TV

My husband laughed at me last night because I decided I didn’t want to watch Ozark, a TV show on netflix which is just a bit too high pressure for me. A show where twists and turns are around every corner and near misses are part of every episode.

I’ve found myself pulling away from these types of shows recently – I couldn’t face series two of Stranger Things, recently stopped watching ‘Power’ (another adrenaline inducing show). I really can’t handle these shows anymore or don’t want to.

I’m not sure which.

All I know is that I find myself wanting to watch TV shows that are about connection, don’t leave me feeling jittery or amped up.

So I thought I’d share my favourite two with you…they’re not out of the box finds, ones that you’d never have guessed (or some strange Swedish intellectual series) so this is as much an ode to the two shows I love as it is a description of them:

Grey’s Anatomy

I starting watching Grey’s pretty much from the beginning and it’s been a love affair ever since. I love the characters (my original ‘TV friends’ as I call them to my friends). I love the powerful women – there are so many of them – and I love the storylines, which mirror the social and political themes of the day. Racial violence, domestic abuse, transgender transitions, homosexuality, gun ownership, illegal immigration…they’ve covered it all.

There was particularly powerful episode recently when the Chief, a black female woman, sought treatment for having a heart attack.

The symptoms women have when they’re having a heart attack are often different from men (they’re more likely to experience nausea and vomiting, and pain in the jaw, arm or back), yet it’s the ‘male’ symptoms that are more widely know (pain the the chest, difficulty breathing). Women are also less likely to taken seriously by a doctor – our pain is seen as less severe and we’re less likely to be believed because we’re ‘overreacting’ or ‘being dramatic’ which was reflected in the show and nearly resulted in her death.

I love that, by raising this issue as well as a myriad of other relevant social issues the show has most probably saved lives.

This is us

Oh my gosh, this programme is like food for my soul. It’s such a beautiful programme about a family, skipping back and forth through different generations and storylines to explore different themes that the characters are going through.

Dealing with bereavement, struggling with addiction, finding their way through infertility, jostling to find their place in the family, coping with anxiety.

It is beautifully written, more beautifully acted and feels like I’m watching the highlights of an actual family through their lives (albeit a family who don’t really seem to work much and whose dialogue is a bit too flawless!).

It’s one of the only shows that I sit down to watch and soak up instead of half-watching it while cooking and cleaning…

I also love how the show feels like it’s an actual reflection of society. There are lots of beautiful, slender people in it, but (and I’ve noticed because I’m sensitive to these things) the cast has an over average number of ‘real’ bodies on it – people with bumps and curves. It surprises me because it’s such an anomaly and makes me hopeful that in the future we’ll see more of society reflected on the screen so that ‘thin’ isn’t the predominant body type on TV.

So there you have it – my two favourite shows. It’s lovely to write about them and think about all the reasons why I love them.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my thoughts too!

The mess…

I hate mess.

I mean, I don’t hate physical mess. You can ask my husband about how I leave my clothes strewn around our house like a Hansel-and-Gretel-esque breadcrumb trail of clothes. I also never know where anything is and I’m ok living in a bit of grime, leaving it far too long between kitchen cleans and bathroom wipe-downs (possible a bit too much of an overshare, sorry!).

But that’s me.

I’m ok with physical mess.

What I can’t bear is messy relationships.

My parents rarely fought growing up, but when a tense word was spoken or a disagreement took place, I did what I could to diffuse any tension. Practically singing and dancing to take the focus off the argument, I wanted to make everything right.

And that still stands true today.

I feel an intense discomfort when people around me are not getting on. When there are underlying tensions or I know that people have overt dislikes for others, I want to fix everything into a neat, tidy little box where everyone is happy and gets on.

Everything resolved.

But I’m learning that this isn’t possible. It isn’t my role to be the permanent peacekeeper in other people’s lives, nor is it something I have power over.

So I need to become more comfortable with the mess.

The challenge is how to do this.

So I’ve been thinking this morning about how I can let go of this need for control. Because life is messy, things get broken, people change, relationships move on, people get into disagreements and it’s not my place to try to mend everything.

I think the discomfort with emotional mess is to do with my sensitivity; I’m what I’d describe as an empath, I feel and can take on other people’s emotions really easily. I physically feel the tension when things are left unsaid. I take on the sadness when someone gets left out. I feel the anger of people not feeling understood.

