Transition

During childbirth, there’s a phase called transition.  You move from riding contractions to the urge to push.  Often, this is a time when you feel utterly convinced that you can’t do this any more.  That your body wasn’t designed for this degree of effort.

I remember the sips of cold orange squash my husband gave me through a straw as I hit the wall during my own transition in labour just over 12 years ago.  The sweet, icy energy and the tenderness of a husband in waiting.  I stepped out of the birthing pool and into the bathroom of the delivery suite. From there my body took over.  Determination, resurgence of physical strength, intense focus.

And then she was here.  The moment of tearful announcement from my husband:

“it’s a little girl”

Holding her, wrapped in a towel, eyes dark as ink.  Our new life begun.

liminal

I find myself in another ‘liminal’ space now that the little bundle has begun her life as a high school student.  On the boundary between being needed and being in the way.  Between parent and confidante.  Sometimes the ‘cool mum’ who her friends like to be around, sometimes completely out of touch.

It’s definitely been unsettling, but most days it’s kind of fun.  Our new life begins.

 

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Struggle

brain hurts

Little One is struggling.

Her ‘no’ is louder, more insistent – the frustration palpable when we can’t accommodate the refusal.  When it’s getting dressed for school.  When it’s time to go to bed and we can hear the exhaustion pouring out in her tears and protests.

Her body is stronger, like a bowstring tightened in anticipation of conflict.  We tighten in response – doing our best to placate and soothe, to make it clear what’s happening next, to avoid friction.  But all the while steeling ourselves, wondering how we’ll handle it the next time.  Questioning ourselves.  Feeling weary and tense.

School is boring.  School ‘makes my brain hurt’.  Maybe the world feels like a set of unattainable expectations at the moment.  I don’t know…

I’m not going to ask myself for solutions today.  I’m just going to feel.  I feel sad, a bit tired, and a bit lost for ideas.

As parents we are sometimes caught up in the struggle, sometimes able to see our way through it.  Little One had to go out with Dad and her Beaver Scout troop to join the Remembrance Day parade today.  It’s cold out there, late in the day, and I understand why staying at home seemed a far better option. For the rest of the day, Jaffa Cakes and TV on the sofa with warm blankets will probably get us all through.

 

The evolution of not giving a cr*p

benetton

Picture the scene – 1988 in the overheated foyer of a local swimming pool.  The place is heaving with high school students waiting for our swimming lesson.  I’m holding the plastic carrier bag containing my swimming things down low to the ground, hoping that this time it won’t be the subject of derision.  A Tesco bag was nearly as bad as a Grandways bag (ask your parents/a friend from Northern England over the age of 40)

The Pretty Ones have their green Benetton bags slung over their shoulders.  A proud marker of parental spending on the latest in European chic (or so it seemed to my insecure teenage mind).

Let’s fast-forward to 2017 – my first ‘adult improvers’ swimming lesson.  I have a fond chuckle to myself as I lift the reusable Aldi shopping bag from the passenger seat.  I have 3-weeks’ worth of stubble on my legs, unshaven armpits and a lovely Animal bikini that I bought on a recent mums’ surfing weekend.  I’m about to inhale serious amounts of water through my nose as I attempt front crawl for the first time.  I probably look rather strange in my black prescription goggles.  And I truly, deeply, do not give a cr*p about any of these things.

The lesson was one of the best things I’ve done for myself in a long time, and I can’t wait to go back next week.  I might even shave my legs, purely for streamlining purposes of course!

 

 

A word in season: feel

I’ve been given so many opportunities to feel this last few weeks.

Grateful for the impossibly warm, amber sunlight that ushered me home after a long day at work.

autumn

Deeply cared for when a beautifully illustrated Wild Swim book arrived on my doorstep.  A friend in Sheffield had taken the time to wrap it in soft paper and string, and attach a small leaf.

WILD+SWIMMING+FLORA+JAMIESON+GEMMA+KOOMEN+#7

Encouraged by a tentative visit to a school for children with additional needs… A pizza oven, a fire-pit, chickens and rabbits to feed.  Apprehensive too, about the process and whether the Education Authority will agree that Little One may need specialist provision.  But we have time.

Excited for the next milestone in Eldest’s life – her twelfth birthday.  The party is a reflection of her spreading wings… A train journey with friends, pooling their pocket money for a shopping trip.  Meeting up at Gourmet Burger Kitchen (of course husband and I will be on a different table)

Joy in my beautiful, precious new niece.  The peace of sitting with her in my arms for a feed, the memory of bottle feeding my own girls and often feeling so far from myself.  This time I was right in the moment, wrapped up in love, secure in the fact that I actually was, and continue to be a good mum.  Now I have the chance to be a loving auntie too.

