Walking with the moon

A creative living in the real world…

It’s not your fault. August 12, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — hannahoakland @ 5:42 pm

Every morning, after the prolonged period of coming-round that follows the children’s dawn chorus, I check Twitter and Facebook.

Just in case anything sufficiently apocolyptic has happened to justify my desire to spend the entire rest of the day in bed. And before you say anything, I’m well aware that there are other, more grown up ways of checking the news. It’s just that they don’t come with holiday photos, gratuitious cake pictures and empathy from my fellow exhausted mothers-in-arms. Don’t judge me.

Occasionally this plan backfires. Because something bad genuinely has happened. And that’s no way to wake up.

Today was one of those days. Even in my semi-comatose state I knew that so many quotes from Dead Poets Society was not a spontaneous celebration of 1980’s cinematography.

Robin Williams.

He joins the list. Of celebrities who have accompanied me through my life, without them ever knowing. And have, for whatever reason, been unable to continue living.

Heath Ledger. Corey Monteith. Alexander McQueen. Whitney.

And now Robin. Who will forever be the voice of every genie in my head. Who introduced an entire generation to men in drag, and outshone Pierce Brosnan in the process. Who inspired giggle doctors across the country. And taught us all how dangerous board games can really be.

I’m pretty sure that everyone has a favourite Robin Williams movie. Mine? Good Will Hunting. No question.

The pivotal scene in the film. Where Williams’ therapist finally breaks through to Matt Damon’s mathematically-brilliant tortured soul.

“You see this? All this shit? It’s not your fault…”

It’s not your fault. Over and over again. Until Damon, and the entire viewing population, break down and sob. Because sometimes, that’s what we really need to hear. That actually, this time, it’s not our fault. That shit happened to us, not because of us.

Social media has made me cross today. People talking about another Hollywood star taking the easy way out. Another loser who couldn’t cope.

To all these people, I say this. Be grateful.

Be grateful that you have no idea what depression does. How it steals every single piece of you. Until there’s nothing left except the sad and the cold and the lonely.

Be grateful that you haven’t had to watch your world turn dark. With no logical explanation. Despite having everything you ever wanted.

Be grateful that you’re able to get out of bed in the morning. That you’re not so empty that everything feels utterly, competely meaningless.

Be grateful that you have a high horse to sit on. I had one of those once.

I’m getting better. The medication is good. The support is amazing. My family and friends are incredible.

The other day I made pancakes and homemade jam. Before 9am. I think I might even have been dressed. Things are getting easier.

But still I have days. Days when the chilly, grey cloak settles on my shoulders and threatens to stay there for good. Days when the numbness and emptiness feels like more than just a memory.

Days when the only thing worse than getting out of bed is the thought of what the children will do to the house if I don’t.

Depression is not a choice that anyone makes. It is something that happens to you. At you. Without your consent.

I can’t judge you Mr Williams.  I won’t. There but for the grace of God go I, and so many, many others.

I don’t understand it. Any of it. I don’t know why some people make it through and some don’t. There’s no logic. No pattern. Not even Mrs Doubtfire could tidy it up.

One day, I’ll get to compare Scottish accents and poetry quotations with the man himself in eternity. Where he is free. Where we will all be free.

Until then, we take each day at a time. Today, we made party bags for Elvie’s birthday party. And went to the park. Because we can. Because we are alive. And fighting. And not yet overwhelmed. Because life, in all it’s chaos, is still beautiful.

To all the social media haters, I say: be grateful.

To anyone who’s lonely, or scared, or empty, I say: there is help. There is hope. Talk to someone.

And to the man himself, cracking jokes up with the angels, I say this.

“You see this? All this shit?

It’s not your fault.”

 

Going off-list. August 7, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — hannahoakland @ 1:27 pm

I wrote a to-do list yesterday. It took up an entire A4 page.

Unfortunately it’s the tip of the iceberg. Just the imminent, pressing tasks. Like organising a 4 year old’s birthday, and weeding my wasteland of an allotment. Buying food, emailing friends. That sort of thing.

