queen of faff

Former secret writer. This is my rehab.


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Manchester

My heart is heavy.

 

After Peshawar, my baby was my balm.

Her warm, soft body caught my tears,

and kept me calm.

 

After Manchester, my baby is now four.

I don’t know how to speak to her about the horror

that’s reached our shore.

 

After Nice, Paris, Brussells, and many, many more,

my baby is not my balm.

She has a brother now and I

cannot shield them from such harm.

 

Aged four and one, they dance innocently

to any sound they hear.

I won’t teach them how to fear.

 

This venue, these children – it’s all as senseless as before.

No bullets this time, but the bones were no more grown,

and more faceless men keep score.

 

These small children of mine, will grow

with time,

and are home with me tonight.

 

I will teach them to dance

at every chance.

 

My heart will provide the beat.


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Fat fairies

A few weeks ago, while playing with my three year old, she told me I couldn’t be the fairy godmother to her Cinderella. “Why not?”, I enquired. “Because she’s fat”, came the reply.

Of course, the postpartum part of me, having given birth to her baby brother a few months earlier, was chuffed to bits with this declaration. The warrior mama part of me however, was not.

My daughter’s only visual Cinderella frame of reference is the 1950’s Disney film, and whilst the godmother is more rotund than Cinderella herself, I was and remain baffled as to why my/her physical appearance was the barrier to the part, rather than say, my lack of wand or ability to turn pumpkins into carriages – I have never needed plaits or royal lineage to be the Anna to her Elsa after all.

Fast forward to two nights ago and I was reading her a book, Florence was no ordinary Fairy. Borrowed from the library, I was reading it for the first time, out loud, to my three year old. The basic premise being that Florence doesn’t like fairy things, won’t sit atop a Christmas tree or grant wishes etc, but does adore fairy cakes, eats too many of them and gets too fat for her fairy wings to carry her. Cue scolding from Queen fairy for eating too much and getting heavy.

What are we doing to our children that they can be fed such shite about fatness and fitness at such a young age? A recent BBC report showed that 34% of 10-15 year old girls are unhappy with their appearance. I know I can’t protect her from societal pressure and that how she feels about how she looks when she’s a teenager could be hugely problematic but does it really have to start now?

I don’t talk about how I look in front of her. Sure, she sees me doing my hair and makeup, but even on days I’m lamenting the skinny jeans I can’t get back into yet, I don’t comment on it within earshot of my children. I don’t flinch when she pokes my soft belly, still recovering from growing her brother. I do my best to promote strong and healthy as body aspirations, rather than thin and pretty.

And yet.

And yet she knows fat. She sees fat. Goddamm this superficial world that is harming my daughter already.


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Failing at motherhood

I told my husband tonight I felt like I was failing at motherhood. I’d felt that way all day and had been crying before he ever got home from work. I have a three (and a half) year old and a nearly three month old and for the love of whichever god you believe in I don’t know why it feels like I should pretend that I don’t find that hard.

I find it hard to pay my toddler the amount of attention she needs (or just wants?) while at the same time trying to keep on top of the endless laundry. My parents came to visit us today and my mum helped me peg out the washing (the second load of the day as the first load had been in the machine at 8.30am). I cried as she washed my dishes because I felt like I should be able to manage.

When a delivery of boxes to organise our chaotic house turned up and nearly half of them were broken I thought I was going to lose my mind whilst spending ages on hold to sort it out, followed by simultaneously trying to decide which order to tend to my children in whilst tidying up the chaos I had intended to pack away into the boxes and fold yet more laundry because there’s no way in hell I’m getting the iron out.

I’d had the slow cooker on since 10.30 am to make an easy yet nutritious tea, a desperate attempt to wean my toddler off beige and breadcrumb coated food. It was met with a ‘bleugh’ at lunchtime as I showed it to her, followed by a “I’m too tired to eat my tea mummy” at dinner time.

So I retreated upstairs as the tears fell, wondering what I’m doing wrong, wondering why I feel so goddam guilty about finding things so goddam hard. I don’t want to hear how lucky I am, how quickly this will pass, how quickly they will grow or how soon my own children will be saying all this to me. I don’t want to be told I’m selfish because some people can’t have children, I really fucking appreciate mine. I don’t want to be told I made my bed….., because I know, and I wouldn’t change it.

