Walking with the moon

A creative living in the real world…

Keep. Your. Head. Still. November 26, 2014

Filed under: Depression,Elvie,Survival Guide — hannahoakland @ 12:26 pm

I knew having a daughter would be fun. I’d spent years looking forward to precious moments of female bonding. Misty-eyed vignettes of brushing hair, painting nails and side-by-side crafting.

Four years into mothering my girl, I’m filing those images in the folder marked ‘delusional’. For now, at least.

There is nail painting. Plenty of it. Almost every weekend. Unfortunately I’m not usually invited. Unless the pot is really hard to open. Apparently it’s much easier to varnish the floor / Joel’s entire arms / our crockery if I’m not in the same room.

Crafting is much the same. An endless barrage of requests. More glue. Different colour paper. The right size pompoms. Admittedly, we often craft side-by-side. Living the dream. But that’s only so she can steal my supplies when I’m not looking.

Nail varnish and crafts are basically just threats to our fragile peace treaty. Disguised as opportunities for quality time.

Hair brushing, on the other hand, is a live grenade. There’s no pretence there. None.

I have friends whose daughters wear their hair in elaborate plaited arrangements. With more hairbands than a branch of Claire’s accessories. I have literally no idea how they do it.

Just the sight of a hairbrush is enough to make Elvie run for the hills. So much so that her own brush has mysteriously disappeared, leaving us with sole option of the soft, entirely useless baby brushes. Which have no impact on the knots whatsoever. Just as she planned.

There are whole Youtube channels dedicated to cute hairstyles for little girls. Numerous pages on Pinterest. Full of french plaits, angel braids and other words that pass for curses in our kitchen on a school morning.

Nowhere is there a guide on what to do when your four year old styles her own hair, using what’s left of yesterday’s unbrushed, slept-in plait and refuses to let you touch it until it’s so late that the school gate’s about to close and you just give in.

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The basic rule appears to be ‘the more clips, the merrier. No matter where they are.’ I’ve not seen that on Instagram.

If I had a pound for every keep-your-head-still-for-goodness-sake-how-hard-can-it-be-to-just-stare-at-the-plug-socket-for-two-minutes I’ve shouted, our mortgage would have been paid off long ago. It’s exhausting.

Seriously. How hard can it be? Keep. your. head. still.

Simple.

Or not. Turns out it’s not just Elvie whose head is incapable of a pause, however brief. Turns out it’s tricky for me too.

This time of year is always hard for worriers. All the planning and the organising and the multitude of opportunities to fail. Throw in a few last-minute requests from school, a broken television and a building site in the lounge and getting through the day can feel impossible.

My brain just cannot let things go. No matter how many lists I write. Or how much planning I do. Yesterday I went to town to buy cranberries for bookgroup Thanksgiving. Having promised myself that I wouldn’t think about christmas again until we come out the other side of my birthday party.

And yet, there I was. In the pound store. Where they definitely don’t sell cranberries. Looking at festive table cloths and serviettes and crackers. And dishwasher tablets. Of course.

It’s unstoppable. My relentless, reckless, ridiculous brain.

Getting myself tangled up to the point of shutdown. Because there is too much to do and too much to make and too much to organise. And, most importantly, because so much of it is new.

I’ve never made a miniature top hat before. Or bread from scratch. Or grown up party food for an indeterminate number of people. Or, for that matter, anything involving fresh cranberries. It’s definitely a good week for adventure.

Problem is, I want to do it. All of it. This is what makes my soul come alive. Trying new things. Achieving something. Feeding people. Creating an atmosphere. Making pointless, beautiful things. Beauty for beauty’s sake. It’s so much fun.

Unless I’m racing through it. Thinking about everything else that needs doing before Saturday. And how I’ll probably mess it up anyway. Cursing the American measurement system. And dying on the inside when my daughter throws up in the night, requiring two days off school according to their sickness policy, despite it being entirely down to her stinking cold. Because now I won’t get anything done at all. And it’s not fair. And I probably should never have said I’d have a birthday party in the first place. And…

Keep. Your. Head. Still.

Just stop.

It’s actually impossible to be in more than one place at once. Believe me, I’ve tried.

It is, however, just about possible to do one thing at a time. To make a slightly-shabby miniature top hat out of a recycled space ship costume and some fabric scraps. To enjoy whole moments of the process. Despite the constant audience of small children. To only cut your finger once.

It’s possible to scale down your plans and rein yourself in. And to try not to be too disappointed. It’s possible to believe your party will be worth having even if it doesn’t look like an exact replica of a vintage big top.

It’s possible to cross things off your lists without having done them. And not miss them too much.

It’s possible to decide that sleep is more valuable than hand-painted circus signs. It really, truly is.

It’s possible that your friends will love you anyway.

It’s possible that there’s no point doing any of your wonderful plans if you’re too stressed to enjoy them.

It’s possible to keep your head still. If only for a minute. A minute, it turns out, is better than nothing.

Now, who’s going to tell Elvie?

 

Blood, sweat and tears. October 2, 2014

Filed under: Community,Depression,School — hannahoakland @ 12:49 pm

Parenting is hard work. Almost always. We’re all in agreement there.

