Friday, 13 March 2015

breathing in & breathing out

For the most part, our days have fallen into the new rhythm of the fresh year. Filled with the familiar routines of breakfast, the school run, laundry and hanging out washing, cooking meals and eager little hands pulling up stools to the work counters to help me chop, stir and taste. Punctuated by cups of tea and favourite story books and tidying up the basket of wooden blocks, whose contents seem constantly strew  over our living room floor. Helping to build towers which are knocked down again seconds later, eliciting delighted giggles. Carefully prepared food tossed from the highchair tray to be swept up and replaced by the next meal a few short hours later. A baby banished from her siblings bedroom for unknowingly causing scenes of mass destruction to carefully laid train tracks and little towns in her eagerness to join in with everything they do. So she sits outside the door alone, patiently waiting for them to finish their game and emerge again until my heart can't take it anymore and she is scooped up and covered in a hundred kisses, just to see that sweet beaming grin cross her face.

Sisterly bickering and taking a back seat whilst they learn how to compromise and negotiate and then smiling as they pack up little cardboard suitcases with their most valuable possessions and set off on a journey, losing themselves in a game of make-believe for hours on end.Tending to our garden and every day noticing new blooms and picking tomatoes and strawberries from our veggie patch (we have been blessed with a bumper crop of both this season). Stealing a moment to hold a sleeping baby in my arms and imprint upon my memory the weight of her there and run my finger along her soft cheek before putting her gently down in her cot. Mason jars and small glass bottles filled with fresh flowers and plants in terracotta pots strewn through the house because they are good for the soul. Folding laundry which doesn't always make it back into the drawers again before the piles need to be rifled through by a child in search of a favourite twirly dress. Kissing sleeping foreheads and slipping out the door for a rare dinner with a few friends accompanied by freely flowing wine and restorative chats. A Daddy who is almost knocked down by the small bodies that launch themselves at him with such force as he walks through the door after long days at work, eagerly awaiting their precious minutes of bedtime stories and shoulder rides with him before bedtime.

I can hardly believe it's March already and the speed at which every year now passes never fails to astound me. As time slips through my hands like sand, I'm reminded how precious the days and weeks are. The life we have created for our little family is nothing extraordinary but it is ours and I feel so thankful for it and the happiness it brings. Of course some days are long, some bring tears of frustration and exhaustion (mine as well as theirs). The little questioning and growing minds that surround me remind me to stay curious, seek out knowledge and make time for creativity despite the thousands of other tasks clamouring for my attention. In turn I hope they are learning to live and love well, staying true to their own hearts and selves and valuing the importance of kindness because the world can never have enough of that.

After 31 years, I know myself well enough now to have realised certain things I will never be and that aren't so important to me after all. For the most part I can see the beauty in others lives and still feel glad of my own. Comparison is inevitable, we are only human after all, but remembering that what we see on social media comprises the highlights reel of everyone's life, not the behind-the-scenes footage definitely helps. As does the knowledge that most perfectly captured shots probably have a pile of dirty washing and a fruit bowl with some questionable over-ripe pears leaking gooey stuff at the bottom just out of shot (well mine do anyway). Two pearls of wisdom that are close to my heart are 'Bloom where you are planted' and 'Stop wondering if the grass is always greener and water yours'. More than anything I am doing my best to remember that the path to contentment lies in letting go of any ideals of perfection and embracing the highs and lows, inherent messiness and joy this life brings. How lucky we are to be able to experience it all.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

take my hand

Life is so busy, unfailingly busy. We’re always in a rush, flying from one thing to the next. Dashing out of the door in the mornings to get to school on time, then maybe errands or on to swimming lessons and hastily heading home for a couple of hours to attempt to get the house in some semblance of order. For as long as I can remember, every time I go anywhere with my Rose she is without fail lagging about four steps behind me, calling “Slow down Mama”. My automatic response has always been “Come on Rose, keep up”. Then yesterday it hit me, the weight of the realisation so heavy upon my chest that I almost burst into tears whilst I was sitting down at the kitchen table, finally grabbing the chance to eat some breakfast after dropping her off for her weekly kindergarten session. She’s only three years old, her little legs simply can’t go any faster.

