May Round Up! Holiday sandwiching, birthdays, and, er, throwing up

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Hello! I'm starting a new series of blog posts today, kind of monthly round-up posts. I suppose they will be about things we've been up to over the past few weeks, or things that have been on my mind. Recently, I was hit by the fact that it is already May, when it kind of feels like I'm just getting over Christmas. The months seem to merge into each other. I thought signposting them with a blog post might help me with that 'argh, time is sliding away from me' feeling.

So, here are a few things I've been thinking about this month:

Birthdays

We've been celebrating a few things this month - a wedding, the birthdays of my lovely niece and nephew, our 6 year wedding anniversary, and my Dad's birthday.

I thought I'd take the opportunity to talk a little bit about my Dad. Just, you know, in general. My Dad is awesome. My parents have raised three (sometimes pretty fiesty) girls and have always shown us love, patience and kindness. Dad has never shied away from our tears; never made us feel like we couldn't achieve something because of our gender; never said no to buying us packs of Always and chocolate bars once a month.

My lovely Dad. My daughters' gentle, kind Granddad. I am so grateful for my parents.


Left: me and Dad twenty-something years ago, apparently chilling out on the grass. Right: me and Dad in 2014, sharing an awkward-squint-at-the-camera moment.
Holidays

I should say first of all that we rarely get to go on holiday. Holidays are just not available to us that often. A few weeks ago we visited the gorgeous Lanzarote using vouchers I won for writing a blog post:


(Sorry, couldn't help it. I miss it so much. PLEASE SOMEONE TAKE ME BACK. I'd just like another day to walk into the crystal clear sea and watch the fish swim around my feet ...)

And tomorrow, we are jetting off to the fabulously sunny (fingers crossed) Devon on a Sun bargain caravan-style holiday. We will be visiting some places that we saw when we were on our honeymoon, so that will be nice.

I just don't know what to do with myself. Two holidays in one year?! Madness. I'm so grateful. What I'm really craving now is time with my husband and daughter, switched off from the internet and from daily worries, just to create memories with them.

When I get back, I expect I will be writing a 'how to survive a holiday in a tiny caravan with an energetic toddler' post.

Sickness bugs

Jellybean had her first proper sickness bug this month and it was soooooo much fun.

NOT!

It turns out I am total wimp when it comes to my child's vomit and thus it was left mostly to Chris to deal with her bed while I changed her. We also made the rookie mistake of putting her down to sleep again straight afterwards.

Lesson learnt: always presume they will be sick again ten minutes later.

Anyway, after a few sleepless nights and another surprise vomiting session (just as we sat down to eat dinner, obviously, because that is a perfect time to projectile) she seems to be okay. It's just - argh. I hate seeing her poorly. I hate that anxiety that flutters in your stomach as you watch your child asleep with a burning temperature, praying that they will fight off whatever it is that works through their system.

Growing up

Jellybean talks non stop and she seems to say a new word every day. Now I can ask her questions and she will actually reply to me in a sentence that is English and not gibberish. She understands that Daddy is sometimes at work (and if I ask her where he is, she says 'Daddy WORK!' in this triumphant, I-know-the-answer way). She knows the difference between 'home' (our house) and 'house' (other people's houses). She will actually tell me what she wants to do at toddler group instead of just nodding at whatever I suggest.

My little person. Growing up.

The other night I had a little teary moment to Chris. A kind of 'I know I'm supposed to be embracing the moment without worrying about it but I love this age so much and she's so cute and she needs me and she's going to grow up and then she won't need me for cuddles anymoreeeee' thing.

Chris said 'Yeah, but you've said you love every age that she's been so far. Imagine when she grows up, all the things you can teach her!'

This immediately made it better. My head was filled with ideas of painting together and cooking together and giving her advice when she's a teenager and she's having a problem (funnily enough, visions of tantrums and arguments and stroppy attitudes were not present in my imagination).

I get to teach her things! What an honour and a privilege it is to be able to help my daughter to discover the world and all the things that she is capable of. My feelings about it are secondary to the mission that is seeing her grow into a healthy, independent adult.

Also, she now says 'heavy' when carrying things and 'Whereareyooooww?' when looking for someone, and she says 'wowwow' for 'another one' which gets tacked onto things that she wants. For example 'Mama! Wowwow toast' means, directly translated, 'another one toast' which is not quite correct, but it's ADORABLE.

