Today I Do…

Facebook reminded me this evening of the post I wrote last year, on International Women’s day 2016. It was called One Day I Will… and it was about how I look to my daughter when I can’t find the strength in the usual role models many women have.

Michael J Fox has said that Family is not an important thing, it is everything. This year, it often feels like the whole structure of my family as I once knew it has been ripped apart at the seams. And so if family is everything, it’s easy to slip into feeling like I have nothing.

I have seen so many brave and interesting posts today from friends and strangers alike about International Women’s Day. The worst of them were questioning the need for the day in the first place, as if they were somehow put out by it’s very existence, and couldn’t just get on with their Wednesdays. The best of them were supportive, proud, strong, and full of support. And it got me thinking. Aren’t those the very best descriptions of family you could imagine?

Unfortunately and painfully, this year, one woman in my life has turned against me for standing by another. The former is blood, and the latter is one of the strongest, most supportive women I could wish to have in my world, and is every part the family I would choose, and have chosen.

I agree with Michael J Fox. Family is everything. But just as so many incredible women have shown me, it isn’t just the family you’re born with. I have a family with whom I share no kin whatsoever, made up of playdates and favours, of shouting each other coffees and coming round with surprise gifts just because. It’s packed to the brim with jumping on a plane, or listening to each other cry, it’s laughing so hard you can’t breathe, it’s sending memes at all hours of the day and night. It’s made up of love.

A working mother’s Facebook group that I’m on has a tradition called ‘bragging Wednesdays.’ The entire point is that women can share their achievements, and be encouraged and applauded by other women. They range from starting your own business or making multi-million dollar deals, to getting the kids to school on time, or carving out some space for yourself in the busy never ending to do list of life. It’s supportive, it’s lovely, and it’s powerful.

There will always be negativity, and trolls, and people who think that you’re doing the wrong thing, failing to see just how much anxiety we all have about our decisions already, without their input.

Me? I surround myself with the family I choose, the ones who have proven themselves deserving of that word. You brilliant amazing women you, you all know who you are. Happy International Women’s Day, and I love you.

 

 

A Delicate Little Flower

You’re right.

She’s not a “delicate little flower”

And I don’t want her to be.
I don’t want her swaying in the breeze,
Moving this way and that on the flight of fancy of the wind.
I want her growing strong roots
Deep beneath the surface
Twisting their way into the earth,
Creating foundations, holding her own ground.
I don’t want her petals easily picked off one by one
By a boy playing “she loves me, loves me not”.
I want her to love herself, fiercely
Hold those petals fast in her grip
So that no-one can take hold
And make her less of herself
Unless giving freely is what she chooses.
I don’t wish for her to be simply beautiful,
(Which so often means beautifully simple)
I wan’t people to stop still in their tracks
Look at her unique colours, stop to take in her scent
Wonder what exotic place she comes from
That she was able to grow so wild and free.
I don’t imagine her little at all.
I want her to fill a room, until it overflows with her,
Not ladylike, but powerful
Not delicate, but extraordinary.
I can’t picture her on a manicured lawn
Under a cloche
Protected from the elements, not her.
I see her at all ages, in my mind’s eye.
Raging against the heat of the sun
Dancing in the rain
Moving with the wind
Laughing at the storm she creates around her
And I smile, and smile and smile.
Not a delicate little flower at all.
A powerful, strong-willed woman in the making.

Don’t Fence Me In

“Everytime I see that daughter of yours, I’m reminded of the amazing playpen I used for my three kids.” 

My son has always had a really long concentration span. He started moving at about 14 months, and by that time he could sit and listen to a whole pile of books, or enjoy a shape sorter or a push button toy for 15 minutes at a time. He didn’t get easily distracted, and if you put him somewhere, he generally stayed there.

My daughter is now nearly 2, and if I tell you that a tornado would be a more friendly house guest, you might get some idea of the havoc she can cause. Shelves are for climbing, toys are for throwing, electronics are for biting. She can also sense a cupboard being opened from the other side of the house with the help of her spidey senses.

