Top and tail...

posted on: Thursday, 11 August 2016

I feel I should write here; the days (weeks) slip by of this summer and I find myself looking ahead to when the autumn beds in again. Then I will much more time to write - I tell myself this - but I also wonder if it's true? Blogging has changed, I am very struck by that as I see how behaviours shift and I consider if the pendulum has swung away from the written word in favour of pictures, pictures, pictures. It's all part of the process and that is fine.

Social media habits will form much debate for the historians of the future. For me I like a blog to get to know someone (not to see which brands sponsor them). I like Instagram to stalk someone (yes, we all do it, be honest). I like Pinterest for inspiration. Facebook and Twitter less so, but I see they have become the oldest versions of themselves now; they were the pioneers and now they seem...slightly staid. It's fascinating to see how this will go. I see this though the eyes of my children and I have made a conscious effort to stop 'tech-shaming' them. This is their reality. We created it for them. We can't then begrudge it and persistently tell them they should go outside and build a fort or read a book. It's just not going to happen. I feel like if I accept this fact my perception of them shifts. It's not their fault. This is just what they have to contend with. Had I had snapchat as a child, I so would have used it!

It's just a couple of days before we go back to Florida, my happy place, and to say I am counting down is an understatement. There have been various milestones and changes over the summer; my husband has a new job  (same company; different discipline) and he's had a couple of big trips away, there have been family visits and events, my children have been adjusting to their fifth week of free-form days. As ever it feels like term-time is ages away but I know it will creep up suddenly and come September we will re-enter the academic year. The seasonal shift from summery linens to thoughts of coats and boots. Hardly imaginable now but utterly likely.

I have been harbouring a lot of worries lately, for the last few months and I feel like they've taken anchor and are sticking! This is not what I want so I am trying to rid myself of them; after all worrying is a futile activity isn't it? But I do it so well, I am just so damn good at worrying, that it becomes an internal Olympic sport in which I win gold. Get the reference? As an aside, every time I see the struggle of the Olympic Games, see someone overcome the adversity and win, it literally makes me cry. I am the laughing stock of my kids! So I am trying to shake that off, let the worries go, be at one with myself.

Meanwhile I am preparing for the second year of my Masters and finishing the book. I consider the book like a skinny child that needs fattening up. It needs to swell and expand to fill the spaces around it. I read another debut novel 'The Girls' which was a searing read, couldn't put it down and felt a pang of envy at the sentence construction and the quality of the writing. Funny how it goes; when you write a book you start to look for and understand all the small things; plot loops and metaphors, themes and motifs, the obscurity of vocabulary and so on. I have become a word geek. But I love that; turns out that's what I am all about and have kept hidden all these (corporate) years. Now I am back, filling the space.

It's all good.

I'd rather be a comma than a full stop...

posted on: Wednesday, 27 July 2016

So the new rhythm asserts itself. No early mornings, less activity, less clock-watching and a run of sunny weather that has left most Brits suspicious; when will it end?! Well, it ended today as we awoke to drizzle and grey. The sun might come back but equally it might not. That might just have been summer. Did you enjoy it?

We went to Amsterdam, Boo and her friend and I. It was beautiful and contrasting and I marvelled again at the tolerance of the society there and the prettiness of the canals and how healthy every one looked. We stayed with one of my oldest friends. We've been before and I wrote about it here. This trip was every bit as lovely.

I am preoccupied with cutting my hair; this affliction hits every few years where I decide that I can't abide long hair a moment more and get fixated on a young, modern hairstyle. I then get fearful that I will get it cut and end up with the dreaded 'housewife hair' and so oscillate between the two extremes for weeks on end. I've written about it before here. I am furtively watching YouTube vlogs of how to style a 'lob' (long bob) and being vaguely alarmed at the young women who film every part of their lives and present them with flourish for people like me. I wonder what I would have done had I been 25? I probably would have vlogged (not a verb?) my lob like everyone else!

