Thursday, 28 April 2011

Guest Post: Learning to See the Good in Your Difficult Children

We all know parents who idolise their child(ren), believing them to be beyond reproach. Very, very occasionally, those parents are right. Well, possibly - I'm yet to meet one who is. In my experience, it is the children of parents who are able to heap praise while encouraging a sense of "feet on the ground" that are the most well-rounded individuals. But what of those parents who can't see how great their kids really are? How easy is it for a parent to stop fire-fighting and step back to recognise their kids' faults (and more importantly, how to resolve them) and their strengths (and, again, more importantly, how to encourage them)?

I love H (baby Earthly no. 1) to bits. I never thought I would. After all, he was born a he, and at the time I wanted a she. But he turned out to be a very special he, even if he is too like me. Having said that, I am, by far, his worst critic. Maybe it's my paternal ego taking a battering at his lack of desire to walk until he's good and ready - thus causing me to believe that I must invent excuses for his perceived slow progress. More drastically, I've recently been attributing an early onset of "terrible twos" to some of his more "theatrical" reactions. The word No has become very popular with him, as has screaming and pouring tears when he has something taken away (or not given in the first place) that he wants.

It was only once I discussed this with his childminder, and received a most puzzled stare in return, did I get an inkling of the truth. She admitted that he was sometimes possessive but that generally he was "good as gold". H was one of the first children she looked after professionally, and she's obviously very, very fond of him. I left duly admonished, and spent the morning reconsidering my opinion of my son. He is, in fact, a delightful boy - occasionally mischeivous, still learning his way and place in the world, flirtatious, cheeky, beautiful, calm (mostly), and incredibly, incredibly cute. But it took the input of a partial outsider to make me see the whole truth.

I've just finished reading Kate Atkinson's 'Behind The Scenes At The Museum', a darkly-humoured account of the lives and deaths of a family's women. The overarching theme of the book though, is the fragility (or even non-existence) of the bond between a mother and her daughter(s). I know many women who suffer a sense of disconnect with their mother, and I don't have to look very far to find a woman who feels a complete lack of emotional connection with her mother, and who is terrified that, in turn, her daughter will grow up to be as emotionally distant. I, on the other hand, know that this woman is a wonderful mother, and that with the love that she brings to her family she will continue to be a lynch-pin for that family and will enjoy her children's love for many, many years. She just has to learn to listen to my (semi-)outsider's perspective.

So what of those amongst us who belive that our children are the devil incarnate? Back to 'Behind The Scenes At The Museum' - without giving away the "tell", it takes the gentle intervention of an impartial psychiatrist to reveal the truth behind the story of the central character's and her mother's long-standing problems, and from that moment on the relationship between the two becomes not exactly easy, but easier at least. Clearly then, the inference is that we could all pay a shrink to help reconnect us with our "errant" children. And yet, surely psychiatrists should be reserved for helping clinically depressed people, habitual criminals, and American dog-owners looking to resolve their pooches' coprophagia [ed here: I suggest you just look this one up!]? In these days of "intervention" perhaps we should look to our nearest and dearest to provide guidance - people that we trust absolutely to tell us the truth, who we know will challenge our ideas, and whose opinions we trust. In my case, that's Mother Earthly - my wonderful, supportive, kind, caring, incomparable wife. And yet, the fact that she herself got occasionally frustrated at H's antics, made it easier for me to dismiss her protestations that I shouldn't be too hard on the litle chap. It took the confused look of a lady who sees him for 12 hours a week and who never hears me call him "Beast Child" to show me the truth.

The point is, find somebody, be they lover, friend, acquaintance, or some random hippy blogger, anybody, who can make you see that, actually, your difficult child isn't. She's wonderful, beautiful, inevitably cleverer than you, and, with some fair fortune and a continued bond, almostly certainly the one responsible for choosing your retirement home.

Father Earthly

Unless you drive down the A49 at 40 miles per hour between the hours of 7am - 7pm, wear burberry, or are Welsh, Smellyhippy (Father Earthly) never intentionally means to insult you. If he has, he's terribly, terribly sorry, and no doubt karma will ensure that his daughter keeps him awake half the night teething, or a hire boater will chip his newly painted narrowboat, or he'll fall over backwards into the Llangollen canal with his bike on top of him, or something.

You can reach Father Earthly on smellyhippy [at]

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Baby Steps: Back into the Fray

Lift one foot, then the other. Add a smug smile ;)
Having just spent the last 36 hours or so intermittently dozing, sleeping, breastfeeding, attempting to entertain mini-me (everyone says she's just like me), dozing and sleeping some more, reading, cleaning up baby sick, breastfeeding some more... I am now emerging like a startled rabbit back into the real world again. Or attempting to, might be a better turn of phrase. In reality my brain still seems to be far off in the depths of mingled, disjointed dreams whilst my body continues onwards into the thrust of everyday life.

