Christmas

I was cuddled up with Fred on the sofa watching “Saving Santa” …. which begins with the quote:

Christmas is a day that holds all time together.
People take from Christmas
their memories of
happy times and sad,
past, present and future.

As I stroked my little boys freshly cut hair, and helped him peel his satsuma; I was taken back to Christmases past … one particularly dark year, when I distinctly remember sitting in my writing shed at the bottom of my parents orchard. I was writing [another unfinished novel, I suppose …] by candlelight, chain smoking, listening to the radio, somewhere around 2am, wrapped in an old blanket. It was a lonely place to be; I look back at that young woman, lost; struggling; unable to envisage a future … and want to whisper in her ear that everything would be okay. “A candlelight carol” came on the radio, an arrangement by John Rutter which I hadn’t heard before. It contains the line “How can you measure the love of a mother, and how can you write down, a baby’s first cry.” I still have this in my itunes library … [you can listen on youtube here ] and I remember so well the hopelessness of that Christmas. Fast forward to 2014, and I sat resting my hands on a growing Freddie-bump, listening to the same carol. It is hard to believe how much has changed since then. 2014 was an emotional Christmas – preggers, alone, recently moved into my flat, and wondering how I would manage. I recall crying in the shower a lot, talking to my wriggly little Freddie in utero, reassuring him that his momma loved him so much and would always try her best. Last year I sat with my 9month old on my lap, listening to the same carol, appreciating it’s poignancy all the more; amazed that I was a mother. This evening I’m listening to it whilst my little boy sleeps in his cot [for the fifth night this week] …

I’ve never been a huge fan of this time of year … although now I have my boy, I am warming to the magic through a child’s eyes. The Christmases I spent in Calcutta made me very cynical about the western commercial craziness  … and I don’t say that from a religious perspective [forever the agnostic]. In Calcutta we served rice and dahl to the street dwellers who queued for hours outside the gates of Shishu Bhavan on AJC Bose Road. The hot meal was their greatest present. I look at the sacks of presents in my wardrobe for Freddie, and remind myself that one day I will take him to Calcutta, to understand that not all little boys are as lucky. I do miss Calcutta at Christmas; the volunteer’s Christmas play in Motherhouse on Christmas Eve; the carols, the human chain passing the rice and dahl on Christmas morning … Sr Andrea summoning me to the parlour for a serious conversation …. those were happy Christmases, and Christmases devoid of presents and commercialism. I remember one such Christmas when having worked all day, myself an an American volunteer friend [yes Maddy, if you’re reading …] fell into bed realising we hadn’t in fact eaten all day! We ended up getting a khadi roll – a Calcutta street food speciality, costing about 15p, as our Christmas dinner!

A little while ago I blogged about mental health; and I find this time of year so delicate for so many …. like the quote from Freddie’s new favourite DVD [“Again, Momma, Again, Pease Momma!”] – it inevitably evokes memories, of times when things were different, when situations were different; when people were together. The media project the ideals; the happy families, the perfect food; the seemingly effortless happiness … and the reality is often so different.

It will all, very soon, be over … and the Valentines cards will be in the shops.

Until then, see you on the other side ….

A drunken kitten

If I told you that last night my toddler threw a pear across the dining table which hit [yes, hit, good shot] my 5 o’clock glass of Sauvignon Blanc and then laughed and said “yes Momma” when I told him this was naughty …. only for the cat to lick up the remaining wine whilst my back was turned, throw up in the night [the cat, not me], utterly hungover this morning, you would probably gather it has been an eventful week [and it’s only Tuesday!]. An alcoholic kitten at 5months old? My mothering skills are epic. Luckily there was another glass left in the bottle.

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From left to right; Violet, Virginia, Vita …

I need to introduce this Blog to Virginia, Vita and Violet – my three recently acquired rescue chickens. They are lovely girls, producing some eye wateringly whopping coloured eggs. Slightly concerned that Virginia and Violet gang up on Vita … but I guess that’s where the pecking order comes from. Fredders is really enjoying feeding the “tichens” as he calls them, every morning before work; and the Good Life begins. Naughty Mr Fox had better leave my girls alone! Roll on those summer evenings ….