Ever get the feeling my life is on a loop? I am repeating myself.

Meanwhile there's Lou the writer. I regard my own book from a distance; I haven't looked at it since the end of May in a deliberate and staunch attempt to get distance from what I wrote. It feels odd, like I have locked an old friend out in the cold as an experiment, however I am back to my old habits of mooching and house-wifing and being able to make plates of waffles for teenagers and I revel in my own domesticity. Playing house. The book can wait till September.

In moments of downtime I look at handbags. I like this one presently. The compact size of it feels symbolic; have I reached a point in my life where all I need to carry is a purse, my phone and a lip balm? I don't need a big kiddy-paraphernalia-filled bag anymore. Note to self: times are a changing.

I am reading a book on mindfulness as the stress monkeys have been sitting on my shoulders; the world has gone nuts and I hate watching the news. Turns out mindfulness is as hard as meditation - which has alluded me for years - and so I revert to yoga, which I can just about manage. There's a lot of background 'noise' in my head and we have many decisions looming and I am counting down to our summer holiday where all I need to think about is what to eat and what bikini to wear. Or what palm tree to photograph.

The lack of a serious and earnest preoccupation worries me in itself, I really ought to be making plans, but then I conclude I am on a break from all that and I settle back down to read a book. I got some heavy pure linen bed sheets which are a treat to be in. Bed is all. I don't trust anyone who says they don't like sleeping.

So that's it - a kind of summer free fall which I quite like but which I shall tire of come another month. My life so compartmentalised into school terms that it is literally bizarre to think what will happen when my children are no longer bound by the academic calendar. A whole different kind of free fall...who knows??! Time to kick my heels up?

Round and around...

posted on: Wednesday, 13 July 2016

And so my children break up from school for another year.

The last few weeks have been...what can I say? Tumultuous.

I have this interest in how humans (by this I mean myself) handle stress; I am always the one who - when someone says they feel overwhelmed or have a dreadful cold - remarks: 'ahh, you must be stressed' like some sort of modern-day soothsayer. What do I know? I guess my key observation has been that stress is a constant in my life, even though in the traditional sense I am not under stress (I am not a firefighter or a police woman, I don't face danger on a daily basis).

I place myself under stress. I don't really know why I do this, I should probably get reprogrammed but I see that consistently I succumb to the affects of stress. I am a stress head, highly strung, wound tight. I am married to someone who is the direct and polar opposite so I know how different I am. Things that really ought to be pleasurable and life-affirming can even become stressful to me. It's a curse.

For the last few years, as I have described at length, I have attempted to manage this with life style changes and a-l-h-o-t of soul-searching. It has worked to a degree but still, every now and then I get a physical reminder that I need to chill the f**k out.

This is how it went. In the dark gloomy winter months following Christmas I was holed up writing my book. Life felt like it had much work and little play in it. My husband was away a lot of the time, I was enjoying the new (white) house but often there was an empty space at the table of four. My daughter got a boyfriend; countless demands entailed as she navigated - and still navigates - the waters of young love. My son became disillusioned with his friends, fights ensued, he became withdrawn and sad. I went on writing and cooking and cleaning and driving them around, all the time wondering quite what had shifted in our nirvana. This is how it goes I told myself; life is a series of phases. I spent a lot of time counselling them and thinking about them and shouldering every little set back in a way that frankly, was disproportionate. I get too involved. By the time I realised that it was kinda too late and the stress monkeys had come to rest on my shoulder.

The remedy was to plan lots of summer fun - yes summer would be the salve, this is just a winter thing I told myself, so I poured over the calendar and booked up concerts and events and holidays and proceeded to count down to them. Now it's July, we are splat in the middle of my summer of fun. Off to Amsterdam at the weekend with my daughter and her buddy - to visit her beloved Godmother. This is all good.

