Pay it forward

Every now and again I stumble across a post on social media or a blog and I find myself relentlessly scratching an itch which may well lead to being blocked or worse, the ending of a friendship. Hopefully, this evenings’ itch won’t have gone so far but it has left me wanting to try and release the valve without hurting any feelings so here I am again, writing on my very dusty blog, trying to sort out the different threads of thought that are weaving loosely around the jelly of my once firm memory bank. Ho hum.

I love teachers and teaching assistants, playgroup volunteers and nursery staff, scouting and guiding and cadet leaders; all of those adults who are still so passionate about preparing the next generation for adulthood that they give up *extra* time and energy on top of their working hours to mark out a path of safety, strength, education and futures. I adore them all. With the restrictions and paperwork now in place it is often a thankless and penniless vocation.

Do you know what else is taken for advantage? The modern parent. Often, all of those people who take care of our children in ways almost unmeasurable, are also parents. They are people who lose time with their own children because they know how much they have already benefited from their passions. For example. I have spent all of my “spare” time this past month trying to get a Stay and Play group up an running. Unfortunately, because of my Fibro and my new meds still trying to settle, my spare time has often been squeezed into family time. Whilst my kids enjoyed a movie put on in the local community, I sat in a side room typing up safeguarding policy. Of course, knowing my own children and husband, Mr Bear sat watching the movie (and multitasking with a game on his mobile) whilst the majority of our Cubs did not. A lot of hummous and PomBear crisps were consumed. I like to mix the good with the bad. There was also birthday cake and pots of yummy olives. See? Ying Yang all the way.

This dichotomy is probably seen more often in my day to day life. I do not have enough hours or enough energy to do more than try to keep the balance as much as I can. I fail miserably far too often. I lose it and shout at my smalls. I have to nap leaving my bigs to be young carers. I forget to collect my meds to the point that I count out the pills to ensure I have enough to last me the next 24/48 hours. I say “maybe” far more often than I am happy with because I just don’t know if I will be up to taking them all to the park after school. I am constantly on technology too and this has reached breaking point this last month.

I use modern tech for as much as possible. To remember my meds, I have an app on phone that rattles away in the same way I imagine my insides to do. I make use of the Google calendar. I have a personal list, a family list, a husband list, a school list (or three) and all of the public holidays to point out how terrible I am that I didn’t remember to send Mothers/Fathers Day cards etc. I also play memory games because if I don’t use it, I may just lose it! I catch up on my friends and loved ones that I don’t see daily via social media accounts. I stumble over delicious vegan recipes to keep my Big Boy happy and exquisite brownie recipes to please us both. I get my daily news on the web. Seriously, I do. I also listen to the local talk radio that helps but I definitely don’t buy newspapers anymore. My diary often rambles into my blog these days and any letter I may have once handwritten is now neatly typed and emailed to those people who need to read my nonsense. I also find communicating with the secondary school teachers extremely convenient (hopefully for us both) and I prefer to have a “good old fashioned” paper trail (or internet bits…)

I organise our entire life via my mobile and laptop. Sometimes, I even find myself tapping away or catching up with Person X, Doctor Y, or Teacher Z at the school gates.

I know for some, this gets a few points knocked off my mummy scorecard. I’ve stopped caring, to be fair. Occasionally, 3:15 is the only time for these things to happen. To some it will look like I am not paying close enough attention to my 5 year old who has exited her classroom full of the joys of Year One and, maybe, they will see me again at 3:25, two more children in tow, still desperately getting stuff done on my phone. I’m sorry if you think that makes me a lesser mother. Actually, scrub that, I’m not sorry.

You aren’t walking in my shoes. You aren’t taking my meds. You aren’t making sure my kids are fed each and every day and you are most definitely not parenting my children.

You never knew that day when I was on the phone to my husband that our benefits were cut.

You were never told when I was speaking to CAHMs about the mental wellbeing of my older child.

You didn’t see the fridge the day I was on the phone to the Supermarket pleading with them to please try my card again so my children’s dinner would still be delivered.

You weren’t aware that my friend’s baby arrived safe and well that very day after a terrifying pregnancy.

You wouldn’t have noticed me wince as I turned my head away so my children didn’t see as my back spasmed at just the wrong moment.

You couldn’t tell that day when I had just found out the devastating news that my friend had terminal cancer.

Sometimes, it might not have been quite so life changing but you didn’t know it wasn’t when you judged me, either.

I ask my children every afternoon how well their day has been, what new fact did they learn, what did they most enjoy, what did they wish they could change. Every night, I kiss them and wish them sweet dreams. Some days, these things will happen from my bed which I haven’t been able to leave, I wonder if I still get judged as a stay at home parent when I don’t collect my own children. What do you assume I am up to when I don’t even turn up to collect them? Or, worse still, the days I can’t leave the car to walk them in.

If I had known seven years ago just how much our lives would change, I might have done things differently. Woulda, coulda, shoulda and all that.

When I see you, I wonder how you fit in the time to complete your makeup, and I am in awe of your organisational skills.

When I see you talking on your phone again at 3:15pm, I wonder if I should offer to help you with the pick up so you have an extra few minutes to talk in uninterrupted sentences.

When I see you push to the front of the queue, I wonder what you have cooking for dinner that means you’re in such a rush to get home today.

I look at our children and I am thankful that they are here, happy, healthy, educated, fed and loved. I don’t want to question your choices because I don’t want the reasons to be anything like my own. I don’t wish my medical restrictions on anyone. Nor do I want to imagine that a loved one is in pain, although please feel free to spread the joy of a new baby!

The world is so full of judgment already. We are constantly split into groups, measured by the colour of our skin or the jobs that we hold, divided by the haves and the have nots, forced into political camps that label as Lefty Liberals, Far Right Racists, Crunchy Greenies, even Recycling Rebels (but at least that’s better than the Breastapo or Feminazi. Urgh.)

