Hope

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At the time of the 7/7 London bombings I was working in Kings Cross. By a stroke of fate I had decided to take that single day as holiday; had I been working it’s possible that I would have been in Kings Cross underground station at around the time of the attacks.

Instead I sat at home watching the news unfold from my bed, piecing together information and desperately trying to contact family and friends. After the initial shock had sunk in and reassuring phone calls had been made, and received, my overriding feeling was one of defiance. The next morning with steely determination I travelled to work via the tube. My usual route was disrupted as Kings Cross station remained largely closed while emergency services continued their work, but I was resolute that I would continue my life as close to normal as possible. I would not allow these attackers to affect me, I would not change my life, I would not allow the terrorists to win.

This year I have sat at home and watched the news as two more terror attacks have been carried out in the UK – in Westminster and Manchester. I am unsure whether it is the passing of 12 years or because I am now a mother, but in the wake of these attacks I did not feel defiance or determination – I felt sad. Hugely and overwhelmingly sad.

Sad for the unimaginable grief of those worst affected and sad to be forced to realise that there are people living around us with such anger and despair in their hearts that they would carry out attacks killing themselves and the most innocent of people around them. The attack in Manchester targeted an event attended, on the whole, by children and young people with their families. Not policy makers, not politicians, not even those who are old enough to vote and influence any system – just youth and innocence.

What I realise now is that while there is a place for defiance, for not allowing fear to prevent us from living life to its fullest, defiance alone is not enough. There is no win or gain to be had in being unchangeable in the face of sadness and shock. Because, the thing that has lightened my heart amidst the tragedy, amidst the heartbreak, is that there have been changes. Amazing changes. People have broken their usual social barriers and opened their homes and cars to strangers, people have offered their services and goods for free. People have joined together with a new strength and compassion. Parents have hugged their children tighter. People have told each other they love each other more.

These changes give me hope – hope for the world that my daughters are growing up into. There is still so much good in the world. Our job as parents is to help our children believe in the power of good and to never give up on the hope of peace.

“every act of evil unleashes a million acts of kindness. This is why shadows will never win while there is still light to shine” – Aaron Paquette.

Kindness

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Today is World Kindness Day. I have to admit that, sadly, it’s not a day that I have paid much attention to previously, but given the political events of the past week, and the past year, it has suddenly felt so needed and so welcome.

Whatever reasons voters gave for choosing Trump, he has won the Presidential election in spite of, if not because of, his overt sexism, racism and intolerance. It’s a heartbreaking state of affairs and for many it’s outright scary. Kindness feels just the antidote, and the thing we should be celebrating and reinforcing right now.

I am grateful that my daughters are too young at the moment to understand the significance of the US electoral vote, I am grateful that they are still dreaming of their future without fear, without doubt, without borders, trusting that they can be whatever they chose whether that be a ballerina, doctor, bus driver or bunny rabbit in the case of Little Roo.

But, as a parent, more than ever, I feel the responsibility of teaching my children the importance of kindness in all of its forms: love, empathy, compassion, inclusion…. To teach my daughters about equality and instil in them a fight to ensure that they are treated as nothing less than equal merely because of their gender – to show them that the only thing that can truly limit how much they achieve is their own imagination and their own determination – and to ensure, in turn, that they treat no one as less than equal, regardless of ethnicity, religion, race, sexuality, or any other factor. We are all human. Differences should not be tolerated, they should be celebrated.

The messages of hope that I have seen post election have given me hope – hope that this election result pushes us to do more, to think more, to be better. If we live with kindness at the forefront of our consciousness we can do better than we are now – our children can do better, our children can be better.

I went there…

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I always vowed that I would never write about breastfeeding – it has become a far too contentious issue. Today though Facebook decided (for reasons known to its algorithm and marketing strategy) that I may like to read this article from 2013 commenting on the Save the Children campaign calling for large cigarette-packet style warnings on all boxes of formula milk – warnings which would state that formula is inferior to breast milk.

The rationale behind the campaign is that a reported 830,000 babies a year (in developing countries) could be saved by breastfeeding, in particular if colostrum – mother’s first milk – is given within the first hour of life, kickstarting the child’s immune system.

Sadly, formula milk is often inappropriately and aggressively marketed in poor countries which, coupled with a lack of midwife support, can lead mothers to believe it to be a better choice for their babies than breastmilk, even if they do not have regular access to clean water with which to mix the formula. Prominent messaging on all boxes of formula would aim to educate women around the world on the benefits of breastfeeding allowing informed decision making by the mother.

This is a situation that I had not been particularly aware of – so thank you facebook, three years too late, but I am a little more educated.

The irony for me is that had I been directed to this article in 2013, when it was first published, I would not have been able to read it, at least not all the way through and not without dissolving into tears.

