Walking with the moon

A creative living in the real world…

Je t’aime. November 14, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — hannahoakland @ 10:35 am

I love Paris.

I suspect I’m not alone in that. It’s pretty special. And full of memories.

That’s where my parents were, celebrating their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, on the day I met Wes. And where he was, a few weeks later, providing his family with endless hours of amusement whilst he hunted for exactly the right gift to bring back for his new girlfriend. (Sparkly earrings and a French dance magazine, if you’re interested. Totally worth the search.)

It’s where we went a few months later. For the day. On our way to a French holiday with friends. Walking the entire city with a week’s worth of luggage on our backs. Marvelling at how tiny the Mona Lisa really is. Watching the sun set from the top of the Eiffel tower. Eating pizza in the train station whilst I tried to use my schoolgirl French to buy us the right tickets.

And, a week later, for an unexpected overnight stay after a fire in the Eurotunnel meant that our train was cancelled. Despite our desperate use of the Metro, and our stilted attempts at purchasing tickets on already-filled buses and ferries, there was no way to get home. And so we stayed.

We missed the friend’s wedding we were returning for, and instead we wandered Paris at night. People watching. Taking photographs. Eating candyfloss in the shadow of the Moulin Rouge.

France - March 2007 006

It was magic. It still is. Except that, this morning, it’s broken.

At least 128 people are dead. With so many critically injured that by the end of the day that number will surely have risen. Multiple attacks. Multiple gunmen. Innocent people.

Co-ordinated terror on an epic scale.

I remember the day the twin towers fell. I remember my Aunty calling us, telling us to switch the tv on. I remember watching in disbelief. And watching again, repeatedly, as the same terrifying images were repeated over and over. And later that day, at work in an old people’s home, escorting two sweet elderly sisters from the television lounge to their room at the other end of the corridor. By which time they had forgotten everything that they had just seen.

Sometimes I wish I was more like them. That innocence. That just-in-the-moment life. That Dory-esque capability for forgetting.

But I’m not. Very few of us are. Most of us remember.

Which means that somehow, we have to find a way to deal with the unimaginable. The fear. The pain. The hurt. And the questions. From the media. From our children. From ourselves.

The what-do-we-do-now? that always follows these tragedies. The outrage and the political one-upmanship. The shouting over who can cause the most damage in retaliation. The defiance and the resilience and the quite frankly unbelievable bravery of the citizens of Paris as they carry on regardless.

I was in London on the 7th July. 10 years ago. Walking to work and wondering how there could be a thunderstorm without any rain. Getting to work and learning that a bus blowing up half-a-mile away sounds a lot like thunder. Sitting at my desk, listening to sirens. All day. Calling my mum to let her know that I was safe. Fielding calls from co-workers loved ones, checking that they had made it in to work alive.

Those next few weeks were hard. I avoided buses. Tubes. Anyone with a backpack. I jumped out of my skin whenever a car backfired or a garage door slammed. Ten years later and I still hold my breath after the first peal of thunder. Waiting for the lightning to prove that it is, after all, just a storm.

But we survived. We made it. We were lucky. We drank hastily assembled cocktails on our front step to celebrate being alive, using furniture we’d foraged from the streets of the estate. And we invited colleagues who had become our friends during those frightened conversations at our desks. We raised our glasses. We cried. We laughed. We watched ludicrous comedies so that we could stop the thoughts racing through our brains. And we carried on.

I don’t know much about global terrorism. I don’t pretend to understand radicalisation, the thinking behind the so-called Islamic State, or the motivation of the people who take part in these awful, despicable acts.

All I know is that ultimately, people are good. That there will always be helpers. That there already are. That this morning has seen queues of people waiting to donate blood in Parisian hospitals. That, to quote a much-used and deeply-treasured phrase, love wins. It has to.

I suspect that love will be the answer. The kind of love that shows our children that all people are equal. Regardless of their colour, their religion, their gender, their political beliefs or their sexual orientation. Love that holds the hands of our Muslim friends and embraces them, instead of viewing them all as killers-in-waiting. Love that trusts, and dares, and makes it perfectly clear that we are all in this together. Whoever we are.

Imagine a world where all our children are so loved and known and accepted that hatred is a concept they simply can’t grasp. Imagine how hard it would be to recruit terrorists in a world like that.

Love wins. It will. It has to.

We love you Paris.

Je t’aime.

 

Being ‘that’ mother. November 3, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — hannahoakland @ 2:59 pm

‘That’ mother.

You know the one.

The one who takes her daughter out three days in a row without so much as looking at her hair, let alone brushing it.

The one who bribes her three-year old round the shops with a tupperware full of biscuits.

The one whose offspring run riot at the front (and in the aisles) of the sweet, calm, well-behaved church-down-the-road that she frequents on weekends when her husband is working and she just can’t take being stuck indoors with both children for the morning.

The one whose children lose the plot at their own church. During communion, obviously. Climbing over the altar rail. Hiding under the communion table. Shouting. Screaming. Refusing to listen. Fighting over the lunchbox that contains the chocolate buttons they’re not supposed to be eating right now. So much so that the brilliant vicar takes it upon himself to teach them the meanings of all the carvings on the rail, whilst the service carries on around them. To give everyone five minutes peace.

