Eight years of you

For Lucas,

Happy Birthday bud! My beautifully headstrong little man. Well not so little now, what with all the recent growing and lengthening you’ve been doing! In just the last few months you’ve shot up a number of centimetres and shown how time doesn’t ever stand still, not even for the slow to adapt mother, pining her long lost baby boy in the corner!

Where have these years gone? From bald, chunky baby, to bald, chunky toddler! To cute, fun-loving little boy to growing, changing, ambitious lad! And now: football mad, book obsessed, tech loving, trampoline bouncing, snuggle sharing dude! Time has slipped away so fast and yet it sometimes feels like just yesterday that you entered this world and changed our paths forever…

It’s been another full on year since I last wrote. We’ve moved house (again), spent the summer at home: having adventures, camping in the garden and cleaning up after your numerous accidents: bleeding noses and smashed front teeth to name a couple. And then just when we thought all would return to normal and the poor run of luck had ended, you went and broke your elbow on the first day back at school in September! It’s been shakey at times to say the least, but your resilient and pragmatic approach to life has buoyed us along these bumpy roads and sees us here a whole year since your last birthday still doing that thing called life and at times doing it brilliantly!

As time has moved on this year, you have grown in your confidence and self belief. You are slowly inching away from the space carved out for you under our wings as you begin to spread your own. We are not needed in the same way, not sought out as much now, as you grow more independent and begin to let go of the younger years. Even though it is a gradual transition from little child into an awakened one, it’s a journey I like to think back on before it all slips away and recall with great love. The fierce protector is still there on the sidelines, waiting for when she is needed again!

I often feel too much time passes without a proper meeting of our souls these days and I yearn for more time to just be with you: listening, laughing, learning. I guess it does make it all the more precious when we prioritise this though and I have loved walking with you, trampolining with you, food shopping with you, etc this year when just the two of us get to be together and be fully present in each others company. You are such great company and always so laid back!

Your quieter approach to life often brings a current of peace to the family (when you’re not gripped in a tenacious battle of wills). You have an inner flame that burns fiercely when needed, but doesn’t dominate us (all the time). The emotions are starting to swell more recently though and more and more you show your frustration in new ways, louder ways; more forceful feelings with sharper edges erupting in the more heated moments. When these waves aren’t surging in your little body though, you return to us again, a calming influence on the family, the easy-going boy who would rather make peace and leave a situation than fuel an argument with your own flames of passion. Your siblings are very lucky to have someone so accomodating, a brother that often puts their needs above his own, a family member that continually pushes for time together and understanding of each other above all else.

This year you have become even more passionate about reading (if that’s possible) and devour any Tom Gates, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Harry Potter, David Walliams, etc that come your way! In fact most nights you need reminding to stop reading so you can get some sleep before the next day and another reading session. You would go through a whole book each night if you got half the chance! You also need frequent reminders that we only have one loo in this house and even though you’d happily sit and read in the cubicle for the entire afternoon, it doesn’t always fit in around the nature calls of the rest of the family! But we won’t share that one with the rest of the world!!

Reading is definitely something you find joy in and it is a delight to see. If you’re not reading we can usually find you writing, as you work hard on your ambition to become an author…if the professional footballer bit doesn’t work out! You do love a bit of football though and are still completely obsessed with Tottenham and wearing football kits and generally being constantly active. When we got given a trampoline a few months back you created new games that combine football and bouncing, so as not too miss out on either and within just a few weeks you’d practically developed a six pack after non stop jumping and kicking for hours each day! You are out there every day, come rain or shine, in the day light and when it’s pitch dark. Even the lure of your favourite dinner often isn’t enough to get you back inside!

Each year I think back to how I was able to grow something so amazing in just 36 weeks. That in just 258 days a tiny person, complete with a unique personality and resolute spirit was brought into our family and made us feel like a real unit, a tribe, a complete picture. And with each passing year I reflect on the growth of your spirit and the soaring of your soul and how firmly planted you are on this earth and many a heart. How sure you are of yourself and where you belong. How certain you are in your belief and trust of others. How positive you are about the world and just how precious you have made my life become.

I hope you have a wonderful birthday this year my precious boy. I hope you know how truly loved you are each and every day.

Kisses, hugs and birthday snugs,

Mummy Xx

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International Women’s Day 2019

To my youngest sisters,

I don’t often write to you. In fact I’ve probably only really ever written birthday cards, text messages and the odd email in the past. I think of you often though and wish I had more time to write letters, notes of encouragement or lists of all the reasons you make me happy! More time to be the play the big sister role, shower you with love and wish you well in your challenges, exams, etc. Mostly I’d love to see you more, but for now I’ll keep sistering from afar and loving you immensely with every beat of my heart!

I may not be physically there for you much, or able to remind you as often as I would like how loved you are, but I hope you know how proud I am of you, like immeasurably proud! I feel such pride when I tell others about you and what you do, how talented you both are and how kind, loving and thoughtful you have always been. I swell with a feeling of pure delight that you two wonderful and strong young women are related to me; are part of my life, my family, my story.