All this time I have been urging and expecting her to keep up with me, instead of just slowing down myself. Painfully obvious, I know but it felt like some kind of epiphany. Why not hold her hand and walk along beside her instead of reaching for it to propel her forwards? And what exactly is the big rush anyway? Will it be the end of the world if we are a few minutes late for an appointment or at kindergarten that morning? I think not. If we see a feather we like we will stop to pick it up, or pause to tuck a particularly smooth, round pebble away into our pockets. When a bird perches on a fence beside us to sing a tune, we will stay and listen for a moment or stop to point and smile at a castle-shaped cloud in the sky. Together we will walk. She and I, side-by-side where we belong and she will show me all the beauty in the world that is so easy to overlook.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

and so it begins...

Regardless of how the twelve months preceding it went, I always look forward to a new year. Maybe it's because I'm an eternal optimist, but I really appreciate the chance to take stock of how life is travelling and identify any areas which could use some attention and the opportunity to make new goals and seek out my desires. So I've been mulling everything over for a week or two now, with my note pad out and eager pen at the ready but the thing is, I'm stalling. My mind has been reeling and it seems like I've been stuck in some kind of limbo, a deer caught in the headlights and unable to step forward, unsure of my direction and there's something that has felt a lot like anxiety gnawing in the pit of my stomach.

There's no shortage of things I want to do and improve on, places I want to see, new experiences I want to try and goals I'd like to achieve. The thing is that I've not quite yet emerged from the fog that comes with the all consuming nature of a caring for a baby in her first year of life. A time when in spite of everything you've just gained, it is inevitable to feel to some extent that you might have lost something of yourself for a while along the way. To be oh so tired and perhaps momentarily a little unsteady about who you are beyond all of the mothering and the beautiful chaos of raising a family. I've just felt overwhelmed and sort of paralysed by all the possibilities, options and perceived pressures. There's so much I think I should be doing or aiming for that I don't even know where to start or what should be coming out top of the list.

But enough. I realised a day ago that I needed to be kinder to myself. To slowly start to find my way back to myself and the things that matter to me, shaking off any of the ugliness of comparison along the way. And so instead of a list of frantic goals, I have just a word for the year ahead...breathe. To stop and take it all in, soak up everything happening right here and now- the beautiful, the crazy and the mundane. To just be. During these sweetest of years when I am needed so much by my children, my time to forge my own dreams and plans is limited but it's not impossible. It means carving out little opportunities to be creative again and do what comes naturally to me, which will hopefully involve sitting down and writing here more often. So in 2015 I will do my utmost to concentrate on enjoying the here and now instead of tying myself up in knots about the future and how I can make everything happen. And actually, I have a feeling that everything will fall into place. It usually does. Thank you optimism, for always shining through.

Picture taken by Curt, on a walk at my parents farm on our recent trip back to England for Christmas.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

a mother's guilt

In the same way that when you're pregnant for the first time, no-one ever thinks to mention to you that approximately three months after giving birth there's a good chance that about 40% of your hair will fall out in handfuls every time you shower, I never had any idea of the extent of maternal guilt that would inhabit my life once I had a child. I don't think there's a mother out there today that is altogether free of it, no matter how positive their outlook or sunny their disposition. Though I do sometimes wonder if our own mothers generation and those before them felt it to such an extent, but I suppose such is the outcome of increased choices and a focus on motherhood as a vocation at which one must excel rather than just a accepted occurrence that you just got on with.

