All posts by mummateddz

V is for Vanishing

I’m sorry to have been quiet for so long but it has been a long and difficult month here in the Bear Cave. I actually have 3 or 4 half finished blogs that I should finish and edit and will try to soon but for now I just want to reflect on the passing of my beautiful friend, Vicky.

We had such a hot headed relationship with many ups and downs but since she died, I keep thinking about are the times when I must have hurt her and she never deserved it. Like the time I slapped her when we were in year 9. She called me a b****, and rightly so, but in my defence she had taken my diary and showed my crush all of my embarassing teenage ramblings.  We were besties again by the end of the day and she never got the £5 she was promised for nabbing it. Ha! Then there is the hilarious start to our friendship when rival school girls join forces against the kids from schools we had never heard of. We complimented each other in many ways, she was the Ying to my teenage Yang and we were both thoroughly happy about it. I miss her so much it hurts, physically hurts. The morning of her passing, I had planned to visit with her again. Once a week, at the very least, I’d drive in tears to the St Christopher’s hospice, I’d wipe away the tears, plump my cheeks and slap on my smile. We had our “smile” in common too. We both used to hide behind a perfectly performed smile for decades whilst our insides were crying and screaming for help. For decades, we had both lived in the shadows of our depressions, we learned how to live without having people see the dark circles from restless nights and we hid our secret food consumption, although some would argue that point and our expanding waist lines would back them up.  Vic knew my deepest, darkest fears and never once did she tell of my feast and famine relationship with food. 

When I had counselling as a young person, it was Vic who I told the whole truth too. I was scared of my dad being told about how hard I felt the breakup of my parents’ marriage, how lost I felt when we were pushed from pillar to post and from one girlfriend to the next, and why I missed my kind, sensitive, generous Grandfather who provided the stable father figure I desperately clung to and who had been cruely ripped away by Leaukemia just as I hit double digits. Vicky heard all of my woes, she held my hand, and she helped me past the worst of the pain. 

I wasn’t the adventurous one of our small group. I was stable and quite happy to keep my feet on the ground where they belonged. Our friend, El, would talk of climbing mountains and flying planes. Vicky would listen with wide eyes and awe whilst I stood shaking my head with a big fat nope. It was no surprise to me that she abseiled down one of the tall buildings of London and she thoroughly loved every minute. Last year she would recall in great detail all of her many adventures in her “Not a bucket list bucket list” and we would swap names of complicated pills on our joint efforts to combat our painful bodies. 

At out last gathering of friends, she giggled over the silliness of the two children now exploring her house and laughed with delight as the smallest of them climbed on to the cat’s radiator bed and found herself in a miniture swing. We had to stop for a photoshoot before the little madam squawked and asked for help! Vic was in such high spirits but we could tell that the cancer was winning this time around. She was repeating herself and not making complete sense. We were watching her slip away from us as the brain tumours took her from us.

I spent a few hours in her company that penultimate Saturday. Her darling Mummy was on hand and also one of her newest and inner circle friends was ready and willing to chat for a while and share stories of grey iced cupcakes with brilliantly colourful cakes underneath. She told of many tea and cake catch ups and the ease in which their friendship blossomed but that was Vicky summed up. Fiercely loyal to her friends and no time sinkhole people who took more than they would ever give. When we found a moment, just Vic and I, the words fell from my lips onto sleeping ears. I wanted to tell her how much I loved her, that she meant the world to me, and that the last three years were the best of gifts from her to me. I needed her to know that we would all miss her terribly and that it would take an enormous truck to fill the gap she left in our lives. 

I said goodbye to her that day not knowing if it would be the last time I could. When I got the text from her sister letting me know that they had got the final curtain call, I dropped. Here ended the best of people. She vanished like the light from a candle in fresh summer breeze and blessed us with this most beautiful summer sun. It was no surprise when she arrived for her greatest ever party, that she did so with style and a huge splash of pink flare! I managed to sit on the chair with the best view of her. I listened with thrumming ears as her wonderful friends spoke fondly and with love, I sang through the songs as they played not caring if anyone else would mind and my Natters and I clung fast to each other. 

Afterwards we shared great stories, laughed and cried together and toasted this amazing example of what the human race has to offer. Mother Nature, God, Allah, Zeus, the little green aliens… I don’t know who exists and who doesn’t but if there is an almighty (or several) they have a very odd way of sorting the curds from the whey. The Die of Destiny has been rolled and mistakes have been made. 

Vicky was one of the good ones. She filled our lives with pink and fluffy and cats. I owe her my life, truly. She stayed with me when she had no reason to and I love her for it. 

Vicky, I miss you. If there is an after, I hope it has cats, cake, and a lovely pot of rosie lee. It needs to have deck chairs and the sound of the sea lapping on the shore, fish and chips in the paper wrapper, and cheesy love songs, lots and lots of them. You will stay with me forever and a day. Love you xxx

Peace be upon us all

I had the opportunity to have a thorough run through of the 10 commandments and how they relate to my life. I very much enjoy being able to explore my spiritual beliefs or lack there of. 

To make it clear. I would place myself somewhere between Atheist and Agnostic. I explore as much religion as I can and consider if there is a place within each that might fit me. I’m still looking.

Predominantly, I look towards the Christian faith. I grew up with a fabulous grandmother who was very firm in her Catholicism and she enjoyed scaring God into us. I can’t say she was very successful but she stayed true to her faith until the end. She was a stern and complex individual who fled her home in Ireland to offer her illegitimate son a better life. She married my grandfather and raised a total of four siblings together in the best way they could. My grandfather seemed to shun religion, he openly scoffed at Sunday Best and I don’t remember him visiting Church except for hatches, matches, and despatches. Only one of the four children seem to have a connection with religion today and her own children have found Allah. Islam has brought peace upon them and they are active, happy members of their communities. I love that my cousin seeks comfort from her maker and leads her life in a way that honours his teachings. Her quiet faith brings strength and support and, I imagine, brings its own questions and a journey to the answers. 