And I don’t know what to do with how I feel.

When I get the urge to binge in order to press down my feelings, I’m able to ask myself what I’m truly feeling. Just by inviting the underlying feeling to come to the surface, I’m able to let it go. I’m able to say ‘it’s ok, you’re just tired’ or ‘it’s ok, you’re feeling bored’ or ‘it’s ok, you’re feeling hurt’.

So logically, I think that I might need to do the same thing with other people’s emotions – surface the feelings in order to release them.

But there’s something inside me which resists this.

Am I worried that the feelings will be too strong for me?

It is because I’m resisting the notion that this isn’t something I can control?

I’m not sure.

I know part of it is fear – fear of change, fear of letting go, fear of how I’d feel to open myself up to the feeling of discomfort, pain, sadness.

And part of it is that I’m not used to doing this, so in the moment, I forget that I need to feel what’s going on in order to let the feelings wash over me.

Part of it is in my identity. I’m the listener. I’m the person who people confide in. And so perhaps part of letting go will involve putting in place healthier boundaries to not get drawn into every dispute.

So there are a lot of different things at play here. Even unpacking how I feel is hard – it feels very messy in itself!

But I know that I’m making a start of breaking free from the unhealthy patterns that are no longer serving me. Just by acknowledging where I am and what is going on for me is the start of a change.

I won’t force things – try to make everything better right here, right now or find a 5 step solution to solving all my issues. I’m just going to sit with these thoughts and see where they take me.

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Not the perfect mum

I’ve had a lovely weekend. A good friend of mine took Jenson for a few hours and this allowed Gregg and I to have an afternoon to ourselves. Time to reconnect, which is so important. It used to be a given. We could go out on dates, spend time together late into the night (not worrying about a certain someone who might wake up at 5am), have impromptu weekends away and spend so much time together.

It was wonderful to have time together, but as a result, I don’t feel like I’ve spent loads of time with Jenson.

And I’ve got the guilts about it.

I don’t want to be the ‘perfect mum’ but I find myself judging my choice to make lunch for Gregg and I for the week instead of rushing to spend hours watching and playing with Jenson. I feel less than adequate because I asked Gregg to get into the bath with Jenson tonight so that I could have a few moments alone, not doing any tasks, to write this.

And as I’m reflecting on all this self-judgement, here’s what comes up for me:

  • I am someone who needs time alone to process and reflect and breathe. And that didn’t stop when Jenson came into this world. So it’s natural that sometimes I’m going to want some time alone.
  • We went to a birthday party today – our first of many baby parties – and it was lovely. But it involved a lot of small talk with people I don’t know and that tires me out. I’m reminded that needing extra time alone hasn’t been a need in isolation. It’s partly because of the surrounding circumstances, needing a bit of time to boost up my energy and resilience after spending 3 hours with lots of people I don’t know.
  • The ‘perfect mum’ doesn’t exist. She doesn’t have to deal with tiredness or full-time work. And so she’s not someone I want to judge myself against.
  • I don’t have to find each and every experience with Jenson fascinating. I love the boy – he is my world and I’d be adrift without him. But watching him play with a plastic ride-on toy is sometimes (ok, mostly) boring. I don’t have to be in rapture at everything he does and it’s ok if I’d rather watch a film or read a book instead sometimes.

Just getting all this out in the open is enough to shelves the guilt. It reinforces that I don’t want to be the perfect mum and reminds me that even if I wanted to, I couldn’t be her.

So I’m going to enjoy the remaining time of peace whilst Gregg and Jenson are in the bath together.

No judgement whatsoever.

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For a million days

My parents brought back a book for Jenson from their travels to Canada earlier this year and I love it. Possibly more than Jenson does. It’s called the Alaska Lullaby and it’s a story of how much a parent loves their child. It sums up pretty much how much I love Jenson.

I love him in a heart bursting, tears streaming down my face, smile splitting way. With wonder as he gets steadier on his feet, amazement as I see his little personality shining through.

I love him with patience as he grumbles with teething pains, with back aches as I bend down so he can walk, with greater regard for his needs than my own as I spend my ‘blog time’ searching for a little shampoo bottle he’s absurdly attached to.

