Walking with the moon

A creative living in the real world…

Strong. June 23, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — hannahoakland @ 1:27 pm

Last week I took delivery of a jumper. A new jumper. It’s beautiful. Black, and gold, and super-cosy. And entirely seasonally appropriate for the first week of summer. At least it is in our corner of the world, anyway. Seriously. What’s with all the rain?

It’s a statement jumper. And, disregarding the fact that I am, by all accounts, far too old for a statement jumper (even Elvie told me that it makes me look like a teenager), I love it. Besides the fact that it’s not so much a statement as just one super-important word. ‘Strong.’ I know, right? Strong? On a ladies jumper? Feminist me up, buttercup.

It comes from the wonders over at Selfish Mother and I love it. (Disclaimer: I totally bought it myself – nobody’s bribed me to say this.) So much so that, as soon as it arrived, I had to try it on, and take the obligatory slightly blurry selfie, complete with muscle-baring five year old. You’re welcome.

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Strong is a funny old word. It’s not one that I really like to use about myself. It feels a bit cocky somehow. Certainly, if you’d seen me last night, curled up on the sofa under a blanket with a bowl of ice cream after a serious pre-menstrual dizzy spell, it wouldn’t have been the first word that came to mind.

But I’m coming round to the idea. Which is why I bought the jumper. As a reminder. That I can wear on my chest, to jog my memory on the days when everything feels too much. Because we are strong. All of us. All of us who fight the demons in our heads every single day. All of us who get up and show up and parent every day, regardless. All those of us whose anxiety, driven to absolute fever pitch by the relentless and ridiculous referendum campaigning, needed to make an emergency escape plan before we could go to vote this morning. In case of rogue shooters. But who went and voted anyway. For instance. We’re warriors. All of us.

Last weekend we went to church camp. In the woods. But, mercifully, not in a tent. There was tea. There was cake. There was even a puppet-tortoise wedding, where the ‘bride’ came down the aisle on a remote-controlled car and we laughed so hard that we were actually, genuinely, weeping. There was community with some of the most precious people I have ever had the privilege of knowing. And there was absolute bucketloads of strong.

Teenagers who got up and sang, acapella, in front of the entire, enormous group of us. People opening their hearts, having conversations and sharing tables with others that they’d never spoken to before. Grown women, and men, letting three year-olds paint their nails. With real nail varnish. And not wiping it off straight away. That’s a special kind of strong, right there.

I wore my jumper. A lot. To remind me that actually, I can be strong too. Because solo parenting at church camp when your husband’s new client needs him in France for the whole weekend, is mighty hard going. Particularly when my last few church camp experiences have involved a) camping in a tent in actual zero degree temperatures, with an 8 month old, b) a full-on nervous breakdown and c) more tears and tantrums than I care to remember. Some of which came from the children.

But we did it. This time. Just the three of us – and everyone else. And, whisper it, we even had some fun. I held it together, the kids got just about enough sleep to function, and we only lost Joel once. Totally found him again too. Winning. Some of it even got caught on camera. (Thanks Becky.)

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I love this picture – mostly because you can’t tell at all that Joel’s sweet head resting in my lap is actually mid-enormous-tantrum because I wouldn’t let him go back for yet another cake before everyone else had chance to get at least one. And they say the camera never lies.

The biggest surprise of the weekend for me, was Elvie. Usually, in these situations, she has a tendency to withdraw herself. To run off in another direction, refuse point-blank to join in, and occupy herself underneath a table, or a puddle, or by ‘cleaning’ the bathroom floor. This year was different.

This year she blossomed. Before my very eyes. She played frisbee, and volleyball, and sardines. Despite never having played them before and not really knowing the rules. She ran off happily by herself to her kids group – helped enormously by her huge girl-crush on the leaders. She walked down the aisle as a bridesmaid at the tortoise wedding, turned cartwheels in the field with the big girls, ate the food at every mealtime, and even stood up by herself in the final meeting to tell everyone, through the microphone, what a brilliant time she’d had. She was fierce. She was brave. She was strong.

It struck me, afterwards, that it was all connected. All this strong. She’d seen me be brave. She’d seen me be vulnerable. She’d seen me let myself go, and have fun with my friends. And she’d done exactly the same.

She mirrors me. A lot. Almost always. And it’s not often so positive. I’m grabbing hold of last weekend, with both hands. As a reminder of what we can do. Of who we can be. Me and my Elvie girl. When we’re real, and we’re brave and we’re strong. That jumper’s for both of us. For all of us.

This week has been harder. Reaping the rewards of the hours of sleep we missed. More tantrums. More dizzy spells. More rain. But the memories are keeping me warm. As is the jumper.

Because we all have it in us. However deep it’s buried. That real, that brave, and that strong. Dig it out today. And act on it. Be strong. Go on. I dare you.

You never know who’s watching.

 

Daisy chains and dinosaur facts. May 17, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — hannahoakland @ 1:51 pm

I cried this morning. After the school run. Shut the door, sat down on the sofa and cried. And I’ll be honest, it wasn’t because I missed the little darlings so much. Not even slightly.

We’ve been butting heads a lot lately. Especially the last few days. And it’s tipping me right over the edge.

It’s been a super tricky week. And yes, I’m well aware it’s only Tuesday. I’m basically drowning in pre-menstrual hormones, and fighting off a beast of a throat infection, which makes sleeping really awkward. And we all know what I’m like when I’m tired.

All of this whilst dealing with an Elvie who is supercharged and almost entirely hyperactive due to a renewed hatred of bedtime, actually going to sleep and anything associated with night time, routine, or reasonable behaviour in general. And Joel who, whilst being utterly delicious, is also terrifyingly easily led.

Safe to say I’ve had better mornings.

I cried for them today. A little. For the mean old mother they’d had to deal with. For how angry I’d got. For how confusing it must be.