We grew up being brownies and beavers – both branches of organisations with God, Queen and Country at their cores. The Girl Guides, 1909, was started to respond to the specific needs of girls and young women, whilst the Scouts was started the year before. Robert Baden-Powell wanted to encourage young people to be responsible, capable, God lead individuals. I spent week after week pledging to live my life under a code of honour which I never thought twice about. I would follow my dad to the Methodist Church for Mothering Sunday and other calender events before hot footing it to the Salvation Army to take part in the tambourine performance and hear another beautiful sermon about the Lord. I admit to finding great comfort within the church walls, I learnt things that school would never teach me and was read stories of a time long ago with men and women of courage and faith. If I hear the choir sing today I can feel my heart swell and my own voice joining in. 

As an adult, it is from the communities with ties to the Church that I receive greatest support and love. My friends, religious and otherwise, welcome me into their homes and into their hearts. They stand shoulder to shoulder with my family offering them unconditional love and an overwhelming sense of being welcome – mostly. 

I spend my time between the fantastic congregation of the Salvation Army, I listen with an open heart to the words and with an open mind to their structure and then willing give more of my time with my Baptist family in the hopes that their love and guidance will sink into our family as it did with myself as a child. 

The youngest Gingerling very much thinks we are Christian. We go to church sometimes and we close our eyes when Mr A (for Awesome) tells us to open our hearts to the Lord. She’s a very astute nearly, nearly 7 year old (6 and 4/5). She has been told that good Christians go to Church and listen to what the people say. Our dear friend and Major Redhead always spoke in a way that our Little Sponge understood and would have her listen intently before asking what a word meant or by nodding with a “we do that, don’t we mummy!” by way of acknowledging the words flowing into her. 

I can see the older girls all seeking something, all listening, all questing. They, like myself, are willing to listen, to feel God in their lives. In many ways I hope they do find what they are looking for. The way of the Lord sits so well with our church family, the glow of his wisdom is beautiful to behold. If only it was so easy for us all.

Whilst talking to the Good Rev about the commandments I found it easy to answer his questions truthfully and whole heartedly. He makes it very comfortable for me and I respect him greatly for it. I fear that he could not support my son with such easy grace. His Lord made it very clear, 2000 years ago, that there is no place within his heart for my boy. And yet, if I apply the 10 commandments to my son I can see that his place in heaven would be well deserved. A kinder, more sincere and honest a human being would only be found amongst other beautiful young people. They live their lives by a code of conduct that is based upon the words spoken by our parents, grandparents, great grandparents. Do no harm. Do not lie. Do not steal. Do not cheat. Respect your elders. Protect those who cannot protect themselves. They don’t even use any Lord’s name in vain preferring the plethora of profanity in the English language or the good old almost swear “oh for pete’s sake”, “frickin’ heck” or “fiddlesticks”! 

Why is my child not welcome? I can’t ask this of the Rev just yet. I want to know but I also don’t want to hear that my child is somehow less worthy of any God’s love because his inner being has been nestled into a body that feels alien in nature. I do not know enough about Islam, Jehovah’s teachings, or other holy scriptures to know how my boy would be seen or received. All I know is that he is pure and he is good and if a god does not love him for that then he cannot be the true saviour of which I seek. 

And there in lies the conundrum. I look for a place of belonging, not just for me but for my children too. I cannot listen to a chosen mouthpiece of God and have them tell me that my child is not worthy, not welcome. My understanding of religious faith and doctrine is too limited. I have yet to find my spiritual leader, I know not if I ever will.

So many lives have been lost this past 24 hours. Some to life limiting conditions, some to old age, some to war, some to famine, some to disease, some to a violence without a name, and some because of a man who seems to have lost his way and may have uttered the name of a Lord he may or may not believe in. The loss of so many children, possibly 25,000 every single day, is not easily reconciled. I imagine God has been listening to many prayers today. I hope that many of those prayers have been answered in one way or another, that those mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, doctors, nurses, friends, emergency service personal have the comfort they seek.

Perhaps we all (okay, maybe 90%+) seek answers from a higher power when times are tough. I am open to seeking the truth, the answers, the continued questioning. My love is with you all, always. I will not stop seeing you as my family and any Lord I find will welcome you too. 

Sweeping it under the carpet

With our size family, we often have to deal with issues of self esteem. There are 3 gingerlings, some bean poles, some belly woes, a few geeklings and a couple of nerds, a bookworm and a sports enthusiast. We have been exceptionally lucky because none of these things have led to any sustained bullying or upset. The issues we have had is because of the sense of justice, the choice to follow the rules, the lack of “tell-tale” mentality at home which allows for a greater sense of needing others to do their best and the reporting of poor behaviour or rule breaking.

My children get pulled apart for doing the right thing. It is absolutely frustrating that they have to deal with back handed name calling, pinching, pushing, isolation tactics etc. and when I try to discuss the issue at school, it is *my* child who is told to ignore poor behaviour in others, to walk away from troublesome 10 year olds, to find a new place to play, to stop taking things so personally. 

This doesn’t wash with us nor does it mean that the school get to deny they have a problem with bullying. As a parent, it is my job to protect my children, to encourage a positive attitude and install a compass to help steer them clear from trouble. When I drop them off at the class door I expect the staff to put the same effort in and 10 years ago, mostly, they did. As I now approach our youngest two entering the system I can see definite flaws in how things are being handled and the way the schools mark down incidents.

At a recent meeting with one of the Heads, it was mentioned that the mother of the boy who *slapped my child around the face* was not keen on the school’s behaviour policy so although it would have been mentioned the school had not given the child any sanctions beyond asking him to say sorry. So, as an adult, I can go into the playground and smack a member of staff and all I’ll have to do is say sorry….. No. I can’t see that assault being let go quite so easily and this is what children face everyday at school.