I can handle hard work. Just about. I’ve learnt that I’ll pay for every single minute I dare to stay awake after 9pm. I’ve learnt that the toilet always stays open. And that nine times out of ten it hasn’t been flushed. I’ve learnt that sometimes, the price I pay for going upstairs to hide the Christmas presents is a toddler helping himself to the last Cornetto from the freezer.

Above all I’ve learnt that we don’t do clean. Ever.

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It’s ok. This much I can cope with. Most of the time.

But sometimes there are days that tip it over. Days when your husband is away, your friend suffers a desperate health crisis, your four year old puts your toddler in A & E, the buggy gets a flat tyre on your way home from the hospital and your phone has decided to stop receiving text messages. Just for fun.

Blood, sweat and tears. Literally. All in one afternoon.

Those are the evenings that I spend on the sofa, huddled in a blanket and clutching the ice cream tub as though my life depends on it. Those are the evenings when I wonder whether I’m getting it all wrong. Those are the evenings when I feel alone.

That’s when I miss the good old days. The ones I’m too young to actually remember. The ones where everyone’s kids played outside together all day and only came home at dinnertime. Where everyone lived next door to their mum and their aunty, and their gran.

Where there were always enough hands to deal with an emergency. Always enough wisdom to guide you through. Where mobile phones hadn’t even been invented.

Facebook isn’t quite the same.

Don’t get me wrong. I have amazing friends. Friends who drove us to the hospital. Friends who came round the next day with a spare inner tube to fix the buggy. Maybe even friends who texted me. Not that I’ll ever know. Stupid phone.

It’s just that most days I don’t feel wise enough by myself. I need people on hand to tell me what to do. I want answers. Good, solid, definitely-correct answers. To a million different questions.

When exactly should my four year old schoolgirl stop wearing pull-ups at night? And how much sleep will I lose because of it?

Is it ok that Joel hasn’t even thought about potty training? And that he knows the theme tune to almost every Cbeebies show going?

How much should they actually be eating? And does any of it really need to be vegetables?

It’s not that I want my entire family and friends on my street. Nice as that may be.

All I really want is confidence in my own decisions. Which may take some time. But there’s hope.

Last weekend was rotten. Too many doctors. Not enough functioning tyres. And a large period of time when I felt like I had no control over anything. It’s taken a while for me to recover. Unlike Joel, who was back to his usual self by the time we left the hospital. It’s easier to fix a dislocated elbow than you’d think.

It happened. These things do. Quite frequently, in our house. Five days later, I can look back and say actually, we did ok. We got to the hospital. We got home. We ate dinner. Even if it was beans on toast. Everyone went to bed in one piece. Nobody lost their temper.  No (lasting) harm done.

It was horrid. But we survived. Without an emotional breakdown. Or calling Wes home. That level of success, small as it is, would have been unthinkable even a year ago. We’re getting there.

Perhaps it’s only the blood-sweat-and-tears days that show us what we can do. That make the pull-ups and vegetables seem a little less important. Perhaps the only way to build my confidence is to bash my way through the hard days, over and over again.

With a bit of help from my friends.

Especially Ben and Jerry.

 

Playing on swings. Writing books. And other difficult tasks. September 17, 2014

Filed under: Adventures,Depression,Elvie,Joel,Parenting,Survival Guide — hannahoakland @ 10:42 am

Earlier this month, Joel turned two.

Two years old. Already. Finally. It’s confusing. I think we all deserve medals.

To celebrate, we took both children to the park. Followed by pizza with the family. I know. There ain’t no party like a toddlers party.

In fairness, we took them to a good park. Full of wooden play equipment, natural building materials and opportunities for risk-taking. We even ate marshmallows. It was quite the treat.

Joel had a wonderful time. Running up hills and flinging himself down slides. Bouncing on the trampoline and greeting every new child with a shout of “Hello, friend.” He’s delicious.

Elvie was struggling. Partly because it wasn’t her birthday. So she wasn’t allowed to open the presents. Partly because it hadn’t been her idea to go to the park. And partly because, after the Great Bear Hunt of 2014, she hadn’t been allowed to take her special night-time teddy with her.

All in all, she was less than impressed. Which she made very clear. I would have heard her screams even if I’d stayed at home.

The swings were the final straw. I was pushing her, like the dutiful mother I am. Except that I was pushing her ‘too high’, or ‘too slowly’, or ‘too wonky.’ Continually. For about ten minutes. At which point, considering that I didn’t even want to  push her in the first place, I decided that I’d had enough abuse for one playtime and left her to it.

I muttered something about how she should try to use her legs, and sat down to imagine that I had, in fact, stayed at home and was curled up in bed with a cup of tea.

Oh, how she screamed.

Wes took Joel to play in a tunnel, and I was left with a human tantrum. Of nuclear proportions.

I had a lot of sweet, kind, empathetic smiles from other parents. Whilst I watched their children swinging. By themselves. Using their legs. On reflection, there probably would have been better times to point that out. Suffice to say, the screaming continued.

Eventually, something inside me broke. As it usually does. When I get beyond the point of anger and frustration and annoyance, and remember that actually, Elvie is my daughter. In every possible way.

That underneath the screaming is usually a fear that she can’t quite put her finger on yet. Like I said, she’s my daughter. In every possible way.