Obviously this is totally separate to the ‘House To-do List’. Which is separate again from the ‘Fun-things-to-do-to-the-house’ list. Which should probably be renamed the ‘you’re-never-going-to-have-time-to-do-this-so-why-are-you-even-bothering-to-write-it-down’ list. Not so snappy.

I run my life by lists. They’re the only way I ever remember the errands I’ve promised to run, what I’m doing on Tuesday, or the fact that I haven’t actually finished Elvie’s school uniform shopping until I’ve bought name labels.

There’s only one problem.

That A4 page list is intimidating by itself. Even if we ignore the other two completely. Which, to be fair, I do.

But the reality is that most of my day’s activities aren’t even on that list. Those are extras. Useful extras – the kind that mean children get birthday presents and Elvie’s socks can be retrieved from the lost property bin, but extras nonetheless.

Most of my day is taken up with a slightly mindnumbing process of repetition.

Make food. Serve food. Clear leftover food from the floor. Repeat. Three times a day. Every day.

Collect clothes from the washing basket / floor / trampoline / bath. Wash clothes. Hang clothes out. Fold clothes up. Move coathangers between wardrobes depending on who has the most clean clothes. Repeat.

Check nappy. Change nappy. Throw old nappy away. Restock nappy box. Repeat.

Sweep floor. Kill ants. Curse at discarded food under the table. Sweep up ants, and escaped food. Throw in bin. Repeat.

Bath children. Rinse off mud. Clean their teeth. Search for the lid of the toothpaste after mistakenly allowing them to prepare their own toothbrushes. Brush hair. Story. Prayers. Put them to bed.

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Collapse. Repeat. Every night. Sometimes multiple times.

That’s plenty enough to fill a day. Right there. Without even touching the lists. Or the rest of the house. Suffice to say that the phrase ‘deep clean’ doesn’t get used much around here.

I’ve always used lists. Even before the children arrived. There’s nothing quite like crossing through the final item with a glorious, slightly-smug flourish.

That doesn’t happen anymore.

Now I transfer the unfinished jobs onto a new list, hoping to fool my brain into believing that I’ve completed something. That it’s a job well done.

It’s slightly unsatisfying. To say the least.

I wrote a post a while ago about how, as mothers, we need to be prouder of the little things that we achieve. The fact that we made it through to the end of the day with the house still standing. Or that we covered most of the mud up with a nice outfit for the birthday party. The little things. That almost always feel enormous.

It’s easy to prioritise the things on the lists. Nothing wrong with that.

But it’s also way too easy to despise the mundane, everyday, several times a day constants. The dull, monotonous beat that makes up the rhythm of our day-in, day-out life.

Honestly, in the utterly chaotic world of two under-fives, it’s often those off-list, routine, repetitive processes that keep me sane.

The endless loads of washing. The ever-present hum of the dishwasher. The cooking. And sweeping. And folding. And tidying. And collapsing in the evening with an enormous mug of tea.

They’re safe. Predictable. Tidy. You know where you are with a washing machine. Or a kettle. Which is more than can be said for a toddler.

They’re not the kind of things you can put on a list. Mostly because, as soon as they’re finished, they need doing all over again.

But they count. They really do.

Lists are great. I love them. They get stuff done. But it’s off-list that the real magic happens. That’s where homes are built and children are cared for. That’s where real love is shown. Over. And. Over. And. Over. Again.

There will come a time for deep cleans and finishing lists. But that time is definitely not now.

Now is the time for pairing socks and making sandwiches and breathing deeply whilst counting to 10.

I’ll see you on the other side.

 

 

Our big fat summer of slow. I hope. July 22, 2014

Filed under: Elvie,Family,Nursery,Operation Slow — hannahoakland @ 12:54 pm

Summer is almost here. So close I can reach out and touch it.

This time last year I was shaking with terror. Literally. This year, it’s different.

Tomorrow is Elvie’s final day at nursery. Before seven weeks of glorious, laid-back summer. And then Big School.

At least, that’s the plan.

This morning we made cupcakes for the teachers. Despite being utterly intimidated by the hand-decorated wrapping paper on the implausibly large presents that another parent brought in yesterday.

It was fun. We cracked eggs everywhere, covered the table in sugar sprinkles and mixed up some icing in a pretty lurid shade of pink.

