A Tale Of Two Mothers

I want to tell you a story of something that happened to me the other day, on International Women’s Day.

I had to go to the Doctor’s with my son. It was for something and nothing, but as we were in the waiting room and Arthur was charging up and down another mum arrived with a huge double buggy. Arthur immediately went to say hello and inspect the buggy wheels, and I struck up a conversation with the woman.

She was Polish, I think, and had one little boy sat squirming on her lap. She indicated the buggy to point out her adorable three-month-old. Arthur, who had been causing trouble, was sat on my hip by this time and listening in.

“Your first?” Asked the mother with a smile. It’s a question I hate, but I smiled back and answered yes. “Ah, you will not be so worried about germs and dirt when you have two more! And next time you will have girl!” she laughed. I tried to smile and not to be too sad that she had mentioned that girl-baby that I know will never be. The one that has a name; two actually, as my husband calls her something different. I swerved and asked her if she had three children.

“Four!” she replied, brightly. “My oldest are 16 and 12, he is two and also the baby.”

“That’s wonderful,” I reply, meaning it with all my heart. All that love, all that homework, all those lives. Lovely. But I could feel it. My own story always demands to be told, no matter how much I suppress it, and I could feel it bubbling up now, as it always does. This woman, glowing with the pride of her brood, with eyes that were bright with love and exhaustion, was looking at me. It was my turn. I swallowed.

“I don’t think we can have another,” I said. “We tried for years and Arthur was conceived by IVF.”

I watched as those eyes widened in horror as she said “Oh, but you must! Just imagine if when he is older something happen to him” (here she made a noise and a sign against the evil eye) “what then? He need brothers and sisters!”

I had nothing. All I could do was clutch Arthur tightly to me and close my eyes for a minute. He was there, it was done, there was nothing to worry about. This sweet woman could have no way of knowing that she had just been the voice in my head at 3am, when I’m feeling most anxious and vulnerable. She didn’t know that. I tried again, weakly.

“ I can’t have another.”

There was a pause. “Well, perhaps not yet, heh?” smiled the woman kindly. At this point, thankfully, the health visitor came out to welcome her and I was alone with Arthur.

Later that day we ventured to the shops. I was still feeling pretty bruised after my encounter; despite the fact that we decided almost as soon as Arthur was born that we couldn’t go through IVF and HG again, it’s not a decision that rests there. I’ve been feeling it a little lately. We wandered into the local shop. I didn’t really need anything, we just needed to get out of the house. I was standing contemplating the baby shampoo when I heard a strong South East London accent say “Aw, he’s smiling and waving at me! Innee lovely! Look at those eyes!” I looked up to see a woman in her 70s smiling at Arthur. She asked me the usual questions; age, name, and then, with an urgency I recognised, she said “I couldn’t have ’em. Well, I had four but I lost ’em all. They said it was my womb couldn’t hold ’em in.” There was a beat while we looked at each other and I let that sad story, told so simply, sink in. “I’m so, so sorry,” I said. “We tried for four years and had to have IVF, so I understand a tiny bit of what you must have gone through.”

Her face lit up “And he’s here now!” She said, looking fondly at Arthur, reaching out a hand to him. “He’s here,” I said, realising how much that mattered. Here we both were in a corner shop in London, me and the baby who might never have been; who should never have been if it wasn’t for medical science and years and years of research. The mother with no children looked at him fondly again and said “And I bet you all make such a fuss of him!” Here she looked at me very seriously. “You do make a fuss of him, don’t you?”

“Yes,” I assured her. “He is very much loved.”

“Good,” she said, looking me straight in the eye. “I’m glad you had him, in the end.”

“Me, too,” I said, blinking back tears. “Oh, me, too.”

I saw her again the next day, telling her story to another woman with a pram. I thought how she must do this every day, so that someone else knows about her babies and knows they were real, that she carried them and carries them still. It did me good to meet both of those mothers; the lucky one with four children living and the one whose four children never were. We all have a story to tell, we all carry it with us. The miscarriages, stillbirths, the years lost to trying to conceive, or the years of childbearing and child-rearing and giving up ourselves for the children we love. None of it is easy, but I bet that if I asked either of those women they’d tell me they didn’t regret a day.