I'm not sure what the issue is this year; I (and the family) have been ill more times than in the last few years put together. I suppose 2 years of deprived sleep will do that on it's own, nevermind the myriad other stresses and difficulties.

When I get ill my brain often goes into overdrive during all that sleeping and dozing, so it very rarely ends up being restful sleep. The result is a feeling of bleary fractiousness and despondency where I struggle to deal with the world at large and feel the need to retreat into a dark hole for the rest of my days... The challenge is to to turn around my thoughts before they solidify and stagnate. To anyone else in my position I would say "Get out in the fresh air"; "Go see a friend"; "Do some yoga"; "Bake a tasty treat for yourself" or all of the above. But I am at heart a total hypocrite and all of those things seem as impossible to me right now as putting on a pair of running shoes and going for a jog (with or without mini-me, anyone who knows me knows I am not a runner!).

I have taken much heart today from one of my favourite blogs, Dreaming Aloud. Lucy, who I recently interviewed for the post of Super Woman, has been such an inspiration to me as a mother, creative and all-round sensitive person. Her posts on her "highly sensitive family" have really touched me this week and I hope to take a little of that candid positivity and put it to good use - for myself, for my own family, and for the little bubble that is my world, and all inside it.

One day I may break out of the bubble and spread the goodness both near and far. But for now baby steps are very much the order of the day.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Famous Five Friday

I am quite amused to see that, currently, my top 3 labels are "achievement", "balance" and "positivity". Those 3 things are certainly on my mind a lot at the moment. However I'd like to throw another one into the mix, one that hasn't yet made an overt appearance, and it can be loosely described as "order" (think Betty Boothroyd) though in fact it covers myriad similitudes, from plain tidiness to good manners.

Perhaps it is because I am so naturally laissez-faire, not to mention a little lazy and a lot free spirited, that I find myself instinctively drawn to the sense of "order" when I am feeling overwhelmed. To get back on top of things I feel I need to pull my socks up and organise everything; it reflects my state of mind, and if things are cluttered and untidy then I am too. A healthy environment makes for a healthy mind.

This is the doctrine behind much of Enid Blyton's work, and it's obvious that this was a reflection, not just of the times, but also her own psychological troubles. However it is the Brent-Dyer Chalet School books that sum it up for me at the moment, where every girl is expected to have impeccable manners, always look tidy and respectable (and keep her possessions and cubicle the same), to uphold strong morals and generally be an all-round upstanding, friendly and charitable person:
"the character trait held up by the books as being the one most desirable is 'to think of others', although this trait does not necessarily include self-sacrifice. Brent-Dyer introduces this theme in the series in relation to pupils behaving charitably towards those less fortunate than themselves..." - Ju Gosling's The World of the Chalet School
This resonates so strongly with me, not least because I strive to be more community-minded myself (though it's hard to remember sometimes - especially when the 55th boat of the day has passed us at great speed, music blaring and folk peering in our windows!

Like so much in my life it all comes back to a finely tuned sense of balance. Whilst we should do our utmost to think of others, we must not forget ourselves; whilst it's good to be tidy and ordered, this shouldn't be at the expense of creativity and freedom of thought.

One thing is for certain. Our kids may be growing up as free-spirited tearaways, living as water gypsies in hand-me-down and makeshift clothes. But they will also be brought up to be kind, thoughtful, loving and well-mannered. Tidy would be a bonus but if it's a toss up between that and having happy-go-lucky creative kids, I can settle for tidy at times, much like myself...

And just so you know, I started writing this before I lost the boat keys...

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

What We Planted Wednesday

Lots of rocket - woo! Well, Matt (and his Mum) will be happy anyway. I'm not super keen. Mixed salad also popping through. And basil seedlings just starting to show... hurrah! No news of carrots, tomatoes or coriander yet...

In other news, our alfalfa and mung bean sprouts are also coming along nicely :) 

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

How to be a Super Woman: Meet Lucy from Dreaming Aloud...

1. Hi! Tell us a bit about yourself
My name is Lucy and I am a home-based mama to 3 home-birthed children ages 5, 3 and 1. My husband and I both work from home in a little pink house on the south coast of Ireland.

I am a freelance writer and contributing editor at my very favourite magazine in the world: JUNO. A soulful, natural family magazine which has been at the centre of my learning to be a parent.

