Category Archives: Marriage

Nine

Apparently we don’t take photos of just the two of us? This is the most recent I could find…

A few days into my Grand Experiment with Temporary Diabetes – which sucks, by the way, I mean no one should flirt with diabetes even a little bit because it’s scary and tedious and it really sucks – I kept on getting my breakfasts wrong. I already knew that pancakes, waffles, toast or remotely edible cereal were all out, but unsweetened porridge started to make my little sugar reader cry too. And guys, I love breakfast. It’s my favourite meal. And so I wanted to cry a little bit as well.

‘Look’, said Tim, coming in to pick up my empty porridge bowl – THE LAST PORRIDGE BOWL OF SCOTLAND, it turned out – ‘just start eating protein for breakfast instead of carbs. You’ll be full, but your blood sugar will be fine’.

‘Protein is hard!’ I snapped. ‘Who’s going to make eggs and bacon every morning?’

He rolled his eyes, and replied like it was obvious. ‘I will’.

And he has, every morning since. Frying pan, sizzling butter, plate delivered hot onto my bedside table while I’m still rolling my giant carcass off the mattress and unsticking my eyelids. I never doubted that he was that kind of man, but he is totally that kind of man.

It’s our ninth wedding anniversary today.

When we got married we were young, young enough that these days I would tsk and say ‘whoa, that’s very young’. I know that marrying in your early twenties has its risks, and it’s true that we’ve had to do a lot of our Practising Being A Healthy Relationship-Haver on each other. We have felt and stumbled our way into better patterns, bit by sometimes-painful bit. Our wedding day was all gauzy satin and red roses – a long way from the weeks when I see him only in exercise lycra with helmet dents in his forehead, or else pyjamas (hey, you own jeans! I exclaim on Saturday mornings); where we get into bed and I’m so huge that all we do is groan in unison and switch our bedside lamps off; where a Tesco Indian Meal for Two is cause for an entirely sincere midweek high-five. There’s not much glitter in our day-to-day, but it feels special to me. It feels like home.

Life with children is sublime and ridiculous; mortgages and car bills are stressful; work takes up nearly all of our time (whether that’s wrangling a small boy onto the toilet when it’s already far too late, or ploughing through tech demos at the office). We have done one university degree, four jobs, two houses, three pregnancies and two-and-three-quarter children, and that’s a lot of scenery for nine years. But he has been the fixed point in all my whirling constellations, all this time. Still the person I can’t wait to walk through the door in the evenings. Maker of our morning eggs. Recipient of my ten thousand daily text messages.

Honestly, I would not be anywhere else.

2016: the things underneath

I know, I think this might be the latest I’ve ever posted one of these. And I was just going to leave it – it feels irrelevant to relive 2016 halfway through January, not to say depressing – but I was surprised: it cheered me right up. Looking through all our photos, remembering the small, lovely things that happened in-between and underneath and despite the cataclysmic world events. Perhaps there’s something to be salvaged there, after all.

Anyway, here’s a map of 2016 in photos, tweets about bodily functions, and interesting things to read. Feels like it was made for your next long bathroom break, so hey: take fifteen minutes on me behind a locked door, while your children yell for status updates on your evacuations.

The January where we had literally no idea what was coming

An American broccoli and cheese soup recipe.
Frozen broccoli – ok
Cornstarch – um
1 loaf processed cheese food GET OUT GET OUT GET IN THE SEA

***

I know I should turn my nose up at chicken dippers, but I can’t ever truly disapprove of apostrophe-shaped food.

I read and loved:

This TOTALLY CONVINCING take-down of why Aragorn had no right to the throne of Gondor.

And I wrote: 

An impassioned defence of Always Taking The Damn Nap, Yes Always.

 

The February Heath Ledger and I Were Not The Same

Hey casual acquaintances! Just to say all my weirdness stems from my laser-focussed and obsessive attempts to seem less weird.

***

Sometimes I think that Heath Ledger dancing to Golden Years in A Knight’s Tale is one of the most exquisite moments in our human history.

(It is, though.)

I read and loved: 

This convincing explanation for why Harry Potter in Book Five is the absolute worst.

A gorgeous thing about To Kill a Mockingbird and our inner Scout Finches.

And I wrote: 

Something about David Bowie, and hawks, and dancing with toddlers (this is my favourite thing I wrote all year. Peaked early).

A controversial (as it turned out) article about how all two-year-olds are irrational tyrants, and we should definitely stop saying they aren’t.

 

The March We Survived A Transatlantic Flight With Small Children

2YO: I want a snack

Me: what kind? You’re already eating porridge

2YO: a…a green snack

Me: be more specific

2YO: I waaaant…porridge

***

I remember being a kid and consciously deciding that Belle ate the Be Our Guest food off-screen, because otherwise the waste was too annoying.

I read and loved:

Hilary Mantel (argh!) on Henry VIII’s bearded, Queen-stealing best friend (argh!).

This thing that basically confirmed my suspicion that Ben Affleck is a forever dirtbag.

