Monday, 3 August 2015

Now You Are Six

I almost have to pinch myself - time has gone so very fast. Babyhood and toddlerdom seem a world away now. I look back of photos of you when you were two or three, and it is increasingly hard to animate them, to remember the way you were. I wish they were videos; that I’d captured more of the early you in moving three dimension, the odd ten second snippets I have, snatched here and there, you are more real than in any photo.  Even the first day of school, nearly two years ago, is now a distant memory - you have lost your baby face completely; you are now long, lean and angular.

At age six, you are a daredevil and tree climber extraordinaire. On the last day of term I witnessed (too late) you standing at the very top of a climbing frame in the park; reaching for the forked branches of a tree, only to then swing down to the ground, zip wire style - creating one bloody knee in the process. You love outdoor life; climbing, exploring and foraging.  Nothing makes you happier than a long walk in the woods, trying to hunt out grass snakes, or a camping trip sleeping out in the wild. You are an outdoor boy at heart. There have been many times this year when I have wondered if bringing you up in London is the best thing for you, I know that you would love to live in the countryside, to have less boundaries, run wild and free.

You are obsessed with animals. Particularly reptiles. You watch countless documentaries on the ipad about snakes and crocodiles and you love nothing more than playing Top Trumps version of ‘The world’s most deadly predators‘ or reading ‘SuperBeasts’ in bed.  This year, you started a worm farm and a butterfly garden; they both intrigued you in equal measure.  Creepy crawlies hold no fear for you; a giant bug or stick insect - you’re the first in line to want to hold it.

Crafting and creative projects are still your favourite thing to do inside the home. You like to visit Paperchase with me and we bond over felt tips, highlighters and stationary. You encourage me to make frivolous purchase of things we don’t need, and we both come away with the happy glow that new stationary purchases bring.  Recently you have got us all colouring. A family effort, on the extending pages of your amazing colouring book. Your Dad and I love sitting and chatting with you as we all colour together. You are very family focused, you talk a lot about ‘My family’, it’s at the core of you, already a key part of your value system. I hope it stays with you.

You are a popular boy at school. You make new friends easily, but are loyal to the ones your already have.  Your imagination is still as vivid as it ever was, and you will happily ignore a football in favour of playing an imaginary game.  You are a story teller at heart, an embellisher, creative and curious too. Often I ask you in quiet moments what you are thinking about, your answers are always fascinating, your perspective intriguing.

Emotionally sensitive you are a kind and caring boy.  You are fun and carefree but aware of where boundaries lie. You like to know what the ‘rules’ are and stick to the rules; so you brush your teeth without being asked, and say please and thank you without being prompted (most of the time.) You’re not a ‘goody two shoes’ but you don’t like getting told off either. Your school report made for happy reading but it was the line; ‘His behaviour is an example to his peers’ that bought a tear to my eye. I won't lie, I gave myself a silent pat on the back. Clearly, I've done something right as I've fumbled my way through mothering my first child. 

At school you have tried hard and with determination in Year One. Writing and holding a pencil correctly has been a challenge for you. You will never know how much I have worried about you, but I do hope you know how proud I am of you for trying hard, the patience you have shown, and the maturity with which you have accepted the extra help offered to you.  

You recently joined the Beavers.  I was unsure whether to allow it, as it’s on a school night, and it seemed a little late, but you begged and begged me to let you join - until I relented. It has been a wonderful experience for you and you love working towards your badges, beaming with pride when they appear (badly sewn) on the sleeve of your sweatshirt.  On the first evening, as you entered the scout hut, with a throng of children you didn’t know, I asked “Do you want me to stay a while?”. “No Mum,” you said, without hesitation.  “You can go”. I felt proud of you and sad in equal measure. Proud you had the confidence to feel you could integrate on your own, slightly sad, that you were growing up so quickly, that the days of Mummy hanging around for a while at the back of the room were gone.  I felt sick that first hour you were there, wondering if you would be OK,  if you’d make friends and talk to others. Of course, you had a great time.