I have blogged at Dreaming Aloud since November 2010, after years of resisting my husband's suggestion to “get a blog!”.  It brings so much goodness to my life: inspiring me to live even bigger, connecting me with wonderful like-minded people and giving me a public outlet for my more personal writing. I also have a baking blog Queen of Puddings, because I love cake.

I am a trained teacher and have taught a lot of different subjects for money and love: English, drama, creative writing, pregnancy yoga, craft, antenatal classes... I have also been involved in a lot of community development projects: helping to start a playgroup, a school, running an arts festival, leading a women's group and mother blessings.

I love to read: my books are my second babies and I have a massive collection of other people's wisdom lining my walls. I have to read, I consume ideas which feed my own life and work. I have started book reviewing professionally – what a perfect job! 

Juno: A Natural Approach to Family Life
I try to combine these myriad aspects of myself. My work and life intermingle...I am free spirited by nature and this works wonderfully for me. Everyone on both sides of my family is self employed and earn their money in creative fields too: it's in my blood I guess. I have learnt that there is another way of making a life and a living than having a job you hate, or sacrificing family and home for work. I am delighted to say that I am following my bliss and my life is very rich. 

2. Do you have a 'grand plan'? Do you think this has changed at all over the years?
Yes I have a grand plan – goodness that sounds pretentious, doesn't it, but I do! On my website I put it like this: 
“My intention is to assist in a re-visioning of our culture into one which is rich in more than material terms, one which prioritises human and ecological needs above those of institutions and the economy.” 
My passions are women's personal development and empowerment, natural birth, mothering, re-thinking education, home-based living, and fostering creativity. And so I work at these on every level. With my kids, in how I deal with people, in my writing, in my teaching, in my practical activities. I am very, very driven because I am doing what is important to me. I am being the change I want to see in the world.

The parameters have changed: my level of self-knowledge, my understanding of where my power lies, and the arrival of my children... but the vision has remained. I set out to have outside approval for my vision, I needed permission to say what I wanted to say. I wanted to be a self help writer. I wanted to be like Oprah. I wanted to lead personal transformation courses. I wanted to change the way the education system ran, to set up an intentional community, to run a cafe with lots of exciting workshops and a lending library... I am not short on dreams and ambitions!

But I have learnt that one person cannot do it all!  Life is no fun if you spread yourself TOO thin. That for me leads to exhaustion, panic attacks, migraine and depression.  But for me I have an idea, I gestate it and then I see how I can act on it: do I raise awareness, talk about it, write about it, start a project...? I am a leader not a joiner, and I have a great starting energy and enthusiasm, but am far less good at finishing stuff. This I have come to accept in myself.

As the kids arrived into my life in quick succession (I am only 30!) I have had to shift my timetable and expectations of myself. They provide so much learning for me and if it were not for them I would not have either the time, lifestyle or material, or be the person I am, to be able to write my stuff. So I keep reminding myself that they will not be young forever and not to waste these precious years. But I need my head-space and physical space and I find the constant being needed of three little kids very challenging. My writing keeps me sane. I write because I have to! I have cut right back on my community work and stopped teaching altogether...for now!

3. What gets you up in the morning?
My kids get me up – I am usually dozing breastfeeding our baby when our tropical three year old comes bounding in and lands on my head, pulling my hair and making me eff and blind my way into full consciousness. I would prefer to start the day with an hour's reading and then some meditation and yoga, followed by a blissful bath. This is for the self help authors who have no kids.

4. Run us through a typical kind of day
We dive into breakfast madness, with tantrums over how the toast is cut. I hate the hour before school: uniform, packed lunch, hurry up we're going to be late – it's not a nice way to start the day and makes we wish that we were home schooling. I always thought I was going to, but for me it is a trade off between my soul work and devoting myself to home-schooling, and my work wins out. It's not a decision I feel perfect about. 

However the walk to school, less than five minutes down a country lane, usually lifts my spirits and we see what magic nature has provided that day: cobwebs glistening with dew, dandelions or blackberries in the hedgerows. 

When I get home, we have self-directed time for an hour or so: the 3-year-old has her morning C Beebies fix, the baby trashes the joint and I catch up on my world: emails, blog etc whilst stopping to dole out snacks, breastfeed, stop fights.  If I do this now it sets me up for the day and then I can really give myself to them rather than feeling resentful. At some point the 3-year-old drifts away from the TV and starts playing by herself and I feel a lot less guilty!

Lucy commits random acts of beauty!
Then it's craft time. Or we go for a walk and explore usually up to the Cookery School gardens next door, often finding stuff for our nature table. 

At least three times a week we will bake a cake or cookies together. Cooking with my kids is really important. I love it, they love it and we love eating what we make.