Relief for my blogging mentor.  A brush with Oncology did not lead down the road we might have feared… I’m so thankful for her.

Eldest and I have a phrase, “it’s okay to feel all the feels” – maybe you could take some time to reflect on how you are feeling this season?

 

Zentangle

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I found these four artist’s cards yesterday with some of my first Zentangle drawings.  I made these almost two years ago while in a mental health respite centre.  They are dated and given titles on the reverse.

6/11/15 Mourning into dancing (bottom right)

10/11/15:

Every tear is precious (bottom left)

Growth is messy and beautiful (top left)

Beauty in the Now, not Yet (top right)

I was in respite on an important birthday for Eldest.  Hope felt hard to reach, hard to hold on to.  The guilt of my daughter going through this milestone birthday with a very poorly mum.  It wasn’t hospital, at least.

Through a haze of sorrow, I found there was immense tenderness within me. Firstly, towards Eldest – this helped me find the energy to make a trip into the local town and buy ingredients for birthday cupcakes topped with her favourite American candy, (Reece’s pieces and Reece’s peanut butter cups!)  A support worker took time the evening before her birthday to help me make them.  The conversation was gentle.

On the day, we opened presents in my small respite bedroom and I was able to take some leave for the morning.  I was there to hold her hands while she had her ears pierced, and to buy her some pretty silver studs.  A landmark celebrated, not as we would have hoped, but together.  For better, for worse.

Compassion towards myself was beginning to grow.  I can see it now in the Zentangles.  I knew that this was a time of tears, of mourning, of mess.  I felt it deeply, but I knew there was the capacity for beauty in me, in the way I was living this illness.

 

Today, almost two years later, I met staff newly recruited to the community perinatal mental health team here in Devon.  As part of their induction, I had the opportunity to talk them through our story of postnatal illness and beyond, and to help them reflect on how a mother’s mental health impacts upon the whole family; dad, baby, siblings.  When I talk to staff, I use a photo-story, with pictures of both my beautiful girls as babies and as they have grown.

Finding the Zentangles was the right timing; growth is messy.  Today it felt beautiful.

 

 

 

The power of play

Definition of Play

‘A physical or mental leisure activity that is undertaken purely for enjoyment or amusement and has no other objective’

playtherapy.org.uk, 2017

orbeez

I first started thinking about this post when I bought Little One some Orbeez

Playing with Orbeez is about as pure as play can get.  It’s sensory, it’s fun, silly and ultimately quite pointless.  But that’s the point…

Initially I bought Orbeez with educationalist, adult thinking.  Mindful, sensory play after school to quieten the noise of a day’s overload.  Science!  Experimenting with liquid, solids, estimating volume, tipping, pouring.

But you know what some of the most fun things to do are?

  • Squish Orbeez between your fingers
  • Put your feet in a washing up bowl filled with water and Orbeez
  • Tip Orbeez from a great height and watch them bounce all over the kitchen
  • Pipe a single Orbee at a time out of a plastic piping bag

(I’m aware that these are also Science but they didn’t come out of that ‘child must learn something’ motivation!)

I have laughed along with Scary Mommy and her puzzlement about why her kids are obsessed with Orbeez (check out the YouTube video!) but I am also learning a lot for myself by observing the way Little One approaches her Orbeez time.

In our increasingly pressured world, we need time for utterly pointless play – especially us adults.  It might not look like a washing up bowl full of Orbeez for you or I (although I would recommend trying it!)  It might look like putting on some boots and kicking Autumn leaves.  Making some jelly (or Jell-O USA buddies) for your kids’ tea, just because it’s Tuesday.  Swimming in the sea for fun rather than for exercise.

Whatever you choose to do, try taking the adult objective out of it.  Do it just because it’s pointless, and fun.

History into future

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I made two skeins of t-shirt yarn today.  A task to do from home in my personal assistant role while my friend is away.  I save the fronts of the t-shirts for a blanket project my friend has in mind, and the backs are destined for crochet yarn.

There will be remembrance of history – a different time and space in life – in her blanket project.  There will be the creation of a new story in beautiful things made of t-shirt yarn.  I am grieving for this friend as she continues to endure a long and exhausting season of pain.  I am humbled by her ability to see a future of beauty.  I am encouraged by the vision she has to create new from old.

