Thursday, February 9, 2017

Ain't no holding back by the sale rail

Can you remember the last time you really, really wanted to buy something?
I can. And I did. 

Turn back the clock to just over a year ago....before cruel, grey, diet filled, booze free, miserable, creaking January limped to an end.

It had been one of those days at work where everyone seemed to be in a bad mood , the weather was miserable as sin, so was everyone in the office and beyond and the passive aggressive emails were piling up high. And I hadn't eaten anything, always a warning light that the day isn't going to be a winner.

Slowly, the hands of the clock crept round to 12 noon and as soon as it was 12:01 I made a big show to no one at all of putting on my coat and heading into town "for a bit".

Faint with low blood sugar though I was,the urge to buy something, anything , was like an itch to be scratched. And it wouldn't go away. It had blended, that perfect combination of the irritable temper, the need to escape the witchy, wind whipped weather and the tug and lure of the warm, fragrant store full of wardrobe essentials that awaited. A perfect case of the temper, the witch and the wardrobe.

The excuses started, piling up high in my mind as I made my way through the racks. I just need one thing, I said to myself. I've got through a lousy morning. I've worked so hard. I've been so nice. So, this being the middle of January (with no pay packet in sight after Christmas) I perused the sale rails, thinking how self restrained I was being because I was only looking at reduced clothes.

In truth, the jumbled up stuff that had been hanging round for months was depressing. I congratulated myself on not buying anything and foolishly headed for the new season stock. After all, it couldn't hurt just to look, right?
And there it was, so prettily displayed.

Wrong. The sight of the designer navy coat was like a sucker punch to my inner shopper. It hung on its own which to me has always been a sign that I should buy it because "it's the only one there."

You know what happens next....your heart rate speeds up, you reach up, dry mouthed to try it on. You check the price tag and reluctantly see it is about £150 over any kind of budget you might have just dreamed up....and then you think: "it can't hurt to try it on." So you do. I did.

And reader, with one soft whisper of expensive fabric falling into place, that coat made me look like the grown-up I'd always longed to be. Suddenly my handbag looked less beaten up, my hair appeared glossier, my teeth got whiter and my scarf became the coat's stylish partner in crime.

If my husband is reading this, I need you to stop now. Have you stopped ? Good. The rest of you can carry on.

So, I'm in front of the mirror, heart beating, coat tempting and wallet empty. Particularly at this price. And yet....and's perfect. It's my grown up moment. It's Italian (Maxmara, in fact, just in case anyone from their PR company is reading and wants to throw in a voucher) and was the Only One There. Meant For Me. 

In my head, I started dividing the too high price tag over 12...... So, if I wear it all year round, it's like, practically free! And one good coat is better then 3 cheap ones? Right? 

So, out came the credit card along with the myriad of excuses and justifications and I bought it, as the sales assistant made all the right noises about "quality" and "a great choice." And suddenly got that clammy feeling like you've done something wrong and someone's going to find out.

I debated taking it back for the rest of the day, but in truth I liked it too much to return it, and in my mind it had already got 100 compliments. So, for my vanity, the coat was kept.

The reason I'm telling you this story is that I'm guessing (and hoping) you have a similar one. It isn't easy to give up what we think we need , but if we're serious about , for example, getting our financial house in order, or just feeling like we're more in control, we sometimes need to listen to the voice in our head. The one which you try to block out. But, the bottom line is, as humans, we find it hard to walk away from temptation.....Why? 

Maybe it's shame. It's truly hard to say "I can't afford it" whether you are walking away from the item of clothing which makes the endorphins rush through your body , the weekend away, the new car, or the friend's birthday dinner which is just too close to payday, the thing you really want., If its just out of reach, it's a lot more tantalising.

Since CoatGate I do two things: I try to stay out of town and away from websites when the going gets tough and the "need to buy" strikes. I don't succeed all the time but there hasn't been another (serious) CoatGate since. And the second thing? I wear that fucking coat as much as I can. 

Feel free to tweet me a pic of your #CoatGate to @lvjourneaux

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Cold Turkey Tastic: Loving the social media detox

This was written in August 2016...when I was so laid back on holiday I totally forgot to post also gave me some valuable thinking time. See what you think.

