Walking with the moon

A creative living in the real world…

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.

WP_20140730_012

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?

Advertisements
 

Letter to Joel – Hello Toddler! September 6, 2013

Filed under: Joel,Parenting — hannahoakland @ 8:10 pm

My beautiful boy,

Happy birthday! Yes, I know, I’m a few days late. Things have been a little crazy round here.

Let’s start at the beginning. I was really scared of having a boy. I wasn’t sure I’d know what to do with you. How to entertain you. What you’d like. Turns out I shouldn’t have worried. You are the sweetest, happiest, least complicated baby there has ever been. Complete strangers fall in love with you every time we go out. It’s that smile. And that laugh. And those eyes.

IMAG0037

You are such a handsome boy. I know I’m biased, but really. We’re going to need some good chats when you grow up. Otherwise there will be a whole trail of misty-eyed girls following you around. I promise you, it won’t be as fun as it sounds.

I don’t think I was prepared for how much of a “proper little boy” you would be. You would happily spend the entire day climbing up and down stairs, or eating mud in the garden. Nothing makes you happier than following a ball around, or turning a wheel. I can’t tell you what it does to my heart to see a basket of cars, diggers and fire engines in the corner of the lounge. Turns out I love having a boy.

And you love your mama. There is nothing quite like that first smile of the morning. Or your big chubby arms squashed round my neck for a cuddle. The sound of your little voice calling “ma-ma.” Delicious. You were poorly last week. Really poorly. The only thing that got me through the sleep deprivation, the worry and the screaming was knowing that every night, too sad and uncomfortable to sleep by yourself, you would be curled up on me. Your arm across my body and your head nestled in my shoulder, fitting so perfectly that I’m convinced that’s what it was designed for.

It’s a good job you are cute, because my word you’re cheeky. There’s a look in your eye that means nothing but mischief. And we see it a lot. When you climb up the stairs, run straight into the bathroom and turn on the taps in the bath, check that we’re watching, and then cackle with glee. Your laugh is just as dirty as your sister’s.

It is such a joy to watch you with Elvie. You’ve adored her from the minute you were born. Before you could move around, you would follow her everywhere with hero-worshipping eyes. Even when she tipped you out of your bouncy chair, or bit you so hard she left tooth marks. You’ve always been forgiving.

Now that you can walk around, you do it together. Holding hands. Sometimes I think my heart might explode. Yes you pull her hair, and steal her drinks, and throw all her clothes in the bath, but you two are going to be great friends. I can’t wait to watch that develop.

You, my boy, are developing so fast I can hardly keep up. Walking, pointing, eating, playing. It’s all going on. You’ve even started talking. Which is an absolute delight. Just today you learnt three new words – ‘uh oh’, ‘apple’ and, of course, ‘car.’ At lunch time you even tried to copy Elvie’s singing. Seriously, you’re killing me.

It breaks my heart that you’re not, strictly speaking, my little baby anymore. That you’ve officially entered the world of toddlerdom. Let’s be honest, in reality, even when you’re two foot taller than me, you’ll still be my baby. I think it’s best we get that clear now.

Happy birthday my boy. The first of many. Here’s to that, and here’s to you.

I love you. Very very much.

xxxxxxx

 

Tonight… August 6, 2013

Filed under: Elvie,Joel,Parenting — hannahoakland @ 6:57 pm

is the kind of night that needs to be guarded. A rare chance for Wes and I to sit down and chat. The last few weeks have been hectic, and the next few look no different. This is our tiny moment of peace. And with that in mind, the post I promised about the christening / baptism / screaming children with wet heads will need to wait until tomorrow. It will be worth it.

In return for your patience, I’ll give you a window into our day today…one which could only be described as ‘mixed’. We started picking blackberries, in the sunshine, by the park. Summertime sibling bliss. Note the berry stained trousers. And the cute baby smile. And the helpful big sister pushing the swing, even if she did insist on referring to her brother as “baby Clara.”

WP_20130806_008

Then this happened.

WP_20130806_017

And this.

WP_20130806_019

He didn’t put those stickers there himself. As I said, ‘mixed’.

We’ll deal with the christening tomorrow. For tonight, I leave you with our quote of the day, after I made the mistake of asking Elvie what she would like for her birthday. Her reponse…

“A real moving chicken that I can twist around and take for walks…or a flamingo.”

Her birthday is on Thursday. Wish me luck.

