Permission to not be extraordinary

Yes, my second post of the day…which can only mean one thing – I’ve got the day off work! I’m using up my last hours of leave for this financial year and it’s bliss to take things easy and have a bit of time to myself.

I had a day off two weeks ago¬†and it was like salve to my soul. I had lunch out, went to the cinema, had my hair cut, read a book, blogged, ate cake and did a multitude of beautiful things that I usually don’t have time for (or if I do, I get to do them in little snippets of time which takes away some of the beauty of it).

When I was thinking about what I’d get up to today, I didn’t have a list of things I needed to do, but I put so much pressure on myself.

  • I needed to make the most of my time alone.
  • I needed this day to be filled to the brim with something – rest, excitement, beauty, joy – since it was so precious to have this time to myself.
  • I needed to carpe diem the ass out of this time alone since when they’re used up, I’ll not have any random days to use up.

But I didn’t have a desire to go to the cinema, didn’t have oodles of cash to splash out on a massage or facial, felt like it might just be nice to enjoy a pre-Jenson throwback day and enjoy all the things I did before becoming a mum.

I would have maybe read, blogged, rested, watched some TV, had some ‘cave time’ in the kitchen cooking for the week ahead, would have perhaps gone to a cafe to relax and enjoy the paradox of solitude in the company of others.

And so I’ve given myself permission to not be extraordinary today.

I’ve given myself permission to not leave today with a fundamental shift in my being and to instead just enjoy a day of pre-child relaxation and time alone.

A bit of exercise, a few pottering tasks, a shop for chilli and cookie ingredients, a stop at a cafe to read my book and to another cafe to eat breakfast and blog.

And so far it has been wonderful. A perfect, un-extraordinary day.

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Noticing

This morning I FaceTimed my beautiful, brave sister who has just moved to Australia to pursue an adventure of living over there this year.

When I asked her how she was doing, she told me that she was feeling a little bit homesick today. Not an unexpected feeling for someone who has moved the other side of the world and had a life in Bristol which was surrounded by more friends than I would know what to do with!

We’re so alike in some ways – our voices, our dazzling looks ūüėČ , our values – but in others, we couldn’t be more alike, with her having a massive group of friends and me preferring the company of one or two people. Me driven by doing and her happy to just be. Her more chilled, me more intense.

Anyway, enough of that detour into the difference between me and my sister!

I’ve been thinking about that conversation on-and-off today and wish in that conversation I’d said to her ‘I’m really sorry to hear that you’re feeling homesick. Do you want to talk about it and is there anything I can do?’

Instead, I peddled on with the conversation, distracted by what she had shared. Almost like a voice in my head saying ‘make her happy but don’t talk about the homesickness! Gah, what will I do if she’s not ok? How can I solve this?

Distracting thoughts. Thoughts coming from love for her, but mostly due to my discomfort with things not being perfect and easy-breezy fine.

I’d do anything for my sister, but in my early morning brain fog my brain didn’t work fast enough to notice what I was doing – avoiding my emotions. Letting my fear of not being enough for her in that moment run away with me, my awkwardness at her not being 100% and naming what was going on for her.

But I’m noticing it now and I know that there will be a day, hopefully in the not too distant future where my brain will engage and I’ll be able to notice in the moment what is going on.

And when that day comes, I’ll say ‘I’m sorry to hear you’re feeling homesick and I’m noticing that I’m jumping to wanting to solve everything for you so that your life is perfect…but life isn’t meant to be perfect and I know that’s not what you’re asking of me. So what can I do? What do you need from me?

One day I’ll notice in the moment and until then I’ll try to be kind to myself and remind myself that I’m doing my best.

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My grandad’s lamp

I’ve had a wonderful weekend with my family. An important moment was going to a shop with my husband, Gregg, to pick out a belated Christmas present for me.

A lampshade for my grandad’s lamp.

This lamp is really important to me and was the one of the few things I requested to keep of his when he died.

It reminds me of him, sitting in his armchair doing a crossword puzzle with his dogeared dictionary and thesaurus close at hand.