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Elvie had a great time. Joel mostly licked things. Between them they consumed so much sugar that the traditional pre-nursery meltdown was at least ten times the usual volume.

We’ll miss nursery. Elvie especially.

We’ll miss the structure it gives to our days, and the friends we see on a daily basis.

We’ll miss the toys, and the climbing frame, and the seemingly unlimited craft supplies.

We’ll miss the wonderful teachers, who deserve much more than a day-glo pink cucpcake.

They have treasured her throughout this year. They’ve let her play in the mud and draw endless pictures. They’ve given her such a positive introduction to education, and opened her mind to a hundred new ideas.

We’ll miss them. Seven weeks is a long time to fill. But I’m optimistic about this summer. I’m even (whisper it) looking forward to it. A little bit.

Mostly because of last weekend.

On Saturday we spent all day in the garden. Literally all day. It was beautiful.

The sun shone. Wes built a play-house. Joel bounced on the trampoline. I was weeding. Elvie was covered in mud. Completely covered. From head to toe. As is her way.

It was perfect. Warm, relaxed and surprisingly productive. Followed by a friend’s party in the evening, where we sat outside eating delicious food while the children ran wild into the night.

It was the epitome of calm and gentle. Of our own particular, cherished brand of slow.

It just can’t happen during the week. When we need to eat lunch by midday to get to nursery on time. And we daren’t stay out late because the consequences are disastrous.

Unless it’s the holidays. Which, thank goodness, it very nearly is.

This summer holiday feels like the perfect chance to practice living slowly.

To eat more meals outside. On the floor. To spend hours in the mud. Or digging up weeds at our beautiful new allotment.

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To have lazy movie nights. And ice cream. And lots of parties with friends. To take my eye off the time, and the calendar and the to-do list. To breathe deeply. And relish the chance to really connect with my children.

Before Elvie starts school in September and everything changes again.

It won’t be easy. Wes is away a lot. Seven weeks is a long time. The heat makes Elvie spectacularly grumpy. As does being bored. It’ll be a delicate balance to maintain.

But, for the moment at least, the chance of arriving at September as a blissed-out, tanned, tie-dye wearing hippy seems a very real possibility.

That’s already a big improvement on last year. And the holidays don’t start until tomorrow.

I’ll keep you updated.

Unless, of course, I’m too chilled out to bother.

In which case you’ll find me in the garden. Feel free to bring cakes.

Whatever colour they are.

 

 

Like a Girl July 15, 2014

Filed under: Elvie,Parenting — hannahoakland @ 1:26 pm

Yesterday, the Church of England voted to allow female bishops. Finally.

As an accidental Anglican, I’m enormously proud.

Proud of all the feisty women who campaigned for the cause. Proud of all the men who supported them. Proud of our incredible vicar, who found his picture all over the Telegraph, leading the charge.

And proud of the men who disagreed, the men who still disagree, but who voted yes regardless because they saw a glimpse of a much bigger picture.

As a woman, and the mother of a daughter, I’m horrified. Horrified that it’s taken this long. That we’re so astonished that it actually happened. That still, in the twenty-first century, it’s so very very hard to be a woman.

I have no desire to be a bishop. None whatsoever. But what if Elvie does? How is it possible that, up until yesterday, she wouldn’t have been allowed?

How is it possible that toy manufacturers want to sell her make-up and hairstyling and fashion shows? At the tender age of three?

It’s frightening.

Elvie is not what you would call a ‘typical girl.’ Whatever that may be.

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At the weekend, she made a ‘remote control’ out of Duplo. Apparently it controls 21 separate things. None of us are quite sure what they are.

She reliably informs me that she’s been making remote controls for two million years, and she has a medal from the Queen. For being such a great scientist and inventor.

Her nursery report praised the fact that she’s helped to rebuild the mud kitchen, and commented on how much she loves the freedom and exploration that comes from being outside.

Over the last few weeks she has collected worms, beetles, woodlice and goodness knows what else from our garden. Made them homes and requested that we keep them as pets.

All she wants for her birthday is a kite. And a Frozen themed party, with a giant Anna made entirely of ice. Of course.