But mostly, I cried for me. And for the final, knockout blow of realisation that actually, I am a much better mother to my children when I don’t see them all the time.

Don’t panic. I’m not planning on sending them to boarding school. Yet. Seriously, that stuff is expensive. It’s just that this last couple of weeks I’ve had a taste of it. Of being my own person occasionally. Of having something to say. And people who listen. And I’ve loved it.

In the not-quite-month since the book came out, I’ve had a lot of fun. I’ve been put up in a nice hotel, ferried around by taxis, treated to breakfast in private West-End dining rooms and met more than my fair share of national treasures. Oh, and there was that morning that I got interviewed live on the telly.

I’ve loved every minute of it. Even the one where, after one glass of red wine I completely stacked it and the hotel waiter had to physically catch me so that I didn’t end up on the floor. And the one where I realised that my skirt felt so loose because it had, in fact, come completely undone and was slowly working its way down my legs. And so I had to adjust it. ‘Discreetly’. In the middle of a packed-full tube station. I am absolutely not the classiest bird.

I’ve loved finding out how tv studios work. Recording voiceover. Being on the radio. Hiding up against a wall on the South Bank to try and give a half-decent interview without the background noise of every primary school in London. who had come out for a field trip in the sunshine.

There have been moments that were awkward, admittedly. And difficult. Absolutely. Racing home to try and be back in time for a childcare changeover. Trying to learn how to deal with interviews; where you open your entire heart to a complete stranger who talks to you for ten minutes and then just says goodbye and leaves. Not sleeping. For about a week. Out of sheer, Lorraine-Kelly-related nerves.

But, in spite of that, I’ve loved it. If I’m honest, I’ve dreamed of this forever. The writing, and the speaking. The having-something-to-say and the being-listened-to. The feeling of being valued for something. By myself. Without the constant background noise of whinging, and demanding, and a barrage of dinosaur facts.

The amazing thing is, that every time I’ve gone out to ‘work’ over this last month, I’ve come home genuinely pleased to see the children. I’ve been delighted to see their little faces. To cuddle them. To hear their stories. And their dinosaur facts. I’ve wanted to do fun things with them. To make smores on the bonfire, or have our tentative, noisy, first stabiliser-free cycling lessons in the park. To make daisy chains in the sunshine.

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It’s been fun. I like that version of myself. A lot. But now the dust has settled and, although the interview requests, and guest blog spots keep on coming, Wes is back at work. And I’m left juggling. Trying to be a stay-at-home mum, and keep the house clean, and entertain the kids, and cook the meals and keep everyone happy. Whilst keeping up the momentum for the book at the same time. Stuck in this awkward, massively unsatisfying middle-ground between working and homemaking. It’s pretty exhausting. Even if you’re not ill and hormonal.

I want to be a good mother. One who’s happy, and well-balanced, and up for some fun. One who knows who she is, and what she can be. One who encourages her children. And builds them up. And doesn’t end up sobbing on the sofa in the morning because she’s gotten so angry with them before it’s even 9am.

I’m only just beginning to realise that, in order to be that person, I probably need to get out of the house more. Regularly. To work. To earn some money. To be my own person. I’ve been an at-home mama for almost six years now and, as much as it pains me to admit it, I’m slowly beginning to realise that I just don’t think it’s for me.

Which is hard. Really hard. Because, in my wildest, most fanciful dreams, I’ve always seen myself as that person. That self-sacrificing, smiling, perfect at-home mother. I grew up with it. I certainly never thought I’d find it so difficult. I see friends who are clearly, entirely designed for mothering. Raising their children with such grace, and beauty. Even homeschooling, some of them. And it’s so horribly, desperately hard to look right into the centre of my soul and say that actually, I can’t do it. That I need something else. Something more.

I can’t help feeling like it speaks right to the heart of how we’re raised as women, that I’m finding this so gut-wrenchingly hard. That this sacred ideal of motherhood as the be-all and end-all is so deeply ingrained in my brain. That even stepping outside to find myself, in order to ultimately improve the quality of my children’s lives a hundred times over, feels like selfishness. And ego. And pride. That I would be sobbing, by myself, to realise that I just can’t stay at home forever. Not without losing my mind.

Enough tears. For now.

To quote Elvie, in a card she so sweetly made me last night when it was well over an hour past her bedtime, and I was weeping quietly downstairs because she just wouldn’t go to sleep, “There’s no point crying when there’s work to be done.” Thanks sweet girl. Now go to bed. Seriously.

Onwards. And upwards. Hopefully. To a world where I’m looking for a job, that fits around Wes’ schedule, and actually pays me some money. Of course, in an ideal world, I’d be writing. But I’m not sure how picky I can afford to be right now. And it’s pretty tough to find a writing job that comes with a pay-cheque.

It’s going to be an adjustment for all of us. A huge one. But I’m crossing my fingers that it will turn out to be the absolute best thing for all of us.

Feel free to cross yours too. We might just need it.

 

 

Toothpaste pictures. April 26, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — hannahoakland @ 2:21 pm

Our dishwasher didn’t break last week. More on that later. I know, I’m teasing you. Sorry.

At the weekend I was searching my computer for pictures of the children. ‘Toothpaste pictures,’ I call them. The ones that probably wouldn’t make the traditional family album. Because the little angels are tattooed in permanent marker, or stuck midway through their attempt to abseil down the bannister. Or we’ve caught them red-handed whilst they smother the bathroom floor in toothpaste. For instance.

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We have plenty of these pictures. We’ve had plenty of these moments. All of them documented in millions of teeny tiny pixels. Ready to show the children, in years to come, when they can’t understand why their own offspring are so feral. And, to be honest, because it’s way more fun than cleaning up the mess. Photos first, clean-up second. Which may be the First Commandment of modern parenting.