 

Not-So-Great Expectations August 1, 2013

Filed under: Depression,Elvie,Joel,Parenting — hannahoakland @ 8:21 pm

Expectations are tricky old beasts. Unfortunately, mine tend to be rather high. It’s my imagination that’s the problem. Wes has learnt the hard way not to promise me a surprise. Even five minutes warning is more than enough for my brain to skip twelve miles ahead and plan a candlelit picnic with wine and roses and an amazing gift that I once admired in passing. When in reality, he’s bought me a copy of Time Out from his day in London. Which is lovely. Or it would have been if my expectations weren’t in overdrive. Poor man.

He’s learning to play me at my own game. On my twenty-ninth birthday he convinced me that he’d barely remembered I existed. And then whisked me off to The Fat Duck for lunch. Serious brownie points! Or rather, ‘jam tarts hidden inside chocolate playing cards’ points. Unbelievable.

336279_10150997737725302_320952976_o

At the moment I feel like I’m fighting my expectations every day. And so are the rest of my poor long-suffering family. I’ve been a mummy for almost three years now, but there’s a huge part of me that expects my life to be the same as it was in ‘the old days’. I get frustrated every time I get woken up early. Or when I don’t get time to myself. Or when tiny people demand my attention on a constant basis.

I am usually ‘blessed’ with the ability to forget. If a shopfront changes, I can’t tell you what it used to be. I’m the embodiment of ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ One day I came home to find Wes looking very pleased with himself. After a while the look was wearing thin. Eventually he cracked; “Have you really not noticed?” Turns out he’d taken a door out of the lounge. An actual door. I hadn’t noticed at all. It wasn’t there anymore, so as far as I was concerned, it may as well have never existed.

And yet somehow, I’ve not managed to forget my ‘previous life’. Not even slightly. It sounds like a small thing. In reality, it affects my expectations of every single day. And means that I get incredibly frustrated.

So I’m trying. Last week, while Wes was away, Joel was in a bad sleeping pattern. Waking up at five every morning, thanks to a combination of the heat, early sunrise and the disorientation of our weekend away. I knew that it would drive me mad. Unless I adjusted my expectations. So I did. I went to bed every night, expecting to be woken up at five. I went to bed early so that I got enough sleep. And when he was up at five in the morning, it didn’t come as a surprise. When he slept until quarter to six, I felt like I’d had a lie-in. And the time they both slept until seven? It may as well have been my birthday.

It worked. So I’m adopting a new policy. I’ve used all my creative brilliance to call it ‘Low Expections.’ Of me, of Wes and of the children. Not because I think badly of any of us. Because I need to hold on to my sanity. I know that my house is going to be messy. I know that I won’t be cooking gourmet meals for a few years. I know that my children are tiny, and they’re not always going to listen. If I stop expecting all these things to happen, a huge weight will be taken off my shoulders. Goodness knows they could do with a lift.

The fun part is that when your expectations are low, it’s much easier for them to be surpassed. As I’ve discovered today.

Sometimes they’re surpassed in a good way. Friends dropping in for dinner. Elvie sitting on my lap for half an hour putting all the stickers from her CBeebies magazine exactly where they’re supposed to go. Joel going to sleep so easily that I had to check on him to make sure he was alright.

And sometimes it’s the opposite. Joel displaying his incredible wilfulness when I take away the toys he’s trying to eat. Elvie sticking gaffer tape to my forehead when I doze off on the sofa – and then ripping it off to wake me up. Cleaning up the mess after she’s taken off her pull-ups to wee on her pillow at bedtime. It’s possible that the definition of a mother is someone who can say “Thank goodness it was just a wee on the pillow.”. With no sarcasm at all.

I don’t want to let go of my expectations completely. I will always want the best for my children and my family, and I will always expect the best from them. I’ll always want to push myself as far as I can. For now, I need to dial it down. Set my expectations to ‘low’. I’m hoping that this way, occasionally, there might be a few surprises. Good ones.

 

Guilt and muddling through. July 30, 2013

Filed under: Depression,Elvie,Joel,Parenting — hannahoakland @ 10:09 pm

Today has been tricky. Elvie has had ‘one-of-those-days,’ where she doesn’t listen to anything and ends up in a screaming heap on the floor. I feel guilty for over-reacting and making it all worse. Even though I promised I wouldn’t. Joel kept me awake for hours last night with his teething fever, and I’m shattered. I wasn’t even with him – Wes slept in the nursery, but there are no walls thick enough to stop the sound of those lungs. I feel guilty that Wes had a terrible night. And I feel guilty for being short-tempered with Joel, when it’s not his fault that he’s in pain. It’s not my fault either, but that’s another story.