I love that she’s an explorer. A wild girl. An inventor. I love that if she had to choose her favourite tv character, she’d be hard pushed to decide between a scientist and a pirate. Both of them female.

But soon she’ll be four. In September she starts school. And little by little, she’ll learn the way the world works.

That the only way to be a powerful woman is to be a heartless bitch. Or sleep your way to the top. Or be so ugly that you had to devote your time to studying because nobody wanted to hang out with you.

Sounds harsh, I know. But if it’s in the Daily Mail, it must be true. Right?

I’m scared of Elvie getting older. Because I know how hard it is. To grow up as a girl. To follow your dreams and your beliefs, even if they make you the loser. The outsider.

I know how hard it is to break up with the abusive boyfriend who’s destroyed any confidence you’d clung onto during your teenage years.

I know how it feels to keep your keys and your phone in your pocket at all times, so that you can still get home, even if the man approaching you in the street takes your bag.

I know how hard it is to be surrounded by beautiful, made-up school friends when you have frumpy clothes and no idea how to use foundation.

I know how disorienting it is to be propositioned by the policeman who’s supposed to be identifying your mugger. How sick-to-the-stomach it makes you when his colleagues cheer him on. And how frustrating it is to know that there’s no point filing a complaint.

I know how easy it is to feel like you’ve caved in to the traditional stereotypes and betrayed your feminist sisters. When all you really want to do is raise your children and build a beautiful home. For now, at least.

I know how impossible it is to explain to guys, any guys, how backbreakingly, soul-destroyingly hard it can be to be a woman. And that’s for me. As a white British woman.

I can only imagine how hard it is for my sisters across the world. Who get shot in the head for daring to go to school. Or stoned to death for marrying someone that didn’t fit their father’s plans.

I have a pile of books on my shelf that are filed under ‘female empowerment.’ I’m keeping them for Elvie. When she’s older. Brene Brown, Caitlin Moran, Maya Angelou. To name but a few. I’ll let her read this blog. I’ll show her the stories coming out of #yesallwomen, and #likeagirl. Teach her about the suffragettes. And the No More Page 3 campaign.

In the meantime, she’ll be getting that kite. We’ll keep watching pirates and scientists and Always adverts. She can be my number one assistant on our new allotment. And bring home as many worms as she likes.

We came one step closer this week. To that magical, far-away land where it doesn’t matter in the slightest what you have between your legs.

It’s a hard fight, and it’s a long fight. But we owe it to ourselves, to our daughters, and to our granddaughters to keep going.

Yes, we fight like girls. But, one day, we’ll win like girls too. And the world will be a brighter place.

For everyone. Bishops included.

 

Charity begins at nursery. July 11, 2014

Filed under: Community,Elvie,Faith,Nursery,Operation Slow — hannahoakland @ 2:23 pm

Elvie has gone to nursery in football kit today. I say football kit. I mean shorts and a t-shirt.

Seriously. She’s three years old, and football kits are expensive. Not to mention that if the football’s ever on the telly, she settles down with a gleeful cry of “ooh, rugby!”

Nonetheless, the note from nursery said that the children needed to wear football kits today, for a kickabout with the Royals mascots. And that we should pay £1 for the privilege. Of not wearing uniform. Which the nursery children don’t wear anyway. It’s all a little farcical.

I do need to buy Elvie’s uniform. Ready for September. I’m considering only buying one outfit. Given the number of times she has to turn up wearing football kit / something spotty / a visual representation of her favourite haiku, I don’t think we’ll get much wear out of the little grey tunics.

Still, I mustn’t complain. Because they’re raising money. For charity. More specifically, on this occasion, “to help Africa.” That’s a direct quote from the nursery.

Brilliant. It’s always good to know exactly where your money’s going.

On closer investigation, it turns out that they’re aiming to build a school in Kenya. At least that’s what it said on the packets of the ‘football’ cakes the children baked on Wednesday. Which we paid 50p to take home.

I hope we see some pictures of this school. Otherwise I’ll be very suspicious when the dinnerlady gets a shiny new car.

Teaching children about charity is brilliant. In theory, I love it. In practice, if I’m honest, I find it really hard.

