Wednesday 28 October 2020

Jumping for joy

There are few activities the kids get to do that make me jealous, but trampolining has always been one of them. Whenever they are invited to a party at a trampoline park I immediately accept the invitation (even if they don't want to !) and if I can I sneak on for a jump or two. 

Two boys standing in front of a brightly coloured wall

I've loved trampolining since I was at school which is why it was a surprise that it took me so long to get one for the garden. I always had a concern about the safety of having one at home and also didn't want to ruin the aesthetic of my outdoor space. Once I realised that the garden resembles a playground with it's slide, swing and a den for the boys I decided that a trampoline wasn't going to ruin anything. 

Sign in front of a building reads Jump In trampoline park

Even when you have one at home it's a treat to go to a place where the whole room is dedicated to jumping. When Jump In asked us to try out their Covid safe trampoline park in Elstree I can honestly say I was beyond excited. 

Image of a room filled with trampolines

We booked a one and a half hour session as it's the best value for money and we didn't have to rush. I also booked for myself which was a treat for me as I often end up sitting on the sidelines while the kids enjoy the activity. On this occasion I decided we were going to have a family trampoline trip. 

three hands display wristbands of different colours

On arrival we were greeted with very clear signage directing us to use the one way system and there were plenty of hand sanitiser points to use. Jen at the front desk was very helpful and handed us all our jump socks and directed us to where were needed to go. 

We put out belongings in a locker - which are very spacious and located right next to the jump area. That made it much easier to relax and enjoy our visit. We headed straight for the the main area and did some warm up jumps. It's been years since I trampolined properly and I have to be honest it so much fun 

woman in mid air doing a trampoline jump

The jump area includes a high drop and a dodgeball / basketball area as well as games that you can play together or on your own. There are slides and an area dedicated for toddlers so they can play safely without older children or adults spoiling their fun. My boys enjoyed the games and raced each other on the slides. It really is easy to lose track of time when you're having this much fun. 

Boy jumping in the air putting a ball into a hole in the wallboys with arms outstretched jumping with a ball in his hand

Visitor numbers are limited to allow social distancing and staff are on duty around the jump area to ensure that patrons are keeping safe. This was invaluable when we wanted to ask questions and the staff were very friendly and helpful. Cory administered some first aid while we were there and it was all handled very well and it's reassuring to know that the staff are trained to deal with any issues that might come up. 

image of box of fries, a pizza a partially visible hot dog

Trampolining is hungry work and with a cafe on site we decided to have lunch after our session. The food is ordered using an app and is cooked fresh and brought to the table. We went a bit overboard with our order as we weren't expecting such generous portions of food. The pizza was delicious and my son couldn't finish the enormous hot dog so he had the rest for dinner. 

If you have been wondering how safe it is to take the kids to a trampoline park I can assure you that Jump In have thought it through for you. Our children have been stuck indoors for so long that being able to do something 'normal' and fun for a few hours was just fantastic and I am so glad we were lucky enough to be able to try this out. 

You can book your own jump session here:

Disclosure: The lovely folks at Jump In gifted us a voucher for a visit to the Elstree centre in return for an honest review. 

Sunday 24 May 2020

Good enough is plenty

Over the last few months I have started to write a blog post so many times. There are these half written posts lying idly around like the Marie Celeste with no discernible reason for their abandonment. Thoughts and ideas form and are beautifully worded in my head, but the impetus to put them onto the (electronic) page just isn't there. It's not like I've denied the world my deepest most profound thoughts, if anything it was to offer some light relief during a time where there is so much unease around.

I have, however, come out of self enforced silence for Mental Health Awareness Week. It's a topic I've posted about many times before. This time, however, I'm look at it from the perspective of children's mental health. It's been almost 2 months now that I have been at home with my two boys and it's given me pause for thought. Adults are struggling to make sense of the situation we find ourselves in and yet we are expecting children to accept it because we tell them to. How must it feel for them to be told that they can't go to school, see their friends or family ? Do we honestly expect them to be ok with not going to the park, or playing football or swimming ? We are fortunate to have a garden and lots of outdoor spaces within walking distance that are safe to visit during lockdown. They boys have explored woodlands, visited open spaces and played hide and seek in parks. They haven't been playing football, or going to McDonalds, or watching football as they would usually do on a Saturday, They haven't played with their friends and they can't go and see grandparents or aunties and uncles.