I wanted them for the launch party. Of the book. My book. The one about me, and the children, and the stinking, awful and occasionally weirdly beautiful years of post-natal depression that followed their births. The book that comes out this week. On Thursday. In two days time. (If you’re anywhere near Reading on Thursday night, let me know. Come along. It’s going to be a lot of fun.)

The party will be pretty. But I don’t want it too pretty. It needs some real. Hence the pictures – crosses drawn on the bedroom carpet in lipstick, heads full of sudocrem, mouths full of paint. All chosen, ready to be printed and laminated and positioned next to the fancy vintage teacups full of gin.

It didn’t surprise me that I had so many options. So many photos to choose from. What did surprise me was how many years worth of photos I had to scroll back through. Apparently Elvie will be six this summer. Six whole years. Of parenting. And depression. Six years of scrabbling around in the dark with no idea what we’re doing. Of trial-and-error parenting.  Of anti-depressants, therapy, and a slow, steep climb back up to something resembling stable.

I’ve been off the tablets for nine months now. I’ve written a book, which is on the verge of launching. The children are older. Elvie’s at school, Joel’s at nursery. They sleep more. Mostly. I sleep more. Mostly. Things are definitely looking up. And yet.

And yet. Last week I was standing in my kitchen, on the verge of tears, paralysed by what felt very much like the early waves of a panic attack. Because the dishwasher was *definitely* broken. I’m pretty much the poster girl for a calm and sensible approach to motherhood. And life in general.

In fairness it wasn’t just the dishwasher. Two weeks of school and nursery holidays had taken their toll. As had the oven. Which actually is broken. And the fact that I’d completely messed up the entire day of a friend and her children by getting my weeks mixed up. Also I hadn’t slept the night before. Which is enough to tip me over the edge on a good day. I really need my sleep.

My brain had been delicately balanced all day. And when I got into the kitchen and found a pool of water on the floor, a dishwasher full of bubbles and the tablet still sitting, mostly intact, on the bottom of a saucepan, that was it. It took all of four minutes for my spiralling, hideous thoughts to convince me that I am a disaster, and a terrible person. That I’ve ruined the lives of my friends and my children and, apparently, even my household appliances.

It’s a slippery little slope. Believe me. I’ve gone headfirst down it a thousand times before. But this time I stopped. Partly thanks to the tricks they teach in therapy, partly thanks to some serious yoga breathing, and partly because I could hear from the lounge that the emergency Cbeebies was about to wear off, and Joel sounded hungry. Very hungry.

Turns out that just the act of making lunch can calm me down a bit. As can making a cup of tea. Or emptying the bin. Anything, actually, that involves my hands, rather than my ridiculous brain. By the time we’d finished eating I was ready to re-evaluate the whole emotionally-damaged-appliance situation.

On closer inspection, the dishwasher problem was threefold. Some spilt water, some badly positioned, tablet-trapping, pan handles and a frying pan that had been soaked prior to washing, in copious amounts of Fairy liquid. Not actually broken, after all.

I almost took a picture of the bubbles. I would have done, except that by the time the next cycle was finished, they’d all disappeared. My very own ‘toothpaste picture’. My very own over-reaction. My very own mess. We have plenty of those moments already. In six months, or a year, or ten years time, who knows how many more we’ll have. Whether we manage to photograph them or not.

I think that’s ok. Because we’re human. We’re family. We’re messy.

And we’re learning.

Even if this week it’s mostly that we need a new way of soaking the dishes.

 

*SPECIAL BOOK-RELATED OFFER ALERT!*

So, the book comes out on Thursday. And to celebrate, the publishers are offering it at a discount price of £5, and £2.50 p&p. Just order from http://www.darton-longman-todd.co.uk and quote ‘HMC2016’ to get it at the cheaper rate. The offer lasts until May 31st.

 

 

Mother’s Day. And other headaches. March 6, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — hannahoakland @ 9:33 pm

So, today was Mother’s Day. When I saw my Mum on Friday, she asked me what my plans were. I told her that I was mostly hoping to stay in bed. All day. I was joking. Partly.

As it happens, I did stay in bed all day. With a migraine. Sucks to be me.

Mother’s Day has gotten kind of massive recently. Goodness knows the telly has been full of it. As have all the magazines. All the gifts we should give. All the meals we should cook. All the flowers we should send. It’s getting a little out of hand.

I did get some flowers this morning. They’re beautiful. (As is the colour of the wall behind them – we just painted our room. For the first time ever. There *may* even be a sneaky bit of glitter in there. I love it.)

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Wes picked the flowers. From our neighbour’s garden. Not that the neighbour knows that. They were hanging over our fence. So it’s totally fine. Also, he’s blind. He’ll never even know.

I could hear them. Wes and the kids. Downstairs, making me ‘surprise’ pancakes. He asked Elvie to decorate some paper for him to wrap my gift in. She refused. Loudly. Although she did turn up by my bed shortly afterwards with a picture of an animal park, and one of a princess, with flowery braces on her teeth and a tiara made of hermit crab shells.

In the end, Joel made my wrapping paper. Because nothing says ‘Happy Mother’s Day’ like a book wrapped in a picture of a Screaming Death dragon. Except perhaps a small boy who’s full of a cold, horrendously grumpy and thinks he might be sick, or a five year old who’s unbearably angsty at the fact that there’s no such thing as ‘Children’s Day.’ Give me strength.

Mother’s Day can be tricky. The expectations can be huge. Fuelled in no small part by the heads of the advertising agencies. Or the buggers, as I like to call them.

Mother’s Day and I have a complicated history. As a child, I loved it. I wrote cards. I put on carefully choreographed shows. I constructed elaborate books depicting my Mum in various fictitious world-conquering scenarios using only photos from our trip to Center Parcs the summer before.

