Bear exclaiming his feet were too big for the playground toys he was on with his oldest friend.

Both boys hugged me tonight and wished me happy Diwali. It was a difficult day in many ways. It was also magical in so many others. I lit a few beautiful tealights this evening in celebration. The boys asked me why and I explained that is what we do to bring light to darkness.

No, I'm not ok. I don't know when I will be. What I do know, however, is that I have these incredible kids who love and accept me for who I am. However much of a failure I might consider myself to be.