39

In a little over four hours, I turn 39 and last year, I wrote on my birthday, if you are interested I wrote about it here. It’s a ridiculous age really, but I am truly grateful to be here and celebrating it. Or not celebrating it, as I don’t really and if I’m honest, if it wasn’t for my older girls reminding me every twenty seconds, I’d barely acknowledge it at all.

Anyway, here are 39 (or maybe not because it’s a lot) things I have done/learnt this last year:

  1. I had a baby. A wonderful baby who is almost a year old. She is the light of my life. Although I am counting the hours until she goes to my parents for the night tomorrow so that I can get a full night of sleep.
  2. I found the perfect pair of jeans. And they were £3.95 in a charity shop. Philanthropy and good trousers. Win win.
  3. I survived my children starting school. I did not cry, I was a bit sad, I don’t think at all about the fact that they won’t ever be at home with me again because I would not stop crying about that. I very much maintain that they are too young (all Reception kids are) for a formal school setting.
  4. I maintained and deepened my love for politics.
  5. I realised that my love for the above leads to division and argument. I’ve always aligned very closely to the political views of my parents and now I don’t so much and that’s odd. My in-laws are all Leave voters and though they are respectful, that also is weird.
  6. I was disappointed by school mums and their cliques and things then realised just as quickly that I don’t care. I have no desire to be friends with a single one of them and they can keep their cliques and all that that entails.
  7. I have been to 5634823 birthday parties. More accurately, eight? Seven? Always boring. Always awkward as nobody talks to me at all. Always grateful that my mini sidekick comes and plays with her stacking cups.
  8. My big girls started sleeping well. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and I realise now that my twins were not good sleepers. Even a year ago, I was regularly up with one or both for hours in the night while they needed me to sit on their bed and rub their foot or whatever while they fell asleep. Sing round after round of the ‘bed song’ (Lavender Blue) while stroking their hair. And Gracie would regularly start the day at 5am. Now though, they sleep from 7pm to usually around 6am.
  9. Realised that Philanthropy and Good Trousers would be a great band name. Or a book title.
  10. Also realised that 39 is too many.
  11. Stopped using hair extensions. I toy with the idea occasionally but I can’t afford them and my hair is in really good condition and they always wreck it, even if you’re super careful.
  12. Had four fringes and five growing out phases. Guess which one I’m in now?
  13. Started dyeing my eyebrows. I did it first before going to have Pops as I have super blonde eyebrows and I thought I’d look like I had a bit of make-up on even when I didn’t. Anyway, I still do it now. Every six weeks or so and it just helps.
  14. Advocated for and got a c-section. Everyone was anti and the consultant was rude but I stood firm and Poppy was born calmly and beautifully exactly as we planned.
  15. Not quite as we planned as they had two emergency c-sections that day and it was 4pm and I was HUNGRY but a really nice birth experience nonetheless.
  16. Attempted breastfeeding. Failed. Am fine with it.
  17. Remained as broody as anything.
  18. But won’t be having another baby.
  19. Cleaned. A lot. Too much probably. I realise rationally that my sink being spotless doesn’t matter to anyone but I can’t explain the fuzziness in my brain that just disappears when it is clean.
  20. Started to deal with what is probably health anxiety.
  21. Told my children I love them every single day. That they are clever, beautiful, kind.
  22. Loved Jody more and harder than I have done before. Two to three kids is so hard and I didn’t even think about the effect it would have on us as a couple. You know, we’d gone from just us to twins, this would be easy but it very much wasn’t and sometimes still isn’t and we have to keep working at it.
  23. Walked a lot. I will never be a runner and that is A-OK as bleurgh but I do love to walk.
  24. Had two fully toilet trained kids. Isla regresses sometimes as she is lazy about the loo but we are there. A pull up free house.
  25. Been a largely good mum.
  26. Can’t get to 39 but I have mostly been content. Happy on occasion, the odd patch of deep sadness but the last year has been one of contentment. Of feeling accepted and loved and generally a feeling of being exactly where I should be. I have a feeling that this year there will be a lot of upheaval and I think we are starting that from a good place.

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So Happy Birthday to me and I need to go to bed now!

Narcissism over for another year….

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Easy

There was a time when three children seemed too hard. When Poppy was tiny, when I was sleep deprived, when the house was too much of a mess, when it seemed like Jody and I would never be people again, just co-parents. And then there was a lull as Poppy got older, slept at night, got into a routine and now she is easy.

