Category Archives: Thoughts

Belong to where you are

SAM_1724

I have this Anthony Burrill print on the wall of my downstairs loo. Ideally I would sit and ponder on it while I use the facilities, though of course I never use the facilities without a curious onlooker keen to hand me loo roll and compare genitalia.

(‘I just love talking to you’, Henry said the other day, when I requested some privacy.

‘Could you love talking to me in the times I’m not trying to wee?’ I asked. No go.)

I think about it, though. Belong to where you are.

It’s what we all want, isn’t it? Belonging? We want to sit in a place that fits, and feel like people are glad we sit there. I think I associate a compulsive need to belong with my teenage years, but really it’s never stopped. Back then there was the queen bee corner where the attractive rich kids sat, and the counter-cool staircase where the kids who unironically listened to Linkin Park sat. My own little tribe, the one I found eventually, was intensely saturated in American TV, films, a few totemic fantasy books and some elaborate in-jokes we all obsessed over. I think for a good five years we mostly spoke in quotes.

Being a shy teenager has left me with some sticky leftovers: one, I will never, in my heart of hearts, think I’m cool enough to be interesting; and two, I harbour an embarrassing, subconscious fascination with the queen bee corner. I’m thirty, and somewhere deep down I still want a popular kid to pick me out of the crowd and talk to me because they think I’m special.

It’s only just recently occurred to me that I can be the one who starts the conversation.

I hope I’m not alone in this (please tell me I’m not) but I’m great at thinking of reasons why I can’t belong.

I can’t be a writer because I don’t have a book deal (or ideas to put in a book, to be honest, apart from a detailed examination of nappy rash).

I can’t be a runner because I’m so astoundingly bad at it (seriously. According to Tim’s heart rate monitor, when I run my heart beats right out of the Maximum Exercise Zone and into the You’re Going To Die, Fool, Stop It zone).

I can’t be an attachment parent because, while I agree with the basic philosophies, I don’t enjoy co-sleeping, at ALL, and also breastfeeding was a hellscape of underfed babies and self-loathing.

I can’t be an Instagram queen because I don’t have any white chipboard to arrange my lunch on. My table is made of TODDLER-SCRATCHED GLASS, hello, so the background turns into an interesting fusion of discarded toast crusts and my own knees.

I can’t be a proper blogger because I don’t have ten thousand followers (don’t think I mind this, little band of followers: I love you with all my heart).

I can’t be your friend at the school gates because I’m young and an idiot and this is my first child and I don’t know what I’m doing.

Blah, blah, blah. Scumbag brain. I’m sure you’ve got lots of your own.

But it’s all nonsense, isn’t it? Who says I can’t try hard at something, and belong there even when I fail? We get to create spaces for us to sit. We get to be the ones to pick someone out of a crowd and start a conversation. We don’t need to wait for an invitation. More and more I believe that you’ll never lose out, being a little kinder than people expect.

Yesterday I was walking to nursery, and a girl walked past in exercise gear. She wasn’t your typical exercise-nut shape, and her headphones were probably a bit too big for a jog, and she looked red-faced and out of breath. But you know what? She was killing it. There was triumph in every line of her, and I knew that whatever she was doing, it was a huge step and she was proud of it. I wanted to be her flipping cheerleader, and follow her around just doing the Rocky air punch. It was fantastic. I beamed all the way home.

So I have decided not to be intimidated by anyone at the school gates come September. Some of them will be older and most of them will be fancier (ulp), but there’s no reason why we can’t be friends.

And I’m going to submit some work to some different places, and see where it takes me.

And I saw headphones girl again this morning, as I staggered behind the pushchair in my lycra towards the end of my four miles. We were killing it, and we knew it. We gave each other a giant wave.

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Hey, you know what would be really fabulous? I’ve been shortlisted for a Brilliance in Blogging award in the writer category, and if you have thirty seconds to vote for me, I’d be made up. Voting closes tomorrow night!

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On ovary-wrestling

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I’ve been struggling a bit with hormone rampages in the last few weeks. It’s been hard not to tip myself into sadness or self-flagellation every time my tether’s been shorter than I wanted, or I’ve forgotten to reply to an important message, or walked straight past the reusable shopping bags on my way out to Tesco (every. time.).