The one who monumentally loses it at the Virgin Media people when they call her, for the twenty-somethingth time this month asking for someone else and then suggesting that perhaps she would, after all, benefit from their services. Which, incidentally, she ALREADY HAS!

And then has to make some kind of mumbled apology and smile way-too-sweetly at the cashier who just witnessed the meltdown, so that she doesn’t call Social Services about this poor boy with a crazy-angry mother.

The one whose son screams down the entire cafe because, having shaken the pepper pot all over the table, he’s now also decided to rub it into his eye.

The one who already feels bad enough about the day she’s having without you staring at her quite so blatantly when she can’t get the stupid buggy into such a very tight gap on the bus. Yes, she knows she’s holding you up. She knows it’s embarrassing for everyone. Trust her, it’s much worse from where she’s standing.

The one whose anxiety is rearing it’s ugly head after the fun-but-flat-out-exhausting antics of half term. And making everything twenty times harder than it needs to be.

These last few days I have spent a lot of time as ‘that’ mother. Too much. Way too much. I need a rest.

Before I had children, I don’t think I ever imagined, not in my wildest dreams, how hard it would be. How many days there would be when I felt as though I had reached my absolute limit. How much attention a three year old needs. How much rudeness a five year old can fit into the 90 minutes before school each morning.

How grateful I would be that the Debenhams catalogue comes with stickers inside, buying me twenty minutes writing time while Joel decorates the sofa.

We went for a walk last week, with the in-laws, through a beautiful park. Full of autumn leaves, mist and narrowboats. And swings, obviously. We’re not insane. As we drove there we talked about the seasons. About which one is our favourite. Unsurprisingly, given that Christmas is on its way, most of us plumped for winter. But Elvie was keen to point out how lovely the leaves are, and that Autumn’s pretty special too.

“There’s a treat in every season.”

Those were her words. A treat in every season. Believe me, I’m searching.

I’m almost certain that it’s true. That she’s right. She usually is.

The treats are there, hiding under the surface.

The beautiful plant that I was given by the lady on the flower rota after the service at the church-down-the-road. Despite the kids running wild. That almost reduced me to tears.

The teacher who, after hearing at parents evening how Elvie was still struggling to deal with a classmate’s death over the summer, produced three beautiful child-friendly bereavement books at the end of school yesterday. That she’d ordered specially over half term. Telling us to just bring them back when we don’t need them anymore.

The man at the bus stop who gushed about mothers, and how unappreciated they are, and how one day we all realise they’re the best friends we ever had. All because I gave him 40p for the bus.

Finding a bag of lollipops in the cupboard that never got given to the trick-or-treaters because we managed to be out all evening. And hiding them away so I can work my way through them while the little ones are asleep.

The mother on the bus who commiserated with me, and shared my pain over how impossible public transport is with small children.

New slippers. Which, thanks to the joys of cashback vouchers cost me a grand total of £2.50. Bargain. And cute too.

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They’re there. The treats. And I’m hunting for them.

I’m trying not to be ‘that’ mother. Not too often, anyway. I really am. And I’m trying not to beat myself up on the days when I just can’t be anything else.

Maybe one day I’ll have it figured out. In the meantime, I’ll be wearing my slippers, eating Halloween sweets and reading Elvie books about dying badgers.

And I promise, from the bottom of my heart, that if I see you struggling to fit your buggy onto the bus, I won’t stare. I won’t mutter. I’ll get up off my backside and help. So that, even when you feel like ‘that mother’, at least you won’t be in it alone.

Lollipop?

 

It’s not about the cake. October 8, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — hannahoakland @ 11:29 am

I’ve always been a fan of the Bake Off. Right from the start.

Despite having, at best, moderate baking skills myself. This gingerbread house is by far my greatest triumph. 84% of which is down to the truly remarkable mould. Lakeland at its finest. (And no, this isn’t a sponsored post.)

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Regardless, I’ve been a devoted fan. For all of the years. Relishing the prospect of an hour of bunting-loaded telly where the worst that can happen is the theft of some custard, or the inexplicable baking of a royal-icing tennis racket. I held my breath when it shifted to BBC One, and very quickly exhaled when I realised that literally nothing had changed. Not even the jokes.

And so to last night. Where I found myself, along with approximately everyone else in the country, sobbing into my mug of tea as the current series reached its climax. Not in a single-delicate-tear-rolling-down-my-cheek kind of way. Not even just ‘sweaty eyes’, as someone on my Facebook timeline so charmingly described their reaction. Nope. I was full on #uglycrying. Which definitely gets my vote for hashtag of the year.

Not because the series was over. Not because I have to wait another year for the next one. Not even because, as a newly diagnosed gluten and lactose intolerant I could barely even have licked a single bake. None of that.

Because Nadiya.

Or, as she can refer to herself from now-on – ‘the champion.’

Nadiya, who is raising three small children under ten. Who was worried that nobody would warm to her because of her headscarf. Who lost so many of the early technical challenges. And came back fighting. Again. And again. And again.