Picture round-up

I thought I'd put a little collage up of what our May looked like:


So really, May was a painting, baking, den-making, nephew-squashing, dolly-walking, gardening, dandelion-blowing, memory-finding, board-game-playing, anniversary-celebrating, park-visiting, watching-my-Mum-conquer-a-zipwire(ing?), soft-play-happening, frog-finding, Pimms-enjoying sort of a month.

Which is a good one, I think :)

Hope you've all had a good one! Bring on June!

Dear Formula Feeding Mother: I Understand

Thursday, 28 May 2015


So I awoke this morning to the headline in the news ' Mums Feel Intense Pressure to Breastfeed.'

Do you know what my initial reaction was? I braced myself. Because even now, my daughter is only a few months away from turning two, any time breastfeeding makes the news I presume it's because a new study has shown how utterly vital breastfeeding is to developing a healthy child. I brace myself for guilt pangs. Again.

So when I saw this, it encouraged me to remember how it felt when I first stopped breastfeeding Jellybean. Even though I try not to think about it too much, it still sticks with me. In the same way that a negative hospital experience or a horrible health visitor can still hurt years later when you recall it, the moment that you finally give into a bottle can stay with you too. When your emotions are all over the place, and you've just given birth, and you are trying to figure out how best to care for this tiny human and you've realised a bit of your heart now lives in them and can't be totally protected by you forever, it can be difficult to be struggling with breastfeeding and seeing yet another post someone has shared on Facebook about how it makes children more intelligent or taller or whatever.

I just wanted to give you a bit of advice if you are in the middle of that constantly crying, near to the end of your tether stage:

1) Understand where this is coming from.

People want mothers to breastfeed their babies. The truth is, breastmilk is incredibly good for babies. Especially in the first few days.

I feel that breastfeeding mothers are not given enough support, and formula feeding mothers are not at all catered for by the NHS. I have heard stories, again and again, of women left to their own devices (because, after all, all you need is the instructions on the packet, right? You obviously don't need to know about different types of milk or sterilising equipment or combination feeding or anything like that. I actually find it disgraceful that people ask for advice about this from midwives only to be told 'sorry, we can't help you.' This is 2015 - surely women should be allowed to decide whether they want to breastfeed or not and not be treated like dirt because of it?) A woman in my postnatal group was called 'cruel' by a midwife because she gave her baby a bottle in the hospital.

Cruel? Really?

Words hurt, I get that. Some people are more, er, blunt than others.

But all the posters you see, and the information packs you are given, are not out to get you. People want you to understand the benefits of breastfeeding. They want to encourage people who, for cultural reasons, might not give it a go, when actually it could be a really positive experience for mothers and babies. In that respect, it's not personal (even though it feels like it is).

2) Breastfeeding is a tremdendous achievement - but so is bottle feeding

Breastfeeding involves letting go of your body and giving it over, essentially, to someone else for a year or more. Breastfeeding involves struggling through potential infections, pain, cluster feeding, the feeling of isolation that comes with not being able to share the load as much, it involves expressing milk and breast pads and embarrassing milk circles on your top.

Breastfeeding mothers - you have my respect. I was one, briefly. I understand it gets easier, but still. It is a huge achievement.

Bottle feeding involves constant washing and sterilising of equipment, potential baby meltdowns over a bottle that's not quite ready yet, having to lug even more stuff around with you wherever you go, worries over formula brand and type, having questions that can't be answered by official sources ... and so on.

Whatever way you go about it, raising a baby is a challenge and an achievement.

3) Make your own decision

It is not your bottle-feeding friends' decision. It is not your mother's decision. It is not your happily breastfeeding friends decision. It is not the very opinionated person at the baby group's decision. It's not even, at the end of the day, your husband or partners' decision, even though they should obviously have an opinion too (it's not their breasts in question, though, after all).

It's yours.

Please try to avoid asking for opinions unless you really trust that person. At the end of the day, it has to be you that decides. Also ...

4) Don't think it's a life or death decision

It's not.

Let me repeat that: it's really not. 

When your children are ten and playing together, you won't be able to tell which one was breastfed and which one was formula fed. Really.

Also, it's not an all-or-nothing situation. I know people who have successfully combination fed right from the start. Don't presume you have to join one team or the other.