It took a long time. A lot of gasping, and snot, and false starts followed by more raging tears. But we got there in the end.

She was scared.

Not of the swings. But of the swinging. The new challenge. The risk.

Scared of getting it wrong.

My sweet four year old was so scared of not being able to swing properly that she had spent half an hour screaming at the top of her lungs. And come perilously close to spending the rest of the afternoon in the buggy.

My wild, crazy little girl. Who, when given the materials to make a bear-ear headband and an outfit for her teddy, created this.

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A tiara and a fairy skirt. For herself.

She’s never been one to play exactly by the rules. She’s an incredible negotiator already.

And yet.

She is driven by an insatiable urge for perfection. By a desperate fear of not being good enough. By the preference for self-sabotage over embarrassment.

Just like her mother.

We had a long chat that afternoon. Sitting on the grassy slope, looking at the swings. A chat about being brave. And taking risks. About right-or-wrong not being the most important issue. About trying. And learning. And making mistakes. And trying all over again.

She got on the swing. Eventually. All on her own. She tried to move herself. To use her legs. And when she couldn’t, I pushed her. This time, she didn’t whinge. So much.

We’ve had a lot of these conversations lately. Me and my girl. I’ve tried to praise her for trying. Rather than succeeding. To not jump on her if something goes wrong. To let her help. Even when it makes the process painfully, tooth-pullingly slow.

We’re working on it.

Which makes yesterday even more ironic. When, after a day of painting playhouses, reviewing and renewing prescriptions, and fraught school runs, I found myself weeping into a bowl of Phish Food. Because I wanted to write a book. But I couldn’t bring myself to start.

Because I’m scared. Scared of getting it wrong.

Because of my own insatiable urge for perfection and my own desperate fear of not being good enough. Because of the voices in my head that tell me I’m deluded. Because I’d almost rather end up sad and bitter than try and fail.

Almost.

Last night I heard my own words parrotted right back at me. Not by Elvie, thankfully. That would have been a bit too much. Besides, she would have wanted my ice cream.

By Wes. Who sat with me and hugged me, and told me in no uncertain terms to stop fannying around and get on with it.

So here I am. Procrastinating a little, admittedly.

But I’ve looked up publishers. And literary agents. And submission guidelines. I’ve made a reading list. And, so far, stayed off Pinterest.

I am beyond terrified. If you try to talk to me about it, I might throw up on your feet. Sorry. In advance.

It will all be worth it in the end. I hope.

Either way, I’ve heard it’s the trying that counts.

Meet you at the swings?

 

Woohoo! Or, the day Elvie started school. September 10, 2014

Filed under: Adventures,Depression,Elvie,School — hannahoakland @ 1:53 pm

It’s here. Finally.

The big first day. Of actual, real-life school.

As I write this, Elvie is doing goodness-only-knows-what in her classroom, dressed in her delicious little uniform, surrounded by her friends.

Whilst Wes walks Joel around outside in the buggy, to try and calm the toddler tantrum that ensued when he wasn’t allowed to stay with her.

It’s been a long time coming. For me, anyway.

7 weeks of summer holiday. And 10 days fuming at everyone else’s “first day of school” pictures on Facebook. Seriously. What school in their right mind waits until the 10th of September to open?

We’ve done our very best to make it an occasion. And to conceal at least a little of our bare-faced joy.

She’s had little presents from family members. Special pens. Alphabet charts.

Last night she had a we’re-proud-of-you card, and a free-choice dinner. The opportunity to eat anything in the world, as a special treat. Whatever she wanted. Which, as it turned out, was chicken pie, baked beans and raw carrot. She’s easily pleased.

Today she was up bright and early, asking if it was morning yet? Could she put her uniform on already? Could she wear her special blue hairclips? What bags did she have to take? Could she decorate her water bottle?

Who knows? She’s not the only one that’s new to this.

Several hours, photos, changes of hairstyle and stretches of double-sided sticky tape later, and she was waiting again. This time, in the playground. In a cluster of old friends, new faces and parents trying to get their overexcited offspring to just-stand-still-for-one-picture-please. And the little girl who turned up a few days early for the start of nursery. Oops.

She was nervous, by her own admission. Holding my hand. Not wanting to run off and play just yet. Turns out she is human after all. If you ignore the green skin on her stomach where yesterday’s paint proved a little too stubborn to remove.

And then we went inside.

She is amazing. Just turned 4. In a brand new environment. Albeit one that the nursery staff have prepared her brilliantly for.

Her confidence blows me away.

We found her peg, her drawer, the box for her water bottle. She found her chair, her whiteboard to write her name on. Her own pen and rubber. And she was away. With an absolute gleam in her eye.

A few minutes later, having demonstrated the use of the rubber, I was dismissed, with the traditional “Goodbye, Mummy,” that I’ve come to expect on such occasions. And I watched from the doorway for a moment, as she sat in her chair. Her little blonde head bent over her board. Rubbing. Concentrating. Completely absorbed.

And I smiled. She’s going to be just fine.

As are we all.

This is a big change for everyone. The first day of the next seventeen years of our lives – if you count Joel’s schooling too. Which we probably should.

It’s a change of pace. A change of intensity. More bake sales, more parents evenings, more letters home and endless form-filling. A sabbatical for the Frozen soundtrack. And a gradual letting go of the total influence I’ve had over what she sees, or hears, or learns.

