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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Three Months and Drowning (Literally)

Let me preface this post by saying that not a day goes by when I don’t count my blessings. That said, this week it’s felt as though we’ve angered the gods in some way. We returned from holiday on Sunday expecting to find a clean – and dry – apartment. What we found instead was a home stinking of stale floodwater, with pink residue all over the kitchen floor, damp towels festering in the sink and, to really top things off, a freezer full of partially defrosted food (including a month’s worth of carefully pumped and labelled breast milk). The cleaning lady hadn’t been despite saying she would, so aside from all the other issues the place was a dump.

I’ve mentioned before the building works that have been going on downstairs since March. Well, the latest debacle has been a water leak. About four weeks ago we went out one day and returned to find the kitchen swimming in water. We dried it up and went out again, only to find the same thing had happened a couple of hours later. After that, nothing happened for a week, but then the same thing again. We told our landlady who arranged for her plumber to come, but he couldn’t find the source of the problem. It was evident that the water was coming from above (I mean, it was pissing through our ceiling..), but as our neighbours had no such problem with their place, the mystery continued. Eventually water started leaking into other places – the apartment next door as well as the medical centre and building works below (karma is a bitch, hey?) And so our landlady reported the issue to the building syndic/manager, and various workmen were duly sent to investigate, only to leave scratching their heads as the first plumber had done. Fast forward a week and we arrived home from holiday to find the situation described above, after yet more workmen had traipsed through the apartment in our absence. We cleaned the floor as best we could, arranged for a new cleaner to come on Wednesday to try and get the pink dye out of the tile grouting and went about our business.

When the cleaning lady arrived on Wednesday morning I showed her around the apartment (against the backdrop of a screaming baby – more on that later), and as she started to work on the floor water began seeping out from under the appliances just as it had before, so she ended up having to dry the entire floor before she could even start to clean it. The final straw came at 5am this morning when, after a second terrible night of being up with baby every 2.5 hours, I brought him into the kitchen so as not to disturb my husband, only to find myself standing in a puddle of water, the floor having totally flooded yet again during the night.

Now I consider myself to be a fairly resilient person, but after six months of disruption with the building works (incidentally also the entire duration of my maternity leave) this new problem has, if you’ll excuse the pun, floored me. On top of having a (currently inexplicably grizzly) three month old baby with sleep issues I’ll admit I’m finding my sense of humour to be wearing thin. This wasn’t what I signed up for, does anyone know to whom I should address my letter of complaint?

And then there is my gorgeous baby boy. Gorgeous he may be, but he is also somewhat of a sleep terrorist. And for the past week or so he has been really out of sorts, crying for no discernible reason, demanding attention every time I move out of his eye line and downright refusing to go down for his day time naps. The result being a cranky and overtired baby and a zombie-like mother who is running out of ideas – and steam. Our holiday was lovely, but not quite the relaxing experience I had envisaged. I did manage to grab a little extra sleep thanks to my husband, but taking a cranky three month old to a wedding and on a three-site French adventure proved more testing than either of us had expected.

Don’t get me wrong, I am LOVING being a mother, and I know that in the main we have got more than lucky with our amazing son, whose general disposition is sunny and relaxed. But by God I would love him to sleep a bit more (and more easily). I’m becoming murderously jealous of my friends whose babies are already sleeping through the night at virtually the same age, so much so I’m struggling to even meet up with them. The sleep struggle is REAL.

A friend said to me the other day that mothers don’t tell new mothers how hard it is because they don’t want to scare them. But on the flip side of that, if this secret club of knowing mums don’t divulge the reality, surely it makes it even harder for the new mums when reality bites? I’ll wrap things up with that question, not least because there’s water seeping across the kitchen floor as I type and my son has just vomited on my shoulder.

Ah, these halcyon days of maternity leave…

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New Endings

Today I am tired: dog-tired. Lately I’ve been burning the candle at both ends and the outcome is not pretty – bad skin, concentration span of a gnat (not intimately knowing their cognitive capabilities, I acknowledge this may be unfair to gnats) and the general feeling that I am clinging to my raft on the fast-flowing river of life by the tips of my fingers, with only moments to spare before I fall off and am pulled beneath the murky depths (that last bit was the hungover melodrama speaking, best to ignore it).

