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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Solitude

It’s been a long old while since I’ve practiced meditation, or indeed any form of mindfulness; two of the many things I mentally flagellate myself about daily. This weekend, therefore, has been a blessing. Not because I’ve done either of those things (obvs), but because I have had the chance to spend some quality time with myself, and with nature. And because, as cheesy as it sounds, it has given me a much needed opportunity to reconnect with myself.

Life rushes by at such an alarming rate – especially, as I’ve discovered in recent months, when you have a wedding to plan. Lately (or, to be truly honest, forever) I’ve felt so time poor it’s taken all my effort just to get home from work at the end of the day, run a bath and crack on an episode of Eastenders (weird new guilty pleasure – clearly a sign of stress) before falling, exhausted, into bed. Meditation? Ha. As if. I’ve never felt less calm or more busy.

But then, last week, the soon-to-be-husband (eep!) announced he would be going back to the UK this weekend, sans moi (well, I had the choice to accompany him, but after last week’s boozy and nocturnal antics in Las Vegas the thought of spending 16 hours in a car only to hold a paint brush all weekend – they are renovating the family home, yes, I know, I’m a selfish cow – was too much to entertain). At first I was put out (see previous selfish cow comment), and sad at missing the opportunity to spend a quiet weekend together. I hastily scrambled some social options together in case I needed back up, and prepared to bunker down for a weekend alone with the bottle of Chianti hubby-to-be bought me to soften the blow (a welcome gift, and further proof, it it was needed, that he’s a keeper).

Yesterday (Saturday), I lazed around in the morning then went shopping all afternoon. So far so good. In the evening, feeling more confident about being alone (Jesus, you wouldn’t think I’ve travelled alone for months at a time in the past would you?), I declined all social plans, heated up a Marks and Spencer ready meal (God how I’ve missed those – totally forgot an M&S opened up here a few months ago. Result) and downloaded a gratuitous chick flick from Amazon. But it wasn’t until today that I felt a change occur. Yesterday was enjoyable, but in a shallow way (not that there is anything wrong with that, in my opinion, at least from time to time). I was gratified by material purchases and ‘guilty pleasure’ TV consumption, but that was as far as it went. Today I somehow knew as soon as I woke up it would be different. And it has been.

My recent back injury having put paid to any hope of a pre-wedding gym comeback, I have to make sure I still get some exercise each day. I decided, therefore, to go for a walk, the timing of which was fortuitously impeccable. It had just rained heavily, and the sun was beginning to nudge the clouds aside. I walked to Tenbosch Park, just ten minutes from home. I don’t know what it is about that place, but as soon as I get there I always feel an overwhelming sense of calm descend upon me. It’s so beautifully kept, unusual in that it is both small and spread over several levels – sort of landscaped over a small hill – and feels to me like a secret garden, a tiny oasis amidst the sprawling metropolis. I just love it, and after visiting today by myself my mind feels clearer than it has done in weeks. I spent a while just standing and listening to the birds tweeting, watching as a parrot (yes, really, apparently Brussels is famous for them) flew overhead from tree top to tree top. It was wonderful, and a welcome reminder that even if I’m not meditating every chance I get, it’s still possible to find a little piece of peace in this frenetic world.

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Why Fashion Just Isn’t My Forte

I’ve never been a dedicated follower of fashion. Sure, I know what colours and styles go together (just about), but I’m buggered if I have the time, energy or money to make sure my labels are in vogue and I’m adhering to the latest trends. In fact, embarrassing as it is to admit this, I’m still wearing some of the same work clothes now that I wore to work a decade ago. But if they still fit and are in good nick, why not? They’ll probably come back into fashion again soon anyway, just like my mum’s suede boots from the sixties that she wishes she’d held onto. Then who’ll be laughing?

But the thing is, as fashion-averse as I seem to be, I’m not entirely comfortable being this way. Why? Because I care too much what other people think, that’s why. Take wearing trainers to work as an example. In London it’s virtually de rigueur to throw a pair of Nikes on with your work suit as you pound the streets to the office. In Brussels, I have learned, it is far less acceptable. In fact, it seems, hardly anyone wears trainers to work here, let alone neon pink Adidas ones like me (I refer you to my previous points re: being unfashionable). Because of this, on the days when I do dare to leave the house in them, I can feel the heat of peoples’ collective disapproval burning a hole in my feet as I walk. I tell myself I don’t care what they think, and fundamentally I don’t, but what I do care about is feeling a bit of a tool, standing out and drawing attention to myself. That I don’t like one bit.