Most people think of close families or siblings as sisters and brothers that have grown up together. The other children you are related too, have shared memories with, enjoyed holidays with. Siblings are those people that you recall your childhood with, the make believe games you all used to play, the lessons you learnt from each other, the birthday parties that one of you ruined, the cheeky things you did behind your parents backs! Not many people have siblings they have never even lived with, such is the gap between their ages! Stories of families with numerous siblings, such as Little Women (obvious choice, what with it being about an all female family and that) probably wouldn’t have been so well received if part way through Meg and Jo’s adult lives dear old Marmee had a couple more babies and life in the Plumfield house wasn’t all Pickwick Portfolios and tending to gardens anymore, but became more emotionally charged and full of gritty court battles and people carriers breaking down! But hey, I digress!

But even with a lack of some of the shared experiences like those above (before the random tangent), the depth of love and sense of belonging bound you even tighter in my heart than I thought possible and our lives as a family was given a whole new meaning and purpose once you joined it. I was still waiting to come alive before you two came, but you ignited a new flame inside me. You brought the family exactly what was needed at those times: grace and then faith. I didn’t realise until years later just how important those words (you girls) were in those moments; the comfort you restored and the solace you delivered .

Despite being a whole 17 and 19 years older than you girls, respectively, I think you both have taught me far more than I could have ever taught you! You have brought such light and joy and happiness into my life. You have shown me real grace. The times we have spent together have been some of the most precious times of my life, the holidays we have joined you on have brought me closer to being the sibling/ daughter/mother I want to be. You have restored my faith in humanity and my trust in the workings of the universe. In a nutshell I feel so blessed that you were given to our family; that I get to be your sister!

So today I want to celebrate you. Today I want to shout from the rooftops and let the whole world know just how wonderful you are. I would do this any day of the week, but today feels like a good day to remind you girls how much you mean to me and what an incredible blessing you have been to our family.

Our family may look different to most from the outside. Our family may be one of those ‘blended’ things that society judges for existing alongside the nuclear picture of perfection and immaculately presented married parents, but I wanted to remind you two (and the bigoted world), that our family wouldn’t be the same without you. I wanted to celebrate the importance of family bonds, the abundance of love that flows even during the darkest of times and how you two in particular have given more than one of us a reason to live when life didn’t seem worth its daily struggle any more.

I want to keep reminding you of how proud I am of the beautiful young women you are becoming. I want to remind you of how capable and strong you are. I want to tell you that you are resilient and loving. I want you to know that you are wanted and that you belong. And that I would travel to the ends of the earth for you!

Thank you for being my sisters. I love you.

Raych Xx

Doing Less

Have you noticed how we all seem completely hung up on making progress? How we all strive to move forwards and upwards and do more? Since the early teenage years we start this path of looking into the future, forward planning, ever climbing, reaching for new goals and tracking set trajectories. We constantly ask young people what they want to be when they are older, what job they intend on getting to support their youthful spending sprees. We hound them with questions about University and travelling and god forbid they would want to take a gap year! How lazy! What linear progress do you get from that? It will be hard to get back into studying after a year larking about!

Honestly I’ve heard it all. Then even if you follow the ‘set’ plan: School, College, University, Job, the questions still come thick and fast. “So what subject are you hoping to lead after your NQT year?” “Do you run any clubs yet?” “Where do you see yourself in 5 years? Ten years?” “What about Headship, would you ever consider that?” “SLT?” It’s endless! People love the security in knowing the plan, in having steps mapped out so everything can run smoothly and a picture is painted of straightforward progress, development, movement. Ever moving, never stopping.

Work seems to be a big one where we try to make progress, go places, become leaders, move up the ladder, etc. But what happens when you take a break from your career? When there is a pause in the plan? When the normal course is put on hold? Does the need to make progress, look busy, be doing things go away? Most definitely not! Mums and Dads who take parental leave to look after their children still face these questions of progress regularly: “When will you have to return to work?” “Will you be going full time or part time, etc, etc.” “How do you manage one one income?” “Don’t you miss it?”

Good luck to you if you actually choose not to return at the ‘typical’ time and in fact choose to be one of those strange people that just stays at home for years doing childcare! Have you not heard that society has progressed from submissive mothers? I mean what kind of progress are these subhumans making? How are they climbing the ladder of productivity?!

Well I can tell you from nearly a decade of (not working) experience…not all that much…in the economy, but I can also tell you that life still goes on! Even when you stop the continual goal setting, take a break from the rat race the world pretty much keeps on turning! You don’t instantly fall into a black hole and get forgotten about (well not always)! Society still drums home the importance to keep working hard, staying busy and making progress, but really it’s just because we’ve stopped being much good at stopping! Pausing, waiting, resting. The strangest sound has become silence, the oddest behaviour: solitude and the most uncomfortable situation: unstructured time!

With my youngest having just reached the age where she qualifies for a few free nursery hours, the progress questions are rife once more. “How often is she going to be at nursery?” “What will you do with all your time (those endless 6 hours, well less when you’ve factored in the hysterical handover, slow guilty walk back home and brisk walk back up the hill for pick up)?” “Will you be looking for work?” “I bet you can’t wait to get your life back.” (Possibly the one question that really gets my back up, because this is my life. Once a mother always a mother and all that!)

I’m not offended by these questions. In fact I’ve been known to ask exactly the same of friends, colleagues and relatives. There just seems to be something we all love about continually looking forward. About planning and progress and doing things! Don’t get me wrong, I too like thinking ahead. Like when winter is in full blown cold mode, wet and miserable each day I often look forward to the warmer, longer days of summer returning. I plan things for school holidays (mainly so I don’t go completely insane being shadowed by three children 24/7). I also dream and map ideas that I can work on, set goals that I will achieve in a particular time frame, but I have also learnt that sometimes doing nothing is also rather nice too!

