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?

 

Courage in the in-between. November 7, 2014

Filed under: Adventures,Survival Guide — hannahoakland @ 10:03 am

Everyone is writing about courage at the moment. Maybe it’s the fallout from the inevitable half-term trauma. Or perhaps it’s the fact that the temperature dropped twenty degrees overnight and we’re all aware that it’s going to be a long cold winter. Whatever the reason, it’s got me thinking.

(Incidentally, of all the recent courage-related writings, my absolute favourite is Glennon’s description of the day she met Cheez-It-Haymitch-Window-Lady. Seriously, check out Momastery. I absolutely dare you to be the same person afterwards.)

We’ve had our fair share of courage recently. In the small things, admittedly. Courage, nonetheless.

On Wednesday Elvie was brave enough to sit in the ‘magic chair’ all by herself for her dental checkup. Without¬†screaming, or crying. Or any drama at all. And she was brave enough to insist that the slightly-embarrassed dentist examine Purple Bear first, so that she knew exactly what that magic chair would entail.

Joel is getting more courageous by the day. Or crazier. One or the other. Either way he’s now brave enough to jump off tables, sofas and walls. Both feet first, always. And, occasionally he’s brave enough to look down, judge the distance and reach out for my hand to keep him safe. Personally, I prefer those times. I sweat a lot less.

I think about courage a lot. In terms of the children, and in terms of myself. There are plenty of opportunities to be brave in the long slow process of coming-to-terms-with-depression. Some days it feels like I deserve a medal for getting out of bed. Apparently that’s not an Olympic sport yet. I’m working on it.

I have, for the longest time, judged courage in terms of action. Being brave enough to say yes, or brave enough to say no. Sitting in the dentists chair, or reaching out a hand for help. Getting out of bed in the morning. Acts of wild and beautiful bravery, right there.

A few weeks ago I made one of the bravest decisions of my life. And, after hours of frantic writing, editing and rewriting, I sent off a book proposal to a publishing company. For this book. Based on this blog. Right here.

The moment of pressing ‘send’ was fifty per cent courage and fifty per cent blind optimism. I held my mug of tea until my hands stopped shaking, and congratulated myself on having fulfilled my bravery quota until early 2015 at least.

Somewhere in the midst of the email conversation with the editor that followed, and the endless delays to the publishers meeting date that are prolonging the agony of not-knowing-what’s-going-on I realised that big gestures and key moments are not the measure of courage. Not for me, anyway.

For me, the bravery is in the waiting. In the quiet and the dull and the mundane. The space between the big moments.

My courage is most tested though the discussions in my head. Through the constant-checking-of-my-emails and having to keep going even when there’s no response. In daring to believe that I’ll actually be able to write a book, if they say yes. In daring to believe that I’ll still be a worthwhile human being if they say no.

It takes less courage to submit a proposal than it does to tell your friends about it, and risk them knowing if it all goes wrong. As evidenced by how few of my own friends have been kept in the loop. I’ve used up all my bravery by not sending desperate ‘have-you-forgotten-about-me-please-love-me’ follow up emails to the editor. There’s not been much left for everyday life.

I’ve asked for a bracelet for christmas. One that I found on Twitter. One that just says ‘courage.’ It’s really cute. And it helps fund clean water projects, so it’s basically an entirely selfless choice…

Image from www.mudlove.com

Image from http://www.mudlove.com

 

I won’t just wear it on the big days. The days when I host parties, or send life-changing emails, or go for medication reviews. I’ll wear it on all the days. Even the in-between days. When the bravery is in getting up, getting dressed and being honest with my friends. Or plaiting Elvie’s hair again. Or changing another nappy. Especially on those days.

Because most of the time, I can get through the big days on adrenaline. It’s the in-between days when I need courage. The everyday days. The waiting days.

Goodness knows there are plenty of them.

 

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?

 

The Honest Mum’s Club. May 15, 2014

Filed under: Community,Parenting,Survival Guide — hannahoakland @ 1:08 pm

Mothers are an advertiser’s dream. Perpetually paranoid, convinced that we’re doing it wrong. That our days aren’t filled and varied and educational enough. That we work too much or too little. That we’re eating the wrong foods.

That our children will be the ones who cost the NHS millions in therapy. Or end up as college drop-outs with rock-bottom self esteem and a nasty narcotics habit.

No? Perhaps it’s just me.

I doubt it.

There must be a few of us at least. Otherwise the marketing gurus are seriously misplacing their money.

