The wonder in every day

65CA98C5-A4D5-4B3F-AE93-643D54EA0514.jpeg

Who knew you could have so much fun wiping down the table after dinner? Orson thinks it is a fantastic game and can’t stop giggling as the cloth moves towards him and away again. That amazing baby giggle that can cheer up even the darkest day.

He is interested in everything. Open, curious, no expectations. He’s at the age where he can knock down a tower of building blocks a million times because the next time might be different.

He has given me a reason to notice the little things again.

– The way the dappled light falls beneath the trees
– The feeling of snow flurries on our face
– The intracacies of a zip
– The feeling of squishing raspberries between fingers
– The way the Christmas lights sparkle
– The joy to be had holding onto both feet and rolling around
– The comfort and contentment of a warm cuddle
– Pouring water
– The washing machine going around
– Everything about the cat -the way she moves, the way she feels, the way she sounds – he is fascinated

Everything he passes, he wants to reach out and touch.

There is no judgement, no control, no expectation. He is not dwelling on yesterday or worried about tomorrow. Purely living in the moment. He doesn’t know anything else.

There is a sparkle in his eyes because everything is magical.

So, just a little reminder to live like a child and see the wonder in every day.

There is no perfect in parenting

ABB39A47-6872-42B4-9EA3-7EA5F26678F4.jpeg

When I was pregnant my good friend bought a pack of nappies and everyone at my baby shower wrote little notes to put inside. It was a lovely idea for me to read in those hazy early days of nappy changing in the middle of the night. One of them really struck a chord – ‘If you care, you can’t go too far wrong’.

I was entering into motherhood with a really relaxed frame of mind. I was hyper aware of how my anxiety might affect parenting for me. During pregnancy I was still in counselling. I’d worked through a lot of issues, such as my perfectionism and my need for control. They weren’t huge issues and I wasn’t in counselling because I had a major mental health issue that needed addressing. Rather, because after going through bereavement counselling I realised that there were improvements I wanted to make for myself. I wanted to be happier in myself than I was. I wanted to live life to the fullest.

I’ve got such high standards of parenting from my Mum and Dad. I’ve written about what good parents they are before in ‘The vulnerable side of creativity’, but around Christmas time I’m reminded even more of the things they did to make my childhood so happy. When I was little they used to put up all the Christmas decorations once my brother and I had gone to bed on Christmas Eve. We’d wake up on Christmas morning to find not only a stocking at the end of the bed, but that the whole house had been decorated by Father Christmas and his elves. It was magical. Of course we had the normal arguments and fallings out over the years but all in all, they made my childhood pretty amazing. We had plenty of time with them, always on adventures, getting outside and close to nature. As I’ve got older they’ve always been the right balance of supportive, but respecting my independence. I have a lot to live up to.

So it was such an amazing thing to work through before taking this huge journey. Counselling along with mindfulness meditation and getting outside and back to nature helped me become the best version of myself. I was entering into this new phase of my life in a really good place.

And so, I became a mum.

And reality bites. Right from the outset I struggled with breastfeeding and bought a load of books to work out how to improve. I was stubborn and preserved through pain to carry on as I knew it was best for my little boy. I felt like I’d fallen at the first hurdle. But you can’t ‘learn’ breastfeeding from books. It was tough, it needed practice, I needed to use my intuition, I needed to get to know my boy. We needed to get to know each other. We needed trust and patience and time. We needed love. I’m glad that we’ve reached 7 months and still breastfeeding, but looking back I was a bit of a martyr.

I’ve always been anxious over too much choice. In this internet age I think parenting is even more overwhelming. At the touch of a button you can get every opinion under the sun on absolutely every topic (even things you hadn’t been concerned about). You can slip into a rabbit warren of information. Breast feeding, sleeping, weaning, illnesses, milestones, routines… Every tiny little thing, every decision there is to be made, I worry whether it is the right one. Every day I go from being super relaxed and trusting my instinct, to doubting myself and wanting to make a well researched and well informed decision, armed with all the facts. In fact, this isn’t just on a daily basis, it’s sometimes hourly.

