Turning Points

No matter how well you know that life with a baby is one phase after another, it’s hard to think rationally when you’ve been woken up at 3am three days in a row and your normally sweet tempered baby has turned into a raging ball of fury due to teething. Off the back of weeks of illness the past few days have been a bitter pill to swallow, and if I’m entirely honest there have been moments when I’ve genuinely questioned my ability to do this parenting gig. Fortunately such moments pass quickly (everything is just a phase after all), and other moments come along to remind me what an amazing little person I’ve helped bring into the world, and why it’s all so worth it. Like yesterday, when we got out in the sunshine and went walking on Hampstead Heath, and C tried his first dairy free ice cream (damn allergies). Funnily enough the real turning point in this latest low patch occurred after yesterday morning’s horrific poonami episode as we were rushing out the door to the doctor. As I stuffed C’s poo-filled (I kid you not) trousers hastily into the nappy bin, deeming them too far gone to save (much as I consider myself to be these days) I realised in that moment I had the choice of laughing or crying. And as I’d done quite enough crying up to that point I chose the former. Turns out it was the best decision.

Since yesterday’s turning point I’ve felt considerably better. I’m sure the sunshine is playing it’s part, but what’s really made the difference is doing some exercise. When the baby is ill and in hospital/off nursery I go stir crazy being cooped up inside, although I don’t always make the connection with needing to exercise until I’m entrenched in another slump. Yesterday, thanks to various appointments, I ended up walking for two hours, and by the end of the day my mind was so much calmer and clearer. Today after dropping C at nursery (finally back to nursery! Praise be!) I went to my first spin class in what I worked out must be six years. I’ve been doing Yoga, Pilates and Body Balance classes semi-regularly for the past few months but have yet to bite the bullet and get back into cardio. Needless to say I was terrified beforehand and pretty close to requiring hospitalisation afterwards (God help me tomorrow when my body’s had a chance to process what I did to it), but there’s no denying the endorphins that have lain dormant for so long were firmly kicked back into action. Exercise is vital for keeping a balanced perspective, it really helps to prevent a negative mind spiral.

Another thing that has helped to lift my mood has been finally submitting my university extenuation claim. It’s been tough seeing my fellow students approaching submission day (which was yesterday), knowing I couldn’t hope to make the deadline. For a while I convinced myself that maybe I could, but last week’s illness and nursery absence was the nail in the coffin. I have therefore been vigilant in collecting all the supporting evidence that I could to give my claim the best chance of success. Now I’ve finally sent it I feel a weight off my shoulders. I’m still pushing myself to complete it way ahead of the September resit deadline, but at least now I’ve accepted I need more time and can relax a little and give myself a break.

All in all I’m worn down but not defeated. This crazy ride called parenting ain’t getting any easier, but somehow I’m finding the reserves to ride out the rough patches and keep my sanity (just about) intact. Every day that goes by I have more respect for my own mother and all the other mums out there, especially those with more than one child, and/or with children who need extra help and attention. Until you are a mother you cannot comprehend the magnitude of the task; the endless demands, the sleepless nights, the sheer relentlessness of the responsibilities laid out before you, not to mention the fact all of this is FOR LIFE, or at least until your child/ren leave/s home. Then there’s the constant fight for your identity, the longing for freedom and fun and carefree, lazy days. You could actually kick your pre-baby self for not appreciating how much time you had to do as you pleased. But on the flip side, having a child changes you in profound and meaningful ways. It makes you less selfish, more thoughtful, more organised, and it brings moments of such pure and unadulterated joy you could hitherto only have imagined. So, on balance, I’ll take the lows if it means I get to keep the highs. That said, I’d sell a kidney for a decent night’s sleep. Any takers for a sleepover with a nearly one year old tonight?

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Eight Months In: All Change

The last three months have been, for want of a better word, insane. In November, after weeks of searching for – and finding – a new (two bed – more room for baby) flat in Brussels, it was all-change on my husband’s job front and we had to abandon signing the new tenancy agreement at the eleventh hour and re-focus our attention on finding a new flat in London to move into the first week of January. With a seven month old baby this was not the easiest task, but somehow I managed a two day trip to London with a ridiculous amount of luggage and my son for a series of back to back flat viewings, half of which I had to cancel due to a 1.5 hour delay on the train (thanks for that Eurostar). And the good news is that despite the cancellations and the tight timeline we were hugely fortunate to find a place that ticked almost every box.