5) Don't always believe the studies

It's easy to think 'oh, a study said this, it must be true.' Not so! Make sure you look at a) who is conducting the study and b) look into the details. I believe some benefits of breastfeeding - the higher intelligence thing, for example - have been somewhat exaggerated. *Awaits flaming*

Also just because a study says if you bottle feed you won't bond with your baby, doesn't mean to say that will happen to you. I bottle fed my daughter after a week and I bonded with her just fine, thank you very much.

6) Beware of trolls

Because midwives and health visitors don't feel they can give you information, it can be all too easy to turn to the internet for advice. Please, please be careful of trolls.

Even on the nicest message boards or Facebook groups, there will always, always be one person that says 'Have you thought about continuing breastfeeding?' or 'Please keep breastfeeding, your baby needs you to do it' or 'Why would you give your baby junk food to eat? Because that's what formula is.'

Honestly. The internet is a nasty place. Skim over the mean messages and concentrate on the helpful ones.

Also beware people's anecdotal information when it comes to preparing milk, sterilising and how long you can keep it for. There is official information about that here and that is the safest advice to take.

7) Don't go the other way

Please don't use terms like 'breastfeeding nazi' or 'breastapo'. It's not cool. It's not funny. It makes light of incredibly serious situations.

And also, it's kind of hurtful to breastfeeding mothers.

Breastfeeding mothers need support and reassurance too. They need to feel comfortable to breastfeed anywhere they like. Feeding your baby is not like signing up to two rival tribes. There's a whole spectrum of different situations. There are mothers who do extended breastfeeding or who breastfeed their toddlers and newborns at the same time and then there are mothers who can't breastfeed from birth or who don't want to.

Please don't feel it's a war. That is a lie perpetuated by the media. It is not a war. It is not a rivalry. It is just people trying to do the best for themselves and their families.

8) Try and keep your perspective

The world isn't going to end if you give your kid formula. Okay? I understand it feels that way. It might sound weird to people who never struggled with this, but the pain, anxiety and stress is real. I understand it. If it wasn't for my lovely midwife - who came to see me at home, took one look at me in floods of tears from pain and said 'you don't have to do this, you know' - I don't know how long I would have struggled on for.

I used to burst into tears randomly about it. I used to feel this intense, incredible shame when I got a bottle of formula out in public. It feels serious.

But it will pass. Your baby will grow and thrive. My daughter, two in September, had breastmilk for four weeks. One week direct, three weeks expressed along with formula, until my supply dried up. She is happy, healthy, and thriving.

I understand how you feel. But it's going to be okay.

Comments here or on Twitter or Facebook appreciated as always. Let's have a discussion :)

Austerity Cooking

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Following on from my last post about action, I thought I'd do a blog post about cooking-on-the-cheap, because that is what we do. If you come to my house for dinner, you will have lentils or beans in some form. Fact.

Anyway, I thought I'd share a few (free!) resources for those who want to learn to budget, do meal planning, or cook with super-cheap ingredients. I left home after getting married at 20 - having never lived away from home before - and suddenly found myself jobless, so we had to learn pretty fast how to shop and cook properly. I have relied heavily on these websites (especially Good Food) and consider them to be approximately 1,000,000x more effective of an education than Food Tech at school (where, as far as I remember, we made cheese on toast and designed a box for a pizza).

Seriously, though, it's hard. When you realise you have barely anything left until payday and you have to somehow keep everyone fed, it can be really stressful. (Especially when you suddenly realise you've ran out of nappies/there's an unexpected bill that needs paying/it's someone's birthday meal and you have to try and find money to go). Websites like these really helped me to cut costs and to stay healthy without being able to afford quinoa/chia seeds/whatever the new super healthy thing is.

Without further ado ...

1. A Girl Called Jack

I'd be surprised if you haven't heard of Jack Monroe. She's pretty famous in the food/political blogging world.

Jack started blogging when her child was tiny. A single parent, she was struggling (and I mean, really struggling) to feed her son, never mind pay for electricity or heating.

Anyway, ever resourceful, Jack started to experiment with cooking, making meals from practically nothing, and making them tasty, interesting, and varied. Her recipes, like the kidney bean burgers (10p a portion!) and her feisty soup (23p a portion) are delicious and amazingly cheap. She costs all her ingredients using Sainsbury's prices, too, meaning that you don't have to rely on having a good local market or butchers to get a good price for food.

