Don’t you think we’ve done enough? 

I know. It’s just two words. Two short words which could lift the veil, start the conversation, make people sit up and take notice of how very real this problem is. ‘Wow, I never realised that this affected so many women before.’ ‘Gosh, that neighbour, that colleague, that family member…’ ‘Really? I never would have guessed.’ ‘She’s so confident.’ ‘She’s so strong.’

That’s probably your best case scenario here. That no one ever knew the secret weight you were carrying around with you all of this time.The revulsion you felt when that man started licking his lips on public transport, and you followed his hands as they moved under his jacket, so strategically placed on his lap as he refused to break eye contact with you. That fear you felt as you turned your car key in your pocket as you crossed the street and walked a little faster, wondering what kind of weapon it could make if push came to shove. The confusion you felt when after years of kind words from your partner, push did come to shove in a frightening reality of strength and power, no matter how apologetic the tears were later.

Because of course, if some people’s “Me too” comes as a shock, it stands to reason that other people’s comes as ‘No great surprise.’ ‘I always thought there were something, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.’ ‘Right, that actually makes a lot of sense.’ And now, laid bare for all your friends, acquaintances, colleagues, and friends of your parents to see, is just two little words which prove that you’re Other. So while you might be brave enough (or confident enough, or social media friendly enough, or naive enough, or drunk enough, or just plain hopeful enough) to post those little words, there’s almost a certain guarantee that many others wont be. And that’s fine, too. Except, now it dilutes the point. They say if everyone who has experienced it posts about it, then we will see the problem! It’s foolproof! It’s genius! Except, everyone won’t. So the very initiative hurts what it hopes to achieve. ‘I hardly saw anyone post that ‘me too’ thing. I knew it wasn’t such a big deal.’ And on the other side of it, the woman herself, ‘Maybe I should have posted that ‘me too’ thing.’ ‘I feel guilty, why are they all so much braver than me?’ ‘My experience isn’t that big a deal, not really, not in comparison.’

Because the problem isn’t that people don’t know about it. The problem isn’t even that we don’t talk about it enough. Unsurprisingly, like any situation of victim blaming, the problem isn’t ours at all. The problem is that WOMEN AREN’T BELIEVED. When dozens of women can finally stand up against one dangerous Hollywood executive and the response is raised eyebrows alongside words like consensual, career ladder, power mad, honey trap thrown around at the victims, what makes you think that those who don’t believe us suddenly have respect for numbers? If anything, it’s the opposite. ‘Omg, this ‘me too’ thing is getting out of control. Every woman who has ever been asked to make a cup of tea in the office is changing their status.’ ‘Y’know, my sister put it on hers, I nearly laughed out loud-have you seen how she dresses lately?’ 

And where it does work? We’re relying on these women, these brave, or hopeful, or drunk, but certainly strong women, to speak up and put themselves in the line of fire and scrutiny once again. We’re putting the work into the hands of the victims, the survivors, the very people who we are hoping to protect. And allowing the perpetrators and the bystanders to simply watch and judge, to believe or not believe, like we always have done.

I make my living with words. I love them, and I recognise the power of them, and the very real way that language can create reality. But I don’t believe an onslaught of ‘me too’ is the answer to changing the way we deal with sexual harassment and abuse. The onslaught we’re waiting for is from the other side, and it reads “I believe.”

The Usual Suspects of… The Recipe Groups

This time of year is one holiday after another for us Jews, and as such, it’s also one meal after another. When a festival runs into Shabbat, we get a three day whammy, which gives us at least 6 meals to prepare for, and for some over-eager beavers, 9+.

The holidays are a time for family, so it isn’t unusual to have crowds of 20 or more around your festive table, and unlike the stories I’ve heard told of Xmas dinner, there is no set menu of Turkey and Cranberry sauce to keep to, so the opportunities are endless.

If there is one place to people-watch this time of year, it has to be the Kosher recipe groups on Facebook, where if you’re lucky, and very very quiet, you might catch sight of these rare breeds in their natural habitat.

1. The Substitutor

This poster pops up on most dessert threads, mainly to make you feel really bad about yourself. Questions include: ‘Have you ever made those brownies with apple sauce instead of sugar?’ (No, I’m not insane) and ‘What do you substitute the margarine for in that kugel?’ (More margarine. it’s a margarine kugel. Go away. )

Sometimes they just pop in to lie to you, with such classics as ‘I made that omelette without eggs and it tasted completely identical’ as well as ‘My kids said they loved the beetroot and courgette muffins more than the chocolate chip ones.’ Fool me once, shame on you.

2. Mrs What’s Missing?

Just when you’ve made the executive decision that everyone is going to have cereal and milk for Friday night (and like it) here comes Chaya from Brooklyn with her “menu”. It’s not a restaurant, Chaya.