In my daydreams I like to imagine that we are one of those families that all sits around the table on the daily and enjoys a leisurely breakfast together with some pleasant banter to kick of the morning. Surely this should be relatively simple to achieve, however when Curt leaves the house for work every week day at some ungodly hour before even my earliest riser has climbed out of bed, we fall at the first hurdle. Secondly; and most hard for me to come to terms with, is the fact that I am not a let's- leap-out-of-bed-and-greet-the-morning-with-unbridled-joy person. Maybe I was a couple of decades ago but six years of broken sleep on and off will downright destroy any trace of that remaining in a person. Now, when forced to drag myself from a horizontal position I am bleary eyed and like to be left alone for a while, to drink my coffee in peace and come to terms with the fact that a new day has dawned. I usually make the children breakfast still in a zombie-like state, declining requests to sit and join them. Instead I often wait until they are finished and happily playing with their baby sister, and then I take a few minutes to get my caffeine-fix and eat a bowl of granola whilst checking my emails, writing a to-do list for the day and having a quick browse of social media.

I often feel a pang of guilt that in choosing to have a larger clan, I am neglecting the needs of each of my children and that I don't have the time to spend with them one-on-one. For not getting down on the floor and playing with them as much as I probably should, even though I would rather poke myself repeatedly with a sharp stick than play 'shops' or 'Mums and Dads'. In my defence, I do love Sylvanian Families probably more than they do and am a dab hand when it comes to arts and craft projects. Then I remind myself that their siblings are their playmates, and I hope they will be their best friends, confidantes and support network for the rest of their lives. They are resourceful, well able to amuse themselves and have incredible imaginations probably due to the fact I'm not breathing down their necks all day long. On the other hand, children without siblings have rich lives in many other ways, and the undivided attention of their parents. Of course it's never black and white. Sometimes it doesn't even come down to chance, just circumstances and even if choices are there to be made there isn't simply a right or wrong option where the correct decision provides respite from the guilt trip.

Whenever I come across an interview with a working mother, I often read how they make sure they keep their work and home worlds separate, so they can be fully present with their child or children when they come home and give them their full undivided attention. That it's not the quantity of their time that's important, but the quality of it. As someone who is attempting to work from home, even when it's just for a few hours a week, this makes me feel slightly uncomfortable. Especially if I've just been trying to bash out a bit of work at the computer, juggling a baby on one knee and saying to my three year old, "Just hang on a minute" for the thousandth time that day. I start debating f I should go back to work full-time, then would our time together be more valuable or special? Then I remember all of the milestones I have been there to watch, the adventures big and small that we've embarked on together and memories we've made, and the fact that I'm bringing them up the way I want to, rather than according to the policy of a day-care centre.

I think a lot of us forget that it's ok, perfectly normal in fact, not to love everything about being a parent. To occasionally want to escape to an uninhabited tropical island, just for the opportunity to got to the toilet alone (even if that would have to be behind a palm tree) and get a moments peace. Or to long for a night out with our other half, where let's face it, the evening would more than likely mainly consist of sharing anecdotes and reminiscing about how great our offspring are. There's no shame in those days where you are on the verge of  tears about everything and nothing. We should never forget that we're doing a great job. Actually, having the words 'You're doing a great job' tattooed on the back of your hand should probably be mandatory for about 90% of the population when they become parents. And when we sometimes mess up and maybe give out a cross word instead of a hug or forget a promise, they still love us. Every time.

Having said all that, I think I will actually start sitting down with them to eat breakfast every day. The laptop can sit untouched, my phone can be put away. Emails and social media can wait. It certainly won't be the perfect scenario I carry in my head, but while my children still want me to just be with them, I should grab that chance. The day will come, sooner than I can ever realise now, when they won't crave my company in the same way. Or probably want to be seen out anywhere at all with me for a few years. Then a little while after that they'll be out in the world doing their thing and my own world will slowly return to me. Then I'll get to have all the slow and peaceful breakfasts my heart desires, but the table will be a lot quieter without them. And I know I'll miss them like crazy.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

taking stock

A little snapshot of life as it is right now, because it's fun to look back one day and remember.