I have stopped using Facebook. Nearly. And I tell you what, I feel better for it.

My own anti social media revolution began on a recent holiday. Our holiday home in northern Cyrpus had no wifi, and it was an amazing break. Not just from the routine of home, not to mention work, but from the break from the constant immersion in other people's lives. 

There's something about holidays which makes you believe anything is possible, and the enforced break from routine made me realise how many hours a week I must spend aimlessly scrolling through my iPhone, checking Facebook, Twitter, linked in and local and national news pages. 

On holiday, thanks to the lack of wifi in the house, I looked less and talked more. It was truly refreshing so, since my return home, I've tried to make the effort to keep off social media, (apart from what I have to do for work) and I feel the better for it. 

One of the first things I did while soaking up the calm in a local cafe was take 30 minutes and go through my Friends list....and my rule now with Facebook friends is this.....if you and I bumped into each other and had a spare half hour, would we sit down for a cuppa or a glass of wine? If the answer's yes, they stayed, if the answer's no, they went.

I actually found the process quite refreshing, but emotional. I realised who I am close to, who I am not close to and painfully, sometimes, who I have grown apart from. But the relief of cutting down my newsfeed and being a witness to countless other lives was enormous. No more gazing at photos of the friends who have never let me past the perfection. I no longer have to look at the carefully chosen pictures of a "friend" who wouldn't let me past the front door when I called round with a house warming gift. Or the photos of the overdone hen do, filtered smile, food photographed at the high end restaurant (why do people do that!) or seemingly great night out. I don't need to be a lurking guest at events I was never invited to. And, we all have that choice. 

We don't have to use social media. We can limit what we see...have a choice....The relief is palpable. 
I don't think we should feel guilty for having a shake up. Life moves on, it's only sensible that people do too. But I can choose all the great bits. I love seeing my best friend's new baby, catching up on news from family from afar and seeing the life journeys of the friends I feel close to but don't see. 

I think that because social media is so overused, we forget that actually, we have a choice. This world we love in is now hyper connected, which adds so many pressures, but we don't have to be that way. I love being off the hamster wheel.

As an avid tea drinker, I know how I feel when I've drunk too many cups in one day; kind of numb but buzzing. I can feel it sloshing around inside me, but I'll still have one more cup. 

That's what social media is like. The endless scrolling, for me at least, like an ever changing magazine, was resulting in the same kind of numbness, but for me it goes deeper than that. I truly believe that even without realising it, watching picture perfect versions of other people's lives isn't good for us.

I believe it makes us dissatisfied with what we have. We view other people's photos and posts, and for us they're the truth about that person. When money is tight, the rain is lashing at the window and the kids are playing up, but someone else is on a magical holiday, or boasting about their gym visit, or a new job, or a new home or car, we can feel stuck. Why do we need to share, have constant approval from others? Give it a might be surprised at what you don't need to see.

I think life is complex enough, yet we add to the stress of needlessly comparing ourselves with others by staring at images of Instagramed beauty and wishing we had more. #NoFilter say the posts, but there is always a filter, it's our filter, our internal monologue, whispering that we're not good enough, that we can never have enough.
I believe that one of the hardest things in life is living a simple life, being grateful for what you have. 

But I know one thing for sure, looking at other people's Facebook accounts isn't going to bring me what I want. It only moves me further away and makes me more dissatisfied. We have got enough obstacles to face to get to our goals without intentionally putting another one in the way.

Think what you could do if you weren't scrolling. Cut down and see how you go. Trust me; I think you'll find you're not missing anything.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Finding the way on the untrodden path

The post below is inspired by my daughter's first day at preschool on Monday, 12 September.

"Mummy" says my three year old from her bed as I lie next to her, "I want you to stay here forever." And she sighs and snuggles down in the bed, surrounded by her current favourite soft toys.

I cuddle her. "No mummy" she says. "But don't leave me."

Any my heart strings tug just a little bit more. I am needed but she wants her independence. It's bedtime after her first day at preschool, and just like that, another milestone on the winding road of her growing up has passed. Another first, and another lump in the throat.

