That Kid

That kid, you know the one, who always clapped half a second after everyone else.

That kid, you know the one, who went left when everyone else when right.

That kid who grew a bit, but was always short. Awkwardly so. Not short enough to be cute, just short enough that trousers were always too long, skirts on the knee not above.

That girl who got a bit older and wanted to wear the right clothes, but always got the shade a bit off, the fit a bit awkward.

Awkward covers it. Shy, then loud at the moment when everyone went quiet. Quiet, then found a voice but said the wrong thing. She thought about it too hard and too long. Maybe you know her. Maybe you met him.

He was that one who was so scared of missing out he barely did anything. She was desperate to be in, desperate to get it right. Maybe you were her. Maybe you were him.

That kid always grows up. That kid hits 21, 30, beyond. But she’ll always be that kid. Out of step at fitness class, a disaster on the dance floor, often awkward, still acutely aware of her average height and questionable clothes. Only now she’s ok with it, now she knows that the people who love her do so inspite of these things,  because of these things. Yeah that kid became that woman. And today, anyway, she’s just fine with that. 

Stay Curious

An empty square with an old fountain. A few wooden slatted benches. Three giant plants and a bike, locked up without love, rusting against the town hall brick. It’s pleasant. It’s pretty enough. It’s nothing remarkable. 

And yet…


To the five eager children that burst around the bend, it is a wonderland. Enthusiasm radiates from their eyes and through their laughter. An adventure is afoot. Anything could be hidden under those benches. Treasure and chances await in every corner, behind every plant pot. The bike tells a thousand stories; it’s a bike, a car, a spaceship.

On hands and knees, they manipulate themselves into tiny spaces, scrabbling to find the best prize. One finds a stone, cold and smooth. Another discovers a stick, wonky and knobbly, but a stick nonetheless. It, however, does not remain a stick for long. It fast becomes a wand, a sword, a pen, or whatever it needs to be for the next adventure. Heaven forbid that the stick should be lost. For today at least, it is irreplaceable.

Turning around, treasure stuffed in pockets, the red berries on the bushes are just out of reach and therefore they must be had. Standing on one leg, then the other. Jumping, hopping, reaching, stretching, whatever it takes until the berries are won. 

From what’s on high to what’s hidden below, the edges of the fountain are perfectly matched to the height of these six year old pioneers. On tip toes, with fingers grasping desperately at the the harsh stone lip, they peek excitedly over,  desperate to discover the hollow darkness, the pit into which the water trickles.  

Every nook is a question, every cranny a mystery, every paving slab a possibility, a game or a scheme.

The landscape is a castle, a desert, the moon. The seemingly mundane surroundings are the props and the tools to build a game, to extract squeals of delight, and to pass away a happy hour. The possibilities are endless. They could find anything, discover anything, do anything or be anyone. A space is all they need. 

A space and pure curiosity to find the answers to questions they didn’t even know they’d asked.



 The Side Less Seen

There’s no other way to talk about this without starting by saying that I love my son. Very, very, very much. This waiver is essential because, without it, it’s too hard to acknowledge and admit the plethora of other feelings that go hand in hand with having a baby.

It’s quite the cocktail and it causes regular hangovers. Sure, like every bloody thing about being pregnant and having having a baby, you’ll hear chapter and verse of it‘s totally normal and it’ll pass, but that’s not super helpful. The emotional fall out is also different for everyone – another damn annoyance: every single person has their own baby playbook, from ease or otherwise of conception to pregnancy symptoms and beyond. It makes it hard to compare or find that much promised “normal”.

And so, with all sorts of rollercoaster and marathon metaphors rolling around my head, I set out to write about and process some of the emotional challenges that go alongside parenting. Then, I promptly remembered that I hate rollercoasters and thus choose not to ride them. I can’t choose to avoid these emotions, however, so I need to write about them as literally and as matter-of-factly as possible.

First, then, there’s the frustration and resentment. Yes,  I find it hard that I can’t live my life like I used to. Bugger this idea that it’s okay to have a messier house or sick on your shirt. I hate these things and being told to lower my tolerance for unwashed dishes and greasy hair drives me insane. INSANE. I care about my environment being tidy and, although I’ve never been stylish or well-groomed, it at least means a lot to feel well-presented and, er, showered! Not being able to always have these things eats me up and leaves me feeling inadequate. Now, of course it’s true: your friends don’t care if there are no clean cups (the good friends come over and wash their own!) and most people are too busy making appropriate cute noises at baby to notice you’re not wearing makeup or jewellery, but I care and no amount of telling me not to will change that. When baby is crying or not settling, I feel frustration when I look around and see all the things I could be doing if only he’d go to sleep. It feels awful to admit that. I’ve got one job. One precious job that is incredibly special, and yet sometimes I want a break to do the most mundane things, so that when I come back to my job, the world around me is harmonious. Crazy? Maybe. But it is how I feel, and I am tired of feeling like that is something to be ashamed of.