However, since becoming a mother myself, it’s all been a little more complex. I realised a couple of years ago that I was basically hoping that one single day, and the actions of my family on it, would demonstrate exactly what my worth is as a mother. (And indeed as a person. Given that 95% of my current identity is consumed by the two small people who are currently asleep upstairs.)

That’s a lot of pressure to put on one day. Needless to say we’ve had some failures. Of the epic kind.

There was the year we were in town buying flowers for our respective mothers and Wes told me to ‘pick one up for yourself, if you like.’ That was the night that I sobbed my heart out, curled up on the bathroom floor, because everyone was absolutely, totally failing to appreciate me.

And there was the year that we spent so long figuring out what to do for our own mums, that I got absolutely nothing. Not even a card. Because Wes had, by his own admission, forgotten that I was actually a mother as well. Ouch.

The problem is this: one day a year will never make me feel complete as a mother. Or a person. Not with all the toothy princess pictures in the world. Not even if it went perfectly. Better than all my wildest dreams. Because actually, the only place that kind of confidence can come from is me.

Me. Who finds an absolute steal of a holiday. In Cornwall. In August. And books it, and then immediately suffers buyers-regret because what if the weather is bad or the bungalow is dirty or the place is rubbish and everyone hates it and then they all hate me because I was the one that found it in the first place.

Me. Who has signed up to some really exciting online courses. And started a couple of craft projects. And begun thinking about the second book. And is now in an absolute spin because I can’t decide which thing to focus on first, and they’re all such long term goals and I won’t finish any of them this evening so maybe I shouldn’t start any of them but then nothing will happen at all and instead I think I’ll just go on Facebook and procrastinate and now I feel guilty and maybe I’ll just eat. That’ll help.

Me. Who is ordering parenting books left, right and centre in an attempt to bring some more structure, and calm into our approach at dealing with these littlies. But doesn’t really want to open them because what if it shows me that everything I’m doing is wrong and that I’ve screwed the kids up already and I might as well just hide under a rock for the rest of their childhood and leave them to fend for themselves because the damage is already done.

Me. And my slight tendency to emotionally over-react. To everything.

Yes, it’s Mother’s Day. But it’s just one day. And in reality – stinking migraine, whinging children, Screaming Death and all – I’m lucky. I have friends who’ve spent today in A&E with their babies. Friends who are raising their babies by themselves, and didn’t even get a lie-in. Let alone a card. Friends who don’t have their babies here to hold. Or their mums.

We’re all lucky. If we spent today with our mothers, or our children, or our siblings or our friends, then we can go to bed tonight and count ourselves blessed. Regardless of how it all went.

And we can get up tomorrow and start all over again.

Because that’s the beauty of motherhood, really. The beauty of being alive.

We get to start all over again tomorrow.

It may be Mother’s Day. But in the greater scheme of things, it’s just another Sunday. Just another day. No matter what the adverts tell us.

Tomorrow is Monday.

And who knows what we’ll do.

Bring it on.

 

Counting spoons. February 16, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — hannahoakland @ 11:51 am

I went to a meeting last night. I probably shouldn’t have gone.

Don’t get me wrong, I was totally invited. It was useful, and the people were lovely, and I genuinely do want to help create a more joined-up community.

But in all honesty, I should have been at home in bed. Or curled up on the sofa. Or anywhere that it’s acceptable to be hidden under a blanket in your pyjamas. Because I’m tired.

The problem is that, right now, I’m often tired. It’s a comes-on-suddenly-and-I-just-need-to-sleep-or-I’ll-bite-someone’s-head-off-or-sob-for-hours kind of tired. Which is really, really annoying. For everyone.

Nine times out of ten it can be sorted right out with a nap. But still. It’s annoying.

It’s more than seven months now since I stopped taking my antidepressants. Slowly but surely, I’ve been creeping back into the real world. Feeling all the feelings again. Taking on new projects. Breathing more evenly. Re-learning what it’s like to live inside my skin.

Not so much re-learning, actually. More like just learning. For the first time. How to actually be myself. Eccentricities, sensitivity, overemotional tendencies and all. It’s been a bumpy old road. Equal parts potholes and tarmac. There have been several occasions when I’ve almost gone back to the tablets.

But recently the road has started smoothing out. I’m getting better at spotting the early warning signs. I’ve been a lot more pro-active. Spent a lot more evenings reading, or talking, or wrestling with ludicrously complicated jigsaw puzzles. And a lot fewer hours mindlessly watching tv and numbing out the world.

There are probably four or five good days out of seven. Which is progress on an epic scale. Four or five days when I feel like I can face the world before lunchtime. Days when I can be productive. Leave the house. Enjoy the children. This morning I made a joke. At 8am. Needless to say, Wes was stunned. I don’t think either of us can remember the last time that happened.

And yet. The tired. The soul-destroying, joy-zapping tired. That means I pay through the nose every time I step outside my comfort zone. Every time I push myself. Every time I dare to try to achieve something.

Sunday was Valentines Day. Which we celebrated in a fairly non-traditional way. Wes went to work, and I took the kids into town. For an eye test. Obviously. Nothing says love like a five year old trying on some comedy plastic glasses and an assortment of lenses. Which she has absolutely no need for, but if Topsy and Tim went to the optometrists, then there’s no way she’s getting left out. Ah, telly.

Afterwards, we had lunch with all the cool kids. At the Debenhams cafe. Sandwiches, chocolate milk, colouring sheets. And only one occasion when Joel tried to climb over the back of the booth to join someone else’s family. Success.

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We even made it to church. The children refused for the most part to join in with the service, and ‘escaped’ from their kids groups to hide under the table, but they cooed over lots of tiny babies, got to hang out with their godparents and were eventually tempted back into constructive activities by the prospect of icing biscuits. And, in Elvie’s case at least, her clothes.

