Walking with the moon

A creative living in the real world…

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.

 

Being your own cheerleader, or why mums are amazing June 17, 2014

Filed under: Parenting,Survival Guide — hannahoakland @ 4:46 pm

I talk to a lot of mums. It comes with the territory. There’s not a great deal of choice when your major social outings consist of toddler groups and the twice-daily trip to the nursery gate.

Despite our shared situation, we often don’t have much in common. Our languages are different, as are our clothes, our family set-ups and our approaches to the dreaded toddler bedtime. But one thing crops up, over and over again. Guilt.

So many of our conversations revolve around feeling guilty. Because we’re working. Or we’re not. Because we’re staying at home when we only have one child, or two, or four.

I’m as guilty as the next mum. More guilty, most days.

I decided this morning that today was a fish-fingers-and-chips-for-dinner day. And I’ve spent hours trying not to guilt myself out of it. I even had to make a meal plan for the week. To prove that I was going to cook ‘properly’ at least once. It’s ridiculous.

I’m doing my best. We all are. It’s just that, usually, there’s not much acknowledgement. There’s not always a lot of cheerleading. Or maybe there is. It’s hard to hear anything over the sound of Elvie singing every song from Frozen on a continuous-high-pitched-thickly-american-accented-loop.

It got me thinking. Perhaps we need to be our own cheerleaders. That’s not easy. Some days it’s not even possible. But it has to be worth a try.

Mothers are amazing.

We make three different versions of dinner. To cater for the children who don’t eat spices, and the one who refuses anything that’s ever seen a potato. Despite the fact that we promised to never be that mother.

We know the Cbeebies schedule like the back of our hand. And are slowly introducing our offspring to the wonders of culture, sporting competition and culinary delights. Courtesy of Strictly, Wimbledon and Masterchef. Purely for educational purposes. Of course.

We have an inbuilt protocol in the event of a code brown bath situation. Which mostly involves getting the children out of the water as soon as possible and putting all the bath toys in a bucket of sterilising fluid. For about a week. Until we remember them again.

We sit through tantrums. And more tantrums. And more tantrums. And only occasionally take pictures.

We have clothes (and faces) that are covered in glitter and paint and snot and old weetabix. And, most of the time, we know that the fun the children had makes it all worthwhile.

Picture by K Wellborn

Picture by K Wellborn

We know the difference between the pink bowl and the purple bowl. And how very important that difference will be at snack time.

We know how to play Octonauts, or ‘little world’, or duck duck goose. Or whatever the preschooler happens to be obsessed with this week.

We occasionally use sarcasm. Particularly when we’re asked to play Octonauts. Again.

We wash all the clothes. And, occasionally, the bedding. Even though we know they’ll just get dirty again.

We can recite the Gruffalo in our sleep. Which comes in handy more often than you’d think.

We can translate the half-formed words of our toddlers. And conceal our disappointment when they only ever talk about Tree Fu Tom. Or poo.

We lose our tempers. We say things we regret. And we apologise. And start again.

We have the words that calm nightmares.

The arms that rock babies to sleep.

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The kisses that mend sore hearts.

Mothers are amazing.

Whether we have three children, or one, or seven. Whether we work outside of the home or not. Whether or not we physically gave birth to our babies. Whatever our language, or our family set-up, or our approach to bedtime.

We are amazing.

Sometimes it’s nice to be reminded.

 

Leaving the field. June 9, 2014

Filed under: Community,Depression,Survival Guide — hannahoakland @ 7:57 pm

I’m not great at camping. To be honest, I’m not even good at camping.

I’m less about the back-to-nature and more about the if-I’m-paying-to-go-on-holiday-then-I’d-at-least-like-some-proper-walls. My parents recently spent four days in a tent on the edge of a Welsh cliff during gale force winds and rainstorms. When they returned, Mum said, “you know what, I like camping.” It’s possible that I was adopted.

In my defence, I’ve had some bad camping experiences.

I’ve scooped water out of my tent with a mug. Whilst we were still putting it up. I’ve stayed awake all night, clinging on to the tent poles to prevent it flying away.

I’ve watched my food float down an impromptu river in the middle of the campsite. I’ve woken up in the morning in a puddle, to discover that every tent except ours had been evacuated in the night due to a torrential storm.