Guys I really need help!! So far, I have Challa and home-made dips, chicken soup with all the trimmings, BBQ schnitzel, honey roasted chicken, salt beef, broccoli and potato kugels, sweet and sour rice, popcorn cauliflower, 3 salads, and then for dessert it’s ice cream, salted caramel brownies and a pavlova. I feel like I’m missing something, what am I missing? Oh ps: it’s just me and my hubby thanks.

Chaya? Chaya! Pick me! I know what you’re missing! It’s about seventeen more humans, and a nap.

3. The Amnesiac Shopper

Now I know I went to the grocery store this morning, and I know that I picked up a whole lot of food, but for the life of me, I’m not sure what any of it actually is. Does anyone recognise this odd looking vegetable? Or know what I can do with it that will feed 7 adults and 4 kids including a 13yo who doesn’t eat vegetables?

What about this cut of meat? I think it’s called number 5. Or maybe it was 9. I’m pretty sure the Butcher said it was pickled. or maybe he said it should be pickled. Did I remember to buy pickles? Does anyone know where I left my car?

4. The Amateur Masterchef

Some of the photos I see on the recipe groups are pretty impressive, from Challot that look bakery-bought but probably taste better, to chocolate babkas that are practically food porn, as well as incredibly fiddly pastry and meat concoctions that I would never be able to achieve.

But sometimes, no matter how much you call it herb encrusted salmon with an assiette of wilted tender stem garden produce, it’s still gonna be fish and green veg. And whatever joy describing your lightly browned beef on a bed of puréed chickpeas gives you, it’s still the mincemeat and hummus that takes five minutes to make and you discovered at your mother in laws house. #sorrynotsorry

5. Harbinger of Doom

With love to all the over achievers out there, I still have to give a shout out to my people. You know who you are. (Hint: you put jacket potatoes in the slow cooker for one of your Rosh Hashana meals, but forgot to heat the baked beans. Yeah, there you are.) You probably head to the recipe groups out of sheer voyeuristic pleasure, or maybe to ask whether that turkey roll you forgot about at the back of the fridge is still good to eat. If you’ve done the latter, you’ve probably met the Harbinger of Doom before.

“I made chicken soup 3 days ago, can I still eat it?”
“Absolutely not, bin it.”

“Oh. What about this potato kugel, it was defrosted about a week ago?”
“Are you kidding? Definitely not. Throw it away.”

“How about this yoghurt? The best before was just yesterday..”
“Do you want to make your kid sick? Why risk it?”

“I opened this cheese earlier on, but I left it on the counter for half an hour and-“
“Throw it away. Use gloves. Can’t be too careful with bacteria.”

Jesus lady, how about this sealed packed of biscuits? Is it okay if I eat these while I try to recover from my new food phobia?

But don’t worry dear reader, you aren’t alone. Check the comments for dozens of hardy women who are on your side, and are guaranteed to have shared their war stories to make you feel better.

I regularly drink milk that’s spoiled and I’m still here to tell the tale!

I once ate a schnitzel that I found behind the couch, and I’m FINE.

I don’t even bother cooking the meat and my kids haven’t complained yet! Granted, they are kind of quiet.. Chavi, you ok honey?

5. The Shameless Brag

A relative of the humble bragger from the online mums forums post, when this person moves over to the recipe groups, she has no need to be coy. Posting photos of the oddest brags, from a fully set Seder table a fortnight before Pesach, to six dozen chocolate cakes “all ready for the freezer!” She must live in the Ice Bar, she has so much space to cook ahead of time, and she will absolutely post the recipes for all of these “delish treats” as soon as she has a spare minute. Which is good, because the F’s on her post are getting a bit out of hand, and the natives are getting restless.

bragging recipe post.png

Have I missed any of your favourite recipe group regulars?

Seeing into the Future.

I’m sorry. 

That first visit to the hospital, when you couldn’t see anything at all, I promised I would do everything it took to get you the help you needed. To give you options which were the same as anyone else’s. 

I insisted on being referred not once but twice until we found you the best doctor, the doctor people got on a plane for, the doctor who knew everything there was to know about our condition, who could suggest treatments and surgeries that even the nystagmus mums groups on Facebook didn’t know about yet, despite their collective knowledge of everything Google has to offer. 

Two years ago, this doctor, this doctor I have the utmost faith in, did what he called ‘a bit of cut and paste’ on you. 

So blase, as he took a scalpel to your eyes. But even as we shuddered, that’s what we wanted-it meant he did this every day. 

But the results didn’t work out exactly as we’d hoped. 

Your head still turned, your eyes wobbled even more as you learned to read books and study things up close. You were growing up, and the surgery hadn’t worked as planned. 

“A repeat surgery is risky”, they said.

“It could cause side effects”, they said. 

“Double vision”, perhaps. 

