A day without point

Last weekend I had a day by myself with my son.

It was the first time I had taken Jenson out for a substantial part of the day without his buggy and I spent a bit of last week mulling over the experience of moving at his pace.

These reflections come as I read some books on quieting myself – Silence by Thich Nhat Hanh (a buddist monk) who writes about mindfulness, and Active Hope by Joanne Macy about how to face the anxieties around climate change and biodiversity loss without completely feeling overwhelmed and paralysed or feel that we’re all doomed.

The principle tenants of what I have read in them so far (I haven’t read them both completely yet) is to be aware of what is happening in the moment, of reconnecting with the truth that we are all interconnected instead of being trapped in the story that we are alone.

This involves stopping and appreciating wonder of the beauty of this world to:

  1. appreciate what beauty there is outside of the story we’ve bought into that the only richness in this world is financial, when there is so much other richness available – love, community, beauty, appreciation, generosity.
  2. quiet my mind which is constantly pulled to the past and into the future instead of appreciating this present moment and the wonders within it

I shared about a year ago in a previous post that my son is like my little mindfulness guru – he is so in the present that I can’t help but appreciate the beauty of this world when I allow myself to see it through his eyes.

For example, he’s taken to saying ‘what’s that noise’? Listening out for birdsong, a car going by, the hush of the dehumidifier fan.

And he doesn’t need for the latest thing, the coolest product – he just wants to be with me and his father. Content to spend hours playing with cars.

He is aware of what is going on moment-by-moment and so, when I allow myself to concentrate on him, he brings me into the present moment.

So the Saturday that I spent with him without the usual buggy to strap him into and charge about, lost in myself whilst looking after him, I was swept away in mindfulness.

yYet, I achieved ‘nothing’ on that day.

Don’t get me wrong, I got so much from my time going at the pace of my son.

I walked among the trees and touched them along with Jenson who’d say ‘knock, knock, knock – hello?’ to see if they would answer him.

I ran along the street to hide from Jenson – both to hurry him along and also to delight in his squeal as he shouted ‘Boo!’ at me in my poorly conceived hidey-hole.

I sat and smiled in a cafe as Jenson terrorised an older child, shouting ‘tada!’ when he had finished drawing and rubbing out squiggles on the chalk board available in the children’s corner.

I exchanged words with strangers that Jenson interacted with, waved at a little girl in a restaurant that Jenson approached and smiled at.

But what did I do for eight hours of my life? Nothing I could tick off a list or say I’ve achieved.

I was going to say that it was nothing that added to my life…but that’s wrong. I smiled, I slowed down, I appreciated the time without purpose (to a certain extent), I surrendered to the present, I allowed myself to be. I smiled, I sang, I interacted with more people than usual, I felt my chest puff with pride at who Jenson is.

And yet I’m exhausted from a day on the go, a day where nothing much was achieved.

I’m writing this because I’m not sure what to make of the day.

A certain part of me is aware that I need more time to just ‘be’. Journeys to the station that don’t see me plugged into my phone – listening to something – and instead just enjoying the silence. More lunchtimes with a proper break, getting out of my head and into my body to calm my nervous system, less time trying to multitask, more time with my phone off so I can focus without distraction.

More time that isn’t ruled by outcomes, progress, development.

I can see that this is the way that memories will get made with my son too – by going on adventures, having no fixed purpose but to see what unfolds of the day, to unravel back to childhood as the day gets shaped and shifted by a young child.

And I can see that this is what might build a strong mother and son bond – not fancy holidays, the latest stuff or full-on extra-curricular activities – but being there. Available and willing to get swept away in the ordinary moment.

As I’m writing these words, I can see the benefit of having a shift in my life. At present, life feels like 65% of my awake time is focusing on accomplishing (working hard, organising life, writing/coaching/creating with purpose, parenting – reading books, engaging in activities to be ‘a good parent’), 10% is resting (personal time that I fill with reading, writing, doing), 15% is relational and 10% (if that) is ‘without point’ – not needing an outcome or productivity, just go with the flow.

But I can see the benefit of reshaping this. Not necessarily moving things around or changing the make-up of my life, but shifting my expectations and how I approach things.

In writing this and thinking about it, I’m feeling less terrified about the prospect of being more in the moment.

I see what today has brought me – building the foundations of my relationship with Jenson, interacting with people with more presence (I’m smiling thinking about the cashier who saw Jenson’s beam and said ‘he’s got the best smile, he’s incredible’ – my heart is bigger just thinking of this interaction), allowing myself wild moments of retreat back into my childhood as I surrendered to play and imagination.

And I can see that appreciating this mindfulness in the moment doesn’t have to be black or white – drop my job and be nothing but present in the here-and-now.

But I can see how richer my life might be through allowing myself to be more in the moment, if only a little bit more

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Hands in the earth

I’m someone who always used to think of gardening as boring and for the middle-aged.

I’d wonder why people would spend so much time working on something that I felt so little for. I didn’t see the point of pretty flowers or growing things you could get so easily in a supermarket.

