8 Years

Today, after the kids were in bed, I asked my husband to make me a mug of green tea.

He did, and as he brought it to me, I glanced at my watch. 18th of January.

‘Hey,’ I said, taking the tea from him, ‘We’ve been married 8 years today.’

‘No way! Really? That’s today?’

‘Yup,’ I said, taking a sip.

‘Wow.’

‘I know right, feels like we are newly married.’

He snorted as he sat down with his own tea, ‘Yeah, sure.’

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that evasive slumber

Do you ever overeat when you’re tired? I do. Both my children were up all night last night and as a consequence I have eaten my bodyweight’s worth in snacks today without even realising.

When I finally collapsed in bed at 2am last ‘night’, I shut my eyes and succumbed to slumber. It was the most glorious feeling. Then that familiar cry. Only at night it’s twenty thousand times more irritating and has that unique power to make you feel furious.

But you fight it. For that precious sweet face. You scoop the chubby bundle of baby up and bring them into your own bed.

Then the pattering feet, and the croaky child voice, ‘Mama, mama, I’m scared.’

So you haul the other one into your bed too.

And try to succumb again to that glorious sleep. It’s there alright. Tantalising. Close. You feel it.

But your kids have other ideas. One of them is attempting to crawl in the bed because it is her newly found skill and she loves to do it. She is laughing as she tries to get her chubby legs up, chaos in the covers, pitch black room. And then the almost-3-year old is awake. Banging his feet on the headboard. Asking me to open my eyes. Telling me stories. Chatting to his baby sister, who chats right back.

All through the night.

All through till morning.

And they do not tire. No siree. They hanker for breakfast and are little spitfires ready and gearing for their day of action. Playing, fighting, giggling, pulling things out of cupboards, sticking play dough in corners and smushing it into rugs, snotty noses from leftover colds.

I wish today I could say ‘Ahhhh it’s all so precious and worth it.’

Y’all.

I KNOW it is.

But I don’t feel it today.

I feel angry. Tired. Frustrated. Guilty. Bloated from all the sweet chilli thai rice crackers I have been eating to keep my bleary eyes awake. And the countless mugs of coffee I have downed today. That massive hot chocolate I had for lunch. My oh my. I fell asleep trying to put them to bed at 7:30pm BECAUSE HELLO, SHOULDN’T THEY BE TIRED AFTER THEIR NIGHT OF PARTYING?

No.

No they are not.

8:30pm came and went and it crept to 9… still wide and happily awake.

Bloody hell.

Some days parenting is a ride.

Today is that day.

Today I am bedraggled, a mess, and totally lost. I sit here writing this when I am supposed to be working but I am so tired from my sleepless night and my full-on day that I want to go to bed. But I am also terrified to go to bed because I know as soon as I give in to the glorious sleep that is beckoning to me.. I will be rudely yanked away again.

I know it.

News From Sebastapol. Charles West Cope (1811-1896). Oil On Canvas, 1875.

P.S. Look, I only write this to document. Not to complain. I love my babies with every fibre of my being. I would wrestle sleep to the ground if I thought their lives and health were in danger. I know one day I will sleep and sleep and sleep because they will be grown and off living their own lives and I will be sad and miss them. I KNOW this. However, I also know that in the moment, sometimes, it all gets a bit too much. You can feel frustrated and angry. You will also feel guilty for feeling frustrated and angry. Being a mother is so insane. It’s so mad. It’s so crazy. It’s so surreal and unbelievable and unfair and beautiful. You can’t hold it in your hands. You can’t catch the fleeting time, and yet you wish it all away. You can’t get enough, and you have way too much.

Love Letters #48

I truly think success is contentment, in whichever shape or form that takes.

For me contentment is dancing around my living room like a maniac making my ten month old bay girl laugh. She is a very smiley child. She has the most beautiful little dimples and she is forever making friends with anybody who so much as looks at her.

Contentment is wearing a tight red dress and red lipstick that I haven’t worn in nearly 3 years for a ‘date night’… in my living room. We ended up watching 15 minutes of a movie and then I was upstairs soothing a baby to sleep and he was upstairs cuddling a toddler who was afraid of ‘the bats’.