There’s one line in the song which I love in particular –

I love you in a million ways, I’ll love you for a million days

It pretty much sums up all that it is a mother’s love.

And although I don’t believe in the ‘God’ of any organised religion, there’s something about love which I can’t help but think has an enduring God-like power. Perhaps that’s what Christians mean when they say ‘God is love’ – they’ve attached a persona to him, but what if God is love? And when I say this, I don’t mean that it’s part of her/it/him, but that the presence of love is divine? And so when I’m able to tap into this all-consuming, unconditional love for Jenson, I’m able to feel the divinity that is love in its fiercest, truest form.

This love is something that I feel has the power to echo across the years, like the clanging of bells across the decades. Because, although I won’t be around for a million days (if I was, I’d be around for nearly 3000 years!), that’s how strong I feel this motherly love is.

It feels like an enduring love.

It’s a love so strong that it’s guiding my future and is driving me to find space in my current role (and potentially a different job in the future) to address some of the injustices that will impact him – our education system which privileges performance over passion, environmental policies which prioritise a quick buck over a sustainable world for our future children, a financial system which benefits the few despite needs of the many…I don’t know how this will manifest in my life, but I feel the urge to do something because this love isn’t passive. It’s active.

The beauty about this sort of love is that I can feel the love of others around me, enduring through the years. I know I’m enveloped in the love that my grandparents had for me despite them having passed away. The pride my grandad had for me and the comfort of my grandma’s love.

And I can feel the love that my parents have for me despite the hundreds of miles separating me from them.

This love is all there and I can’t help but feel it will be there for a million years, as will my love for my son.

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In a funk

I’m sat down, having just put Jenson down to sleep, and am reflecting on the intermittent funk that I was in yesterday. I had moments of joy – seeing a friend, going to a yoga class, time in a cafe by myself, time laughing about what Jenson was getting up to – but kept on falling back into a bit of a mood. An itchy, scratchy feeling that things weren’t quite right.

And, having reflected on it, I think I know why this was…because I haven’t let go of my old life.

I keep on thinking  about how I’d love to be able to sleep in until noon, spend all day marathoning films, go out to eat in the evening with friends, read a book in the bath for hours and hours…and on the list goes of what I’d love to do for just one day.

And while I would never wish to be without my gorgeous little one, who is one of the very the best things in my whole world, I’ve been keeping hold of what was and is no longer.

I don’t think this has been a problem up until now because prior to this stage Jenson was amiable and willing to tag along doing whatever I wanted to do. But with his new found crawling and his little personality coming through (he’s got my stubbornness!), he’s no longer content to be my little shadow. He wants to be centre stage.

But despite this, I’ve been trying to keep my life as it was. Going out to cafes where there’s nothing much for him to play with, wanting time to chat when I need to be occupying Jenson, wanting to come first when, for now at least, that’s not how things are.

In sharing this with you, it’s helping me to let go of what once was in order to appreciate and enjoy the beauty of what is. And there’s so much to appreciate – my healthy, radiant, cheeky little boy, my family of three who I love spending time with, the possibility of doing other stuff – autumnal walks, craft activities, coffees in soft play centres, dancing around the kitchen, dressing Jenson up in ridiculous outfits, trips to the swimming pool.

And I know that things will get easier. Jenson will become more independent and will need me less which will bring with it the possibility of hours to read by myself, trips out with friends, trips to the cinema, time to cook up a storm in the kitchen. But I’m sure that, when that day comes, I’ll also feel in a funk and will mourn the days when my little boy needed me so desperately.

So I’ll try to appreciate what I have, for I have so much to be grateful for.

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Being real

I was looking forward to my coaching session this morning to explore how I can be more myself in the workplace. I’m aware that so often I pitch myself as ‘happy Amy’, ‘helpful Amy’, ‘glass-half-full Amy’ when that’s not what is truly going on for me. And while I don’t want to leave myself unfiltered at work to berate the lack of sleep I have, how I feel frustrated by X, Y & Z or be unconsciously careless about what I do share, I’m questioning the lack of realness in the workplace and am feeling uncomfortable with how little I show up authentically in order to feel safe.