I’ve sponsored a girl in Kenya for the last twelve years, through Compassion, who are fantastic. But I’ve done it by default. The money comes out of my account on a direct debit and I never have to think about it. Easy. I’m great at that.

I’m not so good at the kind of giving that actually costs me something. Time, or thought, or money. Or the effort of remembering to take £1 to the school gate.

For a long time I’ve suffered from a scarcity complex. Living in a place of ‘not enough.’ Not enough time. Not enough energy. And definitely not enough money.

On one level, it’s true. I’m raising our little family of four on whatever Wes brings home. Which, as a self-employed craftsman, varies wildly from month to month. It’s easy to panic. To fret about the mortgage, or the water bill, or the cost of school uniform.

And when I fret, I go inwards. Every single time. Grabbing hold of every single penny I can hold in my hands. Squirreling away anything that’s spare. Stockpiling any freebies that I set my eyes on. Ignoring anyone else that might need help.

It’s not a good look.

The ironic thing is, all this grabbing and stockpiling and fixing my eyes on us, actually makes the feeling of scarcity worse. It makes me feel less secure and more as though we’re going to go under at any minute.

The reality is that we’ve always survived. We’re frugal and creative and fairly easily pleased. And we have a net around us. A support net of friends and family. Who tell us constantly that we’ll never go hungry. Or homeless. No matter how bad things get.

I’ve been trying, consciously, to change my mindset. I don’t think all this scarcity and insecurity is helping my depression, and it certainly sucks all the joy out of everyday life.

I’m taking small steps. Perhaps that’s a little generous. I’m taking baby steps.

When we had a clearout, I put all our unwanted things on Freecycle. Instead of trying to sell them, in the desperate hope that they’d make enough money to justify the effort I was making.

I’ve made endless, mostly enforced, contributions to the nursery charity collections. And not been too grumpy about it.

I’ve decided that I genuinely like getting rid of belongings. It makes me feel lighter, less encumbered. Like I can breathe more easily. And there’s less stuff to tidy up. Bonus.

I’m not so good at giving away money. That still hurts. We have a jar of loose change in our dining room, and I’ve often thought how good it would be to give that money away. I’ve never managed it.

Until this week.

Over dinner on Wednesday, we were discussing the Kenyan school, and why they needed help to build it. Elvie was fascinated by the idea of people who couldn’t afford to eat. Or put a roof over their heads. Of children without parents. Children just like her. Who happened to have been born somewhere else. And were suffering because of it.

My parents are in Tanzania at the moment, visiting a charity that they run. Providing care and education and sponsorship for orphans in remote villages. Children who have been abandoned by their communities. Children who need our help.

I explained this to Elvie. Told her where Grandma and Grandad are. What they’re doing. How those children are being looked after.

She’s a deep thinker, my Elvie. She listened, and listened, and then thought for a while. And this is what she said;

“Mummy, we could give them some of our money that we use for bus rides or food…what about all the money in the change jar? We could give them that. To help build their house.”

Needless to say, there were tears in my eyes. Tears of pride for my beautiful three year old. Who runs rings around us all for most of the time, and then shows her soft little heart, and her wonderful compassion. And a few tears of embarrassment. That it had taken this child to show me what I should have done weeks earlier.

I told her how proud I was of her. That we’d count the money and give it to her grandparents. That it would be used to build a house for the orphans.

That met with her approval. On the condition that she could draw pictures and send them to every single one of the children. To let them know that we love them.

With that, wise words over, she proceeded to wedge a baked bean between each toe on her foot, admire her handiwork, then take each one out. And eat them. That’s my girl.

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Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to collect the bean monster herself from nursery.

And take another 50p for a picture of her with the mascots.

I’ll try not to be grumpy about it. I promise.

 

Mysterious ways. July 7, 2014

Filed under: Adventures,Depression — hannahoakland @ 1:26 pm

I had lunch with a friend today. I know. It’s non-stop glamour here.

Admittedly, it was sandwiches. At home. On paper plates. With four children under 4 and not enough chairs. Still, the thought was there. And it was lovely.

