Walking with the moon

A creative living in the real world…

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.”


Then this happened.


And this.


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.


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.


If you go down to the woods today… July 25, 2013

Filed under: Depression,Parenting — hannahoakland @ 7:57 pm

You’d better go in disguise!


Oh yes, today was the Teddy Bears Picnic. One of the many events that the wonderful people of Reading are putting on for the children over the summer. Say what you like about Reading Council (and believe me, I will) but they do like to keep everyone busy. Which is fine by me.

There was mask making…


soft play…


obstacle courses…


and even the chance to help tidy up.


Not bad for 50p.

It was a lovely morning, and the children had an absolute riot. We had been looking forward to it all week and, for them at least, it was everything they had hoped. For me, it was a real test of my confidence.

Yesterday we had friends round for the day, and spent hours in the garden chatting. As we talked, the issue of confidence came up. Specifically how becoming a Mummy can strip it away. Before the babies arrived I was fairly confident in myself – I may not have been particularly successful but I knew I was fun to be around. I certainly didn’t second guess the way that I looked after myself or how I ran my life.

When Elvie arrived, all that changed. The desperation to do the right thing by my daughter mingled with all the conflicting advice that I was given, and I doubted myself continually. Would people look down on me if I tried to give her a bottle? Would I spoil her forever if I let her sleep in my bed? How many layers of clothing should she be wearing? Etc etc etc

As time has passed, I’ve grown to trust my instincts. She’s nearly three now and is amazing. I’ve clearly done something right. Joel is only 10 months old and he’s walking and chatting – it would seem that he’s not stunted either. Yet all too often, my confidence takes a massive knock as a result of something so tiny that it seems ridiculous.

I had a schedule for this morning. We would go to the Teddy Bears Picnic, then on to the market and home for lunch. I’d packed some snacks for the children to eat, and it was a perfectly solid plan. Until five minutes after we arrived. When we bumped into a couple of friends from our old side of town.

These friends are the definition of yummy mummys. Driving Audis and wearing Tiffany bracelets, with perfectly dressed children, and actual hairstyles. There’s a reason I never really fitted in. They both have daughters slightly younger than Elvie, and sons slightly younger than Joel. We should be a great fit. We’re not.

I was genuinely happy to see them, for about three minutes. Right up until one of them asked “so, did you move house then?” Umm…yes. Six months ago. To the other side of town. Nice to know we’ve been missed. Then the other said, ” I was showing my daughter her birthday party pictures the other day – she didn’t remember who Elvie was.” Oh. Not only have we not been missed, we’ve been completely forgotten. I wonder what happened to “So nice to see you, it’s been ages.”

We didn’t have much else to talk about. But we stood next to each other for a while, which gave me time to notice that, despite their babies being younger than mine, their bellies were flat. Mine is definitely not. I decided that they would probably go home and tell everyone that I’m pregnant again. If they even remembered that they’d seen us.

That wasn’t the worst of it. I wandered off to help Elvie along a balance beam, and came back to find my friends sitting on a picnic blanket, with a picnic. A real one. Not rusks and breadsticks stuck in the side of the buggy. They had sandwiches and fruit and everything. In that moment, I forgot that my plan for the morning didn’t involve eating lunch at the park. It didn’t matter that my children were having a great time. It didn’t matter that I’d done six days by myself without Wes and that I’m exhausted. I just knew that didn’t match up to these other women, and that I was failing.

I almost left for the market right then. We’d only been there half an hour. Thankfully Elvie chose that moment to pull me over to the mask making. We didn’t go back to see my friends. We didn’t say goodbye to them. We sat behind the buggy to eat our snacks, so that nobody would see how badly prepared I had been. I’d even forgotten their drinks.

The irony is, the children weren’t bothered at all. I doubt my friends meant any harm. They certainly didn’t bring a picnic just to spite me. It was all in my mind.

