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.


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.



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.)


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.


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.


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.


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.


Plastic Skittles January 3, 2015

Filed under: Elvie,Parenting — hannahoakland @ 9:39 pm

Stories. Every family has them. The kind that are told over and over again until they become legend. Until you’re no longer sure whether you actually remember the event, or just its repeated retelling.

My family has plenty. The time my sister got her knee stuck in the railing at Alton Towers. The episode of carsickness where we discovered that Quality Street tins are not, in fact, watertight. The night my dad forgot to pick me up from Girls Brigade. Or my Grandad’s runaway milkfloat. Which, incidentally, is easily done. Who needs handbrakes anyway?

We have lots of stories. Running jokes. Sweet little anecdotes, without an ounce of malice in them. But there’s one that has always bothered me. That gets retold on a regular basis, and confuses me every time. Whilst stoking my already well fueled fires of utter-misunderstoodness.

It happened one night when I was four or five. And particularly strong-willed. My parents had, evidently, reached the limits of their patience, and my dad decided it was time to instil a little obedience into me.

Family legend has it that he put up a set of plastic skittles in my room and sat on the floor, demanding that I bring him the blue one. And then the red one. And then the green one. Over and over again. Until I did as I was told. Whilst I begged him to let me go to sleep, and Mum cried on the stairs.

I’ve never understood it. Why my Mum stood by and let it happen. Why my parents were so determined to crush my blossoming, charming independent spirit. Why I didn’t call Childline, when I had their number memorised for just such emergencies.

I’ve never understood it. Until tonight.

When, for the fourth day this week, Elvie has refused to listen to a single word we say. Pushed every button we possess, and introduced a few new ones for good measure. Chatted back, hit, screamed and generally behaved like the spoilt brat we have tried our utmost to prevent her becoming.

We can hold it together. Just about. When we’re both around.

Until it gets to bedtime. Bath done, pyjamas on, story read, prayers recited, lights off. And then, just as you reach the bottom of the stairs, there’s a little click. And her light’s back on. Like clockwork.

Really annoying clockwork.

And so begins a battle. Which continues until about 10pm. Based on the evidence so far. There’s always the possibility she’ll make it to midnight eventually.

There is absolutely no reasoning with her. None at all. All you’ll get for your efforts is a hands-on-hips, smart-arse retort. Or the promise that she’ll never listen to anything you say ever again unless you let her stay up forever. All delivered at a volume that threatens to wake the rest of the street, let alone her brother.

We’ve tried softball. We’ve tried hardball. We’ve tried threatening to lock her in her room and tie her to her bed. And yes, I know you’re not supposed to give children idle threats, but I can promise you that in the heat of the moment, there was nothing idle about it.

We are, for want of a better word, buggered.

Outsmarted by a four year old with blonde curls, a will of iron and pyjamas depicting a woodland creatures sleepover.


I have absolutely no answers. Neither does the internet.

The current plan revolves around telling her that, as long as she’s quiet and stays in her room, she can stay awake as long as she likes. In the desperate hope that, with the element of challenge removed, she’ll just give up and go to bed.

That has been the plan for just over an hour. She’s still reading. Light on.

As I said, I have absolutely no answers.

I do however, have a new and profound level of solidarity with my parents. As well as the surreal experience of watching as-near-as-I’ll-ever-get-to myself as a small child.

And a sudden, burning desire for a set of plastic skittles.


Keep. Your. Head. Still. November 26, 2014

Filed under: Depression,Elvie,Survival Guide — hannahoakland @ 12:26 pm

I knew having a daughter would be fun. I’d spent years looking forward to precious moments of female bonding. Misty-eyed vignettes of brushing hair, painting nails and side-by-side crafting.

Four years into mothering my girl, I’m filing those images in the folder marked ‘delusional’. For now, at least.

There is nail painting. Plenty of it. Almost every weekend. Unfortunately I’m not usually invited. Unless the pot is really hard to open. Apparently it’s much easier to varnish the floor / Joel’s entire arms / our crockery if I’m not in the same room.