We even managed a conversation. Carefully squeezed around preventing the baby climbing the stairs and fielding constant demands for juice, biscuits or an afternoon off nursery.

It was a conversation about depression. She knows a thing or two, this friend. She understands. We talked about medications and family histories. About therapists and self-help books and well-meaning, helpfully-intended comments that fill you with an irrational and all-encompassing rage.

It was a good chat.

It’s been weeks since I had a good long talk about my depression. About how I’m dealing with it, and how it’s all going. People don’t want to pry and, honestly, most of the time I’d rather discuss something else. Something a little cheerier. More light-hearted. Something with a joke at the end.

The conversation took me by surprise. As did the revelation, midway through, that my depression may just be the making of me.

I said it off-hand. Almost a throwaway comment. It’s only now, thinking back on it, that I realise how true it is. And how thoroughly unexpected. Depression may just be the making of me.

I don’t say it lightly. Not this time. It’s not coming from a Hallmark, cutesy-vintage-postcard-with-an-uplifting-slogan kind of a place. I’m not re-imagining the last few years through rose-tinted glasses. Not even slightly.

It’s coming from a still-in-the-midst-of-it-all kind of place. Where I’m swallowing down my tablet every breakfast time and obsessively tidying at night so that I have a clean slate in the morning. Where I turn down social invitations, often with half-truths or full on inventions, because I can’t quite face the effort. Where the panic over Wes going away starts a week or so before he leaves. And often lasts until he returns. Where I could easily stay in bed. For most of the day. Most days.

Ignatian spirituality has a beautiful take on life’s lowest points. (Thanks book group. I totally sound cultured now.) It believes that depression, or even suicidal feelings, aren’t wrong, or bad. Or anything to be alarmed about. They are merely a signpost – nudging you towards a different way of life, when your current pattern has become utterly unsustainable.

That’s what happened to me. Much to my surprise.

Sometimes I wish I wasn’t so stubborn. That I could take a hint earlier in the process. Or spot the problems a little sooner. But that wouldn’t have worked.

I’d have carried on, just as I was. Trying to be perfect. Trying to make everyone around me perfect. Not accepting anything less. Perpetually disappointed. With myself and everything around me.

Crashing on from one month to the next, too frightened to stop for breath in case everything fell apart around me. Or I actually had to think.

I’m pretty sure I’d have wound up a cranky, uptight old lady. Without many friends. I certainly wouldn’t have liked myself much.

Depression has forced me to change. It’s taken me to the lowest point I could ever reach. And showed me that there is no way on earth that I can be perfect. Or manage everything by myself. Not even close. That’s hard to take. Thankfully there’s another side to this particular rusty old coin.

Little by little, depression is showing me that there is grace. So much grace. From friends, from family, from God. That there are people who love me for who I am, not what I can do for them, or how beautifully my house is presented, or how many homemade desserts I serve at my lavish, silver-plated dinner parties.

Thank goodness.

It’s teaching me to rely on other people. Doctors. Family. Friends. Staff at the children’s centre. Toddler group tea-ladies. Kindly middle-aged cashiers at supermarket checkouts.

It’s teaching me to slow down. To take life one day at a time. That being four minutes late for nursery is totally worth it, if it avoids the vicious shoes-and-suncream fights that come when I rush everyone to be punctual.

That yoga and mindfulness are not just hippy crap. That actually, in the greater scheme of things, just-one-more-story-please is not the end of the world. It might even be a good idea.

That paint all over the floor / body / garden is a small price to pay for wild, unfettered creativity.

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Above all, it’s teaching me that I am ok. Just as I am. Quirks and all. That I should write, and paint, and play silly games. And all the other things I do well. And that I should garden, and sew and build Duplo. And all the other things I do really very badly but still enjoy.

And it’s showing me, ever so gently, that now, now that I finally understand something of these truths for myself, I might actually stand a chance of passing them on to my children.

Slowly but slowly but surely, depression is making me stronger. Making me able to take on the world. Putting things in perspective and pointing me in the direction of a calmer, happier, more honest life.

It’s one hell of a tough teacher. No mistaking that. And it’s not done with me yet. But there is hope. So much hope.

God moves in mysterious ways. Or so the saying goes.