And I wrote:

About Harry Potter and my teenaged life (terrible photos aplenty).

This piece for Selfish Mother about what happens once you’re out of the newlywed unicorn phase.

 

The April We Saw Lots of Beautiful America (Before, You Know, All That)

2YO, gagging gently, w. soap dispenser: urgh, soap

Me: did you put soap in your mouth?

2YO: yep

Me: why?!

4YO, wearily: it looks like syrup

***

Ate my 1st avocado-on-toast, so now I go to Instagram Heaven where all surfaces are white & food comes with hydrangea heads at a polite distance.

I read and loved:

This fascinating long-read about a woman with no long-term memory.

A gorgeous tribute to the late, great Victoria Wood.

And I wrote:

A piece about the most reliably thorny question in our marriage: who’s doing all the work?

 

The May It Was Actually Warm, No, I’m Being Serious, Take Your Coat Off

Getting a bit of Stockholm syndrome with this Eurovision presenter: he’s got more attractive the more HOURS this has gone on.

***

Went for my first run in about six months today, and this evening my legs are like ‘can u not’.

I read and loved: 

This invaluable collection of beauty recommendations for all age groups, by Sali Hughes (whom I love).

And I wrote: 

An article about body acceptance and shame.

An ode to babies-no-longer-babies.

And a Selfish Mother piece I had to screw up all my courage for, about gender-flipping periods.

 

The June We Spent Mostly Outside, Trying To Ignore That Other News Thing

I am making lists and 2YO is in the garden.

Me: you alright out there?

2YO. Yes! Do some work, OK?

Me: …ok.

***

Boy sneezes deliberately on the back of brother’s neck: a new low in sibling warfare.

I read and loved:

If Barack Obama Were Your Dad (gave myself whiplash clicking on this too fast).

The Unbelievable Tale of Jesus’ Wife, a juicy saga about academic detective work, history and fraud.

And I wrote: 

A bit of hope for the toddler mothers: it’s going to get better.

A piece for TalkMum about keeping your hobbies and self intact after children arrive.

 

The July Outlander Finally Went Too Far

The fact that Claire would eat a Hershey bar after growing up in England is the most unbelievable thing in the Outlander book series so far.

***

Ten minutes into the car journey, I am now convinced that the thing on my rear wiper is a decent chunk of brown bread. #parenting

I read and loved:

This unbelievably cheering profile of a man who was stabbed on the Tube, and bounced back like a legend (I’m being flippant because I can’t do justice to it in a sentence: go read).

‘I Will Bear Witness, Though Heavy Laden’ (sob).

And I wrote: 

T’s three-year-old birthday letter.

A teary goodbye to H’s first year at school.

 

The August With All The Secret Cheese Crackers and Crying

The thing I have learned is you shouldn’t start using any phrase ironically bc your brain is like ‘cool, incorporating into vocab forever’. I am now a person who says ‘100%’ when I mean ‘definitely, absolutely’, so I am only fit for The Apprentice and quiet shame.

***

Sat here in an empty house wincing, aloud, over gingerbread avalanches. What a time to be alive. #GBBO

I read and loved:

What came next after Bones inexplicably reversed death and never mentioned it again in that Star Trek film (BEST. BEST.)

A hilarious look through a seventies Happy Bride cookbook.

And I wrote: 

H’s five-year-old birthday letter.

An angry post about token girls and token helicopters in kids’ TV.

 

The September of School, and Nursery, and Babies

Parental maths: if I did breakfast yesterday and last Sunday but @mrjeffcoat got up with 3YO in the night, who does breakfast today? Show your working.

***

I just accidentally sat on a big blob of breakfast porridge and for a moment thought I’d managed to poop my pants by osmosis #miracle

I read and loved: 

I am sorry about both of these, but I weep with laughter every time: this calculation of the exact amount of banter in that photo of the Eton boys meeting Vladimir Putin (remember that?); also, this weird and wonderful thing about the fox on Splash Mountain coming disturbingly to life.

The power of internet friendships, by the founders of The Toast (I love them both, and this is beautiful).

And I wrote: 

An honest appraisal of the first trimester, third time around (spoiler: it sucks).

A piece for TalkMum about five things you shouldn’t worry about when your baby starts school.

 

The October Facebook Sassed Back

Since I shut down my Facebook newsfeed (<3) I get this message there instead: ‘You’d have more items if you added more friends’. Pure sass.

***

Me: it’s wet. Let’s just walk in our woods and then fetch something to bake.

5YO: or! We could play here in the warm and then have a calm lunch.

I read and loved: 

This lovely bittersweet article about tracking our different lives on Google Maps.

I will read anything that trashes ‘clean eating’ for the dangerous nonsense it is: this is sensible and good.

And I wrote: 

When is a roast chicken not a roast chicken? When it’s this.

 

The November We Won’t Talk About Except In Trivialities Like The Below

Marriage is two consecutive text messages: one recording in loving detail the consistency of our child’s vomit, the next, filthy innuendo.