Since then, she has become a political activist (and has ruffled a few feathers ... anyone who makes an enemy of the Daily Mail instantly becomes endearing to me), written two cookbooks, writes columns for various newspapers ... and so on. Her Instagram is also a good one to follow (soo much yummy food).

2. BBC Good Food

This website is awesome. It has thousands of recipes, organised into categories (healthy eating, budget food, cooking for two, cooking for kids, etc) as well as by ingredient. You can find a recipe for any occasion here.

As well as that, they have really useful nutritional information, and instructional videos teaching you cooking skills ranging from basic (chopping onions) to more advanced (jointing a whole chicken).

I have made loads of stuff from Good Food, but among my favourites are this pumpkin-bacon-rice-thing, keema with peas, moroccan chicken, and Tana Ramsey's lemon drizzle cake (in fact, stop what you're doing and go and make that now. It's just SO good).

3. Money Saving Expert forums

This will take a bit of perusing but it's so worth it. On the Old Style Money Saving bit of their forum, you will find so many useful food tips from some very resourceful and clever people. In general, the entire Money Saving Expert website is fab. Check out the thread about Slow Cooking, there are some really good ideas on there.

Bonus Things!

I've recently been researching freezer-to-slow-cooker foods. This website has tons of recipes for it. Essentially you sacrifice a few hours over a weekend or something to chop up a whole load of veg and meat, and then you mix them with sauces, pop them into bags and freeze them (raw). Then you defrost them overnight and shove them in the slow cooker all day when you want to eat them. The idea is, if you have a whole load of almost-ready-to-go meals in freezer, you'll be less tempted to buy something expensive/go shopping for things you don't need.

I have prepped my first ever freezer-to-slow-cooker meal:



I have yet to cook it. There's a potential for it to turn out slimy/weird/gross. I will let you know the results. If it works, this could be a really cheap way of cooking (as slow cooking takes less energy than cooking on the hob/in the oven).

Also, I'd quickly like to recommend the book How to Feed Your Whole Family a Healthy, Balanced Diet With Very Little Money. It is really good. I got it on a Kindle sale super cheap. They are easy, wholesome, family-approved recipes.

So that's that! Would you like to see more of these kinds of posts? I have loads of ideas for them and some recipes if anyone's interested. I'd like to get more into the area of budgeting and money management too. Let me know! :)

Not Always Okay.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Life ain't perfect, even when it is.

I'd just like to say that first. On the surface, my life is utterly perfect: I have an amazing husband and gorgeous child. We're all healthy. We have a roof over our heads and food in our bellies and more things to occupy our time than we can actually get round to doing.

I don't want you to think I don't appreciate that. I do. I thank God for those things, literally every day, prayers that are almost automatically said but always meant from the heart: thank you Lord, thank you for another day like this.

There is much to be said for being thankful and joyful. For cultivating joy, for lifting praises to heaven.

So what happens when you don't feel okay?

What happens when you actually feel far from okay?

***

I'm feeling low at the moment. I have found it very difficult to admit it to myself or anyone else.

I say 'low', but that doesn't really describe it. It feels a bit like - losing touch with who I really am, forgetting the person that I once was. Complicated emotions and fears build up and build up until I am constantly in fear: what has happened to me? Who am I? How am I ever going to go back to way I used to feel?

I'm not talking about stress. I'm talking about real, mental health: when a dark cloud settles over you and you can barely move or breathe from it.

I've never had this before in my life, ever.

Even in intensely difficult circumstances - even in my lowest moments - I've never felt this panicked or fearful. I've always been able to fix anything that needed to be fixed. Or at least, I've been able to reassure myself. Over the past few years I've been really hot on this: if something needs to be changed, I will take positive action and push through how I feel.

This is different.

This is scary because, at times, it feels utterly out of my control.

I know it's partly hormonal, my body changing over time. I can deal, practically, with that. I know for sure there's a spiritual element to it. Which needs prayer.

But I still can't untangle this knot in my chest, this permanent stress that hums through my day to day life, that makes me feel like I could burst into tears at any moment, or sometimes, that makes me so exhausted that I wouldn't have the energy to cry even if I wanted to.