Upping sticks and leaving Belgium so suddenly has been difficult to adjust to. One minute we thought we would be there for at least another year, the next we were moving back to London, the city where I lived on and off for 10 years but in all honesty didn’t see myself returning to live in, especially with a baby. But here we are. And now the dust is starting to settle I am seeing the many positives to this move. For one, we are closer to our friends and family. For another, I have been able to switch from a distance learner to an on campus student to complete the remainder of my Master’s course, which has just re-started after a year’s hiatus. The move also forced my hand where returning to work was concerned. I knew I didn’t want to to return to my job, but had been feeling nervous about quitting with nothing else lined up. Now I have the freedom not only to re-start my studies but also pursue my dream of becoming a freelance coach. And we have managed to find a lovely nursery for our son to attend three days a week whilst I pursue my goals.

In short, everything is positive. And as much as I don’t want to put a ‘but’ in here, I have to be honest and admit the last few weeks have been really tough. Our son is wonderful and he lights up my life, but the nights are still not great and besides being chronically tired I am constantly battling the inherent mum guilt about his well-being (Is he eating properly? Is he stimulated enough? Am I doing any of this right?) Since we returned to London my anxiety has returned ten fold, for reasons I can’t fathom other than a combination of tiredness, hormonal changes and a latent reaction to the stress of the past few weeks. C starting nursery the week before last was also anxiety-inducing, and since he started he’s had back-to-back coughs and colds which is inevitable but has nonetheless been tough to deal with. As his mother and the one who is not technically working in a nine to five role, the responsibility for his welfare lies with me. If he’s sick, I’m up all night with him, and I have to pick him up early from nursery. If the nursery is closed for bad weather (which is on the way, apparently – wonderful), he has to stay at home with me. Suddenly, the three days I have earmarked for work and study disappear, and my stress and anxiety levels increase. On the two week days I am scheduled to have him with me I worry that I should do more with him. The one downside to our new home is that the nearest park (Hampstead Heath) is a half an hour walk away, and in the immediate vicinity the pollution levels are very high (another thing I worry about, especially given our son is showing signs of having a weak chest). Whereas in Brussels I would take him out every day in the local area, here I wonder if it’s good for him to be constantly exposed to all of the pollution. But if we don’t go out my mental health plummets and he gets bored.

I hope I don’t sound ungrateful. Not a day goes by when I don’t count my many blessings. But burying emotions isn’t healthy, and maternal mental health is an important issue that needs to be discussed. It’s been eight months since I had my son and at least three days a week I still feel like I’ve been hit by a freight train. I do think the sleep deprivation is a big part of that, especially after a recent meeting with friends whose babies sleep through the night. But it’s more than that. Having a baby is wonderful, but if you already had issues with self-esteem and anxiety before baby came along, the addition of tiredness, raging hormones and the overwhelming feeling of responsibility that comes with being a mother can really mess with your head. Nobody discusses it but they should, because I’m certain I’m not alone in feeling this way. Some days are good, others are really, really bad. Even now. Especially now. Because now is when I thought I’d feel completely normal again. And sometimes I feel anything but.

But. Today is a good day. It didn’t start well, admittedly (son crying non-stop from 5am), but now C is at nursery, I am at my computer with (hopefully) a good few hours of study ahead of me, I have (much-needed) coffee and the sun is shining through the window. It is in moments like this I remember to breathe in, breathe out, to cherish, to soak it all up; the good, the bad and the indifferent. This crazy life. My life. Is. Beautiful.

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Five Weeks to Wed: Reflection on Youth

By the time I was seven I had the whole marriage thing wrapped up – my husband would be tall (at least a head taller than me), dark and handsome, I would be bedecked in lavish jewels and wear a big meringue dress (almost exactly like the one Jennifer Connelly wore in Labyrinth – see below). The ceremony, no less lavish than the dress (naturally), would take place in a beautiful church, with the reception in a grand country mansion. Guests would eat plentifully (mostly chocolate), and I would spend the remainder of my days tripping the light fantastic and dancing on sunbeams with unicorns. Or something like that.