The point is, we did it. We did six hours, out of the house. Without falling out. Or shouting. Without me losing my mind. Or a child. We even made it through the moment when their endless faffing meant that we missed the last useful bus and had to walk home. Rather than wait thirty minutes in barely-over-zero temperatures. It went off without a hitch. Apart from the point when Joel very nearly pooed on the pavement. That would have been bad.

We got home, I made dinner. Wes was back. We chatted. About how proud I was of our day. About how it couldn’t have happened six months ago without me having a nervous breakdown. About how much stronger I’m getting.

And then. Yesterday morning I was shattered, grumpy and back in my bed for a nap before midday. Just about managing to be up and dressed and showered in time to make dinner and go to my 7 o’clock meeting.

I hate it. I absolutely hate it.

I hate knowing that I’m not quite as better as I think. I hate the physical reminders of the battle that my head is still fighting. I hate that the model of womanhood I’m showing Elvie is one that just needs to rest. Last week she told Wes that “girls can’t be strong,” and it breaks my heart to think that might have come from me.

At least I manage to sleep through Cbeebies most afternoons. Every cloud, and all that.

There’s a popular theory amongst sufferers of invisible illnesses. It’s called the Spoon Theory*, and it equates energy with, well, spoons. Bear with me.

Most people have an almost unlimited supply of spoons to use throughout the day. So they go about their business without really considering how much energy they’re using. Because they know they’ll have enough. And, if they really push themselves and run low, they can re-stock overnight.

For others of us, it’s not so simple. When your spoons are scarcer, you have to be much more careful where you use them. Some days you can use half your quota just by getting up and making breakfast. Which doesn’t leave much for the rest of the day.

My problem at the moment is that I can’t predict how many spoons I’ll have on any given day. Sometimes there are spares. And sometimes I use up three days worth in one afternoon of Valentine’s madness, and wonder why I’m struggling to leave the sofa the morning after.

It sucks. Mostly because I then find myself at meetings I shouldn’t be going to. Using up whatever little rusty teaspoons I can find at the back of the cupboard. Because it just feels lazy to say, “I can’t make it tonight, I’m too tired.”

I know. I know that ‘being tired’ is a lame excuse. I know that people use it all the time. That it makes us roll our eyes. And question their motives. And call them names like ‘flaky’ and ‘lightweight’. I know. I do it too.

But here’s the thing. Sometimes, often, I just am tired. Really, truly, right-to-the-bone tired. And sometimes, often, you probably are too.

I’m fed up. I’m making a stand. Join me?

Let’s decide that there’s no shame in admitting that we’re just too tired. Let’s decide that looking after ourselves is more important than turning up to everything. That helping ourselves to recover, or stay better, or not get sick in the first place, is worth more than a full diary or a supremely Instagrammable social life. That success, and strength, and achievement can come from inside, as well as out.

Maybe then we’ll all have the energy to be a little kinder to ourselves. And each other.

I won’t be going out tonight. Not even slightly. I’m planning to put my pyjamas on as soon as the kids are in bed. Maybe even earlier. I’m wild like that.

And I will spend the evening curled up by the fire. Counting my spoons.

Who knows, this time next year, I might have a drawer full.

(*You can find the original explanation at http://www.butyoudontlooksick.com – it makes a whole heap more sense than mine.)

 

Tiny Secret Places. January 27, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — hannahoakland @ 5:14 pm

A couple of weeks ago I joined the Ladies Bible Study group at the church down the road. It’s totally ok to find that hilarious. Most people do. Wes included.

The thing is, I love it. Every Wednesday morning we have a cup of tea, marvel at the wildness/coldness/mildness of the weather and then sit down for an hour to read the Bible together. It’s an oasis of calm in the middle of the week, and quite frankly feels like an excellent use of my newfound free time. Thank Nursery.

My absolute favourite part? The other women. There are about twelve of us. Me, a few others with small children, and a whole load of utterly brilliant old ladies. The kind who discuss their cataract operations and grandchildren’s antics in the same breath as the refugee crisis. Who commiserate with us over our little ones and reassure us that it won’t really get any better as the years go on. And who are wise beyond telling. Smart, yes. Sassy, definitely. But mostly, wise.

It’s the kind of wisdom that makes you feel safe. Like there are others who have travelled this road before you, who faced down second world war bombs as children, and still manage to paint their nails, find matching jewellery and turn up every Wednesday to giggle in the corner and discuss faith, world politics and cake. Chocolate cake, to be precise.

This morning we were discussing contentment. Which is tricky to find. And even trickier to hold on to.

My week so far is textbook evidence of that.

On Monday I did my authorly duty and let the Internet know that my book is now available for pre-order on Amazon. Which still blows my mind a little bit.

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Did I mention that it’s also beautiful?

For at least an hour, I felt contented. Like I was making something of myself. Like I was getting somewhere. Like perhaps I’m not a total washout after all.

I think it lasted an hour. It might have been less.

Because then I went on Twitter. And saw that another mother, who I’ve never met, but who has also written a book about parenting, is currently selling out a national tour of bookshops to promote it. Mine hasn’t even been released yet. And there certainly hasn’t been any talk of bookshop tours.

Doom. Immediate, crushing, doom.

I’ve read her blog. Most British parents have. It’s hilarious. And real, and relatable, and a huge consolation for parents who have run way past the end of their tethers. She’s way funnier than I am, way more controversial, and is signed to a way bigger publisher. So she’ll obviously sell millions more books and probably buy a yacht in the Caribbean and never want for anything ever again in her life.

This isn’t a sympathy vote. Everything I’ve written about her is absolutely true. Except perhaps the part about the Caribbean. I’ll let her make that call.

