Exercise in the time of Covid

Exercise in the time of Covid

attempting to multi-task

This morning I set up the living room to do my workout. Erica was sleeping in our bedroom; Ethan was in his bedroom playing Minecraft on his Nintendo Switch. I did the 15 minutes of Cardio that I’ve started to add on in the last two weeks perfectly happy. Then, as I got ready to do the mat/Pilates part I heard that niggling voice in my head:

“He’s been staring at the screen for an hour…you really should do something active with him…”

“You did a workout yesterday, and the day before, can you really justify another hour when he has to occupy himself?”

“Why should you have time to yourself when there’s washing to put on/out/in, the dishwasher to empty, hoovering to do? You’re so selfish!”

Life is busy right now (it has always been busy to be honest, who am I kidding, but it seems particularly pressured at the moment).

A new born has brought more washing than I remember, not helped by the choice we have made to do cloth nappies and wipes again. Ethan seems incapable of wearing anything more than once so his washing basket is always full. I’m getting through more clothes than usual (baby sick, baby dribble, baby everything, the food I’m dropping while I try to eat while she’s feeding (no-one’s going to notice the sriracha stain on her onesie, right?!)).

Keeping Ethan in snacks could almost be a fulltime job…shop bought stuff runs out quickly and is more processed than I’d like so I’ve been baking cookies and flapjacks and banana bread to fill him (and Nick, to be honest!) up. But that takes time, and the first time I tried to bake with Erica in the sling I remembered that opening the oven door is not a good idea with a baby in front of you and so had to re-think.

Then there is the time spent playing with Ethan, which I don’t do anywhere near as often as I should. As an only child for ages he misses playing with his friends, and he’s rubbish at occupying himself alone with anything other than the Switch, inane individuals on YouTube, or comics. I can only really go and kick a football or play swingball with him whilst Erica is asleep, and the one time we attempted Lego with her awake I feared the tiny yellow people wouldn’t recover from the digested milk that ended up all over them!

So, there are many, many things I should be doing whilst Erica is sleeping. And at the moment, the only guaranteed longer than an hour stretch we get is first thing in the morning, after she’s been up an hour. It feels like I have to try and fit everything I need to do in that space, just in case she’ll only sleep on me for the rest of the day. That little niggling voice in my head tells me that exercise shouldn’t be a priority.

And maybe you agree with it. Which is perfectly fine. Not everyone “gets” exercise. Not everyone has the luxury of even thinking about fitting it into their day. And I’ve not always been an endorphin chaser. After revelling in my place on the netball team at primary school (GA thank you very much *takes a bow*!), the social complexities of secondary school team picking combined with being tall and ungainly (and the whole nobody understood the need for sports bras to be part of the uniform thing) sport was not something I enjoyed. Getting sweaty and then putting your uniform back on for the rest of the day was just asking for red-faced related bullying, and people generally wanted to pass to their friends, no matter how good at shooting you actually were. I didn’t enjoy moving my adolescent body, mainly because it seemed unreliable and alien. When I got to Uni there were far too many other fun things to do, and it wasn’t until my best friend and I decided to join a gym together in the 4th year that I got back into the whole “getting fit” thing. We’d stay up late out or in with friends and far too much wine, get up for the 6am spin circuits class (trying not to be sick) and then come home, eat porridge and watch Friends re-runs… With the odd lecture thrown in, obviously. In the holidays back at home I’d run with friends, or by myself, and I started being proud of what my body could achieve, rather than cross that it didn’t seem to compare with media images. When Mark and I married we’d run to the gym together, work out and then run home – me much slower than he would have liked and feeling like I was holding him back. I was always trying to catch up, with him running 10ks most weekends and half marathons when he had the time to train. Running seemed like the most sensible way to keep moving, but although I loved the feeling of being able to run as fast as I could, that was never for long, and I never seemed to improve.

At some point in 2010, I’m not sure how, I came across some workout DVDs by Tracy Anderson, a ridiculously tiny, perky, blonde American trainer completely opposite to anyone I would have normally trusted with my wellbeing. Her moves were like Pilates on crack, mixed with dance cardio routines that I was hopeless at learning, looked like an uncoordinated elephant doing, but completely loved! The whole thing just fit, with none of the repeated stress on my joints that running gave me and a constantly changing routine that meant my (possibly ADHD) brain never got bored. And I’ve been a devotee ever since. Not (pretty obviously) because she’s made my body the perfect specimen I used to yearn after, but because the daily practise of focusing on what my body can do better than it did yesterday has improved my relationship with it more than I can say. I have still had days when I look in the mirror and dislike what I see, but I am kinder to myself than I used to be. When I dance around like a lunatic for 30 minutes I don’t have to think about anything other than trying not to fall over or making sure I don’t kick Ethan in the face, and that has been better for my mental health than anything else I have ever tried. I can work out stresses, lift myself out of despair, and feel as if I have accomplished something when everything else about my day has been shit.  When I was pregnant with Ethan it kept me healthy and flexible. The consultant we saw after the debacle of Ethan’s birth was pretty sure it was the reason I recovered so quickly. When Mark was sick I would come home and workout in the kitchen, and then collapse, dead tired, into much needed sleep which I wouldn’t have had otherwise. After Mark died it was my “me time” once Ethan was in bed, and when the day had been filled with “When is Daddy coming back?” questions I could lay it all on the mat and leave it there to start afresh a new day. Even now I don’t feel like myself if I leave 2 days between a workout, and right now it is helping me rebuild my strength after giving birth. It is also, now that we’re in lockdown, the only 45 minutes to an hour that I get for myself during the day. And, no matter how loud the voice in my head gets, it will take a lot for me to give it up. And, I do feel a bit smug that now everyone is catching onto this “working out from home” malarky!