Riding the ole oestrogen wave colours all of my comings and goings with extra melodrama, like looking through a stained-glass window where every piece is the shape of a furrowed eyebrow. You may not know this (OF COURSE YOU KNOW THIS), but drama is sort of my life language already. One of these days I’ll hire myself a backing orchestra and be done with it.

Until then I’ve got on with important things like staring dolefully at the soap dish in the shower, obsessively reliving every human interaction to see if people really like me, and noticing the return of the freckle on my nose that looks like a chocolate smear, and having to go for a bit of a lie down. The ordinary incidents of our day – things I would normally laugh about, blog about, or send comical all-caps text messages about – have left me exhausted.

Do you think that when it’s the small stuff that knocks you down, only small stuff will pick you up? I’ve been sat in gloom so often this month and then been pulled back to myself, inch by inch, by a tiny, joyous thing. Some little sign from the universe that everything is working according to plan. Like:

sitting on the needled floor of the forest, listening with half an ear to boys arguing over Thundercats, and noticing an inch-long, bright green fern pushing out of the brown leaf mould next to my foot. A perfect curl at the top of it, defiantly taking its share of sun. Then looking more closely, and realising I’m surrounded by them, and just hadn’t seen.

***

laboriously shampooing dried honey out of my fringe after too little sleep, then opening my eyes to see that my water splashes have made a little column of hearts on the shower screen.

***

squatting on hands and knees by the high chair, picking up dropped noodles and peas one by one (because you can’t hoover them till they’re dry and I don’t have time to wait) and finding a mosaic of refracted rainbows on the porridge-stained carpet.

***

pausing in the middle of an oration on The Importance of Eating All One’s Lunch because the sunlight has reached over my shoulder to Henry, opposite, and lit up every blue-green-yellow-brown-turquoise hiding in his eyes, and it’s taken my breath a little bit.

***

I don’t know if you’re staring at a soap dish somewhere too.

Since it often takes someone else to remind you of what’s true when your stained glass tells you something different, let me tell you (and you can tell me, and we can tell each other): the sun will come up tomorrow too, like it always does.

There are tiny rainbows on your dirtiest carpet.

And there’s a forest floor somewhere near me, where new green ferns are growing, against all the odds, into light.

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Do you have a spare thirty seconds and a fondness for this blog? Then it would be super fabulous if you’d vote for me in the BiB awards writer category! Click this link and choose Make a Long Story Short! 

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A manifesto for being an all-round good egg at thirty

You do not know how hard I had to work to post a photo of me from the side with all my wrinkles intact. It's for a good cause. *sob*

You do not know how hard I had to work to post a photo of me from the side with all my wrinkles intact. It’s for a good, being-more-self-accepting cause. *sob*

I’ve been thirty for a week and I’m not dead yet.

I jest. I’ve been gently bemoaning my age as this birthday has approached, but my heart hasn’t really been in it. The one small moment of panic I had in January, where I sobbed ‘I’M GOING TO BE THIRTY AND I DON’T KNOW IF I’M DOING ANYTHING WORTHWHILE’, felt like it came from the usual insecurities of having small children and no performance reviews, and from the idea that I was supposed to be having a breakdown and had a spare ten minutes to get it done. (Do you ever feel something because you think you ought to? I think I do.)

So far – and it’s early days – I feel like thirty has given me permission to be unapologetic about myself. I spent most of my teens and twenties trying to fit myself in boxes that weren’t for me, like almost every other person in their teens and twenties who aren’t Luna Lovegood. Wishing my body looked different, trying not to resent the pounds I put on in pregnancy, the bagginess, flatness, fullness that came afterwards. Or adapting myself to the company I was in: trying to seem less clever or more clever, less religious, more conservative, less bothered about things that bothered me a lot (and vice versa). Trying to adopt the right parenting philosophies so the mother tribes would let me in. Worrying that being shy made me boring.

