To Emma

Love

Emma,

I cannot even begin to find the words to tell you how I feel about you leaving. A strange mix of emotions I am still struggling to sort through. However, it all begins here, in my heart, because, for the next year, that is where I will hold you.

I will picture you today boarding that plane. One hand gently touching Adam for reassurance whilst the other holds your meticulously planned paperwork. As you clutch the keys to the dream you have spent so long preparing for, I see your smile. I am so proud of you for making this happen.

And every day from now on I will imagine where you are. I will try to picture all of the places I never even dreamt of. I will place you in these far flung locations as I drift away from my daily routine and I am almost certain that, as I do so, a little bit of their beauty and magic will seep through to brighten my day. Because, there you are, and I see your smile. And on the days when the wonder of wifi and whatsapp make these images sharper still, I will be thankful that you took the time to think of me; your friend.

Thank you for always being that, and all it entails, to me.

I miss you already.

Rebecca x

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Potty training: patience, perseverance and other words starting with the letter P

Family

This week we began potty training with our little girl. Well, if I’m honest, we actually began a few months ago when, one Friday morning, she woke up and announced “No mummy, not nappy, knickers,” when I went to change her, and (presumably taking my cue from the current trend for developments to be ‘baby led’), I indulged her whim. What followed was a weekend of frustration and spectacular failure. On my part, I hope you will understand.

Because, as I am now starting to understand about this developmental milestone, and probably every other one ever, is that it is a process and, if I am being really, really, honest, it all began even longer ago.

Aside from sleeping through the night, potty training has probably been the part of looking after a baby (although she would now insist that she is no longer one of those) that I feared the most. I feared it even before I fell pregnant. How do you teach someone to use the toilet?

And, so, I approached this fear head on in the way I always do; with a book. Or, because my inner geek just can’t help herself; many, many books. I will claim (even now, after being a parent for long enough to realise that it is almost certainly not the case) that her success in sleeping through the night can be attributed to my hours of study, and so it seemed the only way. As a result, for as long as I can remember, my bedside table has featured numerous titles on the subject.

I felt truly prepared. I had bought all of the suggested paraphernalia and embarked upon the proposed plan. I willingly watched for the signs; was she ready? She appeared to be. She had words for it, wanted to do it and was prepared to try. But, as it turns out, we weren’t.

Even after all of my reading and research (and, in fact, maybe because of it) I had no idea what to expect. I was expecting accidents. I had anticipated a challenge. But, ultimately, I had believed the success of the venture lay in my hands. How wrong could I be?

That first weekend resulted in me feeling as though I had been forced to quit, thinking that I had done it wrong and believing that I had let my little girl down. That weekend there had been many successes; she had used the potty a number of times and she enjoyed the reward and praise when she went, but I could only see the failure, my failure; she hadn’t nailed the whole thing in one weekend as I was so sure she should do. I also clearly failed to see it wasn’t actually about me! Sadly, I admit this resulted in me sulking. Her father and I bickered about my attitude and approach. And, after consulting my friend via text for reassurance that I wouldn’t be causing irreconcilable damage (thanks Bec!), Monday morning saw the return to nappies.

I would not have been able to admit it at the time, but it was me who learnt something new that weekend.

And so this time things are a little different. Thankfully, my daughter is still keen to tackle this challenge. As we are on holiday (I know, according to all my books one of the worst times to approach this task), she has been taken to proudly chose a new, pastel pink potty that is certainly not in keeping with my colour scheme of choice. She happily sits on it in front for the sofa for well over the recommended time frame whilst clutching her ‘sucky’ (a muslin she takes to bed) and watching way too much TV. During the day she is actively encouraged to drink lots with her father offering her the unusual and exciting options of squash or juice. And, when she does finally produce something, her face fills with pride as her grandparents provide a round of applause – but also a look of anticipation as her father has promised her an ice cream for every time she goes!