I want you to know that if you feel this way, it's okay to get help, it's okay to speak about it, it's okay to tell. As a Christian, I am so, so grateful I can lean on God at moments like this, dark nights of the soul. But at the same time, I feel a great sense of guilt - surely I shouldn't be feeling this way? I'm a Christian. I'm not allowed to feel like this. I'm supposed to be rejoicing. I'm not 'living in victory' right now. So I will close my mouth and not speak about it. What about the people that are really suffering? I just need to suck it up and get over myself.

The Holy Spirit never brings that kind of guilt. Did you know that? He might bring conviction, but that's different to pointless guilt. Conviction is a prompt to make a positive change. False guilt is a joy-sucking, life-draining emotion that leads nowhere.

False guilt is hideous.

False guilt is responsible for a lot of time wasting in my life.

God is still with me. Even though sometimes I feel like I can't escape from the stress, I do understand that He's there. The Bible talks about this, I believe, these feelings of despair with no escape. You only have to glance at the Psalms to read David's heart, poured out, bare and plain for all to see: even the ugly bits, the bits that people don't normally bring up in conversation. Passionate words that stir the heart and soul, like Psalm 38:

My guilt overwhelms me—
    it is a burden too heavy to bear.
 My wounds fester and stink
    because of my foolish sins.
 I am bent over and racked with pain.
    All day long I walk around filled with grief.
 A raging fever burns within me,
    and my health is broken.
 I am exhausted and completely crushed.
    My groans come from an anguished heart. (vs 4-8)

The words are almost shockingly naked and raw. This is a man who literally cannot take another moment. A heart in utter despair. Close to breaking point. He is so ashamed of his sinful actions that he can't bear it.

In later Psalms he is in a very different place. He sings for joy. He can't contain it. He dances with it.

I think we can be a Christian and still feel the full, technicolour spectrum of emotion that comes with just being alive. Even when those emotions don't match our situations or our previous experience. And we should be talking about it and praying about it and checking with each other, because anxiety and panic and fear are things that we can help each other with.

Sometimes God leads us through strange, unexpected places in order to get us where we need to be. Maybe, for some people, mental illness is the challenge they have to battle.

Sometimes just hearing someone say 'I feel like that, too', or 'I went through that' really can do wonders for the soul. Moreso than well-meaning but misguided advice, or impatience. I fear I've misunderstood people in the past when they've said they're feeling low or depressed: I didn't get it, so I felt frustrated and impatient with it.

So here I am, declaring it: my life is beautiful, and right now, I am a bit of a mess. I am Not Always Okay. And that's fine. This isn't a plea for help, more a wave hello to those who feel the same way I do right now, or who will in the future: I get it. I feel like that too.

I believe in powerful prayer and powerful action, and I'm taking physical, tangible steps to get myself back to normal. I'm actually feeling a little better already, just from sharing this with my family and friends, just by hearing their encouraging words.

I just wanted to say it. If anyone feels like this, or has done, then feel free to get in touch. I can't offer much in the way of advice but tea and sympathy is something I can do very well. And sometimes that's all we need to get through the tough moments.

Word of the Week: Action

Friday, 15 May 2015

Action

Since the election happened last week, the idea that the Conservative government are now in charge for the next five years has slowly started to sink in. I thought my initial feeling upon the result (despair) might start to fade as the days went on, and I could return to my happy little 'as long as my loved ones are okay, I don't mind what happens' bubble.

I haven't.

You see, the more I think about it, the more I think 'no, actually, I'm not happy with this and I want my voice to be heard'. I'm not happy with the fact that Cameron got in on a mere 36.7 percent of the vote. I'm concerned for what is to come over the next five years.

I've talked about this to the point where I can't articulate it any more.

But it did get me thinking.

Although politics are a delicate subject, and a very emotional one, I'm hoping I achieve the balance between being passionate and outspoken and being sensitive to people's feelings. My initial reaction when I saw the news on Friday morning was 'I HATE EVERYONE BLARGGH.' Actually, that's a silly way to feel: everybody is different, there is no black and white. I do understand some of the reasons why people voted the way they did (especially on a local level).

Years ago, though, I wouldn't dare say anything about how I felt, online or in real life. I just wouldn't. I wouldn't trust myself to get the words out properly: I'd shrink back instead, allowing other people to debate and remaining silent.

Sometimes remaining silent is the strong, wise thing to do.

Sometimes remaining silent is not the right thing to do.

Sometimes, more crucially, speaking and not acting upon it is even worse.