There’s one of those urban legends about a young lad who twangs a girl’s bra strap multiple times and when he doesn’t back off the female turns around and punches him in the face. Parents are called to the school and the girl looks to be excluded for a day or three for violence when the mother, quite rightly, steps in and explains that if the young adult isn’t punished she will be forced to press charges for sexual assault. It is almost certainly a lesson based on some truth but also one that doesn’t seem to be being heard by those in a position of power and responsibility.

My beautiful niece, only 12 years old, was having trouble with the snidey kids at her secondary school. It started with giggling as she passed, whispers in the class line, notes being passed around reminding others that she wasn’t to be talked to. Her mum tried to do right by our little Smiler, explained to not let these kids get the better of her, remind her that she isn’t any of those things being talked about, to be “the better person” and walk away. That worked for a short while but when these bullies saw it wasn’t working they stepped it up a notch and eventually became physical. One day she finally had enough. Smiler had done everything she was supposed to; walk away, tell a parent, tell a teacher, tell head of year. Now she had nowhere else to go and felt that she wasn’t worth as much as these other delightful tweenagers because no one had her back at school, a place where she spends the majority of her time, where she is supposed to be as safe as, or better safer than, home. She stood up for herself and when the leader tried to trip her up, again, she told her in no uncertain terms that she needed to pack it in right now. The other girl laughed before grabbing a handful of Smiler’s hair. She defended herself brilliantly and matched her enemy pull for pull, scratch for scratch. She was put in isolation for the rest of the week and made to apologise to the other girl.

What does that teach the next generation? Do the right thing but you might get hurt in the process but stand up for yourself and you will be punished and probably more harshly than your bully..? Why are we allowing the bullys and their bullying parents to dictate how we handle these situations? Why should our children be putting up with hurtful behaviour, attitudes, and violence, the consequences of which stay with a person for a lifetime? Accidental headlocks, recommending the wearing of shorts under skirts to prevent bullies from showing your knickers to the rest of the school, ignoring others blatently breaking school rules, holding back the tears for fear you give the bully more ammunition. Our children shouldn’t have to feel scared at school, they shouldn’t have nightmares or breakdowns as you insist that they attend classes. 

I urge all parents to stand up to bullies. Speak to the teacher, the Head, explain that you will not stand by and allow your child to be subjected to poor behaviour because the school fail to see it, or worse, see it and do not appropriately handle the situation. Our children have the right to an education free from harm and harrassment, lessons that don’t involve being kicked under the table, lunchtimes free from people ruining food, and also to walk home without a group of kids following or crowding around them.

School isn’t always fun, we all know how far the government have gone to make tests the most important part of the learning process, but as adults, we have the capability and responsibility to keep our children free from physical AND mental harm. 

Apple for Teacher

Once upon a school class, I wanted to be a pediatrician. I felt a compelling sense that I needed to help people especially the young. Little by little I grew as an individual and decided that my path had led away from medicine. I could not stand to be in school and the idea that I had to spend another 10 years of life not being able to help children whilst I studied and amounted a vast debt just didn’t seem right.

The Mr and I met at college. He is the reason I absolutely believe in love at first sight. He came out of a meeting in the hall and swaggered down towards the common area and I knew with every fibre of my being that I was going to have children with him. Fourteen months later our first child was delivered by caesarean section, a more than healthy 9lb 15oz and a beautifully fuzzy ginger top. Looking at this tiny (!) human being I knew that I had found my path. I wanted to be a mother, a really good mother. 

Mothering is so much more than making sure you meet the 4 Bs. – bottle/boob, bottom, burping, bundling. Bundling is my favourite part. The mini human gets laid in a lovingly made blanket from a nanna, aunt, bestfriend, and you tuck the edges around them almost too tightly. Some like their arms tucked too whilst others have one arm out, a thumb in their mouth, and then you hold them. Just hold them. 

In the late hours, when the world seems quiet and it is just you two, that’s when the lessons are learnt. You teach your child about love, acceptance, joy and laughter, even fear. In return your child shows you compassion, independence, loyalty, faith and trust.

Oddly, that isn’t exactly what I had planned on exploring but it is a good start to where our family finds itself right now.

The youngest gingerling has just finished doing some “fun” quizzes and as a reward she will be going to the seaside. Miss Diva didn’t find them so fun. You had to sit in boring seats and you weren’t allowed to even laugh! But she got to write a really good story only she didn’t have enough time to finish it and that isn’t fair.

Year 2 SATs suck. I have always had a passionate dislike of them. They tell us nothing about what truly matters when we look at our 6 and 7 year olds. It doesn’t state their favourite colour or toy, whether they prefer Science or Art, how high they climb on the bars or how much their handwriting has improved this year. My wonderful 6 (and a half! Very important to Miss Diva) year old has spent the last 6 months learning how to pass a test. She was told how to write with a start, a middle, and an end – like those are the only options available when writing a story. She knows how to work out a word problem in maths, which is useful in the long run but not so helpful in encouraging her how to remember her times table and then how to use that to work out division. The last time she worked on a beautiful piece of artwork was Christmas and they haven’t had a music lesson since the class assembly in January. She has had afterschool booster sessions and even a couple of days of extra mini quizzes during the holidays. My beautiful prancing, dancing, singing, smiling, giggling 6 and a half year old wasn’t even alloed to laugh.

Yay. I’m sure that tells the government lots about my child.

