Tag Archives: family

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.

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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”.


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.

Nice people have nice thoughts

I’m fat. I get it. I look at myself every single day. I don’t need you to tell me. More importantly, your kids don’t need to tell my kids. They know I’m fat too.

This morning, whilst driving to school in more pain than is good, my little fiery Redhead told me that her friend had called me “oomph”. I explained that as her wonderful aunt was also “oomph”, I was obviously in good company. Miss Redhead then explained “yes, but you’re still more oomph”.

That’s what you call a kick to the gut. 

This evening, my wonderful Unicorn obsessed daughter explained that she is writing a poem inspired by “Truth”. She has to write about a secret those at school won’t know. She has chosen to write about me and my Fibromyalgia. She has chosen to write about being bullied because her mum was so fat she needed a minibus instead of a normal size car.

A kick to the guts and ice cold shot to the heart.

My baby was bullied because *I* am fat. Nothing she could do would stop those children from finding me a funny one liner to hurt her with. Kids are cruel. That doesn’t just happen. Normally it is a sign that an adult they spend time with speaks with such prejudices and insults that it becomes a normal way to talk to others. I want to be angry at these little snot noses but I can’t. I feel sorry for them. To be 9/10/11 years old and already be aware of language that you know will cause mental anguish is such an unfortunate roll of the dice.

I have tried to raise our family in a way that allows them to see others in a positive way. Isn’t it brilliant that they also have a large family. How cool is it that she has Minion glasses. Perhaps we could give our old clothes to the charity shop so other families like ours can get good stuff for cheap. They give pocket money to all the charity pots they see, they offer help to anyone who needs it, they look after the local green areas, and they stand up against bullies, casual racism, slurs against a person’s shape and size or mental capacity. These kids don’t kill spiders even though they give some of them the curly whurlies. With all the good that they are, it is that very kindness and compassion to others which leaves them vulnerable to attack from kids who haven’t been taught that it is never okay to make fun of another person who is just trying to live their life.

I get it. I’m fat. I’ve always been the biggest of my siblings and I have spent my whole life learning the ever new and imaginative insults to the fat girl. Guess what? You insulting me isn’t going to make me magically drop half my body weight. I spent so much of my teen years hiding from mean girls; what insult would they use today? Are they going to aim for my weight, my second hand clothes, my intelligence, my big feet, my body odour? Maybe today would be a wonderful mixture of all of the above. I never once found their insults the key to change. Instead, I would hide inside myself, gobbling as many chocolate bars as I could afford and wiping snot on my unironed shirt, picking at threads on my washed grey black skirt and bashing the heel of my ugly clown shoes on the floor over and over. Trust me, I didn’t go running through the park home to fix up a tasty salad. 

A few years ago, I decided to improve my health. I walked for miles and miles, even completed a Race for Life 10k fun walk. I made sure I ate three meals a day, including loads of lovely veggie goodness and drinking at least 2 litres a day. I had pain but I was managing it well. I finally, for the first time ever, felt in control of my destiny. I lost 3 stone and maintained the weight loss through pregnancy to be my lightest since baby number 2, over 11 years before. Then the fibro took an evil twist.

I had a contraceptive implant, started 4 different regular medications as well as daily painkillers. I have a long list of terms to describe my condition and none of them pretty. I’m depressed, sleep deprived, in pain, and uncomfortable. Seriously, I know I’m fat. I am trying to get a hold of my physical health, to work on my mental health, to get back my fitness. My insecurities are not going to disappear with your “you certainly like your food” comments or the “now you reach for the diet drink” said under your breath and probably never meant to be heard. You can’t taunt me skinny anymore than you can tell an anorexia sufferer that they “look fine, definitely not fat”. 

Please don’t tell me what works for you or tell me what to try. If I want your help I really will ask for it, like I have done with my close friends and family. When the time is right, I will be able to get off meds that seem very much connected with weight gain, my already fairly good diet will realign itself and I will stop squirrelling chocolate bars in my bedroom, until then, try not to openly say thoughtless things in front of your children and try teaching them that we are all unique and all the more wonderful for it. Talk to your children about why we are all different and how when we assume something of a person, we may be doing them a disservice.