Contentment is taking my babies to the library on a Monday afternoon and choosing 8 books to take home. It’s stopping in a cafe amid the drizzly walk home and drinking a hot drink with my two year old boy. He is a wonder to behold. He is so human, with all his flaws and beautiful ways. A piece of art, I think, as he sips his warm milk and leaves a milk moustache on his upper lip, which he then proceeds to wipe away on his clean sleeve. My baby girl babbles away in the highchair, waving a croissant around and laughing at herself.

Contentment is making sliced pickled red onions and having them on a cracker with some cream cheese.

It’s tidying up the house.

It’s somebody popping round for a cup of tea.

It’s baby breath, and the warm sweet smell of a baby who has just woken up from their nap.

It’s a mother’s love, that trickles down the generations, and is felt decades and decades later, in hand-knitted cardigans and the echo of a voice telling me a smile makes the most plain face beautiful.

It’s feeling grateful for warmth at night.

It’s the catharsis of crying.

The ability to have hope that tomorrow will be better.

The gentle sigh, the pages of a book, the taste of tea, the sound of someone typing, the growl of hunger after a long day of physical and mental labour, the ache of loneliness, the prayer, the bright and numerous stars in an icy, black night sky.

What is contentment for you?

Parallel

I spent a lot of my teenage years being insanely depressed. It was desolate. A desperation. A yearning for something but a lack of confidence to get it. Or trying to obtain it in the worst ways possible.

Dark streets and lamp-lit winter, leaves falling from trees onto shiny wet pavements. The crunch underfoot of all sorts of nature, lying limp on pathways. Outside frames my memories. Not inside the home. It was escape, really. I tried to escape, and I don’t know what from. Away from home? From heavy, pregnant expectations. Aspirations turning to dust. There was a lot of pressure and blame I think. Pressure to do well and be something because a big sacrifice was being made for me… ten years on and the sacrifice is still ongoing. Makes me wonder if it really was for me at all. Or can a judgement just be a bad one?

My sister goes camping and volunteers at a farm. She cleans out henhouses and mucks out stables. She pulls potatoes and onions, relishes in the dirt between her fingernails. Those fingernails that used to scratch me in childhood fights. Her weapon of choice, with her being so small and skinny in those days. Now she towers above me. Three years younger, and I look up at her. Notice I did not say ‘to’ her. When we were children living in the desert we yearned for the fresh green of the UK. The heavy foliage, the thick weeds. We yearned to ride horses and wade through marshes and walk through fields. Every summer when we came back to visit grandparents and family, our parents took us here there and everywhere, sfilling our bottomless cups before we had to go back to the torrid heat of Arabia and my father at work work work and my mother…. sad but trying her best.

My sister adores the farm. She says she is the happiest she has ever been in her life. She doesn’t want to leave. In the evenings she has a chat with a few straggling volunteers. Sometimes they make homemade pizza. At night she retires to a caravan by herself. The hob doesn’t work so she can’t cook anything and the bathroom is not in use, so she has to walk in the pitch black to the compostable toilets several feet away. I asked if she felt lonely or scared, and she said no way. Such vehemence in her voice. When I saw videos of where she sleeps, I could see the old familiar things that make my sister. The way her duvet is thrown back. The little things she uses everyday, and has always used. She sends me clips of her long fingers practising using a piano for the first time ever. We have an argument over Snapchat, but on WhatsApp our conversation flows freely and cheerfully. Parallel conversations, very different tones.

When I think of my sister on her farm, and me here with my two kids, I can’t help but think of me back then. I was happier away from home too. I was desperate for friends, good friends, any friends. Moving across the globe at that age made it hard to find people ‘like’ me. I was socially awkward and painfully shy. So when predators made their moves on me, I gave them the time of day. I fancied myself ‘in love’ and let them trample all over me. Heightening my depression, pushing me further into loneliness and isolation. When I did make friends… I put a predator before them. I yearned to live on a farm, to travel places, to explore and learn and have adventures.. like my sister is now. But in searching for that I fell into the wrong crowd. They laughed like hammers on a rotten fence and their teeth were brown from smoking. The put me on a drug high and laughed at my terror and confusion. They told me they loved me but used me to within an inch of my life. They hurt me and forced me to do things I still shudder about.