My not so little anymore CEO is just about to start her “fun quizzes” except without the sugar coating. She knows exactly what is expected of her by her teachers and is not sleeping because of it. Her SATs prep started last school year. As soon as My Daydreamer went off on her school leavers journey the lines were laid down to start teaching the year 5 class how to “do well” in their SATs. For the whole of the last 12 months they have had it drummed into them just how important these tests are and they have worked for nothing else. I have every faith in my rule enforcer, my little teacher’s pet, my stressed and anxious nearly nearly 11 year old. She has the most awe inspiring spirit, her mind is so enquisitive, always asking questions, always fighting for the World to be a better place to grow. I know she is intelligent, probably top 10 at her school, I have no desire for her to do these exams which leave her despondent and fearful. To see the light ebb from her as her shoulders slump and her wrists need rubbing from cramp. 

The tests don’t show that though. They aren’t interested in my child’s personality, her strengths and weaknesses, they only care about how well she can decipher the maths word puzzle, how her teachers have taught her the difference between clauses, how to use adverbs correctly, the humble comma, and when to use there, their, and they’re. She must also resist the use of emoticons because they’re not appropriate. 

>.>

My no longer little but my almost fully grown red head has been stuck in his bedroom for the last two years. The once vivid green walls are now adorned with a revision timetable covered by an exam timetable, post it notes in various shapes and sizes, thought maps, English quotes, and words of hope that soon this month long stressfest will soon be over. 

The GCSEs are the ones that terrify me. The teachers have high hopes for my biggest boy. Meeting after meeting, email after email, each one telling us if he just studies a little longer, revises just a little harder, pushes himself just a little further…. He has bitten each and every fingernail, you can see the little patch of fringe where he has been tugging and twisting, he is mainlining chocolate and his light hasn’t been out before 2am in a ridiculously long length of time. 

We have spent so much of the last five years battling the anxiety and handling the stress so that he can explore his identity and then embrace his transition. My boy doesn’t need this extra burden. He would have put himself under enough pressure to do well. He desperately wants to do well, he wants to get the qualifications he needs to move forward on his career path and help children in a way I absolutely understand. He is determined to make a difference in this world and he sees the educational route as his future journey. 

His GCSEs won’t show that about him. They won’t show off his absolutely enchanting voice, his delicate style of drawing that he has no faith in, his dark sense of humour which he shares with his father, his passion for politics causing voices to shake and hands to clench. They won’t count the tears he has shed because he doesn’t think he is good enough, the notes screwed up because they need to be just so.

The numbers at the end of the day won’t matter to me, they won’t change how much I love and cherish them, I am not concerned about competing with the other mums in the playground or stealing the Best Mum award of 2017. 

My children have been, otherwise, fabulously educated and by some of the best teachers – when they leave compulsory education at 18 they will be articulate, well-rounded, informed young adults but a good chunk of it will come from us, as parents, family & friends, who have all worked just as hard as the professionals to ensure that the next generation are ready for what comes next.

They are going to be awesome adults. 

Jus’ Sayin’

😉

Enjoying the little things

I don’t have particularly fond memories of school. I stood out in Primary for being the first in my class to have divorced parents and then we had the only Stay at home single Father who was loved and adored by all the mothers and even the all female staff. When I moved to Secondary I was placed in a very small class (18 students) of exceptionally gifted and talented 11 year olds. It seems I had a natural gift for English and Maths which put targets on all of us. We were the geeks and/or nerds of the school and expected to lead the way for excellent results during the next 5 years. My saving grace was an incredible group of friends. 

We were a quirky lot, got down to work when we had to but also found the time to laugh and break the stress of the day. We all dressed in black one year to fundraise, one of us could speak passable Klingon, another hid a shed full of animals and is now a Vet Nurse. We were good for eachother and I made some life long friends who will never understand how much they meant to me at a time when I felt extraordinarily lost. 

One of the girls and I had a very up and down relationship; she was my bestfriend and also my achilles heel. She knew so many of my secrets and she occassionally slipped up and would dump me in it with one boy or another that I was head over heels in lust with and it would all end in tears. Looking back it was fairly typical teenage hiccups but, also, I thought of her as a cousin or stepsister. That’s the relationship we had. I told her all the darkness and she would try to find me some light. I put up with her catty side because I loved her dearly and it was nothing to the way my own sister treated me. Her family were, and are, awesome. Her parents are some of the coolest going and they never seemed to get fed up with my constant visits. They are truly diamonds of the South.

My bestie and I fell out around the time of our GCSEs. It was a biggun and it took me a very long time to forgive. Too long. We would find eachother over the next 14 years and have a quick catchup. I was at a different point in my life to my school friends. Happily married, a houseful of kids, chicken pox, washable nappies, and the start of my aches and pains. She was a working woman, living her life the way she wanted to and still getting through her own baggage. 

Then we hit 30 and whilst I was still making babies, she was starting a rollercoaster that she never planned on. 

She was having shoulder pains which they were struggling to indentify and eventually a bit of a push from mum about an “unrelated” issue made the doctors look a little deeper. Yeah, cancer. This woman who had lived her life in the positive had been hit with a killer blow. That’s when it stopped being about where we were in life and it came back to a group of friends who had each others backs. 

I had missed my bestie. The odd sense of humour, the dark laughter, the sage advice. I was glad to be able to reconnect even if the circumstances were less than ideal. Oh, who am I kidding? Less than ideal? They couldn’t have been worse. It shouldn’t have taken cancer to bring us back together. Any hurt that happened half our life time ago should have been well and truly buried. It was buried. I knew that we were a couple of teeny boppers just finding our feet and hurting inside because of things we had no control over. 

We laughed again, giggled inappropriately, enjoyed giant yorkshire puddings and afternoon tea. It was simple. I want anything for it to be simple again. 

Her cancer isn’t shy. Her Doctors have been doing a fabulous job at pushing it back, holding the flood gates. The multipe surgeries have helped, certainly she finally got the breast reduction which had always been a back seat “one day” – something we had a dark laugh about. We also chatted about the special one of a kind face mask they use to hold her head completely still for targetted treatment. She tells us that there are these fabulous murials on the ceiling rather than crappy hospital tiles. The staff are extraordinary too. They go above and beyond to make sure that all of their patients are as comfortable as possible. 