My disability is invisible but it’s symptoms are not. I’m fat. I live with it every day. I will one day fix it. Perhaps, one day, you’ll learn to be a bit nicer to the fat girl at school, to the short man at the shop, the kid at the park who can’t help being clumsy, or the person in the town centre who you can’t work out if they are male or female, as if their gender should ever be any of your business.

I’m fat. I’m disabled. I’m a human being. I’m also kind, considerate, and polite to strangers. I’m a daughter, sister, wife, mother, friend, and a member of the human race. 

There’s a politician who seems to be very happy to use his platform as a member of parliament to share his very conservative points of views. One of his latest comments was about the compassionate and uplifting view British foodbanks gave. Mr Rees-Mogg’s opinion

I can see merit in what he says. Foodbanks are non-profit, donation based enterprises. The fact that the British people continue to pop some beans or a box of teabags into the food bin after a shop when their budget is stretched to it’s thinnest is incredibly heartwarming. Every penny counts and still we try to make sure those who don’t have a slice of bread or the bashed up can of beans that stays on the shelf for it’s entire 4 year shelf life, get given food to see them through the next few days.

That doesn’t mean that it’s okay that Mr Rees Mogg says what he does. He is part of a government which seems to be hell bent on pulling the rug out from under the feet of the nation, a government who year after year reduces the real term money in the budget of nearly every family within the UK. It will never be okay that he talks about how inspiring the great British public is whilst he sits in parliament and almost consistently votes for the poor to get poorer and the rich to get richer. Voting history of Mr Rees-Mogg

I hold my hands up. The Mr works extremely hard but with my disability we are increasingly reliant upon the benefits system. This isn’t ideal. It was never meant to be this way and every time we make headway something happens to kick us back down. We have never been at the point of need so bad that we have visited a food bank, and it is largely thanks to family and wonderful friends that this is the case. Our budget is able to stretch further having to not buy a whole new wardrobe as a child grows, because of the generosity of pre-loved sofas and kitchen tables, because our friends are in similar positions themselves and we have all recognised that it is through the generosity of friends, family, and even strangers, that our world keeps turning.

With every passing bedtime I breathe a sigh of relief. We made it through another day and no one went to bed hungry, they might even have managed to have dessert too. I’ll ignore the hole in my shoes, the lack of a coat that fits, I’ll cut my hair myself again and continue to cut the rest of the families too. I don’t even mind that this is the state of our life. We feel blessed everyday to be able to love our beautiful children and our ever growing circle of nieces and nephews. We are healthy(ish) and (mostly) happy but of course there are ways we could be happier.

We could reduce our significant debts for example. We are trying to count every penny and be held accountable for our “luxury” purchases like new stacker shelves for the understairs pantry and a hot chocolate on the go. Having so many appointments at hospitals means I do spend whilst out and about and I should get better organised but I’m also tight so settle for hospital hot drinks or a Maccy Ds hot chocolate with the hope of saving enough stickers to get my free drink! No fancy Costa drinks with marshmallows for me any time soon.

The Mr is trying too. He’ll buy a pile of microwave dinners and a bunch of bananas for the week – cycling backpacks aren’t very useful for taking in a homemade lunch – and he is quite adept at spotting special offers on crisps which makes him a fairly happy chappy.

I know we aren’t alone in a budgeting stresses and I recognise that there are families out there who think we are extremely fortunate and, I guess, in lots of ways we are. Mr Rees Mogg might not have any clue about the majority of people and how we live. I’d happily show him how it works for our family but I doubt he’ll be slumming it in South London any time soon. The frustration will continue and the families struggling now will also be on this treadmill in a year, five years, ten years time. It is the fallout from austerity and the penny pinching from the poorest whilst shoving the pounds towards those at the top. We live in a democracy but so many don’t know how or just won’t vote and it is so frustrating. The people have decided that this government is fit to serve the people but it only has those that already have in their sights. The have-nots will continue to pinch every penny they see, just like us, and our Prime Minister and her cronies will fill each others’ bank accounts ready to see out their days never needing handouts or suffering from NHS funding cuts and the continuing fall in student nurses and teachers because you can earn more on the till of your local supermarket than ensuring the educational and health needs of the next generation. 