I'm so proud of how far she has come, what she has done, and yet there's a yearning for her as a baby still, memories of first steps and first words which seem to be sometimes, quite far away. Sometimes, though, unexpectedly, Facebook throws them at me as memories when I'm not ready, and again I look into baby eyes, see wrists ringed with bracelets of fat, chubby legs, unsteady steps and a gurgle of laughter or the clutch of a plastic spoon.

New discoveries are being made. I find myself sometimes, a wondrous but unwilling participant in this growing up. I can't stop it, I want her to grow, but I want to freeze time in frames as it marches on with her leading me with determined steps. I love watching her new achievements but each one has just the tiniest tinge of sadness.

We're moving up, up and away, to new pastures from paths I only just find before the landscape changes again. It is she who takes me to the next level. We have no map, but she's so eager to see all there is.

I find myself searching for that baby still. The smell of her freshly washed hair is one reminder, the curve of her neck another, her eyelashes in deep sleep a third. I watch over her with wonder and cuddle her, wanting my love to seep into her, circle her with my arms to keep her safe, and with me, but she needs to grow and change. So, In my mind, I let her go a little bit more, so she can grow.

But one thing hasn't changed. Deep in sleep, in my arms, warm and filled with dreams, her sweet head still smells of toast. I breathe it in deep. If I could bottle it, I would label it "happiness."

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Sorry seems to be the hardest word

Sighing, I prepare to text yet another friend to tell her that I can't make a night out.
"Sorry" I say, "but I've got no childcare."
Sound familiar? It didn't used to.

God, how I used to grit my teeth as those apologetic, hurried texts from friends with children came pinging in, delaying brunches, days out, nights out, lunches, because the kids were ill, or they couldn't get a sitter, or the sitter had let them down. It all sounded rather dull. Well, now it's my turn.

Just as dull, it turns out, as it can be to sit on your own after a day with a toddler whose new favourite word is "no" with only Coronation Street and an M&S ready meal to look forward to.

Because one thing I am finding out in this still relatively new world of child rearing, is that one way (or, indeed, the only way) to get a night out is for you and your husband/partner/whatever to take it in turns, like hurried harried people in a weather house. One in, one out.

Gone are the hours of feeling giddy in the lead up to a big night out, scouring town for something new to wear, making hair and nail appointments and having hours to look and feel like the belle of the ball. There's a ticking time bomb toddler sitting in the pram, and time is allocated into chunks. Their boredom threshold is as low as your blood pressure is high as you hurry hurry hurry, and try to beat the clock.

I can now get ready in well under an hour: quick shower, grab a dress, accessorise with an enormous pair of internal-organ crushing pants, pull dress over head, and I'm ready. I was surprised to discover at the last night out I went on (after Middle East style negotiations over calendars) that I don't even think to bother with make-up any more; not that anyone's going to be looking at the 37 year old with hair badly in need of a cut and colour in a sea of taut-skinned, Lipsy dress wearing twenty-somethings.

The realisation is dawning: like my hair, I just don't cut it any more on a night out. I feel slightly invisible,much the way I sometimes do as I push my buggy, avoiding people and obstacles, pattering through town in flat shoes and a sensible coat, brandishing muslin cloths, snacks and drinks like weapons. Some days, despite my love of brightly coloured clothes and shoes , I feel like the world has passed me by. I've dissolved like a tissue in the rain, edged blurred, fraying.

"Sorry" I say to people barging through the front doors of shops which I have a perfect right to go through as well. I've even apologized to racks of clothes. Possibly even mirrors.

Don't get me wrong, I don't feel sorry for myself. What I am writing about is a feeling, an experience, a tiny bite of regret (like the taste of a bitter lemon) that my old life has slipped away. It went quietly, it left the room without me noticing, like a dress slipping from a hanger that is crowded between others in my wardrobe. Sometimes, it still whispers to me, beckoning in my mind like a glamorous ghost.

So, I wear it, this new cloak, of motherhood, and I still feel some days, like I am trying it for size.
I don't have a better life, I have a different life. I have a love I have never known for my daughter, so large it could fill a reservoir, so powerful I feel it's force could send whole armies into battle. A strength of which I am proud. I feel the same but different. If I'd read this blog before I was a parent I'd have rolled my eyes and laughed. Stupid cow, writing about the fact she feels a bit left out.