Ethan says it looks really funny when I do it, he likes being able to join in with me sometimes, and he doesn’t really mind being occasionally kicked in the head! I like to think that I’m setting him a good example, that movement can be a healthy part of your life even if you’re not a naturally sporty person, and that there are loads of different ways of managing difficult emotions. 

I think a lot of my family and friends don’t understand why I workout so much, and think that I’m a bit nerdy about it all. I remember once my gran was staying with us and after 30 minutes she said “Are you not done yet?! That much exercise can’t be healthy!” But my life so far has been fairly stressful…and this keeps me sane…well this and red wine, anyway… #balance

Babies in Lockdown

Babies in Lockdown

I was chatting (online, obvs) with my friends from pregnancy yoga today (we have named ourselves the Yogabies and we don’t care how lame you think it is!). We are a mix of first time mums, mums with newborns and toddlers, and mums with newborns and children old enough to need homeschooling. And we are all frazzled. We all have different challenges during this drama that is unfolding. Some of us are getting used to partners working from home (and being around all the time). Some of us were just getting used to this whole maternity leave thing, trying to find routine, and now all the baby groups we were using as support have closed and we are alone, with just Whatsapp for company. Some of us have partners who need to work during the crisis and so have extra responsibilities on top of what we were expecting. Some of us are endeavouring to be teachers as well as dealing with newborns who have no routines and can’t understand why you need to finish the times table questions before you pick them up from the changing mat.

Nothing is as it should have been (a sentiment I am most familiar with).

To be honest, I do feel slightly cheated out of my maternity leave. These first few months were meant to be spent bonding with Erica, wandering around town with her in the buggy or sling, popping into coffee shops to feed her when she’s inconsolable, ranting with fellow mums about why she won’t sleep, or how everything has changed since the last time I had a baby, letting her fall asleep on me in the afternoon and smelling the top of her head. I had found it difficult enough to organise a baby around school runs and sports matches and homework and teatime even before we all went into a 3 week lockdown and I had to teach an 8 year old all about magnets. (N.B. I know nothing about magnets. When I was getting ready for my GCSE’s I had to go and stay with my Grandad for 2 weeks so he could cram enough Physics into me to help me pass the exam! Why could Ethan not be studying Shakespeare, or The Great Gatsby, or even Socialism?!)

The last week I have felt constantly torn between my two children, as well as the work that needs to be done to keep the house running. And by that I don’t even mean cleaning, just ensuring we have clothes to wear and food to eat! I spend the day feeling like I am not doing enough of anything, for anyone. And I am getting increasingly annoyed at the social media content which encourages people to look on the bright side of the lockdown by giving them ideas of things they can do with all their spare time….. Oh, to have spare time! The pile of books I was hoping to at least make a small dent in is gathering dust. This is the first time I have written anything longer than a Facebook status in about 2 weeks, and Ethan has been surviving almost completely on sausage rolls and cherry tomatoes.

I know that it’s normal to feel like you are failing as a parent (especially as a mother). I know that many people are finding this situation harder than I am, for various reasons. I know that I am very lucky that my family and I are well, and that Nick can keep working under the circumstances (oh the joys of running your own business). I’m quite pleased that we decided to use reusable nappies and wipes as they’re almost impossible to get hold of at the moment. But I am a bit sad, if I’m honest, that real life has crashed the newborn stage.

Erica is getting very good at watching me do things (like cook dinner, load the dishwasher, teach fractions, put out the washing). I am getting better at scheduling a school plan for the day and then completely rearranging it around her naps and mood. Ethan is getting better at adjusting his routine, something which he has always found very difficult. He likes the structure of school (although he will tell you the only things he likes about school are ICT, PE, lunch and break!), and he loves his friends. We are using the House Party app quite a lot so he can talk to them, and the teachers have been wonderful in sending us work home and keeping us all connected. But such a big change in routine means heightened anxiety and emotions, and so we have seen more tears than usual. My patience levels (never fabulous, to be honest) are at a very low ebb.

