Walking with the moon

A creative living in the real world…

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.

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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.

 

 

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?