What Do You See?

What do you see

When you look at me?

A smile that hints

Of days carefree?

A poised stand?

A steady hand?

Shoulders built

To withstand?

 

What do you hear

When I speak?

Commanding voice,

Or mouse-like squeak?

A confident tone?

Words I hone?

Someone for whom

Concern is unknown?

 

What do you think

If you think of me?

A person who knows

Who they’re meant to be?

Clear direction

No doubt or question?

A life aspiring

To perfection?

 

But look again

And do you see

The feelings that

Sit heavily?

 

Reddened eyes,

A sleep disturbed.

Furrowed brow,

A mind perturbed.

Tear tracks from

A row off scene,

Tension held

Beneath the sheen.

A back cowed

Under the weight,

Lethargy carried,

In a heavy gait.

A foot that taps

A secret fear –

We’re not always

As we appear.

 

Look again

And you will find

The mask we often

Shelter behind.

 

 

 

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No Parent is an Island

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‘How can someone who is never alone feel lonely?’

 

There has been much talk recently about the subject of loneliness amongst mothers, particularly new mothers. It is an important subject and one which is rightfully getting air time. After the initial fuss – the excitement, the visitors, the interest – tails off,  reality kicks in. Partners – if there is one – go back to work and the mother embarks on a new normality with her baby. Often, especially in those early weeks, this will be spent in the home trying to make sense of this new world order, trying to interpret those screams, trying to understand baby’s needs, and trying not to feel completely out of one’s depth. It is a scary time, and a lonely one too.

 

I certainly recall feeling isolated at times during those early months. This was for two reasons. Firstly because of my own – incorrect – perceptions. I believed I wasn’t that good at the job, that everyone else was a better mother than me, that I was an impostor into the role. This was despite the evidence to the contrary – my daughter was thriving, she was happy, healthy and flourishing. Yet I was still hung up on an inferiority complex which made me feel isolated – because, surely every other mum knew exactly what she was doing at all times, right?

 

The other reason for my sense of isolation was that my husband and I did things slightly differently. After a few months, I returned to work and my other half took Shared Parental Leave. For us, it was the right choice and we both benefitted from building our own bonds with our beautiful daughter. There was though an element of isolation in what we did for each of us. This was due to some of the responses we got from others, and I also had a sense of not quite fitting in:  I felt like I was half in the work world, half in the parenting world and at times, I felt isolated.

 

But what helped me were the kind words of friends who were also mums. When they told me ‘you’re doing a great job’ or ‘your baby’s such a happy baby because of you’ my spirits soared. And with each positive comment, my confidence started to build and those self-imposed perceptions started to crumble until eventually I started to see things differently. I was doing fine. I was a good mother. What I learnt from that experience was the importance of a gentle, thoughtful word for a mother – it can empower, support and inspire self-belief. I purposefully want to encourage other mums with my words.

 

The other thing that helped, unexpectedly, was feedback I received online. I started to share my thoughts and experiences in a series of posts and some of the supportive opinions shared made me realise: I wasn’t the only one feeling this way. Lots of parents struggle with a sense of being torn between our varying roles and responsibilities – and, however we parent, we are all doing our absolute best.

 

Isolation and loneliness can really challenge mothers, and indeed, fathers, particularly at a time when they may already be feeling vulnerable and emotional. We can all help to overcome this by supporting each other so we as parents know: I’m not on my own.

This first appeared on http://www.meetothermums.com

The Woman Who Disappeared

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I had disappeared. And I didn’t know where I might be found.

‘I just want to feel like me again,’ I said, tearfully, two weeks into motherhood. Perhaps a wander out alone might help? But the half hour spent loitering without purpose at the shops just left me feeling anxious. As I meandered the aisles, I felt bereft, as if part of me was missing. Who was this impostor purporting to be me? The woman I had known before would never have felt a lump form in her throat over such an innocuous task as choosing a shower gel.

