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.


The year of magical thinking

I looked this morning at my 2011 retrospective. So much happened that year – big, tumultuous, never-the-same-again life events – that I could hardly fit it all in one post. But 2012 hasn’t been the same: mostly just the growing of a boy, and our normal lives, and a lot of thinking and writing. As it stands, one of our most intense moments has been just now, when Timothy bet me a bottle of Coke that I couldn’t keep nine marmite-coated Twiglets in my mouth simultaneously (I WON, SUCKAS).

In some ways it’s been quieter. In a lot of ways it’s been louder. I have loved it.

Indulge me, then. This year we:

ate our Shrove Tuesday pancakes with fire-engine lipstick;


celebrated six months of boy;


fell in love with New York sidewalks and Florida sand;

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paid homage to the original Henricus Rex and his adventure playground;


wished Shakespeare a happy birthday;


watched as Henry crawled, and then walked, then broke all of our things;


completely lost our heads at the Hay Festival;


captained a narrowboat down an Oxfordshire canal;


met Jasper Fforde, and showered him with raisins;

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totally fell in love with the Olympics;


held a first birthday party;


camped the heck out of Dorset, and loved every minute;


gaped at Winchester Cathedral;

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and introduced Henry to Sprucey the two-headed Christmas tree.

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In between, I wrote about big things and small: resolutions, and the problem of chipping a Facebook-shaped hole out of my heart. Anniversaries and wedding wistfulness. Finding things holy, and facing outwards. Choosing my work. I formulated the drawbridge theory, the Sunday night breath, and the blog-browser’s call to arms. I wrote about the terrifying rubbishness of making adult friends.  I wrestled with babies and body image (more than once), and wrote sincere love letters to food. I communed with my inner polar bear mother, cleaned off my parenting slate, found my reset button, and took my boy out of the box I’d made for him. I got very, very cross about bookshops. I realised that writing things down was the best possible way of clearing my head, and I worked out where I stood on all sorts of things. I was comfortable with my opinions, and felt like I became more of myself.

And then, of course, there was much cake and even more stories to read.

(I did some actual work too, in case you were wondering.)

Appropriately, in a year that started with a celebration in the cheese aisle, we’re finishing it off with a cheese-themed New Year’s Eve party. I hope to be kissed at midnight and consume an entire slab of Wensleydale. And if that’s the case then, 2013, you have my full attention.

Reasons to be cheerful: the Sunday night breath

I think the whole world sits down on Sunday evening to take a deep breath. Tomorrow is Monday and everything starts again. We’ve had a low-key weekend after five days of sick bugs, busy evenings and interrupted nights. On Saturday afternoon we walked to the park and let Henry run off his lethargy, while we sat in soft grass together without saying much. It felt like convalescence. It also felt like the end of something. The late summer sun, using up its last hurrah.

Sure enough, today a persistent autumn rain set in early, driving us indoors and under blankets. I wasn’t sorry. Tim read a book while I cooked shepherd’s pie and listened to talks. Henry sat on the floor in his cardigan and bare legs (where were his trousers?), looking at the pictures in his library books. No one at all was producing or mopping up sick. It was blessedly quiet.

This week, this month, this run-up to the end of the year will be crammed as full as it always is – crammier even than usual, with a boy sprinting through the flat with his arms full, yelling at the top of his voice, getting taller every time he wakes up. I feel good about where we are and the things we have planned. I’m a little afraid of stretching myself, of doing more and being better; I’ve always thought that throwing yourself into things and letting things change takes a very particular type of bravery. But I’m ready to be busy and work hard. Still, I always need a breath before the plunge. And a Sunday evening, with jammy scones and shepherd’s pie and rain on the windows, gives me space to take one.