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.

Sunday, 20 October 2019

The sound of silence

Apologies for radio silence. It's been a difficult time and I have wanted to write and while the words were there, the inclination to share them wasn't. I have longed for sleep that didn't come and peace of mind has eluded me. Each time I thought, 'this is as bad as it gets,' I'll be damned if it didn't just get a whole lot worse.

Then today something shifted. I woke up and looked at the clock and the house was quiet. No miaowing, no kids arguing, nowhere to get to at silly o'clock. So I closed my eyes and went back to sleep. Until eventually the boys woke up and the day began - about two hours later than normal - bliss.

We went for a swim, we had a pub lunch and this afternoon we watched Back to the Future - I think it's important to give kids a good grounding in culture. As I sat on the sofa with the cat on one side of me and Brown Bear on the other I looked over to Blue Bear on the other sofa. It was a moment in time and one that I honestly haven't felt before. A day when it feels as though I've got it right. Not perfect, but right. My kids were happy, the cat was relaxed and I was sitting down and spending time with them all.

So much has happened that it doesn't quite feel real.

I'm still not quite there but sometimes I sleep on all of the bed - not just one side.

Remembering how much I enjoy my own company has been a revelation.

Letting go of expectations and realising I am capable and can do pretty much everything myself.

Travelling through the drama and pain and sadness and finding my inner warrior.

I have found my true friends and allies. The ones who are there at the worst of times. Who express no fear or judgement, just pure love and support.

Believing I can do anything - I honestly do. I didn't before, but when I think about where I was and where I am now it's like I've climbed a mountain already.

Accepting that not every day is going to be fun is ok. My kids are going to argue with me - that's normal. They are in a lot of pain and I am the one who is here and who is holding them through this.

So whatever happens I've got it.

Sunday, 30 June 2019

Pride: in the name of love

Growing up in a house that was mostly girls I had no idea how I would cope with being a Mum to boys. I am well and truly outnumbered - even the cat is male. However, there are so many highlights (and idiosyncrasies) about my little family and I thought I'd share some of them. 

Brown Bear helps his baby brother get ready for school 

I am used to random dinosaurs supervising toothbrushing 

We spend a lot of time outdoors - a lot ! 

Some of the time we watch a movie outside - something Mummy loves too. 

We laugh a lot together 

Blue Bear loves nature and animals - he offers to help me with the gardening

I get the loveliest gifts from my boys 

At times there is no room for me in my own bed 

It's nice to get some time to myself 

The best times are with these boys  

Friday, 24 May 2019

This is my life.

In two weeks I'm going to a celebration of life for my beloved friend Soraya. It's timed around her birthday when she would have been 50. A milestone birthday. It wasn't supposed to be this way. She was supposed to be here.

I think about Soraya a lot. The other day I was driving along and I just felt a wave of grief wash over me. I wanted to shout at Soraya for not being here when I need her. In fact I did shout and cried and let the feelings overwhelm me. When I see a facebook memory that she commented on and it makes my heart stop for a moment. this is when I miss her the most. When I see her words and I can hear her voice in my head. I also think about her now because we were birthday buddies. Gemini babies, chatterboxes, loud laughers and proud older mums.

Why is it we only celebrate a person's life when they have died ? Is it only celebrities who get to have a 'this is your life' moment ? Soraya should have been here to celebrate her 50th and (selfishly) mine too. Milestones matter.

When I was celebrating my 30th I had left my first marriage, I was newly single, surrounded by friends and rocking a shorter hairstyle and a slimmer figure. It took a long time to get over that break up, but my family and friends did everything to get me back on my feet.

For my 40th I was significantly bigger as I was expecting Brown Bear. I had a party with family and friends and celebrated this much longed for pregnancy as well as my actual birthday. It was one of the happiest times of my life carrying Brown Bear.

I've talked a lot about how I will be 50 next year and how I want to do something to mark the half century. I haven't decided what that will be yet. However, I do know that for the first time in almost 15 years I will be single, with two fantastic sons and (all being well) an elderly cat. This wasn't what I expected for my next milestone birthday. However, it is where I am.

The thing is, I know is I can do this. Being single I mean.  It felt like that was my entire life until the age of 27. I didn't go out with anyone in school or university and when I was working in London for so many years I never met anyone and formed a relationship. However, in my single years I bought my own flat, made friends with some awesome people, fell in love with making radio shows, discovered a passion for live music, learned to scuba dive and ski, volunteered and worked. Oh don't get me wrong I wanted to be in a relationship. I wanted to share my life with someone I loved and who loved me. While I was looking for this I got on with making a life for me.

Now I am here again, but this time I have Brown and Blue Bear and they truly are the loves of my life (don't tell Neo !) Being their Mum makes me incredibly proud. With this awesome twosome by my side I know I can do this. My friends are reminding me on a daily basis that I can overcome anything and have the determination to achieve the impossible. So here is my own little self-indulgent "This is your life" tribute to me: 