At the start of all this it was quite unnerving not knowing what would happen or how long it would go on for. Then we fell into a routine on 'school' days so the weekends still meant something. I prepare meals for my boys - and have got better at making chapatis for which we are all grateful. We spend time watching movies together. I put them to bed every night (with varying degrees of success) and we video call my parents most days so they get to see the kids. A few afternoons in the week I get a few hours to myself so I usually go to get food shopping or sometimes I will take the time to go for a walk. They've had ice cream a lot more than usual and are growing at a rate that is alarming (although perfectly natural of course).

On the surface this all appears to be ok, but so many small things make it obvious that things are not fine. They aren't at all tired like they would be if they went to school so they don't sleep as easily. Even if they do fall asleep it can be fitful and with upsetting dreams. The day to day communication can be fractured and grouchy at times - I mean being around each other pretty much all the time will do that to you won't it ? There has been one significant change for me, however, that has been incredible. The closeness that has developed between us. Ok, so the school stuff is mostly, "I don't want to do it." "Why can't we go back to school ?" "You're not my teacher." However, when we go for a walk there is often a moment when one or other of them will open up and talk to me about how they are feeling. It reminds me of the classic talking to a parent while in the car or washing up. If you don't have to look at them in the eye it makes it easier to say difficult things.

The movie Inside Out has helped my boys find names for their 'big' feelings and it's a useful tag to be able to refer to movie character when talking about feeling 'angry' 'afraid' 'sad' or 'confused.' Before we had all this time together I was at work full time and didn't see them for more than a few hours a day. The space for us to talk or for them to feel safe to open up to me wasn't there. We have built trust and a foundation which I hope means they will still talk to me when we do go back to school and work.

As a shared experience of parenting our children through a crisis so many friends have been talking about how they are struggling. Children acting out, being out of sorts or shutting down. We are all experiencing behaviours that are difficult to deal with on an almost daily basis. This might include anger, tantrums, refusal to listen or plain non co-operation. It's hardly surprising when the adults around them are tense and frightened too. A friend of mine who is a teaching assistant was talking to me about how they are preparing for children to return to school and she talked about dealing with their 'collective trauma.' That is the closest estimation to what I can imagine this is for them and how terrifying that must be for a child.

In the process of becoming an adopter I have attended courses to help support my sons and to enable me to deal with potential problems along the way. These have included training in attachment, early life trauma and a programme called 'non-violent resistance.' All skills that have been deployed in the weeks that we have been at home together. Once again I am so very grateful that I have had the experience of learning about childhood trauma and have considered the potential causes and some ways to support children with trauma.  I don't profess to have any skill or expertise in any of these areas, I just have some tools in the bag that I can use when things happen that are difficult.

This is such an immensely strange time and it is hardly surprising that our children are struggling with making sense of it. Just for now though know this:

- you are enough

- it is no one else's business how you do this

- we all have bad days, don't punish yourself

Monday 23 March 2020

Do you know the five love languages ?

If you are in self isolation or social distancing like a good sort it might be useful to know these. After all with nothing to do outside the house other than queue for toilet rolls (stop that by the way !!) what else can we do other than find ways to make the best of this societal 'hard reset.' Social media is often maligned, but at the moment it's proving amazingly supportive and informative. Just today my kids have joined in with an online PE class with Joe Wicks, they've taken an online art class and will be joining in with an insta chef making flatbreads later. We are an active family and we love going out and doing things either together or with other people. Being enforced to stay indoors - which is the safest thing to do and you must, must, must listen and do this by the way - is making us find creative ways to keep ourselves occupied. 

1. Words of affirmation - using words to build up the other person. This is where I have often struggled. Sarcasm is my main form of communication so even if I am being sincere it might not be believed. I can be eloquent by message where I am just a bit flippant in person. Examples of this might include, "Thank you for coming to see me. It means more than you know." 