The school term took its toll, we had some uncertainty at the end about my son changing schools (he hasn't), I finished my novel and endured a long month until I got the feedback from my tutors, like I was on death row. The weight of not knowing whether this creative endeavour was any good, whether the toil had been worth it sat heavy. I found out last week that I did OK; more than OK. I am delighted. They liked it, I passed the first year and I got a distinction! Hurrah, so it turns out I did a good job and I then spent a good few days wondering why other people's approval is so important to me. This in itself is an indicator of the effects of stress; why not just bloody well enjoy it?!

We went to Glastonbury - first ever time at the biggest of festivals - it was incredible! I could write an essay on the reasons why. The most fun I have had for a long time. And the nicest of people. Plus  seeing Adele and Coldplay in one weekend was awe-inspiring.

So now, we have nine weeks of school holidays (yes, nine) and a schedule of events to keep us busy. I can honestly say that I am so tired I feel like I could lie down for a week. But I don't. There's stuff to do! People to see! My sister in law from Dubai came to stay with her children so we lived in a communal harmony, two mums, four kids ranging from 15 to 2. It was a reminder of how far we've come! Lovely to have her here and it showed me that it takes a village to raise a child.

In amongst this I go through strange, almost maniacal moments of frippery; internet browsing for sandals, lusting over summer dresses. I long for the opportunity to wake to a guaranteed sunny day but alas the British summer is true to form; contrary. The nation is in a spin and I shan't write about our politics for fear of reprisal, just noting the vitriol directed at my friend Tania when she did is enough to make one's head spin. The public are testy, volatile, there's meanness that has set in like weed. This sort of thing makes me sad. People are anxious. And others are triumphant and gloating. It's a heady mix.

The thing I think about the most is my Florida and my palm trees and the snippets of plans I have to better my novel next year when I return for the second part of my Masters. The future is bright. The toils of parenting will die down and I will return to a state of equilibrium just in time for the winter to set it!

It is just me who goes in these cycles?! I doubt it...

all images via crush cul de sac

Five years's what I think now...

posted on: Monday, 20 June 2016

I was looking back over old blog posts. I have been writing here for a long, long time now; nearly seven years, so it's an interesting little jaunt down memory lane to see what I used to think about stuff. I happened across this post, written in 2010, which has had, over time, a gazillion hits (one of my most popular ever) and I thought: wouldn't it be funny to see if I still agree with myself?! For those who knew me then; have I changed?

Ageing gracefully?

Five years away, when I was the other (right?) side of forty, I thought I knew what I felt about ageing. I mean I knew in principle; I was not for surgical intervention, I was generally speaking happy with how I looked. Then, I did not face the point of comparison of having a smooth-faced teenage daughter who can rock every fashion going! I did not lament the loss of my youth. I knew I was ageing, but I see now that I did not start to age truly until I hit forty! It might have been coincidental, it might have been that I recognised the deterioration when I could associate it with an age that was, as society dictates, 'older' or 'mature'. I would say that the difference between then and now is that then, my preoccupation was with how I looked and now it is with how I feel. There is this stark awareness that the decline I have seen in my skin, my joints, how stable my weight remains, how grey my hair would be if it weren't dyed; there has been seepage in these things. I look older, I have more wrinkles and sun spots, I ache when I don't do yoga. If I wear high heels I know it the next day. But emotionally I tread a different line. I think a lot about being well and how long that lasts in later life. I think about mobility and health and being able to live life fully when I am old. I ponder whether I will wear head-to-toe beige and not mind. I suppose it's a whole deeper understanding of all of the elements. So to age gracefully - yes, but with caveats. I don't want to look boring. I don't want to look old and asexual. I want to maintain vibrancy. I figure I will do this with clothes, good hair, a healthy demeanour and a sense of humour...

Shopping as favourite?

Yes, absolutely no change here. I still love clothes (see aforementioned statement on ageing gracefully) I still shop. I always will. I will never wear head to toe beige.

Should mothers work?