  • I was told it was unlikely I'd be able to have a baby, but I didn't let it stop me. Brown Bear is the living proof of my belief in miracles.   
  • I grew and fed a baby from my actual body. Yes this body that I often look at with disappointment and shame. I carried this brilliant boy and nearly died giving birth to him, but we made it. 
  • The day I saw a photo of Blue Bear I knew he would be my son. It was meant to be and so it was.  My baby boy belongs in this family and the minute I saw his beautiful face there was nothing I wasn't going to do to make that happen. 
  • When Soraya died I wanted to do something big in her memory. Cutting off all my hair was something that was huge for me. Then I also trained to run a half marathon. Me, the fat kid who was always picked last. And I did it !! 
  • When someone I love was in pain I stood in the rain to talk him out of making a terrible mistake. I wanted him to pick me, but I helped him make it work in his relationship. I stand by that. I know in that moment I was putting his needs before my own and I would do it again. 
  • My lovely friend was in hospital and I went to see her with a 3 month old Brown Bear in tow to cheer her up. I took shampoo and conditioner with me to wash her hair because I know how dehumanising having greasy hair can be. It was a teeny thing, but she still reminds me how much it meant to her. 
  • My son wanted to give up on his first (and last) junior park run. Halfway round he was almost in tears and I said, "shall we hold hands and do this together ? It doesn't matter how fast - let's finish together." We did and the look of pride on his face as he ran over the finish line stays with me to this day. 
  • Blue Bear asked me the other day if I had baby photos of him. I showed him some on my phone - including his birth mum just in shot holding him. He smiled at me and asked if I would print the photos so he can put them on the wall by his bed. Yes baby boy, of course I will. 

Of all the things I've done in my life I can honestly say that being a mum is the one that I am most proud of. I don't always get it right - in fact I often think I'm getting everything wrong. I am, however, always trying my best for my boys. They are my world and all that matters to me. I know that when I hear them laughing and having fun my heart skips a beat.

That is what I live for.

I've got this.

Saturday, 18 May 2019

Help, I need somebody.

This week I have been sharing blog posts that I have written about Mental Health Awareness Week. I had one all written for today which I was going to publish tonight. I logged in to update it and somehow it just vanished. I thought I had saved it, but nope it was gone. Those carefully crafted words that I was so pleased with and the nuggets of wisdom that I thought were so eloquent. Only this evening my heart just wasn't in it really.

Earlier this week I shared a missing person's report - something I never do usually. It was different this time, however because I knew Spencer. We first met through our shared experience of blogging. He was campaigning to persuade Amazon to stop selling a book that advocated beating your children to discipline them. I interviewed him on my radio show and a while later we met in person at a blogging event that we had taken our kids to. He was a lovely guy. We chatted about the Beatles, how we liked our tea the same colour and living and growing up in London.

We stayed in touch even after he moved up north to be with his lovely partner. They would listen to my radio show and contact me while I was on air to request songs and to tell me how much they were enjoying it. I loved knowing that they were listening. I hadn't seen Spencer since he moved to Barnsley. We stayed in touch via Twitter and I often asked how he was doing as he suffered chronic pain. He was struggling and I felt for him, but his humour was always intact in his public persona.

Then earlier this week I saw a tweet that showed his face on a missing person's report. He had distinctive blue eyes so you couldn't miss him really. I was really surprised, but I shared it on social media as he used to live in London. It was worth casting the net as wide as possible to encourage him to get in touch and say he was ok.

Today Spencer's partner K shared the tragic news that his body had been found. It was such a shock to all who knew him. It also reminded me that we had many conversations about depression and childhood spent living with an alcoholic parent. I cannot imagine how K is feeling right now, nor his beloved children. Is it any wonder that my words were lost. How do you express a loss that isn't yours, but that you feel connected with ?

The headlines I wanted to share about Mental Health Awareness Week are even more relevant in light of this. There are some recurring themes that come up whenever mental health is talked about:  

It is not shameful - and yet it is still so difficult to tell the truth about being depressed. Recently someone I trust talked about my being depressed as a justification for his own terrible behaviour. Had I been less broken he wouldn't have done what he did. So on top of my own mental health issues I now have to deal with the guilt of making life difficult for another person. As well as the judgement of those he told. They looked at me and said, "Well that makes sense now."

Be open and honest - ok so I write about it on here, but I've never spoken about it to my family. I don't want them to see me as weak or a failure. I already think that about myself why would I want other people to think it too ? Last year a friend said, "Talk to me about it. If I know I can try and understand." So I trusted him and told him about the anxiety that cripples my capacity for rational thought. I told him that my responses are impaired by my inability to tell actual threats from perceived ones. As things in my head became more complicated he eventually walked away. It was too much to expect any support. Should I just have pretended I was fine ?

Take care of yourself - when your self worth is non existent why would you think that you are worthy of self care ? Taking time for myself has always induced guilt. As if my own wellbeing is inconsequential. People can be so blasé about 'me time' and 'self care' as if it's as simple as going for a spa day. I'm finding ways to take care of myself, but they are things like going for a walk or a swim or a run. Space to just be.

So do I regret talking about mental health and letting people in ? I guess to a point it would have saved a friendship if I hadn't. It might have been less painful if I'd just carried on as if nothing was wrong. However my real friends reassure me and know that a hug is like magic when I'm struggling. They remind me that I am strong, determined and kind. When I surround myself with those who love me I feel like a warrior.

Tonight I raise a glass to Spencer and wish he had found a way that would have enabled him to still be here. I'm also thinking of K and hoping she has hugs and love to hold her through this pain.

I am so thankful for those who keep me going. You are precious and I am so lucky to have you.

Saturday, 11 May 2019

I close my eyes... and press publish.

A few weeks ago I took off my wedding ring and engagement ring and put them away. The indent in my finger took a few days to wear off - I've worn them for 12 years so I guess it does take time. I've removed my married name from social media - all of my work and social contacts are in that name, so it's not like I can just change it overnight in every walk of life. A few people have been in touch to ask if this was a significant thing and to commiserate when I have told them.