Rarely do you get the chance to watch someone’s confidence grow so visibly. Without an accompanying plethora of stylists and image makers, a carefully choreographed phone vote or a montage of strategically revealed backstory. Even more rarely do you watch somebody set their mind to a challenge, knuckle down, work hard and realise their potential before your very eyes. For that someone to be an ethnic-minority woman is gold dust.

Much has been made of Nadiya’s ethnicity. Her background. Her heritage. Her headscarf. Mostly thanks to the traditionally delightful readers of the Daily Mail Online who, only this week were crying ‘racism’ and suggesting that if Flora had created a chocolate mosque last week, she might have made it through to the final. Seriously.

The real beauty of the Bake Off is that, by the time the awesome foursome lined up last night, bouquets in hand to announce the winner in front of a tea-party full of friends and family, it didn’t matter where Nadiya’s family came from. What she believed in. Or what she wore. She could have been dancing on the picnic table in a can-can skirt and nobody would have cared. We loved her. As a person. An actual, quirky, brave, determined, cheeky person. The rest is just window-dressing.

And so we watched. And we cheered. And we sobbed.

I held it together for quite a while. When they called her name, I mostly shouted. Quite loudly. And then…

Then she cried. And I wobbled. And then her daughter walked past, telling nobody in particular that “Mummy’s never come first before.” And I was done for.

As, clearly was Mary Berry. In what may well be a Bake Off first.

All that, even before she made the speech that will almost certainly confirm her position as an instant national treasure. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Nadiya Hussein:

“I’m never going to put boundaries on myself ever again. I’m never going to say I can’t do it. I’m never going to say maybe. I’m never going to say I don’t think I can.

I can and I will.”

We don’t need any more self-help books. We don’t need any more apps. We certainly don’t need any more posters, with motivational quotes plastered over beautiful sunsets. We need role models. Real people. Real women. Facing their nemesis – whether that be puff pastry, depression, or chemical engineering – and succeeding.

People to inspire us. To encourage us. To make us believe that if we put ourselves out there, if we work hard and stay true to ourselves, we might succeed as well.

Which is exactly what the Bake Off, and Nadiya, have given us.

It was never about the cake.

 

Voices. September 25, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — hannahoakland @ 9:56 am

Last week I was happily sitting at the Children’s Centre – engaging in my all-time favourite activity – the less-than-subtle-nappy-check, ensuring that the mildly horrific smell in our corner of the room was not, in fact, coming from Joel’s trousers. It wasn’t. Coast clear, I waved him off to play again.

And then. Another parent looked over, raised her eyebrows and uttered the immortal words…”Isn’t he clean yet?” This confused me. Mostly because whilst Joel is many, many wonderful things, clean is very rarely one of them.

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Told you.

Apparently, that’s not what she meant. What she meant was potty-trained. With the implied judgement that, until he is, in fact, trained, he’s dirty. Or rather, dirtier than normal. Or, to be even more precise, dirtier than her son, who had just made it out of nappies himself, despite being a few months younger.

Clean. Dirty. They’re just words. But they’re words that balance precariously on top of the pile of other people who’ve rolled their eyes over how ‘lazy’ I’ve been. Not training him yet. There’ve been quite a few of those. And, much as I hate to admit it, words affect me. More than they probably should.

They roll about in my head. They make me doubt my own judgment. And every time I tell someone that ‘he’s just not interested yet,’ or that ‘we started too early with Elvie and won’t be making the same mistake twice’, my voice gets quieter. A little more apologetic. A little more guilt-ridden.

So much so that last weekend, when Wes suggested that we start potty-training, I didn’t put up much of a fight. Not as much as I wanted to. Not as much as I should have. Partly out of guilt, and partly because he promised to cover the first four days and I had some magical naive hope that it might all be over by then.

It wasn’t.

And so I’ve spent the last couple of days following him around like a hawk. Joel, not Wes. Asking him to sit on the potty. Begging him to sit on the potty. Threatening him with all manner of toys being removed. Bribing him with all manner of chocolatey treats. And invariably he has refused, only to wee in his trousers half a minute later.

He has had his moments of glorious, shining success. Just this morning he woke up, came out of his bed and shouted for the potty. Which he promptly weed in, leaving a bone-dry pair of pull-ups on the floor. Trying to go nappy-free at night as well. All at the same time. Of course.

But it hasn’t all been plain sailing. Not even slightly. And it’s winding me right up. Fair to say that it’s tipped me a little bit over the edge.

And so, just like every time I’m stressed, I find the self-destruct button and I pound it until it’s turned to dust.

Which, in my case, involves filling my head with voices until it’s ready to explode. As many as I can find. All of them different. All of them adamant. Very few of them actually helpful.

I know what I should do. I’ve had the therapy. I know the tricks. I should calm myself. Quiet myself. Go inside to the deepest parts of my heart and remember the kind of parent that I want to be. Peaceful. Generous. Child-led. But that’s hard. It’s risky. It’s vulnerable.

Voices are louder. They’re easier. They fill the gaps. And so I find myself on parenting forums, reading about how everyone else potty-trained their children. Successfully or otherwise. I read advice pages, and feel like a failure. I spend way too much time on Facebook, and Twitter, comparing my own poo-ridden afternoon with friends on foreign holidays or attachment parenting families buying yurts in far-flung corners of the world.