There have been times I have called my parents in tears worrying about what I’m doing wrong when the boy is just really grizzly or he won’t sleep. When he’s had a little eczema I wonder whether it is the solids, the washing powder, an allergy, just normal for his age. When he’s not sleeping I worry about whether I’ve made the wrong call feeding him to sleep, cuddling him or rocking him for all his naps.

I know this is par for the course of being a parent. You worry. About everything.

But I’ve been starting to fall back into old habits. I’ve been going a bit crazy researching everything. I’ve been reading and reading and reading some more. I end up with a ton of information, conflicting opinions, complete overwhelm and an inability to move forward. And then I cry, desperate to find the perfect solution. He’s just so perfect that I want to be the perfect parent.

A couple of days ago I think everyone had had enough of my constant worrying. David told me to get a grip and stop crying. He is incredibly patient with me when I’m really struggling with my anxiety but he also knows exactly when I’ve reached the point when I need tough love. My parents know the same. Literally an hour later my mum told me I need to stop reading so much, get rid of the books and just trust my instinct.

So, I wiped away the tears, I took a few deep breaths.

I’m putting away the parenting books. I’m giving Google a rest. I’m being more mindful of what I’m reading on social media, and the opinions I’m listening to.

Parenting is tough and wonderful in equal measure. It’s being present and shed loads of love, but there is no ‘perfect’ in parenting.

Right now, I’m remembering that quote again. If you care, you can’t go too far wrong.

And I don’t think I could care more.

The social media balancing act

754F8AB3-56B0-4ECD-83C0-56F289F51A7E.jpegSo it’s the 1 December today – count down to Christmas. How do I know that? Well it’s all over Instagram of course. I certainly forgot to open our advent calendars until I saw my feed.

David called me out on Bonfire night for being on my phone at the fireworks. He said I was like one of those people who go to gigs and watch it through their I-pad. Not cool!

So it’s been on my mind the last couple of weeks. I’ll be honest, I have become more and more pre-occupied with taking a photo for Instagram, or jotting down notes for my blog. Scrolling through feeds while I’m feeding the boy (which is a lot – even during the night) and talking constantly to David about things I’ve seen on Facebook or Pinterest.

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with social media (maybe most of us do?). One of the happiest times of my life was when I had a 3 month break. To be able to do that I had to suspend my accounts and delete the apps from my phone, otherwise I just kept checking on auto-pilot. It was complete cold turkey.

The break was not only refreshing, it was life-altering.

I already thought I knew how much time I wasted mindlessly scrolling through feeds. Without social media apps, I went onto my phone and there was suddenly nothing to do, so I had time for other things (i.e. life!). I could read books without getting distracted, watch entire movies without interruption, exercise without excuses. I woke up in the morning at the weekends and instead of going on my phone and getting side-tracked by other people’s plans and lives – I could live my own.

It gave me time to really get to know myself without the intrusion of what other people were doing. I have a tendency to be a bit of a chameleon and adapt to what I see. Social media had a way of making me more materialistic. In my darkest times in life I have been immensely jealous and going online has been anything but motivating. I saw people living lives that I wish I had, but I had no way of getting out of the black hole I was in. When I left social media and faced up to myself, with time to do so, it revealed my true desires, rather than getting carried away with the things that everyone else was doing. The break also gave me time to form my own opinions.  Instead of reading what other people thought and adopting that stance, I had a chance to decide for myself. I spent my time on the people that matter and the interests I love, using my time for books, and cooking, and music. Life slowed down. Without the constant bombardment of things, opinions, information. My head found space. I found myself.

When I made the decision to come back to social media, it wasn’t one I made lightly, but it was one that I entered into equipped with new tools. During my time off I had embraced minimalism and decluttering, and took this through to social media. I stopped following accounts I no longer found useful, inspiring or fun. I de-friended people that I wouldn’t call or meet up with. So gone were the reams of highlights from all the acquaintances I had picked up over the years – friends of ex-boyfriends, the colleagues from jobs long in the past. I was no longer living a past life online. It sounds harsh but I just had to clear the way.