I’m not here to debate the merits of playpens. For some, they might be lifesavers. If you have more than one small child at home at a time. If you have work you need to be able to focus on at a moments notice. If your home is a rental and you’re unable to babyproof the really dangerous parts like stairs or wires. If you’re that selfish kind of parent who likes to pee alone. (How very dare you.)

Some people will say they teach firm boundaries. Other people find that their kids are even wilder once they are on the other side of them. All I know is, I don’t have one. And personally, I don’t want one. They seem a little too cage like for me, and it’s never been something I needed. While I know our parents generation will often sing their praises from the rooftops, I think I’m a little too ‘generation babywearing’ to see the benefits.

Anyway, my work is flexible and I only have M at home most days.  (Plus, she keeps finding things that I’ve lost, which would never happen if she were restricted to just one area.)

But seriously though, your comment bugged me.

My daughter has an unquenchable curiosity for absolutely everything. Whatever it is, she wants to touch it, hold it, yank it into pieces, devour it whole. While you used to call R a ‘good boy’ for ‘sitting so nicely’, M’s personality somehow means she needs walls, boundaries, reins. It’s as if her insatiable appetite for learning about the world needs to be tempered and calmed.

There’s safety, of course there is, but then there’s also just diminishing her personality.

I want to give her as much freedom as I possibly can. I want to be able to say ‘Yes’ as often as possible. What parent doesn’t? When we’re out the house, in the land of roads and cars and other people’s best china, I sometimes feel like the only word I say is no. I spend what feels like every minute lifting her onto my hip and away from cigarette butts or the long distance calls she seems desperate to make from other humans landlines.

When we walk back into our home, I breathe a sigh of relief that I can say yes, or turn a blind eye. That she can be free to explore and play without those words ringing in her ears. Stop. No. Wait.

So there are eggshells and sometimes lego men in my meatballs because she ‘helped’ me make them. The DVDs are never on the DVD rack anymore, let alone in their original alphabetized categories.. There are tiny bite marks in most of the candles in the one non-babyproofed bathroom cupboard. I regularly find jewellery in the toilet. And I’m pretty sure I’ve lost about 4 sets of keys and a whole lot of perfectly fresh fruit to the kitchen bin.

And you’re right, none of this would have happened if I had your “amazing playpen”.

But honestly? That makes me want it even less.

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“Well Done! Mister Suffragettes.”

This week saw millions of women and men marching and protesting for womens’ rights, and boy, did the men have something to say about it. From the accurate yet stupid “There are women far worse off than you, why are you complaining?” to the always clever yet innacurate “Calm down, nothing ever got solved by being angry”. In 2017, there’s no shortage of men who not only understand the issues at hand well enough to have their own opinion,  but also who can let us feeble-minded ladies know what we should be doing, thinking and feeling as well.

I’m so happy to have so many strong men who marched alongside women this week, and don’t get me wrong, I certainly believe men should be able to voice their own opinions and thoughts on sexism loud and clear, even on the issues which mainly concern women. But when these opinions turn into simply telling a woman how to feel or react, or begin to take ownership away from women on their own issues, we’re in different territory.

Don’t tell me that you’ve never seen gender inequality at the office so therefore it “can’t exist”, ask the women who work with you if they have experienced it instead. Don’t scoff at how ‘tampon tax’ isn’t a big deal when you’ve never had to include them in your monthly budget. Don’t inform me it’s a compliment to be catcalled or groped as I walk down the street; ask me, and I’ll tell you it’s harassment. And don’t explain “the real reasons” why feminism exists, to women who have to deal with inequality every single day.

Here are some of my personal favourite male responses to the march this week. And if you think these are just individuals, take a look at some of the likes, retweets and shares that these men are recieving for their most excellent examples of mansplaining and misogyny.

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This guy is a delight. It took me a minute to realise he means people who are pro-choice.

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Y’know how to make America great again? Domestic violence.

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Always good to hear what a white man thinks about racial and gender discrimination. After all, he has all the experience and knowledge on the matter.

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May I make a suggestion…? Bathe.