We often moan about waiting times, prescription costs, time hanging on the phone whilst sorting out appointments, and yet, our NHS has gone above and beyond to help my beautiful friend. It does so every single day around the UK. 

That word seems to be said so often now. Cancer. There is sound scientific reason behind it too. We have a 1 in 2 risk of being diagnosed with cancer across the course of a lifetime. That’s some seriously scary odds. The good news is that we are increasing the odds of surviving every single day so for the majority of people who get dealt the Big C card, they will beat it and go on to live happy, healthy lives. www.cancerresearchuk.org

My friend got given the rubbish hand. She has managed to hold off her ending for longer than she was first told. I am so glad she did. I found my friend again, just when I needed her. I’m so incredibly blessed. She has helped me to live again, just at a point where she can’t. Hold your loved ones close today and everyday. Don’t weigh yourself down with hate, work through it and let it go so you can enjoy the daily grind – okay, not enjoy but you have to count the days that are normal as a good thing. I do the night rounds at home, checking in on each child, removing the hard plastic dinosaur, tucking teddy back into bed to avoid an early wake up alarm to find him, turning off the cd player, and brushing the fallen locks off the faces. Today has ended well and I enjoy knowing that we made it through another day. 

I don’t know what happens next, I suspect it will be awful. I want to remember the little things like daisy chains and pizza parties, blue lemonade and bent chips. It’s the little things that matter the most, they all add up and make amazing memories. Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow. I’m glad I have the opportunity to revisit, to make anew, and find time to look back.

Love you, V xxx

All in your head

I first complained of pain when I was about 13. Every now and again I would get a killer headache or this brace like tightness across my back or my legs would go into hideous cramps that I could do very little about. My GP claimed it was growing pains, almost tutting that I was being dramatic. Before I knew it I was suffering on a more often than not basis. It made me feel awful, not being believed. I wasn’t a liar! I was known for my honesty and sense of justice but now I didn’t know how to get the help I needed. 

At this juncture my life felt impossible. My parents hated each other, we went for months between visits with Mother and my dad was left to raise 3 hormonal teens and was also a fairly selfish man who didn’t want to lose his single lifestyle. By the time I hit 14 I was near suicidal. 

My life seemed to be clouding over, forever in a dark and lonely place. I missed my mum. I can only admit that now, as a mother myself with all the hindsight that gives you. I absolutely needed a mother but my own was so caught up in the blackness of her own depression that she was completely unavailable. It would be another 20 years before a relationship could again be broached. 

All of my friends had fantastic relationships with their mums. I envied them and that hideous green tinge tainted my thoughts. I tried to talk to people but no one seemed very interested or they looked at me with pitying glances that just made me feel even smaller. Which was odd because I was actually putting on weight at an alarming rate.

I had secret stashes of paracetamol and ibuprofen. I knew how many to take to do a proper job of it and I would plan which days it would be best to finally take them, which days it would be my dad who would find me and not my little sister. I wrote a note, I didn’t hold back, I wanted him to know exactly how I felt. 

My physical pains felt like manifestations of my mental distress. Maybe it was all in my head. Could my weird, strange, alien thoughts be the reason for my aches and pains? At the time it made sense to me, it was my punishment for being such a nuisance for my dad, for being unkind to my little sister, for missing my crazy, unstable, often cruel mum. At 15, an attempt to become more social ended in a “friend” raping me. I told no one for weeks, for months. People saw that I wasn’t doing too well. The physical pain was unbelievable and yet everyday I continued in my daily activities as I pretended that everything was fine. I wasn’t fine. I was contemplating walking out into traffic or perhaps walking into the local fishing lake on one of my many late night wanderings.

I visited GPs a few times before I turned 18 and became a mother. No one asked me how I felt or considered that it was a question which should be asked of one so young. Then I was diagnosed with PostNatal Depression and that’s how it has been labelled ever since.

Nobody mentions it face to face. Some people have openly told me that depression is a sign of weakness, it’s mind over matter, that people should just get on with it and stop claiming….

Everyday, I do just that – I get on with it. I get on with the darkness swirling about my head and get on with the pain that is now my constant companion. I don’t think it is ever going to get better, not really. 

Everyday I wake with this constant thrumming pain throughout my body, it spreads into my brain and I realise that it is now a part of me. I’ve lived with my dark friend for almost my whole life and although the antidepressants I take to help combat the fibro quiten his whisperings and purrs, they never make it so I can live without him there. 
Depression isn’t a dirty word. It shouldn’t be the whispered word of quiet conversations or the hidden label worn by the woman with the fake smile. 

The pain I suffer from my condition isn’t all in my head. It is real, very real and yet I still get up everyday and fight for the right to rule my own body. It is an easier fight than the one I have been working on for the last 20 years. It hasn’t bested me yet, I’m hopeful it never will.

Picking Favourites

For quite some time now, my eldest daughter has been slinging ‘ the favourite’ card at me. This is usually connected to the future CEO – daughter no3. I can see why she says it, to a 13 year old it would seem that I am unfairly favouring a sibling who is frequently rewarded. I guess this is where carrot not stick falls short. 