But here’s my dilemma: The morning walk to my office takes twenty minutes, and much of the route is lined with cobblestones, so even if I could be bothered to wear high heels (which I most definitely can’t) they would be a totally impractical choice. Now the weather is becoming warmer the knee high leather boots (flat, naturally) are also inappropriate. This leaves either my lone pair of flat pumps (a throwback to last summer’s meagre fashion injection – or was it the summer before..?) or my running trainers – the former being prettier, but the latter offering more support and cushioning for my feet. And much as I hate to admit it, now I’m in my thirties I’ll take comfort over fashion any day (within reason, I’m not quite ready to purchase my first pair of Clarks granny shoes yet).

Yesterday, on my walk home (wearing the fashionable pumps, I might add), I found the answer to my dilemma: two pairs of simple, unbranded (not particularly fashionable but who cares?), canvas lace-up shoes – one pair in wonderfully neutral blend-in beige, the other a slightly more upbeat pink – that might just see me through this summer of urban living without having to hang my head in shame and avoid the reproachful glares of my fellow city dwellers.

Fashion – 0

Comfort – 1

Fin.

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Being Present

I’ve just walked home from work. I did the same on Tuesday, but that time I was plugged into my music, walking in time to the beat in my ears but oblivious to the beat of the world around me. Tonight was different. It was a conscious decision to take in my surroundings, to be fully present in this balmy late September evening in the city I’ve called home for the past eleven years but am soon to leave behind for pastures new. I wanted to absorb its every detail, soak it up like a sponge, so that when I’m no longer here I can conjure it any time I like, simply by closing my eyes and remembering:

The Friday evening chatter as the bars by Borough Market began to fill with thirsty punters, relieved to see the end of the week; intricate brickwork in the arches leading down to the riverfront; tourists in droves slowly ambling with cameras and ice creams, no urgency or sense of purpose; runners dodging walkers like bullets; a man with unkempt hair, a typewriter and a sign saying ‘stories while you wait’ (what’s his story, I wonder); an Aussie in breeches calling ‘roll up, roll up to the cabaret freak show’ on the south bank by Waterloo; photographers waiting for the perfect shot as the sun slid down behind the Houses of Parliament, painting the sky in pinks and oranges like a famous work of art as the water lapped peacefully beneath, its surface soft as velvet; buskers with a range of instruments and abilities, one man in particular by the London Eye whose eye I caught as I walked past and whose voice was heaven wrapped in caramel with sprinkles on top; couples strolling hand in hand with smiles as wide as the mighty Thames along whose banks they walked; a discarded jumper that spoke of being forgotten, or perhaps cast off in a moment of passion or overheating; plants in pots outside offices, wilting and browning in the unseasonal heat; drunks gathered on steps with cans of lager, their pastime more acceptable somehow in the context of a Friday night when all around them office workers did the same; a bouncer underneath the bridge in Vauxhall, trying to entice me into his bar for happy hour; a leaf almost but not quite out of my reach as I jumped to touch it; a Portuguese café called The Three Lions where families spilled onto the street; children arriving home from school clutching violin cases and empty bags of fried chicken.

These are the myriad people and things that make up this special city, bringing her to life in all her kaleidoscopic glory. These are the things I will miss; the things I leave behind.

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Woe is Me / Fat Arses and Cake

I’ll admit it: I’m fed up. It’s been three weeks exactly since my last run – you know, the one that put me firmly out of action for the Rome Marathon 12 days later, and also catalysed the depressing spiral of back-related issues which, over the course of the past 21 days, have included – but not been limited to – the following: General/dull lower back pain/stiffness; acute lower back pain; acute pain in right buttock (particularly uncomfortable when sitting down); shooting pain in right shin (particularly uncomfortable when walking); numbness in lower right leg (problematic when attempting to walk due to tripping over of self); tingling in toes of right foot, inability to walk without being in excruciating pain (especially when involving stairs).