Home for lunch, a quick check of email and then collect our son from school. A snack and we decide what to do for the afternoon. I feel he misses out on creative stuff and outside stuff by being in the school system so this is what we really focus on at home.

Then it's Scooby Doo O clock, so I can have half an hour to check emails and do anything for my editorial role before the end of office hours, before it’s time to make supper. 

Bedtime is 7pm, but often it'll be 8.30 before they're all settled.  When they’re in bed tucked up it’s my time! Most evenings are spent working: writing blog posts, articles, book reviews,  facebooking with friends. I try and make sure I have a couple of nights a week off. I try REALLY hard to connect with my husband too, but he respects the fact that getting to do my thing in the evening a happy mama makes. Because he is home based we get to chat throughout the day.

I usually go to bed around 10.30 – I need my sleep – unfortunately I have had 3 babies who slept like angels until they were 3 months old, then woke 5-15 times a night, every night until they were 2. 

Talking about my day in a linear manner doesn't really give you a sense of it – I am always multi-tasking: I will be planning an article whilst putting the baby to sleep or reading on the toilet, or blogging and watching TV. Rarely do I get a chance to do anything uninterrupted, so I use my time to the full. My life is woven of multiple strands, on multiple levels, and each is a crucial part of the whole tapestry. If I leave one part untouched for too long a hole emerges in the fabric of my life. I find it mostly manageable because it is inner directed and home based. When I was doing a lot of stuff outside of the house: trying to settle baby to bed before running out to meetings, having to be at certain places at a certain time, I found that really stressful, and more like trying to keep plates spinning on sticks. I prefer weaving!

5. When you experience a setback how do you pick yourself back up again?
I just make sure I don't get stuck in it too long. I have a couple of family members who totally lost their way, hopes, talents, ambitions and sections of their lives by getting stuck in self doubt and depression. It is such a waste. You have to take responsibility, at the first moment that you are capable, to own your thoughts, move forward, to choose to act, to find the positive. You are responsible for you: what kind of day are you going to make it? You cannot control everything that happens, but you can totally effect how you respond, the pattern of your thoughts. I have a tendency to moan and whinge. Ina May Gaskin is clear in her book Spiritual Midwifery that to have a positive birth you have to be positive: give love, focus on the positive, not whining about what's not right. Another help to me is Louise L Hay's You Can Heal Your Life:  All is well in my World. Every time something shakes me and I feel unsettled, I come back to this mantra.

6. Who or what inspires you the most?
A lot of people say I am like my grandmother, my namesake. I never met her but wish I had. She was a legend in her own right: a strong mother figure, a dynamic and influential woman who made her mark on all who met her and on her community. 35 years after her death people still speak of her with awe.

But also Ina May Gaskin, Pam England and others in the birth world. Creative people, people who live their truth big and publicly, who push for change. People of vision and courage who live their dreams.

7. We all have bad days when we doubt ourselves and our abilities. How do you get through yours?
I am thoroughly grumpy and miserable and no fun to be around. Usually it is one of my dear friends who helps get me out, or my husband, he is very good at handling me when I am low.

I try to get out, out of the house, out of my head – go for a walk, to see a friend, to physically change my mental framework. If I can do this rather than wallow in the hypnotic nature of mental suffering, then I can let go of it and move on to a new thought pattern.

8. What do you feel are your greatest achievements and why?
In the words of one good friend, "I'm amazed, bearing in mind what your life has been like, how well adjusted you are. This is not inevitable. I have worked very hard, consistently and deeply on personal development/ spiritual stuff to off-load the negative stuff from my past, work on close relationships and make myself a better person. 

But to the outside world, I think my greatest achievements are yet to come...

9. Tell us what you think constitutes a "Super Woman" and list 3 key ingredients for success
Actually, on reflection, trying to be a Super Woman is precisely my problem! And whilst it's nice to be recognised for what we do and achieve, how we live is far more important. Although most things I do come from my own inner drive, and are often reflective and spiritual, I spend far more time than is healthy in doing, rather than being. This comes at a cost: to my mindfulness, to domestic order and to my own health.

I think the most important thing any person can do is to know themselves and try to find balance amongst the various strands of themselves. And for a woman to know her cycles and her energy levels and work to these rather than against herself. This is absolutely what I try to do. But most often I fail on the balance front – I do too much and then burn out. In our culture this is seen as a good thing... but really it's a form of ego driven insanity.

My 3 key ingredients for success are:

  • Know yourself, follow your heart, and listen to your intuition 
  • Take responsibility for your own actions and potential –don't waste your energy on blame or excuses – if you want to do something do it and if you don't then don't, but stop moaning!
  • If you believe it you can achieve it – work hard on visualising with clarity.