You can’t breathe these days for ‘must-have’ gadgets, or educational apps. For tutors to help your children achieve their academic potential, and forest schools for when it all gets too much. Cookbooks full of family-friendly’ recipes that leave me wondering whether mine are the only children who won’t eat kale or pine nuts, or anything made of potato. Clothes that wouldn’t last a minute on either of my mud-monsters. Let alone the fact that they cost the same as our weekly shop.

I’m not sure that parenting has ever been so well-marketed. So riddled with guilt and fear, and expectations. The list of new baby ‘essentials’ is growing longer by the day. No wonder so many people delay parenthood. Or just abandon the idea altogether.

It’s all nonsense. In my humble opinion, anyway. Every mother – whether they’re pregnant, a new mum or seasoned pro needs only one thing in order to survive.

Friends.

Real, honest, there-through-thick-and-thin friends. Preferably the kind who are already raising children themselves. They tend not to be so horrified when the topic of ‘how-close-the-baby-came-to-being-thrown-out-of-the-window-at-3am’ comes up.

Last night I went to a bead party. With a room full of exactly these kind of friends. I may just be the luckiest woman alive.

A bead party is not like a Tupperware party. Or an Avon party. Or an Ann Summers party. Except that the man of the house had to leave the room as soon as he arrived home because “we just have a couple more boob stories to tell.” Told you. These girls are great.

They’re a tradition at our church. Bead parties, not boob stories.

It’s kind of like a baby shower. But better. And with less presents. All the mothers get together for an evening, to show their support for the mum-to-be. There are poems and prayers and wise words. Birth stories involving cupboards and french ambulance drivers, and nameless on-call-birth-partners who left their phones on silent while they drank wine and watched the telly, only to miss the entire event. And, last night at least, a lot of sugar.

Each mama brings a bead with her, and throughout the evening they’re threaded onto a piece of elastic. So that the new mummy has a bracelet. Something physical. Tangible. To wear in labour and those hazy early days. To bite on, or run through her fingers, or silence anyone who tells her the baby will arrive ‘when it’s ready.’

To remind her that she is not alone.

Those bracelets crop up in almost everyone’s birthing pictures.

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The bracelets are precious. Beyond words. No doubt about that. But what really makes these evenings wonderful are the friendships.

Last night was no exception. 9 of us, sitting in a kitchen, eating ice cream sundaes.

I’d had a hell of a day. Week, actually.With my unruly three year old. One girl arrived off the back of three sleep-deprived teething nights. Another, 4 months pregnant and existing on a diet of tinned caramel and super noodles, was just amazed to be able to clean her teeth without vomiting.

We all came with baggage. Some of us almost didn’t make it at all thanks to the confusing lane structure of one of Reading’s roundabouts. But we were there. We laughed. We cried. We ate way too much sugar for that time of night. We hunted imaginary cats who may or may not have broken in through the back door. And, through it all, we were real.

Real can be hard to find these days. But when you find it, you hold on tight.

These girls have been my lifeline over the last year. My place of safety. Where it doesn’t matter that I have no answers. Or that I’m wearing the same clothes for the fourth day running. Or that my children have just styled their hair with peanut butter. Because they understand.

These girls hold my secrets. When I told them I was terrified of having a boy, they understood. When I told them I was depressed, they cried with me and held my hands and listened. They know, they care, and they don’t judge. It’s incredible.

We know how dark and lonely motherhood can be, and we also know it’s delights. We’ve seen each other at our best and at our worst.

We’ve cried together over miscarriages and broken hearts. We’ve cared for each other’s children. We’ve cooked meals for each other after babies have been born. Most of the clothes our little ones wear have done the rounds at least twice.

Some of us have real life sisters. Some of us don’t. Some of our sisters live on the other side of the world. But here, in this muddle of baby bumps, leaky boobs, caramel junkies and bone-tired eyes, there is another kind of sisterhood. And it is breathtakingly beautiful.

I call it the Honest Mum’s Club. And I am beyond privileged to be a part of it.

Nobody should have to go through motherhood alone. We’re not designed for it. Community. Sisterhood. Honesty. That, right there, is what every mother needs.

Every new mother who can barely see through her sleep deprived eyes. Every mum of six who can’t figure out how to split herself so many ways. All the homeschoolers. All the chairwomen of the board. All the Annabel Karmel devotees. All the chips-and-beans mamas.

You don’t need another gadget. You don’t need a new routine. Or a tutor. Or a fancy app.

All you need is friends. Real, honest friends.

And perhaps another ice cream sundae.

 

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.)

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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.

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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.