That last might still be true. But in the past months I’ve been feeling more and more comfortable in my own skin. I’m a champion worrier so it’s a bit odd: will it last? Is it a temporary madness? I’d like it to stick around. So, it’s election season here in the UK, and I thought I’d get on the bandwagon. Here’s a manifesto of sorts: things I would like to aspire to, most especially when I’m frantic and insecure, now that I’ve hit my one-score-and-ten.

This party would like to remember that its body has had a crazy five years. Sometimes I watch the boys running around and want to yell ‘hey, look at them! This body made them! This one here!’ First there came the growing-and-birthing part, which I need to tell you was not an inconsiderable commitment. Now I spend all my time jogging next to balance bikes, lifting into car seats, avoiding kicking tantrum legs, gathering little bodies onto my lap and rubbing backs while they cry snot into my hair. It’s hard and joyous graft. I’ve come a long way in the last decade, and so has the body I’m in. I want to give it the credit it’s due, treat it well and then embrace it as it is.

This party would like to write, and not be embarrassed about writing. And actually get paid for writing more often, because then I would be living my BEST LIFE.

This party will own what it believes in. I am a Mormon, and a liberal, and a feminist. It can be tricky to be all three. But I love my faith with a passion and I believe in liberal ideologies with a passion and I get very exercised about women’s rights. And, you know, I just don’t feel like playing any of them down anymore. There’s a Mantel quote that I love, and I think I’m going to stick it up somewhere:

‘I cannot unbelieve what I believe. I cannot unlive my life’.

Hear flipping hear.

This party will remember that being sane is important, and hobbies help it to remain so. I have interests both high and low, and it feels like I’m always mentally apologising for one of them. Sometimes I want something that makes me think, and sometimes I want to sit still while my brain dribbles gently out of my ears. I want to exist, unabashed, in the intellectual space I have room for at the time, whether that’s reading a Booker prize winner or an Agatha Christie, listening to symphonies or Heart Radio, watching art documentaries or House.

This party would like to organise its life in such a way that it never needs to take toddlers into a supermarket again. Seriously, it’s a killer. I would like to strike Putting Off Doing The Online Shop Until There Is Literally No Food To Feed The Clamouring Children off my list of special talents, where it reigns supreme.

This party intends to honour its need for space and quiet, but not make this an excuse. I am an introvert, but I never want to use it as an excuse for being rude. The older I get, the more I think that there’s not much more important than fulfilling your obligations and being kind. Or rather, so many things get easier when you’re pulling your weight and being kind first. I want to be someone people talk to because they know I’ll listen. I want to look after the friendships that mean the most to me. I want to be gracious (isn’t that a lovely word? I feel like hugging it to my chest).

This party declares its interest in wearing more shirts and eating more doughnuts. I’m wearing a shirt today with dragonflies on it, and honestly, just looking at my cuffs is filling me with glee. You can’t buy that happiness (actually you can, in TK Maxx. It was a steal).

I love the chap I married, and I love the boys we made, and I love the house we live in. And I know a lot of quite amazing people I can glom onto and learn from. That seems like a pretty solid base to start your next decade. So, um, vote for being thirty? I have doughnuts.

You can also vote for your favourite ever age, in the comments below. Thus far, honestly? My vote would be this one.

Oh, were you wanting a photo that totally encapsulates my life at the moment? Here you go!

Perhaps you were wanting a photo that totally encapsulates my life at the moment. Et voilà, it appears.

The women that made me

Nana

 

If I am a good mother, it’s because of my Nanna.

It’s because I learned from her that little things mean a lot to little people.

It’s because I know it’s possible to bear physical limitations and pain with unbelievable grace.

It’s because I believe most problems can be solved with a weekly helping of stew and dumplings.

It’s because I’ve seen the power of small acts of love, repeated over and over, for years.

 

Grandma (2)

 

If I am a good mother, it’s because of my Grandma.

It’s because I’ve seen how a mother can love better and stronger the bigger a family gets.

It’s because I have hope that I can come out of insane parenting chaos with my sanity and self intact.

It’s because I know I only need a loaf of bread to feed a crowd.

It’s because I learned the power of an unbreakable partnership with the one you love.

 

Grandmothers-in-law

 

If I am a good mother, it’s because of my grandmothers-in-law.

It’s because I know what it means to be a safe, kind place for someone new and insecure.