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Unlike Muslim countries, US women have nothing to complain about. Certainly not a little thing like a 22.4% gender pay gap which is actually widening year on year. (Up from 20.8% in 2016) Oh wait, we chose that. Must be the comfy lifestyles we’re all enjoying as part of ‘having it all’.

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Oh, but Oliver isn’t done. It’s our sexual frustration which is making it difficult for us to get paid and respected equally. Personal thanks to all the ‘good guys’ who touch us without our permission so we know you like us, call out obscenities on the street to help us feel sexy and tell us to stop being hysterical when we’re getting too upset. With your help maybe we can nip this damn feminism in the bud.

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This last photo is CNN, discussing the womens’ march. Can you see anything wrong with this photo? Imagine for a second this was a forum on the Holocaust, and they invited 9 Germans and a token Jew. Yes, the panel rotated throughout the night, but included in the male commentary was David Swerdlick’s comment “You got the sense that a more experienced generation was passing on a tradition of activism to a younger generation.”

Yes. A more experienced generation who are still fighting for equal rights. A more experienced generation who have seen some progress but not enough. A generation who watched their own parents fight for access to better birth control, more equal working conditions, safe sexual rights, a fair justice system for both genders. And yet somehow… still need to pass on all of these battles to their own children.  What a truly sad and inadequate inheritance.

Or maybe I’m wrong, I’ll have to wait for a guy to tell me how I really feel about it.

5 Ingredients to Tempt the Pickiest Toddlers

Somewhere between the ages of 1 and 2, you may begin to notice a startling and unexpected developmental stage appearing in your baby. An opinion. While they used to allow you to shovel in any old food all whizzed up in a blender or mashed up with a fork, suddenly they are pressing their lips tightly shut, shaking their heads firmly and throwing entire bowls of spag bol face down on your beige carpet faster than you can say ‘Here comes the aeroplane!”
Never fear, after extensive research into babies entering toddlerdom everywhere, here is the definitive list of the 5 ingredients a toddler will never turn his nose up at.

  1. Dirt.
    We’ve all been there. You’ve lovingly prepared a plate of chicken and rice but your baby won’t even take the first bite. Don’t take it personally. They probably don’t realise you spent 2 hours roasting vegetables to make your own stock for this recipe which you found by googling ‘simple baby food recipes’. We have the answer. Have you considered dropping it on the floor? No, not there by the high chair where you just vaccumed. Try on the pavement outside your house where that dog from next door usually does his business. If that doesn’t work, wedge it down the side of the car seat and give it a couple of weeks, there’s nothing babies like more than the taste of slow aged fowl.
  2. Danger.
    Babies don’t like boring food. You know the rules, you musn’t season with salt, but apart from that feel free to go wild. If tumeric, paprika and cumin don’t work, have you considered letting your baby choose their own ‘toppings’ from the bathroom cabinet? Drain cleaner, Cillit Bang, washing powder, these are just a few of my own kids favourites. If yours prefers a slightly different texture, try wrapping the food in live wires, or poking it into a plug socket as finger food. Be creative! We’ve had some great success placing meals onto turned on hair straighteners- BBQ style, as well as mixing in those tiny pieces of lego all babies love for some extra crunch. Nom nom nom.
  3. Competition.
    Y’know what tastes awful? Scrambled eggs. Y’know what tastes delicious? A sibling’s scrambled eggs. Bonus here is that the older the sibling is the more bribeable they will be, and the better their acting skills can be honed too. Get them on board with the plan by offering a small bribe like an episode of Peppa Pig or yknow, a five pound note, if they can ‘unwillingly share’ the meal they also wouldn’t usually touch with a barge pole with said younger sibling.
  4. Timing.
    This one works just as well for older kids, and it relies on a simple rule. What tastes like arsenic during the day time, is progressively more delicious the further past seven the hands of the clock go. While the cheese sandwich you offered at 4.30pm was the most offensive thing you could ever dare to do as a parent, the 9.45pm meal of quinoa salad and stuffed aubergine with lentils may as well be a bag of chocolate buttons in its inevitable appeal. In short, when your little darlings are shouting “I’m huuuuungry” mournfully from their beds like they’re prisoners of war, this is the ideal time to offer broccoli.
  5. Privacy.
    If all else fails, wait until they are distracted by something else, such as wiping snot on your freshly folded washing or climbing a bookshelf, and quietly prepare the food out of their line of sight. Tiptoe to your own bedroom and hide in a corner with the bowl hidden completely from view. If you’re not sure what I mean, imagine it’s the last chocolate digestive biscuit and nap time is too far away to fairly expect you to wait for. Toddlers find that kind of silent behaviour just as suspicious as we do in return. They’ll show up, indignant and open mouthed in no time. Finish off the theatre with a stern “No, this is Mummy’s food” before giving in. Fair Warning: This will probably only fool them for one bite, so make it a big one.  

