Travelling Towards Change…

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I have done MANY hours of travelling about in the last month. It’s meant a lot of time away from my girls, and a friend on Facebook messaged to ask if everything is ok, as I seemed to be ‘away from my family much more than is appropriate’. They were well meaning. I haven’t been posting details of what my trips are for (mainly because it’s primarily just a series of meetings or interviews which is boring!), I have however posted pictures of the highlights. They genuinely wanted to know if maybe everything wasn’t ok at home, assuming perhaps that I’ve just been off and about on a lot of jollies, ditching my family and heading off for fun.
And admittedly within the last few weeks, I’ve posted a picture of me climbing Ben Nevis, having a bloody good night out in Glasgow for a friends birthday that happily coincided with a meeting I had up there. I’ve posted pictures of Dover Castle, and the Harry Potter bridge. Without a doubt, the recent travels have not been without their highlights.

What I didn’t post was the 36 hour travelling with no sleep tears breakdown in a train toilet, the guilt I felt from being away from my children and husband. My grief from not being with them. The loneliness of ANOTHER train journey away from home. Opportunities I went for only to receive a rejection before arriving home because the journey home was so long. Sitting in a coffee shop and having to call a friend to come and get me because I was so tired and emotional I didn’t trust myself to move. For every lovely meal of tapas with my hosts, there are at least three sad looking service station sandwiches. For every fancy cocktail, there’s been two cans of red bull to try and keep awake.

As a family we have decided that I am going to pursue a slightly different career path. The quality of life my former role was providing came at a price that wasn’t ok for our children. We knew this would mean a period of me going to chase down other possibilities, other options. Which meant we knew this would mean quite a bit of time apart. As the summertime is a slightly quieter time for my husband, it was the perfect time for me to go for it, find something that can provide for my family and keep the spark in my eyes, the passion in my belly for what I’m working on. Contrary to some belief, achieving your ‘dream life’ is constant hard work, compromise and sacrifice. Three things that we are keen to prove to our children are more than worth it to love what you do and how you live. 

So yes, I am I suppose, away from my children for a short while, longer than is deemed appropriate. Luckily, as we co-parent, they have not been at all bereft of primary parental care and love. They have also been bombarded with photos, videos and momento’s from a mummy who is missing them. From a Mummy who is doing all of this FOR them. And for the life they deserve, rich in adventure, happiness, passion and love.

And the low points have been eased by videos from home, messages of support, love and courage from my husband. And importantly, significantly eased by people who are family to us. Friends, old, new and renewed who when I’ve wanted to cry or feel alone have hugged me, made me smile, and reminded me how important the people in our life are. Especially lucky we are to have Glaswegian comrades in a particular tough/emotionally charged 48 hours. 

In answer to the FB message, I replied to say ‘everything is very good thank you, thank you for the concern, our lives are exploring different paths for a short time, but we’re doing so very much together. If you’d like to go for a coffee, I’ll happily explain in more detail.’ In hindsight I wish I hadn’t used the word ‘explain’, I certainly don’t have to explain my life decisions to someone who isn’t my husband or children! At the same time, it is her way of looking out for me, with a rather old fashioned view of how the world should work. After all, I absolutely adore the people who have been looking out for me and supporting us as a family. We are excited for where life may lead us, and what we may all achieve over the next few years. The hard work, the sacrifice and the compromises are ALWAYS worth it. The reunion cuddles and precious quality time together ALWAYS sweet enough to make up for the sourness of absence. 

I hope the travelling hours will decrease quite soon, or at the very least the solo nature of the travelling. But if it was for the best for my family, I would happily orbit the moon.

Protecting my Path…

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I’m raising a white flag. I give up.

 

Let me explain!

 

My husband and I were married and expecting a child within the first five months of our relationship. We had known each other aged 5, but the reaquaintence and subsequent whirlwind romance certainly wasn’t long winded. On our first official date, my husband told me he was going to marry me, we were the kind of couple that had previously made me sick. We’d found our kindred spirits within each other, my heart had discovered its counterpart, the lifetime scars in our souls fit like a jigsaw puzzle. Trust me when I say there is no way I can describe the way we got together without making you sick..! Ahh the gloriously idyllic Summer of 2013!

 

Outside of our hideously romantic bubble, people were no doubt assuming that our surprise pregnancy was the catalyst to getting hitched, and the crueller of them were maybe even taking bets on how long we might last before our film-esque view of life bubble was burst. Even though I’m pretty much sure that no-one really cared, I felt like I needed to prove that even though it wasn’t a planned pregnancy, I would be a good Mother, a good Wife, a grown up enough grown up to be doing these roles.

 

It made me quite defensive, literally for three years. My pregnancy hormones made me feel like a violently protective Mama bear, of my babies and my marriage. I was constantly on guard on survival mode, on the look out for some slur or some passive aggressive slight on my ability to be a Mum. After all, I my mid twenties, I was told I would be unlikely to be able to conceive and safely carry children on my own so I already felt like a fraud.

 

We’ve been planning a wedding for the last few years and have recently booked it. I was asked why we were doing it again and my answer was simple; I spent most of our ‘legal’ wedding day throwing up (morning sickness was not kind to me in my first pregnancy!), I don’t remember much of it at all (epilepsy was also not kind to me during either pregnancy!) and at that point, although we were certain of spending forever together, we hadn’t yet built a life together. Three years later? I can spend a day without throwing up (what an achievement!), I can remember my day to day (mostly!) and we have a wonderful life together. Our family is complete with our two little girls, and we have built a business together, a home together, a life together. Most of which wasn’t around when we became man and wife.