Being part of a society that pushes and encourages this forward movement and linear progress I have found myself rushing from one season to the next in the past. I have immediately looked to fill the hours when my children have started nursery or full time school, despite having barely slept since the moment they were born or rarely had a moment without an audience since they took their first breath! I have taken up jobs or volunteering roles the minute little chunks of time have become my own again. I have listed all the things I will do in the time without children, so that not a minute is spare and I appear to be busy, moving, progressing. I get the badge of ‘normal’ (or close enough) back on my chest for all to see! I become visible in society again because I’m not shadowed by children, so I must be doing something!

This time though, I aim to do things a little differently. I plan (see still needs to be purposeful 😉 )to hold back, not rush and do less, but with more focus. I want to make good decisions when I look ahead, I want to be able to consider my progress rather than look to compete with others. I want to find a sense of calm instead of swinging from one extreme feeling to the next.

When we sit and we actively listen, we can be surprised by the thoughts or mental dialogue rushing through our mind, so used (are we) to filling any silence. Sometimes, however, these moments without a plan or set agenda can be the beginnings of great things: ideas, creativity, new ambitions. Sometimes they can just be a chance to sit and recharge and that’s ok too. To be honest, that’s what I expect to be doing mostly in these moments without children: recharging ready for when we are back together! Whatever happens though, I just hope I can do a little bit less this year, so that I can do more!

World Mental Health Day 2018

I’ve shared this photo with friends on social media before, but today on #worldmentalhealthday2018 I want to let you in on a secret:
In this picture I am proper belly laughing, I’m surrounded by some of the most important people in my life and I’m in the arms of the man I love. That’s the obvious bit, not the secret! However, despite looking like I’m having the time of my life I will tell you that this was taken at a time when I felt so low, so alone and completely worthless. I was struggling with dealing with some challenging behaviour from the children, the rejection of plans being changed and cancelled and a whole 6 weeks of summer holidays with 3 young children, just to name a few!
I felt inadequate as a mother, friend, sister and partner. My head was full of negative talk, unfair comparisons and unkind truths. I hated the way I looked, I felt like the party bore, I felt a burden to the people around me and was terrified of any tears spilling over ‘for no reason’ like they had been doing so often in the days and weeks leading up to this event. In the car on the way to the party, my intrusive thoughts tried once again to take over, convincing me we were all going to die on the motorway, but that it would be for the best as my children deserved so much better, leaving me with heart palpations, severe nausea, a headache and those wretched tears rolling down my cheeks.

Unfortunately this was not a one off event. This is what has been my life for the last 10 years (15 if I’m really being truthful). I have become an expert at playing the part, and looking like I’m ok. I can smile and laugh even when my soul is completely crushed and I’ve hidden behind a coping mechanism of turning up and appearing I am in control because the alternative, that of falling to pieces in public, asking for help, actually voicing to someone that I am not coping seemed even more terrifying.
I am a trained teacher, I have numerous siblings, I have taken care of children for years for goodness sake. I should be able to do this, yet I felt I was failing everyday at being a mother. I was failing the children I loved more than anything in the world and burdening the family with my negativity.
The shame that still surrounds mental health issues and the feeling that I would be letting so many people down by admitting I was struggling, let alone the anxiety of future scenarios played out in my mind should I ever get help, has made me hide away and carry most of these feelings alone for so long. I hated myself. I felt I wasn’t good enough to be given help. I felt I had so many good things I’m my life that I shouldn’t be feeling like this. I felt I wasn’t worthy of taking up space in this already overpopulated world.
However, this photo also symbolises a turning point, the point where I said “I can’t do this anymore, but I’m not going to give up. This time I’m getting help.” Finally after all these years I have started some of the hardest conversations I’ve ever had. I’ve had to open up to people about some of the deepest secrets I’ve kept for years. I’ve talked with professionals about what I think I need and listen to what they think I need too. Not only for myself, but things I need to do as a parent, a friend, a partner. I feel all kinds of vulnerable and self conscious and exposed, but I hope that this time next year when this particular photo pops up in my memories it will be attached to positive feelings rather than that of shame and being a failure. Only time will tell I guess!

#worldmentalhealthday
#keeptheconversationgoing
#brokenandstrong

A 3rd Year Running

To my fierce, untamable force, Norah,

Happy birthday! Today you turn 3. You have been counting down the sleeps for ages now, the last 5 being the most important because you can remember what those numbers look like on your fingers and can show us each morning how there is one less than the day before. You then hold up the all important 3 fingers and remind us that this is how many you will be on your birthday. You will be three, you will be a big girl and you will be having a dinosaur cake!
Since your second birthday you have informed me at every opportunity that when you turn three you WILL have a dinosaur cake because that is what you have at 3 (apparently)! This certainty and self confidence basically paints a picture of the strong willed little girl you are. You know exactly who you are, what you are able to do and what you need. Your fierce character, free spirit and strength of self is absolutely wonderful and I hope you carry this tenacity throughout your life.