This thinking started since I’ve been running a training session for managers in the workplace. It’s the one thing at work that I’ve actively disliked doing, because I feel like I’m constantly questioning myself about whether I’m enough, what people think, how I can get people to like what we’re teaching. Being like this, whilst pretending that everything is ok, keeps me safe, but it’s arduous and I’m not myself as I teach it. I’m an overstretched, overwhelmed, overcompensating version of myself and as a result, for the two weeks that this course runs every month I am exhausted to my bones. It’s been a struggle because I’ve not let myself be truly myself.

It’s not just me going through this too. I think people don’t feel able to show up fully in the workplace. For example, I was really saddened by a colleague of mine saying she wouldn’t sing in the work choir because the group is going to do a Christmas carolling session at each of our work hubs and it wouldn’t be professional to do this around colleague who she might be taking through a disciplinary or performance management process as an HR professional. I understand the tension but surely she’s allowed to be herself whilst also having a serious role to play at work?

I found myself sense-checking a blog post I wrote for work in which I shared that I’ve struggled with eating disorders and suffer to this day with anxiety. It felt uncomfortable to share this on a public blog read by a number of my work colleagues because I associate any mental ill health in myself (and others , if I’m honest) as weakness. This perception of weakness makes it hard to feel comfortable being real at work and, in the same way, it also feels weak to be vulnerable at work; to show anything of myself which isn’t 100% positive or professional.

So what have I done in the past? I’ve shied away from being vulnerable and in doing so have sacrificed showing up as my true self. And while I didn’t talk with my coach about how I’m going to make changes to be more vulnerable at work, one thing came out for sure – I’m no longer comfortable living behind a mask.

It no longer feels right.

Staying safe at the cost of my authenticity and vulnerability feels too restrictive, almost like I’m in clothes that are too tight for me. I want to take them off…but I also know that I can’t strip myself of these clothes in one go. Change this deep doesn’t work like that.

Instead I’ll need to summon the courage (along with a bucketload of patience for myself) to take off these ‘clothes’ bit-by-bit, experience-by-experience. I’ll need to remove being seen as bulletproof, always right, constantly competent, unable to be bruised and step into conversations that talk more about people than processes, more about hearts than heads, more about feelings than facts. I’ll need to be enquiring; to question assumptions about how we’re unable to be our full selves at work.

I’ll also need to hold this desired way of being with humour and grace. Knowing that I’ll fall down more times that I’d like to admit. Knowing that there’s no fixed end point to this way of being – there’s just more experiences of sharing fully of myself.

I feel excited about the potential of bringing my full self, being vulnerable and authentic, to the workplace. And while I feel like I end more posts than I’d like with the words ‘I can’t wait to see where this takes me’ they are true. I can’t wait to see where things go from here!

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Love

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll be aware that I’m on a path to create greater levels of self-love. It’s something I’ve been working on for years. I’ve made progress, but like an onion has many skins, this journey to self-love also does. Once I’ve peeled off one layer, I discover another layer of unhelpful beliefs, values and actions that I need to unravel and discard to find greater levels of love for myself.

I’ve written about my experience of realising that I often resist feeling loved and about the practice of connecting to my heart regularly and I suppose this post is a ‘what happened next’ from putting all this stuff into practice…so here I go.

I was putting Jenson to sleep and decided to spend some time focusing on my heart to try to hear the message that it wanted to send me. It wasn’t easy at the start – I spent about 10 minutes with my mind drifting off this and that and every way until I started to focus and meditate on my heart.

I imagined a bright green light coming from the centre of my heart (green is the colour associated with the heart in sacred Indian texts) and pictured this light and filling the whole of my body. With every breath in and every breath out, I imagined that this light was expanding more and more in and around my body. Like when you’re blowing up a balloon and it expands and expands and expands.

When I felt this light reach my head, I suddenly felt like a part of me, deep inside, was communicating with me. And here’s the message it said:

“Love every bit of you. Not just your heart but your head too and those ‘voices’ you find less acceptable. From your inner critic to the side of you that is like a scared child, your inner mean girl and your bad-ass side.”

All the facets of myself that I’ve mentioned above are part of who I am. And I’m so much more than that too. I’ve got jealousy, generousness, gentleness, fierceness, a child-like wonder, a controlling streak…and so much more.

