Is it still a wedding anniversary?

Green Tall Trees With View of Mountain and Sun Peeking Through

Today is a day of reflection as it would have been my 20th wedding anniversary with my now, ex husband.  It feels strange to think that without the twists and turns of fate I could be in such a different place to where I am now.

I am not going to disrespect the time we had by talking about what went wrong, as today is about remembering the good times.  In fact, I don’t think I really know what changed between us, it was probably just us.  Life is stressful and hard, so people change, the best of friends become strangers, lovers become haters and the cycle starts anew, that’s what we call life.

Our wedding day was a day much like any other, there was nothing momentous about it, there were friends and family all gathered together, which made it a day to remember.  It deserves noting as part of what made me who I am today, not in a resentful or angry way as often happened with other anniversaries.  I focused on the bad memories and life is just too short for the negativity of hurt.  For had it not all gone stale, I would not be in the place I am today.

We parted friends, but sadly the friendship turned sour and we drifted apart.  My biggest regret is that we didn’t get chance to put it all to rest before he was laid to rest.  Our petty squabbles were so insignificant in the greater scheme of things.  I went on to experience the life that I felt I was missing out on and I hope that he did too.

I have a new wedding anniversary now, of a day that really was one to remember.  My children were born into this happy relationship and our family is now my world.

For those of you who are at that time in your lives when things are falling apart, take some comfort from one who has been there, it does get better and it does get easier.  I did not going out looking for my next husband, I went out looking for me.  Believe me there was a long time that I didn’t like what I found.  Eventually I grew to acknowledge that I can appreciate what I have and that is when I found someone that appreciated me too.  I can’t tell you what would have happened if I had not met my now husband, but it took time.  It wasn’t a time of solitary misery that’s for sure, so in no way am I saying that I needed a man to complete the story, he just came along to help with some of the chapters.  So if it is your time to break up, then welcome the dawn of a new day, it’s onward and upwards.

 

 

Introducing Theo aka Fifi

fifi

My little old man

I thought I would take a little time to introduce the other man in my life; Theo the cat.  He is now affectionately known as Fifi, not sure how that happened, it just did.  I had many ups and downs on my road to parenting.  Back in 2008, I began to think that the end of the road was in sight and that babies were just not going to happen.  I decided that a child substitute was needed in the form of a cat; I had always pictured myself, in later life, as a mad old lady surrounded by cats.  So, I took a look through the local paper; old skool, I know.  There was his ad, which I responded to and 9 ½ years later, here we are; 2 children, 2 rabbits, 6 fish (it was a different 2 fish that bred like rabbits, then there was an unfortunate boiling incident, so 6 new fish have just arrived), have all been added to the family, along with Fifi.  There was briefly another cat but her taste for bats was more than we could bear; after removing countless bats from the bedrooms in the middle of the night, not to mention the remains of a billion small rodents from the carpets, we decided to wave the other cat off to our saviour, The Cats Protection League.  So little man Fifi became a lone cat once again.

He was gorgeous, I even used his photo on my promo material for mad venture number 1; the pet sitting and dog walking business.  That lasted all of 30 seconds, as I hadn’t exactly thought through the challenge of transporting dogs in a tiny Toyota Yaris.

cute fifi

He was playful and little bit bitey, but kittens are, aren’t they?  He was timid, very nervous around strangers and wary of other cats.  In the early years, I opened the door to find him pinned to the front step by the neighbour’s cat, after that he became victim to every local cat bully and has been hideously tormented, until, that is, the recent arrival of the marvellous invention, the microchip cat flap!  No more uninvited feline visitors.

It was ‘radiator cover gate’ that gave us some cause for concern about his aggressive behaviour.  We thought that covering the horrible old radiator in the hall was a cheap way of making things look better, but we didn’t get around to fixing it to the wall.  We were fairly unaware of how precariously balanced it was until I heard a crash and Fifi came flying through the house, with blood dripping from his tail.  Sadly, he had pulled the cover on top of him and cut his tail quite badly.  Off to the vets we went for a quick operation and a lovely overnight stay in Hotel De Vet.  The operation went well as general anaesthetic is an amazing thing; but the next day, I received a call telling me to collect Fifi immediately, he was a terrorist and was being expelled.  He had apparently turned rogue on the vet’s nurse and was blacklisted for life.  How could they say such a thing about our cute and gorgeous little Fifi?

He was still a little bitey sometimes, he liked a rough and tumble play with me; I think I might have been a surrogate sibling for him.  That was all fine though.  Along came baby number 1 and he was fine with it, he used to sit in her room meowing and rub himself on my legs, when I was holding her.  Sadly, she wasn’t then, and isn’t now, a cat fan, she needs help to walk past him, over 8 years on.  Baby number 2 was a step too far for him and he has ignored her since birth.  She lets him into the cupboard under the stairs when he shuts himself out, so she has a purpose in his eyes.  She, on the other hand, is not too sure of his purpose.

 

young fifi

Still cute as an adolescent

I can’t remember when killer cat mode kicked in.  It was definitely there all the time we lived in Wiltshire, and possibly even before then.  After we moved 2 years ago, he seemed to chill out, until yesterday that is.  Sometimes, he starts off all friendly, then suddenly the ears go back, the heckles (is that a word?) go up and he makes this sound like he is hissing under water. Then he attacks with claws and teeth, my ankle is his favourite, but if I fend him off with my arm, he goes all koala on me and completely wraps himself around my arm, using both teeth and claws.  My husband has developed this technique of blowing in his face to get rid of him, but I’m not sure what that says about his breath as it doesn’t seem to work for me, in fact, it just makes him madder.  All this came to head when we lived in a 3-storey town house for a while.  One child was a nightly waker, so one of us had to go down a floor to collect her, this would often be me.  Until, one night, Fifi decided that this was a reason to attack me, the attacks then continued most nights.  I would be pinned against a wall, child in arms, with a grey furry thing physically attached to my ankle, calling out for help in a sort of happy style, so as not to scare the child.  Only me, I might add, no one else. Does this mean he loves me most, or the opposite?  Eventually, I had to stop the middle of the night child run, oh what a shame!