‘Starting to look like me again,’ I said as aesthetically I took control with straighteners and eyeliner and mascara. But even the successful donning – albeit with effort – of a once favoured pair of jeans, rediscovered after nine months without wear, didn’t bring me back. The person I saw in the mirror, staring intently as if searching for recognition, was a stranger.

‘An evening out will do me good. Like old times.’ But old times had never been like this. My eyes fixed to the screen of my phone, wondering if it was too soon to call again, before flickering briefly away to my watch, silently willing the dinner to be served quickly and bring about a swift conclusion to the evening. And the wine, which used to make me giggly and chatty and merry and glad, just made me feel tired, and more than a little despondent.

‘It will be nice to get back to normal.’ Yet this felt anything but. The once familiar seat, the desk still piled with notes scribbled in my handwriting, the keyboard upon which my hands used to dance easily, felt alien. How can just a few months create such a distance?

I didn’t feel like me anymore.

And then I realised: this was me now.

The person I had been before had gone and she was never coming back. How could she? Where once I had carried my heart around in me, now it existed outside, encapsulated in my precious daughter. And nothing would ever be the same again, not now I had the consciousness of my child with me at all times. I would always be checking my phone, thinking about her, worrying about her, missing her and carrying her with me. Which meant that never again would I feel as I once had. Whatever I was doing, be it working, socialising, or simply going about the mundane chores of my daily life. This search for me was fruitless as that ‘me’ didn’t exist anymore.

This is me. And as soon as I recognised this fact, I could stop looking and relax, accepting myself for who I was now without worry or fear or regret. I didn’t mourn the loss of the person who had gone before, the person who had disappeared forever in the moment my daughter was born, though I was glad that she had existed. This now, this person, was who I was always meant to be; mother, above all else, at the core of who I am. All the other things that used to define me – work, play, likes, dislikes – were still there, just less important.

I’m not searching anymore for that woman. I don’t need to.

Because this is me, now.

The Pramshed

2016: Take The Good With You

 

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And so it turns out that the smouldering embers of 2016 still have power to burn. That even in these dwindling days, there is still time to heap more sadness upon a brow-beaten people. The death of a beloved musical icon, a tragedy amplified by the fact that it occurred on Christmas Day – what should be the happiest day of the year – is rendered even more poignant by the subsequent tales of his generosity and humanity. What a legacy to leave.

 

This, and the other recent celebrity deaths, appear to pile misery upon misery. This year, no doubt, has witnessed the loss of a number of people who touched the lives of many others. They made an impact, be it through music or film or service for others, or just by the sheer force of their personality,  and their loss has been felt keenly with fitting posthumous tributes; one hopes that they knew of the esteem within which they were held during their – sometimes short – lifetimes.

 

But it’s not just the deaths, as tragic as they have been. In 2016, our screens have been filled with scenes of human suffering, almost too horrific to fathom. Then there has been the hate, the vitriol, spoken and written, which has underlined deep divisions within society. And politically, wherever you sat, campaigns and debates often got ugly. Indeed, the EU Referendum felt like a deeply unpleasant experience, setting families and friends on opposing sides, creating rifts and anger.

 

So no wonder that people are talking about 2016 as the worst year ever. It’s no surprise that people are looking over the horizon to 2017, and the potential for a brighter tomorrow. There is a sense that the world will exhale a collective breath of relief as midnight comes around on 1st January.

 

All understandable; this year has been strange. Odd. Scary. Sad. I suspect in the future, my daughter will be taught about the events of this year in school. But to me it feels wrong to reduce a whole twelve months to just a few words, just a ‘terrible’ year. Because to summarise 366 days in this way negates all of the good, all of the happy that there has been.

 

And it has been there. The tales of heroism, like the Brownlee brothers embodying what it means to be family. Or the outpouring of love and support, in the form of more than 250,000 Christmas cards, for a little boy with terminal cancer. Or the fundraising for Stand Up To Cancer or Children in Need, people putting their hand in their pocket to help others.

 

It’s been there in our own lives too. In the big things, like getting a gorgeous new nephew to love. And it’s been there too in the small things, the everyday things. The reassuring grip of a baby’s hand around the finger. A thoughtful text sent on a long day. A compliment about an outfit, the one you weren’t sure about but now you’re so glad that you wore.

