Time out with the kids

My kids are great at helping me to learn how to enjoy the moment!  This half term we have painted pottery, prepared fresh squid from Leeds market and spent a lot of time in parks.  It’s been a real joy to have my energy back and to spend time with family Up North.  Eldest has been perfecting her cartwheels in the garden and on the seafront, and Little One has been relishing the time to play with her babies, do dressing up and enjoy cuddles with her Uncle, Auntie, Grandma and Grandad.

Half term has felt like an opportunity to drop the pace a bit, and to treasure time spent with our family.  I was able to take my mum out for an afternoon drink at a cosy pub and we caught up about her recovery from a stroke last year.  Like me, she’s learning to pace herself and we are both finding out what helps us to have ‘active rest’.  Mum had made me the most beautiful patchwork swimming bag for my bikini and towel and we bought some fabric together for a secret project for Eldest’s birthday.

Today it’s swimming at the pool and chilling out in Exeter.  It’s only eight weeks then until we break up for the summer, and I know I’m going to keep learning from the way my kids live their lives in the holidays.

Mermaids

Bank holiday weekend was wonderful.  I’m tentatively hopeful that I made the right move with my meds, there’s a feeling of ‘the old me’ returning.  Enthusiasm and hope feel stirred again, it’s such a relief.

I took the girls to Saunton Sands beach while Gallant Husband cycled there to meet us.  Eldest enjoyed the freedom of popping to the beach shops on her own, clutching some spending money.  She came back with a tiny sculpture of two dolphins riding a wave for me, and a mermaid doll for her sister complete with a hairbrush and fish companion.  Little One loved combing the mermaid’s hair and putting her in the rock pools to swim.

Gallant Husband arrived just in time to give Little One lunch whilst Eldest and I grabbed our wetsuits, stretched them on and headed for the waves.  Eldest had her new scorpion bodyboard and the gently sloping beach meant we could practice manoeuvring the boards in fairly shallow water.  Once we were waist deep the waves had enough power to give us some really good rides.  We practised jumping onto the bodyboards at just the right moment.  Twice we caught a wave together and found ourselves gliding side-by side, laughing and smiling into each others’ eyes as the wave bubbled underneath our boards. Eldest used to say when she was a little girl that she wanted to be a mermaid when she grew up.  It was brilliant to have our very own mermaid moment in the waves that day.  I’m hoping for many more as we head into summer.

Sea swimming

Today I choose

Rock shoes, bikini and towel

Down jacket ready to shield me from the wind

Pack a bag, set my mind to it

Choose to awaken the senses

Watch the waves in their sets of three

Feel the stones tumbling in the breakers

Push out beyond

A perfect few minutes in the wild

Peace beyond the crashing shoreline

Rise up on a wave

Scramble back to shore

Choose to feel alive again

Surf’s Up!

Exhilarating, humbling.

It’s an April Saturday, glorious sunshine and I have to say – despite being ten degrees celsius – the water looks beautiful and I can’t wait to get in.  Winter wetsuits are more forgiving than I had remembered, and easier to get into.  Topped off with hawaiian shirt style rash vests, and after lugging the huge foamies down to the beach, the day has arrived and we are ready to take the plunge!

The sun sparkles on the sea and there are perfect little white breakers.  By the time we’re waist deep we all have huge smiles and are thanking the neoprene Gods for amazing winter wetsuits, gloves and booties; we can barely feel the cold. Awesome. We’ve been guided through the anatomy of our boards, the timing of catching a wave and how to give a little push forward into the water before we jump on to ride the wave lying down.  I’m exhilarated to catch the first wave I try and get a surprisingly fast ride in towards the shore.  It fools me for a moment into thinking this is going to be easy!

About halfway into the lesson I notice some writing on our instructor’s rash vest – the mind unshackled; let it be free – and this phrase really stays with me through the weekend as I start to come up against my body’s limitations.  Surfing is the most physically demanding sport I have ever tried, and by the end of our first two hours I feel a glorious ache of effort in my arms, shoulders and core.  We have learned to ‘pop up’ on dry land but I find my muscles just won’t do that in the water! Similarly sliding to my knees from the press-up position feels smooth and eminently possible on land, but combining it with catching a wave, getting my body balanced and keeping momentum is so difficult!  By the end of the lesson I have made it up to my knees although standing up remains elusive.  There’s a twinge of disappointment.