There you have it. No more excuses for kids who won’t eat their veggies. Just make sure the meal is a week old and sprinkled with shards of glass, in a secret location where their sibling is chowing down after 10pm. Simples.

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There are other truths, too.

I’ve had a hard few weeks. Unsurprisingly, for those who know me, marking 10 years since my father died wasn’t an easy milestone, and while the day itself was filled with silly fun with my 5 year old, the days which followed were like trudging through thick mud in boots two times bigger than your actual size. Difficult, slow, cumbersome, and with a constant fear of falling and exacerbating an already precarious situation into something much worse.

While I’ve written in the past about grief, I usually write from the middle of it, from the trenches of it, while the bombs are going off around me and I’m struggling to keep myself hidden from target. Ironically, I’ve come to realise that if I’m writing about it from within the walls, if you’re hearing my war reports, the danger isn’t too great.
In this case, no news is not good news. When I can’t hear myself think to write beyond the sounds of gunfire, when there’s nothing to write because the fog is too heavy? That’s when I’m going to need the artillery sent in behind me.

So here I am, out the other side, tilting my head with interest at the woman who looks so much like me, but couldn’t feel more different. And there must be something I can take out of this, by examining her. Or do I just have to sit and wait helplessly for it to take over again, and then wait for it to pass another time, in a cycle of highs and lows that I’ve come to accept is the very nature of grief itself?

Academically I can say I have been miserable. It sounds like a word for a small child, and I suppose in the loss of a parent it fits. Worse still, this year it’s triggered a realization for me that while I have built for myself an incredible family of people who love me, the ones who are supposed to be there unconditionally just… aren’t. I haven’t spoken to my mother in several months, my father is dead, my siblings are… absent. I don’t have extended family around who have taken me under their wing, I don’t have living grandparents or kindly uncles and aunts. It may seem like a strange concern for someone who is an adult and has their own kids and home. But if you’re game, take a moment to think about the people in your life who have to love you. The ones who may dislike you from time to time, who you could make it your life’s work to ruin your relationship with, but would still be family after all is said and done.

I don’t have that.

Last week, and the week before, it was the only thing I could think about, on the forefront of my mind. It pushed aside all other thoughts and plans. Tears came easy, and cold shivery hopelessness too. The truth of it was overwhelming. If this is true, that I have no family, no people who will be there no matter what… how will I ever feel better again?  I reasoned with myself, and I knew it to be true, that I would never feel free of this burden.

And then…. it lifted. Like our good old English summer, the sun re-appeared through a storm cloud like the rain had never existed in the first place, and I felt warm again. Does this mean that I was wrong? That what I thought to be true wasn’t true?
Absolutely not. I have no real family. Not the kind other people have anyway. But while last week that truth was dehibillitating, this week… *shrugs*.

That shrug isn’t self pitying or sarcastic. The tunnel vision which comes with misery and hopelessness has passed, and I can see other truths as well as that one. My amazing husband, my beautiful kids, the fact that the summer holidays are almost finished and I can soon work during daylight hours again. The truth that I work in the field I love and can be entirely flexible with it, my two best friends who I would choose over blood sisters any day of the week. I couldn’t see those truths last week, and yet the weight of them now crushes any depression over a lack of family down to a mere concern at the back of my mind, a shrug in the same way I might say ‘sure, it would be nice to have some more disposable income’ or ‘imagine how great life would be if school took over teeth brushing responsibilities.’