Friends have been amazing - they have been there in person, by phone, by message and at every turn have told me that this is not my fault. I did not make this happen by being unwell, or angry or not attractive enough. I did not drive away someone who lied, cheated and betrayed me and my family. This is squarely at their feet, not mine. It is impossible, however, to feel entirely free of responsibility. After all if I wasn't such a horrible person why would it have happened ? Did I not care enough ? Am I not kind enough ? Was I not pretty enough ? Did I not do enough ? What is enough ?

I've been scared that I'd lose friends and loved ones by being so messed up for so long. I tried to apologise and save a relationship with someone I love very much. This person has borne the brunt of my unhappiness for a long time, so I spoke from the heart and bared my soul. Nope - it cut no ice. I was unceremoniously ditched. What was I expecting ? Well, a chance to explain. To say that this isn't me. It's the situation I'm in. Still, I guess ripping off the plaster has to be the way to do it.

You know how I've been talking about anxiety and depression for so long ? How I wasn't entirely sure why I was so ungrateful as to be unhappy when I have so much to be thankful for ? Turns out that my instincts that something wasn't quite right were spot on. There was something afoot and it was not good. In fact the thing I suspected wouldn't have been nearly as bad. Then on top of my world being turned inside out I had to deal with other people's reactions. The disbelief. The horror. Then I have to comfort the person I've just told.

Sleep is a distant memory now - punctuated by failure dreams and wakefulness. Not even the useful kind where you can rage clean or write novels, but the useless self-loathing kind. Looking at the clock is self-defeating so I don't do it. The cat pins me to the bed to stop me from roaming around, which is odd considering he walks over my face to wake me up in the morning when I do finally drop off. He has never done that before so I'm not sure why he's doing it now.

Brown Bear is also having bad dreams - of our family breaking up and how sad that will be. Blue Bear is being cheerful to the point of suspicion during the day. I know this isn't entirely his real self as he's screaming in anxiety at night. Like he did when he first came to live with us. This is hurting all of us so much. Well, not all of us clearly. I mean the person whose behaviour has caused all of this seems to have little self awareness that their poor choices have had so much impact.

It wasn't like I was supposed to know. I found out and have had to deal with whatever has unravelled since then. And oh so much has come to light. Each week something new and more horrific than the last. Like a massive spike filled ball of wool slowly rolling along leaving blood and scars and pain. That's all I am right now. Pain. Anger. Confusion. Anxiety. Self-loathing. Oh and I've still been parenting and working. Mostly with a smile on my face and acting like it's all fine.

So please don't ask if I'm ok. I'm not. I will be. This is what is happening right now and it sucks, but it won't be forever.

I have other rings I can wear.

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Not today

Today is not a good day

I keep thinking that years ago when that woman at work told me I'm stupid I she was right.

All those times Mum said I wasn't nice or kind it was the truth - she wasn't being cruel, she was telling me for my own sake.

That ex who told me I'm negative about everything and critical about people and always looking to find offence - he had a point. 

The feeling in the pit of my stomach that tells me everything going wrong is all because of me - that's self awareness right there. 

Tears rolling down my face as I drive remind me that I wouldn't feel this way if I didn't deserve it 

Waking up at 3 am, 4am, 5am and not being able to lift my head off the pillow at 6am when the alarm goes off is happening because I am rubbish. 

Today is not a good day. 

I still have to parent my boys. 

Today is not a good day.

The things I do still have to be done.

Today is not a good day.

Being upset and sad around others isn't ok. 

Today is not a good day. 

I'm not up for polite chit chat and pleasantries.

Today is not a good day.

For now this is how it feels - I have to accept that things are not good. 

Not today. 

Sunday, 14 April 2019

This too shall pass.

At lunchtime on Thursday this week I was sitting on a bench in Soho Square. It was only when I stood up to go to my meeting that I noticed the plaque on the bench. It was the one dedicated to Kirsty MacColl. Now you probably know that I love her music so that made this significant and moving.Not least as I had just been having a telephone assessment for counselling and it was not the easiest conversation to hold in a public place. I gave the general details of what's been going on in the last year and a bit - to recap, bereavement, breast cancer (not me) and return to working full time. The most recent events have, however, pushed me over the edge. While everything else was happening to people I love I was able to keep busy by helping them. It was possible to just keep going and avoid dealing with my own stuff the whole time. This most recent thing, however. is happening to me and I can't avoid it or 'do' my way out of it.

I spent the first week in shock and unable to speak to anyone without crying. It made talking to anyone very difficult. In conversation with friends I found myself saying, "I'm so, so sorry it's just one thing after another with me isn't it ?" It was like I was cashing in all my friendship chips in one big hit. Thankfully they didn't respond with, "Well it is a bit much actually and it's about time you just pulled yourself together." Instead I had the reassurance and kindness of those I love and who love me in return. However, I am the one who has to make decisions about my life and my kids. It's down to me to be the adult for all of us. No amount of advice from others can make that any easier, but it does help to have someone listen and sympathise. 

A counsellor doesn't sympathise, but the person doing the initial assessment can.
"It does sound like a very difficult time. I can hear in your voice that it's a struggle." 
A murmur of agreement.
"Now I have to ask this question."
"Have you considered harming yourself."
"I know it's not an easy question to answer."
Not recently. 
"What makes you stop yourself."
I wouldn't do that to my children. Or my family. I don't want to hurt anyone else.
"Do you know what to do if you have those thoughts or you feel you are at risk of harming yourself ?"
Yes I think so.
"What would you do ?"
I'd call Samaritans. 
"That's good. You can also call your GP for an urgent appointment or you can present yourself to A&E." 
There's a bit more explanation of what happens next then she asks me,
"What are you doing for the rest of the day ?"
I'm going to meet a friend for coffee and a catch up. Then I'm picking up my boys and spending the evening with them.
"That sounds nice."