I’ve even wound up in an ambulance after having a panic attack midway through a camping trip. With a couple of terrified friends, pins and needles all over my body, and an oxygen mask that refused to do its job.

I think the real problem is camping in England. It’s cold. Even in the summer. And it rains. Even in the summer.

I’ve managed one night in a tent since having the children. This photograph was taken the morning after.

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I love how happy we look. And how you totally can’t tell that I’d been awake all night because the temperature was zero degrees and I’d spent the entire time checking that my babies weren’t freezing to death in their sleep. Take it from me, sometimes the camera really does lie.

It was supposed to be a three day camping trip. By the second night we were back in our own beds. With a roof. And actual walls. All mod cons.

Ironically, I genuinely love the idea of tents. Of waking up in the morning and wandering out in the dew. Of the children frolicking in the grass. Going to bed when it gets dark and waking up with the sun. It sounds idyllic.

Unfortunately, in reality all your clothes are damp, it’s beyond cold, you didn’t get to sleep until 2am because you could hear every word of the neighbouring tent’s wild party, and the toilets are horrid. Not my idea of fun.

This year has been all about the gentleness. The self-awareness. The taking things slowly. The trying to accept myself as I actually am. Weaknesses and foibles and all.

Bearing that in mind, you would think that, as I booked us in for church camp this year, I would have taken a long hard look at myself and realised that I was never going to survive two nights in a tent. That perhaps I should just book myself in as a day visitor. Own my character traits and go with it. Live according to my real, genuine self, and not who I think I should be.

Turns out I’m still learning. Which is why, after a week of stressing, frantic packing, pointless tearful arguments with Wes and several meltdowns with the children, I found myself on the floor of our tent, at 9pm on the first night of camp, full on ugly-crying like the world was about to end.

Told you. I’m really bad at camping.

Wes took me home. Straight away. I put myself to bed, and didn’t get dressed again until two days later. I was mostly sleeping and staring into space. Trying to figure out what had just happened. How I’d managed to break down so very spectactularly.

In fairness, it wasn’t just the tent. I’d been heading for a crash for a while. Life under canvas was just the final straw. That and the rain. And the suddenly incontinent child.

Either way, I spent the weekend in a haze of guilt. For letting everyone down. For leaving Wes with the children. Who were obviously now scarred for life by my tears. For being so needy, in such a noticeable way. For not being able to cope with one stupid little camping trip.

The kids had a great time. So did Wes. Face painting and puddle splashing and tractor rides. With their very best friends. I got the rest, and the sleep, and the uninterrupted peace that I so desperately needed.

Still, it took me almost a week to realise that maybe, just maybe, I hadn’t actually failed.

A few days after camp I got a message from a dear, dear friend. Telling me how proud she was of me for leaving the field that evening. For going home and being where I needed to be. For throwing my hands up and admitting that I just couldn’t cope.

She talked about my decision with words like freedom and wisdom. As though I wasn’t just escaping from a difficult situation, but consciously making a choice to be somewhere helpful.

At the time, in that tent, on that Friday night, as my children refused to go to sleep and every inch of me felt cold and damp, I didn’t think there was a choice. Wes wanted to take me home, and so I went.

But I could have stayed. I could have stuck it out.

That’s my default. Fight. Don’t give up. Don’t let the side down.

Stay in the field.

It would have been a disaster. I would have gotten colder, and damper, and grumpier as the weekend wore on. I would have shouted at the children. A lot. I would have been short with my friends. Resentful of my husband. And for what?

To be able to say I’d made it through. To martyr my way through yet another situation I didn’t feel able to handle. To earn another badge for my Supermummy sash.

Some things are worth fighting for. Marriages. Family. Mental health. Vocations. Community. Dignity.

I’m coming to the conclusion that there’s only one way to fight for the big things. By not wasting your strength on the little ones.

I can’t do everything. Nobody can. It’s time to stop pretending that it’s even a possibility.

I’m determined to embrace my real self. To get to know the woman that I actually am. I think I’m going to like her.

Next year, when church camp rolls around, I’ll be a day visitor.

And I’ll leave that field each evening with my head held high. Almost as high as my umbrella.

 

 
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