 

Soon after Holly turned 1, I could almost feel the pregnancy hormones physically leaving. My babies are safe and well, we got through the pregnancies, we’ve stumbled our way through learning how to be parents (I mean…we’re winging it, but it turns out that’s the big secret!) and things are now established enough that I feel like I can relax my shoulders. I don’t need to be 100% on my guard.

 

And it’s a lovely feeling. Over the last few weeks, I’ve really chilled out, like I’ve been playing roles that I didn’t think anyone thought I belonged in, and I’ve only just realised that not only are they definitely my roles, but the only approval I need is my own.

 

I think we all feel that there are roles in life that we’re not good enough for, or qualified enough for, or that we deserve them. And for some reason, in this celebrity obsessed, reality TV led society, everyone’s personal choices are suddenly up for public discussion. Cheryl Cole recently had a baby and almost every weekly celebrity magazine had her on the cover with different angles as their ‘story’, talking about whether her relationship was strong enough, whether the age difference was appropriate, bring up clips of their first meeting to be commented on. And that kind of societal thinking spills no ‘real life’. In reality, their first child is nobodies business but Cheryl and Liam’s, their first meeting, their ages (as long as legal and consensual), and whether she has help, doesn’t have help, breastfeeds, or frankly, even if she bathes in unicorn tears and Horlicks for the health of her baby. IT’S NONE OF OUR BUSINESS! Likewise, when I was worrying that people would think we were rushing things, whether we should have/shouldn’t have get married when we did, whether we’re raising our kids right. I care about the opinion of my husbands and my own. I will happily listen to well meaning friends and family because I’m certainly not arrogant enough to think I have all the answers. But if they disagree with what I’m doing, but it’s what I believe in, I’m going to follow my own path with my head held high. And if I fall flat on my face, so be it, at least I stayed true to what I thought was best. And if anyone laughs at my fall, they are presumably a) perfect themselves and b) a bit of a dick. And that’s more their problem than mine!

 

So as I’ve let go of the pregnancy hormones, I’ve also let go of the tension I was carrying around like a hunchback. I’m REALLY excited to continue organising our wedding day, a day we’re hosting to celebrate our life together with a humanist blessing to more accurately represent our life views. (In the same way that we’re not religious, we also don’t really value the old legality of a non religious wedding so the government necessities weren’t really very us).

 

And some people will think it’s overly theatrical, some people will wonder why we’re bothering as we’re already technically married. And that’s fine, my advice would be for them to have a less dramatic day if they choose to get married, and to only do it once if that’s what works for them. I can’t stop them thinking we’re doing things wrong, so I’m finally letting go of the defensiveness I felt!

 

I AM a Mother, I AM a Wife, I’m not necessarily any good at either role..! But I’m doing them to the best of my ability, and that’s all I can ask of myself and of anyone else. The political scene has also brought about a slightly more hostile community feel. All of a sudden, with such big changes happening and the country so divided, neighbours are suddenly turning on each other based on the colour of the poster in their windows. Family meals are exploding into dispute because of passionate thoughts from all sides. Politically, it’s been much longer than just a Winter of discontent, and never before has it been more openly discussed, which is a double edged sword, especially when the recent local elections were so poorly attended. ANYWAY, my point is, I surrender. So with my white flags, I also hold aloft my personal flags, this is who I am, what I believe, but that doesn’t put me at odds with anyone who feels differently. I personally feel like a lot of us could do with an unclenching, to respect each others life choices and views. Gone are the days where there were two streets to choose between when setting up home, the days where you went into a profession based on what you were born into, and the days gone by when your parents and circumstances dictated your life. We now have literally millions of options for all things. And so it’s understandable that we all also now have millions of variables when it comes to the opinions we hold and the beliefs we live by and nurture. But it’s ok to be different, it’s how all those different roles get filled! And what other people think about your choices are none of your business and therefore nothing to spend time worrying about.

 

I have always been the kind of person to walk my own path, since being young. Even at primary school I insisted on being allowed to play football and was then the first girl to do so, but somewhere in my twenties I lost the confidence in doing so, I started trying to fit in. and so when I started back on my own path, I forgot to do so with my head held high, I somehow did so but felt like I needed to justify my every move.

It’s not lent, but I’m giving up on it. I’m tuning in instead to the feisty little girl who was told that football was for boys and decided that she was bloody well going to be allowed to play! SHE didn’t care if anyone thought it wasn’t becoming of a girl to run round on a football field, SHE didn’t get if anyone was talking about her being different or wrong, SHE just looked at what she wanted to do, what her heart told her to do and she went from it. My apologies to that little girl, she would’ve have been very disappointed in me over the last few years, and I now have two little mini me’s watching how I behave and how I judge myself and others, and that’s motivation enough for me!

 

   

 

Reluctantly Resting…

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I am now infertile. This is a very strange thing to say. It’s necessary, that is to say medically necessary. It would be too dangerous on my kidneys, and to be honest if the epilepsy was as bad as in my second pregnancy, that alone is enough to decide without the GP insisting on it. I had a total of three recommendations from various departments that I get permanent baby making privileges removed, I tried not to take it too personally..! My husband could have had the male equivalent, and offered to. But do you know what. For me it was important to take charge of this myself. I can’t have anymore children without endangering them or myself so it was important to me to take ownership of the necessary steps. I also had two rather painful cysts that needed to be removed so it was a case of ‘whilst you’re down there’..! 