And neither do I.

To all the mothers and aunties of every stripe; Happy Mother’s Day.

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The Longest January On Record

It has been, hasn’t it? I’m not the January hater that so many are due to the fact my birthday falls earlier in the month, but Lordy this one has been long. We’ve been ill for pretty much the entire month and despite being an Autumn/Winter enthusiast I am now waiting impatiently for a bit more light, especially since that will mean more playing outside for my extremely active toddler. I’m writing this on January 130th.

Last year I posted about my take on New Year’s Resolutions and why they’ve never worked for me. In 2018 I’ve taken a similar tack to last year. Here’s how I’ve done January:

  1. Word Of The Year. For 2018 that’s “Contentment”. The last few years have been an absolute roller-coaster ride and this year I’m hoping for a little less drama and a lot more… well, contentment. A lot of that, of course, has to do with how I react to things rather than the events themselves.
  2. This year I used a lovely tool called Year Compass to review 2017 and plan for 2018, using my bullet journal to record my responses. It was lovely, and I thoroughly recommend it.
  3. I’ve got a focus for each month, which I’ve recorded in my bullet journal so I can look at it easily to remind myself of what I’m doing. I’m really looking forward to February’s Month Of Lipstick which was last year’s highlight.

If, like me, you’ve spent January with a head like cotton wool hiding from your responsibilities because you feel too rubbish to engage with anything, this is a good place to start. You can just as easily set intentions for your year at this end of the month, or really at any time. It’s just a gentler way to do it, and far more fun.

Happy New Year to you all.

I’ve had time to think this year. I’ve had a little time to think more about what I want out of life, and, more precisely, what I don’t. At the age of 36 I think I finally know myself well enough to know which battles are worth fighting and which ones I really don’t have time for. So here’s the list of things I’m dumping as we turn the final corner of 2017. 
Heels
Oh, how I love them. Feet jewels. They’re so pretty. And I so can’t wear them.
I’ve been trying since I was a teenager, but every time I wore them to a party or out clubbing they’d end up swinging from my hands while a mate gave me a piggy back, or kicked to the side of the room while I risked my feet on a sticky club carpet. A friend of mine used to say “You know it’s a party when Vicki takes her shoes off”. My lifelong search for the perfect comfortable and beautiful pair of heels is now over. I’m loving my brogues and Converse, and contemplating a pair of DMs like the ones I had when I was 15. I’m short and I don’t wear heels. The end.
Saying yes when I mean no
I’m a terrible people-pleaser. I want the whole world to like me, and in order to achieve this nonsensical goal I’ve always had a habit of saying yes to absolutely everything, then having to let people down at the last minute because I can’t possibly manage it. I even say yes to things I have no interest in doing at all.
No longer.
Having Arthur has changed me in many ways. This is one. When I know something isn’t going to work for us for whatever reason; travel, bedtime, nap time, more than one activity per day and so on, I just say no. I did think it might just be a family thing, but I seem to be doing it in other areas of life too. It’s far better than saying yes and then no and being known as Flaky McFlake Face. I’m also getting better at not giving a protracted, apologetic reason for my refusal. Which brings me nicely to…
Apologising for myself
Apparently this is very common for women. We often write emails at work that beg forgiveness for taking someone’s time, or asking a question about something we couldn’t possibly have known about. I’m terrible for this kind of thing. If someone bumps into me there’s a good chance I’ll say sorry.
I recently got a new job. It’s my dream job, really; freelance, working around Arthur and in an area of my field I’ve been wanting to get into for ages. I really had to talk myself into applying for it. “Oh,” I thought, “That looks great but I’m really not qualified.” 
Why not? My inner Confidence Beast asked. Isn’t your Masters degree as good as anyone else’s? Doesn’t your 16 years of experience count for anything? Haven’t you wanted to get back into work in a way that fits around family? WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?
Reader, I got the job.
Dieting
This is a big one. Perhaps the big one. It’s been brewing for a long while, but having an HG pregnancy has really put my relationship with food and my body into perspective. I had to slowly starve myself over the nine months of my pregnancy and when I told people I had lost a stone in weight whilst pregnant I would get “Well, every dark cloud has a silver lining!” which tells you everything you need to know about what we think of larger-bodied people.
Since then I’ve decided to get off this particular merry-go-round. It’s never worked for me. I can’t be the person who has the ‘will power’ to make my body smaller. All diets have ever done is make me fatter in the long run, and since I stopped earlier this year and started to observe myself and my habits I’ve noticed that my weight has stabilised and my food moralising has stopped. After all, how can a delicious burger actually be bad? If I’m hungry the salad isn’t going to cut it.
For more information about Intuitive Eating and stepping away from diets I highly recommend Christy Harrison’s Food Psych, a brilliant podcast which looks at the flawed diet culture and examines ways to move forward. https://christyharrison.com/foodpsych/
Huge crowds
Have you ever stood on the South Bank on New Year’s Eve?
Don’t.
Gigs, festivals, carnivals, Oxford Street. I hate them all. It’s partially because I’m all of 5 feet 2 inches tall, and partly because the sight of all that forced jollity makes me anxious. YOU MUST HAVE A GREAT TIME. It’s guaranteed to give me the reverse. My last attempt was the Lambeth Country Show (a misnomer if ever I heard one), at which I sat in a horrible hot park with thousands of other people, ate an overpriced pork bap then raced home as fast as I could. Then contracted food poisoning. I’m grateful to the bap for the lesson. Big crowds are not for me.
I’d love to hear your version of this list. What are you happy to leave behind from your younger years?