It’s because I learned that life is long, and full of adventures.

It’s because I feel the bonds that are made with thoughtful cards on the doormat.

It’s because I have hope that it will all be alright in the end, no matter what happens on the way.

 

mother-in-law

 

If I am a good mother, it’s because of my mother-in-law.

It’s because I believe that fresh air will solve most toddler problems.

It’s because I want everyone to be welcome at our dinner table, too.

It’s because I’ve learned about unflagging, tireless, practical kindness.

It’s because I’ve seen how to be illuminated by fierce spirituality.

 

Mama

 

If I am a good mother, it’s because of my mother.

It’s because I want to be the mother beloved of my children’s friends.

It’s because I appreciate a good kitchen dance party.

It’s because I’ve watched what it does when you build people up, instead of tearing them down.

It’s because I know that quiet, steady belief in my children will keep them going when nothing else does.

It’s because I want to be the gentle voice in the middle of the night, saying that everything will be ok.

 

If I am a good mother, it’s because I have been beautifully mothered. I am not just made of myself. I’m held up by women I have loved and who love me. And I have much further to go before I’ve learned all the lessons they’ve taught me.

But still, they’re there.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Seven

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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.

Bear witness

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I’ve left him for less than a minute, but I come in to find Teddy out of his high chair and squatting on the table.

His cereal bowl is upside down and the leftover milk is puddling around his bare feet.

He’s wearing a codpiece nappy, groaning with wee, that has popped the buttons on his vest open and forced its way out into the open air. It’s dangling so low between his legs that he looks like a male baboon.

And his bed hair, always spectacular, is better than usual this morning: he looks like he’s poked his finger in a plug socket, which would definitely have been the next thing he’d have tried if he’d managed to get down from the table.

He’s got a bad cold. Overnight his face has been lacquered with snot that has dried and smeared and dried again. There’s a fresh slug of it now, glistening cheerfully in front of his left ear.

He looks up as I come in. I sit down in front of him. ‘What are you doing, Teddy?’

He beams, because he has never had a better morning than this, because at twenty months every good minute is the best one so far. ‘Down? Teder — down?’ His vocabulary is increasing at a rate of knots, but he prefers consonants to vowels.

I think to myself that this must be why mothers love and love to their bones, no matter what their children do then or later. Surely I’ll look at Teddy’s face – as a boy, teenager, adult – and part of me will always know him at twenty months, sticky-haired and poking at puddles of milk around his feet. Toddlers open their heart to you because they don’t know what to do with what’s inside it. They haven’t learned yet to push their hair down or feel embarrassed about what’s on their face. And while they learn, poke things, love and struggle – this intensely vulnerable, fiery process of forging a self in front of you – there you are. Trying your damnedest to help and shape things for them, and sometimes making it harder, and sometimes not. But always there.

It’s not always comfortable and it’s rarely easy. I will never understand them completely, and that’s probably how it should be. But as my almost two-year-old holds out chubby hands and jumps off the table, milk droplets flying, codpiece swinging, abandoning himself to the air and my arms, I think:

I am here, and I see you, and you are making yourself in front of my eyes.

I feel like it’s a privilege just to be the one to bear witness.

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A little au revoir

So flipping good at this.

So flipping good at this.

You know, blogging is a funny old thing. I started in 2009 because I wrote diary entries from India and couldn’t stop once I got home. I feel about writing the way Harry Potter (aw!) feels about getting on a broomstick for the first time: a rush of fierce joy. Words are such intricate, beautiful things. You can search for exactly the right one and put it in exactly the right place, and all of a sudden you’ve created something that makes people feel. There are lots of things about my writing style I would change, and I’d love to do a creative writing course and get critically slapped into shape. The graft of it, though, fills me up like nothing else. And when you get it right, oh, you soar.

And so to this blog. I started writing about babies once I had them, and it was a way of recording things I might forget, and reaching out to parents in similar situations. It puts shape to the emotional seismic shifts that come with having children. If motherhood is a hopeful, flailing leap into the unknown – and it is, and the unknown includes much faeces – then blogging helps me map out the fall. Where are we now? What does this feel like? Where are you, dear reader? Are we both here together?