But today four things happened that snapped me out of the downward-spiralling torrrent of my own selfish emotions:

  1. I read the news from Calais, where fire is ravaging through the Jungle camp as I type this, and, at the very same time, unaccompanied minors are being sent back there to wait until they can be processed.
  2. I heard a piece of  news from England, which nearly made my heart burst with happiness and joy.
  3. I received my fourth book through the Facebook book exchange I signed up to a couple of weeks ago, which has gone some way towards restoring my faith in humanity.
  4. I watched this video by Prince Ea, which made me realise that those of us who are lucky enough to live in relative freedom are the masters of our own destiny. We can make as many excuses as we like for why we don’t put ourselves out there, but in the end all that will come of our procrastination is regret.

Too often we let our minds wander, thinking of all the paths we could go down but failing to take even the first step along one of them. Fear is a paralysing force, and a toxic one. So many of us stay in the trap our fearful minds have set for us, instead of facing our fear head on and saying, you know what? I’m not falling for this. Not again.

Collectively, as Sapiens (I urge you to read that, by the way, it will change your perspective on everything), we’re not doing that great a job of things: segregating ourselves by our countries of origin and religious beliefs, killing our planet, killing one another. But individually we can still make a difference. For all our faults, we humans have such capacity for kindness, for love, for hope. Even in the Jungle, where those awful fires are burning and people’s future is so uncertain, people are dancing. I’m sure those very people could teach the rest of us a lot about what it means to be happy, and how little we really need to find happiness, and peace in our hearts.

As Prince Ea says in his video, you cannot go back and make a new beginning. But you can start now, and make a brand new ending. It’s not too late to change ourselves, or to change the world. All it takes is courage: to feel our fear and do it anyway. I don’t know about you, but I plan to do exactly that.

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Busy? Me? Hahahaaaaaaa. No. (YES!)

I can confidently say that until this point in my life I have never even known busy. In the past week, whilst attempting to juggle several major projects for various important clients, I have averaged twelve hour working days. There have been moments when I have entertained, in my exhausted fugue-like state, the idea of physically splitting myself in two, so that I might actually have some hope of completing all the tasks on my ‘to do’ list. Who am I kidding? I don’t even have a ‘to do’ list anymore. I realise now that is a luxury only afforded to people who are familiar with the concept of having free time in their waking day. At the moment that concept is as alien to me as, well, aliens. As for my email inbox, it doesn’t take an I.T. expert to know that when it hits 250 and at least 50 of those are still unopened, that’s not good.

But for all my whingeing and moaning, it’s also true to say I have felt more fulfilled in my job in the past week than I have for a long time. Yes, I’m busy, yes I’m tired (beyond tired, David Blaine in his sleep deprivation experiment had nothing on me), and yes it’s a shame that our June wedding will at this rate be a rather sparse affair thanks to the fact I have literally no brain space left for planning it. But there’s something to be said for a bit of hard graft, and the feeling of satisfaction you get when you’ve worked your arse off and are recognised for it. It hasn’t all been plain sailing (what is?), but I finally seem to have found a company that appreciates its employees and isn’t afraid to say so when they go the extra mile – which makes me more amenable to running that extra mile, at least from time to time (and ideally in very short bursts).

That said I’m hoping normal service will resume soon. For all the excitement that manic twelve hour working days afford, there is only so long one can neglect the important elements of a healthy life, like sleep, food that isn’t fast, physical movement that comprises more than three steps to the toilet and another three back to your desk, and actual, meaningful, non-work related social engagement. It would also be rather pleasant to focus my eyes on something more than twelve inches from my face again. But for now I’ll have to make do with another two hours of staring at a screen and some nasty supermarket filled pasta before my midnight bedtime. And then the cycle will begin again. Oh well, such is life…

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Blocking Time

Do you ever feel there isn’t enough time to do the things you want to do outside of your day job? Are you often just so tired at the end of the working day that all you want to do is lie on the sofa and watch crap TV just to relax your mind? But then the guilt sets in, because such activity feels like it actively diminishes your intelligence rather than bolstering it, and if you don’t use your time wisely how will you ever finish that novel/Open University course/improving tome etc.?

If you do feel that way, you’re not alone. I for one experience this cycle of worry and guilt on a daily basis. Even though I know that being a published writer is my goal, somehow it seems that writing at the end of a full day’s work (and, when I can be bothered, a post-work gym session) is always the last thing I want to do.

But then, yesterday, I struck on the most blindingly obvious and simple concept: Instead of telling myself that I had to spend the whole evening writing, with no time to do anything else (the usual mantra due to guilt at not having written enough in the preceding days/weeks), I told myself to spend just one hour working on my screenplay, at the end of which I could spend an hour watching any TV programme I liked. And at the end of that, I would go to bed and spend an hour reading my book (because, in my experience – and somewhat ironically given the benefits – when you’re feeling overtired and too busy the first thing to go is the luxury of reading before bed).