I miss my friends, and I don’t even have time to chat to them properly using all the fabulous technology that makes this global predicament bearable. I am very cross that the spa days and brewery visits we had planned are on hold…especially as I am currently running out of wine! And the self-indulgent tone of this blog post is also annoying me….

 All in all, I am unimpressed with Covid-19, and would very much lie to fast forward to September… If that’s alright with everyone else!

International Woman’s Day

International Woman’s Day

So, slightly earlier than planned…Erica Christine Day barrelled into our lives on the 26th January. The last 6 weeks have been intense, and I’ve not made it to the blog. I have lots of events and thoughts to update you on, but before we get back to our regularly scheduled programming (of me being far too introspective and wondering how I ever raised an 8 year old!) Here are some thoughts about this important day…

My little feminist 😍

So its International Woman’s Day.

And I had a girl….

I have always been terrified of having a daughter. I’m not a traditionally “girly girl”. I don’t understand how to do my own make up or hairstyles, let alone how to teach someone else about them. I can’t do french plaits. As someone who spent school on the end of some pretty horrendous female behaviour I was wary of re-entering the world of bitchiness, peer pressure and tearful friendship breakdowns.
I’d only ever changed boys’ nappies. And I can only stand pink in very VERY small doses.
Oh, and not to mention that the responsibility of raising a girl to be a strong, confident woman feels massive; full of trip hazards, confusion and balancing protection against independence.

Today’s global society has no easy answers. There is no black or white, just endless shades of grey for us to grapple with. People we admire and love can be on different sides of nuanced arguments and we have yet to work out how disagree kindly. Learning how to be a woman in all this is even more confusing than it was when I was growing up… it’s not even learning how to be a woman any more; it’s learning how to be you whilst navigating what society tells you a woman should be (which changes depending on which Twitter thread you’re reading).

I am sat on my sofa with my tiny daughter asleep (sporadically) on my lap. She is currently wearing a pink babygrow with cats all over it – mainly because that is what was on top of the pile at 3am when she needed changing.
More pink has entered my house these last 6 weeks than ever before, from such lovely, generous people. Thankfully it has also been mixed with greens and yellows and blues (and cardigans with dinosaurs on!) . I am grateful that she will benefit from the campaigns of the last decade to “let toys be toys” and to encourage young women that “this girl can”, and of course those further back that allow us to vote, work, own property, and contribute to society alongside our fellow man.

International Woman’s Day is extra poignant to me this year. The responsibility is a physical, night waking, nappy filling, smiling presence.
I have no idea what type of person she will grow up to be. But I hope that, alongside her brother, we will have taught her to value each person equally, to be kind, and that her worth is not dependent on society’s view of her appearance, but is inherent.

And hey: there are YouTube videos on how to do French plaits, right?!

At least she doesn’t have much hair yet!

Total Recall – or not.

Total Recall – or not.

I am 38 weeks pregnant.

But it still seems as if I have so very long to go before we get to meet the Hatchling.

Sleep comes in small doses, with all the hip pain and the constant need to pee! And fitting in daytime naps is not as easy with an existing child (even one at school) as it was without one.

There is still a lot to be done around the house. The nursery isn’t finished, the guest room is piled high with taken-down Christmas decorations, and as you may have noticed, the last few months have been so manic that writing has taken a back seat. Christmas and New Year and end of term madness and present buying and finishing things off at 3 different jobs has hoovered up all of my energy and attention. I keep glancing at the blog folder on my laptop and feeling guilty that I can’t find time to do something a little more creative that the school uniform wash or bookkeeping.

But some of my friends threw me a surprise mini baby shower last weekend, and it was wonderful! It made me feel very special and also made everything feel a lot more real and immediate. This baby is coming, and now I need to start remembering how to do the newborn thing…

Memory is an issue for me. I have such a terrible memory now. I don’t think I used to. I do sometimes wonder if this is a long lasting effect of trauma. Or may my brain is just pants!

I have spent this whole pregnancy countering very kind offers of gorgeous second hand baby clothes by saying that it’s ok, as we still have all of Ethan’s baby clothes up in the loft.

Then we pulled all the baby paraphernalia out of the loft bag by bag (well, I say “we”, I mean “Nick, with me supervising!”)…. The gro-bags….the  muslins…the bibs and baby socks…the sheets and blankets… The big bag of 12-18 month clothes….the big bag of 18-24 month clothes…the cloth nappies…the reusable wipes…the buggy and car seat…

Yup – nothing from the 1st year, other than socks…

I was completely baffled.