In all honesty the past couple of weeks haven’t been altogether easy. I’ve had a growing feeling of unrest, and have had to decipher what I need to do to change things. There are plans afoot – so watch this space. I feel like I’ve fallen into various ruts recently, but 2017 is going to bring some exciting things with it … I feel much clearer and more positive about what I want for me and Fred. It’s hard work, keeping yourself in check and moving forward despite surviving on 3 hours sleep …

Did I mention sleep? I’ve finally decided it’s time for Fred to sleep in his cot …. not an easy task at 21 months when he’s been used to snuggling up to Momma. Consistency is the key. And you wonder why I’m drinking wine at 5pm on a monday? Again, I shall report back …

Now, dear readers, I must hang the washing, vacuum the lounge, prepare a curry for this evening, and contemplate the dreaded Christmas letter.

Nurturing my inner PollyAnna

I often Blog about the joys of motherhood and the beautiful moments we all want to last forever. There are so many of these, and I’ve always tried to cherish the ever fleeting moment – even when running on 3 hours sleep. Freddie is without a doubt the best thing to have happened to me; that goes without saying. This week, however, has been tough … it’s partly because it’s dark and dank and cold outside; partly because I’m exhausted, Fred’s been snotty and therefore slightly grouchy [okay, scratch that, he’s been a little bugger at 4,30am for the past three days] – payday has seemed a long way off, and quite frankly I’ve felt inadequate and a little lonely – not to mention hormonal. It’s bloody hard work on your own; and much more so when it’s not summertime when everything seems so much more do able and the days so much easier to plan; no coats and wellies to lug around; light evenings to burn energy at the park ….this afternoon we have watched a DVD [Fred’s current favourite thing in the world, especially if he can ram two in the DVD player at the same time], played cars, coloured, drawn pictures on the chalk board; cooked food in Fred’s kitchen … before tea and finally settling a very overtired little chap to sleep. It was a joyous feeling as I tiptoed out of his room [yes you read that correctly; my child is sleeping in HIS cot in HIS room this evening!], leaving the kitten to act as a purring teddy. I jumped in the shower with a sense of utter liberation. My lovely friend Mandy will be here in an hour with a curry – the wine is chilling in the fridge. Thursday is my Friday; so bring on some much needed relaxation and adult conversation [come on kiddo, you can do it … you can sleep for longer than 3 hours in a row!]

Of course, I love being a mum more than anything; but I don’t want this blog to only document the good times. I was so tired this afternoon I just wanted to curl up and sleep … and despite not wanting to shove Fred in front of a screen to occupy him – it was so easy to do so. I was reminded of a comment from a friend earlier in the week – that it’s okay to be just “good enough” some days … my child is warm and fed, he has a lot of toys to play with and activities to engage with … and yet now he’s asleep I’m feeling utterly guilty for not being quite good enough today; for lacking the energy to bounce around and do more. 4.30am seems a long time ago. Please go back to sleep, I whispered this morning – please go back to sleep …. momma’s eyes are not looking pretty, despite trying the piles cream trick.

I am sitting with a cup of tea nurturing my inner PollyAnna. It is 2 years ago this week since I got the keys to this flat and became the owner of a mortgage. I’m so glad that I chose this place to call home … so many memories in these walls already … so many happy photos line the walls.

Tomorrow is another day. I will try harder tomorrow.

20 months on; the gentle way

4This photo, taken during a recent autumnal photoshoot, captures the spirit, cheekiness, and character of my little Fred. I can almost hear his excitement! I was so pleased with these photos, taken in the park next to where we live; the park I played in when I was little, the park I walked around when pregnant, fell on my bottom in the ice a few days before Fred’s arrival, and the park Freddie and I have visited most days of his life.

Today this little chap is 20 months old. I remember this time last year being amazed that he was 8 months already …. it is both wonderful and poignant how fast these milestones occur. Daily Freddie is coming out with a new word or expression [he was wagging his finger at Grandad earlier and saying “noooooo”!] – he is already in size 2-3 clothes, and likes to hold my hand rather than be carried up/down the stairs. I concede that he is no longer a baby; he’s a little boy … walking, talking, full of personality and his own opinions [especially about the necessities of teeth cleaning]

Every monthiversary makes me think back to that night in March 2015 when Freddie made his appearance … a night I could happily reminisce about on a regular basis. I still feel so fortunate to have had such a positive, empowering experience of childbirth. It was without a doubt the most defining moment of my life. Everything changed at 4.39am on 5th March 2015. The world gained a Freddie, and I acquired a purpose; a little bundle of squishy newborn to love and introduce to the world. These 20 months have been the best of my life … the most exhausting, the most demanding … and yet this little person who grew in my tummy, has taught me so much, about unconditional love, and about what’s really important. I’ve let him guide me, and as such he is still breasfed and we still co sleep. Some people raise eyebrows and think this is an issue, but it works for us … one day he won’t want boobie anymore, and one day he will sleep in that beautiful room momma painted for him .. until then, I’m quite happy to settle down beside him at night .. even if I will be woken by a hungry, hair pulling milk monster in the middle of the night. These days go so quickly … and from the outset I’ve wanted to treasure it all ….

