Merry go round

In the past, I’ve had so many conversations with people about how overstretched I feel. I can’t count the amount of times over the year that I’ve said “I wish this merry-go-round would stop”; talking about my life and how I wish I could just get off it for a moment to catch my breath.

I think I’ve even written it here on this blog.

Life pre-covid-19 was so busy – family time was demanding with a young child, work was stretching (in a good way) and my social life kept me busy with plans stretching months ahead.

But the other day I was speaking to someone on the phone, asking each other how we were doing and I realised that with the current lockdown we’re living through, I’ve slowly unfolded into a new slower pace of life.

The merry-go-round has stopped.

And I’ve loved it.

Sure, there have been challenges – I’ve written about them on this blog – but the overwhelming feeling I’ve had in my life is relief for the time and space I now have in my life. 

Relief of having weekends filled with nothing but family togetherness; the highlight being a pizza night or a cycle down to the seafront and time throwing stones into the sea.

Relief at having time to properly care for myself – running through parks instead of commuting to work, reading in my newly set up ‘cosy corner’ in the afternoon sun, finding moments of kindness and connection as I wave to people on the walk up my road. 

Relief to find myself suddenly in a pace of life where I don’t expect myself to do anything or be anything.

I just am.

And part of me feels awful for feeling thankful in this time that is so deeply challenging for others – people pushed to the brink of breaking point psychologically, emotionally, financially, physically.

Is it right to flourish and have gratitude for the sudden break in life when people are losing their lives to this pandemic? 

But as I find myself whirling into a tailspin, wondering if I can even share these words with you, dear friend, I’m reminded of a podcast I listened to recently on comparative suffering, knowing that my lack of suffering at this moment doesn’t take away from what others are going through.

There’s room in this world for all our experiences. 

And I recognise that I was suffering before this pandemic slowed me down. 

Suffering from lack of space, a life that was unsustainable, an unhelpful pattern of constantly saying ‘yes’ to things that didn’t serve me, FOMO, not listening to myself and what I needed. 

And part of me is scared about what will happen when this lockdown ends – when I am back in a life that has more hard edges to it – with commuting, for example – and more soft edges too, with the possibility of socialising. 

I feel like a freak for loving the additional time alone, for not wanting to be with lots of people, for having a life that is full enough as it is. 

And yet, this is my truth. 

  • I love time alone. 
  • I only need a few close friends to feel like the richest person in the world. 
  • I’m happy living a simple life, with the company of my family and time out in nature. 
  • I like living somewhere with neighbours who look out for each other. 

I love this world where the merry-go-round has stopped – not for the suffering it has caused others but for the simplicity it has brought to my life. 

I hope I find a way to not get back on the merry-go-round – or to find a way to regularly get off it – when it starts to turn again. 

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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.

Relief

I’m part laughing to myself writing this – as soon as I took the pressure off myself and said that I wouldn’t be writing to you until my Christmas break, I have something that I want to get off my chest…the relief I’m feeling about Jenson’s feeding.

I’ve been fretting for a while now that he isn’t eating enough. He just doesn’t seem that interested in a lot of food and isn’t fitting into the pushed mantra that he should be eating three meals by now and two snacks.

We’ve seen a nutritionist partly due to Jenson’s vegan diet and partly due to the small variety of food that he’s eating…and it’s been on my mind more than it should.

Why won’t he eat?!

In my head, every other baby I know is eating. I see babies stuffing their faces with roasted vegetables, full-blown meals and fruit pieces when Jenson is just not there.

He eats a massive breakfast and then picks at this and that throughout the day.

It had got to a stage where we were almost forcing food into him (despite the alarm bells ringing in my head that this was not respectful to him as an individual) and were putting so many thoughts on him:

  • He is mistrustful of the new food we’re giving him
  • He’s holding out for sweet food
  • He isn’t open to trying new food
  • He’ll never get better at eating

But then a few things happened.

