The new year ahead

The end of this year is slowly drawing near and, as I sit here, waiting to return to the UK, I find myself thinking of the year to come.

It’s bittersweet to let go of 2019 as it means letting go of my time here in Australia and facing the rhythm of life back in Brighton which I enjoyed getting away from.

I enjoyed time with my family.

I enjoying visiting new places.

I enjoyed getting into a new rhythm which was of a slower beat.

So part of my reflections are about how I can incorporate a slower pace back home when I often feel like I’m functioning at a sprint-like pace.

I’m not sure how that will be possible without changing something.

I find myself dreaming about the return to full-time with compressed hours to have a day a fortnight just to myself. And in equal measure feel delight at the thought of some space and time to myself and apprehension about abandoning my Friday with Jenson.

I know the stride that Gregg and myself got into at the end of the year – eating dinner as a family – broke our rhythm of eating in front of the TV in a zombie-like state when Jenson was asleep and feel like that commitment will continue to be important so we connect as a couple and make more conscious choices about how we spend our evenings. Reading or talking more than consuming mindless media.

Being intentional with my phone will also be important. Getting offline more often than I’m online to quieten my mind.

Continuing to listen to myself and the signs I feel internally – the amped-up stress hormones, the jingly nerves, the unfurling feelings of overwhelm – to stop when things start to get out of control.

And as my sister pointed out as she drove us to the airport, not filling every day full to the brim will also be an important factor. Allowing and embracing time to just be instead of the snowball roll of activity needs to feature more in 2020.

Another reflection I have is how I hope that 2020 will be a year of radical self-love.

I was doing a visual meditation the other day and, in it, found myself in front of a horse. With great love and respect, I stroked its velvet nose and neck. And felt the call through this meditation for me to treasure myself in the same way I did the horse.

I long for that – to be firmly rooted in self-love and honour myself as a default in all I do. To carry with me a self-love that allows me to put up fierce boundaries and to be someone who loves themselves exactly as they are.

I find those sorts of people enchanting, attractive, enticing. People who are firm in their self-worth in a world that tells us we’re lacking feel almost dangerous, definitely rebellious and that’s what I feel is around the corner for me.

And I dare to believe that 2020 might be the year that I step into that.

I also sense that 2020 will be a year of growth.

A year of learning how to value different opinions and lean into disagreement with others.

A year where I let go of my notion of self a little bit to explore who I could be.

A year where I stretch myself intellectually, emotionally, physically in different ways yet to be explored.

Where I lean into what it means to be a person as a connected part of the planet.

Where I explore who I am and where I want to be.

And I’m starting to feel excited the prospect of it as I start to loosen my grip on 2019 and let go of what was to make space for what is to come in the year ahead.

Only a few days left

Just shy of a month ago I started an adventure of my dreams – a trip around Asia with my husband and five – now soon to be six – month old baby boy. I’m now sat in the north of Vietnam, surrounded by beautiful rice fields and mountains with only a few days left of this trip and am reflecting on what this time has given me and my family.

I think that I’ve mostly enjoyed the space that these travels have given me. Time away from the normal humdrum rhythm of life where there is washing to do, cleaning to avoid and constantly things to do or fix around the house. With Gregg by my side, it has been lovely to co-parent our son instead of being chief in charge of his care, snatching minutes to do little things for me or my coaching business here and there when Gregg gets back from work.

It’s also given me a glimpse of the reality of going back to work as, even with his daddy showering him with love, Jenson constantly reaches towards me for comfort when he’s tired, restless, upset or feeling any difficult emotion. And it makes sense because I have solely fed him, spent 90% of his life with him, slept curled around him. So I’m aware that, as much as it’s right for me to go back to work in just over a week, it’s going to be brutally hard at times. For Jenson, for Gregg and for me.

The new reality of parenthood has firmly sunk in (even more than it had before – if that’s possible!). Our trip away has been wonderful, but it has been at Jenson’s pace. We’ve been tucked up in bed by 10:30 at the latest, I’ve only had a few sips of the delicious alcohol over here and there has been less time for personal reflection as I would have done before, no hours spent journaling in beautiful cafes or reading for hours on beautiful beaches. It’s not bad or lesser or not preferable. It’s just not the same. And even though life will go back to a more similar version of what was before as Jenson finds his independence and grows up, I firmly know that my life has been changed forever as a mum.