How did we end up in this mess? And is there any way we can get through the next decade without watching our children going to school filthy and hungry? I am fairly certain Mr Jacob Rees Mogg doesn’t have a plan for the foodbank users of the 21st Century.  

Past, present, future

There is a great movement on twitter at the moment from @mamas_scrapbook called #mymindfulseptember.

As much as I’m not going to participate because I’m completely forgetful and I’ll beat myself up for not finishing, I do very much approve of the idea.

I spend all day, everyday attending the needs of my family. One day it’s about doing far more driving around than is good for me but seeing your eldest off for their first grown up residential is worth a day of feeling exhausted but it could also be about back to school shopping, concentrating on helping our Chatterbox practice her SaLT words, or being the first person on your nephew’s calling list when, at 19, he discovers a disaster waiting to happen in his first ever flat. I always try my hardest to be there for them all if they need me, I consider it my job!

I also have to accept that I am only human. My childhood wasn’t easy, at times it was downright awful, and I still feel the effects to this day as a recent photograph search made all too clear. 

There is a photo of my parents and my maternal family on their wedding day. As with us all, too many have passed away now and stories have been lost that may have shed light on my Irish heritage.

I loved and feared my grandmother. I was not her favourite and I was very good at pointing out the injustice my four year old felt as my little sister was snuggled on her lap and I was sent back to bed. Oh woe is me!

There is a photo of my paternal grandparents with my older brother and sister. This was my favourite Grandad. He taught me how to knot a tie “properly” and how to take it off without needing to redo it the next day. He grew tomatoes, strawberries, and beans in his garden. He made sure we had mega family holidays to remember him by when he was diagnosed with Leukemia. I miss him greatly. I miss them all. I wish they all had the opportunity to call themselves Great Grandparents because they certainly were.

I often remark to my Mr that we come from opposite ends of what makes a family. His family consists of his brother, his parents, and his grandparents and their siblings. He has no cousins, their holidays were small, calm affairs but full of love and support. He lost his grandfathers as a small child but was blessed to have his grandmothers until his late teens. I loved getting to meet them both and it gave me great joy to see his Grandma hold our first born. Her battle for cancer was swift but she had 6 wonderful months getting to see the baby as often as she could. I miss listening to her stories. She reminded me of my Nanny F and it is a shame they never got to meet.

When I watch my own family grow, when I admit to myself that before too long I will be a great aunt and, hopefully, a nanny too, I want to use the wonderful memories of my own families to create memories worth keeping.

Life is too short for some. I don’t want to spend my time worrying about what went wrong, holding on to a grudge I only half remember. 

I tell my children as often as I can how I love them. If they know that, if they truly feel my love the way I remember the love from my grandparents then I think I’m doing an ok job. 

So now I want to spend time taking photos, to continue to help with the needs of each, to treasure the laughter and wipe away the tears and to enjoy the last days of a beautiful golden Summer.

Shall I compare thee…to your siblings?

Everything I know about parenting I learnt by being a parent. I do have younger sisters but we are close enough in age that we didn’t take on any significant “parenting” in the true sense although my little sister (not my baby one!) and I are only 18 months apart and we have had to keep each other safe over the years, stepping in when, for whatever reason, our own parents couldn’t or wouldn’t. We’ve had each others’ back and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
You’d think that would make us very similar but we actually more like our opposites. We know how to push each other’s buttons but equally, we complement and counterbalance each other which allows us to be very different and yet both very positive and, hopefully, good mothers.

Now I know all this. I can see how siblings don’t necessarily follow each other, how we all learn, interact, play up, in our own unique ways. So why do I continue to compare my own children? There are 8 of them, of course they’re all going to plough their own paths, it would be madness to think otherwise. I think I must be mad.