The thing is, if it wasn’t her, it would have been someone else. Someone else would write a book that was better than mine, or funnier, or just plain longer. In fairness, the vast majority of the writing community already has. I just try not to think about them.

All it took was one tweet. Just one. And then obviously a few more, after I’d Twitter-stalked her and her publishers for half an hour. She’s going to make it big. Really big. And there is precious little space in my tiny grumpy heart to be happy for her.

Which is ludicrous.

If you had sat me down three years ago and told me what my life would look like today, I would have cried. Sobbed, more likely. Because it would have seemed impossible. Sitting there in my brand new house, in an area where I knew nobody, with a four month old baby, an erratically potty-trained two year old and the clouds of depression closing in a little tighter every day.

Three years on and we’re settled into what is actually a staggeringly brilliant community of people. Elvie is at school, Joel is at nursery. And I have three solid hours to myself every weekday. Wes’ work is going really well, I’ve been off my medication for half a year, and my first book is just three months away from the shops.

It’s a turnaround of epic proportions. I should spend at least half my day on my knees weeping tears of gratitude.

Still, despite all of this, somehow I can lose my cool in the space of 140 characters. I’m not sure that should even be possible.

This morning was my wake-up call. Sitting in this formidable sisterhood, with a few centuries of combined experience. Discussing the path to contentment.

This is what I realised.

I will never be content. Not ever. Not if I’m measuring myself by what I’m achieving. By who I’m beating. By how many times I win.

I’ll spend the whole rest of my life striving, struggling and probably pretty grumpy. Which, I’ll be honest, is not my plan. (Regardless of what my children might tell you.) I just don’t think I have the capacity for it.

I want to be happy. Contented. Regardless. It would be nice to be able to feel happy for other people’s success. Or at least just not be plain furious at them.

The ladies this morning reminded me: there is a place I can go. A place to be content. A tiny secret place right in the centre of my soul. A quiet place. A place of love. Where I know that I’m safe, and precious. And absolutely enough. No bells, no whistles, no pressure. Just as I am.

Where the only one I’m listening to, is the only One that matters.

I should probably spend more time there.

And less time on Twitter.

 

 

All change. January 12, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — hannahoakland @ 8:55 pm

Last night I had a dream.

The vivid kind. The kind that stays with you when you wake up, hangs around for the rest of the day, and then sneaks into your thoughts at regular intervals for years afterwards until eventually you wind up getting it confused with your actual memories.

My usual kind of dream, then.

I was running round a seaside bed and breakfast, decorated predominantly in varying shades of blue, and populated by the entirety of my extended family. Trying to simultaneously avoid the flirtations of the only mildly-attractive chef, find an unoccupied shower and grab some breakfast for my little brother. Who turned out, on closer inspection, to actually be Joel.

So far, so good.

Until I reached the bottom of my parents stairs, that had magically appeared in the tastefully blue-painted hallway. At which point I stopped. Because I had to. Because I knew, all of a sudden, that I was about to give birth.

Which I did. It’s probably a good job that Wes is away this week, because the whole thing felt very real. I’m pretty sure that, if he had been here, I’d have woken him up. I felt it all. Physically. To the point that I had to double check in the morning that there wasn’t actually a chubby, screaming baby boy underneath the duvet.

When I woke up, I googled ‘giving birth dreams.’ Apparently they’re a sign of new beginnings. New projects. New situations. New starts.

On reflection, I could probably have worked that out for myself.

January’s an obvious time for new starts.  Everybody’s at it. New Year, New You. Apparently. Here at Team Oakland, we’re no exception.

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Look at this boy.

He had his first session at nursery this morning. And he was amazing. Straight in, bombing off after a tray of plastic dinosaurs. When I came to collect him, he was mostly just upset that he hadn’t had time to ride all the bikes. By 2pm he was moping by the window, staring out at the playground, “Mummy, I miss nursery.”

Fingers crossed, this is the start of something beautiful. That cup of tea that I drank this morning, by myself, in perfect glorious peace, certainly felt like magic.

Other things are changing too. The book is steaming into view, only a few short months away from being released. The perinatal support group that we’ve been planning for what feels like forever will start at the end of next week.

And, as of Sunday, I’ve been medication-free for six months.

Six months.

We’ve fought hard for every single one of them. Each month. Each week. Each day, most of the time.

That’s a whole other post that needs to be written. I’ll write it later. Maybe at the weekend. Maybe one morning next week when I’m at home, by myself, relishing the silence that only nursery can bring.

In the meantime, I’ll be toasting the change. That rare, precious moment when it feels as though everything is coming together at once. When the hard, unending, desperate slog of months on end actually starts to make a difference.

When the stars align. And the clouds lift.

And you can feel it shifting.

Even in your dreams.

 

 

 

Surviving New Year’s Eve. December 31, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — hannahoakland @ 6:45 pm

So. New Years Eve.

It’s been eventful.

There was the year I dressed up as a fairy, slept the night at a friends pub and then crushed lemon sherbets into the scrambled eggs the next morning after the boys decided that breakfast-making was the perfect opportunity to enforce traditional gender roles.

The year we stayed at a friend’s flat in Edinburgh and, unable to face the street party, decided to climb out of the skylight and chim-chim-cheree around on the rooftops instead.

Or the year I was on holiday in a beautiful Welsh cottage. With wine and an open fire. And Wes continually informing me that he was absolutely not going to propose. A promise which he kept. Who said romance is dead?

New Year’s Eve can be tricky. At the best of times. Even without that nagging beast called anxiety snapping at your sky-high heels. The double-edged pressure to have the-best-night-ever, swiftly followed by entirely-turning-your-life-around-on-the-stroke-of-midnight can make it a little hard to breathe. Let alone make a sensible, well-informed decision.

