Sunday, 27 May 2018

A tiara would have been nice, but the unicorn was pretty cool too.

I looked at my boys at one point today and just stopped.

It was after Blue Bear had been for a walk with Daddy and come back with a caterpillar toy from the shop. After Brown Bear had left the cottage and gone for a wander without telling anyone where he was going. After Blue Bear had yelled blue murder - we thought he had lost a limb at the very least - because his shoe had come off. It was also after Brown Bear had kicked a football into the tree outside and very nearly decapitated the son of our holiday hosts with a gigantic frisbee in an effort to retrieve the ball.

I had been afforded a lie in and some quiet time for myself - I spent it conked out instead of running as I had optimistically intended to do. Following a week when I started a new job this break has been much needed, but the early start and long drive did take their toll on the drivers. It was also the day after my lovely friend said goodbye to her beloved cat Tom. I had known him all his life and he was an adorable lad. We played tricks on her like ringing the doorbell and running away - well I ran away, he sat there and freaked her out. Oh how we laughed.

Half term is always a bit of a sharp handbrake turn in the school year. The kids are desperately ready for it and we don't usually plan to go away for this one and it's so busy. This year we decided to book to go away in a return to our 'pre-children reverie.' We went on a road trip to California one year and another we had a special weekend in Brighton to celebrate my 40th birthday.

As the sun shone today it truly felt like a holiday. As Blue Bear swaggered around with sunglasses on demanding Daddy pull the sleigh he was sitting on. As the boys and their friends ran with the bubble wands we had bought for them making trails of rainbow filled bubbles. As we sat in the sunshine and I blew out the candles on a unicorn cake (don't ask !) and the kids scoffed Peppa Pig cupcakes in record time.

Of course as soon as the sugar hit their insides they were chaos unconfined and thankfully there was plenty of space outdoors for them to run off the energy and insanity. It was lovely to see them playing outside and to be able to let them roam freely and not worry about them being within our sight the whole time. It reminded me of my own school holidays when we would go outside to play and my Mum didn't stand over us commentating on every little thing we did.

Recently I've been taking my hands off the reins and letting my boys take risks and be out of my sight more. It is terrifying. It is also quite exhilirating when I hear a glowing report about their behaviour in my absence. From the text message I got about Blue Bear on Monday asking if they could keep him as he had been so adorable on the play date and had at one point looked out at an amazing view and declared, "I can see forever." To the lovely comments from our host today saying Brown Bear has been nothing but polite and friendly to her - he was pretty rotten to his brother, but you know, small steps.

And then earlier I was sitting on the sofa and the boys were sitting side by side next to me. They were staring at a screen and looked tired. Their faces were completely relaxed and had that slight sheen from playing outside and catching the sun. As I looked at my boys I just felt overwhelmed with love and appreciation.

Yes they annoy the hell out of me and each other, but they are silly, funny, brave and gorgeous. When I recall my birthdays this one will be up there as special because I noticed. I stopped and gave myself a break. I let go and let them be free. I remembered that these boys (and the bigger one and the furry one) are just about the best thing in my life. I mean let's not be too hasty, there's still chocolate and shoes up there too.

Oh and did I mention I once met Clare Grogan as she was leaving the toilets in the theatre ?

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Is now a good time to talk ?

Me: Hello lovely.
Soraya: Hello you.
Me: Are you free for a chat ?
S: Yes love - you alright ?
Me: I'm ok thanks.
S: How's it going ?
Me: It's been sunny - kids have been swimming and eaten coco pops so they're insane.
S: Hahahaha. Well if you will give them chocolate for breakfast.
Me: I know - I'm sure they've got social services on speed dial next door already.
S: So are you ready for tomorrow lovely ?
Me: I think so.
S: Clothes, shoes, handbag ?
Me: Nope none decided yet, but I have a shortlist.
S: What time do you start ?
Me: 9.30, training course first day.
S: Lunch provided ?
Me: Yep.  One less thing to worry about.
S: And are you ready ?
M: As ready as I can be.
S: Good. You'll be amazing honey.
Me: I'll do my best.
S: They wouldn't have offered it to you if they didn't think you could do it.
Me: I guess not.
S: And the boys ?
Me: They're looking forward to creche and will have dinner at school.
S: Excellent. So it's all in place then ?
Me: It is.
S: So why are you talking to me about it ?
Me: Because you're not here any more and I can't call you in the morning when I am panicking about my first day.
S: You'll be fine.
Me: Who will I call when I'm on the train ?
S: Look out of the window.
Me: I'll be too nervous.
S: Listen to some music. Read a book.
Me: That's an idea. I can't remember the last time I read a book and there's some cracking music around at the moment. You'd like it.
S: I bet I would.
Me: I'll make you a mix tape.
*both laugh*
S: You can still talk to me.
Me: I will. I do.
S: I know honey.
Me: They miss you.
S: Are they ok ?
Me: They're doing their best. They feel so sad. I do go and see them.
S: Thank you.
Me: All the boys went camping last weekend. Yours know the ropes and mine just loved doing it for the first time.
S: Did you go too ?
Me: I did.
S: You're braver than me.
Me: It was a yurt. It was hardly roughing it in the great outdoors.
S: Did it rain ?
Me: Of course.
S: Well I'm glad I wasn't there.
Me: We talked about the caravan that J bought you.
S: Oh god.
Me: I told him you'd been nice about it, but it was highly unlikely you'd ever use it.
S:You didn't tell him that ?
Me: I did. He laughed.
S: Oh well that's a relief.
Me: I turn over the engine on your car to make sure it's still working.
S: Is it ?
Me: Of course. It's a workhorse your car.
S: I saw you cut your hair.
Me: I did, it's a bit strange seeing it like this.
S: Do you want one of my wigs ?
Me: Cheeky cow - it's not that bad.
S: You know I love you whatever you look like.
Me: Not helping !
S: Ok, ok.
Me: Have you met Bowie or Prince yet ?
S: Can't talk about it.
Me: Spoilsport.
S: So, are you ok ?
Me: I'm nervous.
S: You'll be great. You know what you're doing.
Me: I'm not so sure.
S: I am.
Me: How can I do this without you ?
S: You already have.
Me: I miss you so much.
S: You've got this.
Me: Don't go.
S: Love you honey.