You are a happy, positive person, you rarely cry - unless it’s a sad moment in a movie, then you well up and sob. (“I think I’ll have to come back and watch this when I’m 7!”). You are a caring big brother, and I am amazed at your ability and self control to not lash out  sometimes when your younger brother smashes up one of your Lego displays or pounces on your head whilst you lie quietly on the sofa.  In many ways, you seem mature beyond your years but then, you still love hugs and cuddles, playing silly word games in bed and think dancing around the kitchen naked and talking in silly voices is hilarious - and I am glad of this, because you have your whole life to be ‘grown up’. I want you to enjoy being a kid for as long as you possibly can.

Dear Pip, at six, you are fabulous. Time is flying and you are growing so very quickly, in some ways, I wish you could, in the words of AA Milne, stay six ‘now and forever’.  Watching you grow, I realise that I need to make the most of every minute with you - cherish every moment that you want to spend with me, make the most of each opportunity when you come and take my hand and say, “What shall we do now, Mum?”  That’s what I intend to do this summer, make the most of you every day.  My wonderful, sweet boy. Happy 6th birthday. You are awesome. xxx

NB: Obviously this is late - at time of writing you are actually 6 and 6 weeks - but the facts remain the same!

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

3010 and other happenings...

With hindsight, I wonder why it felt like such a big deal.  I found myself, in the months before my big birthday, probing into dark and murky areas of my inner self.  Prodding at insecurities, turning over regrets; sliding door opportunities, gone forever. I found myself evaluating my life’s achievements to date, thinking about the word ‘success’ and what it means to me. I thought about future hopes and dreams. In fact, generally, thought too much, about what in reality, was just another day. In some small part, it was mind bendingly torturous, but mostly, it was a worthwhile exercise; I am happy with who I am and where I am. I feel lucky and I am grateful for the life I have.

As it turns out, the first month of being forty has been fabulous. If only life were like this all the time. The big day itself was a day I will never forget. Spent with my boys, a day of unveiling secrets and surprises. I think I managed to maintain my ‘surprised’ face, despite Pip letting slip on a couple of occasions what some of my carefully selected presents may be. His own present to me, a pink magnolia tree, now planted in the back garden. A present, he thought of all by himself - inspired by a walk in Kew Gardens. I will treasure it forever. Watch it grow in tandem with him. There are many magnolia trees in this leafy enclave of London, they tend to fare well here. I think mine will too.  

A few days later, to Venice. A place on my life list.  Hats off to Husband, an arbiter of good taste, he knows how to mini break in style. A speedboat transfer from the airport, to our hotel on the Grand Canal. Blue skies and glorious sunshine.  I loved the uniqueness of the place, the busyness of life on the water.  Three days was a perfect amount of time, to relax, lie in, wander the streets behind the canals holding hands, sip Campari and hop around on the vaporettos. Then back to my precious boys and two exhausted Grandparents. Complete with requested Venice football strip for the five year old that has been worn non stop since. Who’d have thought a third division Italian football team would have such appeal?

The school holidays felt that they rambled on forever, the weather was kind, and the boys and I spent many days outdoors, at Kew, in the park, at the sandpit, at the farm.  Finally, after five weeks of living with the painter and decorator again, the snagging on the house was completed. The garden was overhauled, new garden furniture arrived.  More sporadic birthday shenanigans happened, a night out with friends in Soho, a scheduled date for afternoon tea with my Uni friends, a night away at The Pig in Bath; a fabulous find, a beautiful hotel in a stunning setting.  As Husband and I sat on the terrace in the 6pm sunshine, watching deer in  the field beyond and sipping an aperitif, I felt happiness warm me to my core. The last month has been amazing.

Perhaps it is spring forging forth towards the summer, perhaps it is an acceptance of feeling comfortable in my own forty year old skin, but I feel full of positivity right now; am charging through the to do lists, planning, organising, thriving. Living life.