It doesn’t get much more mysterious than this.

I hope.

 

Being Alive. June 30, 2014

Filed under: Adventures,Creativity,Depression — hannahoakland @ 8:32 pm

Eighteen months ago, I sat down at my computer and set up a blog. This blog. I agonised over it for hours…what to call it, which theme to use, how to link it to Facebook. Whether I was brave enough to write anything at all.

I decided that I was. Brave enough. And proved it by waiting six months before I wrote a single word.

That was a year ago. Near enough. Strictly speaking, it was a year ago last week but I’ve been collecting shells on a Cornish beach with my children, so this has had to wait. I’m ok with that.

Either way, my beautiful little corner of the internet is now a whole year old. It even had a ‘cake’. Thanks Wes.

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A year is a long time.

This year has been full-on. It’s been a year of owning up to depression. And starting medication. The year in which Elvie started nursery. And had her first case of nits. A year in which I learnt to grow vegetables. Conquered my fear of sewing machines. And decided never to go camping again.

It’s been the year when I realised that, in order to be anything remotely approaching sustainable, I need to go slower. Reflect more. Breathe more deeply. Spend more time outside. Watch less telly. She says, with Wimbledon mumbling away in the background. There’s room for improvement.

A year is a long time. And it feels significant. Especially for me.

I’ve always been one of the ok-I-know-how-this-works-now-I’m-bored types. I get tired of most things within a year or so. Itchy feet for new challenges. Greater possibilities. The longest I’ve ever stayed in one job was almost eighteen months.

Which goes some way to explaining why I find parenting so hard. Seriously. Elvie is nearly four already. That’s a lot of consecutive years.

I’ve suffered the same with my blog. Getting a bit bored. Losing the joy of it. Second guessing myself. Obsessing over stats and Twitter followers rather than writing anything half-decent.

I’ve been scared that nobody would read it. And then scared that everybody would. I’ve convinced myself countless times that I should stop. For a month. Or two. Maybe for good.

But I’m still here. Even after the twelve-month-mark-of-doom. Why? Good question.

The simple answer is this. When I write, I come alive.

I know who I am and what I’m about. It wouldn’t matter if nobody ever read a word of it. Amazingly, they do.

Here’s what I think. People read what I write because, somewhere deep inside, we recognise people who are doing what makes them alive. Really, truly Alive. And we’re drawn to them.

Being Alive is dangerous. It’s a vulnerable situation. Being your honest, open self. Throwing yourself into something. All in. Dispensing with the usual socially appropriate levels of cynicism and disinterest.

This year, it’s proved itself to be a risk worth taking. Being Alive has bought a whole new meaning to community. I’ve had the most amazing chats with the most incredible friends. I’ve had messages from people who have related to my posts or been inspired to deal with their own issues. I’ve laughed with people. I’ve cried with people. People I’ve known for years. People I’ve never met.

An unexpected bonus is that I’m starting to notice other people who are Alive. There are lots of them around.

This weekend we stayed at a Cornish B&B for my grandfather’s birthday party. Pendragon Country House. Seriously, stay there. All of you. Just make sure someone else is paying.

The house is beautiful. The garden is lovely. The food is stunning. Everything – jam, bread, pastries, three-course dinners – is home made. The welcome is phenomenal. There’s an actual suit of armour.

Within five minutes of arriving we felt totally at home. Despite the potentially perilous two-small-children-and-antique-china combination.

By the time we left, two days later, the owners felt like family. We swapped Cbeebies parodies and Gigglebiz impressions. There were hugs and kisses and thank you’s all round.

They were born for hospitality. For cherishing people. For spoiling them. For going above and beyond. For creating the possibility of an idyllic weekend, even with two small children in your luggage. They were Alive. And it made us feel amazing.

Being with people who are Alive rubs off on you. Howard Thurman sums it up better than I ever could.

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

For Nigel and Sharon, it’s hospitality that brings them to life. For me it’s writing.

For you, it might be accounting. Or gardening. Making music. Listening to people. Teaching. Painting. Whatever it is, do it. Please. Don’t be afraid.

I need you. We all do.

You won’t regret it. I promise.

 

 
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