I have absolutely no memory of doing anything with those clothes – giving them away or selling them or anything. And I had been so certain that they were in the loft. And the only other person who would have been there to help me remember is dead. So of no help at all. So we have spent the last few weeks collecting enough small clothing so that the Hatchling isn’t laying around in just a nappy and baby socks when it gets here. And I am left confused at where the babygrows have all gone, but mainly worried that my memory of Ethan’s first year is so shocking. If I can’t remember getting rid of all the sentimental first clothes he wore, then what else have I forgotten?

That is one of the things no-one tells you about losing a spouse. You lose their half of the shared memory of your life.

Often in the last few days, as it all gets more real, Nick has asked me a question about some aspect of caring for a baby – how long do you need to sterilise bottles for, or how old will they be when they stop breastfeeding, or why do you need this random gadget! And I frequently realise that I cant remember. I have no clear recollection of large chunks of that first year.

I remember spending hours in the evening walking up and down in the bedroom, rocking Ethan and singing American Pie. We chose the longest song we could think of so we wouldn’t get too bored singing it over and over again. For years it was part of the bedtime routine (“Sing Pie Mummy!”). I remember going for many many walks around the estate during the day – trying desperately to get him to sleep, wondering if people saw me traipsing in circles and thought I was bonkers.  I remember washing nappies and the bizarrely therapeutic task of popping the right colour pieces all together again. I remember my wonderful friend Susan coming to stay for 2 weeks once Mark had to go back to work. But what I had totally forgotten until she reminded me the other day, was the phone conversation between us when she asked how I was and I burst into tears, and then she got in the car and spent her Easter Holiday picking things up off of the floor for me and doing the washing.  I remember fitting in workouts during nap time or, at the weekend, doing cardio whilst Mark looked after Ethan and being handed him to feed in between sets! These are all flashes. But there is so much I have forgotten. And I wonder if it will come flooding back with the muscle-memory of doing the newborn thing all again. I hope so. The two (4 really!) of us are relying mainly on me knowing what I’m doing with babies…

Seems quite optimistic right now… I can just about remember which way a nappy goes on. The breast pump is proving a little more complicated than I recall.

Neurotic? Me?

Neurotic? Me?

We’ve been clearing out the loft…in order to make space for lego (oh so much lego)…in order to clear space in the nursery for the cot…

It feels like one of those little handheld games you’d get in party bags with the squares you had to move around to make a picture; if one square was in the wrong place you had to mess up all the others to fix it… My head may explode!

Anyway, in addition to making me want to go an play the lottery in the hope of a bigger house, the room jenga led to me discovering my diary from the year Ethan was born. It’s an A5 page-a-day ring bound book, with ridiculously cheerful polka dots on the cover. And it has made me realise that I am totally and utterly neurotic and need to be stopped.

“Don’t be silly, Peta!” I hear you say (one would hope!) “You can’t be that bad?!”

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Exhibit A:

Here we see page upon page of post-it notes. These post-it notes contain quotes and helpful tips from the library of parenting books I read during my pregnancy. All my life I have been convinced that the answer to everything lies in books. If I read enough of them about any particular subject then I will have all the answers to anything that is thrown at me. This academic urge did not leave me during pregnancy… In hindsight, all the books did was convince me that I had to remember all these rules and facts and hints and tips in order to keep my baby safe and happy, and that if I forgot one or two then we were destined to create a terror of a child who would never thrive in the world.

Moving swiftly on to Exhibit B:

Here we have my birth plan, which, as we all know if you’ve read the rest of my blog, is so far from reality that it probably belongs more in a Terry Pratchett novel (although it is significantly less funny and insightful). Reading it now makes me wince at our naiveite. And also makes me want to go around telling all first time mum’s that a birth plan should not be called a birth plan, but a “What I would like to happen if everything goes according to plan, however I recognise that it probably won’t so this will just give the midwives something amusing to read” plan.

And finally, the pinnacle of the insanity, Exhibit C:

This is where it gets actually bonkers. This is a day in the life of Ethan aged 12 days! We have detailed information on which breast he was fed from, for how long, how much expressed milk he was fed, when he slept and for how long, and what other appointments we had that day.

To my shame, this continues every single day, through weaning (where we have scintillating entries concerning hummus, bananas, et al), and my workouts. The final entry is the day he turns 8 months old, when I can only assume that Mark stole the book from me and hid it in the deepest depths of the wardrobe so I would stop recording completely pointless information and stressing myself out.

I honestly am ashamed of the pressure I put on myself. I think I thought that if I wrote down everything that happened, then I could make sure it was all going well and notice for patterns in case it wasn’t. I was completely terrified that I would mess up this newborn someone had handed to me, and that routine and organisation was the way to make sure that we did everything right. I worried so much about everything to do with being a new mum. And I tried to take my list-making from the workplace to the nursery.

When I got pregnant again I would think back to the early days of Ethan and I saw a relaxed, easy time. But I assume that must be those rose-tinted glasses that make you forget how awful labour so that you’ll do it again and the human race won’t go extinct. The woman who charted every feed her son had for 8 months was not relaxed or easy-going. She was clearly trying to find some way to deal with this massive change in every aspect of her life.