2015 is turning out to be a party year; Pip’s 6th birthday (complete with pizza from the wood fired oven), hosting dinner for 12 friends in July, and a joint 40th in the garden for Husband and I,  in the summer.  I feel nervous about hosting a grown up party here, but I think, at the ripe old age of 40, I’m finally ready for it.  Plus, I’ve snagged a wonderful dress for a bargain price, which has arrived today. So far,  3010 isn’t turning out to be too bad at all.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Photo Booth

With hindsight, it was never going to work out well.  Making a woman on the eve of her 40th birthday, directly compare the appearance of her current self with that of 10 years ago  was always going to be a dangerous undertaking.  Damn the passport office.

I kept putting it off.  Vanity prevailed. “I’m just going to get my roots done,” “I need my hair cut,” “My brows need threading”,  “EB had me up half the night, I don’t want the bags under my eyes to be the prominent feature of an image of me for the next ten years." There was always a reason why it wasn’t the right time.  In the end Husband got quite cross. “Do you want to go to Venice or not?”  In fairness, the situation was getting very

After a morning spent in the hairdressers covering the grey and removing 4 inches of length  (impulse decision), I presented myself at Snappy Snaps.   Snappy being the key word. ‘Move your hair away from your face and don’t smile’, were the rapid instructions.  I had a feeling it wasn’t going to be my best look. The bulb on the camera flashed before I’d barely had a chance to sit down.

The assistant proffered the camera to show me the shot. My mouth drooped down slightly at one side. Does it do that when in repose?  

“Oh no. I look dreadful.  Can you do it again?” I asked.

Take two.  Even worse. Droopy mouth again. Why can’t one smile? Surely we’d all look so much nicer on our passports.  I looked so unfriendly; even I wouldn’t want to be friends with me. 

“I’m so sorry. I don’t like that one either. Is it possible for you to try one more time?”   He sighed. I wondered if this was a common experience for him, particularly with women of a certain age.  Or perhaps not all women are as vain as me.

“Try to relax a bit” he said. This comment resulted in a severe case of de ja vu, mentally transporting me to the doctor's surgery and my recent smear test. (Not a good thought to have in one's head when having a photo taken.)

Take three. It was every bit as bad as the first.  By this time the photographer clearly had me down as a woman in denial. He gave me his ‘It’s the best of three look”. It didn’t matter, I felt I couldn’t degrade myself any further by asking him to take it a fourth time. “OK. I guess that will have to do” I sighed, selecting the third 'grimacing at the memory' shot.

£8.99 to feel rock bottom about yourself.  Not money well spent.

I banished the photos to the bottom of my handbag and feeling morose, treated myself to a coffee in a nearby coffee shop. Digging my current passport out, I mentally compared the then and now. It was impossible to deny that time, and two small children who are early risers, have taken their toll.  I shall admit here, in my secret space, that my vanity was such, I was not prepared to give up yet.  I marched my way to the post office. The rarely used booth languishing at the back of the store, it's grey privacy curtain hanging limp and lifeless.  £5. A bargain. Surely I would feel better after this. 


I attempted numerous shots until even the robot inside the booth got annoyed with me. Goodness knows what the other customers queueing with parcels thought.  Finally came the dictat; ‘You have one chance left’. Clearly the selfie obsessed precedent of taking a million shots until you get it right hasn’t reached the guys who make these machines.  The result was laughable. If the Snappy Snaps shot had looked bad before, it looked a million times better now.

I’ve never considered myself particularly vain but I am finding the first signs of ageing more difficult to deal with than I anticipated.  I don’t want crepe papery skin or fine lines, I was more than happy with plump, elastic skin.  I don’t want grey hair, or to worry about it thinning, or to have spend time every few weeks getting my roots touched up.  I don’t want  to feel that I can’t leave the house unless I’ve pasted Touche Eclat over the blue veins under my eyes each day, to make myself look less like a vampire. I don’t like the fact my knees ache when I wake up in the morning.  I wish I could stay up past midnight and not feel dreadful the next day if I do.  But the looming spectre of my 40th birthday brings the inevitable truth of all these things to the fore. Happy soul that I  usually am, sometimes in alone time, these things bother me. The passport photo experience, like a cruel jack in the box, jumping out at me, exacerbating my fears when I least want or expect it.