Be kinder to eachother, please. Life can be so cruel all on it’s own that the idea of us biting and clawing at eachother chills me to my core. Spread the love not the fear, smile if you can, and remember that even rainstorms can bring rainbows.

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Less knee jerk and more knee presses

I used to be a huge Jamie Oliver fan, absolutely pukka bloke. He probably still is but I also think he lives in a tiny perfect bubble where he can only see the problems of others from his rose tinted balcony.

I am fat. I am morbidly obese. I don’t want to be. I know that it is going to lead to an early death and I am loathe to admit that I desperately dislike what I see in the mirror today. It sucks.

I don’t need Jamie Oliver or any other ignorant passerby to tell me that I’m fat and that I should step away from Gregg’s. Seriously, just stop already.

So, when I look at my children and how their physical appearance is being constantly judged by doctors, teachers, other parents, and passers-by I get quite defensive.

Our children eat a balanced diet with a little bit of (almost) anything in moderation. They eat chocolate, and cake, and sweets. They drink fizz, and squash, and (eebygum) alcohol. Not everyday, not even every week, sometimes just once a year. Why not? Why would I want to teach my children my poor eating habits? Because I have so little control over my own. I over eat almost to the point that I’m sick. I hide food, wrappers, boxes, cartons. I am an addict. Sugar is in everything, hidden in places we wouldn’t expect, and it’s not going anywhere.

So my chocolate fix has dropped in size and upped in price?! That won’t stop me. I could buy a bag of lovely sweet apples but I want that fix now now now.

I can’t have my children feeling the same way. I don’t want them associating sugar as the high feelings in life.

With all my poor habits, with all my work on not encouraging food to be a crutch, I might have got something wrong. Some of my children are overweight. They eat a little too much and it shows on their waists. They don’t seem to be doing the exercise they need to shift those extra spoonfuls of pasta or the extra scoop of baked beans and I think part of the problem is not enough exercise. Guess what? That lack can’t be filled by us. They walk, they cycle, they run around at parks every spare second they have. They don’t have many spare moments. They cycle to school, spend 6 hours stuck in a building (because only football is allowed to be played) before cycling home, pretending to do chores and then they sit and do hours and hours of homework pretty much all of which has to be done online. They do PE at school but I don’t think a 50 minute lesson, with 10mins for changing, is anywhere near enough exercise. I know they do plenty of steps going from class to class but it doesn’t compare to really exerting yourself doing an all round activity. They do participate in after school dance, football, netball but again. It’s only about 30 mins of blood pumping.

Children need to be taught PE in a way that gets them excited. Once you’ve shown them how and why it is important to look after themselves physically, we can put in place classes to help with their emotional, mental health.

It’s proving hard work to break 35 years of poor self worth. It’s proving equally difficult to break the cycle of poor exercise. There are only so many hours in a child’s day and having raised them with a big sparkly **education is power**, how do I push back? Where do I put my foot down and say “no”, that my child’s health comes before your PowerPoint presentation?

Olympic Goddess, Tanni Grey-Thompson, has it right. We need a multi pronged attack to address the nation’s obesity sinkhole. Stop making food the enemy (stick, stick, stick) and offer up your allies mental and physical health (carrot!). Exercise doesn’t have to be ‘boring’ but that means offering up alternatives to football, netball, and rounders. Perhaps trampolining, fencing, and rock climbing. PHSE or the preparation for adulthood of my youth doesn’t have to be all about periods and condoms but could include mindfulness and relaxation techniques.

If we want to reverse the trend of obesity we should start by looking at its causes and not by pulling the emotional sticky plaster off our knees.

Be a part of the solution

I’m feeling particularly emotionally raw right now and I don’t think that is always the best way to start a blog but I need to write so here I am.

Our eldest cub has been part of a wonderful experience. A group of 16-19 year olds are found and brought together to learn how to be better advocate for the various causes close to their hearts. If you are from South London you may have seen one campaign which swapped out White Actors for some fresh Black faces for the likes of Titanic and Harry Potter https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/mar/03/young-brixton-activists-recreate-film-posters-with-black-leads

One of the other voices being heard was from an incredibly courageous young woman who spoke about sexual misconduct and harassment at school and college. She gave a detailed account of an awful encounter where a teacher stood watching, never intervening and eventually moving on with their lesson plan without consequences for the sexual nature of the incident nor a comforting word to this young person. The story continued when she arrived home in tears feeling degraded and disgusted where she was again left unsupported as her female family members told her that it was inevitable and she should just accept that these things happen and move on.

Let me set my cards out. She was forced down on a desk and grinded upon, sexually explicit words were used. If that happened to me I would call the police. If that happened to my child I would call the police. If I was informed that it had happened in front of my child I would call the police. It is *never* okay to press your genitalia against another person and move your body in a way that simulates the act of sexual intercourse. It isn’t okay to ever *say* that it is something you would do unless part of a mutual exchange of sexual flirtation.

Why do we think it is okay for one person to invade the personal space of another? If he had slapped her, would that be ignored? If she had knee’d him in his genitalia, would that be acceptable? If she hit back after being assaulted in this way, who do you think would be held accountable for their actions?

Her story is, unfortunately, not unique. Her mother was correct when she said that it happens, however, she no longer needs to accept it as normal and she can fight back.