2. Gifts – pretty self explanatory, but often it is the thought behind the gift. Say I walk past a shop with someone and admire a scarf in the window. If they then go back and get it for me that is a touching gesture that shows they really took notice. When gifts are given instead of actual human contact it can feel like the love is being 'phoned in' but you know each to their own. 

3. Acts of Service – doing something for the one you love. This might be cooking a meal or washing dishes if you share a house. In my case it's likely to be a playlist I made for you or bringing you a cup of tea. This one appeals to those of us who like to 'do things.' It's also the basis of pretty much all the volunteering I've ever done. 

4. Quality time – giving your undivided attention to someone. Under usual circumstances this would include taking a walk together or sitting on the couch with the TV off – talking and listening. That intense level of attention that isn't marred by chatting to all and sundry around you - feeling as if you are the only two people in the world in that moment. 

5. Physical touch – this is obvious really. Holding hands, hugging, kissing of course, but also stroking my son's face while he sleeps, putting an arm round my kids while we watch a movie together. I love this one as anyone who knows me will tell you. I will always go in for the hug, rather than the handshake. 

With the situation as it is now we have to find ways to express love that don't risk our loved ones coming to harm. 

We have stayed in contact with grandparents using WhatsApp. Kids video chat them every few days - and it has the added bonus of me being able to police that my parents are staying at home like they are supposed to !! At the end of every call they say, " I love you" and it means that my parents get to see the kids even if we can't go over there. My older son has a phone to keep in touch with the grown ups in the family. He sends messages and I love how cute he is at sending me - I love you mum (heart emoji) messages. I know it won't last, so I'm enjoying it while I can. 

One of my friends posted on Facebook today that someone had left oranges on her doorstep today. She has been unwell and it made her day. What a lovely thing to do. At the weekend we knew that our neighbour wouldn't be seeing her family for Mother's Day and it made her sad to be on her own. So we bought her flowers, a bottle of Prosecco and some nice chocolates. We stayed the required distance from her when we took them to the house and she was delighted. We've also agreed to add her to FaceTime so she can chat to my boys while she is in isolation. 

Acts of Service: 
So many people are now having to stay indoors to keep safe and with the stories of shops being swarmed and shelves empty it's making things difficult for those who cannot get out to buy groceries. Communities are forming WhatsApp groups to stay in touch and provide shopping for those who cannot go out. Our local group is also offering support to those who live alone via a chat by phone or video. I hope this is an initiative that stays long after all this is over. 

Quality Time: 
Well this one is making me laugh. The phrase, 'be careful what you wish for,' springs to mind. My friend Gwen and I have discussed - at length - how much we would like to spend more time with our kids. We both work full time and our kids don't often see us as fun, but practical and routine delivering parents. Well now we have all the time in the world with our little darlings. I am squarely blaming this on her though - she's practically a witch !! Seriously though, I have seen a surge in activity and contact from people whose "busyness" was their main character trait. With no sports, theatre, gigs and little work to do it's all "Hey girl." I am laughing, but I do hope this increased attention to the low priorities in life isn't a temporary thing. Maybe a re-evaluation of what matters will be a positive outcome from all this ? 

Physical Touch: 
Handwashing aside, this one isn't that simple to achieve right now.  Being someone who loves this I am struggling with not hugging or kissing (and that was even before social isolation !) so I'm finding ways to keep myself feeling loved. Meditation, yoga and warm socks and blankets to 'self soothe.' Ok it's not the same as actual physical contact, but you know what, it will do for now. 

Saturday 21 March 2020

Do I get breakfast in bed ?

It used to be a running joke that on Mother's Day I would do something that didn't involve my kids. The logic was that I am a mum every day so for one day of the year I get to celebrate it doing something for myself. A spa day, going to the theatre on my own, something just for me. Then something happened last year that left me in shock. Actual shock. Three days before Mother's Day. I was already committed to spending the weekend with my own mother and my mother-in-law and not wanting to let anyone down I went along. On the Saturday with my family I took my kids - they only want to see them anyway - and acted like nothing was wrong. We had an afternoon tea and Prosecco. It was lovely. The following day we travelled down to see mother-in-law despite my wish to just crawl under a stone. I overdid the Prosecco and tried too hard to pretend all was well.