What I did get were all the good bits. Seeing my friends’ babies reach milestones, family travelling the world, knowing when people close to me were going through things. I felt more connected than I had in a while.

And now… at the moment it all still feels super positive. I’m building a (tiny) following on Instagram and feel part of an inspiring online community. I’m following people that share my core interests and beliefs – living positively through mental health issues, getting outside, being kind and being grateful for all that life has to offer (whether that’s undertaking big challenges, or just enjoying their Friday night glass of wine). Becoming a mother can be isolating in so many ways, and social media has been a way of connecting. I go on Instagram and always see something I need to see, just as I need it. A reminder to be present, that I’ll feel much better getting outside into nature, something funny to lift me out of a bad mood or a reminder that I’m doing ok at this mum job. There is advice, help and support. It may not be as worthy as a real life community but at the moment it feels pretty good.

But – I don’t want to be that person on my phone when I’m having dinner with my loved ones, or taking in the scenery via my iphone camera.

I need to watch as the time I spend on social media creeps up. I need to check the emotions I feel. I need to be sure that it is still serving the purpose I need it to. I need to be mindful.

I guess at the end of the day, as with everything, it’s all about balance.

 

*Disclaimer* The irony of writing this and sharing on Instagram is not lost on me – just maybe put your phone away once you’ve read it!

 

The vulnerable side of creativity

3EB6E453-9D8C-463B-8336-1A1C6254B333.jpeg

Today I decided to share my blog on Facebook. It was a scary step. But I wasn’t too sure why it was so scary seen as it has already been out in the public domain for a few months on Instagram. And a public account at that – for all the world to see (well those who are interested anyway!)

I’ve been dwelling on it today and I know why. It’s partly because of the level of intimacy that this involves. Instagram is a step removed. Yes, you can show the world every little aspect of your life, but you can also shape it and edit it to be who you want to be. Facebook however is mainly just made up of my close friends and family. It’s where I’m the me that everyone knows, the old me, the me that I am around my closest loved ones. I am the person people expect me to be. And I’m not sure that this blog is what people are expecting.

Also (and probably more importantly) I needed to make sure that my parents were ok with it first. It’s a very personal, open and honest account. There are things in there that I haven’t shared with them.

We don’t really talk too much about emotions. We always ask that the other is ok, but we don’t really have those deep conversations. Events over the last few years have made us talk more, but we still don’t tend to dwell or delve. It’s as though we know when we are in pain, or suffering, we just don’t need to articulate it. I wasn’t sure how they would react to me ‘airing my dirty linen in public’. So I had to run it past my mum and dad first.

The thing is, despite the fact that we don’t talk that much about deep feelings; they have always been there for me 100%. They’ve listened to me cry, and they’ve caught me when I’ve fallen. They know I’m headstrong and independent, so they support me without question. Then when I fall to pieces, when I’m vulnerable and overwhelmed they pick me up again. They understand. It just always goes without being said.

So, I mentioned my blog off-hand, and didn’t make a big thing about it. They didn’t seem hugely interested, probably because I’m quite a ‘faddy’ person and this was probably just another one of those things. A few weeks later I sent them the link to have a read. When I saw them a few days later I didn’t bring it up, but my mum said at some point that she’s had a read and that she didn’t know where I got my writing ability from. I asked her if she thought it was good, and she said yes. That was all I needed to hear.

She then said that I shouldn’t worry about any negative comments I get online. She’s so intuitive that she’s already picked up on what will get to me. What is hiding in the back of my mind, the thing that might make me give up. She would never tell me not to do something, even if she thinks I shouldn’t, but she’ll be there for me when the times get tough.