I’m not as scared of that as I thought I’d be. In fact, I’m mostly grateful. Grateful that she has somewhere, just round the corner, to spend her days. With an outdoor classroom in the woods. And a vegetable garden. Not to mention her friends, and the occasional deer.

I’m grateful that she’ll have hours of stimulation, every day. For her mind and her body. Grateful that she’ll have a way to satisfy her desperate thirst for knowledge. That doesn’t involve Google. Or our fridge door.

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I’m grateful that even as I write this, I can see her from my bedroom window. Speeding round the playground on a little yellow scooter. And hear the accompanying whoops.

Yes, she’s very young. Yes, she doesn’t always cope brilliantly with authority figures. Yes, she hasn’t tried the school dinners yet.

But, from where I’m sitting, this looks like the start of something beautiful.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have twenty minutes, and an entire cup of still-hot tea before pick-up time.

Honestly. What’s not to love.

 

 

Digging. Slowly. August 29, 2014

Filed under: Creativity,Depression,Operation Slow — hannahoakland @ 6:57 pm

This morning I went to my allotment. For the first time.

Well. The first proper time. The first time I’ve done anything other than survey my land. Or show it off to anyone who displays the slightest bit of enthusiasm. Some people have seen it twice. In the same day. Sorry Mum.

It’s possible that I was a little over-excited. At the prospect of this brand new, weed-riddled start. So excited, in fact, that Wes took a picture before I left. Sort of like a grown-up first day of school. With dirty jeans and a trowel.

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Yes, that’s a tonne bag over my shoulder. Yes, it was empty. Yes, it’s now full of weeds. And exactly where I put it, in the middle of my plot, because it’s way too heavy to even think about lifting. Details, details.

I still have a lot to learn.

I spent three hours there this morning. Battling dandelions and bindweed and tall spiky purple things that I wouldn’t even like to guess at the name of.

I found slugs. Loads of them. Huge great slimy things. Ladybirds. Beetles. A frog. Just one. Brown and speckledy. Which sat right in front of me for a good long while before thinking better of it and heading for the nettles.

Oh, are there ever nettles. I’m certainly not going to run out of them.

I met a woman who complimented me on not rotavating my plot, because it would only have spread the bindweed. Which was totally my plan. Of course.

I met a man who knew instantly that it was my first day, and told me to take it easy. Little and often he said. And then he left. Roughly four minutes after arriving. Without doing anything. You have to admire someone who takes his own advice so seriously.

I met a lovely old Irish man. Who told me all about the previous owner of my plot, and the stroke she had suffered. Before confiding in me that his own wife won’t eat anything he grows, living instead by the mantra “there are no slugs in Morrisons.”

He also told me to help myself to his runner beans whenever I wanted. I’m 98% sure it wasn’t a euphemism.

Three hours, I spent there. Maybe three and a half. Until I got hungry. And my back hurt. And I came home.

Honestly, I haven’t cleared much ground. There are a lot of weeds in the tonne bag, don’t get me wrong. But there’s not a lot of bare soil to show for it.

It’ll be backbreaking work just to get it ready for planting. But I’m determined. Because for me, this feels like more than an allotment. It feels like a change of pace. A critical part of my slowing down. My being gentle. Accepting my place in the world.

Allotments are about seasons. Times when the ground seems barren. Times when the trees are overflowing. Times when you put hours and weeks and months of brutal hard work in, and you have nothing to show for it. Times when the weather foils all your best-laid plans. And times when you get an unexpected surprise.

Like the mint I found this morning, thriving in amongst the weeds. I totally have a crop already. Check. Me. Out.

These are the rules of nature. Life is the same. At least it should be. I think. But it doesn’t feel that way.

It feels like achievements and targets and pressures. A world of instant gratification. Where everything is only ever a click away. Where it only matters if someone else can see that you’ve done it.

In this world, there are no seasons. You can have peaches in January if you look hard enough. The Christmas chocolates are out in shops already. Even the weather isn’t left in peace – tabloids threatening total white-outs or raging storms. As though an-appropriate-amount-of-snow-falling-at-the-coldest-time-of-the-year is no longer good enough.

Everything comes with drama. With deadlines. With the feeling that you should have completed it, instagrammed it and moved on to the next thing already. Preferably yesterday. There is no waiting. None.

It’s making me tired. So, so tired.

The pressure is unsustainable. Something has to give. For the last few years, that something has been my sanity. Literally.

Not any more.

I’m going slowly.

As the sweet lady pointed out, I’m not rotavating my plot. Not because of the risk of spreading bindweed. I’m pretty sure it can do that without my help. But because I want to dig it. All of it. Slowly.

I want to know what it’s like. To feel the soil. To dig. And sit. And think. And, for a few snatched hours, not do anything else. I want to have a place that is mine. That is peaceful. That exists purely to make my soul happy.

It may sound foolish. Or wasteful. Or a poor use of my time. I could have spent three hours sewing name labels into Elvie’s uniform. Cleaning the bathroom. Filing.

But I didn’t. I needed the calm, the air, the mud. I needed my little patch of earth. My promises of slowness, of self-compassion, of seasonal living. Made tangible. Before my very eyes.