I just want people to talk about how fucking hard it is, how lonely. How one more game of nursery or Topsy and Tim might tip you over the edge and that that’s normal.

So I told my husband I was failing at motherhood today. Largely on account of the amount of guilt I feel at not doing more or better. He asked me how many children I’d washed, dressed and fed today. “Two” I replied though my tears.

“Doesn’t sound like your failing to me”, he said.

Perspective restored. 


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Identity crisis

I’m sick of hearing that I should put my kids first. I know how important they are, and I absolutely prioritise their basic needs. But not at the cost of all else. They’re not more important than my husband (equally, but not more).  If I didn’t have him, I wouldn’t have them.  If I didn’t have his love, support, company, ability to keep me grounded, I’d have climbed my tree ages ago with no sense of how to get down.  We’re a team, and because of that we are both better parents.

The sense that mothers (and it does seem to be directed at mothers rather than fathers, or parents generally), should sacrifice themselves at all costs to put the children first is grossly unfair and, in my experience, utterly unrealistic.  If I don’t eat, I don’t function well enough to feed my kids. Sometimes it’s just basic common sense and biology.

But sometimes it’s about recognising that we are people too. I don’t want to be defined by my parental or marital status anymore than I want to be defined by my paid employment role. I am beyond proud to be my husband’s wife and my children’s mother, but it is not all I am and I refuse to feel guilty any more for aspiring or even hoping to feel anything different. To be anyone different.

I don’t think I really knew who I was before my children came along, never really ambitious or dedicated to one particular thing.  Maybe it’s their being here that is making the need to locate the part of me that is just about me more urgent. But as a good friend of mine said to me as I went on maternity leave: “This will not be the last big thing you do”. I have clung to those words like a buoyancy aid and I am determined to prove her right.

I’m a wife, a mother, and somewhere, way down, way way down, there’s a little something that’s just about me.


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I’ve got this

I’m 23 weeks pregnant with my second child. Our nearly three year old, who took over two years to really sleep well at night, has started waking again after months of sleeping for ten hours straight.

I am plagued by pregnancy insomnia, and in those waking hours, my mind is tormented by what will happen to my sanity if the next one is a non-sleeper too. My brain catastrophizing – as it is wont to do.

After getting my toddler settled around 1am this morning, I was still awake at gone 3am, and so when she appeared at our bedroom door at 5.30am, I had no strength – or even desire – to put her back in her own bed. As she snuggled into me and fell back to sleep, I was reminded of the weeks that became months, that became years, when I was the comfort she needed to sleep peacefully. At the time it felt like an enormous pressure. With hindsight I can see it for the privilege it was.

When she woke for the last time this morning, she hugged and kissed my bump, trying to reach her baby brother through my skin.

Those seemingly endless nights, when I truly believed I was losing my mind, actually enabled me to rock, soothe, and love my tiny person into the affectionate, confident, smart and funny little human she is today.

It was a timely reminder of what I’m capable of.

I’ve got this.


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Trampolines and sycamore seeds

As a person I am instinctively, or perhaps habitually, mean to myself. My inner voice isn’t soothing and encouraging, it is harsh, cruel and critical.

Maybe it is inevitable then that as a mother, I am pulled subconsciously towards focusing on the things I don’t do well, on the things I could undoubtedly do better.

Tonight, in my in-laws’ garden, I was given a gift.

” Come play with me on the trampoline Mummy”.

My two and a half year old sought me out to play with her. Me. She talks in full and sophisticated sentences. She is curious and smart. After some time bouncing and chasing each other she says “I’m a bit tired Mummy. Let’s sit down and have a little rest”.

She snuggles into me, puts her hand on my leg, taps it gently and says simply “We’re still best friends”.

As we sit there in a wonderful, comfortable, contented silence, I also sit with the unfamiliar feeling of doing something so incredibly right.

We run and jump some more, sharing fun and each other’s company, then we lie down in the middle of the trampoline, and rest some more.

“Look at the clouds,” I say, pointing, “Aren’t they moving fast?”.

“That’s not fast Mummy,” she replies, “they’re moving slow”.

I wonder at our different perceptions of time and speed.

We turn sycamore seeds into helicopters, then chase each other some more, and as I listen to her delightful squeals, I wonder how long it will be before she thinks clouds move quickly too.


