Sunday, 26 January 2020

For the love of my boys

Sunday morning is when I hope that I will get a lie in, but I never do. The boys are always up earlier than I would like and they are often giggling away in their room and asking Alexa to make fart noises. Well they are boys after all. They are completely adorable and affectionate and the source of petty frustrations, annoyances and pretty much all the joy in life. They bring me such happiness and wind me up in equal measure. This morning they climbed into my bed to finish watching the Lego Batman Movie while I drank my tea. I picked up a book that the play therapist gave me last week. One Marble a Day is a book about adoption and long term fostering which goes into the feelings of loss and sadness. We read it together - all three of us.

Blue Bear has been more open and willing to talk to me about adoption in the last year. I haven't pushed him and have let him lead. As a result he is eloquent and thoughtful when talking about family. I speak to the boys about feeling sad. That it is ok to feel that way and we are all here for each other. Some of it must have got through because they have been trying to match make for me. During the Christmas break we bumped into my son's football coach. Brown Bear said he thought I should go out with him. I pointed out that coach is much younger than me and the response was, "you look really young Mum, it's ok." Much as I was flattered I doubt very much that his coach would want to go out with me. Of course there is some self interest in my football loving son wanting me to go out with a sports coach who he likes, but it's also really sweet that the boys are thinking about me. They want me to be happy and they want to find me a boyfriend.

I don't consider myself to be anything special at all. I have tried to live my life from a place of kindness and to do as much as I can for others. This does mean I have been prone to being taken for granted, but it doesn't meant I stop caring about other people. It does also mean, I haven't shown great judgement in the past. The big relationships in my life have been with men who really didn't want to be me with me that much. The appeal of drugs, other women and the rugby was stronger than any desire to be with me.

I have a tendency to try really hard to keep a relationship going - I call it loyalty, but it might be more accurate to call it denial. Dogged determination is fine in a career, but not so much in a relationship where there is an uneven distribution of affection. Early in my life I was told I was selfish and should be more grateful. In adulthood this manifests as a desire to prove I'm not a bad person. I have stayed in relationships even when I was 'invisible' or bullied because I didn't think I deserved any better. I would deduce that it must be something about me that made them like that - even though the behaviour / habit existed before I knew them. The need to be 'good enough' kept me turning up for men who didn't consider being with me to be even in their top ten priorities.

In the beginning it's all lovebombing and romance. Of course that doesn't last forever, but I would hold out for it becoming something like affection. Over time it would become clear that I was an afterthought at best. As the man pulled away from me I would do more and more to prove I was worthy of the scraps of affection I was getting.  I would go to great lengths to ensure that their needs were being met, with little acknowledgement. Of course if I said anything I was ungrateful for not noticing the effort they were making for me. After all I shouldn't have expected anything at all.

I grew used to being 'fitted in' to the spaces between the things that mattered. He would see me late at night after he'd been out with friends - like a guilty secret. If I asked for better I was told I expected too much. We would arrange to do something together, I'd look forward to it and then he would cancel a day or two before - I was expendable. If I said as much he would accuse me of being ungrateful and unappreciative. After all he was making an effort. He was fitting me in when he could. Then the inevitable guilt gifts, money usually. I remember once explaining to someone that the reason his partner was upset with the gift of money was that she didn't want to go for a spendy weekend away with her sister, she wanted to do something with him. Giving money says, "I have better things to do than spend my time with you," or "I'm paying you to leave me alone."

So, back to the search for a boyfriend. Last week my boy asked me who Rob Lowe was. He saw a photo of him on my vision board and I explained that I am setting the bar quite high. A great body, nice to look at, nothing flabby or saggy please. Truthfully though I'll be happy with simplicity. If I do go into another relationship I'd like it to be with someone who loves and appreciates me. Who looks at me like I am the most beautiful woman who walks the earth. Someone who gets my passion for swimming and cinema and strawberries. Someone who will sit with me on the sofa and put their arm around me - who likes to watch movies. Someone I can share a fantastic Indian meal with that I got from my mate Sara. Who makes me tea the way I like it. That's not a lot to ask for really. Well maybe the tea as I am quite particular about that.

My boys want me to be with someone who will love me and care about me. They want me to be happy and not on my own. For my part I'd like someone who will notice me and make time for me. Who wants to be with me and is free to be.

I can wait. I'm in no rush.

Sunday, 19 January 2020

Roaring into the twenties

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

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

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

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

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

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

sea with waves and bright sunshine
Morning sea swim

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

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

That is my 2020 vision.

Sunday, 12 January 2020

The pleasure principle

Today I ate tiramisu.

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

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

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

It's been quite an emotional period.

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 4 January 2020

Evolution - not revolution.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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