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 ?

Saturday, 9 February 2019

What is love ?

Brown Bear phoned me on Tuesday evening.
"Mummy I missed you and wanted to talk to you."
I was going home after a work function in London and talking to him made me smile on the late night drive home. He told me he was having a wedding the next day and could he have a ring to give Ava. I suggested he might want to take her to get a ring so she could choose herself. That was what me and daddy did when we got married. I also asked why we hadn't been invited and he said,
"Oh you can come if you like."
"Well. I'm at work. If you had told me earlier I could have taken the time off to come. I would like to come to your wedding."
"When I get married when I'm 18 or 19 or 20 I will invite you and Daddy. That will be my real wedding."
"Ok that sounds good. Thanks."
"I'll wait for you to come home so I can hug you."
"It might be quite late. You go to bed and I promise I will come and kiss you when I am home."
"Ok Mummy. I love you."
"I love you too baby."

Love is in the air as the song goes. At the moment you can't get away from it on the TV, in magazines, it's everywhere. The red roses, dine in offers, chocolates and cards. I have bought cards to give my boys and if they want to give a card to someone special I have the covered too. I say "I love you" to my boys all the time. They hear it a lot, but I also want them to know how special it is to feel loved. That reassurance you have that you are cared about and matter.

It isn't always plain sailing with Brown Bear. We argue a lot. I apologise to him a lot. I often reassure him that I love him more than I am annoyed with him. That my upset is borne of fear. When he was a toddler if he wandered off I would panic he was lost and my heart would stop. Until he was back in my arms and I would be upset and angry, but also overcome with love for him. That is how I feel now when we have a falling out. All that love and frustration melds into one big noisy mass. I try to explain to Brown Bear that love isn't always kissing and holding hands. If only it was.

In the evening I sit with Brown Bear and he reads his book next to me while I rest. Neo lies by my feet and we spend time together. It's become clear to me that for Brown Bear love means being close and present. It doesn't matter what we are doing, just that he is with me. Sometimes he will sit with his Match Attax book sorting out the cards. I check messages or fold washing and we just chat to each other while Hubbie reads a bedtime story to Blue Bear. One evening last week we were talking about when he was a baby. I told him that one of the happiest days in my life was when we found out we were  having him. I didn't know he was going to be a boy or what we would call him. I just knew that I loved him so very much. He said, "and when Blue Bear came to us." "Well you were there when we found out he was coming to live with us." We talked about how precious they both are to me and Daddy.

"Who do you love the most Mummy ?"
"Hmm. Probably Neo."
"No seriously Mummy."
"I'm being serious. He was my first baby."
"What about Daddy ?"
"Well of course Daddy. Without Daddy I wouldn't have you, or Blue, or Neo."
"What was your happiest day ?"
"Probably when you were born safe and well."
"And when you and Daddy got married."
"Yes it was."
"And when Blue came to live with us."
"Yes that was very special."

I talk to my son about love, because I love with all my heart and I suspect he will too. He will be open to have his heart broken and to get taken for granted. I want to wrap him up and protect him from feeling the pain, but I know I can't do that. Instead I can share the beauty of love and what it means to me.

Being present - either in person or in thought. I think about the people I love all the time. I hear a song, I see a familiar image, I pass a place and it reminds me of someone I love.

When my parents took me to Uni and dropped me off on my first day. As they drove away and I walked over to the students union I was terrified. Mum told me years later that dad drove only a little way along the road, stopped the car and burst into tears.

Hubbie made such an impression on my late grandmother when we went to India that she declared, "well of course he's Indian." She didn't speak English and his Punjabi is minimal yet they spent an afternoon watching cricket together and formed an incredibly close bond. When she died it meant everything to me that she loved him too.

After years of infertility I finally gave my mum the news that I was pregnant. She had tears in her eyes as she told me, "I prayed for this." I took her hands and said, "Thank you, it worked."