This year you will take the next step into childhood when you start nursery. It’s not until January (& still 2 years until you start school 😱) but you are so excited about going to play with new friends (the adults no doubt) and other children! You are such a lover of people and have some friends that are very special to you- Eva, Hudson, Darcie, Rey and the old man at the swimming pool! Every day you mention these select few: how you like playing with them, how funny they are, how much you like their houses and how you want to be just like them when you are their age (not sure you quite understand you are in fact older than some of your friends)! It’s not just these few either. There are your cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents that are special to you too. When trying to plan a little party for your birthday you were very clear who you “needed” to come. So much for sharing a slice of cake and a game or two in the back garden with a couple of mates. With the extensive list you gave me we are now having to plan a picnic at a national trust property just so we can include all these people that you love and want with you when we celebrate you turning 3!
I just love this about you. You do not discriminate, you are not ageist, you listen to your heart and you love deeply. What a special little girl you are. Whenever I watch a program or film with a strong, intense, spirited female or listen to a particular artist I get glimpses of the you of the future: Wonder Woman, P!NK, Nakia and Okoye from Black Panther, Ant Man’s daughter, even the BT advert of the little girl rushing home for the football! That confidence, emotional integrity, persistence, etc. They are the strengths I see in you daily and I admire greatly.

Your passion for people, babies, dancing and Dele Ali are all felt from the very depths of your soul. Every choice you make is done with full commitment and dedication. You respond to music in a way that speaks to your very core, losing yourself in the moment of movement and expression. You are so desperate to start ballet lessons I’m going to suck up all my negative thoughts and fears of being a dance mum and enrol you in classes. I’m not sure you will necessarily join in what is expected, perhaps using it instead as a 30 minute choreography session, but I know you will love it! Whenever we read ‘You Choose’, you make it very clear that when you are older you will be a ballerina, wearing football boots and doing bungee jumps in your free time! This is so you, a mixture of girly girl, a cooky hippie and adventure junkie!

One of your favourite things at the moment is to climb trees. You have been climbing since you were about 9 months, the stairs being your first Everest and now it’s trees… Right to the top or at least as high as the branches allow you. Way higher than me, your dad, a house if you were given half the chance. The little dot you become way up in those branches has the biggest grin on her face and pure extacy coursing through her veins. And then in what can only be described as a Tarzan like manner you descend from the highest of heights swinging and scrabbling down proclaiming you are a monkey, not quite knowing how accurate this description is!! You will not be held back in your determination to live the life you like. Thats for certain and good luck to anyone that even attempts to stand in your way. Over are the days of baby swings and toddler slides in the park, preferring instead the giddy heights of the toys geared towards the older children and the gym equipment set up for teenagers. You climb, swing, hang upside down, slide and do pull ups with the strength and confidence of a body builder and when you feel you’ve pushed yourself further than you first expected, you punch the air and announce ‘ that was epic’!
I remember one of the first times you used this phrase. It was back in the winter, not long after your second birthday. We had travelled up into London with some friends to watch the Very Hungry Caterpillar (and other stories) at the theatre. Whilst avidly watching the gripping final scene of the Lonely Firefly when he sees fireworks for the first time, the actors popped a paper canon towards the audience as if a real colourful firework had indeed gone off right in front of you and you uttered this exact phrase in a loud and clear voice (in an otherwise silent theatre) that even the people on the stage laughed!

You don’t hold back. You say it exactly as it is. Exactly as you see it, think it, feel it. This can be utterly wonderful ‘oh mummy look at that beautiful dress she has on. I think she is a princess’, ‘ the sky looks like a big campfire tonight with those lovely colours’, to completely cringe worthy like the time you saw someone asking for food in the high street with a sign that said ‘im hungry’ (you asked what the numbers (you meant letters)said), whereupon you said very audibly “why is he saying he’s hungry when he’s got a big burger from the egg chip shop already”! For he was indeed chowing down on a big Mac! One day I’ll teach you the art of compassion and subtlety! But not right now and not when you are just opening your eyes to the rest of the world!
Perhaps one of the most perceptive little people I know (just like your brothers) you spot the detail in everything that would otherwise be lost on the rest of us. The signposts with your letter on, the logo of a supermarket on a piece of rubbish littered on the street, the mere suggestion of a game you have seen in a drawer in your friends brothers room whilst looking at a picture in a magazine, the colour of a flower that matches an item of clothing you probably last wore a year ago! It is all important to you. Just like when you wanted to know what everybody was called, it is now important to know where they live, what siblings they have, what car they drive, what cake they had at their last party! Its incredibly exhausting sometimes, bit there’s just something so endearing about being asked which PJ mask character you like best, when you are 33! Or if I also like dipping grapes in my yoghurt at lunchtime! If it’s important to you, it’s important to me and I’ll be sure to say Owlette at the right time and how I not only like grapes in yoghurt, but also apple and strawberries! And then you will make you big ‘wow! no way eyes’ and insist we eat that RIGHT NOW so you can see if you like those combinations too!

You will. You like everything! You think food is wonderful (me too)! You think it’s absolutely necessary that you have at least some crisps every day, “because that’s what you need at lunch”, who cares if we’re eating something hot. You just love it all. You love life and you bring that joy into the lives of others too. You smile, wave, hug and kiss with ease and happiness. Well apart from when you are giving someone your epic frowns because right then you don’t want to be all joyful and you’d rather scowl and probably call them an ‘imbecile’ or something equally blush inducing to a mother who is trying her best not to add to the ASBOs on our streets!