It isn’t her story that has upset me though. A married couple, who I respect greatly, were retold this young person’s story. Their first reactions were to NOT BELIEVE HER! I can almost understand why a 30 something cis male would be wary of this tale but I’m not so understanding of the 30 something cis female. I saw this beginning whilst at school. It doesn’t surprise me. This couple are university graduates, educators themselves, and otherwise what I would consider feminists. With the #metoo campaign, I hoped that more people could see for themselves that unacceptable behaviour happens daily, that it happens in front of our teachers, our bosses, our leaders, and is often perpetrated by these same persons, and that we have the responsibility to have faith that an 18 year old tells us the truth about her experiences. If we continue to hold these accounts at arm’s length and question the validity of likelihood then we are doing our young people, our sisters, nieces, aunts, mothers, grandmothers, bestfriends, our children, a huge disservice. If we are still doing this with our female family, colleagues, and friends, then we are also incredibly unlikely to believe the males in our lives who have also suffered at the hands of a power hungry perpetrator.

If you are still ignoring the abuses you are part of the problem. If you are part of the problem you can never be part of the solution and it is unlikely that we will ever have a resolution which sees this behaviour never going unpunished again.

Congratulations, you didn’t get ill this year…

Tonight was our termly ACE awards – Academic and Character Excellence – it is a superb event to highlight how well some of the students are doing. Overall, I support and encourage these events and I encourage the children to always try their hardest and set their lives to their own code of character. They are helpful (we’ll ignore their home chores), polite, kind and caring, considerate and a pleasure to be around.

I am privileged to be raising fantastic human beings. They trust us, as parents, to meet their needs, they rely on us to take care of them when they’re poorly and stand up for them when there is an injustice.

That’s what I am doing now. We’ve had occasions when one or two of the children have managed to stay healthy the whole term long. That’s fantastic. It’s also potluck. They had absolutely no control over their immune systems, they just happened to miss the seasonal flu and the stomach virus which took the rest of us out. It isn’t part of their character not to be ill, it’s just luck.

I remember being a fairly healthy child and missing very little school. My elder sister had nearly the whole school year off after an accident at home broke her lower leg and put her in plastercast. She got a nasty infection, there were multiple attempts at repairing and reducing damage. She had all her class work brought in to the hospital and managed to learn what was needed to see her through the school year. My younger sister was born premature and it had a knock on effect on her health. Ear infections, Mumps (despite having all our MMR jabs – it happens), chest infections, asthma. It meant many appointments and many missed days at school.

This year hasn’t been The Boy’s month. He has been constantly “under the weather” since Christmas. Most days he gets on with it. He has a bit of a temperature, his throats a bit sore, and every now and again, he’ll vomit. Our school policy is 24 hours. He has missed one day a week all this term. This is really not what I want but rules are there to protect others and I would feel utterly guilty if my Boy’s bug made another child seriously unwell. Then you have the Big Boy. Numerous appointments with various services and they all operate on a 9:30-4:30 timetable. The Big Boy can’t control when he has to have his blockers or the fact that we have to go into Central London because our GP doesn’t support the treatment. He has very limited control over his mental health and a bad dip can creep up and take hold. He can’t just pull up his socks and keep going.

Essentially, my children won’t be winning the top notch award because you have to show academic progress, character excellence and, crucially, 100% attendance. It doesn’t matter that their teachers are super proud of their achievements. It won’t count if they have the most positive points in their year group. They could rescue ducklings, feed the homeless, and be the personal assistant their teachers always wanted. As soon as they catch that bug, their chances of gaining the best possible praise award is finished.

How is that fair? Our very own Teacher’s Pet was doing really well. She had made it through 5 out of 6 of the half terms and had nothing bigger than a sniffle. One Tuesday morning, the boy sitting next to her vomited next to their desk. His parents were called to collect him. They weren’t able to get back to school any sooner than the end of the school day so he was *sent back to class*. He spent the next 4hrs sat next to one of the most wonderful students you could wish to meet. Come Thursday morning, around 3am, my poor 11 year old was green and heart broken. She knew it would mean not going into school and her hopes of the 100% attendance award was gone. Oh yes, the poorly young boy from her class? He stayed at school all week despite having spent Tuesday and Wednesday running to the toilets. He got his 100% attendance award whilst our family got tears and a nasty bug that we didn’t shift for over a month.

Why do we continue to praise attendance so highly, even higher than a person being in good health? When my child is having a panic attack, their breathing becoming difficult, their face clammy, their head pounding, and their stomach churning, what learning are they going to done in a class with 25 other wonderful children and 2 cruel and unkind children who use bullying tactics to tear down my child’s defences? Why is my child’s mental health not worth protecting?

Do I want my child to be considered for the top spot *despite* missing a day or two from school? Yes, of course I do. I want them to be able to gain first place in any race. Am I going to send my ill child to school to keep them in the race? Nope. That accolade just isn’t worth it. Maybe, if my children were struggling academically or having problems finding their feet as a growing individual, I *might* consider making sure that we keep on top of things as parents; help them learn, explore, grow spiritually, emotionally, and mentally but I can’t see myself being the parent who leaves their child at school unless I truly don’t have any other choice.

Please, teachers, take the time to praise our children, we love that you do but try to do it without putting a special shiny star on the 100% attendance thing. For my physically disabled nephew, for my gender dysphoria suffering son, for my daughter who just has to listen to a sneeze before becoming unwell, for my elder sister and her accident, and my younger sister and her premature system, for all those children who are genuinely ill and whose parents have the facility to keep them home and wrapped up. For everyone who has missed out on that 100% attendance award. Your worth will never be valued, by me, by how well your immune system fights off bugs.

Blessings

In the light of a new day, holding the newest baby in the world, you feel like you can do anything. Normally, you’re also absolutely terrified. If you’re lucky, you had a good 7 months to get used to things but even with all those weeks, the enormity of becoming a parent is overwhelming.

And I wouldn’t change a second of it.