Making: A mobile to hang above Pearl's cot, from driftwood and tiny ceramic birds, a ceramic leaf and a tiny ceramic toadstool.
Cooking: Lots of roast chicken, parmesan baked potatoes, and asparagus while it's still in season.
Drinking: A glass of warm water with lemon every morning when I wake, and a glass of pinot before bed.
Reading: Emily of New Moon by L.M. Montgomery (the author of Anne of Green Gables). I should probably start reading real books for grown ups again but this is just pure escapism for me and about all my weary brain can handle right now.
Wanting: To make a new batch of granola as my breakfasts have been decidedly lacking it without it for the past couple of weeks.
Deciding: On a pre-school for Rose for next year, the local Steiner school is topping the list for me at the moment.
Enjoying: Dipping into 'An Everlasting Meal' by Tamar Adler. A different kind of cookbook which is changing the way I look at food, cooking and eating in general.
Waiting: Not very patiently, and with a great deal of excitement for our upcoming trip back to England in December.
Liking: Starting to do some work from home for a few hours a week and earn a little money again.
Wondering: When Pearl's first tooth will decide to arrive because it feels like she's been teething forever with nothing to show for it yet.
Loving: The warmer, lighter evenings.
Considering: An attempt at baking a loaf of sourdough bread.
Watching: Recorded episodes of George Clarke's Amazing Spaces.
Marvelling: At the garden bursting into Spring bloom. Every morning we wake to discover that a new plant has flowered.
Needing: More hours in the day.
Smelling: Pearl's little head, to get my fix of that new baby smell before it disappears.
Following: Along as this lady rocks her minimalist wardrobe and feeling inspired to do the same.
Admiring: Anyone who manages top get out of the house in the mornings without leaving the place looking like it's been burgled.
Buying: A few Christmas presents for the girls, including this book and these storytelling dice for Lila, so that we don't bankrupt ourselves in December.
Noticing: I really need to re-paint my toenails and get a fringe trim so I can actually see again.
Getting: The house decluttered by purging it of things we no longer need or don't actually use. It's a never-ending process.
Bookmarking: This list of Ways to be Kind to Your Children. Because lately I feel like I've been tired and snappy with them too often.
Disliking: The constant stream of illness that has rampaged through our household non-stop during the colder months. Please let it be over now!
Opening: A frighteningly big electricity bill that we managed to rack up over the Winter. Vowing that I will make everyone wear three jumpers each next Winter and never turn the heating on.
Laughing: At Rose and the way she says 'I-chair' instead of high chair and how she informs me that her hands have gone all 'sprinkly' after spending too long in the bath.
Feeling: Tired but happy.
Snacking: On bowls of chopped fruit mixed with natural Greek yoghurts, a handful of almonds and a drizzle of honey.
Wishing: That we had a dishwasher. Three children and no dishwasher is not a situation I could recommend to anyone.
Coveting: A new pair of summer sandals. There's a pair of Birks in my online shopping cart patiently waiting for payday.
Hearing: The girls playing outside together in the garden
Looking: Forward to getting back in the water and reacquainted with my surfboard again over the next few months.
Feeling: Virtuous that we've finally started using cloth nappies with Pearl, and guilty that we didn't with the other two, but all that washing whilst living in tiny apartments and homes with no drying space was just not feasible.
Hoping: to make a Saturday morning yoga class a regular thing. I've managed to get there the past three weekends and I've been feeling so much better because of it.
Wearing: A lot of outfits revolving around black skinny jeans, Breton striped t-shirts and a chambray shirt because it's easy and requires little effort. Thinking I should apply a dab of red lip stain to try and avoid looking completely like a boy, but usually forgetting.
Reminding: myself that I have a lot to be thankful for.

Pictures...the beautiful pink king proteas currently gracing our table...the mobile I made to hang above Pearl's cot...a newly flowering geranium....a newly sitting Pearl discovering grass for the first vision of a wooden fence with climbing flowers growing up it is slowly coming to fruition.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