 

Yes, this year has been replete with sadness, tragedy, hurt and pain. But there has also been love and joy and fun and laughter.We need to look for the light because it’s there. And so, as the year draws to a close, take from it the memories that made you smile, the feelings that lifted your soul; those are the things to treasure.

Rediscovering the Magic of Christmas

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We had become jaded, the two of us. The cost, the stress, the hassle. The overindulgence and the nauseating hangovers. The songs which jarred, the garish decorations, the embarrassing jumpers. The joy of giving, which could only be achieved via a painful, directionless, bad-tempered shopping trip. The warm fuzzy feeling, all too fleeting, replaced swiftly by a lingering guilt over excessive spending. The pleasure of a full tummy, accompanied by a wistful remark about ‘three hours cooking for twenty minutes eating.’ And once the main day was at an end, we’d be itching to get back to normal.

 

Christmas wasn’t what it used to be.

 

But then you came along.

 

And suddenly, it’s different.

 

Your sweet-sounding ‘ooohs’ and ‘aaaahs’ of excitement as you haphazardly pull back the window on your advent calendar. Each day you are even more happy than before to discover your chocolate treat, the smile upon your face as broad as if you have stumbled upon a great treasure. Your energetic moves to the Christmas songs on the radio, your knees bending in time with the music. You have no self-consciousness as you shake your limbs clumsily; you care not a jot who’s watching. The way you point to the lights. ‘There,’ you say for emphasis, in case we’ve missed the glimmering beams which cut through the gloom. Your first taste of a mince pie, the way you screw up your face in distaste before deciding that actually, it wasn’t so bad after all and yes please to another bite. The way you stare transfixed at the snow globe upon the shelf, your eyes wide at the tiny winter scene playing out within.  And your first meeting with Father Christmas, a bemused visit, but the present he gives you so very well received. You tear at the paper with an urgency, an eagerness to get to the cuddly toy within which makes you grin cheekily.

 

And as we watch you, the joy, the excitement, the curiosity dancing in your eyes, your emotions spread to us by osmosis. Our hearts leap like yours at the sight of a beautifully decorated tree. We open our mouths and let our voices ring out to join in a festive song, whilst you babble along contentedly. We excitedly write our Christmas cards, a task made even more special by the fact that they have been ‘designed’ by you. And we look forward to the 25th with joyful, almost childlike anticipation, knowing that that date will bring a beautiful perspective as we watch the festivities unravel through your eyes.

 

You’ve given us back the magic. You’ve reminded us that the season isn’t all about the shopping, the spending, the cooking, the cleaning, the task. Rather it’s about the laughing, the playing, the dancing, the singing, the loving, the feeling. You’ve given us a joyful gift – the gift of feeling young and carefree again. As we watch you, we are transported back to our own childhoods; every now and then, we will catch a faraway look in each other’s eyes, and as our vision fogs, we are reliving the same feelings that you, our darling daughter, are experiencing now.

 

But, the magic isn’t just for Christmas; it’s for life. It’s in the ordinary every day. It’s in your first bite of cake, a delicious treat to be discovered. It’s in the way you look on in awe at the bubbles we blow together. It’s in the way you kick out your feet excitedly as you fly high upon a swing.  It’s in the way we pull funny faces together in the mirror. It’s in the way we break into your favourite song in a busy restaurant, just to make you laugh. It’s in the way it feels to just live, without self-consciousness, without self-censorship, without fear of the judgement of others.

 

Being an adult is tough, and some days it can be lacking in joy. But you’ve helped us to rediscover the magic, the sense of wonderment that can be found in the simplest of things. Through your eyes, the world is a kaleidoscope of beauty.

Hot Pink Wellingtons

The Lies My Pregnant Self Told

 

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Look at her, all smug and deluded, completely unaware of what’s coming next….