But with that sentiment comes the guilt. Wanting my baby to be peaceful, to sleep, to eat well, and generally be okay are instinctive and easily qualifiable as normal. However, there’s a little but loud voice that keeps telling me that my motivations for wanting extended periods of peace are selfish, that I want an easy life first and a happy baby second. It’s madness. The two go hand in hand, but it seems impossible not to question my motivations and feel bad when I know they’re all wrong.

While a new mum is almost never alone, it can be lonely. When baby will only sleep in your arms and then wakes, feeds from you, and then needs comforting, it’s easy to feel pinned to the sofa. It’s easy to feel all on your own. I have a great husband, a steadfastly supportive family, and some wonderful friends, and yet I still can feel like there is nowhere to turn. Then, (until now, I guess), there are some people who I don’t want to face when I feel bad. There are people who I can only be around during an I feel like super mum phase. It comes down to trust and confidence, I guess. However, there is definitely a desire to hide these negative emotions and make out like I know exactly what I am doing when an hour earlier I tried to put a nappy on the wrong way and was walking around with toothpaste dripping onto my baby’s head while frantically trying to put the washing on and drink a cup of tea. All at the same time.

Feeling both bored and boring are common. There are only so many things you can do one handed and squeezed into the two hour window between feeds. I walk, go for coffee, write/type one handed, read, try and study German, but you can never give these things 100% of your attention. What’s more, and back to the guilt, I question if it is normal not to want to spend every waking moment starting at my precious ball of newness or playing with him.  As a result, it often feels like there is nothing to talk about other than my darling boy. Now I love talking about him. He’s the best, truly. However, I get that most people really don’t care that he smiled twice in one hour yesterday or that he hasn’t pooped for four days. My chat just isn’t good for most people, and I am very aware of boring them silly.

Most of the things I have described are probably fairly understandable on some level. It’s the sadness that’s hardest to put into word. Even today, out walking, baby fast asleep and settled with the sun warming my face and a cup of coffee in my travel mug, I felt sad. Really, really sad. For absolutely no good reason. For no reason at all.  I had no desire to appreciate the beauty around me or enjoy the mesmerising rise and fall of baby’s breathing. Little problems played over in my head, and I muttered along to myself about all the things that needed taking care of and wondering how I’d manage. Nursery rhymes were going around my head and driving me crazy. But mostly, I just stared blankly ahead and kept walking. On and on, staring into space.

So, yes, yes, that’s almost one thousand words of complaining about the best thing that’s happened to me. And that, I suppose, is the crux of the problem – understanding and coping with the fact that you feel bad during this wonderful, life altering time. For me, it’s okay. These feelings don’t last long. They come and go. They are intense, but manageable. For some, I know it is a lot, lot worse. I’m definitely more of a baby blues sufferer than a post-natal depression sufferer, for which I am very thankful. Personally, I think the answer is probably acceptance that these feelings are normal, willingness to share with friends how it’s going, and self-awareness so that I speak up if it does get too much.

People who know me won’t have seen much of this “other side”. I keep it tucked away at home, and that’s okay. I don’t need anyone to do anything differently, or help me. But I don’t mind admitting that for all the appearance of I’ve got this mamma thing down to a fine art, there is a lot of desperate paddling under water whilst the me on the surface holds it together.

And finally, and importantly, I felt the most joy this morning when my baby smiled at me because I was singing a made up song to the tune of Soft Kitty from “The Big Bang Theory”. The highs are often very high and they are much more frequent than the lows. It’s just, like everything, you don’t get the highs without the lows, and you don’t win any prizes for making out you’re okay all the time.

Image: Moini, Stork carrying baby (silhouette), https://openclipart.org/detail/264662/stork-carrying-baby-silhouette, May 10, 2017

Responsibility Weighs 7.4 kg

Your gentle in and out, your soft rise and fall are the rhythm by which I now live. You are reassuringly warm, and, despite it being my job to comfort you, I am the one who feels comforted. Solid and strong, the gentle ache in my arm reminds me that the task I’ve taken on is not easy. Little noises bring smiles, a snuffle here and there. And on you sleep and on I wait, still and calm until the next time you need me to be more than a warm home, more than a safe house.

Yes, responsibility presses hard against my chest, scarily and magically at the same time. A wonderful warmth.  A wondrous weight.

Bye Bye Quick Fix, Hello Plan

What can I do, what I can I take, what can I change to make this better?

These are common questions when it comes to anxiety. You just want the feeling to go the hell away. You think: if I quickly check that my straighteners are off, I’ll get some peace, some rest bite from the incessant nagging that if I don’t, I’ll be single-handedly responsible  for something awful happening. It doesn’t matter that the third sneaky peak on the way out of the house leads only to the fourth and the fifth lap of the house. There in the moment the only thing you need is to feel better, lighter, free of doubt.