And the life change has been wonderful in ways as we have been welcomed by the Cambodians and Vietnamese people we have met so warmly all because of Jenson. We’ve been engaged with so much more, had Jenson spirited away into a person’s arms so we could eat a meal as a couple and at times couldn’t walk 10 meters without someone coming up to talk to us about Jenson. He’s been cherished, loved and has enthralled the people we’ve met and has opened peoples hearts to show us more of these countries than I could have ever hoped.

This time has also shown me all that is possible with a baby. How it is possible to travel with children. How it is possible to live life as a parent without being in constant state of fear about what might happen. How parenting is about trusting my instincts instead of some ‘how-to’ book. How I can write my own rules as a mum. And that has been refreshing and eye-opening.

Finally, this trip has shown me that I’m not finished adventuring. As I said when I left Cambodia, I’ve loved exploring this part of the world, seeing new things and learning about other people and myself. While Gregg has shared with me that he is ready to come home, I’ve got a few more countries in me still. I feel that I could continue onto Laos or spend another month going to China to explore different cultures and places. There is so much of this world to explore and I am keen to see more of it!

Oh how I could go on – there is so much more I could reflect on as this trip as brought so much richness into my life but for now, this is enough. I’m off for a final walk of the day around this beautiful area of the world.

Cambodia

We’re just preparing to leave for Siem Reap Airport to leave Cambodia and set off for three and a half weeks in Vietnam. This first week has flown by and I’ve been surprised at how much I’ve loved this country that we tacked onto our trip almost as an afterthought.

So I want to spend a few moments reflecting on this experience with you, dear friend.

What we’ve seen

We arrived in the capital, Phnom Penh, and spent 2 full days looking around it. As many visitors do, we went to visit S21, the school where thousands of people were tortured into giving false confessions about crimes they had committed and were subsequently executed. To think that humans are capable of such atrocities, such hateful acts of violence and cruelty, is unthinkable. I don’t understand the lure of power that pushes men and women to act in such ways and it’s difficult to imagine that similar things are taking place around the world today.

After this we went to the Killing Fields, where thousands of people were killed en masse under the Khmer Rouge. Some people survived the brutality of this regime and their stories were shared on the excellent audio guide. One of these stories has stayed with me. A lady had just had a baby when the Khmer Rouge came to power. She was put to work in the fields and, on no more than a few bowls of watered down rice soup a day and hours of toiling in the fields, was unable to produce enough milk for her baby and was only able to feed him at night after 12+ hours of gruelling work. And sadly, but not surprisingly, her baby died. I cried for her – the distress she must have felt at not being able to do enough for her child, how she’s still haunted by her past to this day – and it put my challenges breastfeeding Jenson into perspective. It’s been a bit of a struggle but I’ve had access to support, time to rest up, the ability to switch to formula if needed, a supply of supplements…everything I could wish for. I’m so very lucky and I have nothing to complain about.

Travelling with a baby

Jenson has been such a delight on this trip. Sure, it’s not like a trip without a baby – I watched one film during the 17 hour flight and was stretched beyond my means when we arrived in Cambodia having only had 10 hours sleep over 2 days and was faced with a baby who was wide awake.

But it’s been as I had hoped. Jenson loves being out and about in Asia. He has smiles for everyone we meet and is content to be in his baby carrier as we explore everything around us.

He’s also been happy to have naps on the go so we’ve been able to have dinner out each night and have been up at 4am to watch sunrise over the temple of Angkor Wat. He’s been a real dream.

It’s also been amazing to see him take his first bits of food over here. A bite of some watermelon, a nibble of some vegetables (all safe stuff, before you start worrying, mum!). Seeing him grow and develop and take more and more stuff in on our journey.

Highlights

There have been so many amazing things that we’ve been lucky to see. Here’s just a few of them:

  • Cycling around the red dirt roads of rural Cambodia
  • A visit to the houses on stilts and boat ride on the Tonlé Sap lake
  • $4 massages!
  • Delicious noodle soup for breakfast
  • Exploring the temples of Angkor

So many things that have opened my eyes and brought a smile to my face.

The people

Oh how I’ve loved the Cambodian people I’ve met. They’ve been through such atrocities less than a generation ago and yet they are truly warm, welcoming and always seem to have a smile of their faces.

And they have been beautiful with Jenson. I can’t count the number of people who have asked to take photos of him or have held him whilst we’ve eaten dinner or had a massage! They are such wonderful people and they have made this time here so special.

Right, got to dash to the airport so will stop here! It’s been an incredible start to a trip of a lifetime.

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