***

Me: [sigh] 5YO, just let him do what he wants  

This is the youngest-child-rearing policy I never meant to have, yet somehow do have at 5.30pm

I read and loved:

How a Kashmiri mother’s cooking bound her to her daughter.

Behind the scenes of a full-time carer in Anne of Green Gables – one of the best things I read all year, this.

And I wrote:

This about why it’s important to be a bit of a rubbish parent sometimes.

 

The December We Stayed Home For Christmas And Now We’ll Never Do Anything Else

5YO: so then you tie our laces together

Me: right. Why?

5YO: for the game

Me: I want you to know I’m doing this against my better judgement

***

Does it hurt?’

‘I’ve got other stuff that hurts more’

‘Like what?’ 

‘Things from my past’ <-the point where I decided this book was Not Good

I read and loved: 

Something we desperately needed by this point: eight ordinary heroes from 2016

And this very heartfelt, touching letter to the midwife who blew in with the snow

And I wrote: 

An installment of Notes from the Trenches with, could it be, a little less excrement than usual?

Maybe the small things in this year will turn out to be unexpectedly cheering too? Here’s hoping.

Chicken, and all my other love stories





When I want to give them Sunday, I give them roast dinner.

Food is my love language; it’s the tongue I speak with most feeling. I remember bleary bouts of flu as a child, interrupted with lunch trays of velvety rich Heinz tomato soup, buttered crumpets cut into tiny triangles, webs of melted cheese skittering over the top. It’s the meal I go back to when I feel in need of succor, the one I make when someone else is. I snip the crumpets into triangles with kitchen scissors, and lick the butter as it runs down my wrists.

Yorkshire being Yorkshire, and Sunday being Sunday, we made and ate roast dinners every week after church – not just in our house, but in everyone else’s too. We banished our younger siblings to the carrot-and-potato peeling, while we applied ourselves to the tricky bits. Mixing the Yorkshire pudding batter by sight, watching for the proper glub-glub drip off the end of the whisk. Crumbling unwrapped stock cubes into a pan of meat juices in order: two chicken, one lamb, one Oxo, one spoonful of marmite, stir. My mum added precisely the right amount of salt into the boiling mass of potatoes with a flick of the wrist. Vegetables, stuffing, crispy-skinned chicken, gravy: it rose and steamed and crisped and browned, until it was done and we ate and poured lakes and lakes of the gravy onto the food we’d made together.

We did that every week, and called it Sunday Dinner, and I never knew it was possible to do anything else.

The south has given me food-love too, or it’s probably more accurate to say that adulthood has, and the south is where I’ve spent it. We have our own special dinners now, food that means more than food: pancakes on Saturday mornings, pints of Phish food ice cream from the carton on Friday nights. I know what their favourites are, and plan steaming lasagnes for Tim after a hard day, sausage pie with buttery pastry for Henry, cheesy pesto pasta for my heathen toddler.

But when I want a special Sunday, when I want to offer them something in my open hands that means comfort and care and togetherness, I buy a whole chicken. Tim has never been trained in the roast dinner dance, so I direct him to vegetables while I whisk creamy Yorkshire pudding batter, toss salt over boiling potatoes, unwrap gravy stock cubes and lie them ready on the counter like surgical instruments.

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I make a diagram with lots of arrows to make sure I know when everything comes in and out. Open the oven door, slam it shut. Roast and stir and carve. Good glasses on the table, pretty napkins on the mats. Until it’s all ready and I push it towards them, watch them pour lakes and lakes of gravy on their plates, and eat.

And they don’t speak my language, of course. A roast dinner is not a Sunday Dinner, not in their world. If I made a roast dinner every week they’d get bored. They wouldn’t understand that I am offering them Sunday afternoon, a childhood, a warm kitchen exhaling the smell of roast chicken. All my love, and the best of gifts I know how to give them.

They don’t speak that language at all, but I hope they see my open hands; that somehow, we are communicating love through chicken – love and love through all my wordless, clumsy signs.

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Marriage and the Magic Question: Who’s Doing the Work?

 

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I sent the text at 6.30, when (according to his schedule) he should’ve been an hour into his ninety-minute journey home.

‘Hey, where are you?’

I hate sending that text – the studied casualness of it, the fact that I’m too tired even to put a smiley face on the end. Wherever he is, he is not here, and we both know that unless the answer comes back as ‘Five minutes away, and bearing a giant pizza with your face on it’, it will not be good news.

When I’m really cheesed off, I miss out the ‘Hey’. It sounds worse, somehow. AND I MEAN IT TO.

After sending the text it occurs to me to check Find My Friends, so I do. He’s still in London. I sigh out a sigh that empties my entire body of breath, and head upstairs to find pyjamas for the boys. Between tubes, trains and taxis, he won’t be home till almost 9pm. I will make a huge effort to remember that he’s had a hard day too. Some days (the 9pm days, when he walks in looking like stepped-on toast) I succeed. Some days (the 7pm-and-I-missed-bedtime-by-five-minutes days) I don’t.