It may sound like a poor use of my time. If you ask me, nothing could be more essential.

Maybe one day I’ll win allotment prizes. Maybe I won’t. Perhaps it will yield huge crops. Perhaps it won’t.

None of that really matters.

There’s no rush. No pressure. No targets.

Thank goodness.

 

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.

 

Life. And other amazing things. March 31, 2014

Filed under: Community,Depression — hannahoakland @ 1:53 pm

Hectic. That just about sums up my life, and the state of my brain over the last ten days.

Family birthdays, friends-who-might-as-well-be-family birthdays, a christening, a Mother’s day and one ridiculous Friday where I would have had to take a selfie whilst running a three-legged race in crazy socks and no make-up to fulfil all my charity obligations in one hit.

My head has a nasty tendency to take all these things too seriously. To the point where actually, I just end up blocking them out.

Yes, I donated to Sport Relief after watching Davina put the rest of us to shame. Yes, I managed to make birthday dinner and a crumble despite being interrupted no less than four times for toilet related incidents. Yes, I found a Mother’s Day present for my mum.

But I’ve spent most of the week with a fuzzy head. Going over and around all the birthdays I’ve completely forgotten to acknowledge, the lovely messages I’ve not replied to and all the charities I’ve entirely ignored. Whilst being eternally grateful that all Wes wanted for his birthday was money. Hooray for husbands who need nail guns.

I get myself into a right old state. Life is hard. I know.

On Thursday we headed to the Children’s Centre for some space. Where the little ones could play in ball pools and dolls houses, and builders trays filled with ice, water and zoo animals. And I could step back, watch them and breathe.

Eventually we ended up in the garden. As always.

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Digging in the mud. Barefoot and filthy and eating mud. (The children, at least.)

It was quiet out there. Too cold and miserable for the sensible parents. We had it to ourselves for a while. Until we were joined by another lady and her two year old girl.

She’s shy, this lady. I couldn’t even tell you her name. But she smiles. A lot. Sometimes we talk. Usually about how beautiful her daughter is, or how much Joel has grown.

Originally, she’s from Afghanistan. She wears a burka over her clothes, no matter how hot it gets. Until Thursday that was all I knew about her. Not any more.

The conversation started the same way they always do. We’ve not seen each other for a few months, so she was stunned by Joel’s running about, and I was smitten all over again with her delicious little girl.

We talked about how tall the children were getting, and she joked that her nephews always ask her why she’s shrinking. Apparently she has 16 nephews, and 6 nieces.

My surprise must have shown on my face because she laughed as she told me that back home, they always have big families. Just in case. Because nobody ever feels safe.

After that, it was as if a switch had been flipped. She talked. And talked. Non-stop for at least ten minutes. Here is what I know now.

Afghanistan is hell. Her sister lost four of her children in a day because of the war. She herself suffered numerous miscarriages and stillbirths due to the stress and this little girl, born in the safety of England, is the only child that survived.

One morning she poured herself a cup of tea, and never got to drink it. Because she was running for her life. To Pakistan. With absolutely nothing. Starting over, eventually getting back to Afghanistan and having to do exactly the same thing all over again a few years later.

She can’t stand sirens, even 6 years after leaving the warzone. Her husband has to touch her shoulder every time she hears one, and remind her that they’re safe now. She’s constantly amazed at how quiet our skies are. No bombs. No missiles. No ominous planes.

Her parents and brothers are still out there. She calls them every day. And she’s scared. Scared of what might happen to them while she’s so far away. Scared of not being able to do anything. Guilty for being safe.

I just stood, listening. Stunned. As this all came out, so matter-of-fact. Not asking for sympathy. Not looking for help. Just telling her story. And what a story it is.

It felt so incongruous. All these terrible stories, spilling out into the garden while Elvie made mud pies. Whilst this beautiful little girl ran around, shouting to Joel, “come baby, come on baby.” Listening to the squeals of delight as they chased each other down the slide. Not a care in the world. Not a plane in the sky.

How do you respond to that? In the end, all I could do was tell her that she’s amazing. She smiled, and shook her head.

“No,” she said. “Life is amazing.”

Seriously. There are no words.

She’s right. Of course. The quiet ones usually are.

There will always be sirens. There will always be planes. But from now on, whenever I hear one, I’ll think of her and remember that I am incredibly blessed.

Yes, I’m disorganised. Yes, I’ve forgotten more birthdays this month that I can count. Yes, I’ve buried my head in the sand. But what a ridiculous privilege, to be kept awake at night by missed postal deadlines and insufficient wrapping paper. Rather than fear, loss and bombing raids.

I am safe. I am loved. I am free.

Life is amazing. And we are very lucky indeed.

 

Feasting and Famine. And everything in between. February 18, 2014

Filed under: Depression,Faith,Marriage,Parenting — hannahoakland @ 10:30 pm

I’m an all-or-nothing kind of person. Which can be annoying.

It means that 10 minutes after watching ‘The Great British Sewing Bee,’ I’m wondering how best to find time in my busy schedule to hand-make my children’s wardrobes. Rather than actually just finishing Elvie’s curtains.

It means that I want to blog every day. Maybe three times a day. That I get frustrated when I only have the time and energy to do it once a week. If I’m lucky.

