Wednesday, September 6, 2017

One kid or two...it's up to you...(or none, or three, or four)

The Power of One and Minding Your Manners.

Bracing myself, I paste on a smile and try to think of what to say as the question is asked. The inevitable one which rears up like a two headed snake whenever the conversation turns to kids and I say that I have one. Or, as it's commonly commented on "only one." Normally asked in public of course, or, in front of a group, for maximum awkwardness.....

"So, when are you having another" asks the woman. This one's had a few glasses, too, so it's followed up by "you can't just have one."

It's always a woman. Normally one who has grown up kids and has, I think, forgotten what hard work it can sometimes seem to be to have a child now that those busy years of being constantly needed are behind her.

And, I know, sometimes people don't mean anything by it...maybe they are just trying to be friendly, make conversation, break the ice.

If I had a pound for every time this question has been asked, I wouldn't be driving around in a second hand Peugeot estate, I'll tell you that much.

I never know what to say. So, I politely end up justifying my whole life, often to someone who I wouldn't consider myself to be close to. Then afterwards I feel frustrated with myself for being like that, just to be polite. After all, I wouldn't tell someone I didn't like their outfit, or that they looked awful. It's just too personal, isn't it?

So, why don't I want another child? (At the moment) . I'll come to that later. But firstly, can we talk about rudeness? Or more precisely, why do you think it's okay to ask? Why do we feel need to offer comment at all? On anything? Not just kids.

I've been guilty of it myself. I once saw a guy I know at our local swimming pool with his brood of three energetic kids. It was post swim and instead of carrying 3 bags filled with arm bands and sodden towels, he was lugging a gigantic plastic basket.

We exchanged greetings, and he and the kids headed out. "Wow" I said as he walked out. I really don't know how you do it with three." What a bloody stupid thing to say, looking back. What I meant was, I think you're fantastic. You're doing a great job. You've got it all together.

But, let's face it. Did he really need to hear it? How many times had he heard it before? He knows he's busy with 3 kids. He doesn't need reminding. And neither do any of my friends with three kids, or two kids, or four kids or five kids, or no kids. It's none of my business. What they might like is a positive comment. Or not to talk about it at all.Imagine if we all did that in support of each other's choices. Wow.

My point is, being blunt, that we have no right to make comments to other people about subjects which may be sensitive. Routinely, people don't ask me what I earn, what my house is worth or what savings I have, but my own experience is that when it comes to kids, all bets are off. Manners can go out of the window. And above all, you could really, really hurt someone's feelings.

Here's the thing. That woman you are quizzing about having no kids, one kid, two kids, three kids.....you get the idea. Maybe she has one longed for child and would dearly love another, maybe she's endured rounds of emotionally draining Ivf to get her adored baby. Maybe she can't have more. Maybe she has had miscarriages or endured the pain of a stillbirth which she hides behind a smile while bringing up her child or children. Maybe she's put her dreams on hold to care for a seriously ill family member.

Perhaps she has two kids and would love more. Maybe she has none and loves the freedom of that life. Yes! Not everyone wants kids!

And maybe she has none and yearns to be a mum more than anything. Maybe she can't afford to have kids, maybe she has many and worries herself sick every night about how to feed and clothe them. Maybe she's unexpectedly pregnant again and secretly isn't glowing and thrilled. Or maybe she is. The whole point is, we don't know what is going on in someone else's world. So we shouldn't try to guess (and potentially wound) with heavy, clumsy words.

I was shocked once by a story a pregnant friend told me. She already had an eighteen month old daughter and was happily expecting her second. When I congratulated her I was amazed that not everyone had been so positive. In fact, friends who had been pregnant at the same time as her with their first had been downright rude. "Rather you than me" said one. "You must be mad having them so close together" said another.

Fucking hell. Just say congratulations. Or "I'm so pleased for you." It's so easy. Imagine if we all did that every time some one had some great news. The world could be bathed in kindness.

Before I go any further I want to be clear that this post isn't about the fact that I think people with more than one child need to defend that decision, just as I shouldn't need to defend mine, that at the minute, in my gut and and in my heart, one child feels right. She's enough for me. My heart and life is filled with love for her. All I can say is that I don't feel a need, or a longing (at the moment) to do it again . And I'm equally supportive of people who want to have as many - or as few - children as they want.

I'm lucky enough to have good friends with more than one child who have told me that honestly, sometimes having more than one child is double the work. Yes, it's amazing, but it's tough. I just don't see a way, at the moment, in my life, to make two children work. In truth, the idea leaves me feeling slightly panicked.