Later that day I found myself in Urban Outfitters - a shop that I never go in, that I suspect has a demographic target of twenty something. Oh, the irony. On the ground floor, I found myself standing in front of a trendy black and white photo booth.  Taped to it’s side, a collage of snaps of young, naturally collagen rich, folk in mad poses, hash tagged underneath. This is how the youth of today use photo booths.  I stood staring at them for a while, reflecting on the joys of being youthful and the fact that clearly, smiling in a photo booth makes for a far better end result.

A hunky young shop assistant was randomly displaying nail varnish in a life size greenhouse nearby. He approached, probably wondering if I’d wandered into the store by mistake. 

“Can I help you find anything?” 

Myself. I wanted to wail. 

‘Browsing’ is such a useful word to be able to mutter. I felt thankful he’d smiled so nicely at someone clearly so old and out of place as me.  Then I left. 

Later I gave myself a good talking to. Forced myself to overcome my  feelings of defeatedness.  Decided on a new project; feeling good about myself.  

I’m sticking with the Snappy Snaps passport photo. And I’m working on the acceptance.  

I might not be able to turn back the clock but I can still curate an interesting and visually pleasing self to look at and feel good about.  I've set myself a challenge. It's time for a style overhaul. 

Am I alone in feeling like this?  Is there a period of transition which then results in acceptance?  How do you feel about the ageing process?

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Life. Lately.

As first months of the year go, the past two have been good.  In previous years, I have found myself struggle in January and February. The dark grey days and lack of natural light can get to me, weigh down my spirit.  I try to resist the urge to put the lights on indoors, to avoid an artificial electric glow for as long as possible, yet invariably by midday, I give up and do so.  This year however, it has not been so bad. Perhaps it is the fact that the weather has been so mild for this time of year. I have taken to walking along by the river once or twice a week on my way to pick Pip up from school. It’s about an hours walk but I find it energising and inspiring. I plan projects in my head as I walk along, and EB looks out for pirate ships.  Perhaps it is the fact that our house is so much lighter since the renovations. Maximising one’s exposure to natural light, especially in the winter months, definitely has a role to play in maintaining a positive mind set. Perhaps it is the fact I have been reading ‘The Happiness Project’, such a positive and life affirming book, it is impossible to not feel enthused about what can do when one has read it.

At the start of the year, I made two lists in my notebook. The first, a set of goals to strive towards; mostly pleasant tasks to try and achieve during the course of the year.  Some of the things on this list;  hold a dinner party and actually cook for my guests ( I get nervous cooking for friends and as Husband is an excellent cook it allows me to side step the hob very easily). Make the effort to do something special for Husband once a month ( this month it’s a meal at a favourite restaurant). Make the effort with friendships old and new.  Carve out some alone time for Pip and I, (so much harder now that he is at school but something I really miss.)  The other list was far more mundane and task focused; renewing my passport, getting a photo card driving licence (preferably with the right name and address...oops.) Going to the Dentist. Sorting out the thousands of digital photos on different computers and printing some out.  The Builders snagging list. 

It’s fair to say, I’ve done much better on progressing with the items on list one rather than list two.   But maybe that’s what’s got me through those first two tricky months of the year and within a hair's breadth of March. Today the sun is shining and the sky is blue. I feel buoyant and optimistic.  Spring is on it’s way. Hurrah.

I have become better at being present in the moment in recent months, particularly when it comes to the children. I have focused on my lists, my goals, and nothing more.  Have tried  to spin less plates.  Partly because I am still feeling tired a lot of the time so have tried to focus only on the urgent/important stuff, and partly because of the ever present realisation that I will never get these wonderful years with Pip and EB back and thus that I should prioritise helping Pip draw ‘The tree of life’ (as he so requested yesterday) or guiding him on how to draw a T Rex, whilst he still wants to. In all likelihood, this house will probably be flooded with requests for an X Box or Play Station far sooner than I would like and I will then mourn the fact that no one wants to do colouring or drawing with me and feel forlorn when I look at a pristine set of felt tip pens that no one has yet bitten any of the nibs off. (EB does love a good chew on a felt tip.)