It conjures images of him, cutting through a net of oranges with a blunt pair of scissors always kept close at hand on the table that housed the lamp.

I imagine him composing letters to me, lit by its light, when I was living in France and Japan.

I think of how great a man he was – ambitious in life and passionate about so many things.

How he loved wildlife.

How he supported so many worthy causes in his life with such a sense of duty.

How he took care of his sister during her lifetime and saved throughout his life in order to leave a nest egg for his family.

But I also think of what an enigma he was to me. How, despite the 100+ letters we sent to each other in his life, I never felt I truly knew him and I never felt truly seen by him.

I feel saddened by this fact, because, while I’m sure we would have had differences – his worldview perhaps a bit too black-and-white for me, myself a bit too liberal for him – we loved each other.

I wish I had known what it was like for him to be married to my grandma, a formidable woman. How it felt to become a father to my mum, especially because it risked my grandma’s life as she developed pre-eclampsia. What his biggest regrets were in life. Whether working so hard all his life was worth it in the end. What it was like to carry such a sense of duty. His personal experience of being a prisoner of war. What life was like being a man during his era. Whether his upbringing, rising up the social ladder had an impact on his sense of self – was he always trying to prove himself, did he always feel like he belonged?

So many questions that I never dared ask.

Because it felt like that door was never opened for me to ask them.

It’s a tricky balance, to be a parent or a grandparent (I can only imagine, for the latter). Being someone who has a role to guide, protect, direct. To not overburden or overshare. To leave space for the younger person to grow into themselves and not force them into a mould that they don’t fit into.

But in doing that to be present and open every day so you can also be known for who you are.

It’s all too easy to fit into the hierarchy of mother and child, grandmother and grandchild and for that door of open, honest communication to stay shut.

I hope I’ll leave a door open for Jenson to be able to ask questions. And that I do the same for his children if he has them in my lifetime.

I hope that they’ll be able to ask questions and know that I will answer them honestly and with consideration.

But despite feeling like there were so many questions unanswered about my grandad’s life, I loved him and know he loved me.

And I will remember him each time I use his lamp.

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I was wrong

I’ve had the best day by myself. I was cocooned in my introverted bliss for most of the morning and most of the afternoon.

I did what I set out to do… had a haircut, blogged, went to the cinema, did some exercise, read, ate, treated myself to some new mascara – my old one getting the boot because of wearing it when I came down with conjunctivitis and sinusitis earlier this week.

And during the day I had plenty of time to think…and my pondering led to me a few things I’ve been thinking about for a while and to the realisation about an area where I’ve been getting it wrong in life.

What is it, you ask?

Money.

Some of you may remember that I’ve vowed to not buy anything unneeded for twelve months (a vow I have broken twice and regretted twice – perhaps a blog on that later).

Although I said I could spend money on experiences, this didn’t stretch in my mind to spending money on my own wellbeing.

I’ve had no problem stocking myself up with goodies to eat, trips to cafes, yummy additions to my lunch at work.

And I’ve done things that were essential to me functioning – a massage when my shoulders and neck were locked up from sling wearing a hefty 13 month old, for example.

But I have almost felt a lack of self-permission to spend money on things that weren’t essential but would support my wellbeing.

It could be anything – paying for a ukulele class, a trip to the theatre, but most specifically for me at the moment, paying for a regular exercise class.

It seemed frivolous to spend £20 a month on a gym membership or £8 for an exercise class, but that would have been so good over these past months Рhaving a class to allow myself to let off some steam and exert myself physically.

This thought has been brewing for a while, I just wasn’t aware of it until now. It started forming when I was laid in bed sick earlier this week.

My mind drifted to how much pressure I put on myself at work, compressing almost a full working week into 4 days in order to save – for the future, for Jenson, to pay off our mortgage early and then this thought hit me –

What’s the point of working so damn hard, packing so much work into my week so that we’re not financially strapped for cash, if I don’t live life?

Sure, it’s so that we can have holidays. It’s so we can save for the future. It’s so we can afford to run a car if we need one for our jobs.