I walk to where I'm meeting my friend. We sit with her holding my hands for support. The tears start and just don't stop. I notice all the people around us. She looks me straight in the eye as I dart my eyes around to see who's looking at me. "Keep talking" she says, so I do. Everything. How I feel unloved, ugly, unwanted. The fear of getting things wrong for my kids. The inability to think straight or to make a single decision. "You are going to feel like this, but let me tell you that voice in your head is wrong." I need to keep reminding myself that the voice telling me I am rubbish, I am negative, I am a bad person and all manner of other stuff is a symptom of this. 

And this will pass. 

Sunday, 7 April 2019

All you need is love

Are you a touchy feely person ? Does it make you feel a bit creeped out if someone you barely know touches you ? Are you someone who will immediately kiss a person you've just met in a friendly manner ? Is it normal for you to touch the person you're talking to - on the elbow or something, nothing rude obvs ! I only ask because the issue of inappropriate touch has been in the news again and it's made me think about what touch means to different people.

I've lived in London most of my life so being in close proximity to other people is a way of life. However, there are boundaries. It is perfectly possible to have the merest sliver of space between yourself and another commuter on the tube, but if your hands touch it's terribly awkward and apologies ensue. To be frank if personal space is an issue for you I'd avoid the underground altogether as it really will mess with your head. I steer clear of it at all costs and will go on foot if I have time or by bus. If I'm running very late and absolutely have to use the underground I will, but I really don't enjoy it.

Touch has to be consensual doesn't it ? In recent years parents have been more aware of the need to respect a child's wishes not to kiss Aunty Maureen if they don't want to. Growing up we all had to hug aunties didn't we ? I had uncles and aunties who would pinch my cheeks and while I hated it I couldn't refuse - it was rude. When people talk about children having the right to say no I fully support it. It's also an acknowledgment that some children really don't respond well to physical interactions. When Blue Bear first came to live with us he was used to being picked up and held but he wasn't keen on being hugged by people he didn't know. Even now he can be reticent with people he knows really well if he's just not in the mood for being hugged. It took me a long time to go from hugging him to it being a two way thing. He doesn't always want to be touched even now. When I go to kiss him goodnight he will say, "kiss me on my head," instead of his face. I respect his wishes. Brown Bear is used to being smothered with hugs and kisses by aunties and grandparents and responds as any 8 (going on 18) boy would. He is patient with us, but makes it clear he is only doing this out of the goodness of his heart and it could all end any time.

Hugs are really important to me. When I meet up with a friend or family member I always go in for a big hug with them. It's a greeting, but also a way of showing that I've missed them. It's also - for me - a way of destressing. When I'm having a difficult time or a bad day I find a hug makes things so much more bearable. The people who love me know this and make time to see me just to give me a hug and make things better. I do the same for the people I love. Let's be clear that these are not necessarily the same people. the Venn diagram of people who I am nice to and who are also nice to me has an overlap, but it's a small one. I remember talking to a friend who couldn't understand why his partner was so upset with him for giving her money as a present. I explained that she wanted to spend time with him so giving her the money to spend on a 'nice day out with someone' was not the same thing. He couldn't see it. Closeness isn't for everyone - I get that.

Touch is shorthand for "I am here for you," "I've got you," "It's going to be ok," "Don't worry, we've got this." When my kids are sleeping I go in and touch their faces or kiss them on the head. I know they are aware of it when I see the faint smile in response.

Yes, hugs mean love. And love is all you need.

Saturday, 30 March 2019

Yes, I am Iron Woman.

The doctors are getting younger at my surgery. I know that's an age thing - like when people say if you think police officers are getting younger it's a sign you're getting older. Last time I went I could have sworn the lad was only just in his twenties. He was good though so no complaints. The one I saw on Friday to get my results was just as young, but also buff. I mean proper goes to the gym, probably does iron man challenges and looked like the kind of doctor you see in an American TV show, not a suburban GP practice. Anyway, I wasn't there to ogle at his broad shoulders (they were fantastic !) I was there to find out if anything was wrong. He asked if I had been under any stress.

Hold my pint.

Now what are we counting as stress exactly ? I don't do stress. Nah. It's just not me. Do I keep myself busy doing things and keep going long past the point where by body and brain are tired of it all ? Maybe. Do I prioritise other people's needs over mine ? Mostly. Do I ask for help if I'm struggling ? Nope. Is it because I'm afraid of looking weak ? Dunno.

Have I experienced stressful situations recently ? Hell yes. Did I get through them ? Well, I'm here aren't I ? How did I manage the stress ? Well it felt like the whole world fell from under my feet. I was shaken and in shock. I put it in a box and carried on with what I had to do. I'm a parent after all. Kids don't care if you're an emotional wreck, they just want to know why they don't have that snack you promised.

Is it the stress that is contributing to lack of sleep ? Well dur. Of course it is. Waking up at 2am and again at 4am is no joke when you have to get up at 5.45 anyway. It's guaranteed to create a slight sense of unreality all the time.  Of course the clocks changing tonight and losing one hour of sleep isn't exactly helpful.

Buff doctor asked me if there was anything I was doing to reduce the stress. Not sure that's in my gift big fella. I mean it's really inconvenient having people get sick or die around you. Losing people (literally, figuratively or emotionally) is pretty much out of my hands. While I would love to have the capacity to make that stuff better I'm not sure I can. Yes I can run and swim and go to bed earlier. I can make sure I drink more water and eat sensibly. What I can't do is make someone come back, or not have cancer, or be with me if that isn't what they want.