10. Final words of wisdom?
“Do what you can with what you have where you are...” 
Theodore Roosevelt
Every time I feel stuck or stuff isn't working or I don't know where to start I come back to this. It reminds us to bring the dream back down to earth, to ground its roots in our reality not off in Never Land.

You can find Lucy over on her website, Dreaming Aloud blog and Queen of Puddings blog.

Do you know someone who fits the bill of Super Woman? Even yourself - don't be shy! If you would like to take part or recommend a friend, please send a message with the details to me at giveanearthly at gmail dot com.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Buried in Books Monday

Well it's that time again! Littlest Earthly is 5 months old and rapidly going through the associated changes. So to my trusty bookshelf I turn and pick off the following (with the slightest of sighs):

First up: The No-Cry Sleep Solution. After being the most miraculous of baby sleepers from day one, a couple of months ago baby Earthly no. 2 turned into the sleeper from hell. At the time I blamed a growth spurt and teething; now I'm just cross (and sleep deprived). Pantley's suggestions did nothing for our first, but then (as we know now) he was exceptional. We had higher hopes for no. 2 and I feel disappointed that I've been forced to leaf through this again. Having said all that, I'm still not convinced this is the solution for us. While Pantley's tenets are great in theory, and obviously for all of the test cases she talks of, they just don't seem to work that well on our kids. From the start we've been able to put littlest Earthly down at night, straight into her hammock whilst sleepy but not sleeping. Now she will have none of it. Every night is torture, and for no apparent reason. She just refuses, point blank, and the only way she will go is if we (painfully, finally) have her fully asleep first before depositing her to beddy-byes. She has a routine (and always has), she's well fed (believe me!) during the day, she has a comfy and cosy bed, an early bedtime (when she goes), she naps (though erratically - like her brother she won't go down at any kind of routine time for a nap) and she is used to self-comforting and falling asleep in different ways. I've tried a 'lovey' but to no avail. She's too young to be weaned off night feeds altogether, but I could certainly do with the frequency being diminished!

For now I'm happy to keep trying with the Pantley techniques, as they make sense and baby's current clinginess may pass naturally enough to make things easier. Fingers crossed...

Baby Earthly no. 2 is (as I write) sitting in her brother's high chair and happily grabbing at anything within reach to shove greedily into her mouth. So, it's almost time for solids then... Step in Baby-led Weaning. This book was super helpful in weaning boy Earthly and contains all you need to know and more about the philosophy behind BLW and why it makes sense, how you know when your baby is 'ready', how BLW works, getting started, what to offer them and when... plus so much more. In essence, like many natural parenting books, it's about observing your baby, following their lead, and adapting to what they want when they show the sign. It worked wonders with our first and we hope the the transition will be just as smooth with no. 2: watch this space!

The 3rd book this week is more for baby no. 1's benefit for the moment, as he has just got over a nasty chest and ear infection. Knowing that the doctor would only offer antibiotics for this, I turned instead to my herbal remedy chest and my homeopathic emergency kit. Being naturally more confident with herbal remedies, I find myself at a bit of a loss when it comes to homeopathy, despite many of the underlying remedies being very similar - i.e. calendula for burns, cuts and grazes; urtica for bites, stings and allergic reactions etc. However, Homeopathy for Children is one of the best I have found as an easy reference guide - and useful not only for children, though it specialises in typical childhood complaints and illnesses. With a full background on homeopathy and how it works alongside case studies and an in-depth look at treatments for everything from first-aid to childhood diseases, this is a fantastic introduction to homeopathy for the whole family. Teamed with my Helios Remedy Kit, I refer to this book time and time again.

The Art of Tapas: Through Yoga, Birth and Life

Today I am acutely aware of every single muscle in my body because they all ache. After not managing to get to a yoga class (and by god there's no space on the boat to do it!) for approximately 2 months, I threw myself in at the deep end and attended a whole day workshop plus my normal ashtanga class this weekend. On top of that I've still not got back into it properly after having baby Earthly no. 2 so I am well down on my performance.

And while I know I shouldn't beat myself up about that, it's really hard not to. Not only is my stamina and general ability lowered, but I find that my post-pregnant body has changed: I now find some asanas a lot more difficult or uncomfortable. I find this strange as post-first-birth I really didn't notice much difference (other than the obvious lack of core muscles!). 

However, Richard Adamo's workshop was the perfect place for me to start. He talked of two tenets of the Eight Limbs of Yoga: Tapas - 'heat', perseverence, austerity - and Samtosa - contentment. He explained that whilst we should work hard in our practice, with 'heat', we should remain mindful and balance our desire to do our best with also being content with our own personal achievements, however small they may seem from the outside. The idea is not to feel as if we must force ourselves into the 'perfect' position, but work with our own bodies and minds to achieve what we can, and to be happy with that.