We celebrate with Kelly’s ice creams and zoom back to the cottage and the hot tub.  It feels amazing to look up at the sunset-streaked sky and soak in the peace of the countryside as day one ends.

Day two begins bleary eyed for me.  I’m frustrated that my mind had raced through the night.  I can feel that my body is sore and exhausted.  I think about that phrase again, about unshackling my mind and being free.  I know that it’s really important to encourage myself to enjoy the time in the water, regardless of outcome.  It’s a really hard thing for a perfectionist I realise, to accept the uncertainty that I might get to stand up today, and I might not.  There’s a pinch more trepidation this time as I zip up my wetsuit, adjust the gloves and head out.  As soon as we get into the water I know this is not going to be ‘my time to shine’ as our instructor might say.  It’s messy, big and windy.  The power of the waves takes me aback and I’m getting beaten up by the board.  I am struggling to get onto the deck of the board in the right position, our instructor holds the board for me and encourages me that there are no mistakes here; only practice.  I can feel my body is reaching its limits.  Let it be free.

A couple of tears are beginning to prick in my eyes.  I swallow my pride and ask our instructor if it’s okay to get out of the water for a few minutes.  He asks if I want a bodyboard and honestly, relief washes over me like one of those messy waves! I spend a wonderful half an hour regaining my confidence with the waves, getting one fantastic ride where I manage to steer the bodyboard left and right.  My aching body says thank you for the smaller, lighter board to manoeuvre in the water and I have space to reflect on letting that feeling of failure go.

I head back to the lesson without a board.  It’s an opportunity for a bit of conversation with our instructor about the gap year, why I’m doing it and some of the too familiar sense of failure that has come before with my history of mental illness. But the beautiful thing – in between snippets of conversation he teaches me to bodysurf.  When two waves arrive close together I go for it, diving head first into the water and I suddenly feel an incredible sense of the wave’s power pulling me forward and icy cold bubbles rushing across my face. Incredible. Humbling. Peaceful.

I know it’s going to be a process of unshackling my mind, but that Sunday I think I made a step in the right direction.

An after-school mini adventure

Eldest is hanging upside down by her knees with a tumble of golden hair touching the ground.  Little One is throwing leaves, wood chippings and beech nut cases into the air with glee.  It’s the start of the Easter break and I’m determined that, though there may be fog following me around, we are going to have a little adventure anyway.

Like all good adventures should, we start with sustenance.  Plate-sized pancakes with cherries for me and an assortment of gooey sauces and tiny sweets for the girls.  Then off to a village play park with the best swings in the world.  Huge long chains just made for stomach-twirling heights and hanging backwards to look at the trees upside down.  A wooden fort with ropes, ladders and bars for acrobatics if you happen to be that way inclined (and Eldest certainly is).  We have the whole field to ourselves and though there’s thick grey cloud above, seeing the girls get into the spirit of mini-adventure lifts the clouds within.

On the way home Little One chirps ‘lovely day’ and I have to agree.

Time travel

If I were following in the footsteps of Elizabeth Gilbert’s famous gap year memoir, I guess we could say I’m in the ‘eat’ phase! This week it’s been all about the retro, treating Eldest and Little One to their first cherry bakewells.  The almond scent and generous icing takes me straight back to happy picnics or the surprise of a cherry studded confection tucked into my lunchbox as a special treat.

Today I took Little One to one of her favourite spots for ‘munch’ (lunch).  Little Chef is the closest we get to a diner in our part of the UK, with all-day breakfasts, booths and checked curtains.  It’s definitely not one for the foodie in me, but Little One loves it and it was great to see the sparkle in her eyes when I collected her from nursery and asked if she wanted to go there for lunch.  It’s sensory time-travel for me as my dad used to take me to our local Little Chef as a special ‘dad & daughter’ evening. For the seven or eight year old me, it used to feel like the height of sophistication to jump in the car with dad on a dark crisp evening and head out to a dimly lit cafe for a jubilee pancake and hot chocolate.  Even now, it feels warm and fuzzy inside for me to share a cherry-filled pancake with one of my kids, like I’m welcoming them into my memories.  I hope Little One remembers our ‘munches’ at the Little Chef as fondly as I remember my evenings with dad.