I remember those first 24 hours with each of them. Learning the intricacies of their faces, scouring their features for familiar traits and marvelling at the miniature details. All of ours have only a had a fine layer of hair; gingerlings hiding blue cheeks, a fierce brunette with adorable dimples, dark ringlets curling over the furrowed, bruised brow of a long and lanky wriggler, the wispy strands of sandy brown on my not so little boy. When number 6 arrived it was with a quiet ease. I saw another ginger but this time there was less of the smurf about her. She had smooth pink skin and a gentle grace about her. The two smalls, both dusty brown haired and mighty gripped, looked like carbon copies born 17 months apart. The only difference in those first few hours was their eyes. One with large almond eyes, deep and dark, the type that you can sink into, the other with wide, round glass jewels and tiny lashes that fluttered with the slightest breeze.

Each birth, although surrounded with great joy, are also spattered with hot spots of searing pain. I’m lucky, so very lucky. I have eight beautiful, healthy children. They received the best possible care the NHS can provide and they are strong, wonderful souls. I don’t believe that the same was said for me. I was treated like a nuisance by some, as a science experiment by others, and as a chicken on a conveyor belt by most. Don’t get me wrong, there are some utterly superb midwives and consultants out there, it has been my honour to know them. There’s also overworked, worn out, less sympathetic members of the team and they bring down the excitement and often leave women like me feeling vulnerable and fearful for what might be.

There was always a chance that I could get depression, recurrence of my teens, a family history, a difficult birth. I should have huge flags all over my maternity notes. Nothing so simple exists. Instead I could nod and smile and fake my way through appointments. I’m not sure what I expect. If just one person had actually looked at me, they might have seen the warning signs. Too late now, too much pain, and too much water under the bridge.

Today, 3 and a half years after our last entanglement, we’re moving forward. I’m here, awake at 4:25am, a toddler stretched across the bed, a nearly 10 year old on the floor (!!) because going back to bed wasn’t on his to do list, I sent the almost 5 year old off to find her father who I’m pretty certain fell asleep on the sofa and the others are still curled up away in dreamland and even my big boy is snoring soundly instead of laughing maniacally to his fantastic friends across the pond. The house is, for once, almost quiet enough to hear the cats’ purrs.

It’s Mothering Sunday and I am blessed. I wish you all, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, a beautiful spring day spent with those we love and care for most.

Does every black dog have its day?

Today was a day of self reflection and understanding. I am now emotionally raw and yet I desperately want to get through the second day of an extremely fascinating and informative course.

It was tough growing up in a “broken” home, being separated from siblings and losing friendships and cousin-friends overnight. It tore me apart and I’m still dealing with the repercussions of it now, 27 years later. Anxiety and overeating came first, the loss of my grandfather hitting me hard causing a spiral into depression. I don’t remember ever feeling free from my emotional toil.


I first considered suicide during secondary when it felt like everyone was talking whilst I became more and more invisible. I was bouncing back and forth between my parents’ homes and I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere.

By the time I reached 15, I was numbly coasting along. Getting raped is one of the hardest and most life altering events a person can go through. For me, it probably saved my life. I decided something for myself for the first time in my life. I wanted to live. That isn’t to say that my mind suddenly quietened and all was right with the world, far from it. I began truanting from school on a regular basis and I would spend days on end sat in Crystal Palace Park reading Discworld books or drawing my emotions. I hated the winter months when I would have to stay in school or pretend to be ill. If only my mental wellbeing was as important as my physical wellbeing, someone might have made the connection. I became good at lying, good at hiding things, good at stealing small items of makeup from shops, good at being the reliable daughter who they could worry about later. I was angry with my parents, the adults who were supposed to be able to help me. We tried family therapy and 1-2-1 sessions. I couldn’t talk freely with my counsellor. I was paranoid about them spilling my secrets to my dad and frustrated by adults talking *at* me, never seeing the whole picture and how much pain I was in.


Meeting Mr Bear, falling in love at first sight, feeling safe in his presence for the first time in years, gave me no purpose and the space I needed to feel safe and secure once more. I knew I would have his children from the first moment and said so openly. Being near him calmed me and my recovery could begin.

It is never that simple though. My depression has ebbed and flowed throughout my life. It is my constant companion both an allie and an adversary, the light and the dark. It is as much a part of me as my laughter and joy, my pretence and the unadulterated love I have for my family.


I am not my depression but my depression is a huge part of what makes me me. Just like my shadow, it lives with me growing and shrinking as my life is lived. I wanted to beat it, to somehow push it away and stop it from returning but that’s impossible. You have to learn to minimise it and lighten the load so that it doesn’t continue to consume and crush and rage against you. I’m almost dependent upon it. Knowing that it is my constant companion is hard. I’m jealous of those whose depression is a footnote instead of a glossary It isn’t fair that my depression is still a raging storm whilst others are enjoying their rainbow. But I get it.


Mental Health is not created equal. I wish it were. We are all different heights, different shapes, different IQs, and different sense of humours. Why should we expect anything less of our mind? Don’t many of us now accept that the brain is a complex and mostly unknown quantity? If we know that, why do we try so desperately to pigeon hole depression and ask for a one size fits all approach? We have shoes not only in a range of sizes but also in different styles. The fact that we have so much choice in what keeps our feet comfortable, safe, and fashionable but that the many facets of our psyches are expected to conform like neat pins in a board or soldiers on parade never ceases to amaze me. We are not born equal. We know a little of why some of us have to struggle against or live with poor mental health but there is still so much more to do.


I hope that our sleuth of bears are able to access the best mental health care and that any struggles they may face can be head on. After all I have lived through, the idea that our cubs might have to go through similar sits heavy within my heart. Are they doomed to relive the cycle? Have I passed along my fragile mental health genes? Only time will tell. In the meantime I will be doing my damndest to keep my black dog on its leash and teaching my cubs how to be mindful and mentally healthy as well as physically so.