“Let’s do a test” we agreed, nervously. 
We held your hand as you slipped under anesthesia again, this time so they could put needles into your eyes, temporarily freezing your muscles.

It sounds futuristic! It sounds amazing! What a time we live in!

(It sounds awful. I won’t think about it. Motherhood doesn’t change just because medicine does.) 

When you woke up, it didn’t take long to see that it hadn’t worked as we had hoped it would.

Double vision. Frustration. Exhaustion. I can only share two of those with you. 
“It will wear off”, they say.

“Just two months”, they say. 

But two months to you, is an eternity. Waiting five minutes for the iPad is an eternity. Two seconds while I get you your snack is forever. 

Two months is an age where you learn that life can be hard. And takes energy you shouldn’t have to find. Not at six years old. 
So they’ve patched your eye, and they say we will wait and see. But it’s me who waits, and you who can’t see. And they? They can’t do anything at all.

But I know. I know that this was a test which went badly. No positive effects to speak of. Just a ‘phew, it’s only temporary’. A pat on the back that we didn’t make it worse long term. That it will wear off.

And when it does wear off? 

Your head will still turn. 

Your eyes will continue to wobble. 

Life will still be harder than it could have been. 

And there’s nothing more that these doctors that people get on a plane for can suggest to help you. No more chances to give you the same options as everyone else. 

And so I say, in a bright voice, Rapha, wobbly eyes are our superpower. You and me? We are superheroes. And you? You are my superman. 

And we wobble our eyes and our faces together in the hospital waiting room like maniacs, and you laugh and laugh and I force my face into a smile and am pleased for a moment that your eyes are patched and you can’t see the tears in my own. 

Because I don’t feel like a superhero. I feel like I’ve let you down. 

My View from Behind the Curtain

There’s a lot been written lately about feminism and Judaism, or at least-about women’s roles in our faith. While I wouldn’t say personally that I feel invisible behind the mechitza, I do struggle with women who are blocked from getting the most out of their orthodoxy, especially where it feels like it comes down to custom or tradition rather than Jewish law.

Losing a parent is the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through. I don’t grapple with it daily, but it has the power to move me to tears with literally no notice whatsoever, at any given moment. It’s scarred me and shaped me in ways I probably couldn’t describe, and some ways I can.

Judaism has guidelines for losing a parent. And to me, it’s one of the most beautiful areas of Jewish law. From the second a parent dies, their family has rules to follow. Don’t leave the body alone, call the chevra kadisha, say the shema prayer.. the list of laws and customs goes on, from those first impossible minutes until years later, when we light a memorial candle on the anniversary of their death. And the intensity of those rules lessens as time goes on.

The first week, your every waking minute is filled with people visiting you sit shiva, while for the month, the restrictions of new clothes and luxury are enough to keep you aware of your loss but also able to forget for small periods of time, get on with work and friendships and daily life. The entire year, you exclude yourself from social gatherings where you might not feel comfortable, but your life begins to move on, often without daily reminders of your status as an avel. To me, it felt like God was walking me through the process of grieving, not letting me sweep my feelings under the carpet, but also helping me put myself back together without drowning under the weight of it.

But there were moments. Moments where I still feel like my grief would have more bearing, more status somehow, if I were a man.

Standing by the graveside at my fathers funeral, they asked the men to step forward to take part in an incredible mark of respect, to help fill the grave with earth. My family, my friends, people who knew us all my life came close to take a spade and begin the labour. When I asked to join in, eager to honour my father this last time, I was asked to wait while a groundskeeper ran to fetch something. When he came back, he brought with him a small trowel and some ready turned earth in a bucket. They offered me a token, a ceremonial act, like the action of lifting a shovel was going to be too much for me. Like they couldn’t see that the act of not lifting it would be far heavier to carry. Needless to say, I took the spade. But I don’t know that other women would know to insist.

During the week of shiva, men need a minyan, ten men to join them in prayer, three times a day. It means that your home is filled with people, pretty much all of your waking hours. We take breaks, for meals or for rest times, but the company is necessary. It surrounds you with stories of your loved ones, with people who care about you. It’s healing. As the only person sitting shiva, I didn’t need a minyan, so we didn’t always have one. The mornings, I slept in until visitors arrived to see me, and in the evenings, I had to leave the room while the men prayed, standing in the kitchen or the hallway, wondering why I felt shut out, if the reason they were there was me. I chose to say the Kaddish prayer that week, and they chose men to say it with me, to make it more “appropriate”, some of whom I had never met before, turning around at the sound of a woman’s voice standing out from the crowd

I didn’t have to say Kaddish at all that year, and so I didn’t. I asked someone I love, someone who loves me to say it for me, and they did. They went to shul every day, three times a day, and did the action of a grieving child for me. They said my words, my prayer, because even if I had chosen to go, orthodox Jewish law dictates it would be better if a man was doing it too. Some would say that a man needs to be doing it too. That even if I take the nineteen years we had together and pour all of those feelings into every word I say, they don’t really count.