I find myself constantly doing it; did The Boy walk this early? Did The Prefect ever miss a joke this badly? Are the smalls even cheekier than the bigs ever were? Oddly, the only time I didn’t was the one time that it may have been most beneficial. 

When The Newstarter was about 18 months, I realised that her speech was a little less recognisable than I recalled the older children being. I then reminded myself that each was unique and that I shouldn’t judge based on my experience with the bigger ones. By the time we got to 30 months, with the babbles of The Baby coming along, it was clear that her speech was definitely being stubborn. She could say plenty, I could get what I needed out of her to make our day easier but I began to take note of the words she could and couldn’t say. 

When she started nursery, the first thing I did was raise my concerns with her new teacher. She took some time to settle her in and make an evaluation. Miss Teacher seemed to think she had quite a severe need for a SaLT referral and made noises that suggested that there may be some learning delay. 

I’m mum, I might not have rushed to the GP with concerns but I have done this a couple of times. At home, she would tell me the colours, some simple counting, she had a fantastic group of little friends who would play some crazy games and she got herself understood as well as knowing exactly what others were saying to her, she sang nursery rhymes and could puzzle away like she had the answer sheet! If anything (mummy bias & sibling comparisons) she is actually a faster learner than some of her older siblings. I am in no way worried about her progress.

Back to nursery. We took the school’s advice and went to a play & stay specifically aimed at children with SaLT needs. We arrived and were invited to play. The girls gravitated straight to the play kitchen where they made us cups of tea, cake with vegetables, and even did some ironing – that’s quite scary because only Mr Dad irons and it normally occurs when the smalls are fast asleep. I have no clue where they picked up such great ironing skills!

I spoke to an assistant therapist, we discussed a few things, bit more play, a sing song and a brief overview. In its simplest meaning; she’s doing fine, stick with what you’re doing, ask the school to continue as they are, come back if you need anything else.

It was a little frustrating. The therapist agreed that there was definitely an issue with her speech but, unfortunately, there just aren’t enough funds to justify further support at this stage beyond what we were already receiving via the nursery staff having the training to help the two children at the nursery in need of support. Mostly, I’m okay with that. 

Don’t get me wrong, if they offer us further support moving forward, that is amazing and an opportunity we would welcome but at the grand age of 4, we’re okay. She’ll meet with her new teacher soon, we’ll go through all the questions, hear the “oh gosh!” when they understand that she is 7th of 8 children, and we will eventually get to the part of her story where we discuss any additional needs she may have. It’s at this stage where I will explain her “school passport” which has a detailed account of last years progress. I’ll tell her of our wonderful holidays where we tried to engage The Newbie in conversation wherever we could, my eyes will glisten when I recall how much she impressed us with her talk of the “blue humped big whale” or how well she is doing going from her short, easy to say name, to her long, tougher to say all the syllables full name. We’ll work on a care plan, The Newbie will smash it out of the park and we will sail through Reception with as much ease as any of her siblings (see, I did it again!)

Next month marks another milestone in my life. Another small person starting school and I’m left at home with just The Baby who seems less baby like with every passing day. She’s a huge part of us identifying The Newbies speech patterns, mainly because she never stops talking! I will have a whole year getting this little jumping bean up to speed ready for nursery but I don’t think it will take more than the first term of school, she has all the makings of being just as sponge like as her biggest siblings! Oh darn it, I just can’t help myself.

So on the last note for today’s ramblings, The Big Boy did himself proud. A couple of A*s, a B, and a lot of As. I keep telling him he can be whoever he wants to be. These results are going to make it so much easier for him. He has poured all of himself into his GCSEs and now he can “relax” as he starts his A levels. He thought he’d kick it off by joining an elite group of teenagers all trying to discover how best they can support their communities and being Advocates for those who have been or will be victims of bullying or discrimination because they dare to stand out from the crowd. 
It is my honour to be his mum. It is my honour to be a mother to each and every one of them. Any burden I carry easily, safe in the knowledge that my little people will always fight for themselves and for those who need help. They are all utterly beautiful inside and out.