let the sisterhood unite

Us women, we are so hard on ourselves. And sometimes, each other. And when children come into the equation, this is only intensified ten fold. So many expectations to strive towards; rearing the most well-rounded children, being a text book wife or partner, maintaining the perfect home, keeping a foot on the career ladder and of course looking flawless whilst doing all (just because we have kids now, it doesn't mean that we've taken our finger off the style pulse, or god forbid, become 'mumsy'.) Well I'm putting my hand up and saying I've fallen off the bandwagon. If sporting an ugly pink fleece dressing gown for too many hours of the day with hair that relies embarrassingly heavily on dry shampoo repels anyone then I'm sorry but it's the truth. I have no idea what I'll do when it's time one day to leap back into the work force with both feet. I also couldn't possibly tell you what's current in the music scene because when I try and listen to a radio station playing the latest hits my kids just latch onto the most horrendous pop songs with questionable lyrics and sing them relentlessly. So we end up listening to Smooth FM in the car which makes me feel like I'm sixty, but at least it's a relaxing antidote to any bickering coming from the back. I can't pretend this isn't making me shudder a little...just who exactly have I become? But at the same time, I'm tired. And I suspect I'm not the only one. Tired because I have a three month old baby but also tired of the pressure of trying to seem like I always have it together (of course anyone who spends time with me regularly knows this is certainly not the case).

I think we need to be kinder to ourselves and to each other. When we become parents we all inevitably do things slightly differently and though we're no doubt guilty of a bit of judgement now and then, the bottom line is that we all love our kids like crazy and we're just trying to do the best we possibly can for them, whatever that looks like. And you know what? That's good enough. I feel incredibly lucky to be surrounded by an amazing, unfailingly supportive bunch of friends who never make me feel lacking for my shortcomings but when womenkind in general are being upheld to ridiculous expectations of 'doing it all' from everywhere we turn then it's time for the sisterhood at large to rally together and reassure each other that it's ok just to be ok. There's something chilling about the idea of motherhood and life in general being a competition. Most days I'm not excelling in any field, just getting by and finding happiness in the small moments when my baby breaks into a beautiful smile when she sees me or when I find my eldest with her head buried in a book. Then I know I must be doing something right. My three year old certainly isn't wearing a pair of the latest trendy leggings that cost half of a weeks grocery shop, but she's eaten two and a half meals today. If I also managed to shower, get dressed and do a load of laundry and hang it before it started smelling all damp and horrible then things are looking good from where I'm standing.

This life business that we're all trying to figure out as we go along, ebbs and flows like the tides, and  we all encounter days when wish we could just crawl back into bed. Often a cup of tea and a hug can be all that's needed to get back on track, and the reminder that we're all in it together, doing our best to keep the train of daily life on the tracks. Next time we find ourselves at the playground, let's vow to throw out a smile and a hello to the other mothers that don't look like they've just stepped off the fashion pages of the latest magazine, but do look like they would welcome some extra sleep. Or if children aren't in the equation, then maybe a quick chat and a cuppa with a work colleague who you suspect may have had a rough week. The bottom line is we never know what battles others are fighting behind closed doors and it's easy enough to spread a little compassion and support each other.

It has bothered me a lot more than it should that I can't fit into most of my pre-pregnancy jeans (turns out that regaining your body after three babies is not quite the walk in the park it was after the first two) but I'm not wasting another minute of precious time dwelling on it. I know I'll get there in the end. No doubt when I find the willpower to stop eating chocolate and make time to exercise. And even if my hips never return to their former selves, well it's really not that important. My precious little crew, flaws and all, is worth a whole lot more to me than the satisfaction of fitting into all the skinny jeans in the universe. I hope you feel the same way too and know that if your house isn't as clean as you'd like or your hair isn't cooperating today then you're not alone, because I can guarantee mine isn't either. Lets just shrug our shoulders, smile about it together and instead get on with enjoying all the good things life has to offer.

Image via Pinterest. Sadly I wasn't able to discover it's source.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

reading material

As much as I love to have my head buried in a novel whenever possible, I also appreciate a good non-fiction read too. I've never really been drawn to self-help bibles and generally steered clear of the majority of run-of-the-mill parenting manuals, preferring to follow my instincts after I picked up a copy of The Contented Little Baby by Gina Ford shortly after my eldest was born. While her approach no doubt works for some, it quite frankly terrified me with all its talk of rigid scheduling of newborn babies and seemingly a complete loss of joy and flexibility in the whole parenting experience. However, there are a few books in particular that I've come across which have really made an impact over the past couple of years. These have inspired me, offered up new ways of thinking, put forward practical tips and confirmed in my mind the kind of lifestyle I want for myself and my family. I usually borrow any I am interested in from the local library first and if there's one I truly love then I will buy a copy to refer to whenever the mood strikes. Here are the ones which have made the most lasting impression...

Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids // By Kim John Payne

If you are a parent (or are thinking about becoming one in the near future), then I would seriously recommend getting hold of a copy of this book. It brings to attention the undeniable truth that our lives today are busier, faster, with too much stuff, too many choices and too little time and this is all leaving childhood in a sad state of affairs. Offering up a blueprint for change, it helps parents reclaim for their children the space and freedom that all kids need for their attention to deepen and their individuality to flourish. It advocates scary things like getting rid of at least 50% your children's toys and not just plonking them down in front of the TV when you need to get things done, but I can say hand on heart that I've found that these things are so worth doing. Aside from ideas on how to streamline your home environment, it offers advice on how to establish rhythms and rituals which help children feel secure and ease tensions, how to provide intervals of calm and connection in your child's daily routine and scale back on parental and media involvement.

Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder // By Richard Louv

I love the idea behind this book, which documents decreased exposure of children to nature in our modern society (the book focuses on America as this is the home of the author, but the message is relevant to us all), and how this harms children and society. The message is that direct exposure to nature is essential for healthy childhood development and for the physical and emotional health of children and adults. It examines a lot of research and certainly some of the text can get a bit heavy at times but it's easy enough to dip in and out of chapters, focusing on any which particularly grab you. The list at the end, which breaks down all the different ways you can get out and experience nature with your children is fantastic if you feel like you're lacking in ideas.

Free-Range Kids: How to raise safe, self-reliant children (Without Going Nuts with Worry) // By Lenore Skenazy

This is written by the mother who hit the headlines and caused a media furore a few years ago for a piece she wrote about letting her 9 year old boy ride the subway in New York City alone. Dubbed 'America's Worst Mother' by some commentators, she was applauded by others for allowing her son (who had ridden the subway countless times before and been fully coached on how to handle the excursion) the freedom he was desperate for a taste of. The antidote to the increasing number of 'helicopter parents' in todays world, Free-Range Kids has since become a national movement, advocating that children today shouldn't be sheltered from every possible risk, danger or difficulty in their everyday lives, as this gives them no opportunity to grow up. Indeed, the greatest risk of all might just be trying to raise a child who never encounters choice or independence.

Rethink: The Way You Live // By Amanda Talbot

This beautiful, hardback book with stunning photographs shows how in different corners of this rapidly changing world, people are reviving age-old methods and redesigning their homes and communities to blend with modern life. We are having to adapt to accommodate new social and environmental behaviour and more of us finding creative outlets for reuse, recycling and reappropriation in our homes. It has an emphasis on day-to-day habits such as growing your own food, sourcing quality products instead of big-name brands, and taking time to craft rather than purchase. Focusing on case studies of specific families, couples and individuals in various countries, it takes a look into their lives and homes and reveals the ways we can combine old resourcefulness with new methods, modern technology and a fresh vision and strive to weave creativity, sustainability and quality into our life and home.

The Thrift Book: Live Well and Spend Less // By India Knight

My mother bought this book for me one Christmas, when I was just setting out in my first (very badly paid) 'proper' job post University and travelling, which was also when the recession first hit. Though it was written back in 2009, it's still incredibly relevant and I continue to pull it off the shelves and read it at least once a year, just to refresh my memory of its genius advice. It's written by the very humorous British author India Knight, who is a regular columnist for The Sunday Times. All about how to live beautifully while saving money and easing your conscience, it covers every aspect of life from how to make wonderful dinners with very little money, dressing fabulously on a budget, and holidaying imaginatively with very little carbon footprint. It contains a wealth of great suggestions, tips and resources though I should point out that whilst a lot of the advice is universal, some of it is tailored with the UK resident in mind.
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