My mind plays a lot of tricks on me. I’m slowly getting better at noticing – that’s the only reason we stayed. I know that I shouldn’t let my parenting confidence be determined by a chance remark from someone I’ve not seen for six months. That I shouldn’t be so worried if my plan is different to everyone else’s. I love that about my family. I love that my children are not the ones who sit quietly on a mat for hours. I love that they’d rather climb into the Play Rangers van or roll around on the floor of the bandstand. I love that they wear their bear masks upside down. I love that often, we do things just a little bit differently. I need to remember that. Especially when I’m bulldozed by ‘perfect.’

It’s all about confidence. I’m getting there.


Elvie – A Birth Story July 24, 2013

Filed under: Elvie,Parenting — hannahoakland @ 8:35 pm

In honour of Prince George – here’s the story of Elvie’s birth. As promised yesterday. It’s a good one.

Elvie is my eldest. My very first baby. So, as you would imagine, I had spent most of my pregnancy researching birth and labour. Alternating between terror and a naive confidence in the power of aromatherapy. I had my birth plan written and was going to stick to it. My baby would be born at home, using only a TENS machine. I had planned a water birth, until we put up the pool and realised that there was no space left in the lounge. At all.

I was certain that she would arrive on time. Maybe even early. The due date came and went. So did a few more days. And a few more. I was heavy and frustrated and bored.


I tried long walks in the forest, a stretch-and-sweep, clary sage oil, curry and raspberry leaf tea. She did not want to shift. In the end I was given a date for induction. That did it.

I woke up at 4am, with strange waves of cramps. Coming at regular intervals. Not too close together, but regular, nonetheless. It’s a source of some amusement in our house that I spent the next four hours monitoring my contractions by myself, despite the fact that Wes was sleeping next to me. When he woke up at 8, I informed him that we were going to have a baby that day. I was almost right.

We were pretty calm. All things considered. We told the midwives. They told us to call them back later. We got up, got dressed, ate a little bit of something and sat down to watch the West Wing. As you do. A few hours later, when Mum pointed out that my contractions were stopping me mid-sentence, we called the hospital again. I had the TENS machine on – using as low a setting as possible. Pacing myself. Sensible.

When the midwives arrived, they did one of their lovely examinations. They said I was doing well. And had some coffee. They left me to it, just as I had asked them. Eventually I was beside myself with pain and completely exhausted from rocking on my hands and knees. Obviously I didn’t want the gas and air though. That stuff is for wimps. Ha.

Hours later, I had learnt the following: Having a baby is really hard work. Aromatherapy is more likely to make you swear than ease your pain. ‘Transition’ is hell.

I was still progressing nicely. All the examinations were telling them that. Until my waters broke. Or rather, exploded. Even in the middle of my zoned-out labouring, I jumped out of my skin when they went. Never knowingly underdramatic. It was about that time that the midwives jumped to attention.

They had, for some time, been making noises about taking me in to hospital. Apparently. I couldn’t hear a thing. Then there was meconium in my waters. Elvie had already done a poo. Which could mean that she was struggling. Being at home was no longer an option. Time does funny things when you’re in labour, and I swear that the second the midwife told me I needed to go to hospital, the ambulance was at the door. No wait at all.

Wes grabbed the hospital bag. I threw on a dressing gown. I hobbled my way to the ambulance and climbed in. Being forced to lie on a bed when you’re in full-blown labour is not fun. Especially not when the bed is moving. Or when the equipment falls off the walls when you turn a corner. Or when the paramedic insists on calling you Sebastian. Or when the French ambulance driver pulls out of your road and asks “so, wheres’s the hospital?” He wasn’t joking. You can’t make this stuff up.

They took me through the wrong doors and onto the wrong floor of the hospital. It didn’t come as any surprise to discover that all the stress, and all the shock of my sudden change of plan, all added to my slight phobia of hospitals in general, had slowed my labour right down. They put me on a drip to speed things up.