And it struck me that this was not just a yoga lesson but that these principles are applicable across the board. In particular the idea of Tapas resonated with my feelings on giving birth naturally. I have long felt in my yoga practice that what keeps me going - whether it's the 56th sun-salute of the day or sinking into a position even deeper with every breath) is a burning desire to do the best my body is capable of, regardless of the protests issuing in my mind. It was exactly the same feelings I had when giving birth. I could so easily have given into the fear, the pain, but at my core I didn't want to and I focussed instead on every moment (not the goal, for if we look to the top of a hill whilst climbing it, we feel like giving up) and every breath. And by doing that, as in a yoga posture, you achieve almost without realising. Through both births this is what I experienced. Gently forcing myself into breathing through every moment, every contraction, every inner doubt and every screaming thought of "I can't do this!" until, suddenly, I had done it, and there, being passed up between my legs, was the proof!

I feel strongly that we could use the idea of Tapas more in our everyday lives. I would love to see this kind of empowering talk being brought into antenatal sessions. Crazy idea? I don't think so. Because you know what? Giving birth is not so much about anatomy or how apart the contractions are or even how fit you are; it's about a mindset. Getting yourself into that alpha state where you are free, without external distractions, to do your animal thing. And most importantly, to believe in yourself, your body to do this. That is the bit most women (and partners!) need drilled into them. We are surrounded in our culture with negativity - about birth, about the economy, about our purpose in life - and that needs to be balanced out before we can relinquish ourselves wholly to the task in hand.

Of course it's so easy to take the principle of Tapas and use it to be hard on ourselves - or worse, to judge others. Emma Silverman, over in The Joy of Yoga, warns us that:
"The balance of contentment and effort is important in asana practice. If we force (in life and in asana) we often do more harm than good. As teachers, it's important to stay mindful of how we move our students into asana. Instead of demonstrating or cueing students to the 'ideal' or most advanced level of any given pose and then giving modifications, start gently and give advancements."
Work within your own limitations; learn to balance true effort with contentment at your own small achievements; be happy with the results. A wise lesson indeed.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Sacrificing the Self - On Being a Mum

Don't get me wrong. I love being a mum, and I'm not just trying to convince myself of that either. I really wouldn't swap it for anything else - even when I think of our lives Before Kids and just how much TIME and ENERGY we had. Occasionally I find myself fantasising - stepping into an imaginary time machine and zapping myself back to those days filled with empty moments: the peace, the endless stretches of unencumbered time, the (relative) sanity, the personal luxuries... but could I be without my kids? No.

And yet...

Those days when I feel so knackered I could fall asleep in my porridge; when toddler has embarked upon a project of incessant whinging for the day and baby requires being stuck to boob or cuddled all day long; when I'm sick of looking like an extra from the Witches of Eastwick and I'm so hungry I could eat my own leg if only baby wasn't in the way; when my happy-go-lucky childless friends are full of their own egocentric adventures and woes; when on the rare days I get to spend 10 minutes on my appearance I can't even don a nice frock to cheer myself up because it's not breastfeeding-friendly; when all I've done all day is give and give and give of myself and by the time hubby comes home after a hard day at work he feels shunned and unloved because I'm spent; when my brain feels as if it may implode or evolve backwards through lack of intellectual current...

Those days I wonder.

One of the women at my local toddler group told me recently that she felt cheated, lied to. That nobody had warned her what it would be like. At the time I was inclined to think her a little naive, as I'm sure would many others, particularly those without kids. But being totally honest with myself, I feel the same. There is a great yawning gap between knowing in your mind that having children will change your life immeasurably, and experiencing it first hand. Nobody tells you that you will never again have free time, that every millisecond of your precious day will be filled with the needs of others, that even if you get the luxury of a child-free hour or two you are unable to switch off and you can't think of a single thing to say to your partner that doesn't involve talking about the kids. Nobody tells you because you wouldn't believe it; you'd smile indulgently whilst believing yourself a better person, a better parent.

There is just no comparison, no precedent to having children. A friend once told me having a dog was good practice for having a baby. Needless to say he had no prior experience of either. It's nothing like keeping a dog, nor any other animal that I know of. Sure, with a dog you have to think about and attend to its needs from time to time. But for the most part (unless you have a REALLY neurotic dog) he will just be content to lie at your feet/in the corner/ on the sofa and dream of rabbits, whether you're there with him or out shopping.