It’s hard to say if she’s genuinely easy as my point of reference is twins. But I think that she might be. She is good company, she naps on a regular schedule, she eats well and even this week, with a cold and a new tooth coming through, she barely cries. She is a sunshine girl. I’ve said this before but it bears repeating, she is my reward. The baby I deserved after surviving twins.

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The twins. They are very much not easy. They are articulate and funny and completely different. They are the lights of my life. I squeeze them to me sometimes because I can barely contain how much I love them and I am terrified that time goes too fast. But they are such hard work.

They are best friends. Truly best friends. They adore each other. But the love descends to physical fighting in the blink of an eye. If I had a pound for every time I asked one of them to listen or to do as they were told, to be apart for a bit, or to just calm down, then we would have no money issues at all. Today has been hard. They wake up early and they don’t stop. We have made rice krispie cakes, done some crafting, played, eaten lunch, a walk and the play park with Jody, more crafting, then arguing mostly until falling into the sofa to watch some telly before bed. Oh, and a bath. I put a pizza in the oven for dinner becauseDSCF3455.JPG I was just too tired to do anything else.

Tomorrow will be better because we can all go out, it won’t be rainy and windy because there is no worse Saturday than a rainy indoors one with a teething baby.

It will be better.

Bodies

Yesterday, while in town, my sister and I saw a girl walking with her friend. They were both dressed, as lots of younger people are at the moment, in very tight jeans and a cropped top. One of the girls was very slim and one of the girls was not. Now people should wear whatever they like but the larger of the girls looked so uncomfortable, enough for us to comment on it. She looked just fine, but uncomfortable and it just seemed so sad that she felt like that when she should have been out relaxing with her friend.

In reality, clothes should be practical and comfortable, a uniform almost. They should be warm in the winter and cool in the summer and there should be no prices attached. A top would cost whatever and trousers whatever and we all wear the same. Can you imagine how liberating that would be. Wear them baggy if you want, tight if you prefer and get on with your day.

Almost like pajamas. I said this to my sister today as I mulled over this thought. I never feel anything other than comfortable when I’m in my pajamas. They are practical and comfortable, cotton mostly and cuffed at the leg, I can crawl around after Poppy, I can play with the big girls, I can cook, bathe the kids, almost entirely without thinking about what I’m wearing. I put a hoodie on if it’s cold, take it off if I’m warm and I don’t think at all about any of it.

Now I’m lucky that I don’t have any body issues. I have the usual insecurities, but they are very minor and generally I like my body. I prefer it in winter covered up admittedly and I am a bit nervy about the upcoming summer and dresses and shorts and things but I am lucky. However, a couple of weeks ago, on our anniversary, I got dressed in a dress and jumper, tights and boots and went out with J to look at a flat. I hated the outfit almost as soon as we got in the car but there wasn’t time to change. I could barely concentrate on looking at this flat because I wanted to rip all my clothes off. We looked at the flat and I came home and got changed.

Rationally, I am aware that I looked fine. But in my head, I didn’t and I needed to come home and put my jeans on. I did and I felt immediately as if a weight had been lifted. And that’s the same as pajamas. Warm, comfortable, almost comforting. Maybe it’s because they are associated with home. And that just my four see me in them mostly. And love me either way. Or maybe they are just comfortable.

This is an ode to pajamas.

Competence

Yesterday, at yet another birthday party, one of the school mums told me that she had been chatting with a friend and they had both commented on how they saw me every morning with the three girls and they wondered how I managed. They said they saw me get the girls out of the car, sort Poppy out and then watched as we walked down the long road to the school.

Another mum last week commented that they had no idea how I managed to do the girls hair so beautifully every morning.DSCF3630

At a birthday party a couple of months ago, another mum said the same. That I looked like I had it all together every single day.

I hesitate to share this as it looks like a humble brag. It isn’t. The first point is that I run mornings, actually most things, like a military operation. Breakfast is eaten by 7.30am, what isn’t eaten gets thrown away, then they get dressed and then I do their hair. They are absolutely not allowed to draw, or play, or do anything until all of those things are done. I then dress Poppy while Jody gets dressed and then I get ready while he supervises teeth brushing. We are in the car by 8.30am every single morning. Or if we walk, we leave at 8.20am. There is no indecision, no fluffing of the time line, the girls know and understand the routine and it works.

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The second point is that sometimes I do the school run with my coat on over the top I slept in. I’ve brushed my teeth most days but not all by the time I’m in the playground. Some days I’ve yelled at Jody that he won’t stick to the routine, won’t support me enough in making sure that we’re in the car on time. Some mornings, I’ve not even had a sip of tea before we are on our way out of the house. On rare days, I’ve shouted at the girls to get a move on, we need to hurry, more often I’ve banned something before the day has even started in earnest.