I even post a Facebook status of my own – employing my standard tactic of reducing my emotional confusion to a comedy anecdote about my lack of parenting skills. Inviting advice from people – which obviously I resent immediately. Mostly because all their children are potty-trained already. How dare they.

In the back of my mind are Those People. The ones whose toddlers were toilet trained by eighteen months. And who are in no way shy about telling the world. I hear my mum’s voice on repeat – how I was potty-trained in a day, using nothing but satsuma segments as incentive. I briefly consider the (obviously horribly smug) faces of those who have never put their children in nappies and have, effectively, saved themselves all this pain. Until I contemplate the reality of a new-born baby without a nappy. I’ll take this any day.

Voices, voices, voices. So many. So loud. Until it’s like a noisy-parent convention in my head and I can’t think straight. Until my brain is so full and so busy that my admittedly-slightly-cranky children drive me to absolute distraction. Until I’m furious and seething and other words that are generally not conducive to a calm, stress-free potty-training scenario. Or family life in general.

I just can’t stop myself. It’s like an obsession. Even while I’m watching tv, I’m still checking Facebook. Or Twitter. Or both. Waiting for more advice to guilt myself with. Determined that my brain won’t stay still long enough to hear what I actually have to say to myself.

Ironically, it was compulsive Facebook-checking that saved me this time. When a friend messaged me a link to an article. A gentle parenting article about letting children potty-train when they’re ready. About not forcing them, or threatening them, or bribing them. Or, as I believe it is sometimes known, common sense.

I read it. And instantly hated her for sending it. I hated myself for reading it. But mostly, I hated the fact that that was exactly how I’d planned to potty train, second time around. Exactly how I had hoped it would work. And now, it seemed, that I had broken everything.

Thankfully I didn’t email her right away. I slept. And, when I woke up this morning, I recognised the hatred from last night for what it really was. Shame. Pricking away at me in every word of that article. Every word of her sweet accompanying message. Shame. At getting it wrong. At losing my temper. At not being strong enough to stand up for how I wanted it to happen.

Apparently there’s only one way to deal with shame. Vulnerability. Admitting that actually, I’ve not done what I wanted. That I’ve not done right by Joel, or myself, or my friends. And slowly, gently, embracing the possiblity that I’ve not actually screwed it up forever. That there might be another chance.

I won’t be putting him back in nappies. Not now. There are signs that he’s starting to understand it all, and besides, he’s so taken with his dinosaur pants that there’s no way he’s going backwards without a fight. I don’t want a fight. Not another one. So, this morning. I’m coming out zen. In the potty training world at least – I still have some way to go with over-tired, grumpy, working-too-hard-at-school Elvie. She’s next on the list.

It’s 10:45am. So far there’s been one wee in the potty and one poo in the pants. And I’ve managed to keep my cool. Despite it being a really big poo.

There are only two voices that matter in this scenario. Joel’s. And mine. And I need to be quiet enough to hear them.

Advice can be great. It can be helpful and wise and kind. But too much of it, loud and interrupting and indiscriminate, when I’m mainlining it like some mind-numbing narcotic substance, will drive me to the edge. Has driven me to the edge.

Today I’m going for peace. For gentle. For low-stress. For all of our sakes.

After all – it’s potty training. What’s the worst that can happen?

 

The Next Big Thing. September 23, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — hannahoakland @ 5:08 pm

A lot can happen in nine months. Trust me, I know – I have the children to prove it.

It’s been nine months since I blogged. This time there’s no baby to show for it. But there is a book. Or there will be, soon. When the editors and copy-editors and sales people and designers and printers and everyone else has finished tinkering with it. April next year, that’s the plan. We’ll have a party. Maybe even some ice cream. Or cake. Or both.

You’re all invited – put it in your diary – in pencil. I may not know much about the publishing industry but I’m learning fast that nothing’s set in stone until you can hold it in your hands. Maybe not even then.

52,000 words. That was always going to take a while. And there have been plenty of other distractions. Spectacular trolling that shot my confidence and my self-esteem to pieces. Family illness. A very-far-from-welcome diagnosis of gluten and dairy intolerance. Weaning myself off my anti-depressants. Potty training. Sickness bugs. Jobs that never materialised. School summer holidays. A new nephew. A new car. An allotment. Cooking. Cleaning. Laundry. Life. In general.

It’s been a long nine months. Tricky. It’s taken a lot of effort, and tea, and mild-to-moderate emotional breakdowns to get us this far. But always, throughout it all. I’ve been waiting. Waiting for the Next Big Thing. The one that would change it all. Perhaps I’ve always been waiting. Turns out it’s harder than it looks.

Signing the book deal was going to change my life. Make me successful, happy, fulfilled. Except that actually, I’m still the same. Now I’m making sneaky early-doors plans for a second book, safe in the slightly disappointing knowledge that I’ll be exactly the same person when it’s finished.