So sometimes, yes, I do feel cheated. Like I have wholly unknowingly sacrificed the better years of my (and my husband's) life, with no possible redemption. It's as if during that first week of becoming parents, an unseen hand scooped us both up and gently, surreptitiously, placed us down within the confines of a monastery and let it be known that we were to follow the path to sainthood. To give of ourselves completely and utterly and to move beyond the self until the self no longer exists - only our work now speaks of us and who we are, what we have become.

And actually, I'm ok with that. Because it's made (and continues to make) me a better person. Because I've learned to be far less selfish and much more patient. Because I can love unconditionally, even on the days I am tearing my hair out. Because, quite simply, I love them and I love being part of a family.

Balance is the key, and that is the next important lesson for us to learn, as individuals, as a couple, and as a family. It's such a tricky one to get right because the weights on the scales are changing moment to moment, necessitating both saintly patience and calm, a steady hand, a light tread...

Which of course is exactly the opposite of what has been seen in our household this week!

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

What We Planted Wednesday

So this weekend we made good use of the lovely weather and started ourselves off on a bit of self-sufficient living at last by planting some seeds. At the moment we get a lovely veg or salad box from Boxfresh Organics (when  we're organised enough to order it in time). They do a fabulous range of stuff that is both grown locally and abroad (though not air freighted) so we can enjoy all the usual British staples but also staples we've got used to over the years like bananas (organic AND fairtrade, which is impossible to get anywhere else!), peppers and so on. 

However, I'd still much rather grow our own! In the past we've dabbled and grown some pretty fine herbs, carrots, tomatoes and salad, and as those are some of our mainstays (especially when they're super-tasty homegrown ones) we've started with those. 

So what's in the pots? 

  • Basil
  • Coriander
  • Tomato (Moneymaker)
  • Carrot
  • Mixed Salad
  • Rocket

We've also got some cucumber to go in but those will have to wait a month or so when hopefully it will be a bit toastier for them!

Hurrah for homegrown veggies :)

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

How to be a Super Woman: Meet Pixie Mama!

1. Hi! Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m Polly. I’m a full time mama to 3 little pixie girls who are home educated. I also run a blog – Pixie Mama – and an Etsy Shop – Pixie Mama Crafts. I’m a compulsive crafter, an avid thrifter, and a homebody. I can usually be found doing 20 things at once!

2. Do you have a 'grand plan'? Do you think this has changed at all over the years?
Not really. Even as a child, I never had any great ambitions. I kind of muddled my way through my teenage years, with no idea where I was heading. By some miracle I came out the other side (relatively) unscathed, but still with no idea where I wanted my life to go. I met my husband a month shy of my 21st birthday, and within 6 months, we were married, pregnant and living in our own house!! Since then I’ve let life happen as it will... 2 more children came my way, and after a difficult start to last year, I found myself in a whole new world of blogging and crafting. I felt as though I’d found my niche. I made plans for a shop of my own – and I’ve actually realised that dream!

There are still no grand plans, what will be will be, and I’ve learnt to roll with the punches!

3. What gets you up in the morning?
Well, more often than not it’s my 2 year old shouting ‘Polly’ at me and trying to open my eyelids for me!! Last year was a tough time for me personally. I hit rock bottom, and it was a long climb back up. Along the way I learnt the importance of ‘self care’. So another thing that gets me up in the morning is exercise! I run around 5/6k pretty much every single day. Exercise makes me feel fantastic, and is the best way to start my days.

4. Run us through a typical kind of day
Visit Polly's Etsy Shop for original artwork and handicrafts
Well, if I’m lucky then it doesn’t start too early! Wake up time is usually around 7am for the littlest one. We’ll head downstairs, for some milk (her) and tea (me). Then she’ll snuggle in my bed with her dad and some books while I do some running. After a run and a shower, the bigger two girls are usually just waking up, so we’ll all head down for some breakfast and maybe some cartoons. Then the kiddos will get dressed and often go for a bounce on the trampoline or  a run in the woods while I catch up on emails, etsy convos, blog comments etc.

Mid-morning is usually ‘school'-work’ time. We don’t do very much formal work, but right now my middle daughter is learning to read and write, so will do some practice on those, and the eldest has some maths and English grammar work to do!

If I have any errands to run (groceries, post office, etc.) then I’ll often pop out around midday, the littlest still needs a nap, but in the house she’s reluctant to go as she doesn’t want to miss out on anything! Plus, left too late, her nap would mean I’d never get her to bed 

Home for lunch, then our afternoons depend on the weather. If it’s nice sometimes the girls will play outside, meaning I can catch up on some blogging, or some crafting. Or else we’ll head out to the local park, or the river for some fun and games.