So I am competent. More than competent sometimes. Sometimes really bloody good at motherhood. But it’s a ball like all the others and balls are dropping all the time. We never know what two french plaits may be covering up, that pots and pots of home-made baby food were made at the expense of a relationship, that just last week Isla told me that she would behave better so that I’d be happy.

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She makes me unbelievably happy. She is the child who says she would kiss me all the time if she could. She stands at the door before bed blowing me kisses and tells me she loves me to the moon. And Grace. She has taken to crawling into my lap and telling me that she’ll always be my baby. She makes Poppy laugh like no one else.

But they are four. And they don’t listen. And that’s frustrating and annoying and drives me bonkers. I must be better. They must be better. We all must. It is my job to make them good listeners, able to concentrate, to follow instructions. But I must not berate them if they sometimes don’t.

Competence is the shiny façade for real. Scratch the surface and you’d see a vest top worn to bed and unbrushed teeth. You’d hear a tired mum begging her baby to not cry in the car seat, that it’s not far, we’ll be out of the car soon. You’d watch a couple who love each other deeply but who don’t show it nearly often enough.

Competence.

Not real.

Peach

Yesterday, in what is already a volatile political climate, Amber Rudd, the DWP Secretary, called Diane Abbott, the Shadow Home Secretary, ‘coloured’. I will say that she was condemning the abuse that she receives across social media, particularly in light of International Women’s Day but the fact remains that she used a long dead, outdated term to describe her. She apologised immediately but the damage was done, she was perceived as racist and that was that.

In the UK, as far as I am aware as a white person, the terms to be used are BAME (black and minority ethnic) or simply black. But it got me thinking about my girls and their use of terminology. This afternoon, I was looking through Tapestry with Grace and we were chatting about the kids in various superhero poses that were on there. I asked who someone was and she said: That’s ****, he’s brown.

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When both girls draw themselves, they colour their skin colour in a peach Crayola pen. They have a couple but they use a specific colour that they have identified as the same as their own skin colour. If you were to ask them what colour they are, they would say peach. They do not identify as white, the colour they see in the mirror and in each other is peach.

So, they are peach and **** is brown and there are kids at school who are black, but I feel sure that they would identify as dark brown. There are kids that celebrate Christmas and kids that don’t. They spent a week learning about Eid and a week about Diwali and two weeks about Christmas. It is a non denominational school that celebrates British values, all of them, all religions, all languages, all colours and it is one of the reasons why I loved it when we visited over a year ago.

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We live in a very white town. There are obviously Muslims here and black people but they are very much in the minority and I can’t imagine how it feels to be conspicuous in that way. Noticed. The nearest I can come is having newborn twins. I hated the attention and there was no getting away from it, no hiding a twin and hoping people wouldn’t notice. And that was for a good thing. I cannot even begin to imagine how it would feel to be noticed and then perceived in a negative way. Just living a normal life. So bonkers.

I guess what I am asking is when? When do I explain to my kids the words that they can use and that they can’t? Do I explain as they notice difference? It’s a minefield because we celebrate that children don’t care about difference, don’t notice it mostly, but if they do, their questions are welcomed and answered with knowledge and grace. But as an adult, we are now expected to notice and respect difference, to know how best to respond, how to acknowledge, to not use clumsy words, or ask the wrong questions.

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I mean absolutely no offence in any of this, and if I have offended, I’m sorry and it isn’t meant. I don’t know the best way to navigate this and I’d like to do it right.

 

Silence

Is there any point in writing if no one reads it? I ‘write’ all the time, I compose blog posts as I fall asleep, I have the start of a story almost completely committed to memory with a character as well rounded as a person I could have met in real life. But not a single word is put to paper, or written here. So does it count?DSCF3424

 

Things are busy, Jody is job hunting, we’re trying desperately to move, I’m trying to figure out a next step for me while wrangling a newly crawling baby who can’t be left alone for more than a few seconds. Everyone is healthy again after both of the big girls came down with a fluey thing (thank heavens for vaccinations), Poppy is growing up way too fast, I’m sad everyday that there will be no more, things are all good. I went to a truly awful birthday party yesterday for one of I’s friends. My phone is broken which makes me more miserable than it should.

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Anyway, this month is my birthday month, I turn 39 on the 30th. Good God, that’s old. Not relatively I know, but just seriously. Where did that time go? I doubt I could even have a baby anyway, even if I could have one. Oh dear. Anyway, instead of descending into maudlin nonsense, here are some pictures that Jody took. He’s disgustingly talented. It’s very annoying.