Here’s where I am: parenting blogging is sometimes overwhelming to me. We are in an intense phase of mother-and-toddlering at the moment, and it often feels like toddlering is all I can think about. Sometimes I want to read gentle advice articles, and humorous you-know-you’re-a-mother-when-this-sucks blog posts. Sometimes I want to write posts like that. Sometimes – more often, at the moment – I want to write about something else, ANYTHING else, and I scrabble around inside for another topic and can’t find one. And then I am frightened that I am an empty well, scraped clean by dirty nappies, and I have lost my words and they will never come back and nothing I’ve ever written has ever done any good.

I am keeping the melodrama tamped down tight, since you ask.

This means that sometimes the world of parenting blogging is my salvation, and sometimes I can’t bear to look at it another second. There are days I write something that gets picked up by Mumsnet and feel great about it, and days I want to be free from the anxiety that I am not as talented or popular as the people I follow on Twitter. I am very aware that these things are not Real People Problems, and that it ends up with me spending too much time on the internet. It all feels like a lot of bother, over a blog.

So I’ve decided to take a little break for at least the rest of the year, while I decide what it is I want this space to be. It might be a more streamlined place to talk about children, or it might be something else entirely. Or it might be just the same because, like Mariah Carey, I’ve decided I can’t liiiive if livin’ is without you[r stupid blog]. I can’t not write (I know this already) but I’m not sure what I can write that is worth the reading. I’m hopeful that it might, at least, be somewhere where I learn to write shorter sentences.

I’m sorry for rambling on at such self-indulgent length (if you enjoyed this you may also enjoy my sixteen-year-old diary) but I wanted to explain why Make a Long Story Short will be disappearing for a while. Because every single person who has ever read this blog, left a comment or told me they enjoyed it has done something for me I can’t really describe. Off I jumped into parenthood, arms flailing, wondering what in the heck I was doing. But there you were, too. There you were. Thank you.

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It’s all coming up gums around here.

Live a little

Come and sit by me, I want a chat.

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I feel two-dimensional, often, as the mother of two toddlers.

And I need a better way of categorising them than that, for a start. ‘Two toddlers’ is too brief to convey the sweat and tears and bruises and seesawing emotions. It says nothing about the early mornings, disturbed nights, battleground mealtimes, or constant anticipating and managing of their shifting moods.

It doesn’t talk about how they’re both toddlers, but at different stages with entirely different needs, and yet all of those needs are relentless and all the time, every minute that they’re awake.

It doesn’t get across the joy of it, either – the absolute heart-hurting beauty of their expansion and questioning and love. What a privilege it is to watch. How often I fall short of the trust they place in me, because they have to, because I make everything they know.

It consumes me. I never wanted to be consumed.

Over the summer I started getting twitchy about how much time Tim was spending on his bike. We have always encouraged each other to pursue our own interests: the ones that we fell in love with in the first place, that make us well-rounded people. But I was irritated by his ‘time off’ not because he wasn’t allowed it, but because I couldn’t think of anything I could do for myself in turn. I asked myself what my hobbies were, and came up with a buzzing blank. All of my thinking, writing, talking: all of it, about these boys.

Let me say that I know this time is short, and I will miss it when it’s gone.

Let me say that I believe creating and moulding this family will be the most important thing I will ever do.

Let me say that, despite all that, because of all that, I need to show them that I am their mother with my whole person. There are depths beyond the business of their immediate care. There are places I find joy that no one else can touch. They need to see it. If I do not start by showing them that women are three-dimensional, complex and interesting, how will they believe it of the women they will meet later?

I was revolving this around late one night, yearning for something I couldn’t put into words. What is it? I thought. What is it I want?

The answer came, eventually.

I want a richer life.

***

I’ve had that in my head as summer has deepened into autumn. A richer life. Not a different one, and not a busier one, but one with better things in it. More little things that make me happy. More balance. More connections. More attention to my spirit. If the canvas of my day felt like mostly pastel watercolour, I wanted oils. Have you ever seen a Van Gogh close up? The brush strokes are tiny, but every one of them is richly coloured and meaningfully placed. It’s one of the reasons I love him so much.