So yesterday I got into the familiar gown, with the familiar sexy compression socks, and repeated my details to seven different people (if any identity mistakes have been made, they will have done it on purpose, it’s necessary to cover them but by the time I went into surgery, I’m pretty sure everyone in the hospital knew I was Danielle, date of birthday 5th of the 2nd 1985!). Anyway, after a relaxed hour in the ward, having blood pressure taken, with the anaesthetist coming to take me through the various drugs I’d be under, and the surgeon comprehensively taking me through the process, it felt more like a day spa compared to the two births. Both of which, as emergency csections had much less explaining, and a lot more running down the corridor shouting out bits of information for my husband to sign consent for before sticking me in the back with a needle! I had no idea routine surgery was so calm! I had a student nurse with me which has come to be a good luck charm for my husband and I as we had student midwives with us for both children’s births. It was her first time in theatre and she was more nervous than I was. As the sterilisation was laparoscopic, when she came out, she was a bit disappointed it hadn’t been more gory, and we discussed cool Greys Anatomy cases that she hopes to see some of in her career! I’m going to send a card to wish her good luck for the rest of her career because she (like all the staff there) were brilliant and I think she’ll make a brilliant nurse. One of the theatre assistants was also on a placement, studying medicine at Cardiff, an original Cheltenham boy who hopes to become a surgeon. Was also great and we chatted about TV programmes making exciting sounding professions much less paperwork heavy than they actually are!! Again another excellent addition to our NHS. My surgeon was hilarious, originally a refugee and a privilege to have such a friendly expert on my case. He explained it all clearly, with humour and I couldn’t have felt in safer hands. 

Anyway, gushing about the NHS aside (I know that we’re very lucky in Cheltenham, the strain in other towns and cities makes it much harder for the staff to give as much time and attention as they’d like). I went into surgery at 2pm, and came out at 4pm, with (as the paperwork listed rather hilariously) my reproductive career over.

I’m on stronger epilepsy drugs since the day before yesterday until tomorrow, as sometimes going under general anaesthetic, and going through surgery can make it worse. The outcome of that is I become (as my husband affectionately calls it!) the duchess of Floopstown! So I’ve been a little bit all over the place (I apparently burst into tears last night because my husband’s apprentice said that the afternoon tea he’d had in Oxford with us was one of the best he’d tried, and I was really upset that his fiancée hadn’t been there with us…! The afternoon tea was weeks ago now so who knows why that came up in conversation, but Floopstown is an unpredictable place!). I’ve been teary, giggly, generally not with it most of the time. I called my brother to tell him I was home, and he informed me that, as he was the one who drove me home, he was in fact aware. He also reiterated that he’d had a good day, as I had apparently asked him three or four times on the 5 minute journey home! I insisted on having a ‘tea party’, which basically just consisted of forcing my husband, and his two apprentices to have a cup of tea at 10.30 at night after they’d got back from work, I didn’t finish my tea, but allegedly I was thrilled with having a tea party! 

My point is, I don’t think I have yet dealt properly with my change in status. My family will likely think it is me being dramatic. But I am aware that I feel a little bit bereft, unnecessarily feel less womanly now I have had a procedure that has taken away quite a major function. I didn’t think I could have kids, regular readers will know the plethora of ridiculousness that means it was likely to be difficult to conceive. So I only really started to deal with the fact that I could aged 28. I admit before then I’d been shamefully blasé about protection with regular partners because I didn’t think it could happen, and it never had. But it seems my body just needed the right partner who has, as it turns out magic powers! (I probably shouldn’t make a comment like that publicly really but he’ll I’m still on the stronger drugs!) so my ‘reproductive career’ as it was termed(!) has only really been five years long, and it can at least be said that I made the most of that time!! We have two beautiful children that have completed our family, so I really cannot complain about being made redundant from that particular role. Especially as I count myself extremely lucky to have been able to create two amazing, healthy, happy little girls. That said, I now definitely cannot, and that does make me feel a little sad and I think that’s allowed. I will get over myself very quickly but I will allow myself to mourn the end of that era. 

I also admit to being a bit frustrated at being the sick kid again. Last week, I hosted 16 family members for an Easter roast dinner with no problem at all. In fact, the whole weekend our house was joyously full of family, and I thoroughly enjoyed hosting it all. I am a very happy and proud matriarch of my family and that’s a role I really cherish, looking after people and taking care of things. The pregnancy hormones, almost on cue started to finally be gone just after Holly’s first birthday, which is, I believe the time they do go, and I had just started feeling human again, or woman in control of her own body again I should say! And although it’s still being controlled by medication, the epilepsy hadn’t been an issue. I was really on track to be ‘normal’ as it were (HA! Normals not a word I would usually use, I’m not a fan of being normal or average, I’ve always danced to my own tune, even if it’s a bit of an odd one!). So to be back in bed, with my children not allowed to climb over me, and not being able to scoop them both up and run around with them. Having to rest and rely on other people to cook for me, or help me wash because I can’t stretch up or bend down without my husband’s help, feels like a huge step back. I suddenly feel useless again. My matriarchy is wilting(!) My husband has had to hold my hand and tell me that everything’s going to be ok, I woke him at 2am because the faces in the walls (seriously the stronger epilepsy stuff stops the seizures but it REALLY flips me out!!) were frightening and I needed reassurance that they weren’t real. That’s not quite the strong, ‘head of the family’ role I was enjoying getting on with post a tricky three years! 