My good friend, Charlie, recommended a book called ‘My Child Won’t Eat’ which has been so interesting and a real relief, talking about the realities of childhood eating.

She shared with me that eating is not always easy for her with her son – making me feel not alone in this.

Another good friend, Jess, talked about how her son doesn’t fit into the NHS approved regime. She’s spoken before about how her son loves pasta (something that Jenson has no interest in) and I’d envisaged him eating it by the bucketload and eating everything in sight while I’m at it. It turns out that it’s not the case – he’s a bit particular too.

I suddenly felt not alone and saw the ‘three meals and two snacks a day’ exactly as it is – a framework, a guideline, a theoretical model which will not fit every baby.

What a relief!

And so I’m sharing this for all the mamas and papas out there who are maybe worried about their baby’s weight (or future mamas/papas) so you know that you’re not alone if you go through this.

I am his. But I am also mine

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you’ll have noticed that the subject of my posts has changed since I’ve had my baby boy. And that’s to be expected because, as a new mother, he is my world.

Since I’ve had him, I’ve realised that I am no longer my own. In fact, I’m coming around to the realisation that I will no longer come first. He comes first regarding how I spend my time, my money, my love and my energy and I know this will continue to be the case even as he grows and relies less on me. He’ll still come first.

I well and truly belong to Jenson. I am his.

But it doesn’t change the truth that I am also mine.

In fact, I have a tattoo on my right foot which says “I am mine”. A tattoo I had done after a bad relationship break-up where I realised that all too many decisions in my life were being made to please other people (in this case a boyfriend who told me I was too fat, my hair wasn’t pretty enough, my taste in clothes wasn’t right…) instead of following my internal compass and my own desires.

And while I love Jenson with a selfless love that I have never experienced in my life, it doesn’t change that I am still mine.

I still have needs, desires, hopes and a personality that is at its best when I have regular time alone to process, to think, to breathe, to exercise. And that’s ok.

So I’ve started to take a few hours for myself in the weekday evenings and to have a period of time by myself while my husband hangs out with our little monkey at the weekend.

And this time alone is so sweet. I can’t express just how marvellous and precious it is to me. It’s like oxygen to my soul.

A time to go for a run in the spring sunshine, a time to geek out revising my coaching training notes, a time to put music on and write this post to you in uninterrupted bliss.

And I’m reminded that it’s ok to be mine. It’s ok to need this space. It doesn’t make me less than a mother – it gives me the capacity to be a better mum. And I feel lucky that I’ve got a partner in life who supports me to have this space and time just as I support him to have his own space and time doing things that he loves.

But I want to look at my tattoo more often and remind myself of it’s new meaning – that I’m allowed to my own person and take time for myself, even as a mum to a new baby.

I belong 100% to Jenson but I also belong to myself. I am mine.

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Allowed to be me

I stood in the kitchen 3 nights ago and, half-crying, said to my husband “it’s not that I don’t love Jenson – I love him so strongly – but I’d just like a few hours to be me again. To not have my constant companion by my side or be called away from the passions I have to feed or cuddle or hold him. I miss being me.”

Motherhood has been the best thing to happen to me. I can’t express how much I love this little, wonderful being. My love is a force that keeps me smiling when I’ve been up half the night with him or had to sing songs to him for hours to calm him down.

But I miss being me.

I miss just going to a coffee shop and reading or blogging for hours. I miss spending untethered time in the kitchen whipping up cakes and cooking batches of food for the week. I miss going out without being tied down with a backpack full of baby stuff.

The freedom, the focus on me, the ability to do exactly what I want to do.

And here’s where I hear Jenson’s voice of the future – saying “but you chose to have me”. A sentiment I had as a child when I didn’t get my way or the few times my wishes didn’t come first for my parents. And now I get it.

Yes, I did choose to have him. With all my heart and much time spent thinking about whether I did want to become a mother. It was an active choice. But this choice doesn’t take away who I am. My passions. My dreams. Things I just like doing because I just like doing them.

