Finding joy

I’ve found such a sense of joy during these lockdown months as I’ve spent more time with my immediate family. Weekends are made of rambling walks, barbecues if the weather is right and movie afternoons with us all snug on the sofa.

Don’t get me wrong, the time hasn’t been perfect with a strong-willed two year old with a penchant for 5am wake-ups and it’s uncomfortable to be finding such happiness when others are struggling so much, but I’ve realised that if I had to spend the rest of my life in isolation, I’d be happy with this company to keep me happy and sane.

I want this to be my life predominantly when we get out of lockdown – life is better lived at a slower, gentler pace.

But I have fears too.

What will happen to friendships that maybe need to be gently let go of to keep this space? Is this just going to tumble around me one day, leaving me with no friends and regrets for those I let overtake me in their faster life?

But this feels right for me and so I’m going to keep unfurling in the gentle joy of being a family of three.

Work, if I’m honest, has been less joyful.

Don’t get me wrong – this is not to say that my life at work is not full of satisfaction. But I’m realising that there’s something about how I’m approaching work and the distance between people which is starting to rub a bit.

And so here are my thoughts about how I can bring more joy to my working life over the coming weeks and months.

Connecting

Connecting with peers and people who inspire me on a 1:1 basis is so important for me. After a good conversation – talking through challenges, connecting with others on a very human level – my heart feels bigger, my spirit feels lighter.

I feel joy.

But the connections I’d usually have over lunchtime walks and meetings have been fewer and further between.

And conversations with people in the organisation who inspire and spark something in my have been fewer and more focused on the immediate than the spacious time they were in pre-covid times.

I’m learning that these are conditions are important for me to thrive and so they should be one of the priorities that I take forward – thinking who I need to connect with and looking at how I can be intentional about this in the weeks ahead.

Finding fun

One of the permission slips I’ve written for myself at work is ‘the permission to have fun’. I notice how uncomfortable this feels to share with you, dear friend, because having fun isn’t ‘serious’.

It might be seen as wasting time or not being productive.

So let me clarify, this isn’t having fun in the sense of playing video games or fooling around instead of get things done. It’s a mindset, and an important one for creativity, reimagining what’s possible, stepping into new roles at work.

For me, fun is setting myself a hard task and being intentional about the areas where I can gain enjoyment from it.

Fun is looking at other people and organisations to see what I can learn from them.

Fun is trying out new things, knowing that the point is to try – not get things perfect.

Fun is working with people who are as open and imaginative as I am.

And I haven’t really allowed myself to have much fun recently. I haven’t prioritised it.

So I’m going to bring this back.

Distance

Until now, I’d said that I’d be happy to work from home for the rest of my life.

I like not having to leave the house by 6:45am to catch the right train to work. I like being able to eat lunch with my husband. I like spending the time I used to spend commuting running along the seashore and through the fields near my house. I like sometimes working from my sofa, in my garden, at different times of the day.

But I recognise now that it’s a bit lonely.

There are limited spaces for interaction outside of the meetings I’m part of and the online presence means that these meetings have less chat at the strt are are more focused on a particular purpose.

And meetings set up for connection are in big groups, which I don’t enjoy or feel nourished from.

There are no conversations in hallways that lead onto something.

There’s less laughter, less spontaneity, less connection.

So, while I like the better balance of working from home, I can see the importance of finding a way of being together in a group and recognising the impact of online connections on my joy.

So what does this mean?

There are some easy things I will be doing over the coming weeks – it feels good to have ordered my thoughts with you to look at what’s going on and what I need:

  • Considering who I want to connect in with over the next few weeks and months
  • Finding a sense of joy through looking at the road ahead and where I want to be intentional in bringing some fun and lightness
  • Acknowledging that it’s hard to connect online, reminding myself that this will pass

Good boy

I’m just on my way back home from a gorgeous wedding of close friends, Jake and Ash.

It was lovely to have a few hours away from parenthood as my husband and I danced up a storm and didn’t have any parental responsibility for an afternoon.

But despite being away from my little poppet, I was still thinking about him.

More specifically about the phrase ‘good boy’.

I’ve heard Jenson’s nursery workers use that phrase when praising him for something he’s done and I’ve heard others tell him that he’s a ‘good boy’ for similar circumstances.

But it sticks in my throat when I hear someone say ‘good boy’ to him and it’s not something I say to him when he’s shown skill or kindness or compliance.

Because I want to know that he is intrinsically good.

Regardless of his skill, kindness or compliance with my desires.

Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean I’ll give him a free pass to do whatever he likes or that I don’t acknowledge what he’s done well.

If he does something out of line, I’ll say ‘that wasn’t nice’ or ‘be gentle please’.

And I say ‘bravo’ (I speak to him in French, this isn’t a reflection of my gentleman’s english!) or ‘bien fait’ – well done when he’s done something well.

I say the behaviour is out of line instead of saying he is out of line for doing something I disapprove of.

And I say the behaviour good instead of telling him he is good for doing something I approve of.

It’s semantics, but I think it’s important nevertheless.

Because I want him to grow up knowing that he is good.

Regardless of what he has done or not done.

Words do not do justice to the strength I feel for these words and the intensity of desire I have for him to know that he is good.

Because I believe this is a foundation – the belief that he is good – which is key for him to stand strong in life.

To feel able to follow his heart instead of hustling for the approval of others.

To not overly question his decisions but to trust his instincts.

To be happy in his own skin knowing that he is ok just as he is.

Part of me thinks ‘is this really important enough for me to raise this with his nursery?’

It’s just semantics.