I feel guilty a lot at the moment. It’s a vicious circle. The more exhausted I am, the more stressed out I get. The more stressed out I get, the more I react badly. And then the guilt. Which leads to more stress, more bad reactions, and more guilt. Like I said, I feel guilty a lot. I’m in the middle of my second course of CBT, so I’m familiar with the idea of breaking cycles. Doesn’t make it any easier.

Mostly because, in order to break my particular cycle, I need more energy. Which is hard when a) you’re depressed and b) you have small children. You see my problem.

Instead, I’m dealing with the guilt. I’ve been trying to recognise it. To notice the triggers, in the hope of understanding it a bit better. All too often I find myself muddling through, or going with the flow. Then before I know it, my emotions are out of hand, and so are my children.

This evening I reached the conclusion that all the muddling through is at the root of my problem. I make impulsive decisions and then I have to deal with the consequences. Much to the frustration of my research-heavy husband. I’m very easily influenced. If a friend gives up the internet, I immediately feel convicted to do the same. If I’ve been watching Masterchef, then I’m convinced that my future is in the culinary arts. I’ve never had a job that lasted longer than a year. Unless you count parenting.

I am much flakier than I thought.

There are moments when I have sat down, carefully considered my life, and made decisions based on what was absolutely the best thing for me to do. I can count them on one hand.

Refusing to be another statistic for my all-girls grammar school, and choosing unpaid kids work in Manchester over a degree from Oxford or Cambridge.

Going against all the academic advice I’d ever been given and applying to drama school. Getting in.

Heading off for a month in the depths of the jungle with a spanish-speaking tribe for a second-year outreach project.

Costa Rica 038

Getting married.

wedding 29th nov 392

Choosing to have my babies baptised rather than dedicated.

I don’t feel guilty about any of that.

For the vast majority of the time I’m swayed by other people’s opinions, the urge to keep everybody happy, or whatever will be least hassle right now. It does save time, and occasionally energy. It certainly saves brainpower. But it means that I don’t stop to think. The job may have just fallen into my lap, but is it actually the right one? Everyone else is signing themselves up for the toddler group trip, but do I actually want to go? That article said that there is only one way to raise your child, but do I actually agree? Reading parenting strategies on the internet without ever sitting down to consider your own position will always make you feel guilty.

It’s possible that my guilt is not irrational. It’s possible that actually, I genuinely do feel guilty. But not for the reasons that I suspected. It’s possible that I feel guilty because I’m neglecting myself, and my ideas and my beliefs. Everything that makes me who I am. That I’m not actually investing in anything anymore. I’m not trying. It’s possible that I’ve done this for so long that I’m not sure what has been my own choice and what I’ve just fallen into.

Confidence has never been my strong point. Not for the last twenty-five years at least. But I’m so fed up of this guilt and this shouting. I need to get some confidence in my own opinions. Whatever they may be. I need to make decisions – good ones – to be honest, any at all.  To stop drifting along down the river of ‘oh well, let’s just.’ I’m pretty sure it’s a dead end.

There will, undoubtedly, be some bad decisions. Maybe even some spectacularly bad ones. And there will be events that I have no decision in. I certainly can’t stop a baby from teething. But at least I will have considered things. I will have thought. I may even make a plan. And I will have tried. It’s hard to feel guilty about that.

 

Why I’m scared of the summer holidays. July 19, 2013

Filed under: Depression,Elvie,Joel,Parenting — hannahoakland @ 8:28 pm

And so begins my first ever school summer holiday with two babies. School summer holidays shouldn’t make a difference when your eldest child is only two. They do. School summer holidays mean that all the toddler groups shut down. Except for the Children’s Centre, which opens for two sessions a week. Except when it’s closed. Like next week. When Wes is away.

Last year’s ‘summer holiday’ wasn’t too bad. I was 8 months pregnant and, although Wes was away a lot, he was also terrified that I would go into labour without him, so I had a lot of company. Thank goodness for sisters-in-law. And the Olympics. And the Paralympics. We watched a lot of telly last summer. I decided that was fine – I was watching history being made. I learnt a lot of new sports. I was there for all the ‘where were you when…’ moments. And Elvie? She learnt the national anthem, and how to dive headfirst off the sofa a la Tom Daley. A summer well spent.