Fast forward 27 years (ouch) and the reality isn’t so far from the dream. My husband to be is indeed tall (not quite a head taller, but let’s not, if you’ll excuse the pun, split hairs) and handsome, if not quite dark (but red haired will do nicely). The lavish jewels are out (clearly my seven year old self had no concept of money), the dress thankfully not quite in the meringue league, and the ceremony will not be in a church (this part I’m sad about, but as we are not Catholic we weren’t allowed to marry in the on-site chapel, and will instead do it outside on the lawn, weather permitting…). And much as I’d have liked a meal made entirely of chocolate, my 34 year old self has to acknowledge it’s not to everyone’s taste. But on one front I’ve trumped seven year old me entirely, for we are not getting married in a grand country mansion, but an actual bona fide castle (albeit because our original, far less grand and ergo far less expensive venue cancelled, but still..). And in Austria, land of stunning lakes and mountains.

With five weeks to go the nerves are kicking in, not about the marriage itself (fortunately), but rather about the plethora of things still to be ticked off the to do list. And the weather. Such a thing shouldn’t matter, of course, but as putting up a marquee will cost us an extra grand I would dearly love to see a forecast devoid of rain when it comes to marquee decision day (two days before the main event). And also, given that our loved ones are making such an effort to be there on our special day,  I would love to have sunshine as much as for them as for us. But what will be will be. I’ve learned a lot during this process about not stressing over things you can’t control. It hasn’t always been easy but it’s another part of growing up. And on the whole, I think we’re both doing pretty well. Next stop: tripping the light fantastic and dancing on sunbeams with unicorns. Bring it on.

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Perfect Moments

In this recent post by Shakeclouds it was posited that the very notion of perfection can be damaging, especially when relating to the achievement of goals, because perfection itself it is such an elusive creature. And whilst I agree with that sentiment entirely, today I discovered that, every now and then in life, there ARE moments of pure and unadulterated perfection, it’s just that often we are so caught up in the whirlwind of our own existence and myriad pressures to perform at the optimum level that we fail to spot them.

What was this moment of pure joy and perfection? In actual fact it was the simplest moment of all. After taking the afternoon off work to pick up my Belgian ID card from the town hall, I came home early, set myself up at the breakfast bar with my laptop and selected the coffee house playlist on Spotify. Then, all of a sudden, the clouds outside parted and the whole apartment was flooded with sunlight.

It was, in that moment, so arrestingly beautiful that I just sat, focusing only on the lovely music and the beams of light coming into my living room, and I felt overwhelmingly grateful-not only for the music, the apartment or the sunshine, but for everyone and everything in my life. Having recently got engaged it isn’t hard for me to appreciate the positives at this point in time, but this was such a wonderful instance of stillness and appreciation that I felt moved to share in this blog; a rare moment of genuine mindfulness, a true oasis of calm. Such moments are not only perfect, they are as precious as the diamond I am lucky enough to now have on my finger. And I have a sneaking suspicion they don’t just hold the key to this crazy thing called life; they are its very essence.

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Summer loving

For the first time this year it feels like summer has finally arrived, and it may even hang around a bit to brighten the collective mood of the nation. Temperatures are high and spirits even higher. We may not get much good weather here in Britain but when we do, by heck do we know how to eek every last drop of satisfaction out of it.

Yesterday I went to Brighton for a mini break with three girlfriends. It had been planned for some time so the good weather was a fortunate, though most welcome, addition. We arrived just in time to secure a good spot on the beach and whiled away a very pleasant few hours in the sunshine before retiring to our capacious hotel suite for a rest and some pre-drinks. Later on we braved the inordinately large number of hen and stag dos congregating on the sea front and made our way to a club called Audio, which played decent music but which was packed to the rafters with what I can only describe as utter pikeys. Nonetheless we had a great night and laughed our heads off, so we absolutely fulfilled our fun quota.