I'm praying for the future of our country and I'm praying that God will help turn my frustration, anxiety, and fear into something tangible, something physically productive. More than ever, as a Christian, I can show God's love to people by sharing what I have, by being empathetic, by understanding what people are going through, by helping in whatever practical way I can.

I write. That's what I do. I like words. But I hope that God will show me how to move beyond words into something practical. And I pray that He will change my heart, from one of fear into one of boldness.

I also pray that God will help me to be careful. I can see that my heart might become hardened as the next five years unfold. It's so easy to see high-up politicians - especially when they make certain policy changes or decisions - as monsters. I pray that I won't lose my compassion for them, too.

***

I found an awesome linky that I never knew existed! It's called Word of the Week, hosted by Jocelyn of The Reading Residence. You pick a word that you want to write about, and then just write. Perfect.

The Reading Residence

Creativity part one: goodbye guilt and farewell fear

Monday, 11 May 2015

This blog post by Kelle Hampton has had me bursting with inspiration this week, and for that I am very thankful. I even pinched a quote that she posted. Which is this:

“I write to give myself strength. I write to be the characters that I am not. I write to explore all the things I’m afraid of.” - Joss Whedon

***

Tonight is a night of the following: writing, a glass of wine, my bed, and a bag of Haribo. Not bad, huh?


Oh so relaxed.

I'm enjoying writing these pour-your-heart out posts right now. There are seven of them saved as drafts in Blogspot, waiting for me to give them attention. I've realised I'm incredibly lucky to be able to pour out my heart in such a way. To enjoy expressing my emotions creatively is a very good thing.

Sometimes, I read an incredible piece of prose, or I listen to a beautiful song, and I think: you are so lucky to be able to do that. To convey such emotion and depth and beauty in a creative way. I'm thankful for them. I am thankful for people who take the time to perfect their art and who take the risk of baring their souls to the rest of us. They add to the beautiful noise we create on this Earth when we let go of the fear that comes with being watched and judged and criticised.

I find it very, very difficult to apply the above admiration to myself.

I wrote last week about fear. Fear, I've realised, is a sneaky thing. It grows in your heart and tangles itself in your veins and then it tightens its grip, and then you can't move away from it. The more you struggle, the tighter it gets. I could talk about the effects of fear on multiple areas of my life, but today, I'm focusing on the area of being creative.

Of writing.

It's scary to admit that I love something this much. Okay? It's scary to sit here and sincerely tell you that I love this, that I have always loved it from the moment I could first tell a story, that writing is a huge part of my me, that I think I'd be an entirely different person without it. It feels bold for me to even think that I might have the potential to be quite good at it. Because to say 'Hey, this is what I love doing, this is what I put all my creative energy in to! Come and see!' is to open myself up for people thinking, or even saying, things like this:

'Who does she think she is? She's not even that good at writing anyway.'

(That's the voice in my head. I call her Shana. She's not very nice. My apologies if your actual name is Shana, I'm sure you're lovely).

The fear can grow in me so much that it not only affects my desire to allow people to see what I've written, but crosses over into my actual writing as well. It's paralysing. It stops me from even typing a sentence. Faced with a blank blog post, sometimes I stare and my mouth starts to go dry and I realise that whatever it is I might want to say probably won't sound the same when I write it down.

Then I start to think, well, what's the point? Why am I even doing this? And then in comes Linda, my brain's bossy and rather strict secretary (she only appears to tell me off, leaving me high and dry at moments when I really need to remember something):

'You should be doing something productive. Why on earth are you sitting there in front of your computer? There are toys everywhere! Your cupboards are dreadful! Let's not even get started on your washing basket. Stop messing around and start behaving like a grown up!'

Linda likes guilt trips. She likes to involve other people in them, too, just to make me feel worse. For example:

'How much happier would your husband be if he came home to a tidy house once in a while? Or if he could actually find his underwear in the place where we keep underwear rather than in a pile of clothes on the desk? MUCH HAPPIER, that's how much. He'd be a different man. You could use this precious time to be pairing up socks. Did you know that?'

And of course it crosses over to my toddler:

'Most mothers do something useful when their kids have a nap. Like baking nutritious, wholesome snacks for them. Or PAIRING UP THEIR SOCKS.'

It's all about guilt and fear, isn't it? Guilt about putting my time into this instead of actively choosing to serve other people. Guilt because I don't measure up to other (more organised) mothers. Fear of putting myself out there and being knocked down or rejected. Fear of pursuing something, only to find that I'll never get any better than this, and it will never go anywhere.