This moment of meditation, focusing on sending love all over me, showed me a truth. That letting me love myself means pouring love over all of me, even the parts that I find lacking. It means sending generous measures of beautiful love to every little bit of me that is a bit frayed, a bit tender, a bit hurting, a bit less than perfect.

Loving myself more isn’t just about beefing up all the areas that I like to show of myself – my kindness, my intelligence, my generosity, my creativity. It’s about loving the whole of me.

What a revelation that came from just one moment of stillness. And what mercy it was to name each of those areas I’m less than proud of and tell them just how much I love them.

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Change

I’ve just finished reading a truly beautiful book on the physiology and anatomy of love. It’s called ‘a general theory of love‘ – check it out! It may sound strange – love doesn’t sit easily in our minds as a physiological response – but love stems from the limbic part of our brain. From there flows connection, affection, love in all its bright and shadowy forms. The book is written by three doctors and looks at what love (or the absence of love) does to us in our childhood, explains the evolution that led is to become social creatures and explores our fundamental need for belonging.

I’ve found it really reassuring from an ‘attachment parenting’ viewpoint since that’s the parental style I most identify with. It’s a parenting style which includes things like co-sleeping, extended breastfeeding and responding to my son when he cries in all situations to give him comfort. But this isn’t a post about parenting, I just thought I’d mention it for all the parents out there who might like to read it!

So, what do I want to say about this book…?

Well, it’s been really helpful following my post last week where I acknowledged how difficult and arduous it has been to get to where I am with my personal journey to greater courage, truth and love.

You see, I felt frustration with how long it’s taking to change my inner patterns to respond to myself more often with patience, not anger. To look at myself with grace when I’ve slipped up. To have a default setting of unconditional love towards myself.

And this book explained from a physiological perspective why it is taking so much time. You see, when we’re children, our brains have plasticity. Our brain is able to morph and learn and grow (hence why the first 1000 days are so crucial to a child – it’s this period of time where they are able to more easily change the ‘nature’ settings – a propensity for moroseness, for example – by being nurtured to have greater levels of confidence, self-assurance and acceptance).

When we’re older, however, changes around how we view ourselves – our default settings – are harder to make as our brain has less plasticity. Our limbic brain where all the emotions come from isn’t as easily changed.

And so it takes more time – sometimes years – to rewire our brains.

Knowing this allows me to have greater patience on this path I’m on. I’m able to see that things will change in their own sweet time.

Knowing this also allows me to feel less like a failure. It’s not down to a lack of effort or ability that I’m struggling with shedding what holds me back. That I still hold on too tightly to the opinion of other people, that I find it tricky to cut myself some slack, that I sometimes talk to myself with anger instead of love.

It’s biological.

And while it doesn’t make the process any easier, it allows me to accept that this is where I am and to trust that things will change over time if I keep on keeping on.

It also gives me greater faith in the process I go through with those I coach.

There are people I’ve been working with for a year or so. I’ve seen amazing progress in their lives – some have changed their relationship with food, increased their confidence or have fostered greater love for themselves – but some still have progress they want to make. And this knowledge has allowed me to have more assurance that my role is to support them and trust in the coaching I’m doing with them. Although it may take time, they will get to where they long to be.

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Acknowledgement

I had another coaching session yesterday – there’s a common pattern starting to emerge that each session brings with it a blog post. Because each session allows me to reflect on some aspect of my life and make small steps towards where I want to be – able to love myself unconditionally.

So what did my session bring yesterday?

In a way, not much happened. I reflected on how challenging I had found my recent break away. It was lovely to see friends and beautiful to be in Wales, but it was not the restful time I needed it to be. Because I didn’t let it be.

The one day when I did nothing – I let the others go off on a walk and spent 5 happy hours in my own company – was the one time where I felt myself relax and unwind a bit. The one time that I felt I gained a bit of energy and resilience…which was taken away when Jenson awoke at 2am and wanted to play for two hours before going back to sleep.

I reflected with my coach that I’d have really done better if I had stayed back every day. Let the others go on walks, rambles, trips out and instead stayed and cocooned by myself for a few hours. But I hadn’t even seen that as an option because I hadn’t checked in with myself about what I truly needed each day until I got to breaking point.

