Monday, 23 March 2020

Do you know the five love languages ?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 21 March 2020

Do I get breakfast in bed ?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After all I am their mother.

Monday, 9 March 2020

Bulletproof and other myths.

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

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

Woman and small child dressed as Harry Potter character

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amy Winehouse sitting in a window with light surrounding her

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

Sunday, 1 March 2020

New York state of mind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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