The internet’s been full of it today. ‘Simple’ canapes made of quails eggs, roasted Sicilian tomatoes and unicorn horn. How to match your nail varnish to your party dress without it looking too ‘matchy.’ And where to find the perfect dress for your figure. Because god forbid you choose the same one that you wore for Christmas.

It’s all a bit much. Quite a bit. And it’s way too easy to end up feeling like a failure. Without the right outfit. Or snacks. Or resolutions.

In the interest of balance – here’s our plan. How to have an epic New Years Eve. Just like us. You are so welcome.

Admittedly, we did manage to leave the house. We went to Hughenden, in a fit of thank-goodness-the-sun-is-finally-shining combined with a desperate attempt to burn off some of the kids’ insatiable energy.

We spent the afternoon searching for tiny knitted mice in Disraeli’s staterooms. Eating our picnic on the sly in the cafe, because it was absolutely freezing outside. And, in the case of the children, at least, sliding repeatedly down the hills. On their bums.

It’s possible that I also landed flat on my backside in a massive pile of leaves after a small child’s stepping stone proved to be significantly slipperier than I had bargained for. Seeing out the old year with a bang. And all the accompanying bruises.

By the time we got home the children were eighty per-cent mud. And twenty per-cent illicit Wotsits. And I was so far beyond freezing that I had to get straight in the shower in order to feel my fingers. It’s currently twenty-past six, on New Year’s Eve, and I’ve been in my pyjamas for at least half an hour. Get in.

The kids are in the bath now. After a plate of beans on toast. Ready for a ‘special New Year’s staying-up-night’ which, given the state of my PMT and their crazy wild behaviour, will be over by eight o’clock at the latest.

At which point Wes and I will get a kebab from the chicken shop down the road, have a glass of wine and watch the telly.

My guess is, that by the time 2016 arrives in all it’s glory, I’ll have been asleep for at least two hours.

I haven’t made any resolutions. I probably won’t. I’d like to be braver. And fitter. And kinder. But I wanted those things just as much last week as I will tomorrow. Carving them in stone will only make me feel guilty. And resentful. And set me up for a failure of epic proportions.

Cos here’s the thing. Midnight tonight changes everything. And nothing. All at the same time.

We’ll wake up tomorrow the same people. All of us. Albeit in 2016 and, in our house at least, with some new bruising and a washing machine full of muddy jogging bottoms.

Unless you had a baby this morning, (and I’ve counted at least two so far!) tomorrow is going to look pretty similar to today.

New Year’s Eve, when all is said and done, is just. another. day.

Just. another. night.

Whatever happens. No matter how fancy your party. Or how well your shoes match your vol-au-vents.

Parties are great. I think. From what I remember of them. And I applaud each and every person who wants to make a positive change in their lives.

It’s fun to put up a new calendar. And see how far I get through this year before I can manage to write the new date correctly.

But putting so much pressure on one night is madness. Or the path to it, at least.

May I suggest, instead, a huge heartfelt pat-on-the-back for all of us. For making it through another year. And all that we’ve had to deal with.

There’s a whole new one starting tomorrow. And we’ll make it through that as well. Together. Whatever it throws at us.

I might have an early night in preparation.

 

Turquoise shoes. December 21, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — hannahoakland @ 1:33 pm

Yesterday started well. Very well. The children entertained themselves until 8:45am, and we still made it to the dress-up nativity in time for Joel to claim some pink wings and a flowery tutu. Angel Gabriel. Obviously.

The service was beautiful. Meaningful. Thought-provoking. With the added bonus of thirty small children wearing fancy-dress and carrying (electric) tealights. Also there were ukelele christmas carols. It doesn’t get better than that.

It was lovely. I may have been a little teary-eyed. In my defence, so was just about everyone else. If you were looking for joy-to-the-world, you would have found it. Right there. It’s the stuff that dreams are made of.

By 4pm, back at home, everything looked a little different. Joel had reached the end of another testosterone-fulled rage, leaving various nativity characters, christmas cards, tree decorations and toys in pieces on the floor.

Wes was searching through the lean-to in order to find the tools he needed to fit a pane of glass, so that he could finally repair the lounge window that had a brick pitched through it ten days ago, and has been blocked out by a wooden board ever since.

And I was sobbing my heart out. Because, after the weeks that I’ve spent crafting and buying and planning everyone’s Christmas gifts to ensure the most magical Christmas morning since that one in the stable, Elvie had accompanied Wes on his shopping trip, come home and told me exactly what my present is. Despite being sworn to secrecy half an hour earlier.

And so I cried. For hours. Like a heartbroken little child.

For the fact that my surprise has been spoilt, despite all the effort I’ve put into everybody else’s. For the fact that my children are so completely incapable of doing as they’re told.

Because nobody appreciates the emotional effort that I put into creating these glittering, beautiful days. Because Wes has in fact, bought me a pair of shoes, which I desperately need, in my favourite colour. Which is obviously a disaster.

I cried for a long time. And then I stopped. And then I cried some more. I lost my temper with everyone. And only just resisted the urge to tell Elvie the truth about Santa and rip away all her surprises as well. I stayed up too late, and kept Wes up too late, because I was still crying, crying, crying while my thoughts spiralled away into dangerous, crazy little circles of doom.

I woke up with a little puffy-eyed perspective this morning.

In all honesty, I don’t think it’s about the shoes. Or the surprise. Not entirely.

This Christmas is dripping in pressure. My first medication-free festivities for years. My first Christmas in any real state of recovery.

It’s been hard won. 2015 has been tough. We’ve had our backs to the wall way too often. We’ve had to fight for my mental health. For our marriage. For our family. For Wes’ work. For time together. For everything. At least, that’s how it feels.

We’ve fought. Hard. Somehow, we’re still going. But we’re tired. So, so tired.