This year won’t be so straightforward. First off, there’s no Olympics. Secondly, I now have two children, and Joel doesn’t sit still for more than 3 minutes. Even in this heat. I’m facing the prospect of 7 empty weeks. Which is scary. I’m taking the children to my parents for one week, and I’ve scoured every website and local paper for activities in a bid to fill the rest. Teddy Bears Picnic in the park? We’ll be there. Very Hungry Caterpillar painting at the museum? Just try and stop me.

I’m filling the calendar as best I can, but there are still a lot of gaps. I’ve been stressing out. One of the main triggers of my depression last time was not getting out enough. Spending too much time by myself with a small baby. Letting my fears and worry build up where nobody could see them. I’ve been terrified that the potential cabin fever of this summer will make everything worse. That the disruption of my carefully constructed routines and rhythms will also disrupt my mind. That entertaining two inquisitive, forward, spirited little ones non-stop for so long will take more energy and headspace than I have.

When I get stressed, I want to plan for everything and have every moment accounted for. I need to know that we have the right amount of food and baby wipes to get us through the week. I even count bananas to make sure we won’t run out. Because buying another one would be impossible. Obviously. I worry about everything – what if Joel misses his nap and his sleep patterns are ruined forever? How will he cope if we run out of rice cakes? Why didn’t Elvie eat enough at dinner time? What if they’re sick and we get stuck at home for the entire week? On and on and on.

I read an article on Wednesday evening. It goes some way towards explaining why I’m not sobbing in the corner, despite the arrival of the holidays and Wes leaving tomorrow for a week in Birmingham. If you’re offended by bad language look away now, otherwise here’s the link.  (There’s an article underneath the picture, and it’s worth a read!) It’s basically revolutionised my tiny tired mind. For those of you who chose not to read it – the gist is this. Calm down. Just calm down. That’s all.

I’ve been practicing. Yesterday my parents had an open house for everyone to meet my sister’s new husband. We went along, and spent 8 glorious hours in their garden. It was a lovely, lovely day. And I didn’t get stressed. The conversation in my brain went something like this…

She’s eating way too many sweets and cakes and lollipops…calm down.

She’s taken all her clothes off…calm down.

He’s been crawling around for 8 hours without a nap…calm down.

He’s eating everyone’s food from the floor…calm down.

She hasn’t had any suncream for at least twenty minutes…calm down.

They’ve hardly eaten any dinner…calm down.

It’s way past their bedtime…calm down.

She’s just emptied her potty into the water jug…ah.

I stressed out about 85% less than normal. And guess what. I had a great day. The children had the best day ever. Sweets and friends and sand and water and bubbles and lemonade and cats and storybooks and sunshine and a late night. Child heaven.  And the really funny thing? Everyone commented on how friendly, and well behaved, and generally wonderful they are. Presumably they didn’t see the potty incident.

Wes has a theory that when I’m stressed, the children get stressed. Don’t tell him, but I think he’s right. I need to calm down. That’s easier said than done. I figure small steps are the easiest. Seven whole weeks of emptiness would be too much for me to cope with. Even without the depression. I won’t be giving up all the activities I’ve searched so hard for. But neither will I run around like a crazy woman trying to fill all the gaps. A couple of empty days a week feels almost manageable. They just need a bit of reframing. So that it doesn’t seem like desperate, empty time.

I’m trying to see it as a chance to know my babies better. Elvie has amazed me in the last few days with her sensitivity and her vulnerability. I’m determined not to throw that back in her face. I want to be gentle and have fun. Not stressed out and grumpy. We went to town this morning. On the way home there was a brass band playing in the street. We had a bus to catch and a heavy shopping bag, but we stopped. And stayed for a few songs. Elvie danced, and rolled on the floor. Joel clapped and squealed and tried to crawl into the band. He’s just like his sister.

IMG_0982

It was only five minutes. But it was five minutes that we wouldn’t have had if I’d been stressing. If I’d been worrying that the bags were heavy, or that we’d miss the bus. And it was the best five minutes of my day. Five solid minutes of smiles. All three of us.

That’s what I want from this summer. Smiles. To see my children smile, and smile with them. To sit and watch them discover the woodlice in the garden. To ice gingerbread men with them and not fret that they’ve eaten a few too many sprinkles. To play in the park and feed the ducks. To listen to the bands in the street. To have muddy clothes and messed up hair and ice-cream stained fingers. To let them be little children in the summertime. Without an agenda. Without always having to rush to the next group or appointment. The idea of so much free time still scares me, and I’d be lying if I said I don’t have back-up plans. We’ll still be at the Teddy Bears Picnic and the Hungry Caterpillar painting session. But hopefully, we’ll be smiling.