'God, I can't believe I get to live this life.'

Friday, 28 February 2014

I like days like these. On the surface they're pretty ordinary but a few small things seem to collude to make it a bit more special than normal. Husband home early from work; baby doing her wrinkly-nose-squinty-eyes smile whilst chasing a dribbled-on rice cake around her high chair tray; having nothing planned for the day.

Nothing planned but a day with my two and a peace that has settled over our house, a random blessing of peace and presence and the thought that if I could spend every day with this feeling then I'd be very happy with that.

I've got a lot I want to write about at the moment. But not today.

Sometimes you just need to pause for a moment, push back the normal everyday stuff, the fears you face, the unknown future in front of you, the list of things to do and wallow in the blessings you've been given, a prayer of thanks in your heart and a smile on your face, knowing only a good God could make this blessed thankfulness my duty for today.


The point is our joy. That is when God is most pleased. They aren't two different things: God's joy over here and our joy over there. They are the same. God takes great pleasure in us living as we were made to live. He even commands it in the Psalms: 'Take delight in the Lord.' It's such an odd command, isn't it? You will be happy or else ... but God is serious about this. Now this joy doesn't rule out suffering, difficulty, and struggle. In fact, taking Jesus seriously almost guarantees that our lives will be difficult. History proves it. And very few actually set out to live such a focused, beautiful life. Narrow is the way, and only a few find it. But the kind of joy God speaks of transcends these struggles and difficulties. I love how one writer put it: 'The peace of God, which transcends all understanding.'

Sometimes when my boys and I are jumping and one of us starts laughing, we all start laughing. We're jumping and we're short of breath and we're sweating and we're having such a great time. When we're too exhausted to jump anymore, we'll lie down on the mat and stare up at the vast blue sky above us and watch the clouds go by and listen to the breeze as it moves the leaves overhead. I'll be there on my back, and I'll say a short prayer: 'God, I can't believe I get to live this life.'

- Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis

days like these

Saturday, 22 February 2014

I am currently pinned to the sofa with a baby milk-drunkenly-asleep on me. She had her last set of jabs before she turns one yesterday, and it was the worst so far. The screaming was awful and the look of pure horror on her face as the nurse did the second injection (with the warning of 'this one is a bit stingier') feels as though it is forever burned into my retinas, and I may have nipped to Sainsbury's afterwards with watery-eyes-and-wobbling-bottom-lip for emergency chocolate.

Anyway, she's super sleepy today, as she tends to be after injections, but at least I had the forethought to bring the laptop over to the sofa, and therefore I finally have time to blog.

Chris jokes that I have a weird ability to remember details about the silliest of things - conversations we had years ago, almost word-for-word, what the weather was like at the time. Odd things. I am able to recall a special moment pretty well, but the pay off is that my capacity for remembering other things (like the names of bands ... and actors ... and films ... and countries ... and, er, people) is not so great.

I was thinking about this recently, about moments in your life that stick in your memory like little beacons. Good, bad, bittersweet. Why do certain things linger for years in your mind, waiting for a trigger like a song or a certain scent to be recalled, when others just disappear? Recently I've been trying to be a bit more purposeful in remembering little things, but mostly I rely on writing them down or photographing them. Because I know that in the end, there will be some things that stick and some that don't. I might get the most beautiful days on film, preserved forever, but when I look back on them I barely remember anything about them. I don't remember how I felt, I don't remember what happened before and after, I don't remember what words were spoken. But other days just stick. I recall them and they come back with sharp focus.

I like that. I like that life has its little moments that stick, and that those moments are different for everyone. And I'm not talking about the big days - marriages, births, deaths - huge moments that encompass a million different emotions and feel almost too big to contain in one person - I'm talking about the little moments that stick out amongst the mundane. The days that teach you lessons, that change you, that help you to grow. The days that you treasure in your heart.

Days like when I was on holiday in Cornwall with friends as a kid, and Mum and Dad forgot about bedtime and took us to the beach to watch the sunset, and as we ran into the sea and leapt about in the sand bathed in fiery golden light, I remember feeling so young and free and alive and wishing the night would never end.

Like the day that a horrible, suffocating, twisted, terrible relationship came to an end, the day when he shouted 'If you walk away from me right now, that's it, it's over', and the feeling I had when I turned and walked, the exhilarating feeling that I'd never until that day done anything that felt so purposeful or meant so much, the feeling that each step I took was a step closer to freedom, to a clear head and a new beginning.