But, as I keep being reminded. It’s temporary. I have only spoken to my husband about it so far because other (well meaning) people tend to say things like yes but it’s not for long/don’t worry about that/it’s alright, and, don’t get me wrong. LOGICALLY, I have a PhD, I KNOW that’s all true. But it’s like after a bereavement or a break up when people tell you you’ll feel better in time, “yes that’s great I’m aware of that but that DOESNT HELP ME RIGHT NOW DOES IT!” I say all this (mostly in jest) because it’s impossible really to know what to say in these situations. I always compare it to someone saying to someone whose hungry “you won’t be hungry later”, either help the person source food or talk about something else! So I KNOW that this will be the shortest stint of being the sick kid. And in two weeks time I’ll be back to feeling stronger and healthier and can get back to swimming and looking after everyone and generally being ‘normal’. But now, today, when I can’t sit up without being in pain, and awaiting biopsy results, and not being able to carry my children, none of that helps how I feel now, today. 

So I’m just going to allow it. Even in the happiest of musicals there’s a moment we can all really embrace the sad sentimental song. It’s ok for there to be downs even when you’re an optimist. And sometimes, excuse my language but sometimes things are a bit shit. And even though you know at your worst that other people are going through worse, it’s ok sometimes not to care about that and just let yourself feel. And that’s what I’m going for a day or so. I’m going to be clingy towards my husband, I’m going to cry, I’m going to play video games and then cry some more or check the notes in my phone because I’ve forgotten what’s going on, and I’m going to nap, and I’m going to ask for a huge dinner and not eat two bites because I feel nauseous and anything else that comes with today!

Everything’s ok and I am ok and most importantly my family is ok. And that’s all that REALLY matters. 

I’m also aware that this particular blog post is a bit jumbled and a bit all over the place but I’m a big believer in keeping this record as real as possible. Only then can it help my kids if and when they decide to become mothers and maybe go through similar things. I’ve got loads of Facebook photo albums that show all the highlight reels. But the backstage pass is just as important.

I’m now infertile, and I’m sad about that today. And I’m in pain, and I’ve got my fingers crossed that the cysts won’t be anymore of a problem than having them removed, one had apparently ruptured anyway so was just an empty sack of rubbishness! I’m hugely grateful for all the staff that treated me yesterday and I’m hugely in love with my husband for how amazingly he’s taking care of me. My girls are everything and I look forward to getting back to running around with them. In the meantime I’m back to being jealous of people who get to spend time with them instead of me but hopefully that won’t be as severe as the last pregnancy (I was pretty bitter the last few months, I missed my little Ladey comrade!).

But I’ll be up and about soon, this matriarch has people to take care of and big family events to plan! To everyone in my life, family and friends, I love you and miss you, see you all soon. Ladey will be back! 

Four Explore Magic…

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My husband and I work together, live together and have a lot of mutual hobbies. But because we both work freelance hours, the working part of our lives is often really dominant. And sometimes the lines are blurred, we often get to go out to the theatre, or to stay away for the night due to work; but sometimes we’ll find ourselves, in a really romantic setting…discussing whether we’ve invoiced for last weeks workshop or advertised tomorrow’s session, and we’re constantly planning the courses we run, coming up with ideas etc.

Recently we’ve tried to ensure that we don’t check emails if we’re away for the night, or we try and ignore text messages/FB messages/Twitter notifications. But with many fingers in many different pies between the two of us, it’s almost impossible to avoid it all. We’ve discussed it quite a bit, how do we separate personal and professional life? And how do we ensure we get quality time together as a couple, as a husband and wife?
This week, we answered our own question accidentally. For Holly’s first birthday, we had gone in with my Dad on organising a two day trip to Alton Towers, staying in the hotel for one night in a theme room, with dinner at a fun restaurant where your meals arrive by rollercoaster! 

We to and fro’d on whether to do it, because, our last experience of staying in a hotel with both kids was…tough to say the least!! Neither would go to bed, both kept waking the other up, and my husband and I had to sit in the dark from 7pm…fun fun fun! With one aged 1, and one nearly 3, it had been a while since we’d taken them both away because…it’s a really tiring nightmare! BUT, it’s our last 1st birthday for our children, and we wanted to treat them both to something special so we packed up the car and we held our breath and went for it! 

And it was, the, most, perfect, magical two days we’ve both ever had. A couple of realisations very early on. 

1. The girls are that little bit older now, and both can move about without having to be carried which means we’re out of that really dependant baby stage.

2. The girls are at an age where they’ve started ‘playing’ with each other.

3. Scarlett’s now tall enough to go on all of the toddler rides and with it being Holly’s first time at anywhere like this, she was just filled with delight watching it all, especially loving watching her big sister on things. So there was SO much we could do with them in the park.

4. Their sleep routines are steady enough now that a one off night as a special treat doesn’t disrupt the next few days, and we were therefore able to just play all together in the room, especially as there was a giant polar bear in it..! And then come about 9pm, they easily settled down and we were able to chat quietly before dropping off quite early ourselves thanks to a super active day!

But the main two things we realised, were that, we prioritise supporting our family. So there’s a guilt to ignoring messages or emails or any work related things, even when we’re having quality time together. HOWEVER, our girls are the bigger priority. So when we were with them these couple of days, we ignored work things because they deserve that, and we didn’t feel guilty because THEY are more important. We don’t see ourselves as important enough to ignore work for, but they definitely are! The other main thing is that quality time as a team of four is going into a really magical stage. Both girls are getting to the age where excitement levels are off the chart and seeing their eyes light up, or watching them laugh at a giant puppet, or when they turned around to smile at us to share how excited they are…? OUR.HEARTS.KEPT.BURSTING!!  