So I ended the session with the acknowledgement that I need to get more in touch with myself to know on a moment-by-moment basis what I need. Whether it’s to go out, stay in, say ‘yes’ to an invitation or gracefully say ‘no’. But I don’t know how to get more in touch with myself…the voice that said ‘ENOUGH!‘ when I was at breaking point only comes out when I’m on my knees through fatigue, over-stretching myself and doing things that are not right for me for an extended period of time. It’s something that I’ll mull over for the next few weeks – how to listen to myself more without piling on another task for myself to do (i.e. committing to meditate for 15 minutes each day).

I also acknowledged that motherhood is hard. Beautiful, rewarding, exhilarating, but HARD.

Oh so hard!

It has stretched me thin with sleep deprivation, requirements for more patience than I’ve ever had, selflessness that I’m not used to. A surrendering of myself again and again and again to protect and nurture and raise my little son.

And I also acknowledged that this deep heart work I’m doing – the sort of thing I do with the people I coach – is hard.

Oh so hard!

It is work that involves looking deeply within myself, leaving no stone unturned on my mission to live with greater courage, truth and love. Actively looking at why I don’t consider myself as being ‘enough’ and asking why that is, reflecting on where I still people please and analysing why that might be, looking at the internal critical voices that drive my behaviour to start to rebalance them with kinder, more loving voices.

So I didn’t leave my session with any great revelations, but I know that being able to acknowledge what is going on for me is really important. As I write and reflect on this, I realise that it’s the start of rebalancing the critical voices with a kinder voice that says ‘you’re doing important work Amy, and it’s ok that you find it difficult. Keep on going, dear one’.

So I’ll keep on going, even if it is hard. For I sense that while the price of being here is high, the reward is going to be great.

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Sanding away

I’m going to be honest with you about how I felt this morning – I was bereft. I sat down outside on the cold concrete floor and wept as I mourned for myself and all that I’ve lost since becoming a mum.

As I write this a few hours later, I know that what I experience is first world problems. I’m not wanting for food, safety, shelter or water – my life is pretty sweet. But in that moment, life felt very bitter and I want to share my experience with you, dear friend.

I cried for not being able to sleep as I used to, for not feeling free to have a late night with friends in case Jenson wakes up to play in the middle of the night (as he has done twice since we’ve been on holiday), for not being free to drink and make merry without compromising my breastfeeding (a choice I’ve made but one which comes with a price), for not being able to have hours writing and reading and dreaming and planning in lovely coffee shops as I used to, for my body not being my own, for my time not being my own, for having to succumb to the wiley needs of a nearly nine month old who wails in consternation if he’s not able to get what he wants. Oh how he wails and how tedious it gets at times.

And for not having the energy to put on the ‘I’m fine, all is good!’ facade when my resources are nearly gone but I’m surrounded by people. A facade that allows me to push on when I’m tired, to be sociable when I need time alone, to push down my needs in order to seem easy and fun when I feel exhausted and drained.

And when I realised this last truth – that I’m not able to pretend to be anything other than I am – I was able to see how this experience of motherhood with Jenson is sanding away my rough edges. It’s holding me accountable for what I want to be, but struggle so much with.

Authentically me.

I want to be able to say ‘I’m exhausted, I’m going to bed‘ even when others are staying up. I want to feel free to curl up in a corner and read even when most around me are enjoying being sociable and chatting. I want to feel free to be nothing other than what I am.

But yet so often I soldier on, follow the crowd, join in even if it’s not what I want. There’s probably a mix of FOMO in there, but more often this behaviour is driven by the part of me that is like a little girl just wanting to be loved and accepted and feels that the only way for this to be the case is for me to be acceptable to other people by mirroring their wants and their desires instead of following my own.

The sad thing is that none of the people I count as friends put this pressure on me. It’s my own pressure I feel. I’m sure they’re glad when I do stay up late or go for walks with them etc., but their world doesn’t revolve around me stepping in line with them and they’re not bereft when I hold back and don’t join in with whatever group activities are going on. They love me for me.

And so while I may have partly cried this morning for the struggles I face as Jenson’s mum – lack of sleep, feeling stretched beyond my limits, being forced to find patience beyond that which I didn’t know I had – I’m also thankful that this experience with him is constantly reminding me what is important.

Finding my voice, accepting myself as I am, living life on my own terms.

And for that, my boy, I’m eternally grateful.

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