Thanks Doc. I will take the healthy eating sheet and I'll increase my iron intake. I'm sure that will help.

Sunday, 24 March 2019

Yes sir that's my baby

Do you remember what you were doing 4 years ago ? Is it a crystal clear memory of how you were feeling ? Was there a sense of importance about it ? I only ask because I know for a fact that we were preparing for a huge event in our lives - one that would change everything. It's not exactly etched in my mind as seared into my skin and the very fibre of my being. It wasn't just a moment though, it was a series of meetings and conversations. Everything was planned out and we were given a timetable to follow. I arranged childcare for Brown Bear and we went for the first meeting. 

Driving to the house was nerve wracking. We knew it was going to be fine, but had no idea what to expect. At first we drove past the house and had to come back and park outside as we were a bit early. Eventually we knocked on the door and waited for it to open. A familiar face welcomed us and we were led to the back room where he was waiting. He looked like the photo we had seen, but in 3D he was a bit different too. He was too shy to come over to us so we sat on the sofa and smiled at his as he clung to the foster carer's leg and looked at us. She explained softly that we had come to see him. He eventually came closer and picked up a photo book we had prepared. He pointed at it to show he knew it was us. He had a dummy in his mouth and a toy dog is his hands. He didn't let go of either. I sat very still just taking it all in. I didn't want to startle him. Like a tiny bird or a mythical creature. Hubbie was braver than me and managed to get him involved in a game on the floor. I watched them play and felt my heart swell with each breath. He was real. We were here. This was really happening. 

We had told Brown Bear we were going to see his brother and would tell him everything when he came home from nursery. He was desperate to meet him, but the rules were that we meet him first and slowly introduce the boys to each other. I took photos of Blue Bear and even a few short video clips of his gurgling laughter. I didn't dare get too close in case. I gave him the toy bus we had bought for him. Then he went out into the corridor and was pushing it along the floor towards the front door. I sat on the bottom stair and watched him. Hoping he would want to get close to me, but not daring to presume. He came closer and I gave him a tentative hug. I joked that he wasn't going out with us today, but another time. 

The 2 hours went so fast. We thanked the foster family and said "bye bye" to him. He waved at us and we went back to the car. The whole drive home we talked about how amazing he was and how much Brown Bear would love to meet him. I was overwhelmed by how much I felt for him already and couldn't wait to see him again the next day. Each day we stayed a bit longer. On one day we gave him a bath and got him ready for bed. He cried so much that eventually we called the foster carer in as he was clearly far too distressed to settle down. It was heartbreaking to leave him this way, but we knew it was going to take time. The next day we brought Brown Bear along to meet his brother. We all went to the park and played in the sunshine - it wasn't warm, but it was sunny. The boys played and hugged and as we left Brown Bear said, "Why can't he come home with us ?" We explained he would visit us at home the next day and come to live with us at the end of the week. 

On his first visit to our home it was as if he already lived here. He walked in and greeted the cat. He went into the toy room and found things to play with. We gave him some lunch and he had a nap on me in the afternoon. As I felt him snuggle into my shoulder I relaxed a bit. This was ok. He was gorgeous and he would be fine. We had to take Blue Bear back to his foster carers and Brown Bear said bye to him and stayed home with my sister. As we took his back he looked out of the window of the car and I just watched him. This beautiful boy, quiet and thoughtful. The dummy in his mouth all the time. His eyes taking in every little thing. When we dropped him off he waved at us. He didn't cry though. I wanted to, but I knew this was irrational as he would be with us very soon. 

When we got home I went in to see Brown Bear and to give him a hug before he went to sleep. "I miss him." he said. "I know baby. I do too." "When is he coming to live here." "Soon darling. Soon." 

And then he did. 

4 years have passed and we know he was always meant to be here. 

My baby boy. Brown Bear's brother. My beloved son. 

Monday, 18 March 2019

Carry on regardless...

I've written about that Sunday 'back to school' feeling before. The dullness that strikes around 6pm when you realise that Monday is not far away and the working / school week will begin again. Last night Brown Bear was lying next to me as I was resting after another tiring weekend and he said, "Mum you look exhausted." I smiled and laughed, "Yes. Yes I am." It was spot on and the fact that my 8 year old pointed it out to me was telling. We took the boys to my Mum's house early on Sunday morning to drop them off while me and Hubbie took part in a half marathon. It was tiring and much more difficult than I had expected. I trained for the last one I did in October. I haven't been able to train as much for this one for so many reasons. It was touch and go whether I would do this one - even as late as Friday I wasn't sure. Last weekend I took part in an event that involved walking in the Peak District. I signed up to do it without fully appreciating how much it would take out of me so close to a half marathon.

Every time I finish a challenge I say, "that's it for now. I'm not doing any more." Then something else comes up and I take that on too. This time I have to be a bit stronger about saying no. I am practising that the most this year. Taking care not to overcommit. Stopping myself from doing more than I can manage. I went to work today despite feeling peaky. I get in early and I wasn't entirely convinced it wasn't just the early hour that was making me feel a bit grim. By ten o'clock it was clear to me I had to come home. The drive wasn't fun with a pain behind my eyes that has been persistent for over a week now. I put it down to stress. 

This is in my hands now. I can choose not to do things that stress me out. I can choose not to have conversations, to see people or to take part in things that I think will have a negative effect on me. It's been a long road to learn to do this, but like most things it just takes repetition in order to become a habit. Equally doing more of what makes me happy requires commitment and the ability to prioritise what matters most. 