Here I am, asking the kids to help with the household chores. I don’t think I’m being unduly harsh on them for asking that they pick up after themselves, make their own beds, bring their own dirty clothes down to the basket, take clean clothes upstairs again, load or unload the dishwasher, help with lunch or dinner. Please remember, they aren’t doing that all day every day. I’ll allocate 3 or 4 jobs each. Easy tasks which are all connected to themselves. The screeching from Miss Hormones, the stamping from Miss Dreamer, the pursed lips and folded arms from the youngest Gingerling, and the boys both conveniently disappear siting homework as the reason. The only child who is likely to just get on with it is Miss CEO. Occassionally we get the odd “it’s not fair!” from her, afterall, to her it feels like she is the only one doing anything (because she is) but then she gets the reward which I have stated repeatedly, is open to all helpers when they’ve finished their jobs. The reward can be *helping with the shopping!* which will often lead to a small treat of new colouring pencils or a pretty hair dye, or maybe getting to choose the movie night treats, or even just getting their hair plaited which is now quite a rarity with my fingers cramping up. Nothing is extravagent, they all get the same chance but the results are the same. It will always be the tweenie who helps, you know, the child caught between their care free childhood and the peer pressures of the teenage years. 

This stage of life is actually the easy bit but it doesn’t last for anywhere near long enough. It is the last year of primary and life seems to go through like a bagillion changes, or so Miss CEO seems to suggest. As a mother, always fostering independance whilst slowly letting out the apron strings, I’m no longer surprised that we are seeing a gluttony of depressed youngsters. The demands our children are under starts before they even start school at 4, constantly being tested, watched for errors, placed on tables relating to how well they do or don’t stick to the lines when colouring… 

I am not a keen results reader, I much prefer to sit with a teacher who knows my child and who can tell me who their friends are, what their favourite topic is and how wonderfully knowledgable they are about Minecraft, Peppa Pig or the rights and responsibilities of the LGBTQ+ community. Instead I get to go in, interrupt the teacher who has their parent’s evening chit chat memorised and say actually Mr Teacher, would you mind if we can talk about how my child feels isolated and threatened whilst in your care? I have to explain that, yes, I understand that Miss CEO has a very secure sense of The Rules, how society should behave and, unfortunately, how it actually behaves. I have to again suggest that perhaps “ignoring” the problem is making it worse and that, perhaps, if the children involved were pulled to one side and asked to follow The Rules as they are supposed to. I don’t want to know that she must be popular because she was chosen by her classmates to be class rep, it doesn’t alter how much my book worm, mathematics enthusiast, teacher’s pet has changed, how now we talk about why it is important to attend school instead of why she can’t possibly be ill because she has to go to school. Even speaking with the Head didn’t help. One particular child is a handful in class and particular hurtful to Miss CEO because his mother doesn’t agree with the School Behaviour Policy!?! (I still can’t get my head around that one.)

I am more than aware that no child is an angel, I’m not overly concerned by the fact that all 8 of my children are unique and fall across the behaviour spectrum, but I am concerned that one after another my children have felt bullied at school and it is at those moments that my tweens, as each has been when this occurs, naturally demands a little more of my attention, an extra squish before school, and a touch more responsibility and praise at home to remind them that their beautiful nature and enthralling character is worth so much more than this bully or bullies will have them believe.
So, no. I don’t have a favourite child just a favoured child at *this* time. It will soon change. The bullies will lose and my little Future Leader will regain the confidence at home to be a stroppy dot again reminding me that we are doing a good job with our kids – they fell safe and secure enough at home to push the boundaries and ignore the mess *just* long enough to not get in to real trouble. At this point I think it worthwhile to point out to my eldest two (who have both acknowledged having a nose) that I still love them just as much when they are being messy, antisocial, food demanding, adolescents. But I also really would like you to bring those messy cups and plates down, thanks muchly.

I am utterly proud of my children, it would be impossible to pick a favourite. Each child is maturing into beautiful examples of what people could be, I am enjoying seeing them grow, change, tweak their own world view map, bring new insights to our family table, and even behave in an adorable childlike way whenever we find a bridge over a stream to play Pooh Sticks or a particularly interesting looking tree to climb.

I have many favourite moments, my children feature in all of them.

Nine years and still mulling things over

I am a birth enthusiast, although if that surprises you given my tagline then this post might not be for you.

I have experienced 

  • long, drawn out, boring labour
  • super quick and super exciting birth
  • spontaneous vaginal birth
  • urgent c-section
  • midwife led, hands off 
  • hospital “by the book”
  • home “birth before arrival” 
  • induced
  • and most importantly, live & healthy babies

I am also a very lucky recipient of some of the best healthcare available, free at the point of delivery, and world leading practices and staff members. There’s no doubting in my mind, the UK nationals are incredibly blessed to live in an era where labouring women have access to the best of the best.

I have met some extraordinary Consultants, Midwives, & health care professionals. There are also a few too many rotten eggs that we could do with pushing out of the basket but that is true of all walks of life so the easiest way to deal with them is to write your concerns down and send them in for the powers that be to act upon. Okay, it isn’t perfect but it is ours and I prefer not to kick a wounded animal, thanks all the same.

Anyway, back to my musings and mullings.

The Boy was a bellyful before he arrived. He span around so many times in the last three months of pregnancy that it was hit or miss regarding our plans for a homebirth. I believe that a breech baby can be safely delivered at home with appropriately trained midwives, they would also more likely be birthed without diffculty in this situation than trying a vaginal breech delivery in hospital. I feel this is mostly down to hospitals dealing with complications of medical interference and the setting being the best place for births needing closer attention. Personal opinion, lots of reading and researching, not medical advice.

My final antenatal appointment at 41 weeks had the head back down safe and our plans back on the kitchen table, so to speak. Unfortunately I felt him spin as I played puzzles with his then toddler sister as I gently breathed through contractions. I had already sent for the Mr to come home, arranged for the elder children to be collected after school, rang for my sister to come and sit with the smalls. In the 30 minutes it took for Mr to cycle home my waters burst magnificently and to my despair, the familiar brown colour meant that homebirth dreams where finally dashed. 