For the past five months I’ve been an exercising powerhouse. Now, all of a sudden, it’s a struggle just to walk around the block (and when I say walk I mean hobble at a woeful pace – put it this way, in a sports day full of geriatrics right now I’m pretty sure I’d come last). The worst thing is not knowing what the problem is – well, I have a fairly good idea it’s something disc-related, but have to wait another fortnight for an NHS physio appointment to establish the root cause of the injury, and thus begin the arduous process of trying to fix it. In the meantime I’m floating on a sea of unease, unsure whether to rest, to exercise, to use heat, to use ice, to take this painkiller or that one – or just to drink copious amounts of wine (always the preferable option). And, as is always the case in these situations, everyone’s an expert, so I’ve been inundated with (mostly very helpful) suggestions about what I should and shouldn’t be doing – my concern being that surely every back injury is different, to some extent, so what works for one person might not work for another (in trying someone’s suggested exercises, therefore, might I not be doing myself more harm than good?).

Since my lowest ebb last Friday I have at least managed to keep away from the Tramadol – a last resort in pain relief (though really floaty light) – although the diazepam’s been making reappearances from time to time when the pain wakes me in the night (as it did last night). In my more positive moments I think it’s getting better and chide myself for being a big baby, but in the lower ones when I’m writhing on the floor with pain or unable to climb the stairs without feeling I might pass out I just want to give in and cry. I’ve been signed off work but my conscience won’t allow me not to work from home, so to add to the frustration there have been repeated attempts to access emails remotely and locate files from the server that I’m sure I’ve sent myself in the event of this eventuality but which seem to have deleted themselves spontaneously upon sending.

Put simply, having a bad back sucks. This experience has been exhausting and depressing in the extreme, and has made me feel enormously sympathetic towards all who suffer chronic back pain every day of their lives. I can at least be fairly confident that with time and patience (the latter sadly not being one of my strong points) I will heal, and that one day (soon? Please God, let it be soon) I’ll be back in the gym and training for my next big challenge, whatever that may be – but not everyone has that luxury. So I will close on a positive note: Normal service will resume shortly. In the meantime I’ll be sitting on my increasingly fat arse eating cake.

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What I may look like soon if I can’t start exercising…

Collision Course

It has long interested me (yes, I really am this sad) that some people seem to instinctively know which way to move when you cross their path, whereas others appear to have no radar whatsoever to avoid bumping into other people. I’m intrigued to know whether those who correctly guess which way another person is going to move, thus moving in the opposite way to avoid a collision, are more intuitive individuals. Perhaps they are even more intelligent than those who repeatedly fail to judge others’ trajectories correctly. Or perhaps there is no rhyme nor reason whatsoever for this strange phenomenon and I should get a life.

Now you’ve read the necessary contextual preamble I’ll move onto the main point of this post. In order to ease the insufferable pain that is walking through the crowded streets of London Bridge after work I have today devised a game. Borne out of my interest in the behaviour of people whilst walking along a busy road, it’s a version of ‘Chicken’ whereby I walk straight at people and guess if they’ll get out of my way or not. The results of my first attempt are quite surprising. People who look like perfectly reasonable individuals are often woefully lacking in collision radars, whereas those at the scattier-looking end of the spectrum tend to be excellent crowd-dodgers. As social experiments go, this may not make it into a psychology journal, but it’s sure as hell going to improve my daily commute.

Maritime adventures and Philharmonic fun

This weekend I managed to escape the rat race and head down to Rochester to spend the weekend with friends from my Borneo volunteering experience in 2011. The purpose for the visit, besides a general meet up, was to visit one member of the group who has recently bought a house boat (and accompanying berth) on the Medway Marina.

Having always loved being beside the water this was an ideal excursion for me and, though the summer heat wave was taking a slightly disappointing impromptu break, we had a great day lunching on the boat and walking along Baty’s Marsh. At one stage during the walk there were scenes of high drama when we heard a monumental crash and ran back to the main road, to find a hysterical woman who had crashed her Audi into a barrier. Fortunately our Raleigh expedition medic was with us and was able to help calm the woman down until the police arrived.

In the evening we had a barbecue at the marina before walking the half hour to Rochester Castle for a Proms concert by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (buying tickets for this was possibly the most grown up I’ve ever felt). None of us knew what to expect and we were taken aback by the organisation (almost everyone had thought to bring camping chairs) and the sea of Union Jack flags. We found a spot on the perimeter to lay our picnic rug down and duly proceeded to enjoy the evening’s festivities – in particular the awesome fireworks display at the end of the night (which my brain found somewhat confusing given that fireworks are normally restricted to November).

A night cap at the marina boat yard when we had walked back rounded off what had been a perfect day, and we rested our heads aboard the splendid Sovereign B&B boat. All in all it was a thoroughly British weekend – stubborn weather included – and I loved every second.