From the little baby slowly emerging into toddler at your last birthday, you have grown so much since then, even if it’s just in the amount of rude words you know now! Even the toddler stage is rapidly slipping away as you make your mark and grow up into your unique individual self. Gone (mostly) are the days of feeding you at bedtime and lying next to you, holding your hand, for what felt like hours. As are the hundreds of night feeds (down to 1 or 2 now), reminding you to go to the loo (you just sort yourself out these days) and helping you get dressed each morning. I’m not even allowed to choose your clothes these days, you’ve got that covered too!
We have moved house (again) since your last birthday. That’s a new house for each birthday you have had so far! *Please be aware this is not part of a normal life plan or anything to do with your gift, so don’t set your hopes too high for next year!*

We have been to new places, swum in new pools, climbed bigger trees, eaten amazing cakes, dipped all manner of things in our yoghurt and read a million more books. Your favourite colour is most definitely pink now, everything must be pink: clothes, shoes, sweets, cakes… And we have had a fair few bumps along the way too. Like when you broke your arm a couple of months back and got so poorly with Hand Foot and Mouth in the spring. It’s been tough at times trying to safely guide you in this complicated old world of ours, but we are learning each day and using our strength and resilience to grow together.

Thank you for being my beautiful, brilliant, crazy daughter. Have a wonderful birthday my little peanut buttercup.
Your (permanently exhausted) Mummy Xx

#BodyPositivity

As soon as the sun comes out the opinions about exposing bodily flesh start. You get the ‘hilarious’ posts about dressing for the body you have, not the body you wish you had 🙄 The gyms go all hunter-gatherer mode and pounce on any and every unsuspecting individual walking down the street and you will see approximately 48,000 memes about being ‘summer body ready’ or not 🙄 And then we wonder why mental health issues are on the increase and our children are more concerned than ever about the way they look ☚ī¸
Girls (especially, but boys are certainly not immune) become the target of body shaming for daring to have a spectrum of body shapes that do not fit with the very narrow margins promoted by society and are encouraged to hide their ‘flaws’ ☚ī¸

I have had a very negative self image for as long as I can remember. I have used every chance encounter with a mirror to mentally abuse myself and the way I look. And then I had children! Everything changes when you have birthed these innocent, non judgemental individuals!
Slowly, so slowly. So slow in fact that a snail being lassoed by a toddler digging their heels in (probably because they were asked to put the jelly back in a supermarket or something equally important) and expecting to be dragged along would probably overtake me, I have tried my hardest to love and accept the body I have.
So now when I look in the mirror, I try to challenge the automatic negative thoughts that immediately confront me and exchange them for truths and honesty.
“Your thighs are huge” for “Your strong legs allow you to walk wherever you need to go”
“Those stretch marks on your stomach are vile” for “Your body was able to grow and give life to 3 healthy babies”
“Your flat chest makes you look out of proportion” for “Your breasts have nourished and sustained all your children for as long as they needed them”

It is so important for me to model to my children how beautiful and amazing our bodies are, no matter what size or shape and all the incredible things they can achieve however they are perceived by others. So with this in mind I decided I would take on the biggest challenge I have set myself recently and buy a bikini! 👙😱

I absolutely love being out in the sun. I love how the warmth radiates into my body and fills me with happiness and joy. I get a true sense of peace when the sun is shining and it fuels my passion for promoting good mental health and self worth. So with plans to head to a splash park for the day I picked up a new swimsuit and tried to feel confident! Well they do say “fake it till you make it”! 😂
It was out of town, so it wasn’t like I’d see anyone I knew & it was only my family with me, who accept me for who I am! Sometimes you’ve just got to take that leap! What’s the worse that could happen? Apart from bumping into three people you know and their families 😂😱

I wore my bikini top, with my disproportionate chest size barely filling the cup, stomach rolls folding over my shorts, the stretch marks covering my body and my pock marked skin for all to see, because life is not about fitting in to other people’s perimeters, but finding your own place of comfort. I showed my children that (as long as you wear enough suncream) you can embrace the body you have whatever the weather. You can stay cool in the heat wearing clothes that you want to wear and you can feel good about yourself fully clothed or completely naked! To be honest I felt like a total fraud, felt people would be looking and judging, but I did it! It may take another few years before I feel brave enough to do this again, but it’s serious progress for a self hater, a personal body shamer, a body dysmorphic owner!

#LoveTheBodyYouHaveNotTheBodyYouWishYouHad
#PositiveBodyImage
#SelfLove
#ChallengeSociety
#YourBodyIsAmazing

7 Gentle Ways to Support Children When Moving House

Moving house can feel like an insurmountable task for anyone, (just today for example I suddenly had a massive panic whilst out shopping about all the things I still need to do to get our house move sorted and how we might not be able to afford forking out an extra ÂŖ100 per month, despite paying ÂŖ450 for the privilege of someone agreeing that what is written on Carl’s payslip is the same number we told them it would be and if we use 2/3 of his monthly income we can cover the rent), but children can often be affected at an even deeper level as the safety and security of their family home is somewhat ‘threatened’ beyond their control:

“Mummy I don’t want to go to a new house. I want my house right now,” announced my 2 year old this morning, whilst walking to school.

Even if it is an event they have experienced numerous times, for whatever reason, moving house is a big life event that takes time to come to terms with. I’m still waiting to feel excited or positive about the upcoming move, to be honest!

Anyway, having now moved 3 times as a family and currently gearing up for move number 4 (in 5 years), we have learned a fair few things about supporting children through this period of change and ways to bring about a sense of calm amid the chaos that we’d love to share with you.