I really don’t want to turn into that person again (partly because I would like to hang onto my friends until I come out of the other side of the newborn bubble!). I realise that there will be stress and anxiety arriving with the Hatchling. But there must be ways that I can reduce the effect they have on me, and our family. And one of these ways is for me not to obsess over every little detail. I have managed to keep a human alive, through quite challenging circumstances, for 7 and a half years. So I must be doing something right! There is nothing to suggest that I can’t be a good mum without all these lists.

I don’t want to be clearing the loft out again in 7 years (probably to turn it into some kind of teenage boy den where Ethan can go and smell like a hamster in peace) and find a 2020 page-a-day diary that makes me want to cry into my Rioja.

Memory failure

Memory failure

Facebook is both a wonderful and terrible thing. This morning I woke up to the pictures above – a reminder of a very excited little boy.

But we need to talk about the “Memories” capability…

When Mark died it was a way of having someone else to share all the things Ethan did with. It was adult feedback about events and decisions. It was sharing a wry smile over a glass of wine at the end of a very long and relentless day.

It was my lifeline.

Generally speaking its a treasure trove of funny things I’ve sent to my mates (who obviously agree I’m hilarious!), cute pictures of Ethan, tweets and political statements that felt so current and important but I can’t remember anything about now, momentous occasions such as the first swimming lesson, THE BEGINNING OF POTTY TRAINING, the wine at the end of the first day of potty training, The moment when I break and just put pull-ups on him again….you know the sort of thing.

But then every now and again there is a sucker punch to my stomach. It will be a birthday message from Mark, a caption to a photo of my two boys snuggled up together asleep on the sofa, a wedding anniversary, or (a particularly impressive one) the message in which I told all of our far flung family and friends that Mark was being moved to a hospice with no further treatment, or the one 2 days afterwards when I told them all he had died.

So, that was a fun thing to pop up after Facebook says ” we thought you’d like to see this…”

Because I didn’t, not at all, and I won’t like it next year either.

So why stay subscribed, you ask, If it means you end up with PTSD flashbacks while scrolling your newsfeed?

It’s this collective memory thing. I really am so bad at remembering things, and this is a way of accessing this shared memory store of Ethan. Especially during the 2 bad years, when I honestly think trauma has wiped a lot of my memory.

I worry about being the single repository for all the memories of Ethan’s first few years.

I’m hopeless at remembering things like the first word, first step, first bit of food.

The fact that there is video evidence of at least some of these is one of the saving graces of living in the 21st Century. But it’s not sufficient on its own.

And, because I am naturally anxious, I worry that I’ll miss out on telling him something so incredibly important that it will shape either his understanding of his father, or his very personality. Mark was the one with the details. He was the one with the photo on his desk on the back of which was written Ethan’s first word along with the words he was currently using at a certain date.

I think maybe I was so in the thick of the daily whirlwind that is bringing up a child that these things passed me by. Obviously I was excited at the time, but then the details got pushed out to make room for remembering jabs and to order more washing powder.

When you build a partnership, or a marriage, or a family with someone else, you both take on different roles relative to your strengths (and necessity). You don’t both need to be the one who remembers birthdays, or the one who is better at recalling when the first tooth arrived. But when you lose your partner you lose that half of the skill set you’ve developed. You lose that half of the memories. You lose that half of what your family means. And it bothers me. It makes me feel guilty and as if I didn’t care enough to hold these things in my head.

And, to be honest, I’ve only just realised that it may have been because I was the one doing the work. And he was the one being updated with the important news, or coming home and getting the highlights. Generally speaking. When you are so in the thick of it every next thing that happens is your priority. Maybe remembering that will make me feel less guilty… Who knows.

With this baby I periodically feel the pressure to over-compensate and ensure there is detailed record of everything that ever happens. But in reality I have a 7 year old, a house that never stays clean, a washing pile that never gets any smaller, about 3 different jobs, and more than a vague interest in what is actually happening in the world (completely bat-shit crazy though it is). I get the chance to make a quick note of whether or not I’ve taken my prenatal vitamins today, and I can’t imagine that adding an actual moving baby is going to help my time management.

So, Facebook it is…

Birthdays

Birthdays

Sunday was Mark’s birthday. He would have been 37.

This year it took me by surprise. I knew it was coming up but when I woke that morning it took me a while to look at the date on my phone and realise. I told Ethan when he snuggled into bed for a morning cuddle and he asked if we could go to the cemetery. He wanted to take flowers and write Daddy a letter. When it came to sitting with the piece of paper in front of him he got as far as  “Happy Birthday” and then was stuck. He didn’t know what else to say. But then I can’t blame him. A 7 year old isn’t meant to know what to say in a birthday card to his dead father, is he? In the end he drew some flowers and signed his name and we drove up there in the afternoon.