I wanted to blog tonight, yet realise I’m too tired to write anything of any substance. I couldn’t let 20 months pass by unnoticed though … so now I’ll cuddle up next to my boy, listening to the fireworks booming in the distance … looking forward to the adventures tomorrow will hold.

 

 

 

 

The tight rope of sanity

This week I have seen many posts by friends [and strangers] sharing lived experience of mental health for world mental health day. Social media has its down points [for instance, I was tagged in something the other day to “find the name of your vagina” – erm, really?] – but this was an example of how brilliant it can be – breaking the myths and stigmas surrounding mental health. I had no idea of the struggles behind so many of the smiling faces – the happy statuses and family photos I see on my newsfeed. It really does come down to Plato’s wisdom “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle”.

I haven’t spoken about mental health for a long time [life suddenly got rather busy; not to mention sane] – but timehop reminded me last week that three years ago I was giving the Brett Hill Memorial Lecture at the International Conference of Mental Health Pharmacy. Back then I was working as a recovery trainer for the local “recovery college” – and one of the prerequisites for the position was lived experience. For those of you who know me beyond wordpress, you may remember the “duvet days” when I was struggling … when life seemed very heavy and without meaning. Of course, I’m one of those happy go lucky smiley people who no one expected to plunge to the depths of depression. I think I put a lot of energy into being “okay”and this didn’t really help. Cambridge was quite a pressurised environment; I expected a lot – in fact, reading back through an old journal the other day I was amazed just how much pressure I put on myself – running, swimming, calorie counting [a meagre prawn on a piece of brown bread for lunch; really?] – staying up until God knows when to finish three essays on palaeolithic hand axes; and trying to work out what I really wanted from life. Burnout? I ended up eventually as an inpatient, walking around Fulbourne Hospital in my pyjamas drawing pretty flowers on the desk. The psych ward was an eye opener, and not wholly a negative experience. Ultimately I wanted desperately to know that someone cared; that I wasn’t alone in this vast and scary world. I soon realised that very little of the supposed professionals did care [some did, later on, and they were hugely important in my recovery]- it was the solidarity of the “inmates” which mattered. Unfortunately you said what the doctors wanted to hear, and eventually – 3 weeks later in my case; they let you out.

What was it like, my depression? It manifested itself in chest tightening panic attacks, the kind which strike unannounced in supermarket queues, prompting you to leave your basket and flee; convinced that everyone will think you insane, as you fight for your breath, convinced you’re about to die an embarrassing death. It crept into not wanting to go out, in self harming and a desperate sadness. A hopelessness that one cannot sufficiently describe to one who hasn’t been there. If my life were catalogued in colours, this would be a grey period … a long dark winter …

It wasn’t an easy road, but whose is? I had therapy, I talked, I painted, and I wrote stories … I realised that actually it was okay not to have all the answers to the [unanswerable] philosophical questions … and that I needed to learn to be okay on my own. You get through it because the alternative isn’t an option. I think there came a point when I realised that I couldn’t kill myself, so therefore had to find a way to live.

It is ironic, perhaps, that all these life lessons, have come in so useful since the birth of my darling little boy. I didn’t declare any history of mental health issues on my pregnancy questionnaire, as I didn’t want the stigma attached to me. This is probably a sad reflection of our culture; yet I stand by my choice.I haven’t been on any medication or seen by any doctor concerning mental health, for 3 years …. I am out the other side … and I can now look back and be [wait for the PollyAnna haters to vomit] glad that I experienced it all. I hope knowing what it’s like to be riddled with despair, helps me empathise with others – and will help me mother my son in a compassionate and understanding way. My coping mechanisms, assisted by CBT, are still used today. They work. I have not had a panic attack in 5 years [and still appreciate getting through Sainsburys without leaving my basket!]

Maybe you’re reading this and you’re struggling; maybe something here resonates with you – then know that nothing in life stays the same … people change, situations change … if you’d told me 3 years ago that I would be mother to a 19month old, with a mortgage and a job, and a totally happy/”normal” life, I would never have believed you. I am content these days; exhausted but content – we may not live in a mansion or have lots of extra money at the end of the month – but I wouldn’t swap this for the world. This is my wealth; an appreciation of happiness, of life, of having survived.

There is help out there, and often found in the most unexpected of places. I wasn’t going to write about this, as I figured this is in my past, and doesn’t need digging up – but maybe someone needs to read this today, and I’m not ashamed …  just proud.