Milestones now are not mine. Heady nights out and spontaneous meetings with friends are few and far between.

There are new ones though. New words, new skills. Laughter and wonder as for the first time my daughter discovers sand, soil, friends, water, toys, puzzles, bath times, people and me. "Kiss my owie better, mummy" she says, holding aloft a plump finger nipped by a clothes peg. She doesn't want anyone else for that.

And then it makes makes sense, because to her I am complete, I am whole, and it is enough. In fact, it is everything.

I think my cloak just got a little bit more comfortable. But sometimes, the old outfits still need a night out.

Monday, February 2, 2015

The Great Expectation of fitting it all in

"Rab Rab" says my daughter. "Rab Rab."

I rack my brains in silent desperation, wondering what has happened to the bug eyed, dirty plush toy with the weird expression. We're late, of course. And Rab Rab is missing.

Where is it? Under the cot? In the washing machine? Drowning in the loo? Hibernating in the coal scuttle? Lost forever in the wilderness of town? I hope not, because if it's option six, we're realLy in trouble.

The enquiry from my frowning daughter has now become a menacing growl. "Raaaab Raaaaab" hisses baby J, now, I suppose, toddler J really. 

Never mind the whereabouts of Rab Rab, (or Adi, which is actually Hello Kitty, another firm favourite) i don't know where the time's gone, let alone anything else. Between watching the clock and racking my brains about what to cook for dinner, I am breathless with wonder at my daughter. There are milestones which make you smile. The mashed potato, pushed into a hungry mouth with pudgy fingers, eyes twinkling as she masters cutlery. The words which have become mangled, so that mamp is milk, an orange is an apple and an apple....just is. The world is wonderful, the smile trusting, arms and heart open wide.

Since my return to work in February (which,,of course was fine, and I got to drink a whole cup of tea while it was still hot), despite the occasional longing to leave work just to smell Baby J's head, I seem to spend a lot of time running to stay still, as every mum, on the treadmill on the road to nowhere knows. I used to listen to colleagues who were mums wondering how they did it. Now I know. They're juggling. Spinning plates. 

Lunchtimes are spent speed walking through town, buying nappies and food. There is a permanent list of to do items on my iPhone notepad. The car (a sensible estate with the buggy clattering in the boot) always seems to need diesel. It is full of crisp packets, my staple diet some days. 

And the clock ticks on. Ticking so fast in fact, that I have not blogged for nearly a year. I lunge from home to work to home. From mum to colleague to mum. The transition is daily, this multiple shedding of skins, but nearly 12 months in, I'm not used to it yet. You know how it is. You love them, you adore them,,you can't explain the depth of your feelings for're juggling all the time, and it's hard. Some days, it's just hard. I want more time. But like everyone who does this, I find a way to fit it all in. I just juggle. And smile. 

Will I ever get used to this duality? I don't know. After nearly a year at work, I'm still amazed that I can get to work looking human, while, all the time, mind racing ahead to the lunch time tasks, the next deadline, the traffic, the pick up, the expectation. The transition, always the transition. I daren't stop for long. 

But the golden moments, like pure drops of water on a hot day, are enough to refresh the most tired of souls. Those come when my beautiful daughter, so precious in sleep, stirs as I sneak in to watch over her.

"Mama?" Says the voice from the cot, claiming my heart, and thoughts of tomorrow's deadlines fade away.

 "Mama here." I reply. "Mama always here."

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The treadmill with no gym - back to work and the ticking clock

I'm surprised all mums aren't size zero, competing for the last pair of skinny leg tapered trousers in the Benetton sale. I mean, it's not like you have any time to sit down, is it?

This was my thought as I smashed an Easter egg to pieces on the passenger seat of my car (late lunch) as I made my daily commute to pick up my daughter. Just for reference , you can change gear quite easily holding a piece of Easter egg as it is nice and curved.

So, here's the thing. I haven't been to the gym for months, so why am I on a treadmill? Sure, it's one filled with oodles of love for that sumptuous baby, but boy, at items it feels uphill.