Like the moment when Chris and I were first going out, and he went off to uni, and I missed him, and had to deal with a lot of emotional stuff while he was gone. I was at work, it was five minutes to closing time, and I was folding up what seemed like an endless pile of jumpers and picking clothes up from from the floor (to this day I can't leave clothes in the wrong place in a shop without terrible guilt). I was thinking about the fact that Chris was coming home tomorrow for a visit, and how I just wanted this day to be over. And then I looked up and he was standing there, slightly breathless having ran all the way from the train station, having got the train a day early to surprise me. And I felt like my insides might melt (that's a good thing) and as I looked at him in surprise two thoughts popped into my eighteen-year-old head, pure and clear statements of truth: He really loves me, this is what love is actually like and I'm going to spend the rest of my life with this man.

Or the day that I found out I was losing my job, and we'd already been struggling with money for over a year, and in a fury I whirled around the flat tidying up, and I couldn't get a pillowcase on properly (onto a pillow - not myself. Obviously if I attempted that it would cause problems), and I just had this breakdown and threw it across the room and cried at God. Why is this always happening to us? Why do other people get money and houses just plopped into their laps and we have to pray and pray and pray and still we end up in the same place as before? Etc, etc. And then after lots of tears, walking away with some firm words that have stuck ever since: I bless people in different ways. I will allow you to go through things sometimes because I need you to realise something. But I love you so much and I am with you in this. And I realised both how selfish and helpless I am, and experienced the strange freedom that comes with being aware of that, and ever since then I count my blessings every single day and if I catch myself acting spoilt, I remember that moment when I realised that blessings aren't just limited to financial gain and in many ways, I am hugely blessed (including financially, when I get my head out of the sand long enough to look at struggling families around me, but that's a whole other blog post in itself).

Or when, a year or so later, things had changed so massively that we were able to go to California to visit friends, and when we arrived at their apartment after a ten hour flight feeling quite ready to sample some of America's finest fast food, I sat down and for the first time in months of feeling quite tense and stressed I felt myself properly relax, like every muscle was unfurling in my body and I turned into a happy jelly on the sofa.

Or the day, most recently, when Baby B burst out crying in her sleep. I scooped her up and popped her on the bed and we lay there, her in the middle, us looking at her and feeling so tired and wondering how we were going to get her to sleep again. And she stopped crying, and turned to me, and put one little pudgy hand on my cheek, and then she turned to Chris, looked at him, and put her other hand on him. And then, peacefully, she closed her eyes and fell asleep. I've never known anything like it, as bedtimes are normally a bit of a fight, and Chris and I could do nothing but just stare at her in amazement, and I felt like I could burst with love for her, our little girl who maybe just needed the reassurance that we were still there.

I love that God gives me the ability to remember these moments. I think there's a reason we remember these little things. Whether it be a reminder that we are loved, that we have the ability to be tough and brave, that God walks with us in every joy and every problem, or just to bring us happiness - a reminder, especially on the dull days, that life has the capacity to be dazzling, wonderful, brilliant, that to be alive is a blessing.

These moments are like talismans we hold up in the dark. I know I am loved. I know I am not alone. I know I can walk through this because I've done braver things before.

And the best thing about memories like these? The way that our lives entwine with others. They remind me that God put me here, in this specific place, in this specific time, with these specific people, and that the way we interact with each other is sometimes strange, sometimes hurtful, but often wonderful, and I wouldn't change my circumstances for anything.

And they remind me that there are many more memories to be made, and you never know when the next one is going to come.

writing hiatus due to my incapability to function as a normal human being

Friday, 14 February 2014

I just zoomed around the house, post-baby-bedtime, picking up random items that had worked their way around today, before the I'm-going-to-fall-asleep-sofa-slump. I found the following:
  • Yankee candle tarts, a bracelet which I keep putting in random places where I can't find it, and a dribbled on teething giraffe on top of a Christmas bowl full of candy canes
  • Stray bits of wet washing hidden on a dining room chair
  • My hairclip attached to the trunk of an elephant puppet
  • Five wetwipes
  • A pile of unopened letters (for people who don't live here)
  • Two hot water bottles
  • Two bibs. One clean, one sicked on
  • A pair of fluffy socks
  • Three muslins
  • Batteries
  • Towels (inexplicably in a pile at the top of the stairs)
  • Dirty washing (on the floor three feet from the washing basket)
There are work shoes on the radiator (you know ... it's raining) and babygros drying everywhere. Today is the kind of day where I considered showering and getting dressed (albeit into my husbands shirt and a pair of leggings) a success, where I actually considered shedding a little tear about the fact that it's raining all the flipping time following days of being stuck in the house with a baby who is sick over me as a past time and has just discovered whining and is enjoying doing it all day long. It's a day where I've been up since 6.20 after waking up previously at 2am ... a day where I watched far too much TV and, rather guiltily, let my child sit on my lap and watch it with me. A day where we ended up ordering pizza for dinner and eating jelly for pudding (yes, I am a grown woman, but I just like jelly).