Things settled down and it was just the occasional over exuberant play session that led to killer cat re-emerging.  But then yesterday, I was met with the usual squiring session that always greets me when I get up.  I usually give him a quick stroke and then head down to the kitchen to feed him.  But not yesterday, totally out of the blue and for no reason killer cat reared its ugly head; I had to be rescued, dripping blood from my arm and leg.  After it all calms down, he is sorry and rubs himself on my legs, follows me around, turns up wherever I am for a head to head session, where he rubs his head against mine, if I am particularly lucky I might get hair chewed too.   This went on for the whole of yesterday, until the evening, when he decided he had done enough grovelling and returned to his spot on the sofa next to the other man in my life.

cut arm

One of the wounds

Why he does this remains a mystery, he never does it to anyone else.  He is a lover, not a fighter and usually runs inside like Usain Bolt if approached by another cat.  But I get to bear the brunt of his testosterone fuelled outbursts, lucky me.  Isn’t being owned by a cat great?

Next time I will tell you all about how he loves his cuddly elephant, just a little too much and very regularly.

My Top 10 Tips Ideas for Promoting a Healthy Attitude to Food for My Children.

I have always had a difficult relationship with my body, particularly my weight.  My family were fit and healthy; Dad worked long days on the farm and when he wasn’t working he was doing judo.  Mum was mad about her yoga and still is, so body image was a positive thing in our house.  So where did my poor body image stem from?  I am not sure I know the answer to that question, or ever will.  Would knowing the cause, give me a cure?  Probably not, but maybe it would help me with my own children and their self-image.

With so much talk of childhood obesity, I am lucky in that is not a concern for me.  My children take after their naturally slim Dad, he has no idea about what it is like to diet; I hope that they grow up the same as him.  But they have inherited his sweet tooth, so teaching them about healthy food, versus yummy food is an ongoing challenge, it is easy to let it slip when their weight is not a problem.  Their weight is always on the under rather than over side of the healthy scale, so at the moment the idea of cutting down because of weight is alien to them but getting them to be able to manage their own eating with a healthy attitude is something I desperately need them to have.

Brown Potato in Front of French Fries

I was a big eater and luckily have the height to hide my weight, as I have been told many times.  Problem is that I think I might need to gain a bit more height to cover my weight these days; I may be under height for my weight now.  In our traditional Yorkshire farming family, food was a big part of our lives.  There were desserts with every dinner and cakes with every tea.  I regularly spent my pocket money on chocolate on the way to school and then again on the way home.  Fridays were Mum’s shopping day, so there would bowls of peanuts and chocolate bars to snack on.  We all ate the same meals as my Dad, who needed his carbs to keep warm in the freezing Yorkshire winters and fairly chilly summers.  I think the plan was that we would eat smaller portions of the high calories meals, but my mind has a problem telling me when I am full, so I am not great with ladylike portions!  It is easy to copy the patterns of my parents, even though that is not how I eat now.

Very long story short, I grew up into a, some might say curvy, others said blobby (yes, I did hear that comment about me) woman.  I left home at 19 and began a journey of discovery about what I should and shouldn’t eat.  At 19 the weight came off easily; with the big change in diet that came with cooking for myself; my staple diet was soup and toast, I began to take a whole new shape.  This is going to be a whole series of the blogs about weight, as there is much to tell, but the point of today’s blog is to talk about the things I have learned a little later than is useful about feeding my own children.

Free stock photo of food, healthy, red, summer

  1. They do not need to finish a plate of food

Everyone’s appetite is different; the advice given to adults is to finish eating before feeling full, as the brain takes time to tell the stomach it is full – or in my case it skips that part and goes straight to telling me to eat chocolate.  I am not averse to snacks, as long as they are healthyish, as I know my youngest is better with more regular small meals than 3 large ones.

  1. Eat food slowly

I am a super-fast eater, so much so that I have polished off a plate of food before my brain even computes that I have started eating.  It is hard at school to eat slowly, my youngest struggles with the others eating so much faster than her; she often comes home hungry as she hasn’t had time to finish her lunch.  I don’t tell her to eat faster, we just find her something to eat when she gets home.

  1. Dessert / Pudding is not a necessity

Refined sugar is not needed for energy, in fact it is not needed at all.  As my Mum used to say, there is no pudding until the savoury stuff has gone.  If they are too full to finish a plate of savoury, then it is no to pudding, harsh but true, children.

  1. We don’t all like the same things

It seems to be accepted as adults that we don’t like certain things, but not so much for children; we all have different tastes and children’s tastes are no exception to that.

  1. If at first you don’t succeed

I stand by point 4, but we need to really try something to be sure it is not for us.  Textures are an issue that many are unable to work around e.g. I love peaches, but can’t stand the feel of the skin, so for me they have to be peeled.  I don’t like the texture or the taste of pears in any form, that is just the way it is, despite trying many times.  If a child doesn’t like something, try presenting it in a different way; peeling it, cooking it, hiding it within other foods. I am not a great lover of raw peppers but, I find the taste subtler if cooked; I prefer raw carrots to cooked ones; there is no logic or rules to what we like and why.  It is a painful process but we need to help our children find their own likes and dislikes.

  1. Forcing / Bribing Just Doesn’t Work

We once tried to get our oldest daughter to try new foods, the deal was that she would try a small piece of food a few times to see if she liked them or not.  She refused to even try many foods at least once, so we decided that she had to try things before she made her decision about them.  Then grape gate happened!  Her Dad decided to take on the task of getting her to try grapes, she refused, he begged, she refused again, he got cross, she still refused, he got more cross and she ran off to have a huge tantrum.  No grape has since passed her lips.  Force feeding, or bribery is not for us, she would starve rather than eat something she doesn’t like or believes she doesn’t like.  We find that eating with friends is a good way of introducing new tastes, she is a little more receptive to trying something if her friends are eating it.

  1. Keep Things Balanced

Try to keep a balance of protein, carbs and vegetables for every meal and explain about the reasons why.  Talk to them about nutrients and the reasons we eat what we do, there are some great TV programmes about health and nutrition, so if they don’t believe you then they might believe someone on TV.