And it’s not the only thing that will decide whether he has good self-esteem or a knowledge that he is fine as he is.

It’ll be Gregg and I showing him that we love ourselves, trust ourselves, believe we’re intrinsically ok.

It’ll be us respecting him and giving him enough freedom as he makes decisions for himself.

It’ll depend on us engaging in dialogue when he questions our boundaries.

Not to bend to his will, but to show him that he has a voice, is important, is intrinsically worthy of love and respect.

But stopping the ‘good boy’ comments seem like a good start.

And my gut tells me to raise it with his nursery.

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts, dear friend.

Trust myself

I’m on a weekend away with my husband’s extended family. I suppose being married to him, they’re also my extended family, which is lovely to think about as I adore them.

But in the lead-up to coming away, I was feeling the same anxiety I always have in the lead-up to going away. The kind where I feel like eating the entire contents of my cupboard to squash the intensity of the feelings inside.

And yesterday, I asked myself why this was – what was the reason behind how I was feeling?

And I realised that in the past a weekend away would have been a weekend of squashing myself.

Bending in each and every way to make sure I chatted to everyone, tried to make everyone feel included, people pleased at each and every turn.

Even if this wasn’t anyone’s expectations of me, this is what I did. I didn’t know how to be any different.

It included me going along with the crowd consensus even if the activity suggested wasn’t what I wanted to do.

And I’d have ended what should have been a beautiful weekend feeling depleted and sucked-dry of the little energy I had started the weekend with.

Or perhaps the weekend would have surprised me and I’d come away feeling recharged and energised from the conversations I’d had.

Either way, I’d always feel anxious in the lead-up to time with other people.

But yesterday, I reassured myself that this wouldn’t be the case.

I know myself better than I ever have done before.

I love myself and am able to look out for what I need in any given situation.

I advocate for what it is that I need.

But this is still new – loving myself and allowing myself what it is that I need in any situation – and so I am aware that I’m still building up trust in myself.

Trust that I will listen to myself.

Trust that I will be aware in the moment when I want to make conversation to fill the silence in between. And instead of peddling, hustling, finding things to say and questions to ask, I’ll allow myself to hold the silence.

Trust that I will do whatever it is in that moment that I want to do.

And that’s exactly how I find myself this morning.

Having listened to myself, I’m now alone in the house having some peace and quiet – time for reflection and quiet and stillness – while other people are out and about exploring the area, visiting crazy model villages and walking in the countryside.

I listened to what I needed and said ‘no thank you, I’m going to stay inside and have some time to myself‘ when people were making plans for the morning.

And so while I still felt the anxiety in the lead-up to this weekend, I know that it’s ok.

Because I recognise that trust takes time to build up, even trust in myself.

And I know that I will get there.

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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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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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Driving home for Christmas

We’re en route to Chesterfield for Christmas with the Shemwell family and I’m feeling nostalgic about the trip we made last year to Bristol for festive celebrations and the birth of Jenson.

I’ve got a mix of excitement for the big day with my bubba and sadness at not being with my parents and sister for Christmas Day.

This is no slight on my parents-in-law who show me nothing but kindness. It’s just sad to think we won’t be with my sister for her last Christmas before starting a new chapter in her life over in Australia.

I so wish I could split myself to be with her to get wrapped up in Christmas excitement, give each other a sneaky Christmas present before church, sing the descant to carols together (her like a boss, me voice semi-squeaking at the high notes), wait in anticipation for presents post-lunch (which always seems an age away).

My sister means the world to me, as you may have guessed!

But with this melancholy is a real excitement for Christmas Day as a parent – my first one.

I can’t wait to get up early as a three on Christmas morning, excited at the day ahead.

I can’t wait to dress Jenson in a reindeer onesie for the day.

I hope we’ll go out for a walk in the crisp daylight, wishing ‘merry Christmas’ to others out on a similar stroll.

I look forward to feasting as a family, giving Jenson new food to try and sneaking him a bit of my pudding to enjoy.

I’m looking forward to Jenson’s interest in all the wrapping and none of the gifts!

I can’t wait to mark the first Christmas milestone as a parent.

We’re off!

So here we are at Gatwick airport, just over an hour away from taking off on our family adventure in Asia.

Over 33 days we’ll explore and travel through Cambodia and Vietnam and I’m feeling a mixture of joy, exhaustion (I’ve been up since 4am with a certain someone!) and nerves at how this will all go.

Because this is new and scary to me in so many ways:

  • Taking a long-haul 17 hour flight with a baby
  • Caring for Jenson in the heat and humidity
  • Having time in Vietnam where we’ve got no firm plans (so we can go with the flow and plan a few days in advance instead of being stuck with plans if they don’t suit Jenson)
  • Travelling with my husband for over a month and being out of our comfort zones together
  • Having to barter when I don’t have much patience in me or fight to stand up for a fair price (at least not when I’ve been awake since 4am!)
  • Being out of a routine and far away from friends and family

And yet it’s also right for us as a family:

  • Starting our family as we mean to go on – full of adventures
  • Reconnecting with Gregg when so much of motherhood has involved a laser focus on Jenson and not much else
  • Learning and growing and exploring a part of the world that I have not yet seen
  • Making the most of our shared parental leave – a rare time when we can both be off work and still have money coming in
  • Exposing Jenson to difference at an early age
  • Learning to live with less – we’ve just taken one travel rucksack with us that weighs less than 18kg
  • Coming back with so many memories to treasure for a lifetime

And so into this adventure I leap.

Hesitant, full of anticipation but sure that this is the right step for me and my family