1. Prepare them for the event:

We are always honest with the children about an upcoming move and try to keep them informed (at an age appropriate level) of when this will be happening, why and where we will be going next, as much as possible. To begin with we might casually drop it into a conversation about how the landlord wants to return to/ sell the house at some point so that the dialogue is open.

We often get books out of the library about moving house (especially helpful for preschoolers) so we can talk about the process (planning, viewing, packing, etc) and help them visualise what will happen. There are several great books out there, which cover the basics (Usborne First Experiences: Moving House, Topsy and Tim)- getting boxes, cleaning things, clearing out clutter, packing up a lorry, etc and some more that also include the feeling side of things (First Time Stories: We’re Moving House)- sadness at leaving friends behind, anxiety about sleeping in a new room, excitement about a bigger garden. These are a great tool for supporting the thoughts and feelings your child(ren) might go through, but don’t necessarily have the ability to express verbally. Even as adults the range of emotions creep up on you!

We also encourage role play (putting things in bags and boxes and ‘driving’ with our things to a new place), we might make/ take/ draw some pictures of houses and talk about what makes it become a home, what our ideal place would be, etc and mark the move date in the calendar when known. Although none of these seem much on an adult level, they can really help young children feel a part of the process, know it will be ok in the end and have a basic idea of what moving house looks like.

2. Take them to visit the new house:

Once you are in a position to pay a holding deposit and tenancy agreements are being written up (slightly different for buyers), try to arrange another viewing of the property for your children.

Going to look around the actual house they will be moving into is much more comforting than taking them with you on prospective viewings, even if it does seem quite exciting nosing round a load of random properties in the local area! We have found that no matter what the house looks like, the child will cling on to the hope that it will be ‘the one’, as a means of acquiring some degree of security, but can then get incredibly upset when you decide otherwise.

Having the chance to view the new place before move in day gives them a sense of ownership and means nothing is a surprise or something to worry over. The empty place allows them to plan where things might go and how they will make use of the space when their own things are there.

3. Involve them in the packing:

Every child loves a box and what better time to give them some to play with, make dens with, build forts with than when moving house. It can actually make packing up quite a fun process and gets them involved in something, leaving you time to crack on with the real packing!

Another way to help children adjust to a move is getting them involved in packing up their belongings and sorting through their toys so they know where things are on the other side. They might want to help organise toys, books, teddies etc in a particular way, make labels for the packaging and help think about where they will put each item in the new place. If you are 2, you may enjoy being in charge of cutting the tape used for sticking box flaps down, because you can now use scissors independently, or that might just be my tiny one!

There is always about a week or so (if you are doing all the packing and moving yourself) when most things are packed up and unavailable for use until after the move and this is where ‘Treasure Boxes’ become a lifeline! Over the years we have crafted little treasure boxes that the children can fill with their most prized possessions. It could be their favourite book, their most cuddly teddy, some photos,etc, or things that look like absolute trash to you, but mean something to the little lost soul with nothing to play with!

When we were made homeless as children for 6 months, a small package of my favourite things (it wasn’t tied up with string though) brought such comfort to me during the upheaval of not having a permanent place to call home.

4. Show feelings:

In the weeks prior to moving house, you just have to accept that anything goes! Any feeling and emotion can and most probably will be felt at one point or another: extra tears, huge temper tantrums, hyper activity, for example and this whole range of wobbles illustrates just how unsettling and upsetting packing up a family home can be, even for us seasoned professionals!

As adults we have found feeling all the feels and then supporting others through them can be one of the biggest challenges with moving, but the simple act of labelling feelings, being open about your own struggles (“I’m feeling so sad today about leaving this house and it’s making me quite grumpy. I could do with a nice big hug!”) can help children identify why they might be struggling and how to ask for help!

Feeling new or big emotions may seem out of place or worrying for children, especially if this is their first move or they are a particularly sensitive child, but with support they can get through the emotional turmoil and be excited for the future.

5. Settle them first:

The first night in a new place always feels a bit odd, but with a few special touches the children can become more relaxed in the new environment and actually look forward to bedtime and spending time in their new house.

We always try to sort the children’s bedrooms first; get their beds up, unpack some books for them and pop the teddies back on the ends of their beds. If they are used to having pictures or posters on their walls I recommend putting these back up as soon as you can, to help make the new place feel safe, homely and relaxing for them from the outset.

We also like to give them each a little gift to help them remember the move in a positive way in the future. It doesn’t have to be anything extravagant or even brand new, but something meaningful to them. Last time we moved, we found some bedding sets with pictures of tv characters the boys were really in to at the time. We set their room up before they came to the house and seeing their excitement as they discovered the new duvet covers made much of the stress from the previous few weeks worth it! (Babies, however, benefit from keeping the same covers from their last place for a while, so smells and comfort remain.)

We have also given new teddies, bedtime books and breakfast crockery in the past and even decorated one bedroom with colourful fairy lights picked up for ÂŖ1!

6. Treat yourself after the big day:

No-one will feel like cooking at the end of moving day. In fact you’ll be lucky if you can even stay awake long enough to eat at all! So set a new family ritual that means the first meal at your new place is pure indulgence and comfort!