  1. Cook with Them

I am not great at this bit, all my two ever want to do is make cake, but they are getting a feel for cooking and hopefully we can move onto something savoury one day.eggsplosion

  1. There are no ‘good’ foods, ‘bad’ foods, reward or punishment foods.

I was given food as a reward too many times, I associated food with comfort and the good things, later this turned on me (a story for another time).  I don’t like to hear that food is bad, everything in moderation and all that.  Education is the key; a ‘bad’ food is just a food that we should eat a little less of.  Mine love sweets and chocolates, but they know to ask me before digging into their stashes and ‘usually’ accept it if I say no and give my reason why.  This has been a long challenge though as my oldest does not like the word no!Brown Potato in Front of French Fries

  1. Ignore all of the above and head down McDonalds

Life is just too short to fight the good fight every day!  Joking ….. I don’t even like McDonalds and yes, I have tried them.  The kids eat McDonalds, but it is a convenience when we are out and they know that.  With busy lives, we all need convenience; I find eating on the go is tricky to keep healthy, so I often pack a few healthier things to take with us.  It can be a pain, but so can finding something for them to eat on the go without spending a fortune.

I have an unhealthy relationship with food and I need to work especially hard to ensure my children don’t develop the same relationship.  I wish it was all so much simpler and the things we loved to eat were the things that were the healthiest to eat, oh well, I can dream.

Bank Holidays –  Compare the before and after children long weekends.

 

It’s been a lovely Bank Holiday weekend; the weather was amazing and we were all together.  Made all the sweeter by the fact that the day’s pay I lost, I can now get another day.  The lazy days of spring / summer had me reflecting on how life has changed for us since the arrival of our little bundles of joy.  Our bundles are now large packages of delight, with attitude.

Fridays –

Wine Glass on Restaurant Table

Before kids:

We would finish work and head off to the pub, probably until closing time and then maybe onto someone’s house to finish off the evening with more drink and good conversation.

After kids:

It’s finish work, pick up child 1, return an hour later and pick up child 2, cook dinner for kids, sort bags, sort uniform, ensure homework is all planned for, pack bag of supplies for 60-minute trip out, and then off to the pub we go.  We have 2 great kids who do allow us a one drink trip to our local pub on a Friday night, this is a Friday night ritual, not just for bank holidays.  In the summer there is the not so secret garden for them to play tag in and generally drive all the other drinkers mad with their screaming.  Hence the reason it is a one drink thing, as I think any longer may result in us being barred. This Bank Holiday Friday they made a friend, so there were three screaming children running around the not so secret garden, made even less secret by our screamers.  So, after countless, be quiets, calm downs, stop running around the tables, mind those people, be kind to your sister and play nicely, we finished our drinks and headed home for the usual bed time routine.  After that, it’s our turn to eat, and then it’s not long until we collapse, exhausted into bed.

Saturdays-

Coffee & magazine

 

Before kids:

Lay in bed till around 9 ish, maybe a little later, depending on the night before.  Leisurely cup of tea, read the papers or a magazine, generally, gently ease into the day.  Bank Holiday with friends might mean a trip to the shops, a stop for some wine, followed by the prep required for a big night out, then it would have been the big night out.  If dancing was involved, this could take up pretty much the whole night, falling into bed just before dawn.  A more couplie Saturday could have been a similar ease into the day.  Lunch and a walk somewhere, followed by evening out with other couplie friends.

After kids:

It’s a 6.30 start – don’t you just love the light mornings?  They both have terrible fear of the cat, so have to be escorted past the cat and down the stairs, but thanks to Sylvanian Families, they were entertained for an hour before demanding food, meaning a welcome return to bed for parents.  Then it’s a 7.30 restart and, by this time they are up to full speed, bickering about everything and in full on demand mode.

We decided to do the grown-up thing this weekend; doing DIY type things in the house and garden.  With kids in tow, we, along with the whole of the local area descended on B&Q for supplies.  Apparently, B&Q had thought it wise to have a Paw Patrol event on a spring bank holiday and the car park was rammed, with a queuing entry system on the go.  How random is a Paw Patrol event at B&Q?  Supplies bought, we head back home to do DIY.  Here is a list of demands we received on returning home:

  1. Swimming costumes to be found and put on the right way around, backward bikinis leave little to the imagination – trail of clothes is left from garden to bedrooms
  2. Water balloon filler bottle to be filled and water balloons tied – repeat this task about a million times
  3. Sun loungers to be dragged out of the shed, cleaned and laid out with cushions
  4. Drinks
  5. Snacks
  6. Find bouncy castle – total result that the thing still inflated, an inflate / deflate it, repeat many, many times over the weekend, as apparently it is fun to be on it when it deflates.
  7. Clear up burst balloons to stop the rabbits eating them and choking – again repeat a million times
  8. Sand table to be refilled after all the nasty looking sand had been removed
  9. More snacks
  10. Too hot, shade to be found in the form of spare garden umbrella
  11. Shed / play house hunt for balls, all of which are in the neighbour’s garden. Luckily this was his weekend to go do a ball return, about 10 balls returned on Sunday morning.
  12. Realisation that we had forgotten sun cream on one arm, as it started to go red, there was quick dash to cover it in as much factor 50 as we could find.
  13. Dinner – to be laid out in the garden, then cleared; there is not a chance either of them could possibly carry a plate into the kitchen.
  14. Repeat most of the above
  15. Provide tablets for indoor, cooler entertainment while we tidy away all of the garden equipment.

After this it was time for them to go to bed, luckily tired after a day outdoors and an early start.  We could then get on with some of the DIY that had been cast aside in favour of parenting demands.  Bottles of wine and cider opened. Dinner. Collapsed into bed exhausted.

Sundays-

Gray Cat Near Gray Vase With Sunflower

Pre-Children:

A day of lazing around watching TV, reading, maybe a lunch out and a walk somewhere.  It’s a bank holiday weekend, so there may well be another evening in the pub.

After children:

We were joined by a 4 ft unicorn (no this was not a drug induced hallucination, we actually have a 4 ft cuddly unicorn) and 2 children around 7 am.  Then, we repeated all of Saturday, but without the trip to B&Q.  This time we decided to delight them with a trip to the local steam fair, which is always popular, until we refuse to pay for the Hook a Duck game and all descends into despair.