Looking over the landscape of an eight-year marriage – the lumps and bumps and glorious vistas – nothing has stoked our mutual resentment more often than this, this question that only became important once we had children: who’s doing the work? Secretly, I suspect, we both think we’re doing the heavy lifting. Tim earns practically all our money, so is pretty much responsible for keeping four humans fed, housed and comfortable. It’s a high-pressured job that involves early starts, late returns and travelling away for days at a time. He has targets to meet, people to impress, an inbox full of emails to respond to. He can never quite keep up, however long he works. How exhausting.

Then me. While he earns the raw materials, I’m project-managing our whole lives into something happy and functioning. I manage the meals, the schedules, the homework, the outings, the finding of exactly the right pair of dinosaur pyjamas when literally none of the other five pairs of available pyjamas will do. I am always on call. When I want so much as a haircut I have to scrabble around for cover. My coworkers are irrational, demanding and sometimes downright abusive. I do not get paid one whit for any of it. How exhausting.

I’d rather our roles weren’t so thoroughly marked out, and so would he, but they are. Busy office jobs mean long hours out of the house; I’ve neglected my freelancing career enough lately (mostly through necessity, though this is something that hurts all on its own) that I struggle to justify the time it takes away from the boys. So there we are, despite our efforts decidedly not breaking down any stereotypes: the man works, the woman tends the children. We spend weekends recovering from breathless week-days, and at church.

Some days I watch him sail out of the door, on his way to deal with proper adults and get properly remunerated, and it feels like he’s escaping something, and I boil with the injustice of it. Some days I dance around a sunlit forest with a two-year-old hunting for Gruffalos, or watch H’s face light up when he sees me waiting after school, or put T down for a nap and settle to some writing under a duvet, and I know I’ll never be as lucky as this again in my life.

It depends on the day. I expect it depends on the day for Tim, too, whether his work feels like inescapable pressure or blissful, uninterrupted quiet.

Neither of us has really experienced the other’s life (my years of full-time work preceded our very-full-time children so I’ve never done both; the one time I’ve been away without them for a week, he had to work and the boys stayed with various relatives). Maybe one day it would be good for us to try. For now I think we’re where we’re supposed to be, as long as we keep reaching outside of our spheres to help and relieve each other.

We just have to remember (consciously, out loud, and over and over again) that work is work is work. Work, no matter what we’re wearing or which part of the brain we use. Work that keeps our lives, our family and ourselves intact. It’s all work, and it all matters, and we’re doing it all together.

Except for the boys, who are basically freeloading at this point. The rotters.

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2015, in bits and pieces

I had a professor once, at university, who sat us down at the beginning of our module – the two of us, in the study we’d had to go through three quads and two staircases to find – and gave us a reading list of books and articles he’d written himself. And that was, like, it.

Here’s a list of my wisdom; please study it in your spare time.

It was one of the most Oxford things that ever happened to me.

Anyway, I must’ve learned something from good old Professor B, because I’m about to do sort of the same thing.

2015 didn’t feel like much of a banner year – a great one, definitely, but a bit of a nondescript twelve months. Until I looked at my Twitter timeline, and remembered that a) between the holidays and milestones, all sorts of little things happened, and b) I read some articles that were so fantastic and brilliant, it was pure joy to reread them, and c) I actually wrote some things I was pretty proud of too.

So here they are. 2015, in the tiny bits and pieces.

That January Feeling

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Will be sat on this sofa forever until I have melded with the fabric & they try to spatula me off & Tim is all ‘no this is the sofa she loved’

***

Working thru Harry Potter audiobooks in instalments while houseworking. Book 5 might’s well have been called ‘That Time Harry Was A Jerk’.

I read and loved:

an article by Kate Gross’ mum, about her final moments on Christmas day (you should also read Kate Gross’ book, Late Fragments, which is one of the very best books I read this year).

this series called How Wizards Do Money (the financial management of Harry Potter characters), of which you should read every last scrap because it’s wonderful.

And I wrote:

A letter to the self I was before I had children, with some friendly advice (eat slower, have more schedule-free sex).

The February I took against Stephen Hawking in Awkward Fashion

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So we saw #TheTheoryofEverything last night. This morning I am spitting mad at Stephen Hawking, and by extension, all men. This is awkward.

I read and loved:

this beautiful post about all our possible imaginary children.

this gorgeously evocative article about the food story of a marriage.

this best everrrrr review of Fifty Shades.

The March I Turned Thirty and Discovered This Philip Larkin Poem

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In fact, may you be dull – / If that is what a skilled, / 

Vigilant, flexible, / Unemphasised, enthralled /

Catching of happiness is called.

***

3YO thinks that Nelly and Kelly song is about art.

Listen: ‘no matter what I do – ART – all I think about is you – ART’.

I read and loved:

this analogy you’ve probably seen by now, about how making tea is like consent (a swear-free version is here, if you want it).

this list of every Buffy argument made on the internet since 1998.