We’ve been so busy trying to work out some intellectual reason on how to perfectly balance the various aspects of our lives, we didn’t just see what was right under our noses! Our beautiful children and our family of four.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying they’re not a nightmare sometimes…! Or that it went perfectly smoothly! We had a 1am wake up thanks to Holly who was obviously a bit unsettled with the new surrounding perhaps, and it was 3am before we got back to sleep as it’s much more difficult to settle a baby when you’re trying not to wake her toddler sibling, as well as being ultra aware of other hotel guests! We were extremely lucky with their behaviour, this week we had fantastically behaved children (that is just luck of the drawer, it can so easily go the other way!). But when we left the park today, we still had a mini tears breakdown from Scarlett who wasn’t keen on the idea of going home! We felt the same, but it’s not quite as socially acceptable for us to cry..! And it really didn’t last too long so I almost feel guilty mentioning it, because Scarlett can REALLY tantrum when she puts her mind to it..! 

We’re now back home, and we’re EXHAUSTED, but we somehow feel refreshed..! 

Being the dramatic pair that we are, on the way home, we started getting emotional about what an exciting time of our family life we were going into. We’ve officially passed newborn baby stage, and now we have two little, magical, ridiculous and hilarious children, who for now are also excited to spend time with us! This stage will pass on the blink of an eye, so it’s DEFINITELY worth prioritising.

Not all our ‘Four Explore’ holidays will go as well as this one did, we know that. We’ve had enough experience to know how lucky we were with this one, but the moments that made us well up with happiness, pride and joy, are well worth the days that don’t go our way (mostly..I mean who am I kidding, it can be a bloody battlefield some days!). But as we flop down into bed tonight, tiredly giddy from the glow of a fab two days, we’ll toast (a cup of herbal tea…seriously we’re really tired!) to some more magical memories that will follow! 

Dear daughters…

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A few nights ago, I was feeling particularly sentimental. My husband and I came to the end of an extremely busy month, which had various different high pressure or stressful situations, and we opened a bottle and took some time together to relax. We are very excited about this Christmas, Holly’s first ever and our first as a family of four. Scarlett is at the age where she has started asking quite consistently for ‘more treats’ and ‘I want that’, and we’re trying to teach her that that’s a) not very polite but b) not really what this season is about. 

At two years old, we’re (hoping!) that it’s just a riskier tantrum stage, and certainly several other parents seem to recognise it as a phase all kids go through. I went to bed that night and wrote them a letter. Below is that letter. 

If 2016 has taught us anything, it’s that truly, the unthinkable can ALWAYS happen! Whether it be a presidential election, a referendum or any one of the sad events that have blighted the year. But without sounding like a cheesey cartoon character, good will always prevail. A lot of bad can and will happen, but kindness and magic outnumbers it. It always has and always will, and in uncertain times, it’s even more important to believe, even more important to hold onto.

Here’s to a very happy December to you all dear comrades. I wish you every happiness and an extremely hearty dose of magic! 
“Dear daughters,

Today is the first of December, and your Father and I are both very passionate about December being magical!November has been an extremely busy, hard working, high pressure and stressful one. In a (ridiculously shortened..!) summary, Daddy didn’t have a single day off in November, an already busy month became even busier as it went along and he has been amazing. Girls, I have always been in awe of my husband, admired his work ethic and how well he treats people and this month in particular, those qualities have really shone. You are both extremely lucky to have such a strong role model in your Daddy. It’s kept me going. November for me has also been extremely important. I start Criminology lecturing in January, and I am also working with some amazing people towards increasing healthy communication about mental health for young people, as well as personal safety teaching. A wide remit including how to spot signs of danger, reducing risks, safer choices to make, a whole host of ways for younger people to take preventative measures against crime that will hopefully be incorporated into, at least a few schools. It’s going to be a long, hard slog, but you two girls are the best kind of motivation! You’ve both been at my side for a lot of meetings and countless Skype calls, a local MP told you that you, Scarlett, had a beautiful smile, and you sang Baa Baa Black sheep to him! Moments like that are alongside my research notes to remind me where we started. It may go nowhere of course, I might fail. And if I do, I’ll try again, or I’ll change tact, or I’ll have done all I can and I’ll move onto something else. But failing will be ok.

Anyway, unknown outcomes aside! November 2016 was a busy month for your Father and I. It was very tiring and at times, we were on schedules that didn’t allow for much family time. And you both know how pathetically soppy your parents are when they don’t get to see much of each other and you girls! And we think the Winter season is extra magical, it’s our favourite time of year. 

Last year was a tough one because Mummy and Holly were both so poorly before we even had our little Moop with us. And we weren’t able to deal with it as privately as we wanted to because of circumstances. So THIS year, we are determined to make it extra special! With LOTS of family time, and friends time to boot! 

Scarlett you now understand what Christmas entails and you are SO excited! We were in Bath the other day and you loved seeing Father Christmas in the streets and we picked up some Christmas gloves and a homemade wooden owl that makes an owl sound when you blow into it. You loved it! Our main goal this year is to try and make sure that you learn that kindness and good will and sharing are the most important messages in December. I know that you’re a kind hearted little Ladey though so although a toddlers will is very strong, I’m positive your generous heart will win this stage! And our little Holly! It is your very first Christmas! The bright lights are obviously attracting your attention, and you are finding your big sisters excitement very infectious. 

We’ve started our annual activity calendar so you’ve both gone to bed tonight in new Christmas Star Wars pyjamas, and tomorrow we’re going to a very special Christmas show. Both of which have cost money (although we have plenty of shows we can attend free thanks to Daddy’s work!) but that isn’t the point. Annual activity calendar is about spending time with friends and family. The first year I did it, my family in Australia took part and we sent each other pictures and videos. And since then, December has been one of the ways we catch up with people who mean the world to us but that we don’t get to see as often as we’d like.