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Letting Go

One of the defining memories of my life is sitting on a mattress on the floor surrounded by boxes in a flat that we were about to move out of. By we I mean, my boyfriend of fiveish years and me. We had given notice to move and the plan was to move in with his mother in a house that he owned. I had been reluctant but had come round to the idea, my then brother-in-law had painted a room to my specifications, my ex had wanted to appease me, help me with the difficult decision we had come to.

On a Saturday morning, he texted me to say that he had sent me an email and within that email, amongst many failures of my character, was the plain and brutal fact that he did not want me to move in to that house with him.

It turns out he had met someone who moved in really quite awkwardly quickly but that’s a story for another day.

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When I think of him, I am so grateful for that email, that decision. It led to almost a year of heartache, decisions and ultimately it led me to Jody. I have tried hard to keep my heart just a little hard, a little closed off, leave a tiny piece that he hasn’t got yet so that if it all ended, I wouldn’t be quite as broken. Wouldn’t be left on a mattress on the floor in a near empty flat that had once been a home.

I got into bed last night, full of cold and feeling sorry for myself and Jody, who had been in bed a little while, pulled me towards him and cuddled me close to him. I laid there, the length of my body against the length of his and realised that I could just lay there and cry. Not because I was sad, but because I was home.

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The realisation was also that I had given myself completely to him. Despite myself. And if it did all end, then of course I would break. Of course I would. But I would anyway, so I may as well just give in, lean in and let myself be held. If I wasn’t as completely broken as I was before, it wouldn’t be because the love wasn’t greater, it would be because I knew how to survive, I’d become stronger and more complete, grown up and become whole.

I won’t paint us as perfect. We are not. Just today, we have nitpicked at each other, we have disagreed on things and I have stood in our room and screamed silently at the wall. But we have also hugged in the kitchen as I cooked lunch for the girls, we have sat on the floor and played with our children, I have said I love you as he busied himself with drawing at the table with Isla. We have rough patches, long ones sometimes and we fight and we go silent and there have been times, fortunately not many, when I have genuinely feared that we were done.

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But we are stronger now. Stitched together with good and bad and everything in between. And we work at it. We carve out time for us, we don’t rely on the way we were before children, we’ve changed as they’ve grown and we acknowledge that. I love him more today than I have ever done.

I am so glad that I got that email. I’m so glad that I am here.

Fiction Friday (12)

On the train, I had allowed myself to look at Facebook, see what wedding photos were up. It was like pulling off a plaster, there was no point trying to avoid the photos for a couple of weeks only then to find a random mutual friend you’d forgotten you had commenting on one of your daughter in a bridesmaid dress. I had kept it together on the train, calmly searching and clicking, finding someone who had liked a photo and clicking through to their profile, and so I went on. Shelley had looked beautiful, young and vibrant and expensive. There had been no expense spared, that was clear, her parents had money and I wasn’t sure if that hadn’t been part of the attraction for Paul.

At home, I had made myself eat something, and gone to bed. I had cried that night like I had never cried before. A night for reaching the very bottom. It was the closest I’ve ever come to thinking about not being there at all. I don’t like to use the word and I wasn’t anywhere close to doing that but it had crossed my mind that night and stayed there. Or disappearing. Packing a bag and starting a new life somewhere. Allowing Ellie a family. A proper one with a Daddy and a Mummy.

That was the crux of my heartache. My failure to give my daughter a family. My inability to keep her family together. I had cried for me and then for her. Imagined, acted out in my head, the conversation that I would have with Paul, the sudden realisation that Ellie should live with them.

I had slept. I could not remember falling asleep but I had been woken by my phone. I had reached for it on my bedside table, noting the red battery icon at the top of the screen.

Paul.

For a moment, for a fleeting, heart soaring second, I had imagined that he was saying that he had made a mistake. That standing at the altar with Shelley had made him realise that it was me he loved and our family could be pieced back together again.

But he had sounded happy. Gloriously, deliriously happy. The reason he was ringing, he had told me, was that Ellie was missing me and did I want her back early, did I want him to bring her back now?

Yes, I had said, yes please, a thousand times yes.

And then she had been home. She had rocketed through the door, talking nineteen to the dozen, full of stories of the wedding and the funny hat Grandma had worn and Paul and I had not had to exchange more than a handful of words. For that I was grateful, and I think he was too. I had been able to see the wedding band back on his ring finger and it looked right there, comfortable and just like he had always looked. I had looked down at my own bare left hand; the only jewellery I had worn then was a band Paul had bought me on Ellie’s first birthday, her name and birthdate engraved on the underside. It was then, and is now, my most treasured piece of jewellery. My own wedding band, given back to me without words one Sunday in a small satin pouch, and engagement ring are in a box for Ellie to have when she’s older, she knows where they are and looks at them sometimes but honestly she can’t remember, or even fathom, Paul and me together.