It means that I buy a new lipstick and then don’t wear it. Because I don’t have a new look, career and personality to go with it.

It’s an exhausting way to live. But I can cope. Provided that everything else in my life is on an even keel.

Ha.

Our family is not easily described as normal. 9-5 is not something we’re familiar with. Wes is self employed, so he goes where the work is, when it’s available. Often he’ll turn up at a venue with no idea what he’s going to be working on. Those are usually the days I get a call to let me know Emma Thompson is in the next room for a press conference. Or that he’s just built a stage for the Jersey Boys.

He loves his work. He’s brilliant at it. And it definitely has it’s advantages. I’m lucky to be married to someone who can make you a table in half an hour, or throw together a garden bench for a party. He’s just built the most beautiful cabin bed for Elvie’s room. We have piles of timber, paint and perfume just waiting to be used – all salvaged from various jobs.

There’s just one problem. For me at least. That even keel I was after. It’s not much good for that.

Turns out I’m not the only part of this family that’s all-or-nothing.

There can be months in the year when there is so much work that we pass like ships in the night. Usually the middle of the night. Clutching a vomiting baby, or a crying child, or a packet of paracetamol. Times when we’d forget the sound of each other’s voice if it weren’t for all the answerphone messages. Wondering where the remote went, or whether he made it to Birmingham, or why I still haven’t returned his call and is everything actually ok?

Those times are great for making money. And stressful in every other possible way.

And then there are the slow times. When there are weeks with no work. No money coming in. Water bills, and a mortgage to pay and hoping that more work comes in before the money from the busy times runs out.

Now is one of those times.

I would so dearly love to be reasonable about it all. To adopt the same approach Wes has. The approach that says we’ve been doing this for years and it always balances out, so let’s just calm down.

I find that really hard.

When times are busy, I’m stressed because I have the children by myself for weeks on end and I’m losing my mind and I just need a break and how come work is so much more important than me?

When times are quiet, I’m stressed because the money is going to run out and what if we never get any more work and maybe I should just set up my own business selling jam because that’s the only logical solution.

Awkward.

Normally, I can cope. Just about. In as much as I only melt down once a week. Maybe twice.

At the moment, it feels as though everything is all-or-nothing. I know. Ironic.

Elvie, who is normally so independent that you’re lucky to get a cuddle, has decided she can’t sleep unless she’s in our bed. All night.

Which is adorable, obviously. Except that I really need my childfree space. And I resent having to share a bed all night with a snoring, wriggling three year old. Who likes to kick the duvet halfway down the bed, and ninja-whack you in the face with her elbows. While you’re sleeping.

We’ve managed to start around a hundred home improvement projects in the last month. Elvie’s room is half-finished. Unsurprisingly, given the scale of the mural she requested.

WP_20140123_001

We’re halfway through creating the photo wall in the kitchen. The paints and curtain rail for our bedroom are loitering at the end of our bed. And the garden looks like a earthquake has ripped through the middle of a building site.

It’s no wonder that I have been obsessively tidying shelves. In a desperate attempt to have control over something. Anything. Even if it is just a few inanimate objects.

It all feels a bit like chaos. Which, as you may have gathered, is not something my brain enjoys. At all.

In the midst of all the soupy, swirling fogginess in my brain, one phrase has been going round and round and round. ‘I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.’ It’s from the Bible. Philippians 4:11 to be precise. Don’t be too impressed by my knowledge. I may have had assistance from Google.

It’s one of those phrases. The kind where I’m pretty sure that if I ever met the guy who said it, I’d want to punch him in the face. Along with whoever tried to convince the world that your ‘school days are the best days of your life’. Seriously. We can all be grateful that’s not true.

It’s always seemed a little smug. So, you’ve learned to be content whatever happens. Great. Good for you. Now not only is my brain suffering from it’s own private hurricane, but I can feel guilty for not having the answers.

Not that I make snap judgements. At all.

It’s only today that I wondered if it’s possible there was more to it. Whether I had, in fact, been a little harsh. Jumped up and bitten a little too early, to project all my own problems onto some poor writer who has been dead for a couple of thousand years and will never be able to fight back.

Today, I read the whole passage. Turns out Google really does know everything. It’s Philippians 4:11-13 and it goes like this:

…I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or want.

I know. So far, so smug. But wait for it…

I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

There it is. Right there.

Turns out he didn’t have all the answers. It’s possible he wasn’t even trying to be smug. Perhaps he was, genuinely, just trying to help.

I know, beyond a doubt, that finding contentment in every situation would change my life. Whether there’s work coming in or not. However many small children end up sleeping on my pillow. Whatever state the garden / kitchen wall / house is in.

I break my back trying to control everything.

Maybe, just maybe, it’s time to step back. Breathe a few deep breaths. Hand it over to someone bigger and wiser than me. Wait for him to give me strength. Instead of trying to find it myself through organising sock drawers and bookshelves.

I’m not sure how it works. But I need to try. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

Who knows, maybe I’ll even finish those curtains.

 

Curling up at the edges – or, why it’s important to marry the right man. November 11, 2013

Filed under: Depression,Marriage,Survival Guide — hannahoakland @ 4:39 pm

Friday is our fifth wedding anniversary. Five whole years. Nothing short of amazing.