Things this time are actually very different. Nothing about our approach is the way I had anticipated things to be. I still feel as if I am breaking some fatal rule as I put her in to a pair of pull-ups for a stress free evening meal out. At times I feel I have relinquished all control. But I remind myself now that this is not about me.

For a self-confessed perfectionist and pushy parent, admitting my perceived failings fills me with fear. I worry that all of the warnings my precious books provided will suddenly come crashing down around me and I will return home in a fortnight with a toddler who is so bored of sitting on the potty she refuses to have anything to do with it, one who still wants the security of a nappy whenever we leave the house or (the most likely option) a child with a dangerous addiction to ice cream, sugary drinks and CBeebies.

And, who knows, I may have. But, as she ran the entire length of the apartment the other day shouting ‘quick, quick’ to arrive at her potty just in time, I saw her smiling face and realised that, right now, my doing something different is working for her.

And that should always be my most important thing.

Places I know…

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I am on holiday. Today the sun is shining, I have swum in the sea and my feet have found the comfortable groove in my flip flops. We come to the same Spanish village a few times a year and, after the first day, it starts to feel like home.

As I wander through the village I notice the same old sights and the familiar faces and it feels as though nothing has changed. I know my way around and have mapped these landmarks in my mind’s eye. These are the memories I carry with me on rainy Wednesdays at home when all I want is to drift somewhere far away. Over time, the village has slowly become a part of me.

But, as I wander further and look more closely, I begin to notice the details. The differences. Whilst we have headed home and rejoined the ‘real world’, this little part of me has not simply stood still. Time changes everything.

And, as I am on holiday and have the time, my mind leaves me to wander further still to the important places of my past.

Once, when I was at university and inspired by something I had read, I attempted to map the markers of my world. Not a map for tourists or visitors, just for me. A visual representation of the places that made up my world and meant something to me. The corner by the bakery where I would meet my friends on the way to school. An alleyway where we once lost my brother. The canal tow path I would trek along daily to visit my first real love. Secret short-cuts and discrete doorways found prominence over local landmarks. I never finished the map, and I guess I probably never could, but I think of it often.

Because I carry these places with me too. They have made me. And, all too often, I long to drift away and find my feet there. Many of them wouldn’t make the map of my world today, some are even no longer there at all but they all exist somewhere within me.

And I continue to wander and wonder how time has changed them. More than mere months have passed since I have visited most. They are undoubtedly different. But I am sure that it is me who has changed the most.

How would the person I am today feel to stand in these long lost locations? Would I still know them or simply notice how strange they seem?

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Summer Nights

Family

Last night marked a bit of an occasion in the life of someone who grew up, and continues to live, in a world of teachers. Last night marked the start of something; the first night of six weeks of something similar. Nights where worry and weariness are long forgotten and prospects of fun and play fill the air.

And, in our house, we chose to begin our summer with a sleep out.

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A roaring success that hopefully sets the tone for a wonderful few weeks ahead…

Reasons why I hate running

Family, Health and fitness

Ok, this headline is a little deceptive, I don’t hate running. A better title would be Reasons why I simply can’t stick to the habit of going for a run as part of a healthy lifestyle. But not quite as catchy, is it?

And that’s where my first problem lies. I’m simply not passionate about it. I grew up in a family where my dad ran (and, well in to his sixties, still runs) everyday. Anyone who has ever gone to a gym with him says the same; he will probably die on a treadmill. He runs like a man possessed, completely goal orientated. Over the years he has completed many marathons in very respectable times and, as children, we were encouraged to go and watch, join in with training and participate in the attached ‘fun’ runs. And this approach was highly successful in installing a love of physical exercise and a passion for running…in my brother. My brother is now the one to fill those enormous muddy trainers and pound the pavements, day in, day out, whatever the weather. And he’s good at it. This year he completed the London marathon in a more than respectable time that was well under three hours. How can I compete?

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My brother and parents post London marathon 2014 – look at the pride on my mum’s face!