And you know what? It worked. I didn’t do a huge amount of my screenplay, but I did more than I had done in the past few days. And, more than anything, it felt like I had removed a big obstacle that had been standing in my way. I no longer felt scared of the enormity of the task I was facing, because I had broken it down into a manageable task. Moreover, I didn’t feel (as I so often do) that writing meant having to sacrifice all other enjoyment, or that I had to choose between writing and reading (a horrendous choice for a writer because without reading how can you improve your writing? Catch 22).

So often we tell ourselves that we are useless, that it’s impossible to realise our dreams. But what if we’re just framing things incorrectly? What if the problem is not our lack of talent, or even commitment, but rather the very simple and easily corrected issue of time management?

We all know that if we want to do something we must make time for it. But what makes so many people stumble at the first hurdle is the misguided view they must devote every spare moment to the pursuit of that goal. Wrong. Start small, with ten, twenty, thirty minutes a day – whatever feels achievable to you. And make sure that you stick to doing it – simple. It takes time to form a habit, and it isn’t always easy. But if you don’t start, the only person you’ll have to blame for not achieving your potential is yourself.

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Making Peace

Yesterday, after two days of proofreading a document created by a colleague, I sent my comments back in an email. I was tired and feeling overworked, and didn’t stop to think how the email would make that person feel – I was just glad to have ticked another task off my long to do list. Today when they responded saying my comments had upset them my initial (tired and overworked) response was to roll my eyes and feel anger bubbling up inside me. But then I stopped, went for a walk outside, took several deep breaths and thought hard about the situation. My email wasn’t rude, per se, but with hindsight it was tactless. The document I’d been critiquing was this person’s baby, so inevitably my seemingly brusque comments were misconstrued as me thinking the entire document was rubbish, which is far from the case.

The incident made me appreciate just how easy it is for small issues in the workplace to turn into much larger ones, simply by virtue of people’s lack of empathy towards one another due to their own personal issues. And, on a much bigger scale than that, how it’s exactly this lack of empathy towards others that leads to hatred – and wars. This issue is particularly pertinent today as the US launches air strikes against IS militants in Iraq, who are currently attempting to murder the Yazidis and Christian minorities whom they have displaced from their homes, in what seems to be verging ever more closely on an act of genocide. What makes these militants – and, for that matter, the Israeli and Hamas fighters in Gaza – think they are better than those they seek to wipe out? Don’t they realise at our core we are all the same: Human beings who are trying to make our way in a conflict-ridden world?

I will never forget the stories I read as a child about the soldiers in the front line during the First World War, who downed their weapons on Christmas Day and came out of the trenches to play games with the opposition; English and German soldiers united in one moment of peace, when just twenty four hours later they would be tearing one another apart.

It makes me sad to think of all the hate in the world, and days like today remind me that I’m not immune to creating animosity myself, even when I don’t mean to. Our moods are not always easy to control, but if we all put a bit more effort into thinking how they affect other people, and appreciating that those people are working through issues of their own, I really think there would be more peace in the world.

Happy Friday everyone – be nice to each other.

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Crawling towards Christmas

I’d have liked to have found the time today to write a festive piece of fiction; a story about the spirit of Christmas or some such like, or a heartwarming tale of inspiration and frivolity. Instead, I’ve been chasing my tail with marathon training, present wrapping and holiday packing, topped off with a final pre-Christmas evening with friends at a beautiful mews flat (what I wouldn’t give to have the kind of money to afford one of those) in Paddington, where mulled wine and homemade festive turkey offerings were plentiful (and gratefully received after the aforementioned training).

Tomorrow morning a two hour run awaits, after which it will finally be the long-awaited time to pack up and leave London for the holidays – this year being even more exciting than usual given the two week trip to Hong Kong and the Philippines that has been tacked onto the end of them.

Despite being two days into my break already I’m finding it hard to switch off and relax. I guess it’s not surprising that it takes our over stimulated minds a while to adjust to the slower pace of life that holidays bring, especially given how rare such occasions are for the vast majority of us. And it’s not just our minds-all too often our bodies go into a state of collapse the second we give them the chance to as well, resulting in unwelcome holiday illnesses that prevent us from enjoying the time we have been looking forward to for weeks or months in advance.

But rather than tempt fate by talking about ill health I shall stop here and retire to bed, in order to give myself the best chance of a truly Merry Christmas. The festive season so far has been joyous, here’s to the lovely days that still lie ahead.

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