So, I’ve finally shared it amongst more intimate circles. I’m still finding my feet with my writing. I’m still exploring. Any form of creativity leaves you open. On one hand I want to be brave, and ‘fake it til I make it’. I won prizes when I was younger for my writing and one of the pieces I wrote when I was around 15 made my teacher cry when I read it out. Then on the other hand I don’t want to be a show off. I’m unsure. I’ve been hiding my writing away in journals for the last 10 years. It’s easier that way. Some pieces I publish aren’t perfect, but I’ll never get anywhere if I wait until they are. Such is the creative process. There is never a definitive end point.

 

Right now, I’m vulnerable. I’m genuinely humble but I’m eager. I want to craft, I want to graft. I want to learn, improve, find my place and learn some more. I want to take all the opportunities I can. I want to enjoy the process, but also try new things and be fearless. Most of all I want to stay true to my real self.

 

Escapism

IMG_6216

 

In August, I escaped to Cornwall with my boys. For the first time in a while I unplugged completely from social media and went off grid. It was our first holiday with O and we walked on beaches, we carried him along the coast path, we lay in the sunshine and took long lunches. It was bliss, yet I was also wracked with guilt.

I’ve escaped like this once before. In the autumn of 2010 we ran away to Snowdonia. We hid out in our cottage, climbed mountains by day, and got drunk every night. I didn’t post photos of what a great time we were having because in reality, I was broken inside.

Both these times left me ridden with guilt and shame.

On these occasions, I didn’t have a digital detox to consciously take care of myself. In reality I didn’t go on social media because I was too afraid of showing people what I was doing when I should have been grieving, when I should have been supporting my family.

The day we left for Cornwall was the day my mum had her operation to remove a brain tumour. She gave us her blessing to go on our first holiday together. We knew she’d be sedated for a few days and always planned to return after the long weekend, once she was awake. As it turned out she remained sedated over the course of the next few weeks.

When we ran away to Snowdonia in 2010, my little brother had just been killed. I’d stayed with my parents while his body was repatriated from Afghanistan, through the identification, the press intrusion, the post mortem, the funeral planning. But it was 4 long weeks before his funeral could take place. I felt close to breaking point, like I would struggle to carry on.

So I escaped.

Both times, I left my parents behind to face things. It’s something I’m not proud of. They probably needed me but I was selfish. All I could consider was how I was on the verge of collapse.

Escaping, being at one with nature, simple pleasures, helped me to reconnect. Removing myself from our normal day to day world helped me to come back, fresh and alive, ready to face what I needed to face.

It was therapy for me, there is no doubt about that, yet I’ve only just been able to be honest about this.

So now, I’m working through the guilt and the shame, I must make peace. This is my first step.

 

The harder you try to hold on to something, the further it slips away

IMGP5825_edited

We are on the cusp of a huge life decision and it’s filling me with excitement, eagerness and enthusiasm on one hand, then crushing fear, worry and procrastination on the other. I’ve noticed that this seems to be a pattern at the moment. I’m just stuck in the middle a little and I’m trying to cling on more than I should.

I’m craving my body back after over a year of pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding, yet at the same time I can’t believe how quickly my little boy is growing and I just want time to slow down.

I’m enjoying a more ‘normal’ pace of life, being mindful of the everyday mundane moments, but at the same time desperate for adventure. Reminiscing about days where I could drop everything and head to the mountains, but realising that I am also so fulfilled with my small family and the comfort of the life and home that we are creating.

My mum is back home after her long spell in hospital. On the one hand, she’s up and about, starting to get back to normal, walking, cooking, and enjoying things again. Yet, her speech is still slurred and may never recover, her short term memory is shot so she’s lost a lot of confidence and she may still need to undergo radiotherapy.

Teething, weaning, separation anxiety – every day brings new challenges with my little one. On some days it’s a battle just getting us up, fed and dressed, yet on other days he takes it all in his stride. He’s both amazed at the smallest things, yet super frustrated that he can’t do more.

In all these areas, every day is different. I feel the urge to both embrace the change and go with the flow, yet also to put the brakes on and make time stand still.

And here I am, stuck in the middle.