That's what I tell people when they ask. "You can't just have one" said one woman, when I told her that I was happy with my one lovely girl. But I can. And, I will. Because for me, at the moment, one is enough. And whatever your enough is, I celebrate it with you. Enjoy it, it's fantastic. And it's your business.



Friday, May 5, 2017

I give myself permission....to give myself permission:

Someone commented to me the other day that I hadn't blogged for a long time. "And it's a shame" they added. "I really like your blog."

I was surprised. Firstly, that anyone reads it (the sad truth is I love looking at my little stats table and seeing where it is getting read), secondly, to get a compliment, which, of course, in time honoured British fashion, I waved away, but thirdly, that indeed, I realised it has been some time since I blogged. And I missed it.

I've been busy. But that's another way of saying I haven't given myself permission to spend time on something I enjoy, to think it's important, even though I love writing, and when I do make the effort to post something, I feel good. And, if other people can relate to it, that's a great bonus.

Let's face it. We're just not very good at putting ourselves first. I can't speak for men, but every woman I know does a great, gold medal winning job of putting herself fairly and squarely last in her life. Whether or not you have kids, we just don't seem to be great at enjoying ourselves or doing something nice without first, spending time procrastinating, feeling guilty and putting off whatever the thing is, whether it is a watch, a car, a holiday, a spa day, a mini break, a new dress, a haircut....

Take my new found foray into the world of personal training. Despite turning a blind eye to a gently and slowly growing spare tyre, and my diet of (mainly) beige food, I finally got tired of what I was seeing in the mirror. Of course, before I recently discovered my wonderful PT Cindy, I had to find three million reasons why I couldn't make me a priority.

As you haven't got ten hours to spare, I'll limit them to a few key ones:

1. I haven't got time
2. I'm not a morning person (I can't do evenings, so early starts were a horrid reality if I wanted to do this)
3. Other people have a personal trainer, not me
4. It's a bit indulgent (no it isn't)
5. I can't afford it (oh yes you can, stop spending your money on other shit)
6. I've got nothing to wear (buy some cheap leggings and put on a t shirt, you moody cow)

Basically, I just wasn't willing to give myself permission to look good and feel good. For some reason, it just wasn't important enough to me. I wasn't giving it the priority it needed. But the only person who can make that happen is me. As the old saying goes, you can't expect a different result if you keep doing the same thing.

So, three sessions in, I've bitten the bullet. Tuns out it isn't that hard after all to get out of bed, into the lurid pink leggings, and sweat for 30 minutes. It's probably worth noting that I wasn't feeling quite so charitable at 7:10 am as I staggered between burpees and prayed for my stomach to stop popping out of my clothes and agreed to keep a "food diary."

But.... why do we feel this way? Why do we have to work so hard to assure ourselves it's okay to do something for ourselves? We find it so easy to be critical and negative, self depreciating. Facebook is filled with memes like "In a world where it's possible to be anything, be kind" but we're not kind to ourselves, or each other, and I often find myself toying with the idea that the people who post those things are sometimes the opposite of what it says on the meme. We don't become better versions of ourselves by tossing a thought out there for others to "Like" and "Share" - it takes action. My quick fix? I've said it before, make an effort to lay off the social media.

On a more serious note, the other thing apart from the mirror which has made me take action and realise that the time is now was the sad and untimely death of someone I knew earlier this week. He wasn't a close friend but he was a great former work colleague, a true gentleman, with a dark sense of humour and when needed, loads of great advice. And, he was kind. He once lent me a book about job interview success years ago when I had a job interview looming.

"You can do it" he said "and I have never not got a job with this book. So, borrow it." And that faith, that kindness (and who knows, maybe even that book) got me the job I wanted. I just can't believe he's gone. Wow. There are no words for that kind of finality. But there is a very slight upside. There's something about someone dying unexpectedly which can help make us seize the day....We learn that we shouldn't put things off. So, through gritted teeth I am trying to embrace the world of 6:30 starts and eating a bit less.

Here's the thing.There isn't a right time. The time is now. You're the change. So, put yourself first...and is the Facebook meme goes....eat the cake, buy the shoes, swim in the sea, take the holiday. Life's too short. And that's one I don't mind posting.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Ain't no holding back girl...de-railed 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 yet.....it'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 ....it 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 it.....it 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 try....you 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 them...but....but......you'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."