A few weeks later at Easter there was no more pretending. I was open and honest about what had been going on and that I wasn't prepared to tolerate it any more. What followed was the most painful time I have ever experienced. Months of punishing myself for not knowing, for being so stupid, for not trusting my instincts. To be clear I knew from the minute I found out it was over. There was absolutely no question in my mind. I don't regret this decision and I don't in any way wish to be back where I was.

In the first few weeks I had to deal with other people's reactions. I didn't want to tell all and sundry what had happened. I felt it reflected badly on me. I found out very quickly who I could trust and who I should stay away from. I formed a WhatsApp group of friends who I knew would be there for me at all hours. To agree with me while I was ranting, hold me while I cried and sometimes just to listen. I desperately wanted to feel loved again. I wanted someone to hold me and make it all better.

Each milestone has been like a millstone. The first holiday just me and the boys. I took my Mum with us and cried on her almost every day. She fed me and listened to me and did all those wonderful Mum things that you don't usually have any more once you leave home. The first Christmas as a single parent. Surrounded by other families who all came with a full complement of parents.

Every step of this has been like walking on broken glass. The cuts hurt, but I've kept going. I have had to. We're coming up to a year of this now. I've ensured the boys have support and that they see all the people in their family. That hasn't always been easy, but it is only fair.

I have held firm that I am not accepting less than I deserve. That I am worth more than I have tolerated in the past. I didn't actually believe it at first, but you know what they say, 'fake it until you make it.'

You see I pretty much always knew that I wanted to be a mother. It was the one thing that I wanted more than anything else in the world. For a long time I didn't think it would. I tried to make my peace with it. I was completely in love with a man who had children already. I dated a man who couldn't have them. I married a man who was told it would be unlikely. So many times it looked like it would never happen.

Then it did. I made a baby. Grew him and fed him from my body and now he's almost as tall as me. When it seemed that my miracle baby would be a one-off his amazing brother came along too. So here I am a mother to two boys. The best thing in my life.

This is a moment in time. I realise that. My sons have been the most incredible support to me while this hellish year has been going on. Seeing how kind and thoughtful they can be gives me hope that I am doing better than I think. Of course they also argue and fight and drive me mad, but that is only to be expected, They still make me laugh and hug me if I ask nicely.  Not in public of course - that would be embarrassing.

I will make the most of it while I can and this Sunday it will be just us. Me and these two boys who before I know it will be young men. Taller than their mum and handsome devils the pair of them. Even if I never fall in love with anyone else again I will have these boys by my side.

After all I am their mother.

Monday 9 March 2020

Bulletproof and other myths.

Over the years I've frequently been told I come across as 'bulletproof.' I'm not sure why that is - maybe I'm not meek enough to pass as a typical asian woman. My own mother doesn't pass as quiet so there's no hope that I would. As a kid I aspired to be like the beautiful actresses in movies with their downcast eyes and quivering lips. It was a look that said, "I am so innocent, but sexy too."

black and white image of Bollywood actress Meena Kumari in full traditional Indian dress
Meena Kumari 
The phrase, 'you're strong, you can handle it' has been levelled at me many times. The thing is while I might talk a good game and wear a t shirt that bears the legend 'Mother of dragons' I'm playing a part. Oh yes I will absolutely tear apart anyone who touches my kids. However, I'm equal parts Tiger Mama and terrified of everything mother.

Woman and small child dressed as Harry Potter character

Like most women of my acquaintance I've been called aggressive. I used to tell myself to be less outspoken. I'd wish I said less or just knew when to shut up. I tried to adhere to the adage, 'better be silent and thought a fool than speak and confirm it." Only I always had to say my piece. I still punish myself for speaking my mind. I go over the conversations in my head and think about all the ways it could have gone differently if I'd said less.

Still from Carry on Screaming of Fenella Fielding character lying on chair.

The distance between what I want to be and what I am is one I am trying to bridge. I've had to negotiate the transition from being someone's wife and knowing what that meant and where we were heading to a future without any certainty at all. Instead of seeing this a a bad thing I've decided to see this as freedom.

Anything is possible. I don't have the weight of anyone else's expectations on me any more. It is all up to me. I can choose. So what are the dreams and ambitions I have for myself ?