My parents are ‘disappointed’ in my sister, but were ‘happy’ with me. My sister who is being so wholesome and finding her joy and fulfilling her childhood dreams in the right way. They didn’t know what I was doing, they didn’t know my authentic self. My sister is vocal and stubborn. She doesn’t always respond in a way that pleases them. She has her own opinions and isn’t afraid to voice them, even if they are wrong in my parents’ eyes. Wrong in my eyes sometimes too, but then I step back and I think.. she is an adult and she is making choices, who is anybody to stop her or dictate to her or make her feel bad for it. We can make choices the other doesn’t agree with and still be a harmonious family. It doesn’t quite work that way in my family though. There is often a ‘villain’.

We are so loved, but there has to be a villain.

Cool as a Cucumber

Cool to the touch, calm of voice. Shirts ironed but doesn’t look like he puts much effort. Looks clean as though he woke up that way. Born that way. Effortless and smooth. Gliding along polished floors, handwriting naturally flowing out of a pen.

Doesn’t look like he presses too hard or gets wrist pain ever.

Smile is easy. Simple. Clean brown hair, brushed but not too meticulously. Clean nails, not bitten, cut.

Doesn’t get angry or defensive or argumentative. Turns pages softly, washes apples gently; none of that crazy splashing and spraying. Turns tap quietly. Turns round to smile at me. White straight teeth, biting into that apple. Easygoing dimple. Just there. Looking pretty in that cheek. Bright blue eyes. Flashing easily.

Easy easy easy.

I try to eat my sandwich neatly, but the filling (chicken salad) globs out of the centre even as I neatly pinch the sides, and now it’s all down my lap. I leap. Jump. Swing. Chicken on the floor, on my canvas shoes. Heart thumping.

‘uggghhh’, I bend down to wipe it up with a paper towel. My bright dress doesn’t show the stain, it blends into the busy busy busy – messy – flowers printed all over it. I dab at it anyway, frizzy thick curly hair falling over my face. Messy messy messy. Flyaways everywhere. Glasses slipping down my nose. Sandwich abandoned on the plate.

I throw the paper towel in the bin, and sigh.

When I look up he is still there, and he smiles at me. Not judgemental. Something else. I colour. Fluster. Gather my things, leave my sandwich. I’m out of there. I bump into the side of the countertop, the sharp edge digging into my thigh. Bump into the door on my way out. Apologise to it. Glance through the glass window as the door closes behind me. There he is. Calmly throwing the apple core into the bin. Smooth arc in the air. Neat flop right on top of my messy chickeny paper towel.

I tut, and my books fall. Swear. Push hair back. Bend over. Door opens.

‘Whoops,’ gently.

Hands reach down with mine. Pick up my books. Hands them to me. Hands. Tidy watch. Black leather straps. I take the books. Don’t dare look up at those eyes. Don’t know what it’ll do to me.

‘Thank you,’ I mutter. Turn to walk away. Hugging books. Stupid girl.

‘I love your hair,’

Huh?

‘Thanks,’ head down, rushing off, canvas shoes squeaking on the corridor.

Trees

When she doodled, she always found herself doodling the same thing.

It started off as a trunk. A trunk of a tree. Usually she had two browns, so light brown for the outline, the branches, and then in with dark brown, shading the sides and adding rough texture to the branches. And then the leaves. Hundreds and hundreds of them. But she would not sit there and painstakingly draw every leaf.

It was different each time. Different, but the same.

With pencils it was clouds. With coloured pencils, it was still clouds, but lighter ones sat under darker ones and shadows filled every nook and cranny, and soon you could see the sunlight filtering in between the gaps.

Sometimes she had paint sticks.

If you don’t know what those are, they are fat little sticks that you twist out like lipstick and it’s some sort of crayony paint that dries quickly and is washable. It’s meant for toddlers, and she worked with toddlers.