I find that I’m clinging. The more I’m in limbo, the more I want to try to control. But the more I try to control, the more things change. There’s a paradox right there.

At times like these, all through my life, I find getting outside so liberating. When you’re outside and at one with the elements, there is nothing you can control. You can be prepared, but you definitely can’t control. Especially when it’s wild, and you’re at the extremes, you have to let it flow. The weather, the terrain, your physical abilities and your mental state – each adventure is unique. You have to be present, rather than dwelling on the past or future.

So, now more than ever I’m understanding the place that adventure has in my life. It’s certainly harder to do now, but still so important. So my mission now is to plan where I can, take bold leaps of faith and then go with the flow and adapt where necessary. That’s all I can do.

Why mediocrity is more than ok

This morning I’ve been feeling pretty crappy. Nothing in particular has happened, just a bad night’s sleep and too much Instagram scrolling in the wee hours of the morning whilst I’m up feeding. Factor in staying at home to wait for a delivery and I’m feeling decidedly ‘meh’.

Although, it’s more than that, as I’m certainly not indifferent. It’s a feeling that has been building. I’m struggling with the transition my life has taken. I’m jealous of other people’s adventures. I’m feeling a bit trapped and the old ‘what am I doing with my life?’ questions, doubts, procrastinations are dominating my head this morning. I can’t make decisions, I can’t focus and I feel a bit frustrated. There are so many things I want to do, so many ways I want my life to be, so many decisions to make. It’s terrifying, and overwhelming and just too much. It’s also nothing new. This is the way my anxiety is. The only thing that’s new is that I recognise it now. I don’t realise straight away, it kind of has a habit of creeping up on me. But I do eventually notice the niggle and the doubts, the feeling I just can’t shake, and that’s the most important thing.

In the past I used to default to making grand plans when I felt like this – arranging big holidays, extravagant purchases, challenges, acting on impulse – but it didn’t help the feeling to go away. That’s the thing, acting out of jealousy and frustration won’t generally lead you to what truly matters. I’d generally be acting on other people’s ideals, expectations or circumstances. But, through trial and error over the last few years, I do know what I need to do to get through, I just need more of a gentle hand guiding me there. It’s not glamorous, or particularly revolutionary but I have the three things written down on my phone.

It seems basic but it starts with just getting one simple little thing done. Today I made hummus. It’s super easy to bung a load of stuff together and blitz, but my lazy arse side can’t be bothered with the mess of cleaning up the food processor. Especially when I’m struggling with the meaning of life and what the hell I’m doing with mine! But just doing this one small thing, I feel a sense of accomplishment. Not that you can call it cooking, but making something from scratch rather than buying something gives me such a sense of accomplishment (granted on a small scale). Generally it will give me momentum to get a few more things done.

Next I write down three things that I’m grateful for. When jealousy creeps up, or a sense of feeling lost in this world, it’s super easy for me to wallow. In an ideal world (and this was much easier pre-baby) I’d wake up and list three things that I’m grateful for in my journal every morning. Now it’s less of a pre-emptive strike and something I turn to when I know I need it (which is often a bit too late but I’m working on it!). Now, my life is full of abundance but my mind has a funny way of tricking me into thinking that I’m lacking. Social media has a big part to play in that (but that’s a story for another time). Once I’ve written down my gratitude list, everything feels lighter and clearer.

Finally, I get outside. I may not be able to go far today as I’m stuck waiting for this delivery, but even out into the garden is enough to clear my head. Fresh air, being closer to nature, seeing beauty in the small wonders – it never makes me feel worse. Nature is my medicine.

We spend so much time inside our own heads – that’s why the most important lesson you can learn is that it’s only YOU that can make YOU happy.   Those who have been dealt hardship upon hardship have proven that you can still find happiness, by being grateful for even the smallest of things.

Today may not be the day I climb a mountain. I may not see an Instagram-ready sunset or be full of profound, motivational wisdom. But I’ve made peace with this and I’m feeling grateful for today in all its mediocrity.

If I haven’t done anything else today, at least I’ve made hummus.