Um, I’m getting carried away.

I think it’s worth a shot, though, so I’ve been trying hard to put little dots of richness into my everyday. Here are some of the ideas I’ve been trying out:

– spending more time outdoors, in nature

– expressing appreciation to friends

– starting a book club

– choosing our family activities more carefully, so we’re outside/interacting/seeing new things/performing service

– exercising a couple of times a week (WHAT, I KNOW)

– using the fancy pottery and napkins at dinner

– having flowers on the table

– making my phone harder to reach from bed

– buying the good ice cream

– resurrecting old interests in art, history, music, theatre, and making dates to enjoy them

Not all of them at once. I’m not looking to be more stressed, just better balanced. I am in here somewhere, and so are you. So I am choosing little things, richly coloured, meaningfully placed. To help me feel like I can stand out on the canvas. Life in oils.

I think I’m starting to feel better.

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So tell me, because I need solidarity: have you ever caught yourself being COMPLETELY wrapped up in what you do for your kids? And what weird and wonderful interests do you have (or once have) that make you yourself? I can name the wigs in any episode of Alias you care to mention, and could tell you some things about the Tudor court that would make your hair curl.

Dear exercise-haters: you’re doing more than you think

Tim is running a marathon next year. I know, he is p r e t t y intense and very impressive.

I have no concept of what running 26.2 miles actually means (since for me it would only mean prolonged but certain asphyxiation) so I will leave the imagining to him. What it means for the moment is an exercise schedule including long runs, even longer bike rides, and the wearing of much lycra.

I am sort-of happy about the lycra, in that while lycra itself is a bit gross by definition, there is also so. much. leg.

What it also means is that he comes home starving and ready to eat like Henry VIII on weed. I join him in this endeavour, because I am a supportive wife. But I am not burning an extra 900 calories on a slow day, dear readers. So he’s eating a pig-inside-a-duck-inside-a-turkey and banging his mead goblet on the table, feeling revived, and I am eating the same and only feeling greasy and bloated and sad.

This is a problem. I love a marathon man, and I am an exercise-hater. We are basically the Romeo and Juliet of Sports Direct. The only exercise I ever enjoyed was dance class (a LONG time ago) and the yoga class I used to go to, pre-babies. I’ve never found a replacement. All other forms of exercise I have tried make my cells weep. I have done it, because I feel I should. But I hate it. Do you hear, Pinterest quotes superimposed over sweaty abs? I. HATE. IT.

It seems deeply unfashionable to be an exercise-hater at the moment. My Facebook feed is full of Zumba enthusiasts and excited spinners. There’s also, you know, the science (heart health! endorphins! ability to punch robbers in face!). Don’t worry, fellow exercise-haters: I am unlikely to start posting about My Fitness Journey any time soon. But all this proximity to sweating and good health has made me realise that, busy or not, exercise-hater or not, I need to start earning my own goblets of mead.

And I will. In October (probably). When things settle down. When I don’t have quite so many Doctor Who episode blogs to read at 11pm. Until then, to ease the guilt, I have compiled a list of STEALTH EXERCISES I’m doing right at the moment. If you are a fellow hater, you might find these helpful.

– carrying fifty pounds of boy up and down the stairs when they’ve both mysteriously lost the use of their legs at the same time

– continual manhandling, assembling and lifting of the HEAVIEST PUSHCHAIR KNOWN TO MAN

– sprinting up a flight of stairs after hearing an unmistakable ‘face in toilet’ kind of splash

– elevating heart rate by holding breath during abominable nappy changes

– elevating heart rate by stumbling over a silent toddler in the dark hallway at 1am on my way back from the bathroom

– using all possible muscle strength to prevent the Tesco trolley that always veers to the right from crashing into the Pringles aisle

– full-body-wrestling Teddy, the human demolition ball, into a set of clothes every morning

– squeezing self onto toddler-sized slide and pulling self out by sheer force

– 5pm – 6pm, where NO ONE WANTS TO BE PUT DOWN, EVER.

Doesn’t that make you feel better? I should put this on Pinterest. If anyone would like to apply to be my sweaty abs, send cover letters to the usual address.