It pretty much reflected my relationship with nature. I didn’t have one.

But things have shifted this year and I’m having to swallow my pride (or acknowledge that I’m entering an early middle age!) as I start to spend time gardening.

That’s what I did last weekend and I want to share with you here the things I noticed from my experience:

Noticing

I have never been one for paying attention to detail.

It’s just not that important to me.

A friends birthday party? Great, yes I’ll accept but only have a cursory think about how I’ll get there the moment I have to leave the house, which often leads to me being late!

But I found a real beauty in slowing down and noticing what was going on around me. The garden bed which I considered to be mostly empty was actually full of clever bind weeds that had tentacles spanning over the whole of the bed.

I suddenly saw how prolific they were – a lesson from Mother Nature that things are not always as they seem and how slowing down and paying attention can be worth it.

The web

Oh my gosh, the amount of roots I discovered as I dug around the patch of earth!

It was like the earth was webbed together with roots. The flowers woven with the honeysuckle, the weeds and the vine we have growing in there.

Little thread veins were EVERYWHERE and I loved the living metaphor for how much we too are connected. With each other, with nature and with something beyond us.

It was beautiful. And so comforting to think about the world beneath our feet. The wildness under our pavement and roads of tree roots and plant roots which network and co-exist together.

As I stare at the Level Park nearby where I’m writing this, I imagine the trees that have been here for hundreds of years and must have a web of interconnected life beneath us. A source of power and strength that we can’t see with our bare eyes but very much is there.

Shifting problems

As I attempted to clear the weeds from the bed, I soon realised why a gardening fork is needed for this work. Because attacking a weed front on – attempting to pull it straight up from the earth – doesn’t work.

The leaves snap off and the weed will soon grow back.

So instead you need to first loosen the weed’s hold on the earth. Wiggling and jiggling the earth around it until it is loose enough to pull out.

There again, another cup full of wisdom from the earth!

How often do we try to solve our problems face on and fail? Try to get healthier by dieting until we fall off the wagon as we haven’t addressed all the things around it –

  • The comfort we get from food
  • How we associate it with a past we haven’t been able to let go of
  • Our disassociation from the raw ingredients that make up our food in this fast-consumption society.
  • Our life that is too busy to take time for real self-care
  • The numbing that foods high in sugar, fat and salt gives us

But start to wiggle and jiggle these things and we might be able to let go of what binds us.

Being physical

My back ached at the end of my weeding session but I adored the focus on being physical. It’s not something I often get in my office job.

In the garden, I used the power in my arms to chop back the blackberry plant. I felt the wind against my skin as it whipped around me. My senses were heightened as I heard the birds calling in the skies.

It was a pleasure to get into my skin and just be there instead of living inside my head – being hijacked by the galloping pace of my thoughts and my emotions.

Being physical brought me peace.


So there you are – a few reflections from my time in the wonderful world of plants.

I’m sure there’ll be many more musings to come.

Ouch!

I was walking down the street a number of months ago, hurrying to pick up a last minute addition to my husband’s birthday presents and passed a father and his son. The son was walking in the same path as I was, and we both did that weird side-to-side shuffle, trying to avoid each other but failing miserably.

He ended up falling to the ground, tripping over my feet. Not hard enough to hurt himself, but he fell.

And the father looked at me angrily after I said ‘sorry!’ and said something I didn’t quite catch.

Perhaps a ‘watch where you’re going’ or something of the sort.

I was a bit shocked – it wasn’t really the fault of either of us – and felt taken aback by his response.

I’m sharing this with you because, unlike my usual reaction, I allowed myself to feel what was going on in my body. The slap-like feeling to my temple, pressure on my chest, the tightening of my throat, the twisting of my stomach.

I allowed myself to feel the hurt physically and it was a new experience for me.

One which I found really interesting.

Likewise, I’ve had a number of situations recently where I’ve felt stung by something someone has said, I’ve felt the hurt of being let down by another.

It links into a comment I’ve heard from a relationship podcast by Esther Perel:

There’s one word that can defuse a conflict with your partner: “Ouch.” As in: “Ouch. That one hurtI don’t know if you were meaning to hurt me; but it hurt.

Through experiencing the feelings that were pulsing through my body, I embodied the feelings.

I felt the ‘ouch’.

I acknowledged the injustice I felt at being snarled at by a stranger for what was an accident. Hurt by a comment. Felt insignificant by being second place.

And it defused the inner conflict I had. The part of me that would refuse to acknowledge what was going on and would push down the feelings deep inside.

I realised it was all about how I was feeling and ouch, it hurt!

On reflection, I think this might be the way fowards for me in dealing with all the emotions I have.

To sit in the pain and feel what’s going on for my body.

To feel into what’s going on for me physically as much as emotionally.

As I do that, I recognise my inter critic. The voice trying to keep me safe by saying ‘you’re not enough, retreat back to a place where you feel safe‘.