It’s a beautiful place really. The grass is spongy with moss, the trees lush and green in all this rain, far enough away from town to be peaceful. There is a huge old fir (I think) in the middle of the graves, with the thickest trunk I’ve ever seen, deep brown and dark green, sheltering the metres around it. It always fills me with awe as I think how far it’s roots are spreading through the cemetery, connecting everything. We put down our flowers and our letter and had a little chat to Mark about what was going on. Ethan said “Happy Birthday” and told Daddy that he had a cold! I had been fine all day, but listening to his little voice tell his Daddy about school and the Hatchling broke me. He never wants to stay very long – I get that, it’s not a very engaging place for a 7 year old and everything he has to think about there is very abstract. As we drove home I found myself back in my most frequent line of thought: my son is a very impressive little boy, but he shouldn’t have to be. I am torn between being oh, so proud of him that he can articulate his feelings and furious with the universe that he has had to learn this skill so young.

On the 30th October will be 5 years since Mark’s death. It both feels like yesterday and a whole lifetime ago. To be perfectly honest, standing there at his grave with the Hatchling moving around in my belly felt odd. My whole life and the circumstances I have found myself in are so very strange. Any possibility that there might be any sort of over-arching plan seems laughable. There have been lessons learnt, sure, but not through design. I was brought up with the concept that there was a plan for my life – an end goal that I was heading towards – that you just had to find the right path and you’d get to that point. I can’t pass that assurance onto my son – because it’s crap. You have no idea what life will throw at you when you wake up on a Tuesday morning. The best you can do is make sure you have people around you who love you, enough self-awareness to know why you act and respond how you do in every situation, and a sense of humour to carry you through when all else fails! If I can model those things for him, and for the Hatchling, then I think I’ll be doing ok. (Maths skills would also be a bonus!)

Milestones are weird things. In reality, each day is much like the other. It doesn’t get any sadder on the 29th of September, or the 30th of October, or the 12th July, or the 17th March. Mark is not missed any more or less. But our brains like these checkpoints. They help us make sense of time, and I think they help us weave the action of grieving into our lives as we walk forward. Humans crave rituals, birthdays, anniversaries, festivals, Strictly Come Dancing finals. And a grief milestone helps you create those rituals around the loss of your loved one. I have never told Ethan that on Daddy’s birthday we visit his grave, but we have done it every year and now it is a normal part of the year for him. This (I hope) helps him frame his grief, and gives him an opportunity away from school and minecraft and friends to take it out, examine it, and experience it. He knows that being happy is perfectly fine, and so is being sad. Should he need it, he has an outlet.

So, Happy Birthday Mark – our son is pretty damn awesome, and we love you very much.

20 weeks – and cleaning!

20 weeks – and cleaning!

The Hatchling posing at 20 weeks!

All clear at the 20 week anomaly scan! Yay! It was a really special experience for Nick and I. It was amazing watching the technician point out the kidneys, the tiny 4 chambered heart beating away like crazy, the individual vertebrae  of the spine snaking down the Hatchling’s back, and the legs waving around. At one point it headbutted me in the bladder and I could see and feel the movement at the same time – that was mind blowing; and when the tiny mouth yawned I thought I was going to cry.

And everything was fine. Again, I think I was waiting for something awful to be wrong – to hear that I had done something I shouldn’t, or that my body had not been cooperative. I was expecting bad news. But everything was perfect – bang in the middle of the weight it should be at this point, all organs in working order, feet pointing the right way, long legs and defined lips and nose. We are all good. And on track for a healthy, happy new team member.

I don’t think that I’ll stop worrying. This is me, after all. But it does calm me down for a bit at least.

So now the house is slowly preparing to welcome a new baby. We have to move the playroom into our spare room in the loft and then create a nursery in the playroom. I’ve decided I want the furniture all sorted by October half term – I think this may be a completely arbitrary deadline, but it feels better to have some date in my head. And to have begun to make some progress.

It appears the nesting has started. Yesterday I cleaned our living room window – inside and out – because it was annoying me. I haven’t cleaned the windows in years (yes, I know I am a terrible slob of a person!). Then I moved onto cleaning all the doors, and had to stop myself from doing the skirting boards as I was getting weary. I’m getting urges to rush up to the loft and just throw everything out…I’m not sure how many belongings are going to survive this pregnancy! The house is annoying me. It isn’t too small – for crying out loud I grew up with 6 people in a 2 bed! But we have A LOT of stuff. And we’re not very good at culling (apart form, it seems, when I am pregnant. So maybe I should take advantage of this newfound urge to purge and have a massive clearout…)

Life constantly changes, and we change with it. I think that when you do something momentous (such as adding a new person to your life) there comes along with that an opportunity to reflect and look anew at what your life currently contains. A bit like when you move in with a new partner, adding a baby makes you consider how your belongings and your environment facilitate the way your family works, and the person you are. It’s a break in the day to day – an opportunity to ditch things that you’ve been holding onto, but don’t serve a purpose anymore.