The drive to the hospital, only 10 slow minutes, was hideous. Why do hospitals put speed bumps around the very long drive to maternity? And why do councils seem to put them on every side road they can? Or so it seemed at the time. I could see that he was the wrong way around with each contraction. He’s broad back streched tight under my ribcage as my lower uterus failed to find a body to push lower. It took about 40 minutes from arrival at the labour ward to arrival at the theatre doors. My treatment was overseen by some of the not so world class midwives and my obvious upset and distress was “over looked” as my operating team set up around me. From the minute we decided that a c-section was the best course of action I cried almost uncontrollably. Some tears fell silently as people bustled around me, others slid across my cheeks as my breathing became rough and heavy, and my sobs heaved, the not so tiny boy pushing against my lungs making it harder and harder to focus on the positives. 

Our only request, to see for ourselves the gender of our fifth child after what, at the time, was four beautiful girls, was at first agreed to but unfortunately forgotten as the registrar pulled first his bottom and then his legs from my abdomen. An encouraging “come on big boy” was heard as yet more waves of fear gripped at my body, now shaking uncontrollably, and a terrifying pins and needles sensation was felt in my toes. I couldn’t speak, couldn’t express how utterly broken I was as my 100% healthy, squawking, blue bundle was wrapped and taken to recovery. My only words were to Mr to go with our son, to not let him out of his sight.

The tears continued to fall, my heartbeat erratic and breathing still laboured. The equipment check saw a missing swab and a broken clamp. By this point I was all but sewed up and the tingling sensation had now reached my thighs, I can recall the anaesthetist joking with me before a rapid search of the room finds the missing articles and the final knot is formed. I had regained enough movement to shuffle myself over on to the recovery trolley, the only part of me still numb was my now deflated stomach, the empty housing for the 41 weeks it took for my son to grow. I can see how people would think I should get over myself, that others have truly horrifying experiences, that my desire for a “natural” birth experience at home was just a pipe dream, one of those things, so time to move on. But I can’t. I’ve tried so many times to move past the pain and chalk it up to experience, but the pain is still real.

This evening I found my file containing my birth notes. The tears flowed freely as I see laid out, line by line, the timescale of my labour. It notes my blood pressure and temperature, the baby’s trace and the ineffective contractions. It says very little of my distress. Even my outburst as I demanded the room be cleared and I flung the ctg straps from my belly was conviently omitted from the entries. Only a short note that the monitor was repositioned and a fresh trace performed before my transfer from the delivery suite.

Perhaps, if I had sought help sooner, the pain and distress that I still feel today would be more managable. Unfortunately the Boy wasn’t an easy baby and the postnatal depression gripped me so hard that I doubt I could have properly addressed the issues even had help been offered. 

One day I hope to be able to help mothers who feel like I did, like I do. I want to reach out to them, to hold their hand, to cry with them and laugh with them, and to find a way to live well despite the trauma. We don’t talk enough about the weird ways our brains work when pregnancy takes control of your body. We don’t talk about how difficult it can be living with guilt, with disappointment, with the discomfort of nightmares and night sweats, waking in tears or dreading falling asleep as a birth gets replayed over and over again and sucks you back into grips of depression.

Postnatal depression, post traumatic stress disorder, “baby blues” – why do we take them so lightly? Mothers like me, we are so glad to be holding our happy, healthy bundles of joy but that is a position running parallel to the mind which can’t “pull itself together”, which can’t just be happy for a positive outcome. 

Mum, don’t feel alone. What you are experiencing is all too familiar to many other mums and we will reach out to you, if you let us. I know it hurts, I know that is draining you mentally and that it is so tough right now, but we can find new ways to make it better, to make it hurt a little less, to make it managable at the very least. You are not alone.

Hormones

It seems like our household is run on those tricky parts of the human system and it is terribly difficult to navigate.

Personally, I had the implant embeded a couple of years back. I am not overly keen, I never wanted to override my bodies own balance in such a way but we hadn’t made a decision about our families future so this gave us breathing space for three long years. Between this and long term breastfeeding my periods have stopped and my empty switch seems to have disappeared as my belly has increased considerably. In fact, I lost a none too shabby 2.5 stone just before deciding on the implant and I’ve gained that and the same again since. I am now hovering around the largest I have ever been and I’m not best pleased with it. I have also been put on some serious anti-depressants to try and counter the Fibro symptoms which may have helped the gain. Sucks to be me this year. The pain is so intense right now so exercise is not an option, even a short walk around Lidl has me beat and makes the rest of the day a right off. At least I don’t have mood swings anymore.

The big girls are all flooding with the damn things! All day, every day, one after the other we will work through an emotional outburst. Generally, it is easily dealt with, nothing outrageous or unmanageable but they seem to be a catalyst for the next big bang. I know the theory of all this but I never imagined just what a minefield it is. Suddenly a simple clothing suggestion becomes an on switch for a plethora of self doubt and accussations of sabotague. I swear, one day my head is going to spin so fast that it will fly off like a spinning top. There is no way to keep up with three teens who are all competing with themselves, each other and the social media peer group which I would quite like to take a massive delete button to. The messages coming from the images, memes, and quick quotes on Snap This and Insta That are a ginormous boiling pot of misery masked as sympathy and “advice”. We are the lucky family that are tech savvy and switched off enough to talk to each other and work through some of the damage these social groups can cause. When I hear tales of their real life school peers, the time they spend interacting with trolls and frenemies, the backlash they experience for wearing the wrong brand or not being quite “on point” with the latest eyebrow shape, I shudder and allow an audible profanity to escape whilst describing these faceless internet users. The boys are no more protected from this mockery and hate filled onslaught, they are just more likely to internalise the self loathing this invisible bully causes. No wonder that depression, anxiety, self harm, & low self esteem are hitting terrific highs in recent studies. The lack of personal, non-study based classes in the UK has to take a hit on this too. If we do not take the time to educate our young people about the positive role they can and will play in society, the impact their future job or position could help to raise the sense of self worth, and just the ability to decipher the hideous circus that the World Wide Web can so often be.