By this point, I was shattered. It was 7pm. I’d been in labour for 15 hours. And I knew from my research that the contractions the drip brought on would be worse than the regular ones. I had run out of energy, and motivation. I wasn’t sure that this baby would ever arrive. At this point I threw away my birth plan and begged them for an epidural. They said yes.

Getting the epidural is tricky. I had to perch on the edge of the bed, in the full throes of labour, and stay absolutely still while an enormous needle went into my back. I saw one recently on ‘One Born Every Minute’ and nearly passed out. Thank goodness I had no idea at the time. That said, I was fully prepared to marry the anaesthetist. The relief was incredible. I had a couple of hours of absolute peace while the contractions did their work without me. I could see my stomach tightening but I couldn’t feel a thing.

Then they let it wear off so that I could push. That was kind. Problem was, I couldn’t move from the waist down. I ended up with my feet in stirrups, pushing against gravity and doing all the things they tell you not to do at antenatal class. I vividly remember the brilliant military-sergeant style midwife standing at the foot of my bed, telling me “there’s a reason they call it labour my pet.” She wasn’t wrong!

Pushing is hard work. Especially when you can’t really feel what you’re doing. A fire alarm is not what you want. They decided we needed to move rooms, for safety. And wheeled me down the corridor in full view of everyone, drip and all, pushing away on the bed. Dignified it was not. I spent another hour pushing as hard as I could and, fire alarm over, they decided we should move back to the original room. Back down the corridor. Apparently the second room didn’t have the right equipment. Friends of ours lovingly refer to it as “that time they tried to make you give birth in a cupboard.” One of the midwives told us afterwards that it was a good job the fire hadn’t been serious – they’d taken us to the wrong end of the corridor and we would have been completely stuck. Thank goodness they had a trial run with us.

It was at this point that the midwife asked Mum to join us. Wes was fuming over all the changes and moving about. I think they presumed he wouldn’t hurt anyone if his mother-in-law was watching. Either way, it was good to have her there.

This fire alarm had slowed things down again. There were midwives coming in and out. A lot. Including one amazing, no-nonsense midwife with an eyepatch. Even in my state, I could see the funny side of a pirate midwife. Drugs are kind like that.

People started talking about doctors and cutting and all sorts. That was it. The stubborn in me won out. A few minutes later she arrived. There was a tear, and a lot of stitches, and so much gas and air that I couldn’t hold my head up. But she was here.


It was 1.04am – the following day. But she was here. All 9lbs 2oz of her. And she was beautiful. Perfect. And beautiful. There are no words for those moments.


I was a Mummy. I had my baby girl.

Nothing else mattered. Not the pirates or the drugs or the ambulance drivers or the shot-to-pieces birth plan. She was enough. More than enough. She was everything. Some things never change.


Letting go – and also, well done Kate! July 22, 2013

Filed under: Elvie,Nursery,Parenting — hannahoakland @ 7:41 pm

Let’s deal with the royal baby first shall we? I’m a sucker for babies, and am incapable of watching a birth on television without a little tear. Which is impressive for someone who used to be famous for having no emotions whatsoever. So I’m looking forward to the pictures as much as the next person…unless the next person happens to be Carole Middleton. She might just edge it.

Obviously I’m thinking of Kate, and hoping that everything goes as smoothly as it can. (Sometimes it goes smoothly, right?) Mostly, I’m impressed by the royal family’s dedication to providing an event of national signifiance during every year of Elvie’s life. First there was the wedding…


then there was the jubilee…


and now the royal baby.


We’ve gotten more use than I expected out of that flag.

It’s enough to make you come over all patriotic. I briefly considered making something red,white and blue for dinner. (Then I remembered that it would just be me and two under-threes who don’t care at all. We had curry.)

The world and his wife will be giving advice to poor old Kate over the next few weeks (months?/years?) I’m not sure that I have anything worthwhile to add. All I would say is, keep your eyes peeled, because those milestones creep up fast.