Mondays

Free stock photo of sea, beach, footprint, steps

Pre-Children:

Beach trip for sure, no worries about sitting in traffic as the music would be on, there would be no rush to get home, so if it took forever to get there, then that was not a problem.  Few drinks, snacks a good book packed and we were all set to go.

Post Children:

A beach trip is now like an arctic expedition, planning, packing and preparing for 1 little day out is now more effort than planning for 2 weeks away pre-children.  Children can’t cope with traffic jams, it is a proven fact that they melt down after a whole 5 minutes in the car.  We decided that this unseasonably hot day was no day to be fighting the crowds (I sound more and more like my own parents every day… argh!)  Needless to say, the DIY had over run so the one planned social event of the weekend had to be postponed, possibly the next months’ worth of social events may need to be postponed, DIY is quite time consuming!

We decided that Monday’s mini outing would be a picnic in the park, when I say picnic I mean some swiftly heated mini sausage rolls and a cheesy dipper each (not exactly a planned picnic), followed by a trip to a local river for some paddling. I had forgotten just how much rain we had had over the last few weeks; the river was more of a wading / swimming event and for the none swimming duo, it proved a little too tricky, muddy and it seems that pond weed feels funny on their feet.

Not unlike their mother, my 2 like to observe people but, sadly, they lack filters, so here is just one of their many observations:

DD1, “Mummy why is that lady only wearing pants and her boobie holder?”

Me, “It’s a bikini, not pants and can we say it a bit quieter please?”

DD1, “They look like pants.” Followed by lots of giggling and sniggering, plus me telling their Dad not to look as the bikini wearer only looked about 15.

Another memorable comment of the weekend was:

“Mummy, my pumps are bad, they feel like I have pooed myself!”  Not exactly what you want to hear on your relaxing Bank Holiday weekend.

All that said, I would not change a thing, time with the kids is the best.  The ordinary days make for the most fun sometimes.  It’s all about making memories, no matter what you do, enjoy it and remember it.

Anxiety, work and me – coming to terms with my anxious self.

I have never come a real conclusion about what I should be, or should not be doing, when it comes to work; I think the ship has sailed on finding that conclusion.  All I can do now is find something that pays money for doing something that I enjoy.  There are many practical reasons as to why I didn’t find my way one the path to a career, but recently I have reflected on the whole piece, as the history of it all comes back to bite me.  I am now wondering if practicalities were the reasons, or the excuses.  I am not exactly out and proud about my anxiety, but I am coming to terms with the part of me that is exactly that, a part of me.

Free stock photo of woman, books, desk, school

I managed to work with anxiety on my shoulder for many years, but jobs came and went with alarming frequency, especially as I got older.  When I arrived into parenting, I found that work was a challenge to fit in around all that being a parent brings.  The biggest problem of all being the cost of paying someone else to look after my children, especially when I wanted nothing more than to be there for them.  I started on the road to self-made millionaire and began my own business, to fit in around the children.  I soon realised that millionaire was never going to happen; in fact, I was happy, sometimes even ecstatic, to get paid anything at all.  That helped me come to terms with losing the bigger salaries that I had earned in the past.  My business was tough and lonely, anxiety makes sales and marketing an almost impossible mountain to climb.  I found myself almost apologising for trying to sell my business.  So, when my children started school I began to volunteer in their classes for a little human interaction.  This was fun; there was little or no pressure on my permanent state of anxiety, I felt comfortable with the children, challenged, but in a positive way.  It gave me an excuse not to work on building my business, but I needed to earn a wage.

So, began the journey into the paid world of education; job one was Lunchtime Supervisor (dinner lady to those outside of education), it was OK, but I started to feel the strain of the anxiety.  The thing that I have discovered in education is that you are told how not to do something, often with blunt force, but not always told how to do things.  I began to feel panicked and out of control, I did not know what I was doing, how could I perform to the best of my ability, what if I failed, what if they didn’t think I was good at the job, or didn’t like me? These are just a few of the questions that an anxious brain will ask over and over again.  But despite the self-doubt and the anxiety, I managed to do 1 ½ hours a day and not get fired.  The wage packet at the end was tiny, but I was only working 7 hours a week, 38 weeks of the year, so what could I expect.  I needed to upgrade to classroom.

Free stock photo of person, woman, dark, face

My family had to up sticks and relocate, so the failing / abandoned business got put in a box and I decided to face the fear and do it anyway; I trained to be a Teaching Assistant.  Now this is the perfect job for a school mum, isn’t it? Work school hours, sort of, have the holidays off with pay, work with children, give something back and other honourable thoughts.  The job is all of those things, except to a person with anxiety, for that person it is a minefield of challenges and agonising self-doubt.

College was OK, study was manageable, the deadlines caused me anxiety, but the work I could handle. I was incredibly lucky to find a paid job, while I studied.  I can tell you the practical reason for leaving the first TA job; it was that the cost of travelling to and from school did not make the tiny salary worthwhile.  However, the real reason is that my crippling anxiety was making every day hell.  People who have worked in education for a long time can become quite blunt, authoritative, or some might say a little bossy.  I should say that this is not everyone, but there are a few who find it difficult to remember that the way they command a room of children is not necessarily the same way you should command a colleague.  To be fair, these people are present in all parts of life, but for some reason, this job made it harder. Now to all you everyday folk, this is not a problem, you just politely remind them who they are talking to and go on your merry way.  Miss anxiety, however, was felled by the cutting remark, or fearful of the barked command, I would scuttle off to do as I was told, my adult brain telling me this was wrong, my anxious mind telling me that I was useless at the job, getting it wrong, disliked.  This made me falter in my role, become confused and anxious, the job that I could do well, suddenly seemed out of reach of my abilities.  Anxiety leads to mistakes as our brains become confused and anxious, us anxious people can struggle to clarify and problem solve, mountains and molehills spring to mind.