I feel lighter. And yet simultaneously for next time, I feel slightly better armed to go into battle too. This mantra is a weapon, of sorts. Whatever may or may not be true in my life, there are other truths too.

Democrazy

How did you vote anyway? asked a casual acquaintance in small talk at school pick up recently. Whether it’s Brexit or the General election, whether you’re commenting on the ongoing Presidential race, or who’s going to draw the (increasingly) short straw of running this country come Autumn, there’s a lot of reading to do if you want to keep up with the volatile political discussion at the water cooler nowadays.

Google published information last week that showed a lot of voters in the EU referendum actually didn’t know what they were voting for when they ticked their little box of choice. While this information was taken to mean that people voted Leave while uninformed about the facts, I suppose it’s just as likely that people voted Remain with as much ignorance. But what’s new? People make ill thought out decisions and vote selfishly all the time. People are erratic and thoughtless and don’t have all the facts when they exercise their right to vote. That was true at the beginning of the 17th century when government elections as we know them first began, and it hasn’t changed. Some people vote because that’s how their parents have always voted, others may skim a biased article on the way home from work one day, and some people read up everything there is to know about the subject and make their own entirely subjective choice anyway. Hey, that’s democracy.

It’s been a political few weeks, and there’s a lot to talk about. But as far as I’m aware, no one has taken away our right to a secret ballot. So what’s new, in answer to my own question?  I think a large part of it is social media. Unlike our parents in the last referendum on the topic, I could tell you how the majority of my friends voted on Brexit, and which party they align themselves with politically in the UK, because most of them shout really loudly about it. They produce long statuses and blog entries entreating everyone to understand their reasons for voting, and then often get pretty angry if the results don’t go their way. I’ve seen a lot of abuse towards ‘Brexiters’ this month, and it’s made me a little bit ashamed of the way our generation discusses politics. I’m pretty sure asking who you voted for used to be kind of on par with asking which sexual position was your favourite, but the stigma is well and truly gone. If I don’t want to answer, I’m giving a de facto answer by omission, and must be a ‘raving Tory’ or a ‘Left wing nutcase’ depending on the matter at hand and what the loudest opinion of the time is.

And I’m torn about it. On the one hand, I’m probably far more knowledgeable than I would be otherwise. On the scale of informed voters, I’d put myself somewhere in the middle. I read what people share, I look for unbiased advice (if there is any such thing) but I do sometimes find myself apologising in the middle of political debate that I don’t know the exact facts or I don’t have a specific example to give. If I didn’t know that I was going to have to defend myself at every turn, if our vote was as anonymous as it was a generation or two ago, I probably wouldn’t think so hard about my reasons for my political allegiances and choices. So that’s good right? More informed equals a fairer society, better decision making, more accountability for the powers that be. In theory anyway.

But even setting aside the fact that in this recent referendum we don’t seem to have managed any of the above, isn’t a person entitled to their ignorant vote? As it stands, we aren’t being forced to pass a mini political quiz before we are allowed into the voting booth. Even the earliest democratic elections in Greece had nothing to do with how much you knew about the topic, and were based on who your parents were and if you had a penis. If I decide that I don’t want to research anything, I want to copy a friend, ask my grandparents, flip a coin… that’s my democratic right. Don’t get me wrong, it can certainly be frustrating to watch, especially in a time where so much information is at our fingertips if we want to be educated. But isn’t it what countless minorities fought for? The ability to vote without having to justify yourself, without fear of judgement, and without having to fit into a specific box of gender, race, or level of education.

Especially in a public vote where we aren’t given the opportunity to abstain, and no one really knows the consequence of either decision, aren’t we all just choosing one set of problems over another? I’m not sure why anyone should have to justify how he or she makes that judgement call. And they certainly shouldn’t be nervous of abuse ‘from the losing team’ if they come out on top.