New Year, Old Musings

December was a funny old month. I spent far too much of it sat on a hospital waiting room chair, I had tests that left me in crisis where I had to leave the site or vomit all over the shiny clean floor, and meetings with Consultants who basically told me that my condition is still mostly invisible and even my new secondary condition is playing spot the inflammation. Yay.

In order to stop wallowing in my own room of pain and because it is 6 am on a Sunday morning where sleep played hookie for the night, I have decided to muse on something my big boy happened to say the other day in an off-hand, barely a thing, way.

“I was more scared of telling mum I was a vegetarian than telling her I was trans!”

Say what?? I have always felt that our parent/child relationship has been good and solid. We are open, honest, challenging, thought provoking. I never knew that one of them might have been scared to tell me something and if my outspoken, head strong, opinionated, first born can’t talk to me, what on Earth are the others holding back?

Don’t get me wrong, I know that children aren’t going to tell their parents everything and there are certain things I am not yet ready to hear, yet I didn’t realise I had ever said anything to make at least one of them wary of my reaction. And of all things, vegetarianism. That’s their hot button? Wow. How had I let this happen?


Admittedly, food is a big for me. I like my food, my belly fat rolls are a prominent reminder but I only ever discuss it in terms of eating healthily, looking at where your food comes from or how it is harvested. We even “enjoyed” watching Kill it, Cook it, Eat it on the beeb and would warn the children before giving them the option to stay up late to watch it. I’m fairly certain that it was these series that set my Big Boy on his path to being a (new) Vegan and, he suggests, probably a Raw Foodie or whatever the term will be in a couple of years. He is passionate about it to the point of becoming very upset with himself for fearing he isn’t getting his message across. I love his enthusiasm, his thirst to do what is right before what is easy. He sees a challenge and he drives himself to do his utmost in the name of his cause.


I had mentioned that I would rather he didn’t become a Vegan whilst we were still paying the shopping bill. The alternative products can really stretch things out. When I was following a popular diet for a while, moving from cow’s milk to almond milk was way outside my comfort zone but I found I quite enjoyed it and was able to eat porridge (cold with a little syrup or honey) as a breakfast meal once again. Pregnancy and hyperemesis really took its toll on my dairy intake and looked elsewhere for extra calcium yet never explored “milk” alternatives, I just did without them. However, it was an expense I couldn’t justify as my diet slowly moved back to the family norm. The cheese is another woah product. I put my Bursar hat on and tut loudly knowing that for his little block of cheese I could buy two thirds of the family block of cheddar. I have absolute joy in buying extra olives, chickpeas, lentils, and mushroom. It is fantastic to see my kitchen once again being used for the purpose of proper scratch cooking. I miss the fun of combining ingredients and enjoying new flavours, a joy which not being able to stand or sit upright for long periods has robbed me of. The eating of extra veggies, beans, pulses, and whole grains really doesn’t bother me at all. I dislike the pushy, judgemental, vindication which I have often come face to face with from Vegans. I want my children to make decisions based on the research and evidence of their own making rather than because one of their favourite YouTubers decides that the grapefruit cleanse is the best thing ever. Perhaps, somewhere along the way, that message was somehow lost. I’m really quite uncomfortable with that realisation.


If such a simple “you do you” message was lost, what else have my children decided to say or not say? If he had said “I was scared to tell dad!” that would make perfect sense. MrBear is a card carrying, bacon worshipping, veg avoiding, meat eater. The more meat the better. ALL of our friends know that if they want to thank him meat or some kind of alcohol will do the trick. If he can have it with extra hot spicy sauce then you will probably be in line for next Mrs B, should I ever shuffle off first. Seriously. The man lurves his meat smothered with chilli. I have never understood it. I openly say, in front of the children, that that is a very bizarre way to maintain ones body and taste buds. It is even more annoying because given that he gets to eat twice the adult male calorie count for the day thanks to his epic cycle commute, I’m the one who carries every excess calorie he seems to consume. To say in his presence that bacon is no longer an option is to open yourself up to all kinds of not funny jokes and “all the more for me” boasts.


Perhaps, what I was unable to convey to my wise Big Boy, is that when I ask “why?” to each of his statements, it is because I want to hear his sound and reasoned argument. Maybe I have lost the ability to ask those questions without them sounding loaded or like I have an agenda. I could live without meat. After a while, I would most likely no longer desire to add chicken to my salad or minced beef to my cottage pie. I can see myself quite happily eating in a meat free manner. Perhaps I have never actually said that to him.

I know I often speak in ideals. Our own little homestead. Chickens for fresh eggs, a goat to milk, pigs to harvest and swap with other homesteaders for some of their own produce, a polytunnel to fend off our beautiful English weather and a greenhouse to potter around in. In my dream making, it is entirely plausible that I failed to set straight my views on animal cruelty, testing on animals, forced breeding in dairy cows, dire battery cages of egg layers and the by products of these animals so widely used that the meat is now the by product. I don’t see how but I have to concede that I don’t always know the answer and I certainly have become less proficient at getting my words straight when my pain levels have begun to rise. I know that he feels genuine distress when he considers the lives of animals within the meat industry and I am completely on board with his choice to become a vegan. I’ll manage the cost, I’ll encourage new foods, I’ll search for better footwear, and I will stand beside him whilst we tell his father to stop being such a tit. He deserves my support and he has more than earned my respect. Can I say that we will never again butt heads or talk with great passion about the view from our side of the fence? Heck no! I doubt that he would actually want me to stop. The challenge I bring in to our conversations is a tool I will continue to use to better equip him for the world. His father is not the only one who will put down his life diet choice but he will probably be one of the only ones to turn around and stand up to any other tit who dares to tell our Big Boy that he is wrong in those choices. He is a daft so and so at times, my Mr, but his heart has been owned by our children since the day I sent him a text with one simple message, “Hello daddy”.