It certainly hasn’t gone according to plan.

I blame Disney. And every romantic comedy ever made. All those stories of near-disaster, misunderstandings, evil stepmothers and talking mice have one thing in common. As soon as the wedding bells are over, so is the story.

They all live happily ever after. Don’t ask any questions.

That’s what I was brought up on. I devoured it. And, despite my best efforts to read stories about twins who love to recycle, or little girls who play with tigers, it’s what Elvie is being raised on too. There’s nothing she loves more than a princess. Except perhaps a cake.

She plays weddings a lot. Talks about the dresses. The flowers. The dancing. In her mind, it’s the dancing that means you’re actually married. She’s going to be a menace at school discos.

The wedding is the goal. The big day. The big dress. The princess moment.

To be married. To be chosen. Publicly. And loved forever.

Nothing wrong with that. I’ll be the first to admit that, even as a stony-hearted twentysomething, I desperately wanted someone to pick me. To love me.

And then he did.

A man walked into my life one evening at a networking event, and went home with my phone number and a spring in his step. I hadn’t even realised he was hitting on me and, slightly embarrasingly, I couldn’t remember his name. It was Wes.

He’d said he’d call me. And he did. We went out for a lunch date that lasted eight hours, discovered we had half the world in common, and quickly became inseparable. Despite the thirty mile distance.

I was swept off my feet. I’d never imagined that anybody could love me so well. Warts and all.

Things got serious very quickly. I moved thirty miles to be with him. And then it got messy. I had a deep-rooted fear of abandonment. He had previous-girlfriend-induced commitment issues. It wasn’t pretty.

We broke up a few times. I cried a lot. But we never managed to stay apart. And then, in the midst of another standoff, at the point where I had deleted his number from my phone so that I couldn’t send him any more ridiculously over-emotional texts, he snuck into my garden in the middle of the night and proposed via the medium of tealights.

There were flowers. And a ring. And quite possibly sub-zero temperatures. It was beautiful. I was taken completely off guard, and so stunned that I spent the rest of the night talking about garden gnomes and woke up wondering if it had all been a dream.

If this was a Disney film, or a Richard Curtis comedy, it would all end there. With a few token shots of the wedding to fill the closing credits. (They’d be worth staying for. It was stunning.)

wedding 15th nov 362

wedding 15th nov 233

It wasn’t a movie. Thank goodness. That was just the beginning.

We had a fairly disastrous honeymoon. It’s more common than you think. As it happens, France in December is really cold. Especially when you have a throat infection. And exhaustion. And barely any hot water. Thank goodness for Disneyland. It’s hard to be grumpy there.

IMG_3206

Mickey Mouse was good respite. I spent most of the following year wondering why more people don’t get divorced. I suspect Wes did too. I went on the pill, and felt as though I was actually losing my mind. I learnt the hard way that I’m more selfish than I’d ever imagined. I did not appreciate having to compromise. I sulked. I snarled. I was passive-aggressive. A lot. And Wes started running out of patience.

Eventually we booked a long holiday. South Africa and India. A month away. It was phenomenal. Sun, adventure and a lot of cocktails. Just what we needed. By the time we came back I was pregnant. The next four years were a blur of pregnancy, small babies, toddlers and post-natal depression. Which brings us to now.

There have been days when we’ve shouted. Or not spoken at all. Endless snaps, and losses of temper. He’s realised that I don’t notice when a room needs hoovering. I’ve discovered that he is incredibly resistant to washing up. I’ve found out that it’s best to feed him before trying to have a serious conversation. He’s learnt not to expect a constructive response before 7.30am.

There have been moments, sometimes weeks on end, when I’ve wondered if he liked me at all. There have been times when I didn’t like him. Days when we’ve argued for hours over nothing at all. Or given in too quickly on the important things. Days when I knew he was going to leave me. Days when I would have left me. Lots of those.

And yet, five years on, we’re still here. Still married. Still celebrating. By the skin of our teeth.

These last few years have been a learning curve. A steep one. With a few unnecessary assignments thrown in just for fun. I’m not sure what grade we’d get. But we’d pass. I know that much.

Not by chance. Through gritted teeth and determination. Because of those gut-wrenchingly vulnerable moments in the clear air of the morning when we’ve turned around and apologised. As a result of those tiny little tiptoe steps back towards romance in the wake of bitter arguments.

All of those raw, painful, wearing-your-heart-on-the-outside moments have got us to today. To a place where we are finally starting to appreciate each other again. Really, properly appreciate each other. It’s been a long time coming.

This weekend, I had a blip in my recovery process. Maybe because of the emotional upheaval of the last few weeks, or because I’m tired, or because I’ve been trying to do too much too soon. Who knows.

By the time I went to bed on Friday I was starting to fold in on myself. All I wanted to do, for the entire weekend, was curl up under a blanket and hide.

Wes was amazing. He asked me how I was. I told him I was curling up at the edges. And he understood. Completely. I couldn’t face the fireworks on Saturday night. So he took the children. And I stayed on the sofa with a blanket and Strictly.

Yesterday, he left me in bed when the children woke up. When I surfaced, they were tidying the living room shelves, which have been a jumble of overfilled chaos since we moved in. 11 months ago. Because he knew.