If you have a problem with those who were found googling the EU after the vote itself was dead and buried, if you take issue with people voting selfishly, ignorantly, or for mundane reasons, and if you’re one of the people who is debating the results to death with every person who differs in opinion to you, you don’t have a problem with the referendum results; you have a problem with democracy itself.

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The Last Time

There’s a lot of emotional stuff going around the internet about how you never know [insert event here] is going to be the last time until it’s the last time. You never know it’s going to be your last kiss with someone, or the last time your baby falls asleep on you, or the last time you tell someone you love them, until you realise you can’t do it anymore.

I recently had a last fight with a friend. I didn’t know it was the last fight. I didn’t even know it was a fight at all until we were right in the middle of it. I hadn’t planned it, and I’m not sure they had either. It wasn’t one of those fights where it brews for ages and then finally someone has to say something and it’s taken badly and it escalates. No no. It was more like, here we are having a conversation via WhatsApp, and oh you seem to be getting upset and I’m not sure why, and now suddenly you’re telling me you’re in floods of tears and oh okay,  now I haven’t heard from you in 3 months and we aren’t friends anymore. Haven’t we all had those? No? Not normal? Oh.

Regardless of whether you’re worth working it out for or if the death knell is ringing on your relationship, isn’t there a kind of friend etiquette that means you have to have a post-fight conversation?
I understand the Fadeaway. I’ve watched Garfunkel and Oates. I’m not talking about that. We’re not having a discussion about a brief friendship or a new relationship where it’s kind of awkward to say it out loud but they’re just not that into you. We’re talking about the better part of a decade here. Plenty of meals at each others homes. Cuddling each others kids. Long breaks and then picking up where we left off. Y’know. Friendship. And now… nothing. No final message which says why they want to take some space. No euphemistic let down about why their life is so crazy right now and how it’s not me, it’s them. Not even an angry outburst that I deserve to lose their friendship due to all my terrible character flaws. I can’t get in touch when I hear good news, I can’t thank them for all the times they’ve been a most excellent friend and neighbour, and I can’t turn to them if either of us are in need.

It’s kind of… insufficient.

I know what you’re thinking. Maybe I should make the first move! They’re probably embarassed. It’s been a while now, no contact, they aren’t sure what to do. Let me stop you right there. The first move has been made. I’ve sent multiple messages, via WhatsApp, Facebook, even tried calling on that old fashioned medium called the telephone. Christ I even got in touch with their spouse in the hopes that they just hasn’t checked their own phone in a few days or perhaps seven weeks. Short of turn up unwanted on the doorstep, I’m not sure what else I can do.

The one or two people (everyone who will listen) I’ve casually (obsessively) mentioned it to all say the same thing. Not worth it. Get over it. Move on, they obviously aren’t going to get in touch. And they’re right. I’m clearly not going to get any understanding of why this seemingly quite trivial argument signalled the end of our relationship. And I can’t work out whether expecting some kind of closure is my admittedly often sky-high expectations, or completely understandable. I don’t want to fight, I just don’t want to pretend we’ve never heard each other’s names, or that 8 years of friendship can dissipate without gratitude or feelings on the matter.

Maybe it’s a symptom of this over-sharing thing I’ve got going on, but I would say there’s enough ‘last times’ we aren’t going to get to enjoy as it is. If you know the door is closing on our relationship, give me a quick wave through the window as you disappear and give me a chance to say goodbye, and thank you, too.

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Letting It In, and Shutting It Out

I’m a natural talker. An open book you might say. As I recently read (and stole) from Lena Dunham “I have a tendency to overshare”. Sit down with me for five or ten minutes and you’ll probably know my kids names, my labour stories, my gynaecological issues and the latest argument I’ve had with my mother. Ply me with coffee and cake and I’ll probably give you my internet banking details and let you know where we hide the family diamonds too.

I love to talk. And in sheer yin yang synchronicity, I hate keeping stuff in. Feelings are made to be felt, or we would call them ignorings. (Sorry, I won’t do that again.) I don’t try to push them down, I never apologize for crying, (except at the dentist) and I do my best to never let a problem go unspoken about for too long.