Monday, 14 May 2018

Welcome, come on in, the kettle has just boiled.

Inside my head is a busy and often confusing place. Some days I wake up and things are fine. Things are going ok then something ever so minor will cause me to feel bad. That feeling will stay with me all day. I might not even recall what it was that caused the feeling, but it will be there.

Other times getting up will be an actual struggle. Physically I will feel heavy and immobile. My head will barely lift off the pillow and my body will shiver at the thought of moving. When I do get up I will be clumsy, uncoordinated and more than a little cranky.

The days when I bounce out of bed are almost worse. Everything will be done in record time. The house will look spotless and I will be moving constantly. By the time the boys come home I will be worn out, but I'll keep going anyway. My fitbit is pretty much overheating and I'm far too wired to sleep.

It's not always possible to know how someone will react when you open up about mental health. I was careful for over 30 years to not share with anyone in case they judged me for it. I kept up the facade of being cheery and 'normal' so that no one would know there was anything wrong with me.  The quiet challenge of keeping myself together was tough and required more strength than I thought I had a lot of the time.

Then I spoke up on this blog and it felt safe to say that I'm not ok a lot of the time. It's taken far longer to realise that it doesn't make me 'mad' and that I don't have to be ashamed. I still don't talk to my family about my mental health. They have experienced me in the worst of it, but it just doesn't feel like something I can do.

This year has been exceptionally difficult in terms of my mental wellbeing. In addition to the ever present depression and anxiety I've experienced bereavement which has knocked me right off my feet. I tried to talk to real life people about what I was struggling with - some of them were there with me, in the same state of grief. In this big shared space of sadness I found others who knew what it felt like too.

When people have been kind or praised me I've dismissed it as, 'well they obviously don't really know how horrible I really am.' After all what do they know about the 'real' me ? This was reaffirmed when I opened up to someone I've known for many years. I made the difficult and terrifying decision to talk to them honestly about my mental health. It wasn't the right thing to do. All my fears of rejection and being judged and despised for not being 'normal' were proven right. It reminded my why it's not safe to tell the truth about what goes on inside my not quite right head.

Even after all these years I really don't understand why I am like this, but the people who matter accept me. They are there for the times when I'm on good form and for the times when I'm a mess and can't cope with anything. There are dark days and even darker thoughts, but I know I am not alone.

In that I am very lucky.

I don't recall ever sitting down with Hubbie and saying, "here is what's wrong with my head." One day he said something that made me realise he was on my side and he wasn't afraid. That made it possible for me to feel less afraid too. He works around whatever is going on for me and if he sees I am struggling he finds a way to tell me he has noticed. It is such a relief to have an ally who isn't judging or trying to 'fix' me. He holds me metaphorically and literally through the worst of times and is with me for the best ones.

If I could make one thing happen during mental health awareness week it would be to take away the stigma and fear. Even if I could just do that for the people I know that would be something wouldn't it ?

Mental Health Awareness Week is from 14th-20th May

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Just call me Greta Garbo

We had an impromptu after school play in the park with friends today. With the sunny weather it's easier to decide on a whim to detour to the park and I get on with the mum so I have company while the kids run around and keep each other busy.

There were the inevitable tantrums when it was time to leave, but the promise of ice cream at home seemed to quel the worst of it. As we were saying bye I told my friend I'm going away for the night tomorrow. On my own. I had planned to have a night away a month ago, but it didn't happen in the end and as a result I really need the break now.