And I wrote:

a confessional piece about my inappropriate fiction crushes (PRINCE CASPIAN, HOLLA)

a mother’s day tribute to the women who made me

The April I was Diet-Shamed By Tesco

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Tesco: ‘we notice you have not bought these items you often buy’

Me: *looks* Ben & Jerry’s Karamel Sutra YES ALRIGHT TESCO I FEEL ASHAMED

***

We don’t need the heating on, that’s for sure’, he said, heading downstairs. ‘…we do though’, I whispered plaintively to the empty air. #scenesfromamarriage

I read and loved:

this magnificent grammar-geek article about the phrase ‘no, totally’.

And I wrote:

A piece finally admitting my angry mummy tendencies

A letter to my shy boy eldest

The May Where Antler-Pinterest Got a Bit Much

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Child has been saying he’s still hungry for an hour, but hasn’t had any better suggestions for what he wants than ‘invisible sandwich’.

***

Hey guys, just got back from the future and they said that decorating with antlers when you’re not a cowboy or Gaston was a little weird, k?

***

The particular shame when it’s your boy clutching a dog-eared chicken nugget he won’t throw away as he toddles round a village playground.

I swear every mother was in Boden and everyone threw shade like I’ve never seen.

Then the worst part, when I look at him five minutes later and the nugget is nowhere to be seen #whereisthenugget

I read and loved:

this beautiful short story, ‘Light’.

I Stole a Pen from Douglas Adams’ Grave – just lovely

And I wrote:

The funny old thing about time

The post that made me cry the most while writing it: Be brave

The June We Spent Mostly in Bed

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Flipping ravaged by this stomach bug. Just wept at the delicious prospect of a cola ice pop and wept again at the Hunger Games teaser.

***

Almost-2YO just described a sneeze as a ‘burp splash’,which is easily the most satisfying thing that’ll happen today.

I read and loved:

A billion reasons why I hate the school run, by the incomparable Hurrah for Gin

And I wrote:

A runners’ creed, for those who hate it (I STILL HATE IT)

The July We Started to Go a Bit Mad

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That hot-day thing when you’re towelling dry and a giant moth flutters out on your vulnerable naked body all OH HI, I’M SHOWERING TOO #nope

***

Boys banging walls and chanting a self-penned song entitled ‘Time to Wee’. All we need is a conch to go full on ‘Flies’. #summerholidays

I read and loved:

This raw, moving, dignified letter from the Huff Post Executive editor to her husband lost to suicide

And I wrote:

T’s now-you-are-two birthday letter

An indignant post about speaking up for your bad days, fellow women

The August that BAKE-OFF CAME BACK

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‘I want to get in there’
we all do Mary, we all do #GBBO

***

Just said ‘scuse me, loves’ to a group of #readingfestival-goers in Tesco.
Them: deliberating about beer.
Me: trying to reach the nappies.

My old age is assured and only death remains ahead.

I read and loved:

This fantastic list for new parents from Steph Douglas

This installment of Ask Polly (I LOVE ASK POLLY) about being a ‘calm question mark’

And I wrote:

An impassioned post for World Breastfeeding Day about how motherhood is so much more than your milk

H’s now-you-are-four birthday letter, with much sobbing (the last one before school, argh)

Something I’d been thinking about for a while: how parenting a mini-me is so much harder than you’d think

The September That Was All About School

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So how much jogging on the spot would I need to do to eat a chocolate digestive? Asking for a friend. #caloriecounting #bleurgh

***

Apple: WE JUST INVENTED THE PENCIL
everyone: apple, the pencil’s been around for…
Apple: IT’S GOT OUR NAME ON IT IT’S OURS NOW
Apple: what a great idea
Apple: well done apple

I read and loved:

this by Sali Hughes about when the cult of wellness becomes unhealthy (you should read anything by Sali Hughes)

And I wrote:

this nowhere-near-comprehensive list of all the inappropriate places H has peed

after experiencing the September Rages: dear boy, you can be unpretty here

that time a McDonald’s addict counted calories for a month and did not die

The October We Listened to Harry Potter a Lot

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Me: ‘it’s either a kite or a hawk.’
4YO: ‘I know! It’s a hawk-rocks’
Me: ‘a what?’
4YO: ‘a hawk-rux’
Me:’oh. No, he’s not a horcrux’

***

There are only three ways of using a car horn that don’t make you a jerk.

1. Hello, friend! [cheerful beep and wave]
2. Madam, I am here and you appear not to have seen me [short urgent beep and serious face]
3. Sir, the light has gone green and you have not noticed [polite beep, smile]

If you use the horn angrily, you are a jerk. If you lean on it for 3 seconds+, you are a jerk. If you do it while gesticulating furiously…
..you are a jerk. Like, people aren’t omniscient. They make mistakes. Cut the human race a bit of slack. (Seems to be mostly men, too)

I read and loved:

a gorgeously written article by Sophie Heawood about what it’s really like to be a single parent (you should also read everything Sophie Heawood writes. E v e r y t h i n g.)

an eye-opening post by my bloggy friend Amy, about washing away her day as a children’s nurse

this weep-inducing imagining of a Harry Potter where Hermione never did anyone’s homework for them

this happy-making article on how Nora Ephron made friends

And I wrote:

on marriage – ask for what you need; stand up for what you think

a letter to the brand-new mother of two – embrace the chaos, because it’s all going to be fine

The November T’s Favourite Song Became Hey Jude

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Imagine being this guy & remembering how you refused to clap to the recording of Hey Jude, even for a double fee.