This morning was Elvie’s trial session at nursery. As of September, she’ll be there five afternoons a week. Which means I’ll have 15 hours a week one-on-one time with Joel…admittedly, I’m hoping he’ll have a post-lunch nap. We’ve been going to ‘nursery club’ for a few weeks now – she’s met some of the children who’ll be there with her, and chatted to several of the teachers. But that was at the Children’s Centre – which is her second home. Today was her first visit to ‘proper nursery’. I’ve been crossing my fingers for weeks that it would go well.

And it did. She loved it. She was out of sight within minutes – beside herself with excitement at the trikes and slides and sand pits and buggies and space. She wasn’t bothered at all when the older children came out to the playground. She had a litlte wobble when I went off to the parents meeting, but by the time I returned she was tearing around, hitching lifts on the back of other children’s bikes.

I knew she would love it. I’ve always known. She’s wildly independent, very happy in her own company and not normally worried about new places or strangers. She’s bored of being at home with me and the brother, and needs more stimulation than I can give her. She’s talked of nothing but nursery since she found out it existed, and has been trying to persuade me that she is already “a grown up girl” so that she can start earlier. I’m sure there will be a few bumps along the road – especially when she realises that she has to go every day. Or that not everybody wants to be her friend. Or that she’ll actually need to do as she’s told. That could be tricky.

Today was a formality for Elvie – with some great toys and a carton of milk thrown in for good measure. It was a bigger deal for me. I’d always known that I wanted my children to go to nursery and school and have a ‘normal’ childhood. Until Elvie was born. At that moment I knew that nobody else would ever look after my babies. I wasn’t going to let them out of my sight. I wasn’t going back to work. I told Wes that I had decided to homeschool.

He has a great look that he saves for just such occasions. It’s a very kind look, usually accompanied by an “ok darling”. It sounds like agreement. This is deceptive. What it actually means is “this is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard, but I’m just going to sit back and let you figure that out for yourself.” He’s used it a few times over the last seven years.

I was determined. I looked up homeschooling on the internet. I looked on Pinterest for cute project ideas. I checked that it was all legal. I had visions of our kitchen as a schoolroom – with the children sitting sweetly and working on their lessons. Elvie would be wearing a gingham dress. And pigtails.

The problem was – none of this homeschooling plan was about Elvie, or Joel. It was about me. I was terrified of letting them go. Letting them out of my sight. Letting someone else look after them. I was nervous of them meeting ‘undesirable children’ and coming out with choice words at dinnertime. Or that they would be taught things that I didn’t agree with. I didn’t want them to think I was abandoning them.

I’m sure most mums sending their children to nursery for the first time feel the same. There’s a reason for all those tears in the playground. But honestly, that was a tiny part of my homeschooling motivation. Truth is, I just wanted to be the best. I wanted people to be stunned by how brilliant my children were, and how it was all my doing. I wanted to nail the homeschooling, self-sufficient, hippie-chic lifestyle. I wanted to be great at something. And I wanted people to be jealous.

It’s been a long time since I felt like I was great at something. At school, I may not have been the most popular, the sportiest or the prettiest, but I got good grades. I knew that I was achieving, and that I was doing well. Since then, success has been harder to define. I left school twelve years ago. That’s a long time to spend feeling as though you’re muddling through.

I found my feet for a while at Central but, while my classmates are now actors, directors, writers, teachers and magicians, I’m changing nappies and singing nursery rhymes. There’s no interesting answer to “so, what are you up to now?” I figured homeschooling would help. I’d have a purpose. I’d be a bit wacky. At least it would sound like I was doing something. And, when my children turned out to be world changers and artistic legends, I’d be a hero.

People homeschool for great reasons, and I stand amazed by them. I know for sure that it would have killed us. But  still I dream of the schoolroom kitchen and the homemade pasta and the shiny, perfect, awe-inspiring family. Turns out it’s not only Elvie that I need to let go of. Motherhood is not a competition – at least not one that anyone can win.

Perhaps that’s my advice for the Duchess.


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.


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.