Most of the time, this works out pretty well for me. I surround myself with people who love to talk as much as I do, and who love the amazing moment in a confrontation where you see where the other person is coming from, where you understand something you didnt realise before, and where you get a little closer to one another as a result of the conversation. Most of the time I find a little more of myself along the way too.

But some situations can’t be talked to the other side of.

About three years ago, I had an extremely hard summer. My late father would have turned 70 that June, and the roundness of the number among other things made me feel drowned in grief. Not drowning, not fighting for air, not using my last vestiges of energy to wave and shout and grab attention from someone who could save me, but drowned. Lost already, floating face down and unable to even want help let alone ask for it. I walked around on autopilot, struggling to breathe through the feelings which rose like ice cold water in my lungs and throat.

Eventually, after about 3 months, realising I was being neither wife, nor mother nor friend, nor myself, I called Someone. I am blessed to have 2 or 3 Someones, grown ups who I would still be a lost 15 year old without. But this particular Someone has dealt with their own share of tremendous grief from a young age, and built for themselves a life to be envious of despite it. This Someone is a talker too. An expert in communication, quite literally. They lecture about it, counsel others in how to manage it more effectively, champion talking as the vital ingredient to both a happy marriage and good relationships. I was sure they could help, and they did.

What was the secret I was looking for? How could I deal with the feelings of loss and anger and resentment and just sheer missing? How could I get out of bed every day with the weight of loneliness pressing down on my heart?

Don’t let yourself feel it

I think it was the only advice that could work for me at that point. When you feel it coming in, that great wave of sadness and feeling, just say… No thank you, and push it away.  Maybe it appears at first to you like the terrible advice given to everyone’s favourite Ice Queen. It certainly did to me. I felt like a failiure, like a fraud. What? Just ignore the problem completely? Push down the feelings? That’s just not me. But as time passed, I began to wonder.

Grief comes in some great costumes. Some of them are safe, and others are not. Grief can be nostalgic or funny, or it can appear as a memory you didn’t know you had which makes you smile. Often it’s tears and hugs with loved ones you still have on Earth. Once in a while it’s seeing a lost parents exact expression appear on your own child’s cheeky face. It can even be early nights and the promise of a better day tomorrow. And sometimes…sometimes it’s so overwhelmingly sad that you want to give everything else up just to not feel it any more.

Grief isn’t like other feelings. It changes. And when it’s bad and angry and violent, it can’t be talked through. No one can explain it to you. And there isn’t anyone to confront who can give you any reasons or explanations. There’s no one to feel closer to once you’ve got all your anger out, because there isn’t anyone to respond, and even if there was, there aren’t any answers to give. There’s so little to actually know, that you can’t help but feel further and further away the more you explore it. So opening yourself up to that feeling by swimming further out into those deep waters, is often a surefire way to lose yourself entirely.

This weekend my father would have turned 73, and this summer marks another round number, the 10 year anniversary of his death. This is not a time of nostalgic tears or sad smiles. These are not the calm water of memories which I’m dipping my toes into.  I can feel the violent waves swirling around my ankles, threatening my balance, sharp stings of ice cold salt spraying me from time to time, grapsing for my attention, a very real danger refusing to be ignored.

But this time I’m shouting. I’m waving and thrashing and using the little energy I can find to focus on being wife and mother and friend and myself. I’m fighting every instinct I have to talk and wallow myself deeper into the foam. I’m turning my back on my grief for now, pushing it away while it’s too dangerous to submit to. I’m walking back, towards the shore.

A Grumble on Gratitude

I was at dinner recently when the topic of holding grudges came up. The conversation turned to that certain type of person, be it your great aunt Edna or your Dad’s friend Jim, who pretty much as soon as they’ve mailed the cheque or handed over the gift are tapping their foot impatiently for a grateful call of acknowledgement or a card displaying your thanks.

“Oh don’t get me started!” exclaimed the woman opposite me, sitting next to her husband and nudging him in shared understanding. “My mother is still upset with us for not sending out any thank-you cards after our wedding!”