I’m currently watching ‘Once Upon A Time’, an American series for adults but about fairy tales. It’s funny, but it’s reminded me that adults should believe in magic. It’s important to. There have been days I haven’t wanted to believe in magic, or people (which is where magic comes from really girls, it’s from people) and I’ve felt frustrated, and angry, and have wondered why I’m putting the work in. But every time, I’ve taken some time out to breathe, or (more often than not!), your Dad has reminded me what’s important in a whole different manner of ways. And without fail, things are always ok. And I’m constantly reminded that giving in and taking the easy route is never worth it. What can seem like the hardest path at the time, always seems to get us where we need to be! And yes, of course a cheesey series has the same message. For someone who can be so practical at times, both your parents can be laughably sentimental! So there have been times I’ve gone to meetings with certain character pants on to remind me to think of magic when I’m faced with middle aged men who, in a meeting, have patronised me and put hurdles in my way or have suggested that ‘as a young woman’ I would find my goals more difficult. And on particularly tough days, I’ve made a dinner of turkey dinosaurs, smiley faces and spaghetti hoops for us to indulge in childhood comforts as a morale boost. A mug of hot chocolate with squishy cream and mini marshmallows also works a treat. There’s magic in the little things, magic works! 

We are planning to make December 2016 our best Christmas yet. Our family of four is complete, safe and well. And I hope our families friends and family also have an amazing holiday season. God knows with the way 2016 went, the entire planet could do with a short break! And then, ok still a Trump presidency, but hopefully a slightly less challenging 2017 for all! We were very lucky in 2016 to have our Moop join us healthy and safe, you are a shining star in an otherwise pretty terrible year worldwide (history lessons when you’re both older will certainly be interesting when they get to 2016!). 

But, my sweethearts, as I said, magic is in people, and in December, it shines that little bit brighter, and we all have a bit extra to be able to help people for whom Christmas is particularly hard. You two make our December the shiniest it’s ever been. We love you very much and I hope you always remember to be kind, to help others and to give back, not just at Christmas time but all year round. I have no doubt you both will.

We love you very much xx”

Planning panning…

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I am a chronic over planner. Not in that everything is meticulously planned (I’m also a huge ‘off the cuff-er’!) but in that we often find ourselves with weeks without any spare nights, or lunch breaks, or time for tea (scratch that, there’s always ways for tea to be incorporated!).
So at any given time, somebody we really care about is in a show, somebody we care about is playing a gig, and someone we care about is celebrating a birthday. The fantastic thing about mixing business with pleasure is that it creates a huge group of amazing diverse people that we mix with, the problem with mixing business with pleasure is that, for example, we would dearly love to go and watch Urinetown with people we know involved, but it’s people we know from working in St Ives…who live in Glasgow, which is where the show is on!

And whether it’s someone we know socially or someone we’ve worked with, we genuinely want to see everyone in what they’re doing. The only two problems are time and money! So at the moment, one friend is doing scare tours at Kenilworth Castle, one is in a production of Henry V in Birmingham, the aforementioned friends are involved in Urinetown in Glasgow, a childhood friend is playing gigs in town, another is in a show at The Globe, another is opening a new show in Worcester, another is performing throughout the Cotswolds, we’re involved with a show in Bath, two in London, two in Cheltenham and another touring the UK. (I’ve probably missed a few out, apologies if I have!) At the same time, a close friend has a Christening today, a family member is starting to do new type of dance classes, it’s my brothers birthday in a couple of days, and there’s some other stuff going on that we’re on ‘last minute head over to’ if needed. The list could go on, and it’s the same for lots of people, especially a lot of the people in a similar line or type of work. We all work hard, build connections with people we work with, and want to support each other as much as we can. The truth is, we just can’t do it all, and it’s a skill in itself being honest about that to ourselves! 

The reasons for making one show and not another is most usually just circumstance, whether we have that night off, what our finances look like that week, geography (we really can’t often go all the way to Glasgow as much as we always want to!). 

To be honest, the answer to the ‘how are you’ question to most people we know is, ‘good, busy.’ That response is the international phrase for, ‘I have a million and one things to do, and several difficult things in my life but I don’t have time to talk about it, let alone get on top of it.’ We’re all doing our best duck impression, (and I don’t mean pouting!) gliding along the surface, but paddling like mad underneath to keep afloat.

And we all want to make sure we’re there for our nearest and dearest, so if one friend is in a show an hour away, and another is an hour away and going through a hard time, we’re all likely to choose to post a ‘well done’ on the first persons wall, and head round to the second friends with a cuddle and a bottle of something. And hopefully all our close friends know that whatever’s happening, if they need to come round for a cuddle, it’s more important than whatever else is going on, even if we might need a cuddle back. That stuffs really important, and vital to remain sane!

This week, we were hosting a Halloween party at ours. But we put it in the diary a few months ago, when that week was otherwise empty. It got full, really full, with professional matters AND personal matters. All of a sudden, there was no one overbearing reason to cancel, but we realised we couldn’t really manage it. I have an inner ear infection at the moment, not big, just enough to make me feel a bit dizzy! A family member has been poorly, and we wanted to be on hand in case we were needed. We didn’t have any days off this week, so we were both tired and a bit drained. So we cancelled. No main reason, just…we’re not doing it now we’re sorry. I worried ALL day the day we cancelled that people would be angry or annoyed, because, after all, there was no ‘real excuse’ to cancel. 