We always grab a cheeky McDonald’s after moving house! For a family that only eat a Maccy D’s on Christmas Eve, it is a big treat after a day of hard work, little contact with each other and usually a few hiccups thrown in for good measure! Reconnecting around the dinner table (whatever you are eating) is such a simple, yet special way to end the day. I personally would choose something a little more exciting, but this is all about the children after all! 😉

7. Say goodbye:

Whenever things come to an end, it’s always good to say goodbye and look to the future with a positive mindset. Once you have emptied the old house, take the children back in if you are able and say goodbye. This act of closure allows them to have one last chance to finish a chapter from their lives without the chaos of boxes and noise before they move on to their next place. If you were close to the neighbours you could knock on their door to bid your farewells too and maybe take some photos for them to look back on at a later date.

We also like to reminisce about our favourite times in that particular property or talk about events that stood out for other reasons (accidents, floods, collapsed ceilings…).

My eldest finds this last step incredibly sad and will often try to resist coming with us, but with time he always says how glad he is that he had the chance to go back in and say his goodbyes as it helped him feel ready to move on.

With just a few weeks to go until the next move we are already using some of these steps to help us prepare for the new chapter and support the children through a big change. One day I hope someone makes a list for the adults! Let me know if this is helpful and much luck and love if you are going through this too.

Turning 9!

Dear Ethan,

It’s only hours to go now until you turn 9! All those years ago, still in the midst of (an epic) labour and growing more tired by the second I felt like we’d never get to the birth let alone through all these birthdays! And yet here we are 9 years later, surviving, ready to celebrate, winning at life together!

Over the years the labour, the teething, the continuous feeding,the sleepless nights, the growing pains, have all but dwindled to a distant memory. We have left that close, fuzzy, exhausting era of development, (where we would just try to make it through each day) and are now onto excitement, planning, deep conversations and (mostly) sleeping through!! What an incredible journey! I find it amazing that we’ve got so far!

As a first child, your birthdays always evoke such cherished memories, for it was you my son that started my life as a Mummy. You were the one to teach me how to love with the deepest parts of my heart and soul. You were the one that taught me patience and hope. You gave me strength when I thought I had none left. Your siblings are incredibly lucky to have you be the eldest. You have paved the way for them both and taught all of us how each age works, how to listen to our instincts and how to hold on when the road is bumpy. It has been an incredible lesson being your Mummy.

As (an almost) nine year old you have really grown up this year. You stand so close to the independent young man you will become, but still hold on to the innocence of your younger years. I love that you can still lose yourself in play: in Lego, role play, adventures, etc yet still role your eyes at your siblings when they do something ‘childish’. I love that you dance with abandon and laugh along with us when we are being crazy, even when I’m being “so embarrassing”! I love that you still want me to play with you, scoot outdoors, race you around the garden, etc- a little key into your world and the way you work. You are a very deep soul.

You are still one of the kindest, most generous hearted people I know and even in the midst of growing up and pushing the boundaries I see how caring you are with your sister, how you notice those being left out and include them, how you stand up for your brother when it counts and how thoughtful you can be in your words and actions. You put so much effort into the things you do and really try hard when meeting an obstacle (after some encouragement). You have so many wonderful layers to your spirit and I feel very blessed to witness them all as you grow.

This year you have accomplished so much yet again. Not just through your hobbies- sailing through the swimming awards, becoming a seconder at Cubs, completing most of the children’s section at the local libraries (I think they will run out soon 😂), but within your self too. After another move you were able to settle much quicker than before. You adjusted to a new school year with confidence and are beginning to trust that whatever life throws at you, you are able to get through it. I think you even surprised yourself at how brave you are (when you needed 6 stitches after falling out a tree) this year and how much you can achieve when you set your mind to it. I’m so proud of you.

I do hope you know how precious you are to this family. I know as the eldest you are often required to do more than the others, have more expected of you or get more of my negativity as we navigate this whole parenting journey. It can feel unfair and biased and I really wish it didn’t. I wish I could already have the answers and know how to deal with certain situations so that you too got the ‘best bits’, but as we learn together I hope you will always feel loved and cared for (even when I get it wrong) for my heart was designed to love you and you will always be incredibly precious to me.

I am really looking forward to your birthday tomorrow and spending more time celebrating you! I look forward to the year ahead and all the adventures we will share together. I hope you enjoy all we have planned for your special day and the sweetie cake you asked for!

All my love, my biggest one,

Mummy Xx

Seven Years Old

Dear Lucas,

Oh my sweet, (mostly) calm, contemplative one! How are you going to be 7 already?! Time seems to speed up without me realising until another year has gone past and we are getting ready to celebrate your birthday once again! And this time you’re 7!

There’s something very special about being 7. Whether it’s the theory that the whole body has gone through a process of regeneration, or the idea that your conscience is finally waking or just that at 7 you are capable of so much more than those younger years; I’m not sure, but it is a super age. And you, my lovely one are a truly super little boy!

This year has brought more change and challenge- another move, a new teacher, sporting accomplishments, academic awards, to name just a few. But I love the way you face everything head on and work doggedly to reach your goals. You embrace new experiences and will help others adapt to changes too. You are always looking for new opportunities and ways to learn, picking up crossword and sudoku since last year to add to the growing list of games you enjoy, reading a mountain of books each week (The Person Controller and Diary of a Wimpy Kid series being your favourite at the moment after exhausting the David Walliams titles) and asking so many questions I’m running out of answers! Knowledge is important to you. It helps you feel safe and able to thrive when faced with something new. It settles you after a busy day and it gears you up for what is to come.