It's a rainy horrible miserable day.

It's a day where we put our daughter in the Big Bath for the first time and in an attempt to help her like it I affixed some bath toys to the tiles, which promptly fell off and caught her on her cheek by her eye (she's fine!) and then to comfort her I swaddled her up in a towel and lovingly applied some extra-sensitive body lotion I ordered for her, which immediately brought her out in spots all over her cheeks.

When I finished reading her bedtime story, I turned her around to face me. My poor baby, red mark by her eye, huge bags under both, bogey hanging out of one nostril, spots on her cheeks, mouth full of vomit that I had failed to notice because she was facing the other way whilst I was reading to her ...

and she was beaming at me. A big, beautiful, vomity smile that reached all the way to her eyes. A look of pure love.

So it seems she loves me after all even on the days when I open the door to the parcel delivery guy (Dan - or Dan Dan the Delivery Man as I call him, who always happens to arrive just as Baby B is finally nodding off on me) and blurt out a haggard 'thanks' and only realise afterwards that I have a huge, unfortunately-on-my-boob patch of baby dribble and I look like I've had some sort of post-natal milk leakage.

She seems to love me even when I accidentally hit her in the eye with a plastic duck.

My husband seems to love me even on the days when I'm so tired and haphazard that I drop jelly all over the sofa (and promptly tried to clean it up with a wetwipe - have you ever tried picking up jelly with a wetwipe? It's a challenge).

Sorry. I just don't have it in me for a decent blog post right now. Or, you know, for a while.

But ...

Life is good. It's definitely good.

On a random note, you can expect Baby B to start her blog sometime soon.

modern motherhood (or, why Google is not my friend)

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Sometimes I really hate Google.

The thing about being a first-time Mum is that you often second-guess yourself. Some mothers I know are so confident that they wouldn't think twice once they'd made a decision, but by taking a quick (and admittedly, most likely biased) straw poll from the first time parents I know, there is an awful lot of uhhming and ahhing going on about every decision you make. I suppose it's because we're all getting used to the fact that we are responsible for a tiny, fragile life, and the way that they are raised will have huge implications for their whole lives. Really, it's quite a big deal. And so the smallest of things suddenly seem to have huge significance, a kind of weight, behind them. If only we could see our child's lives, spread out in front of us like a flow chart ('If you are going to co-sleep, choose option A), then we could understand what the best choices are to make.

Fortunately (or unfortunately?!) children are not little robots with set functions, but people that are infinitely complex and very often, quite mysterious ('Why is she crying?!' is something we said quite often in the first few weeks of Baby B's life). As parents, we are suddenly handed this beautiful little bundle who, right from day one, is its Very Own Person, thank you very much. And our pre-conceived ideas of how we might parent flies out of the window. Because a baby won't just slot neatly into your life. It will completely disrupt it.

As a parent I am happy and proud to have my own little disruption, and I would very much like not to accidentally ruin her by making the wrong choices. This is why female friendships are so important. We reach out to each other like people lost in the dark. 'How are you doing with ...?' and 'Is anyone else's baby doing this weird thing where ...?' are pretty much standard conversations. And mothers with more than one child? Or older children? They are priceless. Because they can see past the fog of the first few months and they understand that the real challenges are yet to come. They have that precious gift of hindsight, you see. I am thankful for all the mothers in my life that remind me that these small things don't actually matter in the long run. That you'd actually have to go pretty far out of your way to 'ruin' a baby for the rest of it's life. That in a year or so I'll find my neurotic-ness quite funny. That, when I've had my next child I will have the privilege of being the Wise, Experienced Mother smiling warmly at the exhausted, frazzled new-Mum friend in front of me.

I think that the worry over your precious baby is timeless. That all mothers - no matter when they had a new baby - worry. I think that's natural. I think mothers have always reached out to one another for help, guidance, and wisdom, and that is a wonderful thing.

However. I believe that good things like mum-to-mum relationships have the potential to be corrupted.

And that's when competitive Motherhood enters the scene.

I wrote briefly about this before, but I've rediscovered it again over the past few days. I decided to do a bit of Googling because we're going to be weaning soon, and like most information-needy women of my age, I decided that I couldn't possibly buy a book about weaning without first reading about a hundred strangers' opinions on said book. Once I had read this book, it called into question something the health visitors taught us in our postnatal group, and of course, I had to Google it to find out which one was right.