But I know there’s an imbalance with how I currently use my spending money and I want that to stop.

I want greater wellbeing.

I want to feel like I’m living, not just functioning.

I want more fun.

So by writing this post, I publicly give myself permission to invest in my own wellbeing.

I’m stating that investing in activities to make me glow (ok, more like sweat like a pig!) is important.

And to kick this off, I’ve subscribed to MoveGB, an app which allows me to go to a class a week in a variety of locations for ¬£28/month (there’s a free 10 day trial you can do and a ¬£1/week membership if you’re interested, don’t mind going to a lot of different classes but are on a budget).

And since I’m paying for this app, I know I’ll hold myself accountable to get out there and attend a class (or more!) each week.

It feels right, good, bloody brilliant to give myself permission to invest in my own wellbeing.

And so my parting question for you is this: what do you need to give yourself permission to do, dear friend?

Today

I’m off work today!!! Yippee!!!

Not that work is a bad thing – I enjoy what I do – but I’m so excited because this is the first ‘me’ day since Jenson came on the scene.

Yes, Jenson is at nursery, Gregg is at work and I’m able to spend the whole day doing exactly what I want to do. So I’m sat here, just after nursery drop-off, having a cup of chai tea and thinking about all the things I’m going to do today.

And, gosh, from the photo I just took to accompany this post, I can see that I need it! I can see the tiredness on me, the stretch of the last few weeks, the bleary eyes from too little sleep and the sinusitis I’ve been suffering with.

I’m going to do an exercise class – I know, not how I’d have planned to spend time alone a year ago. But I miss moving, I miss sweating, I miss feeling strong and accomplished physically (although I’m not sure how accomplished I’ll feel – I might be more of a hot, snotty, sweaty mess!).

I’m going to spend some time in a cafe with a huge slice of cake, writing and reading and pondering without a time limit on these thoughts!

I’m going to go to the cinema to see any frivolous film I fancy.

I’m going to get my hair cut.

I might even contemplate breaking my no shopping ban and looking for a new pair of trousers.

As I’m writing this, I feel a voice inside me saying how selfish this is, how stupid this will seem to you – all this bother over 8 hours alone -, how ungrateful I must sound to have such a gorgeous baby, such a supportive, caring husband and yet to crave more than anything time just by myself.

But then again, I think it’s important to share my truth. The truth that this day feels like EVERYTHING at this moment in time.

Because when you’re a parent, you don’t stop being yourself.

You don’t stop having needs.

And my need for quiet, for solitude, for time alone has grown bigger and bigger over these past months.

But this need doesn’t negate the love that I feel for my boys.

It doesn’t cancel out all that I do for Jenson and Gregg.

It doesn’t invalidate all the love I pour into my family, my work, my friends.

And so, without regret or shame I’m going to get this day started.

I can’t wait!

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Slowing down

Yesterday afternoon the generous support of my husband enabled me to have three hours to myself.

I caught up on my favourite tv programmes, wrote a blog post, read a bit and painted my nails.

It felt so good to just slow down and ‘be’ alone by myself and made me realise just how much slowing down is vital for my mental health.

It also made me realise that my life has been very full recently.

I wrote in my last blog post about how my life is so heavily structured. I know where I’m going to be most of the time and a lot of my ‘down time’ of late has been filled with weekends away and time away visiting family for Christmas.

I’m not complaining about these weekends away and Christmas plans – they’ve been lovely, fun and precious time with family – but with work being busy and outside work being full, I’ve not had much time where I can just be, by myself.

But I’m realising how much I need this time by myself. I’ve felt myself edge closer and closer towards mental breaking point and I need to stop before I make myself unwell.

But what does this time alone need to look like to improve my wellbeing?

I was reading an article about self-care that my close friend, Christina, sent to me.

It talked about self-care as the things we do that nourish and replenish our mind, bodies and souls.

And the first thing on the list of self-care examples they gave was slowing down, making space for solitude and reflection.

These are things I have little time for at the moment, but I’m beginning to realise that they are things that are so vital for my wellbeing.