That day, though, that cold day in December, the day before Paul’s second honeymoon with his second wife, had been significant because it was the day after the worst day of my life. It was the day that Ellie had come home, my pocket rocket and she had made me laugh. I had to eat chicken, Mummy, she had said, a grimace on her face, and the chocolate was brown and yucky. I had laughed and caught Paul’s eye over her head and he had laughed.

We weren’t a family. We wouldn’t be again but maybe, we could be something new. And Ellie was mine. She was my everything and she would stay with me.

It’s been that way ever since.

Fine-Apple

I keep thinking today, on Love Day as they call it at my kids’ school, about me seven years ago. I was single but miserably so, there was no empowered femininity about me at all and I make no apologies about that, I had been single and dating for about ten months and frankly, I was done. I enjoyed some of it, I liked the initial flirty bit, when you were both just pictures on an app and I enjoyed getting ready for the first date but that’s about it. The dates themselves were awkward and stilted, there was a feeling pretty much immediately as to whether or not you liked him or he liked you and then there was the after date wait. The bit where you hoped that he would text or you hoped that he wouldn’t and you wouldn’t be the one saying that you liked him but there was just no point in a second date.

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There are photos of me from that day. I’d started a facebook group for the store that I’d recently started managing and the staff and I decided that we would advertise a few bits on there. I look very thin and sad. I can remember that day vividly, the way I looked very much reflected the way I felt. It felt hopeless.

I didn’t know, of course, that less than two weeks later I would go on a blind date with Jody. And I very much didn’t know that he would be the person, my Valentine if you will, seven years later.

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I think one of the reasons that Jody and I work is because we both understand what it is to be lonely. To stand in a room full of people, people who know you and like you, and feel as if you could scream at the top of your voice and nobody would hear you. We both understand how it is to be hurt. But most importantly we both understand that relationships aren’t easy. And that you can’t be the perfect couple. Nobody can. And that you have to work, work hard sometimes to keep things good.

Anyway, all this to say to hang in there. If you’re lonely and you don’t want to be, hang in there. There really is someone out there.

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(Fine-Apple is a reference to the card Jody got me – if you could be any fruit, you’d be a fine-apple. Goodness me, I do love him)

Bits

The big girls stayed at Jody’s parents last night so today it was just Poppy with us. We had a lazyish morning and as soon as the rain stopped, we went out. We needed petrol and a few bits and then we decided to stay out as the sun was attempting to come out. Poppy shrieked into the wind for a while then fell asleep in time for us to have a little mooch round the shops.

All three girls have April birthdays so from nowish every year we start to look at presents, things that they might like. Not really from us to be honest, we tend to get them just one small gift, but ideas for family. We went into TK Maxx and I wandered from the toys to the baby section. I’m thinking about getting Poppy a set of special muslins as she never sleeps without one, there’s no lovey for her like her big sisters have and I don’t think she has had a single muslin that wasn’t a hand-me-down. So I’d like to get her some special ones. TK Maxx has some lovely ones but they are amongst all the tiny baby things.

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We are done having babies and this is the rational, sensible decision. If I think about another tiny baby not sleeping for more than a couple of hours, another baby leeching into the time that is short as it is with the three girls we have, I genuinely am OK with Poppy being our last. But….

I feel slightly heartbroken.

I will be 39 in roughly six weeks. Our flat is too small for the five of us who live here already. We don’t have enough money. We have been quite open that if the last two were different, a fourth baby would be on the cards. But that would take time and by the time we’ve turned it around, I’ll be arguably too old to even have a baby anyway.

I can’t look at tiny clothes. Small sleeping bags, newborns strapped into baby carriers, the teeniest socks imaginable that will still bag around those skinny red newborn feet. When I get into bed, when I finally relax, it strikes me afresh that I won’t have another baby and I’m devastated again. Night after night.

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When will it pass? Will I hit 40 and embrace the fact that all of my kids are growing up and things will be different, not easier really just different, less time consuming, more taxi, less bum wiper.

Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not sad all the time, not even close. Poppy is great fun at the moment, she plays and sleeps and all the stuff you long for when they are squidgy newborns, the two big girls are hilarious and cheeky and everything is more than good. Just a flicker. It’s a flicker of devastation if that’s possible, a momentary heartbreak.

No more. It’s hard.