Jobs came and went; how lucky was I to keep getting new jobs after giving up on the old ones?  The final paid school role brought me to where I am now, the lightbulb moment where it all made sense.  When working in a school alongside a teacher, we are there to assist in anyway we can; there is not necessarily a structure to what we do, where we do it and how often we will be needed to do it.  For a routine driven workplace, the job is different every day.  Now that should make it a dream, and for me, who doesn’t want to like routine, it should have been perfect; how could I get bored if it changed by the minute?  But my anxious mind could not gain the control I needed. I spent every night worrying about what the next day would bring, and every day worrying about what I was doing, was it good enough?  The anxiety meant tears, frustration, confusion and an inability to see the wood for the trees.  I became more and more stressed, breathless, I would wake in the night having night terrors, I would cry at everything and often did cry, either in the classroom or hidden in a toilet somewhere.  The children made me feel amazing but broke my heart at the same time.  Children are blunt, but funny, the truth can sometimes be hard to take.  I found that my home life suffered as I was on a constant knife edge of emotions, angry one minute, crying the next.  I realised that I was not able to cope with the lack of control needed to do the job, I had to take back the control as I was spiralling into a dark place.

Free stock photo of black-and-white, person, woman, dark

Is this the end?  At the moment, I think sadly it is the end of my TA job, as every time I walk into the school as a volunteer, the old feelings return; I feel the nagging self-doubt, the panic, the fear of failing.  Failing at what is a mystery to me – as a parent helper, there are no expectations on me, but my anxiety will not let that logical thought be true, I feel the need to perform.  At the moment, I am focusing my attentions on other ‘controlled’ roles.  Whether it is just me, or the me with anxiety, I don’t know, but I know that I am desperate to please, I consistently over perform, then burn out.  I am told that the secret is to underperform and always have more to give.  But with my need to please and constant seeking of gratification, that is just not in me, so for now, I will continue to over perform as best I can.  A recent interview comment about my ever-changing CV certainly hit home, I am not sure that I can fix the past, but I can find a compromise with my demons within, maybe I can finally stay somewhere.  I can fight my anxiety, as I have done time and time over, but it is exhausting, sometimes I just need to give it a minor victory and find a way to live harmoniously together.

I have found that anxiety as a parent is harder to work with; as a mum I naturally give my all to my children, all of my courage and strength goes into what I need to do for them.  That leaves the part that belongs to just me falling short of bravery.  I will not give in and I will make something work, but every time I take a knock, my anxiety has a great time telling me how I deserve to fail.

It is a shame that this job didn’t work out for me, but I could never be a brain surgeon either, is that a problem?  I need to play to my strengths, which do seem to lie in organisation and order.  I am currently trying a self-employed freelance role, which does not require me to sell my wares, but gives me enough control to feel good about what I do.  There is even the occasional confident moment when something good happens.  If I have learned anything over my many years of fighting my anxiety it is to find a way of working with it and not against it.

Free stock photo of food, coffee, cup, table

In my next blog, I am planning to write about some of the coping strategies that I have successfully used.

Our Day Out In West Dean Garden #Ordinary Moments

A short blog about our trip to West Dean Gardens and a few of my pics to show off, just an ordinary day out, but it is what family life is all about.

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I moved down to Petworth many years ago, before becoming quite nomadic and moving around the country too many times.  I had heard about West Dean Gardens and kept meaning to go along, but never got around to it.  As we were nearby doing one of our many child activities, we decided we would go along to see what it was like.  We are always looking for places to take Grandparents, so it was a good opportunity to test it out.  On paper, it doesn’t hold much appeal for children as there is no play area, but it is actually a perfect space to take children to just enjoy being outdoors.  The gardens are attached to West Dean College of Arts and Conservation, which I guess is responsible for the upkeep of the gardens, as they are immaculately kept.  The gardens are perfect for our 2 sets of garden mad grandparents.

I was worried that the children might not enter into the spirit of our great outdoors expedition, but I was pleasantly surprised at just how much of a family day out it was. I would say it is a half day, rather than a full day, but definitely worth a visit.

It is near to Chichester, a bit off the beaten track, but the sat nav got us there without a problem.  Parking was free and there was plenty of it.  The whole garden is laid to paths, so wheelchair and buggy friendly.  I doubt that they would be keen on scooters, but I didn’t actually see a sign saying no scooters.

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We arrived just after it had opened, following our early morning dance class; it was not sunny, but it was dry, which I would say is a must for the visit, as it is all outdoors.  The entrance takes you straight to a huge window seat which is set up for the café, it lures you straight into the café, which is never a bad thing.  The café was lovely, relatively small, but with a lot of outdoor seating for the warmer days.  We only had take out coffees, which were good, but there was a wide range of snacks and ice creams on offer, both to take out, or eat in.  There is no reason why you couldn’t take a picnic and have it in the woodland area, or by the river, there are plenty of benches in the garden, but no picnic tables, so take a blanket.

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Entrance was free for the children and £8 per adult.  Not cheap, but season tickets are available if you wish to go more than once, then that spreads the cost a little.  It is early season at the moment, but the garden still looked amazing, just coming into the spring bloom.  The garden team work really hard on it and it shows.

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First stop was the bridge for pooh sticks, good simple fun that they so far, have not got bored of.  Then there was manic running up and down the side of the river, before we set off in the direction the map showed up.  There are lots of old-fashioned glasshouses, but don’t go expecting the Wisley Glasshouse, they are built for purpose glasshouses, rather than showcases.  Some were open for the children to run through and check out the plants, others just had a little viewing hole, which the children seemed to find quite intriguing.

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There was a dovecote, which had a visitor’s book in it, so they spent quite a while checking out where visitors came from and writing in their own entries.

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From the glasshouses, we went into the garden which was laid out with bridges and water features to entertain them.  There were plenty of benches to take a rest, or possibly leave a grandparent to relax, while the rest of us go on the country walk.  The country walk was listed as 2 ½ miles, however, we went a bit off track and it was possibly a little longer.  We walked through the fields of sheep and lambs, which was really sweet.  The children spent most of the time picking their favourite lambs, this helped them barely notice the walking.  The views were lovely and after a fairly gentle uphill walk, we were on the downhill strait back to the gardens.  There was no moaning from the children, they seemed to genuinely have fun running around.  It was a relaxing and simple family outing, we will definitely be taking the grandparents there when they visit on a sunny day.