The allotment was going to revolutionise my mental health. And my exercise regime. Until I realised that I was spending ninety per cent of my time dragging Joel out of other people’s vegetable patches. Or their cars. So we put ourselves back on the waiting list and handed our little clutch of onions over to someone else.

Being gluten and dairy intolerant was going to kick-start a healthy-eating revolution. Give it a month or two and I’d be one of those internet gurus – eating nothing but kale and doing yoga in my sleep. Until I discovered gluten-free cake, and dairy-free ice cream. And ‘free-from’ pasta. Scuppered.

Coming off my tablets surely means that I’m Better. Completely. Ready to take on the world. Except that I’m not. Not really. I’m just better. With a small b. And I’ve learnt the hard way over the summer that I need to build some serious self-care into my schedule unless I want a full-on nervous breakdown.

I had a plan. This month was going to be the beginning of my big beautiful new life. I’d applied for the perfect job, had a couple of days of exciting freelance work lined up, and was totally ready for the start of term. Or, more accurately, the peace I’d get when Elvie was finally back at school.

I didn’t get the job. Not even an interview. One of my freelance days got cancelled, and I had to give the other away when our childcare fell through. And then, four days into term, we all came down with a vomiting bug of doom which left me curled up on the bathroom floor in crampy horrible tears, wishing that I was dead.

All within the space of a week.

There has been a lot of sobbing this week. A lot of anger. Sheer fury at the injustice of it all. At my glorious, best-laid plans that got so thoroughly, unceremoniously squashed.

I’m not so angry anymore. I’m just tired. Tired of always hanging on, feeling like an idiot, waiting for the Next. Big. Thing. to drop from the sky and change my life. In all honesty, I’m not sure it even exists. Don’t tell Joel.

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If only I had that confidence. Or maybe just that t-shirt.

This month has been a new start after all. Just not the way I planned. There’s no stellar career progression. No peace and quiet. No break from the mundane. And absolutely no rest for the washing machine.

But, *deep breath*, I think it’s going to be ok. I’m adopting a new approach. And, hopefully, immersing myself in the little things. I’ll be blogging more. Sleeping earlier. Writing notes for the new book. Making sure we get some proper, quality family time. Going slowly. Starting from scratch. I might even paint my nails.

I’m hoping that the Big Things are over-rated. I think they are.

They’re definitely too heavy to haul around all day.

I’m letting go. For now. Or trying to, at least.

Feel free to remind me.

 

That boy. September 3, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — hannahoakland @ 4:46 pm

Tomorrow, my Joel will turn three. Admittedly, he’ll have no idea until Saturday – the usual daddy’s-working-all-day-so-we’ll-delay-it-while-we-can-still-get-away-with-it tactics that we’ve employed successfully so many times before. But the fact remains. Tomorrow he’ll be three. My baby.

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My littlest. My sweet, sweet boy. Who *may* also be a little bit snotty right now.

Tonight I’ll be wrapping presents. Octonaut toys and a Disney Planes umbrella. Pirate storybooks and a train whistle that I’m already regretting.

Today he’s watched Paddington, bounced on the trampoline and bombed around the children’s centre like a madman. As a two year old. But tomorrow he’ll be three. Three years old.

Just like that boy.

The one on the beach. Face down in the waves.

He could have been my boy. Every time I see that picture, my stomach turns. I stop breathing. Just for a minute. Because that boy – that sweet sweet boy – he could so easily be mine. The size of him. His clothes. His little arms. He could be Joel.

Except that he’s not. That boy is dead. Drowned. Washed up on the beach like driftwood. And my heart is broken.

We can debate the morals and the ethics of putting dead children on the front page of a broadsheet until the cows come home. I’ll admit that we live in strange times when your facebook feed shows drowned bodies in between your best friend’s holiday snaps and Johnny-down-the-road’s latest coffee shop outing. But the fact is, all the words in the world would never have stopped me in my tracks the same way that picture did.

Words are easy to say. They’re overused – and often misused – by the powers that be. But that picture hit me square in the guts.

He’s dead. The first time I saw it, I prayed that I was just being fatalistic. That he was just injured. That someone would pick him up. Just in time. That all he needed was a quick stay in hospital, and he’d be fine. Back to playing football, or terrorising his brother, or winding up his mum.

But it was too late. For him, and so many others. His brother was five years old. The same age as Elvie. He drowned too. An entire family ripped apart and destroyed. I can’t even comprehend it. Goodness only knows what happened to his parents. Either way, they’re finished.

Next weekend Joel will have a birthday party. Gruffalo cake, and pass-the-parcel with ten of his little friends. Next year he’ll have another one. And the year after that.

That boy will never have another birthday party. Never open another present. Never chase another pigeon, or refuse to eat another vegetable. Because he was born in Syria. Because his family was desperate. Because he had nowhere else to go.

I don’t know a lot about politics, or migration, or refugee movement. But I am a mother. And I know that no parent on earth would take their children on an overcrowded, unsafe, potentially deadly boat trip to another continent unless they had absolutely no other option. I certainly don’t think they’re in it for the dole money.

I don’t know the answers. I don’t know if there are any. But I desperately want to help. There’s a petition on The Independent website, asking the government to take in our fair share of refugees. I’ve signed that. I’m on the lookout for anything practical that I can do. If there’s an organisation or a charity that’s helping out, please let me know.