Digging the good life

14457347_2005403863019375_8905010701908896545_nAfter a long summer of driving back and forth to the hospital to visit my poor Dad, I am pleased to report that miracles can happen. He is home. Still on the “normal” heart transplant list, but suitably well enough not to be on the urgent one. This is such a relief for us all, and Dad is feeling ok and enjoying his freedom. La Vie Est Belle. I captured this photo at the weekend, of Freddie and Grandpa inspecting the apples in the orchard. Glorious normality resumed.

I had some VERY exciting news this week; the news that 14469669_2007128326180262_6923977006778968916_nFreddie and I reached the top of the local allotment list, and have our very own allotment! I feel so strongly that I want Fredders to understand where food comes from, and to spend as much time outside as possible. We are lucky to live next door to a big park, so although we don’t have a garden, we have access to a lot of space. Our allotment is a 5minute walk away, and I am already planning our blank canvas. There is an apple, pear and plum tree …. I intend to get some ex battery hens, and create a series of raised beds using wood from my parents old decking. This is going to be a real challenge for me, as it’s all new – but I have a good feeling about it, and I look forward to seeing how it develops. I’d like Freddie to have his own patch, and look forward to sitting in my shed, listening to the Archers, watching things grow – living the good life. Next stop the library for some allotment books ….

Meanwhile, Fredders is 19 months old today …. I’m convinced these months are going quicker …. this week I’ve made 35 Christmas cards with a Freddie footprint design; I’ve wrapped one of his stockings full of presents, and put up my Halloween decorations. I’m sure I wasn’t this organised pre-motherhood. I’m damned sure I wasn’t this tired …. hence blogging once again in bed with a mug of hot milk, beside a warm snoring boy … 20.04 and signing off …

 

 

 

 

Respice Finem

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Punting on The Cam

Life with a toddler is an exhilerating and exhausting rollercoaster of chaos and sticky fingers. We’ve just returned home from a night in Cambridge; it has been nine whole years since I graduated, and there was a special dinner for a retiring Porter. This particular Porter had been known to assist an inebriated me up D&E staircase, akin to what a friend described as Steve Irwin wrestling a crocodile. The least I could do was show up to his leaving meal [sober!]

Freddie was a little star; we went punting on the Cam yesterday lunchtime, and the sun shone. Watching him smile as he marvelled at the other punts, the ducks, the bridges, was just beautiful. I think he will appear on many people’s holiday snaps, as he enjoyed waving to other “punters”. It was one of the most enjoyable afternoons Freddie and I have had together; I felt so unbelievably lucky, to be back in the microcosm of Cambridge, with my little boy. In those moments punting, life was perfect; and I’m sure I will look back on yesterday for many years to come.

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A picnic on the faculty lawn

We had a picnic on the archaeology faculty lawn. The last time I sat on that lawn was on a June afternoon in 2007 waiting for our degree classifications to be pinned to the Senate House. Needless to say yesterdays Pom Bears and cocktail sausages were a whole lot more relaxing. Freddie had an ice cream on Kings Parade, and I bought him a “Cambridge” t shirt from Ryder & Amies.

And then it was back to college, where once ready for dinner, we played in the grounds – Freddie ran with his little “tactor” and revelled in the space and freedom.

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With my mentor/director of studies, Kate Pretty

I hadn’t expected it to be so emotional. I love Homerton dearly; it wasn’t always easy to be there as a student; yet returning yesterday felt in many ways like a home coming. It was wonderful not only to see the people – but the bricks and mortar; the lawns, the same smell in the Buttery, the same pictures hanging in the corridors. I still felt as if I belonged there; and in turn; so did Fred. I didn’t expect to feel so proud – proud of having stuck it out when I might have walked away; proud of this little smiling toddler who slept through his first Cambridge Formal. How amazing, to have experienced life as a Cambridge student. My degree may not be put to its best use; but no one can ever take it away from me. I love the idea of taking Freddie to Cambridge for a weekend each year, introducing him to the museums and libraries; to the bookshops and pubs. I hope he grows to love it as much as I do.

It was such a luxury to eat a three course meal with a sleeping toddler, peaceful in his pram at the end of the table! Intelligent conversation; no mention of nappies or sick, or Ra Ra the Noisy Lion. I could almost feel the rusty cogs of my brain grinding into action! Of course, it was down to earth with a bump when I had to share a single bed with a restless boy who was wide awake at 5.20am. I’m going to hold out for 7pm tonight, but can’t make any promises!