CTc0EdWWcAAAoLo

***

[thumbs down] = finding a bogey that’s not yours underneath your chin
[thumbs up] = it’s not a bogey, it’s a piece of porridge!
[thumbs down] = the porridge wasn’t yours either

***

I have reached a level of hormonal stability where ‘God on High’ still makes me cry but ‘A Little Drop of Rain’ doesn’t, so good job uterus.

I read and loved: 

My kid is a tiny pedant, and I’m not sorry (SO MUCH MY LIFE)

this life-changing article about how much cod The Rock eats daily

‘I did not know how loved we were’: one of Ella Risbridger’s wonderful articles about lipstick and cancer (read the rest also)

this article about snooping in a dead man’s house that just about knocked me over

And I wrote: 

How not to be a big fat parenting loser

Five messages to give your tiny introvert (both products of much head-bashing)

The December Everyone Came to Stay

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Happy I-Have-No-Idea-Whether-I-Brushed-My-Teeth- So-I’ll-Brush-Them-Again-So-As-Not-To-Gross-Out-The-Playgroup-Mums Friday!

***

‘So. Eet is certain zat the murderer eez on ze train, and eez with us…right…NOW’

YEAH HE IS.

GET ‘IM POIROT #poirotontheradio

I read and loved: 

this lovely post by Radio 4’s Robin Ince (him of the Infinite Monkey Cage, and others) about performing after a loss

this old post which NEVER GETS OLD TO ME about how Peeta is Katniss’ Movie Girlfriend (we must talk about Mockingjay at some point, because Katniiiiiiiiiiss)

And I wrote: 

some things I wish I could say to my hairdresser

this melancholy little post about how Christmasses change and stay the same.

Actually I’ve awarded 2015 an upgrade: it was an excellent year. Here’s to whatever might come in 2016.

Ask for what you need; stand up for what you think

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‘Use your words.

I can’t understand whining.

Tell me what you need. Use your words.’

If I had a shiny pound for every time I’ve said this in the last few years, I’d be running off to purchase the entire stock of Waterstones and a personal Elton John concert. I am not a mind-reader. When the boys need me to put right an injustice or provide something they desperately want, I need words.

It’s just struck me lately that, funnily enough, if I have learned anything from seven-plus years of marriage (apart from to defend your share of pizza with your elbows and all the ferocity you possess) it’s this same thing. Ask for what you need. Stand up for what you think. He is not a mind-reader. It’s been one of the most defining shifts of my twenties and it’s become one of the most important things I want to encourage in my children. Knowing yourself well enough to work out what you think and what you need – and then doing someone the courtesy of explaining it so they can be part of your solution – seems to be a recipe for good emotional literacy, self-respect and self-care.

Maybe it takes a while to know yourself well enough and be brave enough to express needs. Maybe you feel timid about taking up emotional space in your relationship, because you feel like you don’t really deserve it. Or you expect someone to automatically intuit what you need without having to ask. I think all of those things were true of me (still are, some days).

We were in our early twenties when we got married. I had graduated university and was a year or so into work; Tim had returned from two years pounding streets in South Africa and was well stuck in to his degree. We were settled and extremely happy. I remember those early years as being all world-building and discovery. It was lovely.

But no matter how well you know someone, once you live together you’re literally warts-and-all. There’s lots to get used to. I had a pathological inability to close a cupboard I’d just opened, and he moonwalked his socks off his feet every night and left them there on the floor by the bed. And there was so much I didn’t understand about myself or about him. The way men and women interact in general and the way we interacted in particular, fresh from and marked by our own families and experiences.

Half our arguments in those early days could’ve been avoided if we’d just asked for what we needed. But maybe it’s the sort of thing you need to learn together, over time.

One of my dear friends says this, and she’s right: relationships are a miracle. That you found someone who makes your soul sing, that’s a miracle. Out of all the people in the world! Of all the choices you could have made, and missed each other! You didn’t. You found each other. You are the answer to someone’s deep and searching questions, and simultaneously, they are yours. What on earth were the chances of that?

I would add this, now: the other miracle is that you get to grow together. You learn things from each other and in the process you learn about yourself, and then you try to change. I mean, I still leave cupboard doors open. WHY CAN’T I SEE THAT THEY ARE OPEN WHEN IT WAS ME WHO OPENED THEM. But over time, and sometimes painfully, I am learning to ask for what I need.

I had a bit of a rough summer, actually. Lots of rain, lots of solo parenting, not very many changes of scene. The boys and I got sick of each other, and the twelve hours a day I spend with them started to feel more like a ball-and-chain than a delight. By the time we got to late August I was exhausted by resentment and CBeebies. Then one evening I had a light bulb moment: I do not have to be miserable. Life with small children does not have to be miserable. It’s just that there are things my soul needs that I am not getting.

