21st May 2018

When I was 11 years old, a friend wrote me a letter….

When I was 11 years old, a friend wrote me a letter and stuffed it into my hand in the cloakroom outside our classroom. As I unfurled the crumpled paper and started to read the words scrawled in navy blue fountain pen on the faint ruled lines inside, my breath caught in my chest. The world suddenly stood still. And whilst I can’t remember the content, I do remember they were spiteful and personal. She didn’t like me – and lying in bed that evening, I sobbed sad, unhappy tears as the words replayed in my mind.

I genuinely can’t remember the circumstances surrounding that letter. I may very well have written to her first or done something unkind to prompt it. We may have spat words at each other beforehand, both determined that we were right. It was long before the days of being interested in boys – but those were the days when stealing someone else’s ‘best friend’ was amongst the worst thing you could do. So looking back, with not a shred of memory about what the letter contained, that would be my guess. I guess I stole her friend. I guess it stung. And I guess she felt better as her fountain pen scratched the paper as she wrote.

I have no idea what happened to that letter. If it didn’t immediately get thrown in the bin, it probably ended up in a box somewhere, long forgotten with the years slowly fading the ink.

I do remember who wrote it though – and 26 years later, we are good friends. We meet regularly, putting the world to rights over strong coffees and glasses of wine.  We attended each other’s hen do’s and weddings. Our children play together. Our husbands stand over barbecues together. She’s part of my past, my present, my future.

I doubt she remembers writing that letter.

I hope she doesn’t remember writing that letter.

But imagine if we’d been born 25 years later. Imagine if we were 11 years old now, with phones in our hands, computer screens in our homes. Imagine if she’d typed that letter with angry taps, pressing ‘send’ before her mother called her down for dinner and she checked between bites that the message had been delivered so that she knew the words were playing in my mind.

Imagine if, 25 years later, I could look back at a stream of messages and find it right there at the very beginning.

To be reminded whenever I wanted to be reminded.

And imagine if she could’ve written it publicly and tagged me – or, with a sense of 11-year-old injustice and anger, I could’ve shared it with our peers, our parents, and the world.

I have no answers – but just imagine…

It scares me.

It really scares me.

Does it scare you?



27th April 2018

10 Arguments Couples Will Have When They Become Parents…

  1. 1. “You’re tired? Seriously?!”

Are you even a parent if you haven’t argued over who was awake more times in the night or who was up the earliest with the kids? I mean, sleep deprivation and parenting may go hand-in-hand, but both have the tendency to fray tempers. Especially when the person next to you in the bed has the audacity to snore as you are trying to settle a baby back to sleep.

  1. “It’s definitely your turn!”

You know how it pans out. The distinct aroma of a child’s skanky nappy starts working its way around the room – and it’s a game of who can make themselves scarce first. And if you are both unlucky enough to be on the scene at the same time as detection, it’s definitely not your turn to do it. Because you did it last time. And let’s face it, probably the time before that too.

  1. “Where are the sodding nappies?”

You’re out and about with the brood, when the smallest one needs a nappy change. You reach into your bag to pull out a nappy – but there are none to be found. You know there was one in there this morning, because you checked. And then you remember the nappy change before you left the house, when your partner clearly raided the stash because they couldn’t be bothered to walk upstairs. And it’s definitely not a coincidence that they are now googling the nearest supermarket on their phone…

  1. “It costs HOW much?”

Whether it’s investing in a new buggy to accommodate a new baby (because this one has tons of features we didn’t have with the last one), buying a dress that you saw online that you loved but wasn’t exactly thriftstore, or realising your two-year old now needs their very own seat on a flight and has nearly doubled the price of the holiday, it’s nearly impossible to navigate parenting without the odd argument about how much these little cash-guzzlers cost.

  1. “Good Cop, Bad Cop”

One of you does most the legwork, changes most of the stinky nappies, does most of the night shifts, calms the most tantrums – and the other walks through the door and has little people running to them with a look of pure joy on their little faces. And when it comes to disciplining, there’s usually one that is seen as the soft touch, while the other gets a rap for being unkind. It’s all part of parenting as a team, but it’s bloody unfair – and you aren’t afraid to say it.

  1. “Romance? Ha!”

Because children + romance = barely compatible. But one half of the couple probably wants to try anyway.