When Mark died I left his clothes in his side of the wardrobe. I didn’t open the doors, or sit amongst the shirts and cry, I just couldn’t move them. I think it was when I started back at work that I decided that they couldn’t stay there any longer, but that I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of them. Predictably, out came the vacuum pack bags, and everything was put away in the loft until I could contemplate going back to them. It took a long time, the hand holding of Mark’s brother Daniel and his husband, and a LOT of gin to get through that day when it finally arrived.

When Nick moved in with us it was into a space that Ethan and I had worked hard to make our own. But there were still changes to be made, someone else’s belongings to fit in, and decisions to consider about which keepsakes and photos still belonged on display. We didn’t move the house on from Mark, we didn’t make it less ours, we simply made room for another person’s significance and presence.  And, again, this gave me an opportunity to think about what was still me and what wasn’t. Did I really still need to resist having a sofa in the dining room now that I could workout in the living room? Was the best place for the washing basket still in the corner of the bedroom, or had I just kept it that way because Mark had put it there? Was a study still necessary, when a playroom would consolidate the ridiculous number of toys strewn around the house? Stupid little things that just gave life a bit more flow.

Now that the Hatchling’s arrival is zooming closer I find myself regarding everything in my house with a more critical eye. I’m not thinking about baby-proofing yet (although that will be a shock to all of us, relaxed as we’ve become with sensible Ethan!), but there will need to be space for the day bed downstairs, and a playmat. We’ll need to rearrange our bedroom to fit in a crib for the first 6 months (although to be honest it’ll be more like the first 3 if Ethan was anything to go by!). The buggy will need to go somewhere as we’ve filled the space where it used to live with a large shelving unit where we keep our shoes and keys…(this is my current unsolvable problem; it can’t go in the dining room as I refuse to stare at muddy wheels whilst eating my tea, and it can’t really go in the hallway as Ethan (and Nick) will knock it over every time they walk past. Answers on a postcard please as I’m this close to building a lean-to on the patio for it to live in) The playroom and the guest bedroom (which seems to be full pretty much every other week and will probably be busier with a new baby) have to be consolidated into one space – a space which also includes my ridiculous collection of books, all the toys the Hatchling has yet to grow into, and the usual Christmas decorations, camping gear, winter/summer clothes (depending on the time of year) and everything else the normal family has in their loft. I am going slightly bonkers thinking about it.

If you don’t hear from me in a while, it’s because I’ve been buried under a pile of baby clothes and youth work text books…send help!

20 weeks and feeling reflective.

20 weeks and feeling reflective.

Blackberry picking at sunset!

Today the Hatchling is 20 weeks old…we’re officially half way there!

I have been feeling very tired recently, so I am sitting and resting, looking at the living room that I have created.

Well that’s not quite true. The bones were laid whilst Mark was still alive. He picked the egg blue on the feature wall, the cream on the rest – I wasn’t sure about both. So little confidence in my own taste and how it might work out in practice. Putting pictures from my head into real life has never been something I am brave with.

The carpet was here when we arrived. I immediately hated it, but we were to live with it until Ethan was potty trained…and then I never got around to it. I still hate it. So much. The deep blue sofa that arrived in our first married home as a present – an extravagance that I had never imagined. Buying a sofa made to order…new…in a colour I liked, not one that was cheap, or borrowed, or donated. I love that sofa. It contains so many memories. Breastfeeding Ethan , him falling asleep – satiated – on my shoulder as I sit in the corner, in front of the bookshelves. Watching Damages as he suckled contentedly but determined. Sitting on it 7 months pregnant feeling so uncomfortable (I’m not looking forward to that this time around!) – reading Mumsnet threads that made me laugh so hysterically that I cried. And Mark finding that so funny that he insisted on filming me. That bloody camera, a present ready for the baby being born, that he determined he would be behind at any opportunity. But that meant he was rarely in front of the lens, and photos or video of him with Ethan are few and far between.

Wiping it with muslins, removing sick and crumbs and yoghurt and chocolate….oh the germs that must be on it! The red fluffy throw that used to be on the end… The cotton throw with elephants, purple and red, to help me make the rented house fell more put together. The low, massive coffee table in front of it where Ethan first started pulling himself up onto his own two feet – making me so proud.