River Of Slime

Peter Venkman: Hey, how many of you people out here are a national monument? Raise your hand, please? Oh, hello, Miss!

I find myself thinking about Ghostbusters II a lot these days.


Bear with me.


I’m an 80s baby, and the Ghostbusters films were truly awesome. My brothers and I loved them. What’s chiming for me at the moment is the storyline of II.

In case you’ve never seen it, the basic idea is that there’s a river of supernatural slime flowing underneath New York City and feeding off all the negative emotions of the population. Everyone’s bad temper, anger, misanthropy and hatred is creating a monster.


I’ve been thinking about it a lot because it feels very much like what we’re living through at the moment. There’s an awful lot of negativity online, in the news and in the streets. In London everything feels uneasy in a way it hasn’t in all 18 years I’ve lived there. It might just be me that’s changed because of having a baby, but I don’t think it’s just that. There’s been a shift.


In the film there turns out to be a pretty brilliant solution. The boys take the “mood slime” (turns out it reacts to positive emotions, too), use their guns to fire it all over the Statue of Liberty, put on some banging tunes and have her walk through the streets of Manhattan with everyone singing and waving. They bring some positive energy back. It strikes me that we could do with something like that, albeit a little less bonkers. Back in the day, when I was teaching, I got to create my very own positive mood slime all the time. I helped my colleagues bring kids and staff together with singing, positivity and love every time we put on a show or a concert. It was our very own Ghostbusters II finale, twice a term. On a larger scale the 2012 Olympics did the most amazing job of bringing everyone together. People from all over the country volunteered and welcomed athletes and visitors,and for three weeks we were the place to be. It was amazing.


Right now there’s a lot of head-shaking. A lot of people ask the question “What kind of world are we bringing our children into?” and I understand the concern. I sometimes find myself sinking into anxiety at the dark place the world seems to be right now. So I’ve started turning off the TV, ignoring the trolls and filling my timelines with positive people. I’m living life on much smaller scale for the time being, and it’s helping. 


Moments with Arthur are constantly amazing. Today he has clapped for the first time, kissed his cousin on the head and held her hand, reached out his arms for his grandparents, uncle and aunt and made “brum brum” noises playing with his toy steering wheel. Not bad.


Wishing you a whole river of positive mood slime.