He knew that physical chaos makes the mental chaos worse. He knew that I wouldn’t have the motivation to tidy. He knew that it would lift my mood. And it did.

He’s the only one who knows me, faults, flaws, hoover-resistance and all. Inside out. And still loves me. He still kisses me, even after two huge babies turned my stomach into a saggy map of the London Underground.

He knows which mug to put my ‘I-need-some-comfort’ tea in. He knows when I need his arm around me to hold me up. He knows how to hold his place in a French queue. And how to give me hope.

Five years in. It hasn’t been plain sailing. It’s hard work.

But it’s worth it. Absolutely.

Happily ever after would be nice. But I’d rather have this. I’d rather have Wes.

Prince Charming may be perfect but I bet he’s dull. And he doesn’t tidy shelves.

 

Sometimes the small things are the big things… October 23, 2013

Filed under: Adventures,Depression — hannahoakland @ 7:20 pm

Last night I went to my first ever Pilates class. Somewhat disappointingly, it did not look like this.

copyright FreeDigitalPhotos.net Ponsuwan

copyright FreeDigitalPhotos.net Ponsuwan

I appreciate that for some of you, turning up at an exercise class is a regular occurrence. Or even your job. Let’s just say that I haven’t exercised for a while. In fact, not for a long time. Had-to-go-out-in-the-morning-to-actually-buy-some-joggers kind of long. Years.

It’s always been part of my recovery plan. Doing more exercise. But one of the sneakiest things about depression is how brilliant it is at making up excuses. They’re always so plausible. The baby isn’t settling properly, I shouldn’t really leave him. We can’t afford it. I’d only look like an idiot. I don’t have the energy. On and on and on.

I can’t count the amount of fun I’ve turned down over the last few years. Birthday parties, hen do’s, dinner invitations, playdates. I desperately wanted to go. I just couldn’t face it. Anything outside of my usual routine was too much for me to cope with. The stress was just too high.

Occasionally I would accept an invitation. Only to pull out at the last minute, using the children or babysitters or exhaustion as an excuse. Because I couldn’t admit the truth. That actually, I was scared. Scared I would fall apart. That everyone would realise I was no fun anymore. That I wouldn’t be able to keep my brave face on for long enough. Honestly, the sofa and the telly are much safer.

In the end, I was ambushed into exercising. Sometimes that’s the only way. A friend at Toddlers on Monday told me about the Pilates class. At the community centre at the end of my road. Which ruined my tried and tested ‘I don’t drive so I won’t be able to get there’ excuse. She said she was going. I expressed an interest, and by the time I got home she’d already picked up a leaflet and dropped it through my door. Efficiency wins.

The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to go. To try and drag up some endorphins. To have an hour to myself with no danger of screaming children. To try and recapture something of the dance classes that I used to love.

The good news was that I only had 36 hours to stay positive, and not pull out. The bad news is that 36 hours gives you more than enough time to think of excuses.

I actually can’t do it. I don’t own a single pair of jogging bottoms.

That’s easily solved by a walk to Matalan. But it’s raining, and the children have colds. I probably shouldn’t put them through a well wrapped-up buggy trip to the shops.

Also, my knee hurts a bit while I’m walking. It might be dangerous to even attempt any exercise.

So even though I have the joggers, I haven’t had time to try them on. They probably won’t fit. I’ll just have to stay at home.

Oh. They do fit. But I don’t have any suitable footwear.

Well, I do have my old ballet shoes. But if I wear them everyone will presume I’m still a dancer and be disappointed by my lack of flexibility, or else they’ll think I’m some kind of pretentious knob.

Sack it, I love them. I’ll wear them. Although I’m not even sure if my friend’s going. I haven’t had a text. Should I call her? What if she’s changed her mind?

I’m a grown woman, I can go by myself. But I haven’t actually double checked if the class is on. What if I get there and it’s shut?

And the children are a bit angsty. Maybe I shouldn’t be leaving Wes to put them to bed by himself. Not when he’s had a hard day at work.

Ooh, it’s the Bake-Off final – I’ll miss the start if I go out now.

Honestly, it’s a wonder I made it out the door. Especially in the rain. But I did.

None of my friends were there, I had no idea what I was doing, my arms are so sore today that picking Joel up is a mission, and I’m definitely going back again. Every week. It was amazing.

I learnt some important things last night. Firstly, that I am more than capable of walking into a strange room, filled with strangers, and having a great time. Nobody even laughed at me once.

Secondly, if you deal with one excuse at a time, it’s much easier to get over them and achieve something. It’s looking at them all at once that makes it tricky.

And thirdly, it is impossible to overstate how comfortable a pair of £10 Matalan jogging bottoms are. I am literally never going to take them off.

Much as I hate to admit it, It is perhaps true that exercise does, in fact, make you feel better about yourself. It was either that or the cake and ice-cream we had afterwards while we watched the Bake-Off on catchup…

For some people, going to an exercise class is a very small thing. For me, it was a test of all the therapy and drugs and determination that I’ve put in over the last few months. And it made me think.

In the eyes of most people, I didn’t achieve much yesterday. I made it through the day with both children intact and went to an exercise class.  For me, that’s huge. Totally deserving of cake and ice-cream.

Sometimes the small things are the big things. And I think they deserve to be celebrated too.