When she had paint sticks she would swirl her trees. Swirl her trunk and her branches, the roots would swirl into the swirly grass, little circles of never-touching harmony, each colour giving way to the other until there was a kaleidoscope of colour and movement. Perpetual movement. That was a masterpiece, she would think. Better than the meticulous shadows of careful doodles.

Sometimes little effort yeilds great return.

And then chubby little hands would come along and add their special touches.

Dots and spots. Spatters and stains. Smudges and scribbles. But in each one was a proud smile, a toothless grin, a pair of large brown or blue or green or grey eyes in complete contentment.

And she drew so many trees, so very many. And so many hands would, sure as rain, come along, and deck them for conquest.

Trees that if they were to spring to life, would be tall and harmonious with the earth and skies. They would be of all colours and hues. They would drip with life and light and laughter, they would not fit in with the world but they would stand out and all who saw them would be in awe. Purples and blues and yellows and oranges, the sun beamed from the cracks in their rough trunks. The dreams danced between their branches, and the jewels of hope dripped and glittered in all colours from their branches.

And she would always doodle her trees, let them set their roots between her deft fingers, and grow tall and wide, spreading their branches through the world. Business and law and retail and marketing and publishing and writing and artistry and medicine and dentistry and order and dance and motherhood and fatherhood and leadership and travel and thought… it did not matter where they went or what they did.

What mattered was the roots that sprung from between her fingers.

Amy Giacomelli

Thank you and Goodbye, 2020.

Do you have New Year’s resolutions this year?

I don’t.

Well, except to survive. And finish my work before the baby pops out. I am increasingly worried I won’t be able to, as taking care of a toddler who now NEEDS to be challenged…. is, well.. CHALLENGING. Lol.

My husband and I watched Death to 2020 on Netflix last night after baby was in bed. We also shared a pizza. That is now called ‘date night’. The show is basically Charlie Brooker’s Yearly Wipe, but not on the BBC anymore, so the budget is much bigger. It’s a great thing to watch, and makes what has been a taxing year on many seem a little more light hearted. It got a few laughs out of us, and some sighs.

I have come to understand now why Britons spend much of winter in a state of ‘waiting’. See folks, I was born in this country, but brought up in another. A hot country. Where the sun beamed all year around and when a cloud was spotted, even a far away teeny tiny wisp of a thing, one prayed for rain. Where the ground was parched and the dust settled the moment you wiped it off a surface. Rain was a joyous celebration. All I knew of British weather was the summertime. Luscious, plentiful greenery and heady long days, the best of British weather.

Ten years ago my parents returned to their country, and brought me back with them. So it took me ten years to develop a sort of cold disdain towards winter. I used to love winter. Squelchy leaves underfoot, beautiful frosty mornings, warmth of an evening around a kitchen table with a hot drink, snow and ice and perpetual grey. Now I detest it. I think it might have something to do with me having moved to a tiny little ghost town called Crewe, which according to some, does not even exist and this is all a dream.

Some people are very proud of Crewe. It has a nice history of being a railway town, the biggest one up North, where they made the trains.

Now it is bedraggled and in need of some love, but all it gets is… well economic disappointment. Year in year out. And four years living here has really taken its toll on my soul. I wanna get out, folks. I WANNA GET OUT. I hope I do! Some say one never escapes Crewe. If that is true… shiver me timbers.

Anyway, as I said, a lot of Britons spend winter waiting for summer, and that is what I am doing this year. I want summer. I want heat. I want warmth in my heart and soul. I want family. I want the heat of the sun on my cheeks and burning in my hair. I want lots of things.

But I also want to learn how to be grateful for what I have.

That’s a huge lesson that I learnt this year, but one that still needs a lot of practise by me.

Be grateful.

Have a roof over your head? Heating? Food in the fridge? DESSERT? A job!? A family? A little boy who loves life? Lots of family? People who care?

BE GRATEFUL.

So that is my resolution for this year, then. To remember to be grateful and thankful and contented. To stop wanting things that are not meant for me just yet. To remember all the good things I do have, and hold them dear.