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Grieving for gluten

Shortly after my thirtieth birthday, I was diagnosed with coeliac disease. The diagnosis came as a shock to me. I hadn’t realised I was unwell, and only found out I had it as the antibodies showed up in a blood test I was having for something I thought was completely unrelated – itchy skin.

The diagnosis threw my world as I knew it into complete disarray. I called my husband from the hospital in tears when I was told I had two positive antibodies and would need a biopsy of my intestines to confirm. His response was comforting: “Can you still have wine? You’ll be fine”! I had a biopsy a few weeks later and by 23 July 2010 I had gone gluten free. For life.

Coeliac disease is an auto immune disease. There is no cure. The only treatment is to cut out gluten completely from your diet. Completely. It’s not like going on a weight loss diet and sneaking a piece of chocolate now and again. Cheating isn’t really an option. One crumb can cause damage to the intestines as it is the body’s reaction to gluten that causes the damage, rather than gluten itself.

It is safe to say that the concept of ‘never again’ was a really hard one for me to come to terms with. It didn’t apply to any other area of my life, and never had. It felt like all my favourite foods contained gluten, pizza being top of the list.

I had no idea what coeliac disease was. I had no idea what gluten was really. And when I discovered how many things contain it, I really spiralled downwards. As melodramatic as it sounds, I began to grieve.

First came denial. “I don’t have any of the usual symptoms”. “There must have been a mistake”. “I really think they could have mixed my results up with someone else’s”. When you see a photo of your own intestines you realise the latter isn’t really likely.

Next came anger – the whole ‘why me?’ phase. It has a genetic connection and I was desperate to understand why I was the only one in my family who has it. Not because I would have wished it on them – far from it – but because I felt I needed to make sense of it.

The anger was followed by a really long period of self pity and, on reflection, depression. I looked longingly at other people’s food and just wanted it. Even finding myself wanting to eat things I would never usually have eaten before just because now I couldn’t have them.

People’s well intentioned comments about how it could be worse only fuelled my anger. I was well aware it could be worse, and that just made me feel guilty for feeling as low as I did and berate myself for not snapping out of it. 

Eventually I moved to a state of acceptance – sprinkled with the odd day where I still really mind. There are several things that helped get me there:

Coeliac UK. They are a charity for people with the disease and were an absolute lifeline, providing advice, support and an essential food and drink directory which lists products that are safe for me to eat. I joined my local support group and met other people who shared tips on eating out in my local area, which type of bread was the best, which shops sold which products and so on. http://www.coeliac.org.uk

My husband. He constantly allowed me to feel how I was feeling without putting any pressure on me to cheer up or get on with things faster than I felt able to. He also cooked and made sure I ate when my relationship with food deteriorated.

My family and friends. There is something so reassuring about having awesome friends who, when you are going for dinner call you up that afternoon to check whether an ingredient is ok for you. Then when you get to their house they announce “this is the gluten free side of the kitchen”. Or knowing your mum’s gravy always did contain cornflour instead of wheat flour so will taste the way it always did. Or having a friend who turns up on your doorstep with a paper bag from a Chinese takeaway and instead of it containing gluten-full takeaway, contains home-made gluten free dishes in a foil tray with a cardboard lid so that you can feel like you’re having a takeaway too!

Time. As much of a cliché as that may sound, as time went by, things really did start to get easier. I got familiar with what foods I could eat, what restaurants could cater for me, and tried to remember to take snacks with me when going out, as it’s the eating on the run that I find the most inconvenient aspect of being a coeliac. The work of Coeliac UK is invaluable in raising awareness and more products are arriving in the supermarket and more restaurants are providing gluten free options.

I still sometimes mourn how simple things were before, how I could eat whatever and wherever I wanted. But I know that my condition could have come with many more complications, such as dairy intolerance or diabetes, and therefore I have it easy compared to others.

So now I am working on opening up my horizons again, and dream of travelling abroad and being able to cope with being gluten free in countries where I don’t speak the language. Coeliac UK provides language translation sheets for that very purpose, so I know that what is holding me back is me.

I’ll get there. I hope those days where I still mind will become fewer and fewer. And when I go back to Rome I’ll come to terms with eating a salad outside the Coliseum instead of my beloved pizza!