That bit of time that I spend with my boys one to one just asking how they are and listening to the answers. 

Making time for a hug. With my sons, with Hubbie, with a friend, with the cat. Hugs are magic. It's the easiest way to share love with someone and costs absolutely nothing. 

I popped my head round the door of their bedroom this morning and they were both on the top bunk of the bed laughing and playing a game. I never expected we'd get to this even a few months ago when they were still arguing about every little thing. 

Going outside even just for a few minutes to look up at the sky and to close my eyes and breathe in the day. Even if it's raining or cold it's worth doing this. Feeling nature in all its forms. 

Listening to music I love - often the same song over and over again. It's like a form of meditation and sometimes even therapy. 

So, now I'm going to give myself the gift of sleep. It may be broken and I'll probably wake up a few times, but I have to try. 

Night night. 

Sunday, 3 March 2019

You know you make me want to shout...

Hubbie sent me a message reminding me of all the things I'd done that made him laugh this week. Then yesterday we co-presented a radio show - live. We chatted, laughed and generally enjoyed each other's company. It reminded me that despite all the dramas and tension that comes with being married and parenting and the general hustle and bustle of life, we are friends. Proper make you laugh until you wet yourself (just me ?) friends. 

Last night we went to a gig. An incredible gig. The front man of the band is shouty, anarchic and hilarious. It was in a tiny venue in Hubbie's hometown and we had a few hours of childfree proper let-yourself-go fun together. At one point we were all crouched on the floor of the venue with the lead singer (well not me, you know not with these knees !) and he was regaling us all with a story. He had us all in the palm of his hand as he was playing up the fact that he was from a local town and his brother was in the crowd. I can honestly say it was a brilliant night. 

Sometimes I wonder what people who are friends with someone like that think of them. I mean he can enthralling a room full of fans, but what's he like as a mate ? Is he that one who can sometimes be a bit much if you see him often ? You know that friend who always talks a good game and is charming and fun and the life of the party ? The one who makes you laugh until your face hurts and your sides ache and it feels like the moment should never end ? The same person reminds you of all the times you’ve been ridiculous and you have shared jokes and embarrassments from your years of friendship. The one you would drop everything to see ? 

Do you find (as I do) that they are also the one who will cancel at short notice with little or no explanation. So often that now you don’t even expect them to turn up so you always pencil things in as there is a more than 50% chance they just won’t turn up. In fact it’s so unlikely they will be there that you are tempted to be sarcastic and say, “Oh you’re looking forward to it are you ? Like I was when we made that arrangement last time that you cancelled at the last minute ?” They're the one who is the first to say, "I’ll do it – count me in - sounds fun." When you asked if they wanted to take part in an event and you kept putting off signing up just in case - well you know what they're like. But you don't want to be unfair. Then the friend gets on your case, “I’ve signed up for it – have you ?” and you do only to find out that they can’t make it after all and you're left to do it alone. Not for the first time.

Or the time you were supposed to go to a gig or a show and you didn't hear back from them for ages and when you finally got a reply it was, "Oh yeah I can't make it now. I've got something on," All casual like they didn't just make other plans and leave you in the lurch. Well at least you got a response that time, Not like when they just didn't respond and you were left waiting outside the venue calling to see if they were still coming. Eventually realising that it wasn't going to happen and being so worried and upset that you just went home.
The friendship looks so very different from the two sides. The friend is all about outcomes, “We saw each other in the end didn’t we ? That was fun.” And you’re more about the process which was more painful than it needed to be. You have to do certain things in order to meet, arrange childcare, sort out transport / travel and decide how is safest to get home if it’s going to be late. The friend is non-committal right to the last. You say, “let me know what you want to do,” and they don’t respond - being a free spirit and all that. Then you get a text message the night before - or the morning you’re supposed to meet - saying, “so you still on for tomorrow / today ?” You want to yell, “of course I am !! We agreed this. It’s you I’m waiting on. I am already committed.” You don’t say any of that. You politely agree that you will be there. Then panic that this might be like that time when they just didn’t turn up. Or the time they did, but stormed off because you had become so anxious in the build up to meeting that you said something to them. Or maybe they will just cancel at the last minute again and make it your fault for being surly. You want to say, “Why is it ok for you to be selfish and thoughtless, but unfair of me to call you on it ? How am I the bad guy here ?” Of course you don’t.

Friends are the family we choose. The ones who we love even though we don’t have to. Just like family though there will come a time when we notice how uneven it is. How the effort expended outweighs the reward. How the much mooted get-together becomes soured by the messing about, the inability to value your time or feelings. The realisation that to this friend you are not really worthy of respect. This fuels anxiety. It makes being a friend so difficult. You wouldn’t do this to someone you care about. They are not you though.
Ok so when they are suffering you go to them and are 'present,' because that is your way of supporting. When you want a hug or need the same support they take themselves away and give you space. It's not how you would do it and it's not what you want, but you are not them. That doesn't make them wrong, any more than it makes you wrong. It's where the definitions of friendship differ for you both. When you are sad you might want closeness, but they think it's best to leave you be.
So do you accept that is just how they are ? Do you continue to martyr yourself for some non-existent recognition ? Maybe choose to protect yourself by responding in kind ? No that won't work as that would only add guilt to the mix. Maybe just stop feeling bad about the friend and try to preserve the friendship ? It might be that they are tolerating you too. It may not be a priority for them to see you. It is possible they think they are doing you a favour by cancelling or not turning up if they think you're not going to want to see them. 