Now then. That was a good exercise in thinking about things. It’s also snowing here in Crewe for the first time since November last year. That’s quite nice. I shall enjoy that a bit.

Thank you and goodbye, 2020.

Halloween Grinch

Folks it was Halloween yesterday and some people celebrated more than others. Here in the UK it is a pretty low-key event and you are even allowed the luxury of complaining about trick or treaters.

Maybe in some areas houses are insanely done up and it’s a party outside but I have never seen it. Only seen footage of that street party horror vibe in places like America and Canada where it actually is a big event.

My husband and I never did Halloween and to be honest I didn’t even do it as a child. I lived in the middle east and my British-grown parents who grew up in the 70s and 80s did not know anything of the holiday, because it is not a very British holiday.

So usually, on Halloween, we turn off our lights and put a polite sign on the door saying ‘Sorry, we aren’t trick or treating this year :)’ (with a smiley face to appear less obnoxious!). We spend the evening upstairs with a movie and a pizza or something similar, like a cup of tea and a packet of digestives and pleasantly ignore all the persistent knocks downstairs.

I know.

Mean and cruel.

We had a child last year and in October the child was 7 months and didn’t know any better. He was also quite poorly so we spent Halloween upstairs, in the bedroom, with the news on, a cup of tea and lots of toys to entertain a grizzly baby. We looked like zombies so I expect if someone had seen us they would have supposed we were in costume. Wouldn’t have blamed them at all.

This year nobody knocked on our door.

Well I lie.

Someone did. At 12:14pm. My husband peeped through the peephole and said, ‘Oh no, the trick or treaters have started already! There is a boy in a crocodile costume outside holding a bag!’

‘Don’t open it!’ I said frantically, scanning my cupboards, ‘we have nothing to give him! What about an apple?!’

Too late, my husband opened the door. The little boy came tentatively forward and handed us a paper bag before leaping back. On it was written: ‘Happy Halloween, love from O, S and L’.

“It’s for your baby!” he said, eyes bright, little dimples dancing.

Oh my goodness my mellowed mother heart.

“Awwwwwwwww” was the only thing I could say, “Thank you darling, that’s so sweet!”

He was the neighbour’s little boy, and he was dancing with glee. And my ‘baby’ was peeping around the door at him in curiosity.

‘Look, E, look what the little boy got you!’ and I took the bag and I kid you not there were tears in my eyes. How weird. The bag was filled with handmade Halloween crafts and little bags of sweets.

We waved as the little boy pranced back up the path and along the road to his own house.

And I felt so despicably awful for some reason, like I was such a grinch in the face of such innocent and sweet kindness.

It made me realise that these celebrations and events are for children, to make them happy and connect each other in a genuine way. It’s completely changed my outlook on why people celebrate Halloween like that and lie to their kids about Santa. It’s about creating magic and joy for kids which I think is so important. Seeing my baby boy’s eyes light up at this goody bag JUST FOR HIM made my heart melt.

And that is my Halloween story for this year.

What was your Halloween like? Do you celebrate it in true fashion or do you lock yourself away and grumble at the frivolity?

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This post is not what it seems.

Is anybody else feeling ‘Covid fatigue’?

Is anybody else sick and tired of staying indoors all the time and panting through a mask whenever they’re out around people?

Is anybody else craving a social life, when previously they were proud introverts?

Does anybody else not want to see their inlaws only all the time, because they’re low-level bullies, and it’s exhausting to brush off being undermined all the time?

Does anybody else want to see a real friend face to face, without lying to one’s inlaws about it, because apparently we cannot see anybody except for them, even if it is socially distanced?

Is anybody else emotionally controlled by somebody?

Don’t you just hate it?

Is anybody else sick to death of living life and making every single decision with the background thought of someone’s mother in law’s feelings and emotions about it?

Does anybody else’s husband act like they don’t love their wife, and tease her mercilessly when his mother is around, because he knows his mother would be jealous and hurt if he dared to show his wife affection?

When my maternal grandmother passed away in 2011, I remember my mum saying something very poignant to someone who came to see her at the funeral.