Well, I think I have little time for them, but I could flex my life to have a bit more time alone.

  • I could take one evening a week when Jenson is in bed to do things by myself.
  • I could use my lunch breaks to do things that feed my soul, like meditating or writing.
  • Gregg and I could take it in turns to have mini-solitary sessions in the evening when we’re looking after Jenson.
  • I could be less focused on preparing for the week – making lunches and dinners in advance – to make more space for time alone.
  • When I’m away, visiting family or friends, I could take little pockets of time for myself
  • I could ask my parents to plan some weekends to Brighton over the next year to allow life to slow down.
  • I could stop filling every moment of downtime with activity – reading work books on the train, recording voice messages when I’m on my way somewhere, looking at my phone when I’m waiting for someone

I know that not all these ideas are practical, but something needs to change.

I desperately need time alone for my wellbeing and in order to stay in tip-top shape for the marathon that is parenthood and the journey that is life.

Having fun

I was in a funk this morning.

I’d had a night which felt like a continual wrestle with an farty alligator¬†(farts being a side effect I didn’t expect from teething) as Jenson tossed and turned, grizzled and cried.

I was at the bottom of my resources and felt aggrieved with how life is going at the moment.

I told myself that I would never have another child as I went through the motions of the morning and I negotiated time by myself with my husband.

I was pissed off when Gregg asked for some child-free time himself in return for watching Jenson this afternoon so I could have some quiet and peace.

I felt I needed time alone more (and I still stand by that!).

Gregg’d had a few hours to himself yesterday.

Hours that he’d spent food shopping, but still, that was the choice he’d made and they’d been child-free hours.

I couldn’t do it – couldn’t face a day with a cranky, teething baby. Having to be happy, jolly, all about him when inside I was wishing that I was child-free.

It’s hard to share these feelings because they aren’t ones that are very ‘acceptable’. They seem so wrong, especially knowing some people who are so desperate to have children but are struggling to conceive.

It feels so very unfair that I had Jenson so easily and am longing for a bit of my pre-child life back when it’s their dream to start a family.

But when you have children, dear friends, no matter how that happens – IVF, adoption, fostering – you will have moments of this too. Wishing to be child-free.

And that’ll be ok.

Raising children is full of joy but it’s oh so hard!

I’m glad to say that my day did get better after the shaky start.

Gregg suggested that we use his ‘Jenson free time’ to do something as a family. And so we went to a soft play centre that was a bit of a walk away. As soon as we got outside and started to chat and laugh and connect, I realised that I need more fun in my life.

You see, my life at the moment is very structured. I know where I’m going to be most of the time – it’s a necessity in order for life to work. I’ve compressed my working week so that I’m not financially strapped for cash yet still have a day off a week with Jenson. With an hour commute each way, this makes for long working days.

And as I’m a planner, I focus at the weekend on getting everything ready for the week ahead. Or I have plans at the weekend, which are lovely, but structured.

All work and little-to-no play, that’s what my life can feel like.

So going out as a family this weekend, off-the-cuff, felt really fun.

Walking and singing and dancing and playing was like salve to my soul. And I realised that I need more fun.

Not structured fun of planning lots of trips to see people. But jumping on a bus and going for a walk. Putting on music and dancing around. Going out for ice cream.

Less structure and more joy.

So that’s what I’m inviting into my life, with the hope that it will bring more joy to me and my family.

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Self-care

I’m finding it really hard to write this post. I’ve written and deleted, written and deleted but still nothing seems to be coming out right.

My words seem mundane, I’m worrying about who might take my words personally and read into them more than I intended, I question whether these are words to share or if they would be an overshare.

And this all points in one direction – I haven’t been taking care of myself as I should have recently.

It’s been a mentally and physically exhausting time and the effects are taking their toll on me.

You see, the start of this year has been wonderful – celebrating my son’s first birthday, having two full weeks off work to spend with family – but it has also been trying beyond my limits with my routine out of kilter and, most distressing, Jenson not settling into nursery.