Our Big Lad has his own horomonal battle to fight. If it isn’t bad enough that his body is producing an abundance of the “wrong” hormone for his personal body preference, he also has to take a different hormone based prescription to help counter balance this cruel reminder that somehow, somewhere, something went a bit skew whiff. He has been considering blockers for a good long while now and it is the likely route he takes on his path to finally taking testosterone. This has it’s own complicated set of checks and balances, as well as a huge list of unknowns for this relatively new regime.

As a mother I’m finding this all a great deal to take in. For a 16 year old taking GCSEs (or whatever the damn certificates will end up saying) this must be a consideration which takes up more time than you’d prefer to allow as you chart out a revision timetable and pencil in study groups and classes running before and after school. I wish that I could make this process easier, to take away some of the stress and strain but it isn’t in my power. I get to sit back and offer a listening ear and the taxi service to various appointments, classes, and youth groups. 

To think, all those years ago when we first planned a large family, I never really gave much thought to how challenging this part of parenthood could prove to be. Now I’m living it I can confirm that it is as tough as all those commentaters have joked over the years but I can also confidently say, even with the teenagers, and the Threenanger, and the Queen Bee baby of the bunch, the Smiler, and the Boy – I would do this all over again. 

Despite the drama, the mayhem, and the sheer overwhelming need for reassurance that hormones seem to elicit, my young people are coping in a way I can only dream of. The sheer awe that I feel when I see each of them find their path through the hurdles and the set backs is almost beyond words. Our eight wonderful, individual, unique, and outstanding examples of the beauty that dna can create far outweighs this mass hormone onslaught. This is what gets me through, that and knowing that one day they may well experience a little of this rollercoaster with their own dna experiments. 

Mothering the hard way

I was fairly young when I became a mother. I had turned 18 about six weeks previously and had just taken the keys to my first home. 

I can tell you that from a very young age, all I could think about was jobs that helped people and being a mummy. I played with dolls for a lot longer than I would admit to my peers, I recall quite clearly wanting to breastfeed too which seemed quite alien having never actually known anyone to feed in this way. I loved the idea of cloth nappies and baby clothes hanging on the line to dry, trips to feed the ducks and hiding behind my fingers as I listen to a little voice saying “watch me, mummy!”

Nobody warned me about the sleepless nights – well they did but I thought it meant the occassional night because of teething or a bit of earache. Why did no one tell me that some babies just don’t sleep? Seriously. I’m pretty certain that The Boy got by on these 20 second cat naps for a solid three years. I am not exageragerating. There was only one night when he slept for very long whilst my breast was out of reach and I used it to escape. My depression was at the point where I just kissed him goodbye, nudged the Mr to look after him and I fled. 

It was gone midnight, I parked at the top of a hill which meant I had a clear view of our local area and I cried until I ran dry. It was also across the road from my younger sister and my heart leapt when I saw her light go on at near 2am. She welcomed me in, gave me tea, listened to my rantings and bemusedly told me that there was nothing she could do, I had to seek out help for myself. I wanted to cut her tongue out and feed it back to her. She was, of course, quite right. No one could help me but myself. I arrived home to the familiar sound of my tiny son’s wail and knew I was back where I belonged. Still wanted to kick my little sister under the table for being a know it all.

Also, dithering. I never dithered before children. I wanted to achieve something so I did and if I didn’t I just tried again. Or not. It wasn’t a big deal. When you’re a mother every decision counts. It starts before they are born with finding out the gender, writing a Birthing Plan, choosing pain medication, to give Vitamin K or not, to swaddle or wrap, to bottle or boob, choosing a name, a cot, a nappy brand….. When you reach the stage where you are choosing their educators you freeze all over again. You ask yourself why it took so long to settle on the Supermarket label over Big Brand Names when *this* choice is the one that really matters. I cheated. I couldn’t work out what I wanted from a school so I just let the council decide for me by submitting the forms late. This is not a recommendation. We were thankfully offered a place at the first choice school about 2 weeks after the Firstborn started which was handy because so far I really didn’t like the second place school we were given.

I thought I would do things differently when time came for secondary choices but it was no easier and I darn sight harder. Five years later, at the end of secondary school life, I’m still unclear on if we made the right decision but I think it’d been mostly okay. Best of a poor bunch possibly.

And that’s just the important stuff. Accepting the vegetarian declaration followed by another child being a pescatarian was a bit of a nail biter. Allowing Tellitubbies back into my life? I wish I had the choice to say no! I swear, the smalls know how to navigate our tellevision setup better than I do. That’s the other big small issue. Tech time. The (nearly) seven year old comes home with Internet based homework. With each year they spend in school the tech time needed continues to climb. I can’t even say much because, well, the Mr is Mr IT. He spends all day fiddling and fixing technology so it seems only wise that schools are cluing in to this situation and making students tech savvy but that ultimately means that the children have more screeen time each day than they do PE or playtime. 

Everyday I’m winging it. I have no guru waiting with sage advice, there is no one size fits all “idiots guide” and the only advantage I have over most others is that we have enough children to keep experimenting and trying to get it right.

I don’t think I’m doing too badly either. The strength of their characters is plain for all to see, the spirit with which they each grab life keeps me on my toes and astonishes me daily, their warm, kind, giving, generous hearts is often mentioned by those around us and we both consider ourselves blessed to end each day with our children having taught us more about the world, the human race, ourselves, than when we awoke. 

I find children to be so utterly enthralling. Yes, of course I have days when I am just glad that *my* bedtime has finally arrived but I would never choose a do over. I’m ready to start a new day and see how many lost shoes there are, how many chocolate krispy cakes survived the night, and how just one night will have altered at least one of us just enough to say that our family has grown in one way or another. 

There may well be 10 in our bed but not for all the riches in the world would I change it. I am already the richest of mothers and though it may be very hard at times, I’m loving every minute of it.