Crafting is much the same. An endless barrage of requests. More glue. Different colour paper. The right size pompoms. Admittedly, we often craft side-by-side. Living the dream. But that’s only so she can steal my supplies when I’m not looking.

Nail varnish and crafts are basically just threats to our fragile peace treaty. Disguised as opportunities for quality time.

Hair brushing, on the other hand, is a live grenade. There’s no pretence there. None.

I have friends whose daughters wear their hair in elaborate plaited arrangements. With more hairbands than a branch of Claire’s accessories. I have literally no idea how they do it.

Just the sight of a hairbrush is enough to make Elvie run for the hills. So much so that her own brush has mysteriously disappeared, leaving us with sole option of the soft, entirely useless baby brushes. Which have no impact on the knots whatsoever. Just as she planned.

There are whole Youtube channels dedicated to cute hairstyles for little girls. Numerous pages on Pinterest. Full of french plaits, angel braids and other words that pass for curses in our kitchen on a school morning.

Nowhere is there a guide on what to do when your four year old styles her own hair, using what’s left of yesterday’s unbrushed, slept-in plait and refuses to let you touch it until it’s so late that the school gate’s about to close and you just give in.

2014-11-13 08.45.12

The basic rule appears to be ‘the more clips, the merrier. No matter where they are.’ I’ve not seen that on Instagram.

If I had a pound for every keep-your-head-still-for-goodness-sake-how-hard-can-it-be-to-just-stare-at-the-plug-socket-for-two-minutes I’ve shouted, our mortgage would have been paid off long ago. It’s exhausting.

Seriously. How hard can it be? Keep. your. head. still.


Or not. Turns out it’s not just Elvie whose head is incapable of a pause, however brief. Turns out it’s tricky for me too.

This time of year is always hard for worriers. All the planning and the organising and the multitude of opportunities to fail. Throw in a few last-minute requests from school, a broken television and a building site in the lounge and getting through the day can feel impossible.

My brain just cannot let things go. No matter how many lists I write. Or how much planning I do. Yesterday I went to town to buy cranberries for bookgroup Thanksgiving. Having promised myself that I wouldn’t think about christmas again until we come out the other side of my birthday party.

And yet, there I was. In the pound store. Where they definitely don’t sell cranberries. Looking at festive table cloths and serviettes and crackers. And dishwasher tablets. Of course.

It’s unstoppable. My relentless, reckless, ridiculous brain.

Getting myself tangled up to the point of shutdown. Because there is too much to do and too much to make and too much to organise. And, most importantly, because so much of it is new.

I’ve never made a miniature top hat before. Or bread from scratch. Or grown up party food for an indeterminate number of people. Or, for that matter, anything involving fresh cranberries. It’s definitely a good week for adventure.

Problem is, I want to do it. All of it. This is what makes my soul come alive. Trying new things. Achieving something. Feeding people. Creating an atmosphere. Making pointless, beautiful things. Beauty for beauty’s sake. It’s so much fun.

Unless I’m racing through it. Thinking about everything else that needs doing before Saturday. And how I’ll probably mess it up anyway. Cursing the American measurement system. And dying on the inside when my daughter throws up in the night, requiring two days off school according to their sickness policy, despite it being entirely down to her stinking cold. Because now I won’t get anything done at all. And it’s not fair. And I probably should never have said I’d have a birthday party in the first place. And…

Keep. Your. Head. Still.

Just stop.

It’s actually impossible to be in more than one place at once. Believe me, I’ve tried.

It is, however, just about possible to do one thing at a time. To make a slightly-shabby miniature top hat out of a recycled space ship costume and some fabric scraps. To enjoy whole moments of the process. Despite the constant audience of small children. To only cut your finger once.

It’s possible to scale down your plans and rein yourself in. And to try not to be too disappointed. It’s possible to believe your party will be worth having even if it doesn’t look like an exact replica of a vintage big top.

It’s possible to cross things off your lists without having done them. And not miss them too much.