I am having a rough time with Brown Bear and we aren't getting on that well a lot of the time. I know it's a stage and will be over at some point, but I'm also not at my best so I'm not coping as well as I would like to. Having this bit of time to myself is much needed.

It's taken me a long time to allow myself time away by myself without feeling guilty. It really is the case that you have to put on your own oxygen mask before you can take care of anyone else. I've let myself get tired, run down and have little patience. Just one night to myself isn't too much to ask is it ?

I go to the theatre by myself sometimes and I love it. I don't have to talk to anyone if I don't want to. I'm not worrying if the other person is having a good time. I can immerse myself in the show and at the end of it I don't have to discuss it with anyone. Don't get me wrong I enjoy the company of other people, but sometimes I just want to do my own thing in my own time and without anyone else around. It's a rare treat to have genuine 'free time' where I don't have to pick anyone up or take anyone to a party or have thought about what other people are going to eat.

This afternoon the boys had separate pick up times so I collected Blue Bear and when we got home he sat watching youtube videos of volcanoes (his current fascination is with lava and all things volcanic) while chomping on ginger nut biscuits. He asked me questions about lava and chose the next video he wanted to watch all by himself. It was fascinating to see how much he has grown up.

After picking up Brown Bear we went to the park and the boys went off with their respective friends. Blue playing with his 'girlfriend' and showing consideration and kindess as he helped her learn how to go on the big slide. It was touching and sweet to see how he took care of her. Brown Bear took it in turns to ride his friend's bicycle and kicked his football before joining us in the play park. He was climbing when another kid was behaving unsafely. I looked over and said, "Leave it, let's go now." He got down, came over to me and said, "He's being an idiot Mummy." I agreed and enveloped him in a big hug. He was hot and sweaty and didn't resist my unexplained affection. He just hugged me back and then we walked together to catch up with the others.

A lot of the time it isn't like this. Often it is difficult, tiring, unrewarding and just very, very loud. I love my children and I am so lucky I've been able to be with them so much. However, I also need to have time and space without them. I am sure that having some time away from them helps me be a better Mum.

This afternoon I got it right. It felt lovely and relaxed and fun to be with the boys and their friends. I am sure that knowing I will be away from them tomorrow evening was a big part of that.

Friday, 4 May 2018

On being invisible

We took the boys to watch Coco last week. I had heard good things about it and that it is a tear jerker of a movie. What I hadn't expected was the thread about a person disappearing because they are no longer remembered by anyone in the land of the living. This concept of invisibility even in death really struck a chord with me.

I've often heard women say that getting older makes them feel they become invisible. Once you are past the being wolf whistled at' or 'flirting to get your own way' stage you are are firmly in the 'far too sensible for all that nonsense' stage. I have to admit I have pretty much always felt invisible. I wasn't a remarkable child and if anyone noticed or stared at me I found it unsettling. At university I preferred not to draw attention to myself, but expressed myself in the student paper as arts editor or on the radio station.

As a parent I have ceased to exist in my own right. From the moment I became 'Brown Bear's mummy' to now when the kids just choose to ignore me. I know this is a universal experience, but it is still galling to be tuned out by my children. Until they want something that is. Then it's all "Mummeeeeee, why aren't you listening to me ?" whine whine whinge whinge.

Friendship is the big shift for me in terms of invisibility. I lost a great friend this year and I notice her absence from my life every day. When I think about things that I would have asked her or jokes I'd have shared with her or news items that we would have been outraged by together. Without her here I feel invisible and ineffective.

Sadly as well as losing a friend against my will I have had to let go of others. I realised that I didn't have the capacity to maintain the friendship and they were unwilling to meet me in the middle. To be honest it was my 'enabling' that made it possible for them to be so high maintenance. I've always made the effort and gone out of my way because I valued their friendship enough to put myself out and to offer. Then I realised that I wasn't as important to them and not worth making an effort for in their busy schedule. If someone has so little respect for me then maybe it is best to be invisible.

One of them probably won't even notice - I am that irrelevant in their life. The other berated me for expecting too much. Yep - I am a loyal and devoted friend and I love and care about my friends. If that isn't mutual then maybe it's not a friendship at all. Losing friends is sad, but in this instance I choose to be invisible.

Instead I have reconnected with a friend who I've known for a long time and who has come back to me at a difficult time. She has been so supportive and positive and I regret that we lost touch for so long. We have been there for each other at dark times in our lives and are painfully honest with each other. It is difficult to be invisible when someone knows you as well as we know each other.

And now I can't even hide behind my hair any more - the security blanket that protected me from prying eyes and judgemental looks. I am literally visible and I feel exposed and vulnerable. It is unsettling being seen. I think I may invest in a pair of large sunglasses to hide behind.