Anxiety banks on you looking for the quick fix. It thrives on your hope that you can heal a flesh wound with a bandaid. Checking for the fifth time doesn’t make the anxiety go away; it briefly calms it before the storm strikes.

Why, then, do we keep relying on quick fixes?  Well, it’s natural to want to make our lives easier. It’s perfectly acceptable, too. It’s why a well-timed cup of coffee gets you through a tough morning.  It’s why washing detergent comes with an easy-pour spout. The problem, however, is that emotions can’t be turned on and off like a tap. Anxiety has no simple answer. Constant worrying can not be cured overnight.

Yet, lately, I’ve been all about the quick fix and it’s not working.

I know, for example, that my hair straighteners are off because I am looking at the plug where I used them and it’s empty. However, all I can see in my head is an image of them turned on. It’d be easy to go and look in my bedroom. It’d get rid of the doubt… for about ten minutes. Because, the more I check, the more I need to check. The more I try to calm the intrusive thoughts, the more strongly they imprint on my mind. Yet I can’t seem to help it. The cycle has started and the vicious circle is tightening its grip.

It’s time for some action. It’s time for a plan.

One treatment for anxiety involves pushing yourself through the stress of needing to check and coping with the intensity of sensation that comes from not checking. You have to force yourself not to give in to the misplaced notion that you can just check once and be better. It’s a trap I’ve fallen into a million times, yet one that’s all too often impossible to avoid. So, I’ve come up with the following in the hope of breaking out of this current pattern.

I will:

  • Allow myself to check once before I leave the house. That means a quick glance in each room to check that things are off.
  • Take a deep breath before the front door and accept the fact that I am feeling nervous about going out.
  • Leave the house, lock the door, and take another deep breath, again, accepting and noticing that I feel bad, but not allowing myself to give in.
  • Tell myself that if the feeling is as strong in five minutes, I can come home and check.

 

It will probably work about a third of the time for the first few days. It will probably never work all the time. It’s a reality I’ve long accepted. However, it is action. Since my little guy came along, I am even more aware that anxiety is a poison in my life, and a learned behaviour that I desperately don’t want to pass on. I’m fighting it for two, now.

It’s easy to write this down. It’s a list that’s meaningless until the next time I go out. It even seems to trivialise something that’s incredibly complex.  However, I gotta try, haven’t I? Nothing will change without recognising what’s going wrong and thinking about how to fix it. This half an hour of thinking it through, of typing it out, of sharing it in the hope of calming it is step one. It’s my way of saying bye bye, quick check, hello plan.

Compartments

I love things with pockets. Bags, jackets, even dresses. It makes it so much easier to compartmentalise. Phone, wallet, keys. Lip balm, tissues, pen. 

I also love bags within bags and boxes within boxes. Anything to keep everything in the right place. That way, when you need something, you’re not taking a gamble or a guess. You know where it is. You know where to look. No surprises. No wasted time.

Never works though, does it? You lose your lipbalm no matter how good your intentions, or end up with three in one coat and none in your jeans pocket. Sometimes, your keys make it to the bottom of the bag and your phone ends up in the outside pocket, not the inside zipper.

And life’s really not like that is it, no matter how much you wish it was? 
You bring work home and take your family stresses to the office. You skip an exercise class because mates are meeting. You’re late for dinner with a friend because you went out for that run. Bits of life end up in the wrong pocket even faster than the countless pens you had in your bag disappear down the side of the sofa. 

There’s nothing you can do about it. There’s no changing it. Life’s compartments have soft edges. The bits that make you whole don’t fit into neat boxes. The overlap is inevitable and what makes your life real. The sooner you accept that, the sooner you’ll start looking for your tissues in your other bag. ☺

Sleepy Saturday 

The sky outside, a pale grey canvas, has only the odd note of brightness as the afternoon edges to evening. Inside is the right place to be, to watch the day draw to a close.

Inside it is cosy. Inside it is quiet. Cars saunter by on the road outside and the shutters rattle in their frame, but the only sounds in here are the gentle rhythms of two snoozing boys. 

Their breaths don’t quite synchronise; one exhales loudly, the other more irraticly, still new to this world. In every other way, however, the likenesses are undeniable. Same restful gaze. Same flickering eyes. 

Thirty years apart, the very definition of different generations, the younger is a mirror of the older, both sound asleep as Saturday draws to a close.  
And the priveldge of looking on is mine. As I turn the pages of my magazine with care, desperate to avoid disrupting the peace, I’m grateful for these moments, the loves of my life and me on a sleepy Saturday afternoon. Nowhere to go, no one to see, just time for a rest as us three.