It was published a few months after Miss Lizzie was born and I would have been overcome with guilt at my own breastfeeding issues. This article actually places no judgement upon mothers who formula-feed, but I would have felt it. The notion of inferiority in relation to formula milk would have stung so deeply; the words “cigarette” and “warning” would have swum before my eyes and fresh feelings of upset at my inability to breastfeed my child would have floored me. The bigger picture of the lives of hundreds of thousands of babies in developing countries would have sadly been lost on me – I was in the blinkered stages of early motherhood and my single focus was my child. For the hundredth time that day I would have hated myself for failing my child – because as a mother who could not breastfeed her baby that is how I felt, or more correctly, that is how I was made to feel. At the time I did a fairly good job of disguising how devastated I was to anyone save my immediate family, but it was there and it very much affected how confident and how happy I felt as a new mother.

Today we are judged on almost all aspects of parenthood but none more harshly and none more openly than when it comes to feeding. Breastfeeding is the “beautiful” and “natural” choice but where does this leave formula-feeders – unnatural mothers? Ugly? Mothers who formula-feed their babies have become fair game for critics and comment. While I wholeheartedly support the need to educate mothers around the world on the benefit of breastfeeding, we need to address the antagonism shown to mothers who formula-feed. At its very worse I have seen social media threads where formula-feeding has been likened to abuse of your baby. The message is no longer “breast is best” but “breast is best and formula is dreadful”.

This is my plea – do you live in a country where access to information regarding breastfeeding is significantly limited? Are you a healthcare professional working with new mothers? If the answer to these questions is ‘no’ then you do not need to question or comment on a mother’s choice of how she feeds her baby. You do not know the reasons that a mother chooses to formula-feed her child. You do not need to know. You do not need to understand. You do not need to judge. You need to respect that that mother is probably doing the very best job that she can.

Making a mother feel guilty for her feeding choices does not make her a better mother. Guilt makes us angry and it makes us sad. Guilt makes us resentful and makes us turn on each other. Guilt cannot change the impossible into the possible.

Rediscovery

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After I had my children I knew that my body would be different, but I was still surprised when it came to dressing myself. It wasn’t just that my pre-motherhood clothes no longer physically fitted me, it was that they mentally did not fit.

Some mums seem to fit seamlessly back into their pre-motherhood persona, just slotting in their small new addition and carrying on as the same person. I didn’t. I was lost at sea.

After having Little Roo I entered the world of the stay-at-home mum. I was incredibly lucky to be in a position where I could stay at home with my daughters, but it was brand new and I was without the identify I had worn since the age of 19 working full time in London.

Pre-motherhood I had always been a confident dresser; I knew who I was, I knew how to dress me. I felt I understood my life, felt I understood my peers. I was happy enough if my clothes drew questions or comments (negative or positive) I enjoyed clothes and used them as a way to express who I was and how I was feeling.

But, as a stay-at-home mum, my place in the world had changed. How people treated me changed. How my clothes needed to work for me changed. How I felt about myself changed.

I looked in my wardrobe and everything seemed wrong. My life seemed so far removed from what it used to be it was as though I was looking at someone else’s clothes. Who did I used to be, and was I still that person? How do I begin to dress this body and dress this person that I don’t know? I began to sympathise with the women who turned up at the supermarket and school gates in their pyjamas. Perhaps they too had looked in their wardrobe and just had not known.

A big part of me felt that it shouldn’t matter. How insignificant and superficial to worry about clothes when I have much more important things (people) to care about. And actually, it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter at all – just being in clean clothes was a big enough challenge.

Gone were the days of enjoying dressing myself. Any new clothes purchases were purchases of practicality, rather than a purchase of passion. To work for a person who spent most of her days crawling around the floor covered in food. To hide, to blend in, to not draw attention to me as a mother – a mother who feels like she’s making most of it up as she goes along.

There is nothing wrong with practical choices. Nothing wrong with dressing for your lifestyle. Except that, as the months went by, and my Pinterest style boards filled up with more and more (and more) images it struck me that those people who met me since having little Roo wouldn’t even guess that I ever had any interest in style or fashion unless they followed me on Pinterest. Something was wrong with that. It wasn’t that I cared whether or not people thought I was fashionable, or even whether they liked what I was wearing. It wasn’t about the clothes themselves – it was that there was a part of me that I shut away because I lost my confidence in myself.

A few months ago these faux leather skinnies found their way into my wardrobe. Superficial and insignificant to some, a poor fashion choice to many. To me they represent rediscovery. I am still getting used to my new body, still getting used to my new world, but slowly, slowly a little confidence is making its way back in. Confidence to no longer just need to hide.