If it’s not such good weather (which is often here in North Wales) then we’ll dig all the arts and crafts stuff out. Nothing better than glue and a pile of glitter on a grotty day! Or we’ll do some project work – often history based, the girls love anything old!

If I’m lucky the girls will be in a non-fighting mood, so they’ll play together and I can grab an hour to do some of my work (or the housework!) before it’s time to make dinner. Now the evenings are lighter, we usually go for a walk after dinner. There’s a stream not far from our house, the girls take their scooters and spend a happy hour burning off some energy! Then it’s home, pj’s on, and supper time. They usually go to bed around 8pm on a ‘normal’ day – though the bigger two often read for a while.

When they’re all tucked up it’s my time!!! Often I’ll spend my evenings catching up on work. Writing blog posts, listing Etsy things, or making new things for the shop. I try and make sure I have a couple of nights a week of no work. Then I’ll watch a movie, soak in the bath or just curl up with a book!

I usually go to bed around half 10/11ish – I need my sleep – and I learnt that getting a decent amount of sleep every night makes a huge difference to my mood!!! If I’m super lucky, everyone will sleep all night long – but that doesn’t happen that often.

5. When you experience a setback how do you pick yourself back up again?
I remind myself how far I’ve come in the last year, and in my lifetime. I’ve overcome so many things already, that I know that I am strong enough. I’ve taught myself to get back up after a fall, brush myself off, and keep going. Belief in myself, that I can do it and I am good enough, and remembering that I have overcome so many things in the past that I thought would be the end of me.

6. Who or what inspires you the most?
My girls. They are my reason for living, and my reason for overcoming all the difficulties I have faced. They are the reason I have fought so hard this last year to beat my depression, and to turn my life around. I want them to grow up believing that they can do anything they put their hearts to, that no-one is better than them, that the world is a wonderful place full of fun and adventures.

7. We all have bad days when we doubt ourselves and our abilities. How do you get through yours?
I’ve had more than my fair share of bad days over the years. And I’ve finally accepted that I’m never going to be rid of them completely. So, instead I’ve learnt how to deal with them. Sometimes, when the doubts start to niggle at me, and I feel like giving up, it’s because I’m worn out. I push myself and push myself, and sometimes I have to stop. If the doubts come and I’m exhausted, then I STOP. Stop everything that isn't essential (i.e.. feeding the girls) and just rest for a couple of days. We can escape negativity if we give ourselves the permission to do so. Acknowledge the lesson and then reset.

Other than that, the best tool I have is positive self talk. If that little voice starts up that I’m not good enough, asking me why I’m bothering, then I consciously repeat to myself over and over something positive – maybe, I AM GOOD ENOUGH, or I AM JUST AS GOOD AS EVERYONE ELSE, you get the idea – swapping the negative for a positive. Repeated over and over and it does start to sink in! Plus I think that by not allowing myself to dwell on those negative thoughts helps. Some times I’ll write them down, then write a list of why that thought isn’t true.
I keep a gratitude journal too. Every single day I write down 3 things from that day that I am grateful for. It forces me to focus on the good things in my life instead of the negative. It’s all too easy to focus on the bad things, and to dwell on them, and let them become truth.

We can choose to let go of our stories of our pasts, if the thoughts don’t serve you well, then drop them.

And the most important thing to do when you’re feeling overwhelmed? Stop, relax and BREATHE.

8. What do you feel are your greatest achievements and why?
My girls (obviously), but most of all, overcoming the difficult start to life. My life up until I was 20 was incredibly traumatic, and I could so easily live out my life playing the ‘victim’ role. BUT I have managed to put all of that behind me, and turn my life right around. 9 years ago I couldn’t see any point in continuing living. There was no way forward and I didn’t want to carry on. Today I live a wonderful life, I have 3 beautiful daughters, I get to spend my days with them and running my own business.

Proving those who told me I was worthless and of no use wrong is in itself my greatest achievement.

9. Tell us what you think constitutes a "Super Woman" and list 3 key ingredients for success.
I think a “Super Woman” is someone who refuses to be beaten down by life. Someone who fights for what she believes in. Someone who doesn’t let the bad things rule her life. Someone who rights her own story and doesn’t care what others think. Someone who is strong and knows that she is good enough. Someone who most of all enjoys life.

My 3 key ingredients for success are:

  • A positive attitude
  • The ability to live in the moment
  • Being able to find joy in simple things

10. Final words of wisdom?
"Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
You can find Polly over on her Blog, Facebook, Twitter & Etsy.

Do you know someone who fits the bill of Super Woman? Even yourself - don't be shy! If you would like to take part or recommend a friend, please send a message with the details to me at giveanearthly at gmail dot com. 
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