When we returned today the weather was so fantastic that the only logical thing to do was sit in the sunshine on Clapham Common with ice lollies and some summer tunes on the speakers. As I sat and looked around at my friends and reflected on the great weekend I was having I felt a deep sense of contentment, in part because I love the summer but in the main because I realised how fortunate I am to have so many wonderful people to share it with. After a bit of sunbathing I met some other friends in the pub beer garden for a quick drink before heading home and had the same feelings of good fortune and happiness.

It’s all too easy to take the people and places in your life for granted, which is why it’s important sometimes to just stop and look around at what you have – and to realise that despite the odd down day here and there, all is just the way you like it – lovely.

Glory days

Whoever has stolen the weather from some far flung tropical clime and brought it here to the UK deserves a medal. No, more than that, a knighthood. There’s simply nothing better than returning from holiday to find the weather at home equally as good as the place you left behind (apart from going on another holiday immediately afterwards, that is, but that would just be greedy). It softens the blow somewhat, that’s for sure. As does freelance Monday which, I’m afraid to say, I slightly shortened today with the insertion of a lazy middle of the day picnic in Brockwell Park with some friends and their baby. But sometimes you have to go with the flow and make the most of good fortune when it smiles upon you(r country). And as any Londoner who’s spent any length of time in this fine city will know, spells of good weather like this don’t come around too often.

The only down side of this fabulous weather (if one could really classify it as a down side) is that it makes running even harder, not just because it’s physically hotter but also because it’s harder to motivate oneself to exercise when the sun is shining and one would really, let’s face it, much rather be lying on the grass than stomping all over it. That said, I’m pleased to report my first 5k in almost a fortnight was completed in a rather respectable 27 minutes (had I not had my running club friend as a pacemaker I’m certain I’d have been considerably slower). And whilst at the time I felt I might be about to meet my maker, as soon as it was over and the familiar warm glow of satisfaction washed over me I felt much better. Which is just as well, because it’s less than nine weeks until my half marathon, and if I really want to avoid an early brush with Heaven I’d better get training…

Growing old disgracefully

As predicted yesterday’s wedding was magnificent in every way. The weather gods were smiling and there was barely a cloud in the sky. The church was beautiful, the reception venue stunning. But nothing and nobody was as radiant as the bride herself – just as it should be.

As the sun beat down the champagne flowed, followed by wine with the wedding breakfast, and by the time 10pm rolled around it was unanimously declared to be jagerbomb time, though everybody had drunk more than enough. There was dancing and much merriment…and then there was today.

Waking up at half past six in the dress you wore to the wedding with the bedroom lit up like the Blackpool illuminations is rather disconcerting. What’s more disconcerting still is having no memory of getting back to your accommodation. And what’s even more disconcerting than that is the grim realisation you have an unavoidable three hour drive ahead of you.

After downing some water and eating a hearty fry up I hit the road, convinced once I got going I’d feel better. Not so. Shortly after leaving the bed and breakfast, in fact, I was forced to pull over and eject the aforementioned fry up on the side of a country lane – watched by a herd of unimpressed cows. Clambering back into the car and convinced that now I’d feel much better, I continued on my way.

After almost an hour of driving around narrow country roads I entered a village and my heart sank – it was the same village I’d driven through forty minutes earlier. I had, in fact, been driving around in a circle. As this realisation sank in my body decided to eject another bit of fry up for good measure. This was rapidly descending into the journey from hell. Not only was I overwhelmed with insatiable nausea, I was also now stuck in the countryside, in my very own version of Groundhog Day.

Of course there was no mobile phone reception, so when I saw the first car in what felt like hours I flagged it down and asked for directions. As I spoke the man inside regarded me with a bemused smile – it was only afterwards when I looked in the mirror I realised my hair was sticking out at right angles to my head and I had sick on my top.

Fortunately I did eventually make it out of the maze that is the Shropshire countryside, and four and a half hours later I arrived, dishevelled and grumpy, at my parents’ house, where mother saw fit to point out that I’m far too old to behave like this. And I realised I’d left my shoes in Shropshire.