The Hormonal House

As you may imagine, our house is often the place to find hormonal outbursts. The four bigs are all of an age where you can very easily say the wrong thing and find yourself on the receiving end of a mouthful of upset. It isn’t fun and it isn’t pretty. With hindsight, it was The Boy’s extreme reaction to teenage hormones that was the precursor to his looking for answers and working out that he was trapped in the wrong body. 

We went through a hellish two years when periods arrived that I’m very glad not to have gone through again just yet. We spoke to a GP who claimed that it would take a few years to settle down and she wasn’t prepared to offer anything to help until then. We were a year in and stuck in a 3 weeks on/ 5 days off cycle. Blood tests confirmed anemia and we added iron tablets to the multivitamin morning regime. I should point out that this mirrored my own journey through the menstrual maze; the cramps, the heavy flow, the feeling that I was always restricted by the blood. At first, we felt that this contributed to the negative cycle he seemed to be caught in, and in many ways it did, just not in the way we thought. The joke many women scoff at about men coping (or rather not) with periods and giving birth seemed to be the case. My child confided in me that he was a boy and suddenly the extreme reaction to starting a period *again* made sense. Periods – the thing that only little girls have to get used to and my son had to cope more often than most. The hormonal outrage that we had been struggling with was a constant reminder for him that he was being punished by his female shell and my little teen was lost in the emotions of it all.

One of the first things we discussed at Tavistock was the need to control periods. He was desperately trying to embrace his male self when he was woken in the night by cramps and the need for a bath. Amazingly, they offered an easy solution straight away. I had explained to him that I wasn’t aware of a pill that stopped the period completely and we were both a bit frustrated. The psychologist explained that they often use Nerothisterone, a progesterone only tablet commonly used by many to delay a period for a few days but that, when taken delay, can delay menstruation for a considerable time. This tiny little pill was a game changer. He started taking it a few days later and has been relatively happy with it ever since. Every few months he has to stop taking it and have a breakthrough bleed. This week isn’t very pretty. 

So, moving forward. We have finally had the recommendation to be moved on to blockers and his relief is palpable. He will spend the next 6 months to a year exploring life with all his birth hormones blocked, a journey to hopefully get him closer to testosterone – what he’s wanted all along. By this time next year he will be well on his way to the Adult Team where the truly complicated stuff happens.

In preparation for the next year we have been advised to talk to a fertility specialist to talk about long term options. Unfortunately, we don’t have much information about the risks of long term testosterone use on ferility. Although we have had transgender persons for quite some time now, the use of testosterone in young men who are still considering the changing path of transition and their ability to have, or not, there own biological children is still a very new concept and mostly unknown. Lets be honest about this, the ferilisation of an egg for someone for has never taken T is a miracle in itself so we can only give a best guess for what the chances are. That sounds a bit doom and gloom so let me pair it with the following.

There have been quite a few stories of transgender families having biological children this past year. UK ftm Dad had his daughter earlier this year and this lovely couple shared their joy at their son’s birth just this month. These are very encouraging stories and will give many trans teens hope for the future. Whether or not it gives hope to my Boy, I’m not sure. So many conversations over the past three years; adoption, fertility clinics, turkey basters, online sperm donations, helping family or having family help out…. I can’t imagine him making a firm decision within a year and yet he has made decisions this past year which I couldn’t believe possible from my baby, but I guess he’s not my baby anymore, not whilst we move through these hoops and jumps on his path to transitioning into a grown man.

He is far braver and far wiser than I could ever be. His level head, the way he considers others whilst making decisions (mostly), his flourishing independance and even knowing when he still needs his mum. I’m so proud of him and right now, with the three biggest all arguing in front of me, I say that with ease. 

We still have the hormonal rages from the Bigs. Not really emjoying this part of the parenting rollercoaster but in for a penny, in for a pound 😉