There’s been time travel into the future this week too as I start to think a bit more about what I’m going to do when Little One starts school.  I’ve found a floristry school (I’m not sure if I do harbour an ambition to be a professional florist, and have to keep a check on the ‘just doing lovely stuff for pleasure’ vs ‘desperately trying to find a future career’ battle that regularly flares up in my brain)  Fortunately the professional floristry qualifications are way out of my league financially, so I’ll content myself with workshops – woodland design is tempting me at the moment.  I’ve also had an invitation from a friend to book a mindfulness meditation retreat after the summer, which sounds the perfect way to bring some practice of being in the present moment to my mind, which is so often drawn to the future – and to the ‘what if…’

If I snaffle the last cherry bakewell tonight I’ll be taking care to pay it the attention it deserves.

Day-glo girl

Today I treated myself to a new running top.  Frankly I was knackered this afternoon and couldn’t think of anything worse really than going out in the drizzle with the beginner’s running club.

I’ve been chatting about this recently with a couple of girlfriends.  I know I enjoy the feeling when I get back from a run – there’s a deeper peace somehow – but I couldn’t honestly say that I enjoy the process.  Is running something that I can do as part of my year of enjoyment & pleasure or is it another ‘should’ I have been wondering.

I decided to get dressed for running this evening.  There’s something about putting on that ‘armour’ of the ronhills and trainer socks, carefully attending to the stitched ‘L’ & ‘R’  (I didn’t even know these existed until I started the course ten weeks ago). The ritual of preparing myself and remembering all the inspirational women on the This Girl Can campaign.  I put on my new top and found that it really glowed in the dusk under the street lamps.  It made me smile thinking about myself as ‘day-glo girl’ with shiny super powers including looking awesome while running!

I made it up the biggest hill in our town without stopping today, and then ran a continuous 2 miles home.  Maybe there is a bit of day-glo girl in me after all.  I’m still not sure whether running counts as pleasure or enjoyment though!

Phase 1: surf trip

I have to admit to being really overwhelmed by the response when I first floated the idea of the good girl gap year on Facebook.

If I were to take a ‘good girl gap year’ (i.e. forget about my career and just live it up for a bit) what would you recommend I should try*? And should I write a blog?

*Illegal substances may not be a good idea for someone with my brain.

One of the first things that happened is that a few of my female friends expressed real enthusiasm for joining me on some surf lessons.  It felt like something I should just run with (before I bottled it) and immediately Polzeath came to mind.

This gorgeous barn conversion came up on Airbnb and I discovered I am really not patient enough to wait 24 hours for an answer!  I also found my brain filling up with worries that risked drowning out the excitement of just booking on the fly…

  • what if it’s too cold in the water?
  • do I really deserve this trip?
  • what if there’s no waves?
  • is this just a really stupid experiment?

Fortunately in the nick of time we had our answer; a smaller cottage in the same development was available so I went ahead and booked.  Yes I do really deserve this trip (I tell my brain) – hot tub, woodburner and all.

surf
Inspiration from http://www.melaniemcdonald.co.uk/

p.s. the water temperature today was 8-9 degrees celsius so we almost certainly will be cold but we’ll be having an adventure for sure!

About that pizza

An inauspicious Thursday evening

There was something about that pizza right from the start.  It surprised me with its beauty, all hand-stretched bubbles and micro-mushrooms.  No tomato – just the fragrance of truffle oil and a scattering of rocket.

As we talked over that half a pizza, I told you about my fears for the future and my deep loneliness.  My feeling of my career having been stolen from me by mental illness.  My plans to volunteer with a mental health trust, my worries of never finding that thing, that elusive vocation which would satisfy me and make me feel whole again.

My beautiful friend, you turned it on its head.  Wonderful and unfamiliar like my tomato-less pizza.  You wondered if I could spend a year on enjoyment, on pleasure, on finding out about me again.  Beauty rather than darkness.  Could I take a gap year from obligation to any previous map of what my life should look like if I hadn’t been ill?

Somehow that half a pizza persuaded me that I really, really wanted to try.