These trousers are not a practical choice; they are never going to cut it at soft play – faux leather meeting a sticky plastic slide is only ever going to end in tears. (On the flip side toddler snot and spilled drinks just wipe straight off them.) They are in my wardrobe because I love them, because even though my life has changed, some parts of me can still be the same as they always were.

Take a stand

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Last week when I picked Miss Lizzy up from pre-school, one of her teachers relayed to me that there had been an ‘incident’. In the two minutes it took me to get upstairs to her my mind raced with images of injuries, fights and a million improbable scenarios. (I wish my brain functioned as quickly in all situations.)

As it turns out Miss Lizzy had been reading a book when all the children were asked to put away their activities and transition to lunch. Miss Lizzy is usually one of the first to do what her teachers ask her to do, but that day, instead of complying, she told her teacher that she wanted to continue reading her book. When her teacher had insisted, Miss Lizzy had thrown the book to the floor in anger. She was kept behind and made to tidy away her book – something that she reluctantly, and after some persuasion, eventually did.

I wasn’t sure what was expected of me in terms of my response to this, but I appreciated the insight into my daughter’s day. I reiterated to Miss Lizzy, in front of her teacher, that she must do what she was told and Miss Lizzy apologised.

Later that evening, over a telephone catch up with my mum, I mentioned how Miss Lizzy had acted at school. My mum’s response was “good”.

Good? I was at least expecting “oh dear”

Mum explained – Miss Lizzy is always such a good girl, always doing what she is told, she felt it showed great spirit that Miss Lizzy had stood up for something that she wanted; that when she really believed in something that she would take a stand.

How true.

I tell my daughters every night, before they go to sleep, that I love them and that I am proud of them. That night I was proud of Miss Lizzy for taking her stand.

Today is International Women’s Day. A day of recognition and celebration of the achievements of women around the world. A day when we, as women, join together to fight for women’s rights. A day when we try to initiate positive change in women’s lives.

I do not know what my daughters will achieve in their lifetimes. I do not yet know what challenges they will face, nor what obstacles they will have to overcome. I do not know what equality will look like by the time they reach adulthood.

I have no expectations of my daughters, but I have hopes for them and hopes for me as their mother.

I hope that I will be able to inspire my daughters to realise their potential, to help them find a place of confidence in the world, wherever that be. I hope they understand that education is a privilege not a chore. I hope that ‘happy’ and ‘fulfilled’ have more meaning to them than ‘popular’ and ‘pretty’. I hope that they will always stand by each other.

And lastly, I hope that I can allow my daughters the freedom to take a stand when they really believe in something.

Mother’s Day 2016

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My Mother’s Day actually started on Saturday afternoon when I arrived home – Miss Lizzy, too excited, blurted out “Mummy, I picked you a card with a bunny rabbit on it and we bought you a book” So, I opened my card and presents yesterday while Miss Lizzy sang happy birthday to me – close enough.

Little Roo decided that last night was not a night for sleeping and bestowed upon me the gift of just 3 hours sleep in my bed.

This morning both girls were up even earlier than usual at 6am sharp. I could pretend that this was because they could not wait to give me an early morning Mother’s Day hug but it is more likely that they were excited to see their Nannie (Mrs Don) who had stayed the night at our house and who has fun videos to watch on her phone. So, at 6.05am I lay in our spare bed with Miss Lizzy, Little Roo and my mother-in-law staring bleary-eyes at the screen of her phone.

The Don woke in a panic at 6.40am, knowing that he’d messed up a little by being the last one up. Making amends he made breakfast for us all. Fruit porridge for me – from which Little Roo pinched all of my fruit leaving me with just porridge.

The rest if the day we spent at my parents, with my sister and brother-in-law, doing what I do best – eating and drinking Prosecco.

Right now, I am in bed, laptop open, girls asleep, my head slightly fuzzy, reflecting on my Mother’s Day with real happiness – even the bits that weren’t textbook perfect were perfect to me because I was lucky enough to spend time celebrating with my children and with my wonderful mum. Lucky to have a day filled with so much love.

Many people don’t get to do this – those without their mum, without children who should be there, without partners or family to spoil them. To those people I raise my final glass of the day. I toast your strength and your courage and I hope that your tomorrow is brighter x

Staying Whole

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Lots is written about being a mum.  Not so much is written about being a person after having children.  When you have a baby you become a mum, but what becomes of you?

A few months  ago, my (rather brilliant) sister said to me that the most important thing she felt a mum could be was to be a whole person – my first thought was “what the bloody hell are you talking about?!” but then I began to think.

I put a lot of thought, time and energy into how I parent my daughters – into being a mum – what they eat, what they play, where we go, where they will go to school, what groups they attend, what experiences I provide for them, what they wear, how I discipline them, how I talk to them, our daily routine etc, etc, etc…

But that conversation with my sister left me wondering how much time and energy I invest in being me. Of course I am a mum, that is me, but is it the whole me, and more importantly, should it be?