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We decided to move onto Chichester afterwards as it is so close to West Dean, where we found a great play area, as well as loads of shops and cafes.  We combined the two to give us a full day out.  Having managed to swerve the gift shop in West Dean, we did end up having to buy the most weird bean filled floppy banana for DD2 in The Works.  She loves waving her floppy banana around, while DD1 got a unicorn squishee.  One day we will get away with just saying no and maybe Mummy and Daddy can buy themselves a treat instead!

 

 

 

A Letter to my children – Ode To Friends

Person Gather Hand and Foot in Center

Friends are everything to us, but if I can teach you anything it is that friends will come and go.  Those that have come and gone are no less important in the journey as those that have stuck around.  Men, women, girlfriend, boyfriends, husbands, wives, illicit lovers, they all play a part in who we are.  Every time we leave them, or they leave us, we swap a little part of us; helping us grow from our experiences.  I have friends who have long since disappeared into the world somewhere, but still the memories still live on.  There are those friends who don’t take part in my current life, but I know if we met up, we would instantly start chatting about anything and everything.  There have been friends who were absolute saviours, who passed through with just that purpose in mind, will live forever in my heart, but probably never be seen again.  There are work friends, fun friends, friends I met on many a training course, who helped me through those endless hours of learning, friends I met for one night and one night only; all of those people who have shared my life at some point, as well as all of those people who are still waiting to share a moment of life with me. Friends will come in all shapes, sizes, genders, races and they all come with a little something to add to the passage of time they join us for, equally, they need something in return, this is not a one-way arrangement.  Friends will take a little part of us, whether they stay or go, but be prepared to share, it is part of the experience.

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There will be those people who inspire you to carry on, as well as those that inspire you to be anything but like them.  There will be those that give you funny stories for late night drinking sessions, probably because the stories came as a result of late night drinking sessions.  There will be those that go onto great things and you can proudly say you knew them.  There will be friends that stick around and you wonder why; don’t worry, there will be a reason, you just might not know it yet.  Sometimes people leave you and sometimes you leave them; it is hard to break up, but it is the end of a chapter and time to start a new one.  Heart break will happen in both love and friendship, it helps build who we are and lead us on a path of life.  Hearts heal and are all the stronger for it.

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So, child of mine; take heed; people will come and go.  They will be gone for any number of reasons, but a little piece of them lives on in you.  You will never be the same again, every single second changes who you are, but never forget those past moments, take it from one who knows, even the bad moments serve a purpose.  Sometimes I reflect on things that are better forgotten, but every time I do, I learn something more from it.

If I can give any advice to you, my beautiful, strong women to be, it is to choose your friends wisely, don’t rush to let someone into your life, but equally don’t dismiss those that are different.  Trust and share, enjoy every minute, mourn your losses, but not for too long and celebrate every friendship for the amazing thing that it is.

 

#MeToo – A Note to My Daughters

It might seem that I am quite late to pick up on this one, but for me it is such an important issue that I have thought long and hard about how I can write something that could really mean something.  I thought now would be a good time to write something that my daughters can read in years to come, hopefully by then, the battle to validate our female selves will be over.

There is a very fine line between over exuberant sexual advances, awkward passes, inappropriate attempts to get the attention of the object of our desire, and the need to take power through sexual means.  That phrase in itself seems strange, in that a person you desire could be classified as an object; a clumsy turn of phrase, but so much could be read into it.  People, not all people, but many people, like the company of others; young and old, there is a continual search for that soul mate, life partner, one true love.  Call it what you want; it’s all about partnerships, so how do we create this equal ground of mutual respect that leads to long-lasting, comfortable and balanced relationships? Does it stop in our personal lives?  Surely, relationship building and respect comes into all parts of our lives.  We expect the ones we love to respect and value us, so why not have the same expectations for everyone else? I feel that education and enlightenment is the key, along with teamwork.  This thing we call life is hard enough without causing rifts between us.  Men might have had a balance of power in the past, but possibly they would say that women had a balance of power in a different way.  Let’s talk it through, not battle it out.

I am not a lover of the word equality as it suggests that we should all be the same; we are unique beings and in no way are any of us the same.  We are amazing, special, different, similar yes, but mainly we are individuals.  People should be respected for who they are, what they are, who they choose to be and the decisions they make.  There should not be a battle to be recognised as equal, but just to be recognised, nurtured and encouraged to grow.  What is the point of this life if we are not able to be who we are and be happy?  My attitude to life changed massively after having the children; possibly it all fell into place.  I found my purpose, this made me look back on how I undervalued myself and put up with negative behaviour, whilst in pursuit of ‘life success’.  I never found out what ‘life success’ was, but I certainly met some people who wanted to stop my search, both male and female.  Now I feel the need to be strong, be me, and be the best role model I can be for my children.

Men and women, women and women, men and men; whatever the mix, there is a desire to be with another person, often in a physical way, but not always.  It can be difficult; I’m sure many of us have had that friend who wanted ‘more’, but the feeling was just not mutual.  Did that person take advantage, make an awkward declaration of love or lust?  Probably.  How we deal with the awkward moment of finding out if the other person is interested is one of the mysteries of being human.  One of the hardest things to deal with is the rejection of a failed pass, but as both men and women we need to find a way of handling this kindly, to avoid those negative moments when things can turn sour.  I’ve had those negative moments; things have turned sour, I have been abused verbally and physically, by both complete strangers and people I called friends.  Back then, I accepted it as how things were, but now I would tell my daughters to stand up and say no more.  That is not what my children will grow up to accept, they will not accept being undervalued, and they will not accept abuse for saying no.

What happens when things take an even more serious turn?  Domestic violence, sexual assault, rape, abuse are all ways of taking the power / control; by taking away the body or mind of another, the balance of power shifts to the abuser because of their physical and mental strength.  Abuse is not always physical, it is equally painful and destructive when mental.  Rape is not always about a person being physically forced into a sexual act, it is also about the mental control an abuser has.  These relationships are not about your everyday relationship building, or about the awkwardness of rejection, they are far darker and often difficult to anticipate, or accept that they are happening at the time.  Hindsight can often lead to a clarity that might not have been there when an abuser was in control.  It is not always about a dark alley and a complete stranger, it is often about a person you trust, or feel that you should trust.  They can be convincing, overpowering in their conviction that what they are demanding is right.  But if anyone has the slightest doubt about a situation then walking away is the only answer, not always an easy answer though.  It is so easy to say and so hard to do, how we get into these situations is never straight forward, but for me, I know that my lack of self-esteem and confidence made me easy prey for manipulators.  Confidence and self-awareness is the key, believe in who you are and who you can be.