He loves me. July 15, 2013

Filed under: Depression,Marriage,Parenting — hannahoakland @ 8:35 pm


So we’re back from our weekend in the forest. Four generations in two log cabins. The children have been in absolute heaven – water pistols, candy floss, parks, soft play, cake, frogs, swimming, running and, in a departure from our standard holiday procedure, glorious sunshine! Very nice it was too.

But for me, there was at least one cloud in the sky this weekend. The knowledge that my first therapy session was scheduled for our return. So this afternoon I found myself sitting in a waiting room, looking round to judge my level of crazy against the others. It’s a fun game, until you realise that some people are just there for blood tests. Joke’s on me.

I’ve been worried about therapy for some time. Worried about having to go over the same old ground again. Worried that I don’t have the energy to put in to recovering. Worried that they’ll judge me for not being able to ‘stay better’ after beating it once. Worried that just having a therapist makes me sound like a self-obsessed New Yorker.

It wasn’t as bad as I thought. When will I learn? She was very sweet, listened well and, if she did judge me, she hid it brilliantly. She even told me that people who’ve suffered from PND before are more likely to get it again. Which was kind. During the conversation she asked me about my triggers – what sets off all the gloomy fireworks in my brain. There was no hesitation – my main problem at the moment is Wes going away, or getting unexpected work that I’ve not had time to plan for.

The reality of life with a working-away husband is tough. Especially if they’re self employed and the working-away has no pattern. It’s confusing for the children; they’re too young to understand dates and days and times so, much as I try to explain it, all they know is that sometimes Daddy is here and sometimes he’s not. It’s confusing for me too – I get into a rhythm of having Wes around and having an extra pair of hands, and suddenly he’s gone. Then I get into a rhythm of doing everything by myself and suddenly he’s back. There’s no consistency, and that’s hard. I end up resentful and irritable that he’s coming and going as he pleases, disrupting our routines and leaving me on my own with the babies. Which is something that he will never understand. Obviously.

This afternoon I heard myself say that “it just makes me feel like I’m not important.” Which surprised me. I’d always thought it was the lack of control that bothered me. Turns out it’s not. It’s that all this leaving makes me feel as though I’m not worth hanging around for. Like he has better things to do or more exciting places to be. Like he’s ready to drop everything for work, but not for me. And then my stomach gets heavy and all my energy falls out of my feet like a balloon that’s been popped.

I know from the bottom of my heart that none of it is true. I know that he works because he has to, because he wants to make our lives better and keep a roof over our head, and that he misses us horribly while he’s away. I know that there have been times that he has called off work to get me through a really dark day. It’s not that I’m worried about him being unfaithful – although I could do without all the naked French models, damn you Paris Fashion Week! It’s just that there’s something deep inside me that takes all this leaving as a personal insult.

It’s ludicrous to take everything so personally. I know that. But I still do it. Even with the children – if Joel is whinging in his highchair it’s because he wants to stop me enjoying my dinner, if Elvie decides she needs the toilet while Joel has just fallen asleep in my arms it’s all a ploy to attack me for daring to have another child, and if either of them wakes up in the night it’s a calculated attempt to stop me sleeping. Not just that they’re small children. Don’t be ridiculous. Even the helicopter that’s circling at the moment has come deliberately to annoy me by waking up my too-hot, fretful baby. It’s such nonsense.

I’ve decided to tackle that nonsense head on. I don’t really have much choice – he goes away again on Saturday. For a week. So I need something that works. Other than hiding under the duvet and not getting up until he’s home. Tempting though that is. I’ve decided I need a new mantra. To go against the voices in my head that tell me I’m not good enough or I’m too dull or he’s going away to escape. And this is it. “He loves me.” Simple as that. Because he does. That’s the truth of it.

Every time he goes away, or takes on more work, or stays on later than planned, I’m going to make a conscious effort that my first thought is “he loves me.” Even if I don’t feel like it. Especially then. I suspect that starting from there will make it harder for all the nonsense to sneak in. It won’t solve everything, but it’s worth a shot. At least I’ll have something to tell the therapist.