She said, “Losing your mother is losing your entire world, the one person who truly cares for you, asking nothing in return.”

I was sixteen, I did not understand it at the time, truth be told.

But recently, my mother and my mother in law were in the same room, and my husband and I were facetiming with them. They live five minute’s walk from each other.

My mother in law made one of her usual digs at me, and I laughed and brushed it off with a joke, which made everybody in the room laugh. My mother called me the next day, and asked if I was alone.

“Yes,” I said.

She told me she felt angry and upset at the low-level bullying I was experiencing, and she felt sick and tired of not being able to speak up to defend me, as I always tell her not to say anything ever.

I pacified her, and tried to explain that was the relationship, and not to worry as I don’t let anybody control me. It was kind of a lie, but I can’t tell my mother the truth, she would be furious. My mother is a strong fighter of a woman and I am ashamed to say such things to her, she would never accept it. I don’t know why I do.

At the end of the phone call, I broke down in tears.

Because my husband, who I think loves and supports me in everything, but is sadly also controlled by his mother and doesn’t realise it, would never defend me against any comments made by his mother at me. He would not dare. Hell would rip apart if he did.

Nobody would defend me, I realised. Nobody would even notice. I would fight it off myself, and deal with it, but nobody would care for my mental health and well-being, except for my mother.

She would notice and she would hurt on my behalf but she would respect my wishes and not say anything, but she would seethe inside and she would always be on the lookout for me. No matter how busy she is, no matter how many of her own troubles she has.

And that is what she meant, when she said what she said after her own mother passed away. I understand it now. So so much.

Some Parenting Thoughts

Hey guys. I hope you are all doing ok in this current state of chaos.

I am trying to to navigate each day with a pair of thick metaphorical spectacles. You see, my son has suddenly had a growth spurt. He has shot up and his head is now reaching my thighs. I see it bobbing by as he walks past the table.. yes, WALKS. Walks with a purpose. Little mouth set in between two large, soft, round cheeks, and a little tummy that pokes out like a middle-aged beer belly… only cuter.

Because he is no longer a baby, he is a BOY. He toddles and has an opinion, and voices it vocally.

Naturally, with his new-found abilities, he has developed new-found interests. Toys are now boring, and he must be entertained and taught and spoken to. He comes toddling up to me several times a day, grunting with the effort of lugging his books from one corner of the house to the next, begging me to read to him. He gets so upset if I don’t immediately put down what I am doing (gloves on, water dripping from half-washed dishes) and read to him. He experiments with everything, and has no understanding of safety whatsoever, no matter how many times he has caught his fingers in the washing machine doors, he will still wriggle out of my arms and make a beeline for danger.

This means my days are no longer structured around a baby, they are structured around a little human boy. 

A real person.

He lay on me the other day, and I rocked him to sleep, and his head was on my chest, and his feet reached all the way down to my knees. And my husband came in and said, ‘Wow. Remember when he was small enough to fit in your stomach?’

I did, folks. I remember when he was breech and his little feet would kick down near my abdomen and his big heavy head would push up against my lungs so it hurt to take a deep breath. I would have to do some yoga and walk around for him to move position. And now his little body is taller than my torso.

He is so small but so BIG!

I do stupid things like cry when he is asleep because I am worried somebody might break his heart one day or bully him or make him feel bad.

I voiced these concerns out loud, and my husband asked, ‘Would you rather him be bullied, or be a bully?’

Straight away I said, ‘I’d rather he be bullied.’

My husband reckons that is an awful choice, but I’m resolute. I’d rather my son have a kind heart and good character than cause anybody else harm. I was bullied some, as a child, I think most people were. You learn how to be considerate of others when you’re hurt yourself. I never want him to be so mean spirited and cruel as to deliberately hurt somebody else. I confess, when I was four, I used to pinch this little girl in my class. She would cry. I don’t know why I did it. And I still feel despicably awful about it, even though we are friends now, and even though I apologised to her many times over the years. I still feel so despicable every time I think about it.

Would you rather have your child be bullied, or be a bully?