It’s possible to decide that sleep is more valuable than hand-painted circus signs. It really, truly is.

It’s possible that your friends will love you anyway.

It’s possible that there’s no point doing any of your wonderful plans if you’re too stressed to enjoy them.

It’s possible to keep your head still. If only for a minute. A minute, it turns out, is better than nothing.

Now, who’s going to tell Elvie?


Courage in the in-between. November 7, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image from www.mudlove.com

Image from http://www.mudlove.com


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

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

Goodness knows there are plenty of them.


Red carpets. And toilet brushes. October 20, 2014

Filed under: Community,Family,Parenting — hannahoakland @ 1:44 pm

Yesterday Wes left for London in the morning. Off to work. Again. At the weekend. Again. To build something. Not even he knew what.

Thankfully, there were church services. One in the morning. And another in the afternoon. In different churches. Both with children’s groups. So that I could get twenty minutes respite from little hands and whinging voices and Joel’s cries of “I want my Mummy.” Whilst he’s sitting on my lap. Seriously. This is a thing now.

I actually felt pretty smug. Not only was I leaving the house. Twice. But I was walking. Outside. In the fresh air. Taking the children to groups that would aid their spiritual development. Getting something that resembled time-out for myself. Looking at leaves and rivers and geese, and embracing the changing seasons in a child-friendly manner. Mother of the year? Possibly.

And then.

Then my children did what they do best. Remind me who I really am. By wiping the smug right off my face.

The morning service was in a church that we don’t usually attend. Unless it’s for toddler group. After two years of Monday morning play and biscuits, Elvie and Joel see it as a second home. And fair game for their schemes.

To her immense credit, she almost got away with it. It was only the glint from under her sleeve whilst she did up her shoes that gave her away. A bracelet. Four strings of beads in various shades of pink and purple and blue. That she hadn’t been wearing that morning.

Apparently she’d ‘found it’ in Sunday club.

As a dutiful mother, I removed it from her arm and returned it to the kind woman who had inadvertently funded her jewellery habit. I apologised profusely and expressed my hopes that it would be reunited with its rightful owner. Sunday club lady looked more than a little bemused during the whole conversation.

Only when I eventually shut up talking did she tell me that actually, she’d given it to Elvie. In fact, Elvie had chosen it. As her present. For her birthday.


Her birthday.

In August.

Can’t fault her cunning. That’s for sure.

It transpires, after some drawn-out post-event analysis, that she’d desperately wanted to look inside the Sunday club present box. So she pretended it was her birthday. Naturally.

They sang to her, and she told them all about her cake. She celebrated turning 4 all over again. And came home with a bracelet. Which they let her keep. Mostly because they couldn’t stop laughing long enough to take it away.

Clearly, my day as a parent could only get better. Until the post-afternoon-church-service tea break when Joel came running up, brandishing a dirty toilet brush like a sword. Followed by a couple of older girls shouting, “He’s been licking that!”

It was not my finest hour. Not my finest day.

You can only imagine my delight when Wes texted me that evening. As we ate our beans on toast. Whilst I watched Joel like a hawk for any signs of imminent vomiting.

Just a little text. To tell me that the mystery job had turned out to be building a stage for Brad Pitt’s ‘Fury’ premiere in Leicester Square. As evidenced by the photographs he showed me this morning.

Red carpets. Limousines. Bright lights.

Brad Pitt. Shia LeBeouf. Etc.

Soaking in the chilly glamour of a London-glitterati-in-October night. Whilst I dealt with a four year-old con artist and a toddler with decidedly bad taste in snacks.

Little treasures.


Yes, I know that all this nonsense about celebrity is just smoke and mirrors. Yes, I understand that parenting is probably a more constructive use of time than months spent pretending to be a 1940’s tank driver. Yes, showbusiness is a very odd, superficial land. I don’t even want to watch the film.

But still. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit jealous. A little bit. And the rest.

My only consolation is that Joel has a stomach of steel, and there was no faecal-matter-induced-vomiting. We’re totally winning.

I think.

In your face, Brad.