As a young woman, the hardest thing is anticipating and understanding the potential danger of a situation.  The most important lesson I can teach the girls is to ask questions, never be embarrassed to ask, “What is going on here, what is it you think is going to happen?”  I survived men in positions of power asserting their position to manipulate situations to achieve their aim, but I never want my daughters to feel that anyone is more powerful than them and, in a position, to demand anything.  This is not just about sex, this is about power and manipulation; as women for too long we have felt that we should conform, should do as we are told, but that time is over, our time is now.

I grew up in a world so far removed from today.  My mum grew up in a single parent family with no contact with her father at a time when this was not the done thing.  I believe it made her quite independent, which she then passed onto me and my sister.  I grew up in a Yorkshire farming family; it couldn’t have been more old-fashioned if it tried; men worked and women kept home.  Dad was always on the farm and Mum looked after us and the home side of things.  But beyond that, she broke the mould and set off on her independent journey to find herself.  So even though, it was the full on traditional story there was also something completely different about it.  I wanted the same thing for the adult me; a family life, but with that little twist.  I never want to rely on a man, but I enjoy having one around.  I want to be independent physically and mentally, but still enjoy companionship and sharing my life with someone.   But I also want to see good in everyone, which left me exposed in the past; some would say that I want to fix those that are missing the good part of them, so I possibly set myself up to see and experience more of the negative things out there.  I will always be there to help someone find their true self, but I will no longer open myself up for abuse in doing so.  Be kind girls, but do not let yourselves be used.

I’ve had some unfortunate incidents with men and women; people in power and also friends; incidents that have taken away that feeling of control, made me feel insignificant and belittled.  There is no need to go into details, but what I need to pass onto my children is that, they must never feel like this.  If something doesn’t feel right, then there is a strong chance it is not right.  If someone makes you feel sad, or unsure of yourself, then maybe they are not worthy of your time.  I don’t feel this is a gender issue, this is about people in general.  There are too many people who feel the need to over power another person for their own benefit, this is not OK and we need to stand up and say “No!”  To my girls; never feel that you can’t stand up and say no.

The right to say ‘no’ is always there; up to the very last second.  The word ‘tease’ was bandied around a lot in the past, to the extent that many women and men went ahead with something they didn’t want to do, because they thought they had ‘led someone on’.  It is never too late to say no; if it doesn’t feel right, then it isn’t right.  Women are taking control of their feelings and listening to their instincts.  We are not hiding away or covering ourselves up for fear of sending out the wrong message; there is no wrong message, we are out and proud, beautiful and strong.  We all do things that we regret, that is part of the learning process, but don’t spend time regretting, spend time learning and moving on.

This is in no way just about women; I have heard some horrific stories of male abuse, as well as witnessing male domestic violence from a partner, there is no case for men versus women on this, was are all one voice when it comes to #MeToo.

Our Favourite Outdoor Activity Centre – Alice Holt Forest.

We have been taking the children to Alice Holt Forest pretty much since day 1 of their lives.  It is an easy option for us, as it is so close.  There were a few years where we lived in Wiltshire, but we still used to come back to the old favourite and meet friends there.  We are back now and can say that it has seen quite a few changes in the 8 years since our oldest was born, but it just gets better.

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We have braved it in the rain, but it really is better in the sunshine, or at least dry weather.  We are regulars in the winter too, but it calls for wellies.  It is not the easiest place to get to from outside of the area; follow the sings to Birdworld in Farnham and you will find it.  Sadly, parking has become a bit of an issue over the years; there is a really big car park and in the dry weather, they open up an overflow area.  However, recently it has become a victim of it’s own success and there are sometimes long queues to get in.  There is an Alice Holt Facebook page, so it is worth checking that before setting out, as they advise if the parking is in an issue on there.  Parking is not cheap, but it is all that you pay for; if you decide to go regularly, you can buy an annual pass.

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The forest has accessible paths, as well as off road options for walking, scooting, biking and riding.  We started out with buggies in the early days and had no issues getting around.  We then progressed to scooters; we found that there is a slightly worrying moment on one of the downhill slopes when they get a taste for freedom and whizz downhill at pace, but it comes back to bite them when they have to scoot back up it on the way back.  There has been many a stagger up that hill carrying child and scooter.  We have one bike rider at the moment, the jury is still out on whether the younger one will take to it or not; Alice Holt is ideal for bikes though, especially in the early days of cycling as the paths are smooth and easy to cycle on.  As the bike is now too big for the car, our preference is to walk around.  We have a favoured route which takes us to the best play parts, we then finish off with a play in the playground.

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There are many different trails to follow which are all well mapped out.  I would like to say that it is not possible to get lost, but I disproved that when I decided to do the Gruffalo trail with a group of kids who liked to go off course to scramble in ditches and up hills.  We eventually found the Gruffalo and all his friends, as well as the way out.  I can get lost everywhere though, so I am sure for everyone else, it is really easy to get around.  The Gruffalo trail is a trail of wooden sculptures; you can guess what you will be looking for.  There is currently A Highway Rat trail too, but that is just posters, not the life-size sculptures like the Gruffalo trail.

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There are several play areas along the way, as well as the main one in the centre, they are all wooden, so be prepared for them to be a bit slippery and dress for dirt.  They are really safe though and all come with a soft-landing area, for any slips or falls.

The central area has a range of swings, climbing equipment, slides, a roundabout and the pirate ship. Everything is very sturdy and well maintained, there is a wood chip and soft rubber all around the equipment for safety.  It is near the toilets, café and car park, for those who just want to play and not walk.