Our house is finally starting to look like a home.  This morning, I hired a van (and a burly man) and took a load of unwanted furniture to auction, strategically arranged my colourful new cushions on the sofas and set about ordering some garden furniture so we actually have something to sit on in the summer.  The builder is coming to complete the snagging on Monday. It’s been a long haul but I feel that we are finally coming to the end and I can give myself a well deserved break from wearing my Sarah Beeny hat.  I would not embark on a project like this again, it has been more stressful and overwhelming than I ever imagined but I feel proud of what we have achieved here.

Next month is my birthday month. The big one.  Thirty Ten. I have promised myself and given advance notice to Husband that on the two days each week that EB is at nursery during the month of March, I will be taking some time out to please myself.  Incredibly indulgent, but I don't even feel the slightest bit guilty. It’s going to be a month of little treats.  The luxury of watching a movie in the cinema in the daytime, of spending some time on a photo project I’ve been inspired to start, of giving myself a style makeover, of catching up with old friends, of hopefully finding the time to sit here, like I am right now, at the kitchen table with nothing but the sound of the birds tweeting in the trees and writing at my laptop.  Life is full of promise. It feels good.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Running from a standing start

For a while now, I have wondered if there is something wrong with me.  I feel tired, all of the time.  I had hoped that Christmas would be an opportunity to recharge my batteries, but lovely as it was, the constant ebb and flow of guests from the 24th until 2nd Jan just served to exhaust me further.  Thus, I limped out of 2014 into 2015. In my heart, I’d hoped from the 1st Jan I’d start limbering up, flexing those muscles and breaking into at least a steady jog, but it hasn’t happened. There is a willingness of mind and purpose, but my body just says no, every part of me aches, from my eyelids to my ankles.

A notebook, with a life list of tasks for this year, lies abandoned on the desk.  My colourful new trainers, a present from Santa, have hit the gym for a mere 5 minutes.  Each day, I spend squinting after putting the lights on by 11am, in the dim January light; my eyes watering with tiredness.  This week, I have faced the fact; I am just exhausted.  I’ve thought about the lack of energy to exercise, to start or complete projects, to socialise (although I force myself to do this), to blog, the inability to sleep - despite feeling so tired.  I have come to the conclusion that I can’t carry on like this.  I feel like I’m 79 not 39. It’s ridiculous.

There are some things I cannot change.  EB’s early morning waking for example. Yet, I can go to bed earlier -  even if I find it difficult to sleep, I am still resting.  I can allow myself one cup of coffee - but then I should switch to tea - if I feel I need another pep up during the day, as I know that coffee later than 3pm keeps me awake.  The house still isn’t finished, and there is still so much to do. This place is like the Forth bridge, I’m not sure we’ll ever get to the end.  Cracks are now appearing in the fresh plaster work and the snagging list runs to 8 pages of A4.  I keep putting off the meeting with the builder because it feels like such a mammoth task but the reality is, I just need to get on with it and I will feel better when it’s done.

How do you start running from a standing (or should that be stooping?) start? Is the question I keep asking myself. (Literally and metaphorically - those trainers aren’t going to wear themselves out on their own.)  I think I’ve finally got to the answer.  The only way is to work through the pain.

I want to feel more energised in 2015. This is my year. The year of thirty-ten. If I do nothing, how can I expect to feel better?  I just need to start gently and work up in small increments.  I have been reading ‘The Happiness Project’ by Gretchen Ruben this past couple of weeks. The small amount I have read I have found inspiring. After the upheaval of the last two years, order and focus is what I need and there are some wonderful examples and tips in this book of how to achieve it. I particularly like the way the book gives focus to different areas in different months of the year. Gently does it.

Ten days into January, I am still at my standing start but I am determined to battle through the tiredness and energise myself.  It starts now; by writing it down, by committing it here.

  • Exercise twice a week.
  • Go to bed earlier
  • Make time for myself to relax and do the things I love (Like write this blog. One thing I have realised, is that I have very little ‘down’ time.)

That’s it. Life in bite size chunks. Tackling a few things at a time.  Everything else on my list can come later. February, for instance.

And now, on the 10th January, I’m off - to put on my trainers.  Have a lovely weekend. x