Just as one day you realise that a relationship isn't working any more and you would be better not being in it, sometimes we grow out of friendships. It takes a lot for me to let anyone new into my friendship group. I have friends I have known for a long, long time and they've been through a lot with me. I have also been through stuff with them. I trust and love my friends. I am fiercely loyal. To be frank I don't need any more of them. 

As we grow older and life does it's thing I am being more selective about who I make time for. The friend who works abroad and when she is around for a few days checks in with me to see if we can meet up. Who picks up gifts for my kids from all her travels - and actually likes to see them. Then there is the friend who tells me it's perfectly fine if I just want to rant or not say anything at all. I will send a random text message with no explanation at all and she responds perfectly. She just gets me. A friend who has come to meet me at short notice so he could give me a hug because I was having the crappiest day - now that is a great friend. 

Not everyone makes the cut. 

To be honest I bet the lead singer of the band is a pretty awesome friend. Even if he's not at least he's an excellent entertainer. 

Ready Art Brut ? 

Tuesday, 26 February 2019

From inertia to inspiration. Kind of.

 You know when you read those inspirational posts on facebook or Instagram that say things that are supposed to be profound, but some days they are just annoying and others they induce tears ? Well I’m not doing that – obvs. I am, however, thinking about something that I’ve seen a lot. ‘What would you try if you knew you wouldn’t fail ?’ It sounds complicated at first, but simply put it’s a kind of go for it, what have you got to lose ? Well for most of us the fear of what could go wrong is paralysing and leaves us in a state of inertia.

I’m thinking about this now because I saw the film about Ruth Bader Ginsberg the other evening and it confirmed for me that she is an amazing woman. Not that I doubted it for a moment, but it struck me that she was fearless and brave in her life and it was with the support and love of her family that she was able to achieve. Often we hear of people who have left relationships behind or driven their loved ones away in the thrall of ambition so to see her children and husband as integral to the success she has achieved was inspiring.

Years ago I joked that I should move to the US and market myself as a self-help guru. I reasoned that if Deepak Chopra could do it why couldn’t I ? It wasn’t entirely in jest and I now see that had I done that I’d probably have pre-empted the yoga boom we have seen and the resultant throw down of all the ‘spiritual leaders’ being accused of sexual assault and inappropriate behaviour with their clients / students. It’s like a ‘me too’ movement with a hint of hemp. I’m not belittling this in any way. What I am doing is pointing to the all-encompassing nature of this culture of casual sexual misconduct that has pervaded even the ‘wellness’ sector. How even the act of finding inner peace is fraught with the potential for inappropriate touch or full on assault due to an imbalance of power and privilege.

And this is the crux of what I’ve been mulling over. For all that I am driven and passionate about equality and fairness and justice what have I achieved in my life ? Is there anything I have done to inspire ? I’m nowhere close to the giddy heights of Ginsberg and her impact, but have I done anything I can be proud of ?

Then at the weekend I shared a post that joked about a Mum’s fantasy being spending time alone in a hotel and just sleeping (all true by the way). My lovely friend Yasmin said she would be doing just that. Going away without her kids and having a break and some valuable ‘me time.’ I commented that I was jealous and she responded, “ I was inspired by you.” Wow that’s kind, I thought. Then I remembered other times people have kindly said they were inspired to do something because of me. Soraya went away on her own to Berlin for a mini break and she told me it was as a direct result of me taking time for myself. It was so much fun “I’m going to make it a regular thing,” she said. Sadly, months later she died, but she had done this thing for herself and I was so proud of her. I have a wonderful friend Paul who is a radio producer and recently he has been presenting a radio show of his own with amazing guests and I praised him on the great success he was having. “I was inspired by you,” he told me. Mind blown. This guy who actually works in radio and is in the business was inspired by little old me to present. What an honour.

Finally – and the one I am most proud of - is the one that I see my son doing. He can’t pass a homeless person without giving them something. It was early in his life that he started to say, “Mummy why is that man sleeping there ?” and I explained that he probably didn’t have a place to sleep or a home. My boy will ask if he can give money or food and always goes up and offers it himself. He has a kind heart and a deep seated desire to help others. I have often wondered where this came from. 

The other night me and Hubbie went out for a pizza (I know we are so rock and roll !) and as we were walking home a woman asked for some money. I shook my head and apologised that I didn’t have any. Then I asked if she wanted some hot food as I could buy it for her. I had electronic money, but not real coinage or notes you see. We walked together to Burger King I paid for her food and asked the man behind the counter to ensure the lady got her meal. I patted her on the arm, smiled at her and wished her well. As we continued walking Hubbie was quiet. Then he said (a bit choked up if I’m honest), “I love it when you do things like that.” “What ?” “You know.” “Well, we are so fortunate and we just had a nice meal, she deserves to eat too.” 

I think I might know where Brown Bear gets it from after all. 

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

For the love of cat...

Life has been kind to me. I have a home, a family, my health and I love and am loved. I also have a cat - he is old and sleeps a lot, but he is affectionate and adorable.

It wasn't always like this. At one point I was pretty sure I would be alone and childless and loveless. A bit dramatic ? Well maybe, but it was pretty much how I felt at the time. I had left a marriage with someone who was controlling and manipulative. My confidence was at it's lowest point. I was in debt, back living with my parents and so very sad. In a desperate attempt to get myself out of this funk I started internet dating. I moved in with my lovely friend and put myself 'out there' as they say. I had never dated in my teens or at uni so it was all new to me.