 

 

That woman…the one with the huge, protruding bump, so enormous it looks as if it will cause her to topple over. That woman, with the beatific smile and the dreamy look in her eyes. That woman, who has just said to her friend, with a self-assured nonchalance: ‘I know it will be hard but I’m sure it won’t be that bad,’ a remark met by a knowing look, and an unspoken ‘you’ll see.’

 

That woman….she’s a fool. A fool who told herself lies.

 

And that fool…was me…..

 

  1. ‘It’ll be great having a baby in the summer. I’ll be able to sunbathe whilst the baby sleeps in her pram in the shade’.

Oh how I laugh bitterly at my pre-baby fantasises of a relaxing maternity leave, on a par with a break away. This lie was absolutely absurd on so many levels. Firstly, newborn babies do not sleep. At least not when you want them to. Secondly, take my child outside?! Are you joking?! It took us half the day to make it downstairs, a venture into the garden is completely beyond us. And even in the shade, my precious daughter is far too close to the perils of the sun – she’s best off right beside me, safely tucked away in the house where I can spend every waking moment keeping a beady eye on her. Besides, it’s pouring down with rain, as it does every year during our short window of ‘summer.’

 

  1. ‘Once we get her into a routine, after a couple of weeks….’

Routine? A couple of weeks? The level of delusion I was operating under was overwhelming.

 

  1. ‘I know baby’s nappies are pretty horrible but surely they can’t be that bad’.

Anyone who has experienced a teething induced nappy explosion which has necessitated an immediate bath knows that yes, they are that bad. And yes, it is incredible that someone that small and cute can produce a stench so horrific that it assaults your nasal passage with such ferocity that it makes your eyes water. They aren’t that bad. They are worse.

 

 

  1. ‘We’ll have a date night once a month and leave the baby with a family member’.

This would have worked beautifully were it not for a few extenuating conditions, including a complete unwillingness to leave my child with anyone else for the first few months. Then finally, when we eventually did get out for our first post-baby dinner, one glass of wine had me tumbling down in my chair, longing for my bed with a heartfelt yearning, and no desire to repeat the experience for a good year or two at least.

 

  1. ‘The house won’t be that messy. I’m not going to let it turn into a pig sty just because we have a child’.

My house is constantly in disarray. Toys are found in the most obscure of places, crumbs are in every crevice and a milk trail runs through the house as if a snail has been on the rampage. The best way to deal with it is not to attempt to tackle the mountain of mess, rather to just leave my glasses off. Things don’t look so bad when viewed through a blurry fog.

 

  1. ‘I’m going to be a strict parent. She’ll know who the boss is’.

‘What’s that darling? You want my phone. Here you go sweetheart. Yes, you’re right, it does make a very loud noise when banged against the door. Better give it to mummy though….yes, darling…give it to mummy – whoops! Oh no, you’ve broken it instead. Oh please don’t cry, I know you’re upset that mummy’s phone, I mean, your new toy, is broken. Oh don’t cry, here, have a chocolate button….’ (which leads me on to)

 

  1. My child won’t eat rubbish. It’s healthy stuff all the way.

I’ll be honest, there weren’t a lot of health giving properties in the crisps that I allowed my daughter to eat that morning at the airport when, brow beaten, I finally gave into her demands for the most unusual of brunches. And to be honest, the only fruit that might have been found had been squashed and fermented into my pre-flight glass of wine (I’m far from the best at flying.)

 

But, there was one truth I did tell myself.

  1. Everything will be ok.

It is.

I’ve got this.

Sort of.

Winter, 2016

 

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Darkness envelops

A cloak of grey

Wrapped up in shade

Light pushed away.

 

Coldness permeates

A visible chill

Relentless, it has

Strength to instil.

 

Malaise lingers

An aura of gloom

A sense of foreboding

Of imminent doom.

 

But look for the light

Behind the cloud

A glimmer of sun

Upon us endowed.

 

Coolness dissipates

In an embrace

Soothing the soul

Warmth, to replace.

 

Happiness creeping

A tentative grin

Hate’s overcome

It’s love that will win.