In the midst of all of this, we’ve been clinging on to Christmas. To the idea that December will be the high point of our year. The turning point. The beauty at the end of the year that makes the stress and the toughness worthwhile. I’ve been aiming at perfect.

Honestly, I never learn.

For weeks now, I’ve been putting all my energies into Christmas. Into gifts, into planning, into accidentally raising everybody’s expectations, including my own, to a level that’s impossible to match.

Watching everyone else’s Christmases unfold on Facebook. Comparing trees, and outings. Nativity costumes and gifts. Falling short, every time.

It’s probably time to give it up. To realise that, by the time I’m crying hysterically over a pair of shoes I haven’t even seen yet, it’s all gone a little too far.

We have two days before family Christmas starts properly. Two days which I’d planned to use to make gluten-free gingerbread houses. Gluten-free mince pies. A sparkly magic key for Santa. And on and on and on.

Enough. I’m shattered. And I’m fed up of being cross with the children when they ‘get in the way’ of my preparations.

They’re busy now. The children. Pretending to be foxes. Planning the intricate, gory details of how they’re going to cook Peter Rabbit and his friends. I know. Delightful.

They’ve asked to watch a movie after lunch. I’ve said yes. And I’m going to sit down and watch it with them. Then I might do some colouring. Or read a book. And just let them play. I might even create a masterful freezer-to-oven spectacular for dinner. I’m thinking chicken pie and chips. I know. Hold yourselves back.

There’s just enough time to rescue this Christmas. Just enough time to drag it back from the edge. Just enough time to make sure we all wake up as friends on Christmas morning. With a relatively normal blood pressure reading.

Right now, I’ll take that. Gladly.

With maybe just a glass of mulled wine on the side.

And a pair of turquoise shoes.

 

 

Christmas for Canaries December 3, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — hannahoakland @ 3:01 pm

The build-up to advent this year has been hard. For everyone. All over the world.

Mass shooting after mass shooting in America.

Terrorist attacks in Israel, Palestine, Somalia, Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq, Chad, Cameroon, France, Nigeria, Mali, the Philippines, Tunisia, Libya and Bangladesh. All in November.

Refugees arriving continually on the shores of Europe. Walls being built to keep them out.

Our own parliament voting yesterday to prove once and for all that ‘the only thing we learn from history is that we don’t learn from history.’ And the bombs already falling.

Climate change meetings detailing the absolute devastation that our planet, and our children are facing unless we take drastic action.

It’s tough. For everybody. No matter where you live.

There’s precious little good news going around right now. And it’s  impossible to know what to do.

Unless you’re me, of course. In which case there’s an instant solution to all these problems. Utterly failsafe. With a proven 100% success rate.

Worry.

Just worry. It’s absolutely that simple.

Worry. Comprehensively and continually until I’m in such a state of nervous tension that my blood pressure is stratospheric and just the sound of the children’s voices is enough to send me reaching for the gin.

Works every time.

I imagine that there are people who can hear the news and react logically. Who sit and consider the viable options, make wise decisions and do something proactive. I’m pretty sure they change the world.

I’d like to meet a few of them. Just sit somewhere close, and listen in. Maybe brush past them a few times in the hope that some of their magical powers rub off.

They’re amazing. But I don’t understand them.

I can’t think logically about any of this stuff. Because I’m too busy feeling it. All of it. Over and over and over until all I can do is pass out asleep on the sofa.

Glennon, over at the utterly brilliant Momastery, has a name for people like us. She calls us canaries. I think it’s perfect.

Back in the day, the miners took canaries into the pits with them. Because there are gases down there. Bad ones. The kind that can kill you before you even smell them.

Which is where the canaries came in handy. If your canary keeled over and died, you knew the gases were around, and you got out. Fast. And still alive.

Coalmine canaries gave the miners a fair warning. A shot at survival. A chance to react to a situation they couldn’t even see.

Human canaries don’t inhale gas. We inhale emotions. We breathe in events, and disasters, and fears and we feel and feel and feel until we keel over. And hope that the sensible people pick up what’s left and do something useful with it. Maybe even change the world.

I can only hope so.

It’s been a rough few months for canaries. Particularly those who only came off their medication in the summer. Every single day is swallowed up in holding-things-together and deep breathing and trying to focus on the positive. It’s hard to fight the panic, and the fear, and the utter desperation for this world.

And then along comes advent. Christmas. The season of joy, and good will. And all those things that seem way, way too distant right now. I’ve been struggling. Trying to find a way of celebrating that doesn’t feel pointless, under the circumstances.

This is what I’ve come down to. The fact that actually, all those years ago, there was a baby. Born in less-than-ideal circumstances. Practically outside. Far away from home. Whose parents emigrated, in order to keep him safe from a slightly maniacal King.

A whole generation of baby boys were killed. There were mourning parents. A grieving nation. Fear. Panic. Desperation. And ordinary people thrust into situations that they had no way of comprehending.

So far, so very, awfully, familiar.

But, in amongst it all, there were angels. There were stars in the sky. There was singing. There were miracles. Births. Dreams. Beauty. Acts of kindness, and hope. So much hope.

That’s what I’m praying for this Christmas. Miracles. Dreams. Kindness. And hope.

I’m turning off the news. Because my poor canary brain just can’t take it. Not if I want to function in the real world as well. Which I do. Most of the time. In fact I’m not watching anything unless it involves food, dancing, pottery, celebrities eating insects or Kirstie Allsop making festive wreaths in the snow. And Cbeebies. Obviously.

Instead, I’m going to be mainlining candlelit carol services like my life depends on it. Lighting candles at home. Every single day. Filling the house with light, and beauty. Even in the midst of it all.

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And I’ll be reading. Over and over and over again.

The story. The baby. The stars. The angels. The hope.

Two thousand years old it may be.

I can’t remember a year when it felt more relevant.