I opened my mouth. Then I shut it again. I didn’t know this couple. This was the first (and likely last) time I have ever met them. This was completely, and totally, NOT my business.

I opened it again.

“Sorry. You didn’t send out ANY thank-you cards for gifts you recieved for your wedding?”

She looked at me, probably puzzled as to why it was any of my business (it wasn’t) and launched into explaination. We got married really quickly, we were moving abroad the week after the wedding, we were so incredibly busy, we didn’t have a list of who had sent what, people don’t care about thank you cards… 

I asked her if they had registered at a store, and she said yes. I commented mildly that there was probably an online list of the people who had sent gifts and what they had sent, so she could start from there.Worst came to worst they could use their invite list and send out a mass email with an apology and a heartfelt thank you for attendance and gifts recieved. I was then really really going to move on to another topic at that point, I promise. I really was. But then she answered with this.

Ok, well most of the stuff is in my moms house in America so I don’t even use it, and it’s not like I can send an email out now three years later. 

This time I didn’t have time to think. “Three years?! It’s been three years since your wedding and you havent said thank you to anyone?”

“I told you, we didn’t have a list. What were we supposed to do, write a list and then add to it every person who gave us a cheque on the day and spend that last week before we moved abroad scribbling thank yous? We didnt have time for that.”

I couldn’t help myself. “Did you manage to find time to bank the cheques?”

In her defence she looked sheepish. There was a lot more I could have said, but there wasn’t that much point. Her basic argument was that people understand that we’re all busy and that thank you cards are archaic and no one cares about getting them. I didn’t need to have an argument with her on those lines because I agree entirely.

Wait, what?

You heard me. I agree. I would happily never recieve another thank you card again. If anything, I feel bad throwing away photos of you and your new hubby, or those adorable ones of your kids where you pretend they can write their own note to say cheers for the onesie. They are archaic, and we are all far too busy to write them.

But someone, somewhere, went out of their way for you. They went out (or ordered online) chose (or asked their wife to choose) wrapped (or put in a bag) a gift which you either directly asked for on a registry, or they thought you would like. Let’s stick to weddings here for simplicity’s sake. This person shared in your happiness, and wanted to help you start your life together. How can you be so incredibly spoiled and selfish that you don’t want to stop and say a quick thanks. How many gifts can you possibly be recieving that you can’t drop people a quick note and say that you appreciate it? And why ask for gifts at all if you don’t need them and they’re all sitting in your moms attic?

I say that thank you cards are archaic, and I stand by that. I believe that an email, phone call or even text can do the job just as well in 2016. But listening to this couple, it felt to me that they had labelled the act of gratitude as outdated and unnecessary, rather than simply the medium of pen and paper. It seemed like they had been so inundated by generosity that they couldn’t recognise it any more let alone appreciate it.

Here’s the personal bit. When we got married, almost 8 years ago, we didn’t invite a lot of people. It was a struggle to find 100 representatives from our famillies and friends. We were early to get married which limited the plus ones, and the three parents we had between us are hardly what you would call socialites. We made a modest registry, and it didn’t get cleared. But  I remember so palpably the feeling of wonder every time I logged on and saw that someone had spent their hard-earned money to give us something to start our lives together. And I would say that after the best part of a decade I could probably tell you well over 50% of who bought us what. I think about you, when I use our iron or our fancy towels. When we take out the cheese toastie maker or when we play monopoly or rummikub. When I look at those ridiculously heavy le creuset casserole dishes that I really might use one day. You helped us build our life together, before we had the tools to do it ourselves. I said it eight years ago, and I’ll say it again now whether you’re reading or not. Thank you.

Listening to this couple who I will likely never see again, I felt like a different species altogether. Yes, I think both Great-Aunt Edna and Jim are awful. Let’s feel sorry for them, they probably don’t have a great deal else in their lives aside from keeping tabs on the gifts which have left their possession. But as well as awful, they are besides the point. To me at least, thank you cards have almost nothing to do with the person they are addressed to, and far more about the writer who sends them. I couldn’t care less if I never recieve another thank you card as long as I live. But I’m damn well going to teach my kids to keep on sending them.

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