No Spend November

I’m going to say it as it is – I’m useless at saving. Everytime I attempt it, something happens and all the pennies get spent and more goes on the credit card too. It sucks to be in this cycle of never ending debt and not being able to see a way out of it. I want to start with the small things. We regularly change service providers, we aren’t Brand Snobs, and we walk or cycle whenever possible. It wouldn’t have been unusual for us to do a good walk to The OutLaws of a weekend although, sadly, my fibromyalgia means that is now a complete no-go. Having access to a fabulous car has been one of the only positives but it is amazing to have a brand new car covered for breakdowns and repairs with no hassle or concerns. It has meant we don’t have to worry about a possible vehicle problem and the expense that would incur because it is All Inclusive. A major weight lifted off us.
We do have bills to pay, a car to fuel, school trips to cover, and every week essentials that we can’t buy in advance for one reason or another. There is also every chance of an emergency and the only thing we can do about that is suck it up as usual. I can, however, do something about the kitchen which is what my No Spend is going to cover. I will have a strict list of essential buys and that’s it. I’m not going to cave to any more Christmas pressure either. I have everything I need to make it a wonderful family gathering with heartfelt, handmade gifts. If I go near Wish or eBay I know I will crack so I am taking them off my homescreen and I’m going to turn off notifications for the next month at least. If I can avoid my usual pitfalls, I truly believe I can do this (gulp).

Whenever you try to complete an exercise like this, I find it useful to make the rules that work for you, after all, no two families are the same and when you’re catering for 10 people you can be dealing with figures that others might find appalling. Hey ho, nothing I can do about how others tick, I need to focus on our kitchen for now.

So here are my basic rules;

~~Essentials covers milk, bread, eggs, ham (The Boy will eat it all if I buy in bulk), salad items, fruit

~~Essentials does not include chocolate, crisps, snack foods, lunchbox fillers, The Mr’s lunch (he buys his own Up Town to save the cycle legs)

~~List the food you have in already – pantry, cupboards, fridge & freezer

~~List the meals you can make with what you have – pasta with sausage, chicken and chips, veggie bolognese with spaghetti…

~~Try something different or one of your “once in awhile” specials (corn beef hash! – but I don’t have any corn beef in. Boo!)

~~Have Meat Free Mondays (Vegan for us with The Big Boy now opting for that choice)

~~Have Leftovers Clearout – all those one meal portions you freeze for lunches you never get around too

~~Take note of anything you really miss so you can PLAN future meals – the Ginger Teen loves pulled pork but will have to wait as we don’t have a joint in the freezer this month

 ~~Get Creative – fancy crisps? Cut and bake a tortilla, use the popcorn kernals, bake bread, bake chickpeas for a “nutty need”, soak the bag of beans that you’ve stockpiled “just in case”

~~Minimise your shopping trips –  I get easily distracted by the middle aisle of Lidl

These are not hard and fast rules but you need to control the things that might lead you astray. The Mr loves his crisps. We have some crackers but he’ll either go without or get inventive. The Mr also likes to rest with some cider, wine, or whisky. Good job we have a cupboard of alcohol that could do with finishing off ready for a fresh New Year collection. 

I also have to consider things that could potentially lead us off course. I’m going to a Baby Shower on the weekend and will need to contribute a few bits. We have a stockpile of Baby wipes thanks to Amazon Subscription so they can be passed along, I have rice and seasonings, we just had a Muscle Foods delivery so there’s chicken to use. I don’t think I need anything extra except some lemonade so I added that to our last essential’s online shop due in the morning. Sorted. I have also arranged for a trip to Primark up town. They’ve decked it out all Hogwarts themed and I’m bound to want something. I figure a set amount plus a birthday gift for Ginger Teen and The Mr. That should make things less stressful but I’m going to be drooling for sure over just about everything.

The Big Boy and Grandan have birthdays at the end of the month too. Presents are sorted. I know there are cards somewhere in the draw. I even got fancy birthday candles in Poundland so the only thing I have to consider is cakes. As eggs are essential in our household, I think I can make it work. I’ve also got a nice store of vegan friendly alternatives going with the new change and a bag of semi-sweet vegan chocolate chips so I’m sure I can knock up some kind of yummy cake-like affair for Himself. 

I’ve also got change enough to buy Poppies, a complete essential for us although a white poppy is important for me too. 

That about wraps up what I’ve worked through this far. I admit to going back and streamlining the online shop. The whole point is to use what you have in the cupboards and here I am loading up on the things we buy regularly but that I don’t know if we are actually using completely. The other household Fibro Hangup is my lack of kitchen time. I love to cook, from scratch and with enjoyment. I know we have ingredients in the cupboards that, quite frankly, scare the Whoshamaflips out of the children and The Mr. They are improving, especially with having to cater for a vegan and a pescatarian, but there is a tin of mixed beans waiting to be turned into a chilli and some sardines which could be turned into a delicious pie with the right TLC and a bit more imagination. I need to show the children how exciting a meal can be when it isn’t chicken, tomatoes and pasta. It won’t be an easy adjustment but it is a much needed one. When they tell me we have nothing in for dinner I have to laugh. My issues mean there is always something to make a meal, it just might not be to your liking on that day. Eat It or Don’t. There are no second options this month.

Wish me luck, I think I may need it!

Opposites, emotions, unique, the same

Sometimes I wonder if I am too emotional. I react with great empathy and cry at most things unashamedly. People I know and love look at me like I have 2 heads or something but I can’t help it, my heart has always ruled my head.