HOWEVER, what we got instead was one friend saying he was glad as he was still trying to rearrange work to make it and it was stressing him out a bit, one saying they were exhausted and was secretly quite excited to have a now empty upcoming evening (and hoped we weren’t offended by them saying so), and three people messaging because they’re working all weekend and were pleased they might be able to make a rearranged date. 

In the end we just had our siblings round for the evening, had a quiet dinner and solved a homemade mystery my husband devised especially for the four of us which was a real giggle and the tonic we needed. Apart from a knock at the door from a big group of some VERY cute trick or treaters (which then led to us dressing Scarlett up as a badass vampire slayer complete with toy chainsaw…although don’t ask why we have a toy chainsaw hanging around..!) it was the quieter, family night we all sorely needed. 

Sometimes, it needs to be ok for us to say, I’m sorry I’m not doing that, without having to feel like you have to write an essay of excuses to justify yourself (which I am terrible for doing, I always feel really guilty unless there’s what could be deemed a ‘valid’ excuse). The truth is, we’re all really busy, and stressed, and got lots of things going on.

We all need to prioritise ‘being ok’, having some time out, and sometimes doing little or nothing. People understand exactly what you mean when you say ‘It’s just all a bit much at the moment so I’m dialling down’. And anyone who gives you a hard time about it, perhaps isn’t being a good enough friend. (Or perhaps really wishes they could choose the do the same but feel like they can’t!)

Now I don’t mean it’s ok to just keep sacking off your friends and family at last minute! On the contrary; sometimes if there’s a friend or family member in need, other things need to be dropped. So if I ‘plan’ to have a relaxing night watching old episodes of Greys Anatomy in my pyjamas and then I hear that a friend has lost their job and is upset, pyjamas Greys has to be shelved! 

But what I mean is, we all get it. Life is busy for us all. Our door is always open to people we care about (members of our village – which will make sense to regular readers from my last post!). Always. 

I suppose my main point here is that I’m terrible for over committing and I know a lot of people who are the same; we had a DnD night booked recently (I know, we are super cool!) and we started to wonder if we should still hold it, and then the day of the event, two of the confirmed participants cancelled. One with the reason given as ‘I’m not sure it’s best for my family for me to be out again tonight’. Fair enough, and very well chosen. We ended up having a quiet night with a very close member of our village (I realise every time I write this that I sound like a cult member…I promise it’s not!). We’d all over subscribed ourselves, and it worked for us all to cancel. So even if there’s an event cancelled that you’d been looking forward to, don’t be annoyed even if you think there’s not a good enough reason for it. Remember the times you’ve had an event on that you didn’t feel up to and felt like you needed a better excuse to say no to. Or, even more aptly, think about the time you went to an event feeling crappy, and left feeling just as crappy and wishing you’d stayed at home and in bed, perhaps with people wondering what was up with you. We all get it (those that don’t are not the people in the right, it’s not ok to feel guilt tripped into attending things under the guise of ‘being a bad friend if you don’t’!) and we all need to have a break and look after ourselves and those closest to us.

We are hoping to catch as many of our hugely talented friends in as many of the shows that they’re in over the next couple of months, and we’ll hopefully see some of them at our Winter tour of Hound of the Baskervilles. And I know a lot of them will want to, but it will be ok if they don’t make it. They mean more to us than ticket sales! Whether it’s Theatre, or sport, or any other career, those in my life have my complete and full support whether I can physically be with them or not. And they (should hopefully) all know that. It’s a cliche when people thank everyone for their well wishes on FB, but it’s genuine. We are all busy people, and even if the odd social media nod is all we have time for that day or that week, we are all in each other’s hearts. And even if there’s a few cancelled plans here and there, knowing we’re worth something to others, is pretty awesome. If you’re in my life (whether we see each other a lot or not) you are important and you mean a lot to me. And when I can, I’ll be at your show, your promotion party, I’ll buy your book, I’ll share your Facebook page. BUT, if I don’t, it’s for a good (not necessarily public) reason even if it’s not a big dramatic reason. But know that if you really need us, we’ll be there, and we’ll cancel plans, get in a bottle of wine and make up the spare room if need be. And likewise if we need some family time, or feel like we’ll fall down if we try and fit in any more, or jut want a night in with a bath, we’ll take the time out. So please, feel free to cancel on us or say no to an invite, we’ll do the same, and we can all stop feeling bad about it! We matter, you matter, it’s ok to say ‘not today’ and hide under your duvet if you need to instead or hide under ours if you like! Sending huge amounts of love to you all comrades.

Vive La Village!

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In Grey’s Anatomy, they have a real group effort when it comes to bringing their children up. I have it on good authority from a TV production student friend that it’s a common method in TV series of realistically bringing a child into a show. Apparently in ‘real life’, when you have a baby, parents tend to disappear; for at least a year, you wouldn’t see them at the hospital apart from maybe a cameo in one episode when they may pop in to say hello. However, in several episodes of Grey’s (I promise I don’t base all of my life decisions according to Grey’s Anatomy storyli…oh forget it, yes I do.) they talk about their tight group being a village.

Another common TV series theme is apparently having distant family members, for various reasons, and it means that they don’t have to write in family as a regular feature. And in Grey’s, they all have their fair share of family issues (and of course the title characters tend to all become very closely intertwined!)

Now, I don’t have family issues (Ha! As if any family has NO issues!) what I mean is, I know all my family and we’re all very close; and they are a frequent feature of our lives. BUT, the notion of having a village 1) hugely appeals to my ideal lifestyle and 2) can also apply very well to people in our lines of work/lifestyle. I know that sounds a bit like I want an entire workforce of people to take care of my children but that’s not what it’s about (I wouldn’t say no to a workforce some days but still..!).