This morning Joel watched Paddington. As the little bear prepares to leave for England, Aunt Lucy tells him this:

“Long ago, people in England sent their children by train with labels around their necks, so they could be taken care of by complete strangers in the countryside where it was safe. They will not have forgotten how to treat strangers.”

That boy’s name was Aylan.

Please. Let’s do something.

 

It’s not your fault. August 12, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — hannahoakland @ 5:42 pm

Every morning, after the prolonged period of coming-round that follows the children’s dawn chorus, I check Twitter and Facebook.

Just in case anything sufficiently apocolyptic has happened to justify my desire to spend the entire rest of the day in bed. And before you say anything, I’m well aware that there are other, more grown up ways of checking the news. It’s just that they don’t come with holiday photos, gratuitious cake pictures and empathy from my fellow exhausted mothers-in-arms. Don’t judge me.

Occasionally this plan backfires. Because something bad genuinely has happened. And that’s no way to wake up.

Today was one of those days. Even in my semi-comatose state I knew that so many quotes from Dead Poets Society was not a spontaneous celebration of 1980’s cinematography.

Robin Williams.

He joins the list. Of celebrities who have accompanied me through my life, without them ever knowing. And have, for whatever reason, been unable to continue living.

Heath Ledger. Corey Monteith. Alexander McQueen. Whitney.

And now Robin. Who will forever be the voice of every genie in my head. Who introduced an entire generation to men in drag, and outshone Pierce Brosnan in the process. Who inspired giggle doctors across the country. And taught us all how dangerous board games can really be.

I’m pretty sure that everyone has a favourite Robin Williams movie. Mine? Good Will Hunting. No question.

The pivotal scene in the film. Where Williams’ therapist finally breaks through to Matt Damon’s mathematically-brilliant tortured soul.

“You see this? All this shit? It’s not your fault…”

It’s not your fault. Over and over again. Until Damon, and the entire viewing population, break down and sob. Because sometimes, that’s what we really need to hear. That actually, this time, it’s not our fault. That shit happened to us, not because of us.

Social media has made me cross today. People talking about another Hollywood star taking the easy way out. Another loser who couldn’t cope.

To all these people, I say this. Be grateful.

Be grateful that you have no idea what depression does. How it steals every single piece of you. Until there’s nothing left except the sad and the cold and the lonely.

Be grateful that you haven’t had to watch your world turn dark. With no logical explanation. Despite having everything you ever wanted.

Be grateful that you’re able to get out of bed in the morning. That you’re not so empty that everything feels utterly, competely meaningless.

Be grateful that you have a high horse to sit on. I had one of those once.

I’m getting better. The medication is good. The support is amazing. My family and friends are incredible.

The other day I made pancakes and homemade jam. Before 9am. I think I might even have been dressed. Things are getting easier.

But still I have days. Days when the chilly, grey cloak settles on my shoulders and threatens to stay there for good. Days when the numbness and emptiness feels like more than just a memory.

Days when the only thing worse than getting out of bed is the thought of what the children will do to the house if I don’t.

Depression is not a choice that anyone makes. It is something that happens to you. At you. Without your consent.

I can’t judge you Mr Williams.  I won’t. There but for the grace of God go I, and so many, many others.

I don’t understand it. Any of it. I don’t know why some people make it through and some don’t. There’s no logic. No pattern. Not even Mrs Doubtfire could tidy it up.

One day, I’ll get to compare Scottish accents and poetry quotations with the man himself in eternity. Where he is free. Where we will all be free.

Until then, we take each day at a time. Today, we made party bags for Elvie’s birthday party. And went to the park. Because we can. Because we are alive. And fighting. And not yet overwhelmed. Because life, in all it’s chaos, is still beautiful.

To all the social media haters, I say: be grateful.

To anyone who’s lonely, or scared, or empty, I say: there is help. There is hope. Talk to someone.

And to the man himself, cracking jokes up with the angels, I say this.

“You see this? All this shit?

It’s not your fault.”

 

Going off-list. August 7, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — hannahoakland @ 1:27 pm

I wrote a to-do list yesterday. It took up an entire A4 page.

Unfortunately it’s the tip of the iceberg. Just the imminent, pressing tasks. Like organising a 4 year old’s birthday, and weeding my wasteland of an allotment. Buying food, emailing friends. That sort of thing.

Obviously this is totally separate to the ‘House To-do List’. Which is separate again from the ‘Fun-things-to-do-to-the-house’ list. Which should probably be renamed the ‘you’re-never-going-to-have-time-to-do-this-so-why-are-you-even-bothering-to-write-it-down’ list. Not so snappy.

I run my life by lists. They’re the only way I ever remember the errands I’ve promised to run, what I’m doing on Tuesday, or the fact that I haven’t actually finished Elvie’s school uniform shopping until I’ve bought name labels.

There’s only one problem.

That A4 page list is intimidating by itself. Even if we ignore the other two completely. Which, to be fair, I do.