1. To do the things I love - that includes swimming in the sea and spending time with this lovely lady:

two women on rocks by sea driving coffee out of mud and thermos.
Gorgeous Pippa from Penzance :) 
2. Being sassy - full on flounce and attitude to match. Sequins optional:

Beyonce dressed in sequins and with sass gif
Yass !! 
3. Celebrating my inner silly - actual total ridiculousness:

Woman standing behind poster with buns in place of boobs
Check out the buns ! 
4. Never being afraid of my darker side. Embracing the pain and difficulty without it consuming me or taking over:

Amy Winehouse sitting in a window with light surrounding her

5. Using my voice for good. Sharing music, positive intentions and using the platform I have to do good for others:
Woman in leather jacket in radio studio looking into camera
Hey DJ !
6. Finally giving thanks. For the kind thoughts and deeds that others have directed towards me. Gratitude enables us to radiate love and kindness:

Sunday 1 March 2020

New York state of mind

I took a few days off. Not just time off from work or to cover half term. Actual time off. A proper break.

My gorgeous friends Natasha and Luke invited me to visit them in New York and despite my natural inclination to say 'oh no it's too difficult' they weren't taking no for an answer. So I made plans. I asked my mother in law if she could have the boys, she said yes. The biggest worry sorted out. I hadn't asked for time off work and with all my colleagues off over half term it was looking highly unlikely I would get annual leave approved. Only it was and that was the other big obstacle removed. Then I had to apply for an ESTA (no I didn't know what it was either !) and find my passport - that was a day or so of minor panic - and finally I went ahead and bought travel insurance.

Two days before I was due to fly I borrowed luggage from friends and as late as the night before I still didn't quite believe it was really going to happen. Of course part of that was due to the weather - with storm warnings flights were being grounded and it wasn't clear if I would be able to go or not. Still I had to pack and check in online. I made sure the car was packed, the CD players fitted to the seat backs  and the boys had enough clothes, boots and layers for their stay.

For a week I made plans and contacted people and put things in place so that I could go away for 4 days. The night before my flight I was crying out of guilt for leaving my boys behind and for being so selfish. As I sobbed, "I'm sorry for leaving you baby," Brown Bear put his hand on my arm and said, "Mum, you deserve this." How did he get to be so wise ?

Long story short I got on the plane after a 2 hour delay. The anxiety had built up so much I was in floods of tears as I boarded. Between sobs I apologised for being so silly. I was directed to Tracey who handed me a glass of champagne and sat me by her instead of in my seat while they boarded everyone. She reassured me and when we got the JFK 6 and a bit hours later she handed me a bottle of champagne to share with my friends. I love Tracey.

Natasha met me at JFK and for the next few days I didn't have a thing to worry about. I went running in Central Park in the sunshine, ate brunch at Tom's Restaurant (the place you see the outside of in Seinfeld) and took in the incredible sights of New York from the One World Observatory. We bought cupcakes at the Magnolia Bakery (from Sex in the City) and I ate the best gnocchi of my life. I went to visit my friends Gwen and Russ in New Jersey and snuggled their baby girl and hugged their kids and laughed out loud at inappropriate jokes that only people who've lived in the UK will appreciate.

I messaged my kids most days - due to the jet lag I was up very early - and they seemed to be absolutely fine. There was one logistical hiccup that I had to resolve, but free of the other dramas that I have to contend with it was relatively quick to fix.

So this was the thing I hadn't appreciated that pretty much everyone else could see. I needed this. I had to take a break from all the day to day stuff and to just do something for me. And doing that didn't make me selfish, or a bad mother, or any of the other things that I have felt  like for so long.

On any given day I have to make 1001 decisions (give or take). For me, for my kids, at work, at home. The mental load of parenting alone and of working full time and of being all things to everyone takes a lot out of you. It's exhausting.

I cannot tell you how much difference it has made having that few days away on my own. Doing things that I love to do, with wonderful people and no pressure. It feels like I can actually breathe again. As if I can take a step back from the things that are going on.

Since I got back I feel optimistic. I believe things are getting better. That I deserve a bright future. It is within my reach.