  1. “You want to buy a mini bus?”

When kids come along, car dreams are shattered. And whether it’s the first leap to a sensible family car (when you were quite happy in that sporty little number) – or having to succumb to a mini bus when your brood expands, it’s rare you’re going to agree in the early stages of your ‘discussions’.

  1. “The Wake-up Call”

Whether they flushed the toilet during nap time, shut the door a bit too noisily, or decided to ramp up the football a notch or two, if it’s their bloody fault that the baby woke up, you will be telling them. And then passing them the baby.

  1. “WHERE ARE YOU?”

It doesn’t matter if it’s a legitimate reason. It doesn’t matter if they are dealing with an emergency at work or if the car broke down or if an old friend flew half way across the world for a drink and a catch-up, if they aren’t home by the time they said they’d be home to share the parenting, it’s nearly impossible to bite your tongue and smile sweetly when they walk through the door.

  1. “Are you even listening?”

And when you’ve just completed a five-minute soliloquy about childcare dilemmas, the merits of every primary school in the area, or a list of adorable things your shared offspring did earlier that day and your partner looks up vacantly and says: ‘Sorry love, what was that? I don’t think I was listening…” Well. Seriously. They may as well just pack their bags now.

 



10th April 2018

After you arrived, everything changed…

Dear Stanley – on the eve of your 6th birthday…

Before you arrived, life was different.

It was busy, but it was ordered.

It was simple, but it was full.

I lived for booking far-flung adventures, going on romantic dinner dates, and drinking really good cups of coffee at the weekend with a magazine in my hands.

I dreamt of career promotions, and white weddings, and one day, so distant in the future that it seemed hazy and surreal, of perhaps having babies of my own.

But back then, I wore clothes that I knew wouldn’t get covered in muck by grubby mitts and open-mouthed kisses within two minutes of getting dressed.

I wore shoes that I knew I could walk in – not having to consider suddenly breaking into a panicked run to chase you or carrying you for the entire walk as you point blank refused to sit in your buggy.

And I ate the food that I wanted to eat, not giving two hoots whether I was getting my five-a-day or drinking far too many glasses of cheap white wine as I rolled out of the office and into a bar with friends.

Before you arrived, life was different.

I was happy – and to be honest, I didn’t know that anything was missing.

But it turned out that it was.

Because one April afternoon, six years ago to the day tomorrow, you changed everything forever.

A little boy, like I’d always dreamt.

And as I stared into your deep blue eyes as you were placed on my chest, in that very instant, my life spun into a completely new course.

Life wasn’t so ordered anymore – but it was still busy.

Life wasn’t so simple anymore – but it was fuller than ever.

I still dreamt of far-flung adventures – but first, I needed to check there was travel cots, and high-chairs, and food on the menu that you’d actually eat.

I still lived for romantic dates – but they happened so rarely, I would delve into my handbag for a lipstick and discover spare dummies, and odd socks, and tiny toy cars instead.

I still adored cups of good coffee, but it wasn’t just for the taste anymore. It was for the caffeine – and the stronger, the better.

I had changed.

I still considered myself strong – but I was softer round the edges. My eyes welled up at emotional songs and films – and I full-on lost control of those tears the first time I saw you perform in a nursery show.

And as hard as it was to even imagine a life without you in it again, the thought occasionally crossed my mind and paralysed me for a moment – so terrified of losing you that I couldn’t function, or speak, or move until I forced it out of my mind again.

After you arrived, I was painfully aware of my flaws. My lack of patience, my vulnerabilities, and my inability to remain strong in the path of a stubborn toddler with pleading eyes.

But I realised my strengths too. Not only physically (because who can truly feel weak when they have grown and birthed a small human), but emotionally. To get through those hard weeks at the beginning, to learn to become a mother away from nearly everyone I knew and loved, and to get to the end of one of the hardest days and realise that we had survived.

After you arrived, everything changed.

Everything.

And six years on, I find it hard to remember what life was like without you in it

You were my first baby.

The little boy that made me a mother.

You changed me, challenged me, softened me, strengthened me, and taught me to love in a way I didn’t even know was possible.

And as you celebrate tomorrow, with those same deep blue eyes sparkling with excitement and happiness, I will take myself back to our first moments together.

Quietly remembering the first time that we met.

When everything changed.

Everything.

And I will smile.