Letter to Elvie July 10, 2013

Filed under: Elvie,Parenting — hannahoakland @ 8:31 pm

Elvie and I went to play with some friends this afternoon. Part of our ongoing paddling-pool crawl – rock and roll! While we watched our girls dripping ice lollies down their arms, my friend asked if I had considered what I would say to Elvie when she had children. (Other than the obvious response of “ha ha – now you’ll see how much grief you caused me.” I presume that’s standard.)

I hadn’t really thought about it before. It’s a long way off – which, judging by her current childcare standards, is undoubtedly a good thing.


I thought about it all the way home, through dinner, and through bedtime. And here’s what I would say.

My gorgeous girl,

So, you’re a mummy! Welcome to a very special club. A place where you can never be too tired, too confused or too irrationally emotional. Everyone you meet now will feel free to give you the benefit of their advice. For what it’s worth – here’s mine.

Hang on to yourself: Your children will take up the vast majority of your time and your brain. But they are not the sum total of who you are. Carve out some time for yourself, however you do it. Time to keep up your passions and your hobbies. Time for the things that make you feel alive. Not the housework. You are absolutely worth it. Your sanity and your happiness are a priority. At least they should be.

You are good enough, just as you are: Don’t compare yourself to everyone else. Or compare your house to theirs. Or your clothes. Or your children. Everyone does motherhood differently, and nobody is right. You’ll never know what anyone else ‘s life is really like – chances are they’re judging themselves against you as well. On this topic – if you’re having a bad day, stay away from Pinterest. These people are not real. I repeat. Not real.

Be honest: With yourself, with your husband and with your friends. Pretending to keep it together is exhausting, and just makes everyone else feel the need to pretend as well. Honesty breeds honesty, and you’ll soon find out that you’re not on your own. Being a parent is hard. If anyone tells you otherwise they’re lying. Or they have a cook, a cleaner and a full time nanny. Try not to hate them.

Record your achievements: During the stay-at-home phase, it can feel like you’ve not accomplished anything for months. When you do – document it. If your plant grew, take a picture. If you bake something new, take a picture. If you manage a super-fun day out with the children, take lots of pictures. Store them all on your phone. That way, when you have a bad week, you have evidence of your brilliance right there in front of you. Believe me, there will be days when you need it.

There will be bad days: Days when the toddler won’t listen to a word you say and the baby is teething and you’re all hot and grumpy. Get through the day however you can – beans on toast and cbeebies are perfectly acceptable options. Then have a cup of tea, or a glass of wine and sit down with some mindless telly. Breathe. Maybe tomorrow will be better.

Accept help when it’s offered: No, really. Please do.

Notice what you’ve done well: Maybe you kept your cool when the children were fighting. Perhaps they got their 5-a-day. Or you all had a laugh at the park. Or you got the paints out when you really couldn’t be bothered. Or you remembered to take the library books back. These things matter. At the end of each day take a moment to give yourself a pat on the back. Let’s be honest – the children won’t do it for you.

Try not to worry too much: Yes, they mostly eat with their fingers. Yes, they dribble everywhere. And have the occasional little ‘accident’. She won’t wear trousers. He bites everyone’s shoulders. I’m willing to bet that by the time they get to ‘big school’, none of that will be an issue. Worrying about it will just drive you crazy. Nobody wants that.

You’re doing a great job: Turning up every day. Doing what needs to be done. Even when it’s the last thing you want to do. Your children love you more than you know. They’re part of you and you are the best possible person to raise them. You’re doing brilliantly, and I’m so proud.

I love you. Maybe now you have some idea how much.


P.S. It’s possible to write a letter to your daughter and realise that actually, you’re writing to yourself. Listen up, hey?!?