This year I have noticed a few things that have niggled at me but because it is my children who will have been hurt I have chosen not to react but to step back and allow the anger to subside. I can’t work out if this is the right course of action or not and, as I’m also a dweller,  chew it over and over, getting more and more upset, until eventually I have a huge cry and everything gently returns to normal. 

Some would have me believe that I am too emotional, that I shouldn’t take everything to heart, that I am weaker because I show people my vulnerability whilst they hide their emotions from the world and, often, from themselves. One person in particular is always tutting and scoffing at my perceived injustices and, quite frankly, I want to bop them on the nose! There you go, another example of my emotional brain working. I can’t help it. They make me feel stupid for living via my emotions but it is also my emotional brain that they lean on when they need my help and support. I will always help, that’s my character. I don’t want to see anyone in pain especially if I can do something about it.

I constantly second guess myself, maybe this is why people say that I am too sensitive. I consider why something was said or done, how I may have caused the outcome, how or what could be done differently to get a better result, and on and on and on. I need to mentally resolve a situation in the hopes that the upset can be avoided in the future. Resolution is extremely important to me. Perhaps having only a few events reach an end point in my young life means that now I need to get things done and finished.

Life is rarely that simple. There are many things that just have to naturally fizzle out and that should be okay. I have to knowingly allow that to happen though because I want to see the ending to know that it is done and dusted. It is quite annoying and mostly frustrating. 

The Mr is the complete opposite. He rarely allows his emotions to rule his life. I can recall only two occasions where his emotions led our family path. When holding the eldest after my emergency c-section he told me I could have as many babies as I wanted. This was a huge shift from the “woah! We might have a few but let’s have this one first.” The second time was also child related when an event happened abroad resulting in the death of a group of school children. He felt so blessed to have our family safe and well that he agreed after 18 months of “we’re done” to have another child (2- I dislike odd numbers of children). 

It was a healthy mental contemplation to get married, it made sense, it was what adults do. It was sensible to get a good, solid job in IT rather than spend a year or three studying and enjoying being able to travel and see the world. It was responsible to trade in the sporty little car for a large family vehicle. It can often be very dull. 

He doesn’t do romance, he rarely gives compliments, and he is practical whenever I suggest something spontaneous and fun. He goes along with it because he loves me and wants me to be happy and then he ends up having a fabulous time too. 

I have often looked at our relationship and been plagued by doing what is right for us and what is best for us. He will patiently listen to me mulling things over, trying to decipher what I’m getting at and why it is very important that I talk about this NOW. He tries very hard not to fall asleep during this process because he prefers to wrap himself in the duvet at night and, with my insomnia, he tends to find his portion of the duvet on my side of the bed. He brings balance to my chaotic emotional life and he, mostly, gets me well enough to see why I am upset, excited, happy, annoyed etc. 

After talking with him earlier, I found myself in a better place with less anxiety over the situations I cannot and should never control. He asks so little of me and I take a great deal from him. He is the rock that I anchor my emotions to and we are both stronger for it.

Am I too sensitive? It is possible, and yet, I don’t see it as a bad thing. If we were meant to live our lives in a practical only existence we wouldn’t have our emotions. Yes, I take things to heart but that is because I care, because I want to help and make a difference. It is okay if you see things differently, if you prefer to calculate and live on a practical level. I adore the way we are all unique, it makes us all richer, especially when you find a Yin for your Yang. 

Don’t count the rain clouds, count the rainbows

I remember being very small and very sad. Mummy and Daddy seemed very sad and very angry. When Daddy lived at someone else’s house, Mummy cried lots. She seemed lost. When my stepdad moved in everyone was very happy. I didn’t like having to share all my things or having to sleep on the fold out bed because it was closer to the door, closer to the toilet. I had lots of bad dreams and lots of wet sheets. 

Mum got very sad again when the Baby was born. We all thought she was lovely but very noisy and very smelly. When I was 9 I went to live with Dad. My sisters came too but not the Baby because she had her own Daddy. It was weird living with Dad. We didn’t see our brother everyday anymore and Mum never seemed to smile anymore. Then Grandad got sick and I wasn’t allowed to cry because it would make him feel bad. I wasn’t allowed to sit on his armchair with him anymore, we needed to be very gentle with him, just like we were with the Baby. Mum let Baby come to visit when our brother did! We showed her how to use the dollshouse and we played in the garden. Grandad died when I was 11. I would smile everyday because Grandad liked it when we smiled but I didn’t want to smile. I wanted to cry every day.

At school we were told about taking drugs, how bad they were, how even paracetamol could be very bad for you. I remember wondering how bad it must be, it couldn’t be any worse than the way I felt inside. I stopped looking in the mirror. I stopped caring about good food and ate lots of chocolate ice cream with fresh orange juice. I stopped talking to people, no one listened anyway. 

Dad had a few relationships with other single parents. They all seemed very nice and they liked that he was taking care of us girls. They just didn’t seem to like us very much. I preferred it when we were left home alone. I would stay up until 2am watching rubbish telly. I kept paracetamol on me all the time. We had one of the medicine bottles and I could hold just enough tablets inside. I liked counting them, making sure there was the same amount all the time. Dad’s new girlfriend was just like everyone else. She seemed nice enough but had no interest in us girls. She had two of her own and that was more than enough. 

I wrote a note one day. I was so sorry, I didn’t want anyone to cry, I wanted them to know that it would be better without me. My sister came home from school early and I chickened out. My Dad found the note but never mentioned it. My kind of stepsister took an overdose. She had to have her stomach pumped and drink charcoal liquid. I opened up to her, told her she could confide in me at any time. I can’t remember us ever having a conversation after that day. I didn’t mind, I didn’t want to talk to anyone either.