Each year now, on the anniversary of his death, the yartzeit, I head to shul and I say the Kaddish prayer, quietly, respectfully behind the mechitza. If the other men notice a man who has yartzeit, they might offer him a special mitzvah, leading the service or holding the Torah.

Me? Me, they don’t notice at all, and they wouldn’t have anything to offer me even if they did.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand the logic and the reasoning behind the laws for women and men. The way it would be impossible to get to shul three times a day with small children in tow, the way we believe that a woman’s spirituality lends itself to needing less outward signs of our faith, the rules of modesty and how they manifest in clothes and song and power struggles. Some of these things I agree with, others less so. But I believe in the package of orthodoxy, and I feel like I matter and have a role to play. But when it comes to grief, I suddenly get a glimpse into how other women might feel, not just in mourning but in prayer, in community, in education. Like their voice is being silenced, like they have nowhere to stand, like they don’t count.

All I know, is that my father meant to the world to me, and I to him. But in a million small ways, Judaism tells me that I’m not quite enough to honour him all on my own. I need a mans help to do that to its full potential. A brother, a husband, an uncle, hey- any relative will do. So long as they’re male.

It’s one small area of Jewish law, and you don’t even consider it until it’s thrust upon you. I hardly think about it any more, just once a year, when I stand behind that curtain. Not invisible, but not quite visible enough either.

Having a Ball-ot

I love voting. I love what it means, that every person has a say in our future, and I love the act of doing it-stepping into the booth, pressing my pencil down on paper to literally make my mark. And while the politics may get dirtier and more cynical, I find voting an incredibly clean and hopeful act.

With that in mind, I’ve collected some of my favourite voting and election stories here, a reminder that even when it doesn’t seem that way, your vote truly matters.

The Guy Who Came Back From the Dead to Vote

In Detroit Michigan in 2012, an elderly couple were voting when the husband collapsed on the floor. A bystander checked his vitals, reported there was no heartbeat and administered CPR. It took a few minutes to get the guy breathing again, but he eventually opened his eyes. His first question on coming back to life was, “Did I vote?” He also took the time to tell his wife that he came back to tell her he loved her as well as be part of democracy in action. What a charmer.

Voting in Space

Seriously though, I don’t ever want to hear anyone say they had too much on their plates to find the time to vote. As of 1997, thanks to a Texan bill, astronauts can now vote from space! From the International Space Station, your voting ballot is beamed up directly to you, and then securely sent to the voting authorities. David Wolf was the first American to take advantage of this ultimate absentee ballot, the same year as the bill passed.

The Proof that Every Vote Matters

I’ve heard people say that their votes don’t matter enough to be worth the effort. That one person can’t change the outcome. Tell that to Liberal politician Harold St Maur, who lost out on a House of Commons seat to Conservative Henry Duke in the 1910 election by one vote. 4776 to 4777. In Nevada, they handle ties with a very courtly drawing of cards, (yep, I mean Ace is high) and in both 2002 and 2011, this process was needed to decide on an election where the results were split.

The First Female Voter

The first American woman on record voting was Lydia Taft, who voted as a proxy for her husband in 1756 at a town meeting in Massechusets. While this was a baby step on the road towards suffrage, I have to say I have a soft spot for a different early woman voter, right here in the UK.

Seven years before women were given the vote, in 1911 Frances was sent a polling card-when organisers mistakingly thought she was a man by the name of Francis. While many women would have dismissed the mistake, Frances showed up on voting day, polling card in hand and demanded her vote. After much discussion (presumably about whether her tiny female hands could manage the pencil grip) the officials in chrage conceded that the rules only stated two things, that the person voting needed a polling card and a name on the electoral register.

frances.jpg

There are countries like Brunei where there are no elections held whatsoever.

There are countries like the UAE where out of 9,000,000 people, only 100,000 are eligible to vote.

There are countries like South Sudan, who has 8,000,000 citizens and has never had an election.

There are countries like Saudi Arabia where women are denied the right to vote.

There are countries like the Maldives, where muslims are denied the right to vote.

There are countries like Eritrea, where there were elections up until 1991, and then the right to vote was taken away.

Or, there are countries like ours. The UK, where although you might not always like your choices, , the right to choose, or to let the government know that you won’t choose by spoiling your ballot, is protected by law. Unlike over 80 million people around the world-you can go and vote right now this minute. So what’s stopping you?

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.

“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.

mark-dice.jpg

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

felix-lapoma.jpg

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

steve-jarrot.jpg

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.

treybey.jpg

May I make a suggestion…? Bathe.

oliver-gracie.jpg

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’.

oliver-gracie2.jpg

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.

men-discuss-march.jpg

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.

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.