And there’s the second problem. Whilst I am an alright runner; a style that’s not too shocking and a pace that’s still not shameful either, I am simply not the best. And I don’t like that. Not one bit.

Add to this the outfits (trainers may have recently had a massive make-over for the female market but, at the end of the day, it’s still a trainer), the fact that, without a private gym at home, you have to leave the house to do it and (the most obvious reason of all) if you do it properly, it hurts, I simply can’t get excited about the prospect of committing to a life lived this way.

And, so, I don’t. I am, and will probably continue to be, a fair weather runner. I will take it up for a few weeks every year and enjoy it while it lasts, safe in the knowledge that the promises I make to myself each time about keeping up the the habit just won’t last. I accept that now.

But there is one reason why I love to run. One reason that gets me out there despite the rest. One reason why I am waking up this morning, leaving my house before anyone else and, yes, putting on my trainers.

Running works.

Running makes your heart race. It makes your head strong. It gives you a sense of accomplishment in a short time.

And, this week, this morning, today, I need that.

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Saturday Night Selfie

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I’m the sort of girl who loves an early night. A bath, book and bed are my idea of fun. Putting on my pyjamas is my favourite part of the day.

So the prospect of a night out often fills me with dread. Even only a night out to the local Indian restaurant where I am likely to be home before eleven.

But, sometimes, nothing beats the getting ready. Nothing is better than styling your hair, putting on some sheen or shimmer and slipping your feet in to something decidedly less comfortable than slippers.

A moment when you look in the mirror and are reminded of how important it is to make an effort every now and again.

Women changing the world one word at a time

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First published on huffpost.com, July 2014

I first read Caitlin Moran’s ‘How to be a Woman’ in the winter of 2012, just after I had become a mother. I picked it up from a charity book table whilst pushing my sleeping daughter slowly around a supermarket and decided to take it home to read because, 1) reading it would provide some much needed escapism from the wonderful but often very, very dull and lonely world of maternity leave and, 2) being a woman suddenly seemed like something I should know how to do.

It was easy to fall in love with her words. She is funny and clever and honest and very, very cool. The presentation of her thoughts is so passionate that you can’t help but see their importance, without any sense of alienating anger. And I wasn’t even half way in before I was utterly convinced; I am a Feminist.

How could I not be?

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But it may surprise you to hear that, as a woman living in the 21st Century, I had spent my entire life believing that Feminism didn’t concern me. I thought the issue (yep, just the one!) had gone away. At school, I could wear trousers just like the boys if I wanted to. Of course, I didn’t, they were horrible, but the option was there if I felt that strongly about it. I didn’t. There was never any doubt that I could go to University. There I found module options addressing Feminist theory aligned with History courses, and that certainly wasn’t for me as I opted instead for anything with the word ‘contemporary’ in the title. And out there in the big wide world, the world presented to me via The Box and MTV, women were singing of Girl Power and apparently taking over whilst still wearing dinky dresses and killer heels. Where was the problem? Clueless, I know. It may surprise you to learn that I had sailed through life for thirty years as a woman without ever realising that Feminism was something for me. But it probably won’t.

Because that is the problem. Girls today (and, by today, I also mean twenty and thirty years ago) have grown up believing that we can have it all. We can be and do whatever we want. We can have whatever any man can. That we need to. We now live in a world where the headline Feminist concerns appear to have already been addressed a long time ago and that anyone left still worrying about the F word is radical, extreme; words we have also been taught to fear.

But, the sad truth is, addressing those headline concerns seems to have been something that has prevented us from getting down to the nitty gritty. Women are worried about speaking up about what concerns them in case we appear to be difficult or crazy. And there we go again, words we have been taught no woman wants to be. So instead we silently struggle to work out our worth against a media backdrop of snap shots of what a perfect post-feminist woman should be.

The trouble is the struggle seems to have split us in to two, or three, or, more likely, many, many more pieces. Pieces in conflict with one another as they try to silence perspectives we have learnt we should not portray. Pieces that prevent us from feeling happy with ourselves. Pieces that prevent us from being whole.