It has made me feel so lucky to have people care so much that they could see I was in pain and they wanted to do something to help me.

It didn't take a miracle, but it feels miraculous to me right now.

Sunday 9 February 2020

Birthday wishes

Did I mention I have a birthday this year with a zero in it ? 

Well in case I didn't yes I am going to be 50 in May. I know, I know, I don't look old enough. Is this a big deal ? Well in itself the number isn't. What is meaningful, however, is going into the next decade having had yet another profound life change. I went into my 30s as a single woman coming out of an abusive marriage. Into my 40s as a mother and now I am single parenting and redefining my life after a prolonged period of trauma. Is that worth celebrating ? I'm not entirely convinced it is if I'm honest. After all I'm dealing with heightened senses and trying to keep two small boys well and safe in all of this.

This past and week has been a horror show. I've felt like a failure and punished myself mentally the whole time. This weekend has pushed me into a place that I just don't recognise. Since I've been doing this on my own I've tried to ensure the boys do 'fun' things with me and they are happy and occupied. This can be exhausting - and costly - so I've decided to create some new routines that enable us to all be with each other, but not always going out to eat or for entertainment. Onesie and movie Friday inspires the boys to negotiate to choose a movie to watch and they also co-ordinate their clothes so we all follow a theme or colour scheme. This means animal onesies or pyjamas nothing too scary.

Tonight, after two days of bickering and just generally being bad tempered we all sat and ate dinner together. The boys thanked me for making food they liked (different meals obvs) and we watched Sing while we ate. It reminded me that I love the music from that movie. It also enabled me to relax that I hadn't got it wrong as we were all sitting and eating together. Who is in our family and who is not is an issue that is quite current for my boys. They like to be clear and appraised of the facts. This has proven tricky as I can't always supply information they want in an age appropriate style. What I can do is take them to the south coast and watch them run around and ensure they have a snack with them. At the risk of sounding sappy I was just so pleased they both ate their meal tonight and were happy and full. That's not a bad aspiration to have really.

I realise that I am so fortunate to have my wonderful boys and the most amazing friends in my life. I really don’t need anything*. So instead of planning a big party or celebration I am giving myself some challenges this year. Pushing myself to do things I haven't done before or to do more. I'm taking part in a swimathon with my son who is on the swim team at school so that will really make me work hard. I'm taking part in a few charity walks with my boys as they are older now and have the stamina and capability to do a 5k walk. I intend to go on the zip wire at the Eden Project in Cornwall - which I have said for years I will do in my 50th year and whaddya know it's here now !! 

I’ve also decided to give myself some gifts. I am going to see some great artists this year including Elvis Costello, Nathaniel Rateliff and Jools Holland. I’m going to shows by Stewart Lee and Dita Von Teese who I've seen a few times before, but I love so much I'm going again. I am beyond excited to finally see Debbie Harry and Chris Stein in conversation having missed out on getting to a book signing she did last year - this is so much better and I get to go with my lovely pal Zoe too.

After such a long period of feeling like everything is out of my control I am finally giving myself permission to be kind to me. I have spent a long time ensuring my boys are safe and cared for and it's now my turn to say “YES !” to all the wondrous things that are yet to come for me. This might mean giving myself permission to go on a weekend retreat on my own. I did that already this year having booked it last Autumn. I loved it and the time away was much needed and appreciated.

On a practical note I want to get a new car so that we can go on more road trips and adventures together. We love our breaks away and the boys now help pack the car and entertain themselves while I play music in the front on long drives.  I pack their rucksacks with snacks, games and books so they can keep themselves busy and we have our travel sweet of choice - Percy Pigs. The car has done sterling service, but we now need something that we can strap our bikes onto and get on the open road. I have big dreams for the trips we will do !

My promises to me are quite practical really :

- I will spoil myself. Whether that is a spa day, a really nice meal or a mini break. 

- I will get paid for the writing and speaking that I love to do. 

- I will spend time by the sea and channel the peace I find in yoga and swimming.

I'll be raising money for good causes this year too and it would mean a lot to me if I could get support for these. I don't need any gifts. I have been blessed with plenty in my life. I really have.

*but I have got a birthday list on Amazon.