How often do we read and hear quotes such as “my children are my whole life”, “my children are everything” and how often do we question this?

That conversation made me realise how I was beginning to lead my life.  Was I in danger of losing me entirely to being a mum?  In my life before children I had a career, I loved to travel, I loved fashion, I loved to eat out and I loved art.  I chose to give up my career so that I can stay at home with my girls, and in the haze of being a mum to two little ones I realised that I gave up on all of the other parts of me as well.  I had so little energy due to lack of sleep and so much less time that it was just easier to devote all of my energy into my girls.  It wasn’t even a conscious thought, it just happened.  Motherhood took over.

That said, even in conscious thought, I would willingly sacrifice pretty much anything for my girls.  But, I am attempting to raise them to have drive, to have ambition, to be brave, to lead a passionate and exciting life filled with laughter and adventure (and more).  So, I must lead by example.  I must be a role model.  It would be so easy to allow it, but I cannot make my girls my everything.  I cannot burden my daughters with being my only passion.  That is an unfair weight for them to carry.

I am thankful every day for my girls, to experience being a mum and everything that comes with it (even the crap bits).  I know I am blessed beyond measure.  My daughters’ lives are ridiculously important to me – but they are their lives, not mine.  I cannot live through them.

I love being a mum. But I am more than that.

I am not who I was before I had children. I never will be.  Motherhood has fundamentally changed me and changed my view of the world.  But, for my sake and for the sake of my girls I know that I need to make the time and find the energy to be a new and whole me.  To be a person who is multifaceted and complete with interests, likes and dislikes so that I can inspire them and offer a rounded view of the world.

I am not (unfortunately) Wonder Woman.  I am still tired.  I still have less energy.  I still find balance hard.  I am just now learning to live a life where being a mum and being me can co-exist, to let go of the guilt and live some parts of my life just for me. But instead of “my children are my everything” my slogan reads “my children are incredibly important to me, I love them to bits, but I do also have other things in my life that I am passionate about which might sound a bit selfish but it is important for me and my children”. Doesn’t quite roll off the tongue but still….

Titanic

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I have always found the end of Titanic intensely frustrating.  Surely that piece of wood was plenty big enough for both Kate Winslet and Leonardo to float on.  It never rang true to me.  They just didn’t try hard enough.

That was until one night not so long ago.

Little Roo was poorly.  She had a soaring temperature and a relentless cough.  After what felt like the 100th time of attempting to settle her in her cot, I caved in.  Desperate to lie down and close my eyes I bought her into bed with me.  After 5 minutes though The Don was awake and demanding we vacate the bed – he had a busy and difficult day ahead at work and could not be disturbed all night.

He did stay awake long enough to point out the fact that the spare bed was covered in washing waiting to be put away was my fault – a truth, but not one that I wanted to hear at 12.30am with a screaming Roo in my arms.

So, I pulled out the single chair bed in Little Roo’s room.  It might not be my bed, but it was A Bed.  This bed has been in my family for many years and I have slept happily and soundly on it countless times.  Grabbing a pillow and a blanket I settled down with Roo on the soft squishy mattress, relishing the feeling of my eyelids falling over my sleep deprived eyes…. for about two minutes.

Litte Roo in her fevered state, while not wanting to be alone, couldn’t settle being cuddled or held.  She wriggled and fretted free of my arms, free of my body heat, needing her own space.  I inched away from her hoping she would be able to find a comfortable spot.  In fact, I inched and inched….and inched away so far that I rolled off the edge of the bed and onto the floor.  Thump.

Eventually Little Roo did fall into a slumber of sorts, star shaped, sprawled out, her little fingers wrapped tightly around my hand making sure mummy had not escaped.  And as I lay on the floor trying to simultaneously pull another blanket over my body and find a comfortable place for my head while still holding onto Little Roo’s hand for fear of waking her, it suddenly dawned on me – I.am.Leonardo!!

Before I had my children I would have thought this situation was ridiculous.  How angry I would have been, how incredulous, how judgemental I would have been of someone who would allow their child to dictate that they sleep on the floor all night.  Surely they aren’t trying hard enough.

I thought I knew what being tired was – I had no idea.  I thought I knew what being a parent entailed – I had no idea. I know now.

The situation was ridiculous, but instead of being angry as I lay there looking at Roo’s flushed little cheeks I smiled in spite of myself.  That bed should have been big enough for both of us, but that night it simply wasn’t.  I should have been getting a comfortable nights sleep, but I was not.  I was being the mummy that Little Roo needed that night.

I too, eventually, fell into a slumber of sorts, with one thought playing over and over in my head.  “I love you enough Little Roo.  I love you enough to play Leonardo to your Kate”

Thankfully I did not drown.  I just felt like death in the morning.