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Dogs are very welcome, which presents a problem for my 2, as they are terrified of them; dogs will be off the lead.  I am not sure if this is forest policy, or not, in the more public areas, but it is a fact to consider.  On the upside, if you have a dog, it’s a great place to take it.

There is usually either a café, or an ice cream stop for us, but that is not essential, my children would disagree as apparently ice cream and hot chocolate are essentials.  The café has expanded over the years and has quite a large selection of food on offer now.  It seems to be good quality at the usual price, i.e. quite expensive, but it is convenient and saves lugging a picnic around with you. We had an unfortunate incident with a 5-year-old and the high stool though;

“I can do it Mummy, no I won’t fall off…. argh!”  Splat went 5-year-old and ice cream! She was fine after her fall though.  None high stools are available too.  Obviously, the cheaper option would be to picnic; there are so many places to picnic, take a blanket though as the tables fill up fast.  BBQs are pre-bookable, but it is not something I have done, so I am not sure on the cost; it would be a great place to get a group of people together for the day and share the cost.

Toilet facilities are limited to the main block in the forest centre, so be prepared for a bit of wild toileting if you have younger ones who can’t hold it.  The toilets are a good size though and we have never had to wait for long, plus there are the usual facilities for nappy changing.

If you want to add to the experience, you can book into Go Ape, but there is a charge for this.  This would really make a day of it though, it is something we are planning for the summer as so far, we have not gone for it.

Alice Holt really is a great day out for very little cost, we never seem to get bored of it even though we have been going for years.  The children are not great walkers, but as the walking is broken up by play areas, getting them to walk is not a problem.  The route we usually take, along with a playground stop, takes around 2 hours, but add in some of the other routes, plus lunch and you can easily fill a day.

Disclaimer:  I have not received any payment or been asked to review Alice Holt, the opinions expressed are my own.

A Day Out at Fareham Fort Nelson – Royal Armouries

Today was a rare day when the girl’s Dad has an inspired thought for a day out.  In fact, it’s more than rare, it’s pretty close to a miracle.  I had been thinking about a trip to see The Poppy Wave at Fort Nelson since I heard about it, just never got around to planning it.  We saw the poppy display at the Tower of London and loved it, so this seemed like such a lovely idea for somewhere outside of London.

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The journey for us is not far, and fairly simple, as it is just off the M27 between Portsmouth and Southampton.  We chose a sunny, but not too hot day and for once, it didn’t rain on us.  They were obviously expecting extra visitors to the Fort because of the poppies, as they had laid on quite a few members of staff to help with parking.  When we arrived about 11.00 ish, there were plenty of spaces; even though it was grassy, the ground was not muddy or water logged, despite some pretty heavy rain the night before.

Fort Nelson is free entry, with a small parking charge of £3.00, which is amazing value for money, despite that though, some people were parked on grass verges to get a completely free day.  We were given a ticket on arrival for parking, which we had to take to the reception desk, this was a result, as it meant not having to give up valuable change, as we could pay by card.

Simple journey, kids not too moany on arrival, easy parking and good weather; we were all set to see poppies.  This is going to be my only moan; the queues.  We queued for a bag search for at least 15 minutes, but the girls were easily entertained with climbing the fence and running around, making friends, so the queuing was not an issue for them.  After the bag search, we then queued again for another 5 minutes or so, to pay for the parking.  Apparently, without the parking ticket, we could have skipped that bit and gone straight into the museum at that point.  But, we had to pay so we paid and managed to steer the children past the gift shop, to then join another queue, which led into another queue to get up to see the poppies.  All in all, I would say that we queued for around 40 minutes.  But it was all very British and polite; to be completely honest the queuing system paid off, as when we finally made it to the wave, there were not crowds of people blocking the view and there were plenty of photo opportunities, without including random strangers in the back ground.

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The poppy wave is open to view until June 2018; it is really cleverly done and I believe, worth a trip to see, as it is something so different.  It is not huge, it only takes 5 or 10 minutes to walk around, pose for photos and generally take in, but after that there are plenty of other things to see.  We were given a free activity sheet for the children, but it was a little advanced for a 6 and 8-year-old, they entered into it though, as kids love a piece of paper and a pencil.

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Now, I wouldn’t say that we are interested in military or naval history, but we found that we enjoyed the time at the rest of the museum far more than we expected, in fact, we had even planned to move on to Porchester Castle afterwards but ended up running out of time.  There are walls to walk around, tunnels to explore, indoor machinery, tanks and guns to look around, as well as an indoor museum with lots of history to see.  There were guns that had been turned into a sort of computer game, which you had to pay £1 for, but proved very popular.  There were things to touch and play with; the girls tried their hands at semaphore.

There is a café in a marquee, so I am not completely sure that is always there or just there for the poppy display, but it was spacious and clean.  The food was the usual high price, but good quality.  The obligatory sandwich box for the kids and even a gluten free sandwich option for us difficult to feed people.  Outside was an ice cream stand that looked like it was permanent, but we managed to steer them away from that, having already bought snacks in the café. There are plenty of picnic benches and places to eat, so a café trip is not necessary, which could make this a really cheap day out.

Loads of toilets; extras had been brought in, which were the portacabin type with the blue water, which the girls thought was hysterical.

Access is a bit up and down, but there are lifts and flat areas, buggies are no problem, but I couldn’t’ say how easy it would be with a wheelchair, I saw some people carrying a wheelchair down the stairs but did wonder why they hadn’t used the lift.

No dogs allowed, which could be an issue for some, but for us, it was a dream as my two are both terrified of them.

As with every museum, there is a gift shop, which can be a torturous process.  But there was a selection of reasonably priced kid’s items, divided into boy’s and girl’s items, which I thought was quite funny, but needless to say, my two followed the gender divide as intended.  We left with a couple of pens and a keyring for just over £5.00, as there was a £1.00 discount if you had paid for parking.

All in all, it was a relaxed and simple family day out.  We could have stayed longer in the museum, or let the children run around on the grass areas more than we did, so it could easily have covered a whole day.  Even though, much of it is indoors, I would recommend a dry day for it as the running around part seemed to be the highlight for my two.

The disclaimer part: I was not asked to do this, or paid for it, the opinions are mine and just offered as a review of our time there.