When you bring up children you start to decide how you’d like them to grow up, what sort of people you’d like them to be, and it makes you think of the type of people you’d like them to be surrounded by. In Grey’s, (listen, just deal with it, this blog entry is practically sponsored by Grey’s, so there’s going to be lot of references..!) the kids will grow up surrounded by surgeons, hello fantastic role models. Admittedly they all keep nearly getting blown up, or shot, or in plane crashes but luckily even real life doesn’t tend to be THAT dramatic! In our life, we have a very theatrical and liberal/freelance group around us. And we have an open household, and a very busy/social lifestyle. We’re considered to have kind of a ‘different’ lifestyle; but the more people we meet, the more I’m starting to think that we’re not all that different really. BUT…we do have a village.

Meredith has a house where, at several points, colleagues/friends and family members stay with her and/or come in and out of the house. And in one episode when someone asks about it she says ‘They are family, and I love my family, and they will always be welcome in my home’. And I feel EXACTLY the same. Some of our ‘frequent flyers’ ARE family…like, by blood and everything. But the other people who are frequently with us or a big part of our life are also our family, it’s who we choose to be around our girls, around us and generally a part of our village!

As in Grey’s, (seriously get over it, I just flipping love this programme) not everyone suits that kind of lifestyle, and that’s fine, not everyone in our life has to be family OR ‘family’! I’m a big family kind of girl, all in, all welcome, if things get bad, turn up at our door kind of deal. It goes both ways, the people in our village bring a huge amount to our lives. (I now realise that as I type I sound a bit like we’re part of a cult…it’s not like that I promise, it’s just a one off vial of blood we require when you join…I’M OBVIOUSLY KIDDING)

Anyway, it’s true, the first year of having a baby is quite crazy, and your lifestyle definitely changes dramatically. But personally I feel like we owe it to our girls to show them more than just a life of baby groups and women as Mums and wives. (VERY IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER – thousands of people CHOOSE to be stay at home Mums and there is NOTHING wrong with that, part of what women at the turn of the 20th century fought for was that choice. I personally want to show my daughters as many different options as I can. If either of them, or both of them choose to be stay at home Mums, I will be thrilled, as long as they’re happy, I’ll be 100% behind them. What’s important is the choice.) Which brings me to the next part of todays blog post, my gratitude for my village, and specifically, the women in it.

The choice for women used to be very simple, have children and take care of them at home, or be a hard hitting career women and be a secretary with no children. This is obviously hyperbole, there are some amazing figures in history that defied the options and paved the way. My point is, there were not very many options for women to take. Now, we can do anything! AND have a family…I’ll pause for the shock to sink in…

There are some brilliant parents in my village. Much the same as some of the female characters in Grey’s (props to Shonda for some AMAZING female role models) Mum’s are badass. I love all the Mums in my life and their varying parenting styles have become the manual for what I’m doing. But there are also the women in my life (who have children or don’t, being a Mum isn’t a ‘one option’ choice); but are inspirations for different reasons. Whether because; they’re passionate about education and are working incredibly hard to get to where they want to be; or they’re abroad travelling and we only get to speak on Facebook every few weeks to swap stories; or they’re working on a scientific study despite the EU funding being dropped; or they’re running a Montessori style nursery and giving my daughter the best start in their schooling; or many other awesome things. My point is, there are some really kick ass females in my life and in my village and I LOVE that. And what’s even better, is the strength and support between all those women. I will go to the ends of the earth for whatever my daughters want to achieve, and they will know that that’s how women are with each other because they will have grown up seeing the people around them succeed, and support each other, and help each other in the inevitable tough times. And so it will be second nature to them.

So my TV student friend is correct to a point; TV shows use a variety of techniques to work round any filming issues they may face, but she was wrong on another account – becoming a parent isn’t a resignation from ‘real life’, it really depends what you want your real life to be. Now I’m fully aware that Grey’s Anatomy is not real life – or at least that’s what I tell my therapist to keep her off my back about her ‘living through a TV show’ theory…! But one of the reasons I really love the show is because of the ethos, the role models, the themes and the relate-ability (relate-ability to a point of course…remember that time it turned out I had a half sister who was a first class surgeon but then she died in a plane crash a year after I was shot..? Yeah me neither!). And I LOVE the village analogy the programme has given me, I love the idea of a community. Do I want my daughters to grow up with their only influences being just me and my husband? Hell no! I have no problem admitting that we are both very flawed! Don’t get me wrong, so is everyone, but at least within a community, they’ll have plenty of help getting on top of any inherited flaws!

In the programme (last Grey’s reference I promise!), they are all very involved in each others lives; a lot of the people in our village are extremely busy, or in a lot of cases, don’t live close to us to be in and out of our lives more than a couple of times a year but this distance doesn’t make them any less important in our life. Similarly, we don’t have to be in each others pockets to know we’re all there! In fact often, such a busy schedule makes us appreciate time to ourselves all that much more, it enables us to really cherish time as a couple or time as a four. And certainly the other people in our lives have their own stuff on when they’re not here playing games or working with us or dressing up in silly outfits because we’ve decided on some ridiculous theme (which happens more than I care to admit but I LOVE how much people join in and embrace our ways, it’s why their our family!) so we don’t expect to see them all, all the time!

Anyway, it may be a fictional series with fictional characters, but our village is real, its awesome and I wouldn’t have my life, (however left field it may sometimes feel!) any other way! *Credits roll and theme tune plays*