But the reality is that most of my day’s activities aren’t even on that list. Those are extras. Useful extras – the kind that mean children get birthday presents and Elvie’s socks can be retrieved from the lost property bin, but extras nonetheless.

Most of my day is taken up with a slightly mindnumbing process of repetition.

Make food. Serve food. Clear leftover food from the floor. Repeat. Three times a day. Every day.

Collect clothes from the washing basket / floor / trampoline / bath. Wash clothes. Hang clothes out. Fold clothes up. Move coathangers between wardrobes depending on who has the most clean clothes. Repeat.

Check nappy. Change nappy. Throw old nappy away. Restock nappy box. Repeat.

Sweep floor. Kill ants. Curse at discarded food under the table. Sweep up ants, and escaped food. Throw in bin. Repeat.

Bath children. Rinse off mud. Clean their teeth. Search for the lid of the toothpaste after mistakenly allowing them to prepare their own toothbrushes. Brush hair. Story. Prayers. Put them to bed.

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Collapse. Repeat. Every night. Sometimes multiple times.

That’s plenty enough to fill a day. Right there. Without even touching the lists. Or the rest of the house. Suffice to say that the phrase ‘deep clean’ doesn’t get used much around here.

I’ve always used lists. Even before the children arrived. There’s nothing quite like crossing through the final item with a glorious, slightly-smug flourish.

That doesn’t happen anymore.

Now I transfer the unfinished jobs onto a new list, hoping to fool my brain into believing that I’ve completed something. That it’s a job well done.

It’s slightly unsatisfying. To say the least.

I wrote a post a while ago about how, as mothers, we need to be prouder of the little things that we achieve. The fact that we made it through to the end of the day with the house still standing. Or that we covered most of the mud up with a nice outfit for the birthday party. The little things. That almost always feel enormous.

It’s easy to prioritise the things on the lists. Nothing wrong with that.

But it’s also way too easy to despise the mundane, everyday, several times a day constants. The dull, monotonous beat that makes up the rhythm of our day-in, day-out life.

Honestly, in the utterly chaotic world of two under-fives, it’s often those off-list, routine, repetitive processes that keep me sane.

The endless loads of washing. The ever-present hum of the dishwasher. The cooking. And sweeping. And folding. And tidying. And collapsing in the evening with an enormous mug of tea.

They’re safe. Predictable. Tidy. You know where you are with a washing machine. Or a kettle. Which is more than can be said for a toddler.

They’re not the kind of things you can put on a list. Mostly because, as soon as they’re finished, they need doing all over again.

But they count. They really do.

Lists are great. I love them. They get stuff done. But it’s off-list that the real magic happens. That’s where homes are built and children are cared for. That’s where real love is shown. Over. And. Over. And. Over. Again.

There will come a time for deep cleans and finishing lists. But that time is definitely not now.

Now is the time for pairing socks and making sandwiches and breathing deeply whilst counting to 10.

I’ll see you on the other side.

 

 

Brightening up. January 7, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — hannahoakland @ 2:26 pm

My nan has a real way with words. She’ll tell you tales about the ‘nippers’ down her road, the ‘dancing queen’  downstairs and the singers at her club, who are “gay, but they do sing nicely.” If she wasn’t 80-something and almost blind she’d get in a lot of trouble.

Most of all she loves to give half a sigh and pronounce, “well, it’s not as bad as it could have been.”

Which would be fine, if she wasn’t talking about the painstakingly handcrafted birthday card she’d received. Or the song you’ve just sung for her. Or the name you’ve chosen for your child.

It’s a standing family joke. Why say something’s great when you can give a backhanded compliment-disguised-as-an-insult. Even Wes, with his upbeat South African mindset, has embraced it as a cover-all phrase. It just works.

Trouble is, over the last week I’ve been getting worried. Very worried. That things might actually be bad.

I’ve worked myself into a fret over the upcoming return to normality. The end of the holidays. The needing to function on my own again.

I’ve convinced myself that I won’t be able to make dinner with two small children running around. Despite the fact that I managed it last year. I’ve been certain that I’d never be able to write again, that I’d lost any skill I ever had. That somehow changing calendars had drained all my creativity. That when real life reared its ugly head, I just wouldn’t cope.

Wes was worried too. Veering between hugs, pep talks and baking treacle tart. Perhaps I should panic more often.

When yesterday dawned, January 6th, I was nervous. To say the least. Apparently it’s the most depressing day of the year. Even if you’re not already depressed. I didn’t fancy my chances.

Wes left the house at 6. The children were up at 7. And miraculously, they were happy. Smiling. Not screaming or shouting or stamping their feet. For the first time in weeks. I’m still not sure why. It’s amazing what a difference that makes.

I surprised myself by how calm I felt.

Which was just as well. By lunchtime there were 9 of us. A combination of cancelled doctors appointments, overcrowded soft play centres and not-yet-reopened toddler groups saw 3 adults, 3 pre-school girls and 3 smaller boys converge on our kitchen for sandwiches and treacle tart.

There weren’t enough chairs. The girls ate their lunch on a picnic blanket in the space between the back door and the washing machine.

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I cut the bread with my usual degree of skill, which meant that most of the sandwiches had holes in. Joel spent an hour post-lunch eating scraps from the floor.