It was hell to leave him screaming with distress at our nursery ‘settling’ sessions and difficult to come to terms with the fact that our little monkey might not be ready for being separated from us. For a week Gregg and I were left in the unknown of whether we would both need to reduce our hours at work to provide full-time care for our son since he was finding the transition to nursery too distressing.

And as life as we knew it hung in the balance, it was unbearably hard.

Did we parent him in a way that made a transition to nursery more difficult for him? Would Gregg still be in support of all the parenting decisions that are so important to me – co-sleeping, extended breastfeeding, sling carrying – with his desire to support Jenson to be ‘independent’? How would our lives be if we were to cope on one salary? Would this impact plans that I dream for us as a family – plans that rely on our savings.

And the stress was too much for me.

Despite the fact that we turned a corner, he settled into nursery just in time – I’ve been left feeling broken and out of kilter.

My back was agony since I was carrying so much tension and I turned back to my old habits of eating too much.

Eating for comfort when things were too much.

Eating sweet stuff at work when this is something I’ve rarely done over the years.

Supplementing my lunch with crisps and other food that I didn’t need for hunger.

Eating more desserts than I usually would.

Eating more in social situations to squash my awkwardness or just because I was not being mindful of what I was eating.

And I’ve been worried more about what other people think of me.

I’ve clung onto the things that haven’t gone well at work and with friends and family.

I’ve pulled out all the things from my past that I didn’t do well to beat myself up with.

I’ve worried that I’m going to be ‘found out’, found wanting and that people will see me for the failure I am.

I’ve felt not enough.

I feel like my internal axis has shifted and suddenly I feel intrinsically ‘not ok’. I feel like my foundations have been shaken with the force of an earthquake and are full of cracks.

So how do I get back to where I was before all this happened?

The first thing is admitting that I’m not ok. I’ve been telling people – speaking to friends, telling my mum about how I’m feeling this weekend, sharing with my sister about what’s going on, speaking up when topics are causing my anxiety to spike to protect myself, talking to my husband about it all.

The second thing is reminding myself that food is not the issue. It’s the manifestation of what is going on underneath. And so, while I need to pay attention to the food stuff and try to not stuff myself silly, the most important thing is what’s going on underneath – not loving myself, not expressing myself, not having a release for the emotions that I am feeling, not being kind to myself while everything is a bit trickier than normal.

The third thing is remembering that this is just a moment in my life. It’s a hard moment, but just because I’ve gone a step back doesn’t mean that life will always be like this. It feels all encompassing at the moment when it’s just a short period of my life.

The fourth thing is that I need to put my self-care at the top of my priority list. I need to take a lunch break at work, find some sort of exercise (apart from running around like a headless chicken to get everything done in life!), I could benefit with doing some short meditations, writing a bit more than I have recently, painting my nails, reading a good book, cuddling up more with my husband, checking in with close friends, spending time with my son doing nothing but playing, putting down my phone more, having some ‘cave time’ cooking alone in the kitchen with a podcast on.

And finally I’ve requested some counselling through work to try to work out how I can be kinder to myself and how I can cope with my anxiety when everything feels a little bit harder than usual.

I hope this post can help you if you’re going through a hard time. I hope you can take comfort from knowing you’re not the only one who has a dysfunctional way of coping with hardship – I’m in the same boat as you!

It certainly feels better to have everything out in the open – to say I’m not ok, but that’s ok.

Life is full of ups and downs and just because this bit is down doesn’t mean that it always will be.

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Top ten

As I lay in bed last night, waiting for sleep to come, I was drawn to thinking about the best things about last year.

And so I thought I’d share some top lists with you to celebrate my baby boy turning one.