We cannot have it all, all of the time but we are tearing ourselves, and each other, apart trying. And fixing this is surely the new agenda facing us Feminists in the twenty first century.

And maybe there is another problem starting to emerge as the same problem is put to men and pressure grows for them to be all things to all people. But I hope not.

However, as I started to see the problem and realised I was part of it, the solution began to transpire. Because it wasn’t just Caitlin (although with her strong look and powerful words it was inevitable she would become the poster child and my latest girl crush!). After realising I was a feminist (but before I was here with you speaking the word), I began to see other women sharing their truths. Women were confessing to their fears and being honest about what we have become. As I started to listen out, I heard stories that I shared; socially accepted sexism in the work place, body image issues with damaging results, loneliness and desperation and depression and low self-esteem. The stories were at times sad but the women telling them certainly weren’t. They were funny and clever and cool. Their words were something I could identify with. That is not to say that I always agreed but I could see a truth in what they were saying. The representation of what being a woman is, was real.

This month I stumbled across the article A Room of One’s Own. Com in a copy of Red at my in-laws. And there again was the solution. Increasingly, women (just like me) are using blogs (just like this one) to find their voice and share their stories in a world where we are all too often told by others what we are. But, as I type this, I realise that, sadly, this probably isn’t enough. I realise that, in the past, I would have dismissed words like these as false propaganda and opted instead to believe the easy, more obvious ‘truths’ that appear all around.

And so this is where we need to post our words: in our everyday lives. Blogging is a brilliant start but sharing our stories needs to be something that we all do, all day, every day. We live in a world where a simple search term throws up a whole world of possibilities. We are in competition. We need to be creating a world where the real experiences of women, including those that are difficult or crazy or radical or extreme, are the ones that stand true so that we aren’t fooled by the prospect of perfection and we stop stifling the parts of ourselves that we feel are flawed. For that we need to find powerful words. Words like Feminism that might seem scary at first until they become so familiar that we stop feeling afraid. But words that our daughters, and our sons, will hear.

Beautiful words

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Last week I had a bad morning. My hair fell flat. I had nothing to wear. I mean, literally, nothing. My mood was dark and angry, the lump in my throat wouldn’t shift and I felt certain, just certain, there would be tears.

And then, as I stopped to get petrol and stepped out of the car, a total stranger paused to look me up and down and told me I looked stunning. I didn’t. But I smiled. Shallow I know.

Tonight I came to bed crying. Foolish tears born out of tiredness but tears all the same. I picked up my phone to read and found this;

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Who can fail to smile when they are told they are beautiful? And everyone is beautiful when they smile.

To be.

Family

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Here is my daughter. My greatest achievement.

To imagine that two years ago today I was terrified of giving birth and becoming a mother seems unbelievable because, as I write this today, that is who I am and I cannot imagine being anyone else.

In those two years I have overcome fear much greater than I ever thought I was capable of facing just by being that person. I am scared daily by the task I have undertaken but it is only through this that I know what it means to live.

I would hate to suggest that being a mother is the only way to live a fulfilled life because I know that it is not. I admire so many women who haven’t had to undergo that transformation to be someone whole, complete. And others who have but who manage to be more than just that. But I am simply not that person. I needed someone else to make me all I could be. And now she is here I hope that I can continue to find the strength to show her who she might become.

When enough is enough

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Sometimes you need to be kind to yourself. To relax. To forgive. Sometimes you need to stop worrying about all that you want to do or be and slow down. Sometimes simply treading water is hard enough. Sometimes you need to stop worrying about all that you want to do or be and simply slow down. Maybe even stop. To rest.

And sometimes you can be too comfortable. Sometimes you need to set yourself a goal, take up a challenge, formulate a plan and take those first shaky steps on what might be a difficult journey. But a journey that might take you further than you ever thought possible, to a place you never even dared to dream you might go…