At 14, I moved back in with my Mum. I wanted to take my younger sister with me but she admitted that she didn’t really know our mum nor did she know her. I missed her terribly but I would see her every school day. My Dad was very angry with me. I just felt numb. He would call me names, hurtful lashing out, but I couldn’t stand being ignored anymore. 

I tried to be happier at my Mum’s. I got to talk to my brother, play with the Baby although she wasn’t that anymore! Mum would cook with me, make sure my uniform was clean every day, that I had brushed my hair. I stopped carrying the pot of pills everywhere. It wasn’t perfect but it was my home. I felt loved and wanted. I felt happy. 

At 15, I was trying to become independent, find friends closer to my new home. The first friend I made raped me. He took advantage of my caring nature and I found myself alone with a fairly drunk, slightly older guy. At any other time, I would have fancied him but actually I had a boyfriend (well, kind of, in a silly teenager way) and I wasn’t the kind of girl to mess around.

He stripped me of my innocence and violated my thoughts. I couldn’t get his face out of my mind, every face in the street was his, every squeaky male teen had me struggling not to wet myself – I didn’t always manage to prevent accidents. Going to school every day was like walking through hell for me. I couldn’t tell anyone, how could I explain it? I had put myself in a position which made me weak and vulnerable. Why had I been so stupid? 

The guilt, the shame, it stayed with me for years. The following years at school saw me skip more of it than I actually attended. Even when I got a proper boyfriend, I craved attention, I needed someone to notice how numb I was. At school I would jump around on tables, act ridiculously, sing and dance and be a fool. Then I would spend nearly every Wednesday alone, I would draw my isolation, dark sketches of my broken mind. Still it went unnoticed. My pill pot came back into use, the pills being counted out one after another. 

I resisted the urge, I swung back and forth between my parents, I lashed out, I clung to the few wonderful friends I had and I focused on staying alive. It took every part of me to stay alive. It would have been easy to opt out, to follow through on my carefully constructed plan, to stop the pain.

I didn’t, couldn’t, go through with it. I looked at my two younger sisters who I love and adore and realised that these two were happy to see me, willing to waste time with me. I had to keep going until these two were old enough to stand alone.

When I first saw Mr Bear, I instantly fell in love. I do not make light of this. I whispered to my friend standing next to me “I’m going to have his babies”. I didn’t even know his name or even if he was into women (he was and is a very metrosexual male – confident in his own skin and happy with his life). I was in awe of his ease, how he didn’t even notice that a fair few of his female cohort found him extremely likable. I was so lucky to have him know people in our small group of friends, blessed to have his bestfriend know one of my closest friends and so I got to know him well very quickly. He seemed so comfortable with life. I watched him as he went through trading cards, as he finished homework, as he ate pizza like I ate biscuits but he was satisfied and full whilst I felt empty yet fatter by the bite. 

When I was with him, my pain dissipated. In his arms, I slept for the first time in two years without a nightmare rerun. I am so safe with him. He is the love of my life.

He hasn’t cured me. I have bouts of depression, normally triggered by the most mundane things yet their consequences gain momentum in my mind and the darkness descends yet again and I question my worth, my value to society and to my family. Being a mother is everything I ever wanted and more and I wish these human beings were enough to push away the vacuum that sucks me in whenever it feels like.

Postnatal depression is the most common name they’ve used to describe me. The flooding of hormones, the waves over the body as you adjust to life without a mini being inside of you, they would once again show only the dark shadows and the place of rest looks warm and inviting once more, a place where there is no more pain, no more failure, no more guilt, just the end of everything.

My children are everything to me but the darkness is all consuming and I fight with all I have every single day to keep the waves away. Some days the fight beats me. On those days I want to hide away from the world and forget that anything else exists. That isn’t a very practical response and I most commonly find myself at a stay ‘n’ play, a fake smile playing on my lips and the words of other mothers merging into a string of convenient white noise. It is oddly comforting, to be reassured that the world is still turning, the universe still expanding. These days ebb and flow, my physical pain often leading to more frequent bouts of shadow. The longer the flare the harder I find it to climb out of the pit but I have to. I can’t give my children the early childhood we had. My mother loves me, I know that although she has never said it or shown it. I tell my cubs at every opportunity that I love them, that they are most loved and most wanted. I couldn’t be half the parent I am without the Mr’s help and support. He can be a proper irritant with his teenage strops but he steps up to the plate and he tries his hardest to be a very active and enthusiastic parent. None of us are perfect but he does an excellent job of pretending he is.

It’s strange how I have ended up suffering from two very different, very similar, invisible illnesses. Both are under explored and under funded, both leave me in pain which we try to manage using only one type of drug, one is hidden in the brain, the other in the muscles, nerves, and immune system. It is only within my relatively short, relatively recent time of diagnosis that Fibromyalgia has been recognised and reacted too. Poor mental health, especially amongst young women, has been known about since the dark ages and the use of trepanning to release demons from the cursed and yet we still do very little to treat the illness but prefer to hide it under a layer of mood suppressants and stabilisers. 

Have we come so far only to ignore the increasing recognition of poor mental health amongst society? Why do we turn our backs on friends and family when they need us the most? 

Today was Mental Health Awareness Day. I want to stand up and be counted amongst the many other people who I know and love who struggle daily to avoid the shadows, who orbit the black hole of depression each night terrified that it might be the last night it can stay in orbit, who haven’t made it but who still desperately show a glimmer of survival amidst the darkness.

Never stop reaching out. That friend desperately wants to join you for coffee in the park café, they just haven’t been able to make it out of the house yet, but she will, if you just give her the chance.

I was told a story of grey iced cupcakes with rainbow coloured cake which sparked a beautiful friendship between two extraordinary women. I wish we could all find our rainbows. One day, I hope to reach my own.