Top five best things about becoming a mum

    The joy of watching Jenson grow and develop
    The cuddles and time spent resting next to Jenson as he sleeps
    How it has changed me as a person, mostly for the better
    The determination to deal with my demons so that I don’t pass them – the people pleasing, comfort eating – onto Jenson
    The pleasure of spending time as a family of three and seeing my husband as a brilliant, involved, caring dad

Gregg’s top three best things about becoming a dad

  1. Us all going travelling
  1. Having the time to go do things with Jenson, like swimming
  1. Getting to watch our little baby change and grow up

The best ten moments of this year

  1. Going away to Cambodia and Vietnam
  2. Our trip to Morocco
  3. Making new friendships that will span over his life
  4. Getting ice cream and giving some to Jenson
  5. Reading ‘my child won’t eat’ and feeling such relief that Jenson isn’t starving
  6. The endless baths with Jenson as a newborn
  7. Visits from friends from all over the world to meet my new little man
  8. Understanding what all my other mum friends were going through
  9. Dancing with Jenson and Gregg at the Bimble Bindada festival
  10. Realising that shared parental leave was the best decision for Gregg forming a deeper relationship with Jenson

Five most difficult moments of this year

  1. The last bit of labour
  2. Struggling with breastfeeding and getting my supply up…and all the stories I told myself about not being a good mum if I couldn’t feed him from my milk supply
  3. Stretching myself too thin on holiday in Wales
  4. When Jenson got norovirus and ended up in A&E
  5. Nursery settling in

The five things I would have done differently

  1. Asked more questions about Jenson’s tongue tie
  2. Stayed in bed for the two weeks after his birth to fully recover
  3. Asked for more help when I needed it
  4. Extended our epic trip away by a few weeks
  5. Been more specific with Gregg about my views on weaning, TV time and other stuff

The ten things I couldn’t have done without

  1. The food I made in advance of Jenson’s birth
  2. The first twelve seasons of Grey’s anatomy that I binged during my maternity leave
  3. The friends and family who supported me in this first year
  4. The new friends I met who walked with me on this journey of motherhood
  5. My baby carrier which helped me walk the streets of Brighton
  6. The new mums notebook – which I used all this year to record memories and thoughts about this year
  7. The attachment parenting groups and friends who supported me in finding my parenting style
  8. The baby groups in Brighton which got me out and kept my sanity
  9. This blog
  1. The phrase ‘this too shall pass’ – knowing that everything is a phase and will not last indefinitely

The three things I want to do next year

  1. Listen to my instincts more
  2. Have a bit more time to myself – to coach, nurture myself and have a bit more sanity
  3. Look into raising children vegan so that we can make an informed choice about Jenson’s diet

The two things I’m looking forward to on Jenson’s birthday

  1. Spending time celebrating with my family
  2. Eating the massive birthday cake I’ve made for him

Just a year

I’m at my parent’s house now for the second part of our Christmas travels and, lying in the bath tub this morning, I thought about where I was this time last year. 

I was celebrating my sister’s birthday while having the start of my contractions. Thinking about all that was to come ahead, relieved that the wait was finally over. 

I’m so glad that this time last year I had enjoyed my final non-mothering days – planned trips to the cinema, laid in as long as I wanted, gone out for meals with my husband, wrote, read, met up with friends, spent time with my family.

Time I cherished instead of constantly willing Jenson to make his arrival.

But now a year has passed and I’m a few hours away from my son becoming one.

What a huge milestone, the marking of a year with him.

I don’t think I could have ever imagined what was in store for me this time last year. 

I didn’t know what was awaiting me as I went into the 15 hour labour and birth of my son. The NCT classes didn’t come close to describing the experience.

The pain, the effort, the fear, the gritting of my teeth to push through it, the vulnerability, the need I felt for my husband, the strength I felt in being capable of birthing my son, the crowning(!) – that pain has not receded into the faint echoes of my memory!!!

And nothing could have prepared me for what the next year would look like. 

A year of protecting and nurturing my son.

A year where I’ve put everything aside to look after him.

A year for me of growing and learning, crying and laughing, making friends and letting some fade, travelling and staying put, becoming more myself and putting myself on the back burner to care for Jenson.

A year of extremes and paradoxes.

Experiencing depths of love I never thought imaginable and being stretched so thin I thought at points that I would break.

It’s indescribable, this first year of motherhood. 

One thing is clear, it feels like so much longer than just one year and yet it has passed in a blink of an eye.