I worked out what they were and then discussed them with Tim the next day. Time by myself. Time with just him. Time pursuing my own career goals, however meagre they might be at the moment. He’s a man: he enjoys working out the logistics of a solution. We decided on some different things we could do with our calendar, and I felt like things would get better.

They have. So I feel like this will be my endless refrain to my children, when they start looking for relationships, and to myself in the mirror, and to you, lovely reader, if you want it and it feels right.

You are worth the effort it takes to be happy, and you can take responsibility for working out your own needs. Work it out. Then use your words, and let someone else in.

Photo 12-09-2015 2 28 21 pm

Seven

Photo 13-03-2014 2 23 16 pm

This guy. It’s our seventh anniversary today, and he’s about to get back from a week away. When he’s gone I feel the lack of him everywhere, from our bed to our dinner table to the text messages I keep having to send because he’s not there to tell things to.

We will pick him up from the airport, me and the boys, and go back to our house. I’ll put a chicken in the oven. The sun will slant through the windows onto the kitchen floor. We’ll set the table with napkins even though no one actually uses them. The boys will dance circles around him, and we’ll eat, and maybe go for a walk in the woods, and come back chilly for hot chocolate and an ‘animal crogramme’ on the telly. He will fall asleep five minutes in, like he always does. This is the space we made, and honestly, some days it blinds me to look at it.

Here’s to more of everything. I want it all.

asked to imagine heaven
I see us [here]
the way we have been
the way we sometimes are

Wendy Cope

I told the story of how we met for our fifth anniversary, here. Prepare for some tiny baby faces and enormous skater jeans.

Cake for breakfast

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And so we discover that time, that fickle mistress, halts for no man, and no matter how sunny your good looks are, EVEN YOU WILL BE TWENTY-NINE IN THE END.

Or, in other words, Tim had his birthday this week, which means I’m not the only one in this house officially on the short slide to thirty. HARDEE HAR HAR.

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We had a lovely day. We decided to keep Henry in nursery in the morning, because it would make it more likely that family naps could happen (and they did). But before that there were presents, bunting and cake for breakfast. I don’t know why we haven’t just done cake for breakfast every birthday morning before this, by the way. It makes everything better. Maybe it’s a special milestone in adulthood, being able to decide that cake is a meal without any regrets? If it is, we are there.

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I found this root beer float cake on Joy the Baker’s glorious site some time ago, and bookmarked it immediately for Tim’s birthday. He is the sort of chap who drinks his own weight in the stuff every time we head across the Atlantic. Last year my sister got him a boxful of different brands in murky brown bottles, and he sat us all down and conducted serious taste comparison tests. With a spreadsheet. Love him.

Anyway, it’s a fabulous cake – the root beer comes through quite beautifully, and not too strongly – and I am a convert to bundt tins, because no more ugly first slices. My version was a little rough and ready, mainly due to the fact that a) I made it at 11pm, and b) I can never be convinced that it’s worth the effort of sieving cocoa powder and icing sugar, until my frosting comes out in pimples, and then I remember that it is. To make it a proper root beer float cake I stacked Cornish vanilla ice cream into the hole in the middle, which I think is the best labour saving device invented since I gave up the sandwich and started just eating peanut butter and jam off the same spoon.

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We took the boys swimming in the afternoon, then around dinner time left them with Tim’s lovely mama to go on a birthday date. We tested out some digital radios for our kitchen in John Lewis, then went for obscenely good steak (mine came with beef dripping sauce. Hnnnnggghhhh) and watched Interstellar at the cinema, groaning from our overstuffed stomachs.

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Interstellar is astonishing. It almost tries to cram in too much, and has some usual Nolan problems (some clunky dialogue, a twist a minute). But the visuals, the themes, the scope of the thing, Matthew McConaughey’s beauteous craggy face…oh my. We were overwhelmed.

We have a happy day whenever this guy has a birthday. Like steak and root beer and the great McConaughey himself, he only gets better with age.

Photo 13-11-2014 07 41 29 am

This is your house now: a tour for the person about to buy my house

I’ve had this post in my head for months, and months. The thought of writing it kept making me cry at inconvenient points. Now we finally have a fixed move date (in, um, two days), it’s probably time to let it out. 

Come on in. This is your house now.

Here are some stairs. You’d better get used to that, because there are a lot of them. I don’t want to know how many times I’ve staggered up and down with furniture and work bags, then later car seats, endless bags of groceries, and boys, always boys. The very first time we came here to stay, straight out of the taxi from a South African honeymoon, we found a basket of food and wedding presents just here. We carried it upstairs and sat on a brand-new bed to open them, and laughed a lot.

Once we manhandled our old oven down the steps, just the two of us. Don’t ever do that.

We don’t have a cat (people always ask). The boys like to use the cat flap for poking their heads through. I wouldn’t recommend this either.