I just need more time. I live in a world of bulging Boots shopping bags, Ella's Kitchen pouches, stained Muslins, damp washing, Calpol and ticking clocks. Mysterious objects collect in my car. Lunch hours pass in a blur as I trot through town in flat shoes, trying to remember what is on The List. My mind races to keep up with my feet. Time has become my enemy; there's just not enough of it. It drips through my hands, hides behind my back, runs ahead of me and sneaks sideways.

The to do list (alongside all that love, and trying to snatch memories of that babyhood slowly slipping away as Baby J wobbles against furniture) is my new elephant in the room. It's replaced the back to work elephant, which disappeared as soon as I logged onto my computer and sat down at my desk. Work, ladies, if you're dreading going back, is something of a release and a blessing. You get to talk to people and have a hot cup of tea. You can write whole communication plans without a chubby hand pulling at your leg. You do not trip over Lego, straighten toys, fold washing, push a pram or change sheets.

And yet, every so often, as I suspected before The Return To Work, I feel a pang so deep that my immediate wish -  no - desire - is to breathe in the scent of my daughter's head, wrap her squishy body in my arms and sing her my nonsense song about her being the mango mango baby, which makes her smile. I want to make her laugh. The moment I see her face at the end of the working day is like the purest gift.

And that is the real Return. The return home.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The tango with the mango and the elephant in the room

Just when I thought I'd never have anything to blog about ever again, three things happened to herald the start to 2014: (I mean apart from resolve to go to the gym, eat better and spend less). Dull.

In no particular order, they are:

1. Baby J rolled off the bed (bad, but according to the GP who listened to my rant about how I'd only turned my back to grab a pair of tights, this does actually happen to other people,  and babies are quite tough)
2. Baby J's teeth appeared (this made her mad)
3. I looked at the calendar and realised I only have weeks left until I go back to work (this made me sad)

All three events made me realise that, as time goes by, bits of babyhood are slipping away as fast as others approach. I can't catch them. I want to breathe them in, store them up and bottle them. But I can't. I can only enjoy them for a while. They are, like bubbles, delicate and fleeting. If they had a taste, it would be short, sweet sharp bursts, moreish and good.

The weaning has landed. I spend much of my time doing a tango with a mango around the high chair. Everything seems to be attracted to the mango magnet which are the pudgy hands and smiling face of Baby J and is stained bright yellow.

If I'm not locked in battle with carrot batons and purée, I'm kneeling at the altar of the Calpol fairy, or shaking teething powders onto a spoon. But that's fine, because both of these milestones help to squash down that enormous elephant in the room which had landed with a giant thump, which just won't disappear; the return to work in four weeks.

If I think about it too much, I start shallow breathing and my stomach feels like it did I knew I was going into my History A level exam. It's the only time in my life I knew, for sure, I was going to fail. Sure enough, after three fruitless hours of panic, worry and hollowness, I came out with a D. But, how I felt, frowning, as my pen froze above questions about The Reformation of Britain and Europe 1450 - 1600, will, I fear, lag leagues behind the tumult of emotions which I am trying to squash down as mid February approaches.

So, in a bid to be positive, I made a mental list about the benefits of paid employment. I know the following to be true:

I will have conversations with people who talk back (important)
My brain might work again (this would be welcome)
I will earn money (fairly important)
I can buy things with the money (very important)
I will get to drink a hot cup of tea (crucial)
I will get to wear high heels and dress like a member of the human race (More important than you might think)
I will not need to plan my days round a trip to the supermarket
My mum and my mother in law can't wait to look after her. For this I am truly grateful.

I will miss my baby
I will miss my baby
I will miss my baby
I will miss my baby
I will miss my baby
I will have a Blackberry
I will miss my baby

I am reminded of a time when my friend came to my hen party when her daughter was only a few precious weeks old. She had a tiny, soft, white pair of baby socks in her handbag, and as she lifted them out and held them up, an emotion flickered across her face which I can only now identify with. How a love can be both fragile, but strong.

So, I tell myself this. My lists are both true, both valid, both important. But I know that there will be moments when in the longest meeting, or on the shortest phone call, I will, for a few moments, leave the room in my mind and think about how I inhale my daughter's sweet scent when I hold her, and how I will have to resist the urge to drive to her, to hold her, and never let her go.

At least now I've written about the elephant. And I will adapt to this change as I have adapted to all the others. It'll just take some time.