There are so many life lessons I could share from this period of my life, but I'm pretty sure that for everyone else the experience of going on dates (or just 'going out' as we call it here - dating seems to be a peculiarly American phenomenon) is just a normal part of growing up. In my family we didn't do that kind of thing. My parents didn't approve of having girlfriends or boyfriends and the idea that we might go out with someone with no intention of marrying them was anathema. I pretty much married the first guy I dated. It didn't work out so that tells you all you need to know doesn't it ?

When I was going on dates I realised that there was a whole other language of relationships that I was unaware of and that I just was not versed in. It was a world away from the friendships I had and the honesty of being with people who you trust. I have always had male friends and it was perfectly normal for me to talk to them and spend time socialising with them. It didn't prepare me for the idiocy of dating though. I couldn't stand the really brash guys who would try to impress by showing off, they were just too much. I was a bit Shania Twain about it all really.

Then there were the men who had been married or living with someone, had broken up and were now looking for a replacement. To be honest so was I so it's not exactly a criticism. I think I was being a bit fairer than they were though. I was prepared to see how it went and to give them the benefit of the doubt. Oh so you own CDs by the Dixie Chicks ? It's ok I'm sure you're ok otherwise. Nope I was wrong. I found myself trying so hard to convince them that I was worth their while that I wasn't even considering if they were worth mine. In a lot of cases we just weren't well matched at all. A lot of these guys in their mid to late 30s were looking to settle down and in most cases did not long after. I think straight men have a 'use by date' and if they don't get married by it then they remain resolutely single. Of course Warren Beatty is they exception to this rule. And pretty much all rules I guess.

I went out on dates with men who I would never under any circumstances have come into contact with otherwise. The chap who lived upstairs from the Conservative Club and whose parents were lifelong Tories. Sorry Chris I could have called that one before we met if I'd known. The one who looked like a young Elton John (no disrespect to you Reg, but you're just not my type and I know I'm not yours !) and who told me about how he had a row with his neighbour and practised Tai Chi on public transport. It wasn't destined to be a great love affair.

It is easy to be cynical about internet dating, but I know people who have gone on to have very successful relationships with someone they met online. It cuts out some of the stuff that you just don't get if your eyes meet across a crowded room. It can take ages to realise that this person will always be late to meet you, or that they have smelly feet, or they chew really loudly, or talk through movies, etc. (all punishable offences by the way). What you have with meeting in real life though is the taking time to get to know someone. I have had a crush on someone then when I got to know them realised they weren't for me, but it could be a great friendship.

Plenty of people meet in every day situations, maybe working together and seeing each other every day which eventually leads to a relationship - possibly due to proximity. I worked with a woman who was dating the director of the charity and it was blindingly obvious to everyone despite their protestations to the contrary. It is frowned upon in some firms, but to be honest if you work long hours or in a stressful profession it's hardly surprising.

Of course I haven't even mentioned the whole concept of love at first sight. Oh yes fireworks and stars in the eyes . I mean proper wobbly legs and flustered speech. The whole nine yards. Thankfully it was mutual - it's rotten when you have all the feelings and they aren't returned. What it does mean - however - is that all common sense goes straight out of the window. You are entirely blindsided by the hormone response and forget to think. Well I did anyway.

So what have I learned since the heady days of singledom ? Well, being alone means not having to make food if you don't want to. It means only having to clean up after yourself. It also means going some weekends without talking to anyone - which I now consider to be blissful. I wouldn't give up cuddles with my cat though. Or going in to check on my boys when they are asleep. Coming home and knowing that I can have a hug (with or without white fur dressing) doesn't suck.

On balance I think I've done ok.

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Do we win a speedboat Derek ?

If me and Hubbie went on Mr & Mrs I'm not convinced we'd do all that well. I mean for a start Derek Batey doesn't present it any more so that's a downer already. If you are unfamiliar with this stalwart of my childhood it was a TV quiz show where married couples would take turns to answer questions about each other to show how much the knew about their spouse. They competed with other couples for prizes and Derek encouraged them in his non threatening '70s TV host way.

My recollection of this show is pretty much confined to one half of the couple sitting in a booth wearing noise cancelling headphones while their other half answered questions. My favourite was when a man was asked what colour tights his wife wore. One of the options was American tan - I had never heard of this before and to be honest I haven't heard of it since. What struck me most about this question was why would a husband know what colour tights his wife wore ? Especially in an era when men and women weren't quite as open with each other as all that.

It sometimes occurs to me that there are things we just wouldn't be able to answer about each other. I often still ask Hubbie if he eats olives, "Yes I do, it was the other guy who didn't." Mind you he also forgets if it's me or a previous who doesn't eat mushrooms so I guess we're even.

On the other hand there was the time he made me gnocchi at this flat because when we went out to eat they didn't have it and he wanted to make me happy. When I get a dine in offer I choose profiteroles as the dessert because I know he likes them.

When people say how lucky I am I often want to tell them they don't even know the half of it. When we  found out it was unlikely we would have children it was devastating. He made light of it by referring to Friends. It was anything but lighthearted, but we had to find a way through it.

We have shared references - quotes from films or TV shows and silly things that make us laugh. Anything from Gavin and Stacey, Alan Partridge, The Thick of It or Curb Your Enthusiasm is guaranteed to diffuse a tense situation. To be honest we need to have a laugh with the day to day business of raising our boys.

So how would we fare on a modern Mr & Mrs ? Well if one of the questions was what is his favourite George Michael song I'd laugh and say Careless Whisper. His tone deaf rendition is a wonder to behold. Much like his impressions of the characters in Coming to America. Sometimes it's not what you know about a person, but the history you share that matters. I will always cry with laughter when he stamps his foot and says, "Sexual Chocolate !" Well it's only polite isn't it ?