***

Come in here, to the living room. The kitchen is small, but we’ve attempted all sorts. Mostly pies and things involving potatoes. Do you like pies? This oven does.

I brought my first baby home to this room, and I set the car seat on the floor just there and thought how alien it looked, and how nothing would be the same again, for my whole life. There was a before and an after, and the point in the middle was marked by that car seat on the floor. I was so sore, and so frightened. Then we sat on the sofa just here, battered and bruised together, and I smelled his head, uncurled his tiny fingers, and knew he belonged here just as we did. It worked out alright.

Henry walked for the first time from that sofa to that chair. He’s climbed up here and fallen off. And here. And here. And (lots of times) here. Right here is where he said ‘car keys’, which was the phrase that set loose all the others. Teddy worked out how to propel himself backwards here. And here he went forwards. And here (see those dents on the floor?) he went turbo-charged.

If you lie on the sofa and the weather’s just right, you can look straight up through the skylight like it’s a window into space.

Come and look out of the bay window. It’s nice. Be warned though, the neighbour will be able to see you dancing from their window.

This is a good floor for dancing.

***

This room started off as a study, became a nursery, then Sarah’s room, then back into a nursery for two boys instead of one. I thought a lot (too much) about putting that green on the walls, but now it reminds me of industrious train-building afternoons, early bed-head mornings, and quiet nights with soft breathing and soft warm bodies. I like a room with history, and this one has the most.

I like to sit here on the sheepskin rug, against the radiator, and write.

***

Upstairs again, and this is our room. I think of love and lazy mornings and that magnificent balcony. Sitting on the edge of the bed for a 4am feed, everything still, breathless with ache and wonder.

Teddy arrived just here. Yes, here. There’s a reason the carpet is new, and it isn’t that we liked the pile.

I’ve saved the best till last. Look, here’s where the sun floods through the skylight onto the floor. I’ve sat here to dry off, to cry, to read, to shut my eyes and let the sunshine bleed through my skin and light me up from the outside in. Sometimes I’ve sat here feeling broken into pieces. But I promise you, sometimes I’ve felt like every wonderful thing I ever dreamed of has flown through this window and landed on my lap.

We’ve been so happy here the walls must hum with it. It feels like I’m leaving my heart behind. It feels like I’m ripping myself in half.

Stand here, and let the warmth come up through your feet. This is your house now.

Tread softly, because you tread on my dreams. Oh my dear, they have been multi-coloured, diamond-sharded, breath-taking things.

I’ll let myself out.

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Flying the flag for date night

Photo 07-07-2014 08 31 52 pm

Real spouse talk: we find date nights hard these days.

Didn’t everyone say we would, and didn’t we think, all naively, that we’d find a way to work around it? I am in awe of couples who manage to get out once a week or even once a month. Whether you pay someone to come round (sometimes more expensive than we can afford, and difficult to do on weeknights) or just ask a friend (do they have kids already? What might the boys do to their house?), it’s bristling with awkwardness.

More real spouse talk: our relationship deteriorates, in measurable and significant ways, when we don’t have time alone.

And we do not want a relationship of pleasantries and routine. No, we signed up for hand-holding and intimate conversations and intimate everything else. I am here to make a stand and say that friendship, even best-friendship, is not good enough. Even with small children. Even with work and tiredness. I am here for heart-hurting love, and not a single thing less will do.

So it’s a good job, all things considered, that Timothy is the type to book tickets to BBC recordings on a whim, and take us off to London for the evening. All of us, because my brother- and sister-in-law were lovely enough to entertain the boys for the evening while we skipped off into the capital. They live just south of the river Thames, work in animation and theatrical makeup, and are the coolest and nicest people I know.

We were late, of course, so the first half of the date was characterised by sprinting: to the Tube station, onto the Tube, through a sandwich (awkward Tube eating is awkward), and then onto the theatre, where the lady told us they were already full. Great. So we took a long walk down through Bloomsbury to Covent Garden, and got a frozen custard from Shake Shack. Mine came with toffee sauce, chocolate pieces and a kind of malt powder that was like crushed Malteasers plus Horlicks plus crack. I ate it with blueberry lemonade at my elbow, and I honestly don’t think I’ll ever be the same.

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Pre-Raphelites woz 'ere. *shriek*

Pre-Raphaelites woz ‘ere. *shriek*

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Then – oh, my heart – we hired Boris bikes, and freewheeled over the river, Big Ben and the London Eye gleaming on the water, back to pick up the boys. I haven’t been on a bike since university, and went the whole way chanting ‘we’re not going to die we’re not going to die’. Three miles on a bike through London, while the sun sets? My date-o-meter just spontaneously combusted. We came back to chocolate fondue and some Peppa Pig talk, and it was all so perfect it hurt.

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Photo 07-07-2014 10 19 44 pm

On my flag of personal absolutes is painted ‘DATE NIGHT’. I believe in date night, however we wrangle it. If it’s on a Boris bike, so much the better.

Share with me your collected wisdom, o internet browsers: how do you make date night work? 

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