Mothers should do whatever gets them through the day. I have evolved my thinking on this issue to a significant degree, I have studied what mothers do and how they feel about it and I would say that of all the themes in my book, this is one that features most persistently. I worked for years - all through the times when my children were small, through the tricky illness-ridden years when a sleepless night and a bad cold would spell disaster for my working day; no childcare! I then stopped working and did the full time mother thing and that was an equally as challenging process. Neither is perfect, both are flawed. This fact angers me sometimes, I wish it were easier for mothers, per se. I find myself saying to other mothers - usually over coffee - 'why must it be so hard?' in an exasperated tone and I think they look at me and think: 'get over yourself!'

Once the status quo of 'career mother' has been in place for let's say ten to fifteen years there are those who occupy a space in motherhood that one must earn. When I meet these mothers (and arguably I am one) I find they exude something of a sense of panic as their children grow up and leave. Sometimes they have more children, sometimes they put so much in to the curation of their existing children and their accomplishments that I note a disproportionate preoccupation. An unhealthy focus. When I experienced this I felt like I was circling the drain as the bath water spirals around; it will all drain away eventually and what you're left with is an empty bath and a scum mark round the edge! One to consider...

The medical profession?

I know a lot of doctors. Hands down they do one of the hardest jobs and they certainly don't have all the answers. The thing I wish though was that there was more trust, more encouragement to people who are unwell (and by this I mean have ailments; persistent colds, bad backs, stress and anxiety, I am not talking serious disease) to take ownership of their status. The answer is, generally speaking, not from medication or surgery. There is an overuse/abuse of antibiotics, bad backs are often postural, habitual, muscular, anxiety can come in phases and is linked to how you live, what you think, how you react to events. I see now the endless fascination I had with chronic pain and the treatment of it. I can ascertain now that the requirement was for me to change. The solution was me. It was not with the medics.

Pushy parenting?

Since I wrote my last missive on this I have seen pushy parenting take on a whole different gear. As children get older and as mothers with disproportionate interest start to sense the stakes are high, there is a ground swell of pushy parenting that frankly has taken my breath away. It's tricky. Children need pushing. But children don't need bulldozing. And most importantly I have learned that parenting can not be conditional; love can not be conditional. It's not right to make success in exams, sport selection, friendship groups conditional on parental support.

Cooking a meal from scratch?

I am a fully paid-up subscriber to this. Family meals, as I have said before, are the lynchpin of much goodness in my daily life. Good food and caring about good food is one of the self-help skills that should form part of what we all do. If you don't care what you eat, how can you expect your body to work properly? And as for ready meals? Over time and as my repertoire has extended, they don't feature any more...

Going to bed at 8.30pm?

A distant memory I am afraid. With a teenager in the house, 10pm is considered an early night. But I am ruthless about getting her to bed by that time. Something ironic: I don't think I would ever go to bed unless I knew my kids were in bed. It's a mental block.

Having the right shoes?


Making a good cheese sauce?

Less important; I guess I have deviated into different foods. I blame 'Deliciously Ella'. I think the focus of diet has changed and 'clean eating' has come to the fore. Incidentally I read a brilliant article in the Times that argued that the clean eating movement had facilitated the development of 'acceptable' eating habits that were infact not acceptable. Young women or girls who fixate on chia seeds and cashew butter or cacao nibs and spirulina may be harbouring the same tendencies as those with eating disorders but the Instagram-fuelled clean eating obsession gives a face to the behaviours and makes them cool. One to ponder. For me, clean eating has meant that I try harder to include raw stuff, we eat endless salads and kale and generally if I make a cheese sauce I feel an unwelcome modicum of guilt as it usually accompanies a stodgy macaroni cheese. What five years can do...

So what have I learned?

We all do our best. I do my best. It's not easy, but then it's not that hard either. I am always staggered by the extent to which we humans get hung up on the small stuff and think we know our own minds. Only to find that in fact the contrary is true. Go figure.

Here's to the next five years...

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