It was chaos. But somehow, it wasn’t stressful. At all. It was wonderful.

Afterwards Joel napped, Elvie drew thirty yellow pictures and I decided to stay true to my year of gentleness by dozing on the sofa and making a dinner which consisted of moving trays from the freezer to the oven.

Wes arrived home to actual laughter. For the first time in months. Elvie blowing bubbles in the bath and Joel running naked through the hallway. Turns out gentle can be fun.

Over a cup of tea that evening I assessed the day, in true Nan style, as ‘not as bad as it could have been.’

Somehow that doesn’t seem enough. All that Britishness and playing-things-down. I love it. I’m an expert. But sometimes I need to admit that actually, I had a good day. It was fun. We enjoyed ourselves. We went to bed happy.

I know why I’m so scared to be positive. The awful fear that if something good is happening, there must be untold horror around the corner. It’s crippling. And it means that I don’t have much fun.

I don’t want Wes to be surprised when he comes home to happiness. I don’t want my children to be surprised when I say yes. I don’t want to be surprised by having a good day. I’d like it to be much more natural.

Perhaps it’s time to start using another of my nan’s failsafe sayings. Which comes out whenever the rain pauses to catch its breath. “Oh look, it’s brightening up.”

Brightening up.

It is indeed Nan. It is indeed.

 

Christmas stops here. Kind of. December 11, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — hannahoakland @ 2:26 pm

Last week I wrote a post about trying to let go of the misty-eyed dream of Christmas perfection. Turns out that wasn’t enough. It wasn’t trying to be perfect that was driving me mad. It was just being. And doing. Doing Christmas, in particular.

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It’s been a stressful week. Needing to find babysitters. And nativity costumes. To make doctors appointments. Keep the children occupied at a funeral. Wrap the extended family’s presents. Make the extended family’s presents.

Remembering nursery Christmas jumper day. Finding a Christmas jumper. Forgetting what to take to toddler parties. Or where I’d put the Christmas cards.

That’s just for starters. That’s without my head nagging me that I’ve missed the overseas posting dates, that my children haven’t had a bath for days, and that it’s not normal to spend twenty minutes every morning desperately searching through the mountain of clean washing for some socks. Any socks. Even if they don’t match.

For most of the last week I haven’t known what day it is. To be honest, I haven’t known much. Except that I can’t go on like this without some kind of nervous breakdown.

Turns out that ‘not having a nervous breakdown’ is pretty high up my Christmas list this year. In fact, it’s right at the top.

I was at a toddler group Christmas party this morning. With the children. Not by myself. That would be weird.

There was food and a puppet show. Santa came round with presents. Joel freaked out a little bit. Everyone ate way more sugar than is recommended at 11am. The usual.

As we were leaving, one of the dear sweet helpers, who gives up every Wednesday morning to serve us tea and keep us sane, came up to me and asked whether I was ready for Christmas.

It’s a simple question. Standard December small-talk.

I gave her a standard December small-talk answer, “Oh, not really. But it will happen anyway, won’t it…it always does.”

On the way home I stopped. In amidst the scootering and the mushroom-buying and the nursery drop-off. I stopped, and I thought.

What if that was true.

I don’t have everything ready, but Christmas will happen anyway. And it will be great.

I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

What if I just stopped preparing? Stopped stressing? Drew a line in the sand, and said “I’m done. Time for some fun.”

What if I stopped caring so much about the unmade paper chains, and the lists of handmade ‘little extra’ gifts I was planning? What if I decided that we had enough decorations up already? That my cupboard was so full of presents waiting to be wrapped that I wouldn’t buy any more?

My children won’t care if there are no origami napkins. Or if the chutney comes from Tesco. I’m fairly sure Wes would rather have me in one piece than a handmade table decoration.

It’s a bold new plan.But I like it. I feel 3 stone lighter already.

The timing seems perfect. Tomorrow is halfway through Advent. 12 out of 24. 12 days for preparing and planning and internet shopping. And then…stop.

No ifs, no buts. If it’s not done by the end of the 12th, it’s not done.

Yes, there are presents that need wrapping. But now I can do that in the evenings, with a mug of mulled apple. Without stressing that I should be hanging holly on the bannisters or making four kinds of fudge.

Yes, there are family visits that need to be made. Church services to attend. Christmas parties to be had. But now I can be there in mind as well as body. Enjoy them. Without begrudging the time I could have spent writing gift labels or last minute shopping.

I may well make mince pies. Or paint something Christmassy. But now that can be a pressure-free, laid back family activity. Without counting the minutes until we need to move on to the next ‘really fun thing’.

I am reliably informed that Advent is, in fact, about quieting ourselves. About thinking, and hoping and dreaming. Waiting and being still.

There hasn’t been a lot of that around here lately.

Probably because it’s scary. Daring to believe that I’m more than just the sum of what I’ve achieved. That I don’t have to provide the biggest, best, most original present in order to be loved. That my family would rather I curled up with them under a blanket watching Christmas films than cooked up a storm in the kitchen.

That Christmas will be ok. Just as it is.

Because I am ok. Just as I am.

Even if I can’t find my socks.