I have always been completely blown away by the way you work-your intellect and analytical thinking. You surprise me daily with your attentive perceptions of the world and the detail you retain. It fascinates me how you can remember and recall so many specifics, even things no one else would consider meaningful, like which hand each child in your class uses to write, what someone’s eye colour is or what their favourite book was as a baby. You take time to learn about others and what makes them unique, because then you feel you really understand them. You take in everything that is going on, even when you appear to not be taking part. You absorb the world around at a very deep and personal level: listening, questioning, reading, seeking, wondering. Like the daffodils at Spring, you wait patiently until you are ready to bloom; observing before you participate, making sure it is worth your time and that your energy will be well spent! It is such a wonderful way to be and I think you are awesome. We could all learn a lot from your personality!

Even though you are so independent and want to be a big boy you still need lots of cuddles and that’s a bit I enjoy sharing most with you! You enjoy the safety of home and family, the slow days and relaxed schedules. You like being able to have time together before you start the day and take part in the simple things that don’t require rushing! You like playing with select friends (though you are growing in confidence with your peers) and listening to stories. You also love to take care of your little sister and include her in games, activities and decisions!

This year has also seen physical changes in you. Not only have you grown taller and stronger, but you’ve grown new teeth and lost a few too! You’ve tried out shorter hair styles than before and longer ones! Your face has changed and matured and your tastes have developed. You have become so sure in your own choices, even going against the grain and supporting Tottenham in a family of Arsenal supporters! I love that you have such strong beliefs and preferences and can stand firm even when it’s alone. What a quality to have!

I’ve so enjoyed watching you grow up this year and look forward to another great year ahead. I hope we get more time together to play, laugh and learn…and cuddle!

I love you to the moon and back and then at least twice round the world!

Mummy Xx

Looking Ahead (International Women’s Day 2018)

For my Daughter (and Sons),

I am writing to you on International Women’s Day 2018; a list of the hopes I have for you as you grow up in this world. By the time you are able to read this, it is my dream that you have lived with this message in your heart for years.

I hope that you know you have strength. It is your amazing body and the way it drives you onward. It is your determined mind and how you thrive when learning something new. Your strength allows you to be brave and courageous when facing a challenge. It gives you joy and pleasure as you seek adventure. Your strength is dignified during conflict and proud amid achievement. It is how your heart beats fiercely at injustice and your hands work hard to comfort. Your strength shows kindness to others and lifts up those who struggle alone. It is your willful search for independence and empowerment when reaching a goal. It is your spontaneous soul and your free spirit. Your strength is your impulsive actions and your primal connection with nature. It is the comfort you bring others and the joy you exude when you are your true self. I hope that you know you have strength.

I hope that you know your voice is powerful. It can show your true self. It can teach others. The power of your voice can be added to the cries of a crowd or whispered into the ears of close friends. It can bring people together and be raised in song. Your voice can show emotion. It can be used in happiness or to show your anger. It can shout an exuberant “Yes” or be used to scream a clear “No”. It can be used to build others up or tear them down. It can portray positivity or fuel negativity. Your voice can be different from others. It can stand alone and still be just as forceful. It can portray your determination. Your voice can ask for equality and recognition. It can offer comfort and protection. Your voice is important and worthy. It can be bold and fearless. It can tell stories and recall facts. The power of your voice can command attention and represent your values. I hope that you know your voice is powerful.

I hope that you know to always keep your eyes open. To see the things others will miss. To watch beautiful sunsets and night skies. To see happiness and joy in the faces of others. When you keep your eyes open you will see the sunshine after months of rain and witness the pleasure in the changing of seasons. Your eyes will allow you to notice natural beauty and caring actions. You will see the good in the world and the peace in creation. You will recognise kindness and capability. You will see the Aunt who is studying at university, whilst single-handedly tending to her young children. You will observe the perseverance of the Godmother as she battles to find a cure for her daughter’s disability, even when exhausted with a new baby. You will notice how the Grandmother, despite the adversity she faces, works tirelessly to provide a safe and healthy environment for her teenage daughters. You will behold true happiness and jubilation of friends and loved ones. Keep your eyes open and you can gaze at the simple pleasures and marvel at the ordinary. You do not need to look far. I hope that you know to always keep your eyes open.

I hope that you know your family is a refuge. It is a place of safety and nourishment. It is a unit of strength and security. It is protective and encouraging and is a place to ask for help. Your family will always love you and treat you as an equal. Your family will appreciate your uniqueness and challenge your views. It will compliment your spirit and support you when you fail. Your family will be a place of openness and acceptance. It will seek your opinion and nurture your courage. Your family will be grounding and restorative. It will roar at your pain and defend your honour. It will fuel your enthusiasm and actively listen. Your family will stand beside you and guide your growth. It will lift you up. I hope that you know your family is a refuge.

I hope that you know love is always good. It is kind and forgiving. It is strengthening and empowering. Love builds you up and gives you hope. Love never asks you to give anything more than yourself. It will fill you with trust and bring you joy. Love deepens over time and is gracious in the face of conflict. Love comes in many forms; Family, Friends, Work mates, Boyfriends, Girlfriends, Neighbours, Husbands, Wives. It is respectful and comfortable. It is there with help and support. It can challenge you and expand your thinking. Love listens and opens its arms to you. Love is the feeling of safety and comfort. It is the light through the darkness and the hope in despair. Love is yours. It is a feeling that can change your life. I hope that you know love is always good.

With all my love,

From Your Mummy Xx