Running away with the Circus. July 9, 2013

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


Several of my friends have recently had babies. This is great news for me – I can play with them, cuddle them and still sleep through the night. Occasionally they’re sick in my hair, but I can deal with that. This morning I was talking to a friend with a two year old son and a beautiful five week old daughter. She’s a real cutie. At one point in the conversation I asked her, “so, how’s it going with two of them?” and a look crossed her face. A mixture of sheer exhaustion, overwhelm and fear that it would always be this hard. I had some powerful words of support and encouragement ready and waiting, but her son chose that moment to escape out of the door, so our chat was over.

I know that look so well. That combination of exhaustion, overwhelm and fear has been my companion on many occasions since I became a mother. So many many times it has made me want to run away and start over somewhere else. Usually without the children. Somewhere it would be easier. I would be happier. Everything would be less daunting. I still battle with it. I’ve committed myself to my family and I won’t be running off without them, but the daydreams continue.

Lately I’ve realised this has always been my default setting. As a child and teenager I used to talk about running away with the circus, and spent several years wishing that I was a gypsy. Long before ‘Big Fat Gypsy Weddings’ made it cool. Every time I felt stressed or under pressure, I would imagine myself leaving it all behind and running away.

I loved the idea of freedom. Not having any responsibilities, living your life the way you wanted. Travelling around the country and the world, going where the wind takes you. Last year a friend gave me a copy of ‘The Night Circus’ by Erin Morganstern. I am officially in love. It is exactly the circus of my childhood-running-away dreams. A wild, immersive, romantic, magical world where everything is up for grabs and anything can happen. It is perfect.

In real life I’ve only been to the circus once. Years ago, Wes booked us tickets as a romantic treat. We got there in a filthy mood, after a huge fight, so late that we missed the first half. To be honest, the acts we did see were disappointing. There wasn’t even an elephant. Afterwards, Wes was mortified to discover that I’d never been to an actual circus before – I talked about them so much he assumed I’d been to loads. Regardless, the spell was broken.

The problem is, that’s what reality does. All my dreams of a runaway, magical life were just that – dreams. And although I know that, I’m still a sucker for them. The dreams look different now I’m a responsible grown-up. I don’t spend my time imagining a life with the circus or mentally designing the interior of my gypsy caravan. But I still play the game – ‘when the kids are grown up I’ll…’, or ‘when I get a job I’ll…’ or ‘when we have money I’ll…’ I’ve spent our percentage of my grandparents imaginary lottery win several times over.

I’m coming to the conclusion that this a bad idea. That it robs me of enjoying my life – in fact it robs me twice. Now, while I’m fixated on the future rather than focussing on today. But also when the future actually arrives – when the kids are grown up, or when I do get a job – and I’ve spent so much time imagining how glorious it will be that the reality inevitably fails to reach my expectations. Years ago my dreams were ‘when I’m married I’ll…’ or ‘when I have kids I’ll…’ I’m living those dreams now, and yet I’m unable to focus on my real life, with all its lumps and bumps, because I’m already reaching for a new set of perfect futures.

Many years ago a wise woman prayed over me and told me that I needed to concentrate on living in the moment. I smiled politely, knowing that, whilst it was a nice idea, it didn’t apply to me. On reflection, it’s possible that she was right. Sorry Susie. I need to try and enjoy where I am, while I’m there. Without wishing myself somewhere else. It was easy this afternoon – sitting in the sunshine, in the garden that I still can’t quite believe is ours, watching my two little naked babies playing in the paddling pool. It was idyllic and wonderful and there was nothing wrong with the world. It’s fun to be present in those moments.

It’s the day to day grind that wears me down. The monotony and the routine that small children require. As a creative, I find that really hard. My imagination is wild, and every part of me desperately craves magical things and beautiful moments. I’m trying to find them where I can – in my boy’s first steps, or watching Elvie swordfighting in a donkey costume. I have a feeling that this is a battle I’m never really going to win. At least not while my life-stage demands pattern and repetition and predictability. I’m not sure what to do about it. I know that there is so much joy to be had right in the middle of mundane. But I’d really love some elephants.