And in this moment I choose to instead return to my inner grounding. To recognise that I’m exactly enough for myself.

I see that my ego was hurt by feeling unjustly accused, unjustly hurt, unjustly disregarded.

And, again, when I return to my inner grounding, I hear quiet, powerful voices that say ‘we know it was an accident’, ‘we’re here to comfort you’, ‘we value you.’

I feel the pain and I let it go.

Anger

I’ve been feeling a bit stuck lately. Risking falling back into old patterns of comfort eating and feeling the old echoes of poor self-esteem and the belief that I’m not enough.

It’s been hard, although life has also been full of joy with seeing my son, Jenson develop so beautifully into his own little self. But in the moments of hardship, I’ve felt stretched beyond my means. I think this is mostly down to how I’m pouring all I have into Jenson and work, with little left for myself or other parts of my life.

I need to work out how I can have more balance…I feel like I’m getting there with my mum group looking at how I can find balance and trying to get time to myself. But it all feels like I’m just piling more stuff onto my ‘to do’ list – plan a date night, arrange more fun in my life – and things that should bring me joy are just bringing me a sense of heaviness.

And it doesn’t make me the easiest partner for my husband as I snap at him, feel so wrung out that I have little left for him, put him at the bottom of the list for my consideration and attention.

I hate it. And as understanding and loving as he is, I don’t want to stay like this.

It feels like, at times, little things push me over the edge.

Like how, when was woken up at 5:15am on Sunday by Jenson and it was my turn to look after him, I felt so utterly and completely pissed off.

Angry at having to get up.

Angry at Gregg for being able to sleep in.

Angry at myself for being angry when I have such an angel of a son.

And the only thing I could think to do was to roll my duvet up into a ball and punch it as hard as I could.

It’s a technique a counsellor has suggested to me years ago to express my anger and, not liking her very much, I’d shrugged off as ridiculous.

But, to my surprise, it was amazing.

The thwump sound it made, the resistance it provided, its softness which meant I didn’t hurt myself.

And Jenson found it hilarious, chuckling away at me as I beat my duvet to a pulp.

And in that moment I realised there’s another side to how I’m feeling.

There’s the tender side of me which needs more care and attention.

But there’s the frustrated, angry side of me – the side that holds back my frustration when Jenson is playing up, the frustration of being measured and balanced at work when I feel anything other than that inside, the frustration of having to hold the mental load at home (do we have food to eat, what plans do we have this week, better get the dinner on or we’ll be eating at midnight, how do we get to X, who should we speak to about Y) when I feel up to and over my eyeballs in responsibility.

It’s a side I haven’t acknowledged or expressed but as I was punching that duvet, boy did it feel good!

And so on Monday I went to a box fit class and spent 45 minutes pushing myself physically and enjoying the beautiful release that it was to punch something and release my pent-up rage.

I felt powerful, I felt relieved to have an outlet to how I was feeling.

And I know that this is something I need to explore more – my shadow side, my anger – to be at peace.

And as I do that, I’ll share my findings with you, my 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.

Baby moon

I wrote about my breastfeeding issues a few days ago and, while I’ve stopped being angry at myself for having trouble producing enough milk for Jenson, I’m still frustrated that things haven’t improved. If anything they’ve got a bit worse as Jenson needs to have all the extra milk I’m expressing in order for him to fill up. I’ve started to worry that his demand will outstrip my supply and that my milk will start to dry up…

My good friend Charlie recommended that I call the La Leche League breastfeeding support line to get some advice and I’m so glad I did this afternoon when I was having a wobbly moment. The woman at the end of the phone was really kind and supportive, telling me that I’m trying my best (it’s always nice to hear that!) and gave me some great advice that I’m putting into practice right now.

To have a baby moon.

Not a trip away to a tropical destination – although we’re planning to go away as a family to Vietnam in June (more on that in future posts, I’m sure!) – but a time to get snuggled up warm with my bubba doing lots of skin-to-skin contact*.

Apparently this can increase milk supply more than any food supplement, stout, breast pumping or concoction can.

I’ve written previously about how hard I’ve found the change of pace in my life. Slowing down has been tricky, let alone grinding to a halt to have my baby on me as I rest for as many hours a day as possible.

But this feels different.

Like in doing nothing, I’m doing everything that I need to as a Mum. There’s a point to this stillness.

And could it be that I’m comfortable with the notion of stopping because I’ve been given permission to do nothing? Instead of thinking that I should go out, be active, stimulate Jenson, I’m looking at this time as a chance to pamper myself (reading a book, eating chocolates, watching my favourite tv shows and writing to you) while getting endless cuddles with my son.

Suddenly the pace doesn’t bother me at all. It feels like I’ve entered the start of a very enjoyable baby moon where I relax, sit back, take things slow and look after both myself and my son.

*skin-to-skin is where you get naked on top and have the baby rest on you. It apparently gets the mother’s hormones working, encouraging the body to produce more milk and gets the babies hormones working, encouraging him to breastfeed more.