Images from ‘Big Hook Rag Crochet’ by Dedri Uys

It’s slow, mindful work producing t-shirt yarn.  The fabric is sliced almost to the top in equal sections.  Turn the fabric through 180 degrees, slice every section in half – stopping just before the top.  The corners of each section are rounded off, until a long single string of yarn emerges.  Wind the yarn gently around your hand into a skein.  I want to buy some beautiful brown paper luggage tags to label the yarn in length and width.

It’s slow work unravelling my history to make something beautiful for my future.  I’ll be pondering the lessons I could learn from t-shirt yarn.

 

 

This connected life

I have a WordPress mentor – even though she may not know it yet! Somewhat ironically, here in the online world through Barb’s let it go coach blogs I’m learning a huge amount about the power of disconnecting from the internet.  In our screen-free times we can unexpectedly find kindred spirits, just by being present. And yet, there is community right here too, in the web.

It seems only appropriate at this point to remember the exuberant ‘Thanks Tim’ (Berners-Lee) tribute to this crazy new connected world…

What delights me about this film is that I remember what so many of us Brits loved about the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony – it connected us with real stories of real people, and celebrated the madcap wonderfulness of this little island we call home. This flash-mob performed by the all-volunteer cast of ‘Thanks Tim’ invites onlookers to share the moment, to share the excitement.

Now, I’m holding my hands up – today has not been an entirely screen-free day: clearly I’m here on the laptop writing! (and I’ve used WhatsApp & nhs.net email while in a car park)  However, in the main, my phone has been lost at the bottom of my handbag. So today there were some really uplifting moments of human connection.

I dropped off yesterday’s batch cooking with one of my dearest friends.  On my to-do list for the rest of the morning (typed on Google Keep, of course) was email chasing, Facebook group moderating, long-overdue texts to friends who pop in to my mind before I go to sleep.  But on my heart was to sit on my friend’s bed, bring her some breakfast and just be present with someone who I love to bits.

Keep list abandoned, I had some time to walk to the high street in the autumn sunshine. It still feels so warm here in Devon on days when there is rich September sun and blue sky. I’d got my outfit wrong for the temperature (cowl-neck grey knitted jumper and black leggings) and so decided to browse the Hospiscare charity shop.  I was laughing with the shop assistant about the fact that I’d had to wear my running trainers to the school run with this outfit, because I have no shoes except flip-flops and a pair of Fly wedge sandals. I managed to find a pair of red suede pumps for £3 and a Jaeger jumper-dress with a red trim for £6.  It was really nice to head off to my lunchtime meeting without the running trainers!

Google maps (I know!) found me a great route on the country roads to my meeting venue.  As I was driving over a humpback bridge and up a huge hill, there was a guy with his thumb out for a lift.  I was fiddling with the volume on the car radio to hear the Google directions, and didn’t really register him at first.  Husband might have something to advise about this – but I pulled over and asked him where he was heading.  He just needed a lift ten minutes up the road on my route, so the poor guy climbed into the back seat (Little One’s car seat was in the front passenger side) and over a serious amount of detritus in the foot-well.  He was a chef who’d had an unexpected night out following a private function and needed to get home to collect his car.  We had a great chat about Eldest’s ambition to bake cakes & patisserie professionally, and he was so enthusiastic about the potential to make a career of it.  He really brightened my day, and gave me a hug and a huge thank-you when I had to get out of the car to let him out of the child-locked door.  I carried on my journey with a smile on my face.

The meeting venue was just beautiful, right by the river Plym.  It was in full flow and we could hear the rush of the water while we talked about the development of the ‘We are Family’ course for parents of young people with psychosis.  It was one of those meetings where we were really tuned in to each other’s perspectives and there were brilliant ideas about how to make the course a true space for peer-support.

Little One was crying when I picked her up from the playground.  Tears rolled down her cheek as she huddled in the heavy rain-storm (welcome to the Devon weather).  She was worried that we wouldn’t be able to play in the park on her scooter as I’d promised.  I had no coat, the new shoes on… but there was a kids’ “Mr Tumble” umbrella in the car, she had her showerproof coat on, so I reassured her that of course we could get the scooter and she could have a spin in the park.

I stood in the park, in the pouring rain, in my red shoes with the tiny yellow spotty umbrella.  More moments of humour and connection as the mums and dads passing ‘complimented’ me on my choice of rain-wear.

So I guess the lessons learned from today are twofold:

  1. Prepare your outfits adequately for the vagaries of the weather
  2. The internet can serve you well as long as it helps you to truly connect with your fellow human beings

Mr Tumble