I eat my feelings, and maybe you do too

SAM_3815

I am the sort of person who thinks a lot about food. You might be able to tell. Most of my jokes are about biscuits, aren’t they? I maintain forever and always that a good biscuit joke sets most people at ease and, an additional benefit, encourages them to think more about biscuits.

Lately I’ve been wondering whether my relationship to food is as healthy as it could be. My goodness, food and I are complex, intertwined, weirdly co-dependent creatures. Here are a few things that are true for me (are any of them true for you too?):

***

I am northern. My cooking tends to be on the heavy, meat-and-potatoes side of things. I like meat and potatoes best when it’s in a pie. DO NOT EVEN GET ME STARTED ON PIE.

I do not smoke, drink or take drugs, but I use chocolate ice cream in a way that resembles all of these things.

I like good food, whole food, expensive food…and down-and-dirty food, greasy food, delivered-to-your-door-in-a-damp-paper-bag food. I eat unhealthily often, and gleefully, but with a sad sense of grossness afterwards.

I tried counting calories once, and it bored the freaking pants off me. I would never, ever consider giving up dairy, wheat or meat unless I were actually dying. I mean, CHEESE.

I come from a family where our genes run small and skinny. I have a vastly skewed sense of ‘normal’ size and weight as a result. I place far, far too much emphasis on how much I weigh, rather than how I feel. If you ever asked me my weight, I could tell you and the number would be accurate to within 48 hours.

I would rather spend money eating out at a restaurant than buying almost anything else.

I don’t enjoy being pregnant, and I think maybe one of the reasons is that my body shape is out of my own control.

I often go days or weeks between fizzy drinks, but I have to close my eyes in intense appreciation after the first gulp of cold Coke. Every time.

I use food as reward and emotional salve: the times I’m eating for other reasons – exhaustion, boredom, stress, sadness – far outnumber the times I’m eating because I’m hungry. And by the way I talk about it (‘will some fruit snacks make you feel better?’), I think I encourage my children to do the same.

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Doesn’t that make me sound seriously unbalanced? I’m not, I promise. But this is hard: food is energy and health and a delight in its own right, a bringer-together of families and friends, delicious in its earthiness and physicality. You should love it, we say, but not the bad parts and not too much and not in a weird way. There has to be a line you can walk between ‘I like to eat’ and ‘I am unhealthily dependent on liking to eat, and use it to propel myself emotionally through the day’. I want to find that line. I think it would do me some good.

So I’ve been trying to make some changes around here – not so much in what we’re eating, but in how we eat it. These are not refined theories at all, and I’m really just feeling my way to some better habits. What do you think?

one,

I’m trying to be a little more aware of why I’m opening the  kitchen cupboard, and organising the continual grazing into structured meals and snack times. Ben & Jerry’s after the boys go to bed and before I start work? Reasonable. Ben & Jerry’s at 9.30am because drying my hair took less time than expected? Unreasonable.

Rachel4

two,

I’m trying to eliminate the idea of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ eating (adults talking about ‘naughty’ food is a cringey bug-bear of mine), and consider instead what my body might need to take in, and how much it needs before it’s full. I can appreciate the iron in our beef lasagne and the vitamins in my salad…while also accepting that sometimes a whacking great burger and fries is exactly what I need, because it tastes nice and I enjoy it.

Rachel2
three,

I’m trying to make our daily family meals more of an event, particularly dinner time. Flowers, place mats, fancy napkins and serving bowls, little side dishes to round out the main course…we usually saved these for guests, but why should we? I am a big believer in forging our family links around a dinner table. This is where the boys learn to talk about their day and listen to someone else’s. They need patience and social graces to make it through a meal. And I’ve noticed that when I make it feel a little more fancy, Henry is more excited to be there, and more inclined to raise his game.

Rachel1

four,

I’m trying not to make quite so many jokes about biscuits. KIDDING, AS IF I WOULD EVER.

Rachel3

I ate Ben & Jerry’s while writing this, and I can’t decide whether this is ironic or whether ice cream and blogging is a perfectly reasonable combination. But here’s to food in its proper place: on our plates, in our bellies, making us happy but not, somehow, needing to. I’ll clink our cheeseburgers together to that.

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