But no more of that. No more of the old me. The new me takes control. The new me takes her problems and deals with them. Like this:

Get lost, guilt: I am serving my loved ones by being creative. Let's face it: I am a creative person, which means when I am not being creative, I am grumpy and unhappy. God made me this way, no? This doesn't mean I get to prance around all day long living in a world of art and fairies and rainbows. Washing still needs to be done occasionally. But you get the gist. There's no point in trying to make myself like other women, because I am not like other women: I am me. Whether I like it or not.

When I purposefully make time for writing, when I actively cultivate creativity in my life, I'm happier. I see things from a different perspective. Writing helps me to deal with difficult things in life: it helps me to absorb stuff, process it, and move on, rather than trying to bottle things up. When I am creative, I am more caring, energetic, and excited about life.

Which obviously has a knock on effect to my loved ones. Who wants a grumpy but very efficient wife when you could have a slightly chaotic but really happy and energetic one?! (I'll ask my husband that later)

Another bonus for them is that I am capturing memories for us to look back on later. Sometimes photographs don't convey everything: the way you felt, how tired you were, the hilarious back story. Those sorts of things can get lost over time if they're not preserved. That's a good enough reason to do it all by itself.

Farewell, fear: Firstly - why does it matter if I never go anywhere as a writer? Why does everything in life have to be about material gain and success and one-upmanship? It's not about looking good in the eyes of men, it's about pursuing something that I love and think I am good at. If in ten years time I'm still blogging away and I haven't written anything more 'serious' than this, well, that's ten years of writing time well spent anyway.

Secondly - I will get better. I'm not claiming to be a literary genius whose every word flows like a song. Writing is a craft: you put work in, you get results out. It's like making furniture, or something. You tables might start out a bit wonky with one leg shorter than the others, but they get better and more polished with time. It's the same with writing.

Being so afraid of not being very good that I don't ever get around to writing is, frankly, stupid. You learn the art of writing by reading and writing. Just like you learn the art of editing by cutting out all the crap stuff. What I need to do is write now, and worry about polishing it later.

Take that, guilt and fear! The new me eats stupid and pointless emotions for breakfast.

***

So here I am, boldly saying: this is a huge part of me. My head is in writing mode pretty much constantly, and I wouldn't have it any other way. I am privileged to be able to express myself, and to be able to lay aside fear and self-condemnation. I write for my emotional health, I write to capture a moment, I write so that I can do what I have written about before: to have life, vibrant, full, and good.

I'll finish this off with a little story: I got knocked back a bit at school. Secondary school is hard, isn't it? Harder for a girl who wasn't at all into make-up, barely reached five feet and didn't really fill an a-cup, especially when that girl also had glasses and masses of frizzy ginger hair. I always wanted to be a writer then, though, and my young self was brave enough, when asked during a PSH-whatever-letter-comes-next lesson what I wanted to be when I left school, to say 'I want to be a writer.'

Some boy said 'That's a bit boring, isn't it?'

I don't think I said anything in response, so I'll tell you now, kid: no. It's not.

I didn't write for a while when I left school. Years, actually. I kept my dreams pushed down deep in my chest because it felt like a safer place for them.

That is not a legacy I want to leave behind. A life of burying stuff because I was too afraid to do anything else.

If nothing else happens with this, if I write for a while and it never turns into anything or I change direction and this is the most public my creative work ever gets, I'd like my kids to get this lesson from it: pursue what you love doing, put your heart and soul into everything you do, work really hard, and don't be afraid.

Which comes down to leading by doing again, doesn't it.

***

One last thing - I have added Jen Hatmaker to my list of Girl Crushes (last week it was Amy Poehler ... she's still on the list. There's room for everyone). Hatmaker wrote an excellent book called 7 which is totally rocking my world at the moment. Anyway, she also writes a blog and a recent post made me fall in love with her a little bit more. It's called 'On Becoming a Writer'. You should read it. I mean, this part:

Just to be clear, let me see if I’m describing you right: You love to read, you always have. You think words are powerful and beautiful and devastating when used correctly. You have a story, ideas, a lot to say. These things rattle around in your brain and if you don’t get them on paper, YOU JUST MIGHT DIE.

Describes me in a nutshell. Really.
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