And I fell into a kind of parenting forum black hole.

Because there are types of parents, apparently, in the same way you'd imagine movie-style cliques in a high school. There's the Natural Parents. The Attachment Parents. The Gina-Ford Parents. The Supernanny Parents. Rieparents (still not quite sure what that one is). Gentle parents. Green parents (to refer to eco status, not actual colour of parents). And there's all these things that I've only discovered since giving birth have names (babywearing, cloth-bumming, etc). And yes, I believe that most people in real life pick and choose from each (whether previously researching or not), finding out what works best for their family and sticking to it.

But for some people, their belief in a certain choice is so strong that they feel every person must also choose to do the same. Otherwise Bad Things Will Happen.

I remember when, in the midst of my emotional breastfeeding moment, I did some searching around on bottle feeding. Was it as bad as I thought? According to some people, it was much, much worse. I remember one quote specifically 'Well, if you're happy feeding your child junk food from day one, then go ahead and formula feed.' Looking up weaning, I found people tentatively asking if they could combine both baby-led and pureed feeding, only to be told that no, you cannot, because that would not be technically Baby Led Weaning and you wouldn't be allowed to call it that any more. I've read forum posts that suggest that sitting your baby into a pushchair is tantamount to child abuse.

Seriously. For reals.

Where do these extreme opinions come from? Would these people be so strongly opinionated outside of the internet, without the anonymity? Or does the internet actually encourage and enforce this culture of extreme parenting styles? Does the internet undermine our confidence as mothers - to trust our instincts, to make a decision without double-checking it first?

Did mothers in previous generations go through this comparison, competitive thing like we do, just in real life instead of online? Knowledge is power - but is it good that we are bombarded with choices right from the get-go? Is it easier being a mother now we have all this information, or is it harder?

I don't know. But in some ways, the internet has been such a lifesaver for me (when the health visitors didn't talk to me in depth about types of formula, experienced formula feeding Mums were available to discuss different brands - and the switching of brands really helped us get over colic, which was a nightmare at the time). In other ways, it can be horrendously confusing.

Because the decisions you make as a parent feel so vital, the hurt that you feel when someone slams that choice kind of correlates to that. So it can feel personal. It doesn't matter that it's online - emotion-wise, especially when you're tired, that person may as well have come round to your house and punched you in the face with their opinions.

Inevitably, reading this stuff made me equal parts baffled, hurt, and angry. Well. Maybe the scales tipped a little closer to angry. And I made myself turn to my Bible study homework instead, because I needed to not be thinking about the correlation between the use of spoons and childhood obesity any longer. And I read this:

'Temptation is one of the great equalizers in our world. No-one escapes temptation.'

It was talking about the small part in James where he explains about temptation to sin and where that temptation comes from. But just the word 'equalizer' really hit me. Because as tempting as it is to hit 'reply' and go down the rabbit-hole of arguing with strangers on the internet ... as tempting as it is to feel justified in my anger towards someone because they've said something that hurt me ... as tempting as it is to rage at people that enforce a parenting 'regime' because they've surely never had to struggle with what I've had to struggle with ...

I can't. Because I'm supposed to be Christlike. As in, Like Christ. I have to try and be like someone who loved everyone. Who died for everyone. Not just the down to earth people. Not just the 'nice' people. Everyone.

Every blooming one.

I just - argh. I just want to have an excuse to wallow in my rage for a bit. Every time I fool myself into thinking I'm justified in my anger, in my bitterness towards people, along comes God to say Your scorn towards these people is no better than their scorn towards you.

We all have stuff. Stuff about ourselves we don't like. And we all have the capability of not being a very nice person at all. Which when you think about it really is an equalizer.

I started to imagine these people. I started to wonder where the extremity of their opinions comes from. If someone will go online and put that much effort into defending something that really, is such a tiny, insignificant detail in their child's life in the long run, does that come from a place of confidence in their identity? In their self-worth? In their choices?

I don't think so. In that case, people that say nasty stuff online suddenly become a lot smaller and more sympathetic in my mind.

So in conclusion? I have a lot to learn about love, about accepting different opinions, about taking things with a pinch of salt. I have a lot to praise God for, that my self-worth, my identity doesn't come from things like whether or not my child's vegetables are organic.

After all my research, I decided to go with what I originally had planned - half-mushy stuff, half-finger foods for Baby B. So really, I actually wasted a good hour processing unnecessary information. So my final thought is this:

Maybe sometimes new parents would be better off banning Google from their lives ;)
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