And I’m ok 80% of the time that I’m not where I was anymore. I’m a mum and that means that I am no longer my own. I’m his as much as he is mine. But it doesn’t stop the fact that I’m allowed to be me. I’m allowed to still have my desires and wishes and dreams. I’m allowed to take time for myself.

I’m also incredibly lucky to have a husband who is in this with me 100% and is able to hear me and my needs. He gives me the space to be me, just as I give him the space to be him.

What does this look like?

Gregg gets Wednesday evenings to play football with colleagues at work. I support him to have this time, even if it means that I have to take care of Jenson well into the evening by myself. I’ve also been up for him having nights out with friends and other evenings out to do things he enjoys even if it leaves me alone with a baby who can, as much as he’s adorable, be a challenging little so-and-so.

And Gregg allows me to follow my passion for coaching people who struggle with comfort eating, binge drinking and people pleasing. He takes Jenson out of the house when I have my sessions scheduled with the people I love to work with so I can focus 100% on this work that I feel called to do.

But I know I need more time to just be me without relying on the squeezed little chunks of time I grab for myself. Yes, I get time to coach, but I need time for me. It’s not selfish to take this time. And even if it is selfish, it’s time I need so that I can be a good, patient, loving, kind and generous parent to my son and a good, patient, loving, kind and generous wife to my husband.

So tomorrow (well, today – I’m writing this at 4am now that Jenson has gone to sleep after being up for an hour), I’ve been given a pass by Gregg. The promise that he’ll take Jenson for a good two or three hours so I can just be me. I can get my hair cut, sit in a cafe and read a book or write another blog, post or wander the streets of Brighton without a nappy bag and papoose.

And I think we need to make a regular event of this. Giving each other time so we can be ourselves and have a bit of space to claim back who we are.

I’m allowed to be me. It doesn’t mean that I love my son any less. It means that I’m human with needs of my own. And that’s ok.

Coping with a crying baby

I’ve been bouncing and singing and cuddling and feeding and talking to and loving Jenson for 45 minutes while he cried and cried and cried.

Well tried were the ideas I’ve got written on my ‘things to do when Jenson cries’ list and none were working in calming him down. He would not settle.

It’s so heartbreaking to have your little one in distress and to not be able to comfort them. But dare I say the thing most on my mind this morning? My ultimate truth when Jenson is crying – it’s bloody tiring.

Knowing I’ve done all that I could for him and still nothing was working I felt myself detach from the situation. But this came with the worry that I was the most terrible mother. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t leave him to cry in a room by himself for hours, I just stopped feeling so acutely the sadness of what he was feeling and instead focused on going through the motions of caring for him.

I ask myself, as he’s finally asleep in the sling (Sod’s law, the only thing I hadn’t tried as he usually hates being in his sling indoors and screams like he’s being tortured on previous attempts) what is behind the detachment and whether I’m comfortable with this reality.

And I suppose what comes to mind is this – Jenson is one of the great loves of my life. I’d do anything for him.

But he is also a crying baby and crying babies are tedious, infuriating, very loud and tiring.

And these two things co-exist side by side. The deep love and semi-fatigued annoyance, the perseverance of trying and trying again to calm him whilst thinking to myself ‘I wish he would stop, this is horrible for me’. The investment in caring for his wellbeing and the detachment of going through the motions to just get through it.

Nobody told me this was how I might feel and it is quite a lonely place to co-exist in these two realities of caring whilst going through the motions. Especially when you think that everyone else is somehow coping differently.

So I thought I’d put my thoughts out there. As a way of embracing my experience and also, hopefully, as a way of reaching out to other parents to say:

You’re not alone. Feeling like this is normal and is ok. We’re all doing our best and that’s all we can expect of ourselves. It’s bloody hard to care for a crying baby who will not stop. I’m with you.