Moving it to the new house – our first that we owned – Mark’s massive accomplishment. A new house, new community. Everyone who came to see us had trouble getting off of it – so deep and enveloping. Made for snuggling with the one you love. The cushions at the back never being plumped enough. It’s lasted 10 years and it looks – almost- as good as new! I will be sad to buy another. The loveseat that I bought all by myself to fill a gap I saw in the space. Terrified as it arrived and I didn’t think it would fit through the door. Terrified as I unpacked it that it was too big for the space and that I’d made a stupid mistake. Proud as I set it up, matched cushions and posted it online because there was no-one in real life to be proud of me and praise me. The curtains that I hate, but have to keep as we have no others. The piano which stands as a reminder that I never have time to fit in all of the things I want to do into my life. I don’t know whether that’s because I want too many things or I waste too much time – this is my eternal question.

The TV bought with Marks first bonus at KPMG. Remembering the hours he spent researching and comparing, hunting for prices and discounts. Me thinking that no-one ever needs a TV this big, that it was too massive for the room – taking up the corner like a big black blank space. Greedy. But, you get used to it…spoilt now.

The painting hanging over the piano. Mark’s birthday present a month before he died. He was meant to come home and see it framed – the colours matching perfectly with our sofa, the paint he’d chosen. All together and peaceful for him to die in. Because the loveseat was bought to shut out the memory of another chair which had sat in that corner of the room – the motorised, old people’s chair with the padded cushion so he could get up and down and be comfortable. So he could take the pressure off his tired joints, his bed sores, so he could rest and not have to walk up the stairs to the bedroom too often. The kindness of our friends who found and bought the chair. The defeat it represented to me as it sat there. And the fact that he never got home to see the painting, to see the walls, to see the creation, to use the chair, to lay in the hospital bed that was to be delivered and placed in our living room.

And so, now, this is my space. I have created it. With the chaise longue from my wedding to Nick in the corner instead, Blitzen the reindeer skin draped over it. Liam the wooden giraffe next to it. The piano with Nick’s mother’s dinner gong sitting on top of it, underneath the birthday painting (which was the perfect blend of my love for Jack Vetriano and his love for motorsport). The space where I can do my workouts, even though Mark hated me doing them in the living room.

It feels warm and cosy. It feels like an amalgamation of all of the men in my life and all the things I love about them. I have battled to keep it clutter-free for years, for this to be the front window of my life – see, I can keep something clean and tidy! – I need peace and calm and tranquillity and order somewhere, otherwise I feel like everything is spiralling out of control, like I’m not good enough at this being an adult thing, like everyone else manages and I’m hopeless and lazy and self-centred.

But this is my space. I get to choose.

my boys…..on my sofa….
Heartbeat

Heartbeat

18 weeks and bump is now bigger than boobs!!

Since we got back from Carfest, it’s been a manic rush to get all the back-to-school stuff sorted. So I’m a bit behind in keeping you all caught up with Hatchling developments! I’ve just dropped Ethan off for his 2nd day of school and the house is a lot quieter than I’ve been used to these past 8 weeks.

We had our first consultant appointment last week. Doctor’s appointments in the summer holidays are a pain in the backside! The plan had been to get someone to look after Ethan so that he wouldn’t have to hear me talk about nearly dying when I gave birth to him….desperately trying not to give the poor boy a complex! But no-one was available, so we settled on Nintendo Switch and penguin headphones…. ah, the wonders of 21st century parenting!

But it turns out that it was pretty awesome that he was with us. He got to hear the Hatchling’s heartbeat and the lovely midwife explained all the noises and numbers to him. He had the biggest grin on his face – very special!

The wonderful consultant (who I would like to always be my consultant for everything for ever and ever!), read the letters about Ethan’s birth and asked me what I wanted this time around. I was fully prepared (with my usual worse case scenario head on) to have to stage some kind of sit-in to get the elective c-section I wanted. But when I told her she just said “Fine”. And that was that – all sorted! To say that I felt relieved would be a bit of an understatement. Now I don’t have to spend the next 21 weeks worrying that I’m going to die in childbirth…you know, it’s the little things…

So now we know how the final weeks of pregnancy will pan out (and we all know that I like a plan!). Blood tests in the run up to make sure I have all the iron I need, anaesthetists appointment in week 38 where we’ll get a day for the section, and then going in early on that day in week 39 and waiting for my spot! Very straightforward. Then all we have to worry about is keeping an actual baby alive for 18 years…

The Hatchling has been moving around a bit more. I have realised that I’m going to panic when I don’t feel it as much. I’ve got an anterior placenta, so it’s perfectly normal. With that information I can bring myself back from the panic…but realising that it will be where my head goes is quite useful really.

There’s lots to do now that Ethan is at school and I have my days back! The next massive task is to sort out the loft/guest room. All the baby things I’ve collated over the last few months has amalgamated into this huge pile of stuff that all needs a home! So if you need me I’ll be counting babygros and trying to get Ethan to cull his toy collection so we can change the playroom into a nursery. (He doesn’t actually play with any of it anyway, but the occasions when I’ve suggested charity donation have not gone down well.)

Wish me luck!! x