On a Sunday morning when Hubbie goes for a bike ride Brown Bear watches match of the day downstairs and Blue Bear lies in my bed watching cartoons. I point out the green birds in the garden and he declares, "it's the parrotinis" - makes my heart melt every time.

Not forgetting the old man of the family. Neo looks out for me when I am not home. He lies with the boys until they go to sleep and quietly slips away when they are. He puts his head against me and purrs softly. It tells me that I am loved.

Monday, 4 February 2019

A Mama Bear's work is never done

On Sunday we took the boys swimming. We try to have a family day when we can and part of that is taking them out to run off some energy and splash around so they sleep well. I was exhausted after a late night at a school event the night before. Whereas I usually swim on my own in the big pool I decided to stay with the boys in the small pool. As I moved around to stay warm I watched Blue Bear jumping in and swimming with his head under the water. It took my breath away. I remember when we first took him swimming and he would cling on and cry if we tried to let him go in the water. When I took him for swimming lessons he would get upset and sit on the side and shake his head forcefully insisting he wasn't going to go into the water today. I gave up being embarrassed and figured that if he wasn't going to be made to do it then I wasn't going to insist. Blue knows his own mind. He is a force to be reckoned with.

I thought about the little boy who first came to live with us. This tiny toddler who had a dummy in his mouth the entire time. He would put his hand over it if you tried to take it out. It was only ever removed to put in a milk bottle or if I managed to persuade him to let me brush his teeth. He barely spoke. He would shout or cry and his screams broke my heart. He slept in the cot next to my side of the bed and in the night I would feel his teeny fingers reach out to touch me to check I was there. In the end I would keep my hand inside the cot just next to his body. Not touching. He didn't like to be touched unnecessarily. Hugging was a one way street for a long time. We would hug him and he would allow us to, but he wouldn't participate. When we went anywhere he would stick close to us and hide if anyone spoke to him. 

This was 4 years ago. Now the story is very different. He has found his voice. Oh has he found his voice. Blue is a funny and engaging little guy. His teacher describes him as fun and kind which makes me so proud. He tells jokes. His laughter rings through the house and it is like magic hearing it. I recall the first time we met him at the foster carers' house and Hubbie was playing on the floor with Blue. He was hiding from him and lifting him up making him laugh. That throaty baby giggle that warms the heart. 

Yes he still wakes up crying and sometimes screams too. Early life trauma will do that to a child. I can't tell you how it feels to see your child shaking and sweating with fear and with tears all over his face. Inconsolable and unable to speak. All I know is that I comfort him and keep reassuring him that he is safe and we are here. We are not going away.

Brown Bear and Blue Bear now share a bedroom and a bunk bed. They were so excited to have their first sleepover the other week. My friend Soraya's son came to stay for the weekend and the boys were so excited to see him. They shared space, played and ate together, went to football with Hubbie and generally did boy things. At night when the boys went to bed I would kiss mine and when I went in to check on him I touched his head and wished him goodnight. The thought that he doesn't get a hug from his mummy any more was too much to bear. I didn't want to impose. When he was leaving I gave him a long hug - it was more for me than anything. 

This evening Brown Bear was really upset with me. He was tired and wasn't getting his own way. At one point I said, 
"Why didn't you ask me to help you ?" 
"You're a mum you're supposed to be able to read my mind." 
"I have read your mind since the day you were born. I have done everything for you. Now I want to teach you to be able to do things yourself." 
He looked baffled. 
"One day you will live somewhere else and will have to look after yourself. I won't always do everything for you." 
This boy has had me in his life since I put my hand on my belly and gave thanks for his very existence. How do I tell him that I won't always be here ? That his brother and his friend have already lost a mother and he is the only one of the three of them to still be with the woman who carried him. He takes me for granted. It isn't his fault. He doesn't know any different. His brother does. His friend does.

I have enough love for them all. Even if they don't believe it.