Love from Mummy x



22nd February 2018

“Everyone hates the newborn stage,” she said, looking at her friend directly in the eyes…

“Everyone hates the newborn stage,” she said, looking at her friend directly in the eyes. “And if they tell you otherwise, they are lying!”.

Her friend nodded – and as she placed her cup back on its saucer with a noisy clunk, I flinched.

The coffee shop was busy, but I was on my own with Mabel (who was carefully picking up the raisins on her highchair one-by-one and dropping them silently on the floor) and I could hear every word of their conversation as they chatted away on the table next to me.

My lips pursed, desperate to turn to them – but knowing my eavesdropping would never be welcomed.

Because the thing is, I didn’t hate the newborn days.

And I’m really not lying when I say that.

I remember the difficult bits. The sleepless nights that feel like they’re going to break you. The belief that you will never, ever stop having to change those giant maternity pads. The pain of breastfeeding in the early days – and the constant worry that they aren’t getting enough. The pain that tore through my body when I forgot about the stitches for a moment and moved too freely. The unexplained crying that had you googling at 3am wondering what the hell was wrong with your baby.  I remember it all. I haven’t forgotten.

But those heavy cuddles, the milky smell of the back of their heads, the chance to stare at their faces as they slept after months and months of dreaming, and the adrenaline and excitement of a complete shift in our family dynamic – that was enough for me. That was enough to make me look back with the fondest memories and wish I could keep doing it, over and over again.

Through the buzz of the café, the voices on the next table drifted in my consciousness again.

“It’s when they walk and talk that I start enjoying it,” she continued. “They become little people and I can finally breathe. That’s the best bit. That’s when it gets good.”

Right on cue, Mabel launched the empty packet of raisins across the room and demanded ‘UP UP UP!” As she attempted to fight her way out of the high chair straps to stand up, I sighed. I was only halfway through my cup of coffee – and after at 4.30am wake-up that morning, I was exhausted by her endless energy, her sass, her determination. I adored her – oh gosh, I really adore her – but just for a moment, I wished she could be a sleepy newborn alongside me in her basinet.

We left that café shortly afterwards and I thought about that conversation quite a bit over coming days. I knew I wanted to spin the way I felt into words – as I so often do as a writer – but I couldn’t quite work out how to tell the story without making it sound like I wasn’t enjoying Mabel at this age.

Because there are parts of this stage that I just adore. I go to bed every night laughing about her latest antics, flicking through photos of her beaming at me on a swing, and chatting to my husband about the new words she has suddenly blurted out or new skills she has suddenly acquired. In fact, I often utter the words: “I wish I could freeze time so she stays like this forever,” before yawning on the sofa and falling asleep.

But the truth is that I’ve always found motherhood a bit easier when my toddlers turn 3 years old and I’m able to communicate, negotiate, and explain. And not having to worry about them falling down the stairs, running off in the park, or trying to scale the tallest slide in the playground. I find it less physically exhausting when they master sleeping through the night, entertaining themselves to some degree so I can tidy the kitchen, and not having to lug a giant bag out with us wherever we go.

I think my point is that we are all different as mothers. And because of that, we find different parts easy – and different parts hard. We have different newborns, different toddlers, different patience levels, and different personalities.

And what one mother tells her friend, while sipping a coffee in a busy café, can be completely different to what another feels, eavesdropping on the table next door.

So despite my tongue wanting to leap into action to turn to them and say: “IT’S NOT TRUE! I LOVE THE NEWBORN BIT! MY GOD, I WISH I COULD GO BACK NOW AND DO IT ALL AGAIN! THIS IN THE HARD BIT! THIS IS THE BIT THAT DRIVES YOU TO THE BRINK OF MADNESS” I was right not to.

Of course I was.

I was right to stay quiet, pick up the raisins from the floor, and leave that café muttering ‘well, everyone is different’ under my breath.

 



17th February 2018

Dear Fitness-App-Thingy…

Dear Fitness-App-Thingy

Every day, I log in. You congratulate me for doing so. I crave doughnuts. You tell me they are too high in fat. I count my steps. You tell me I should be doing more. All these things happen like clockwork, every single day.

But listen Fitness-Tracking-App-Thingy, I am a mum-of-three – and sometimes I feel like I don’t fit into your world. In fact, I think you might be due a bit of an update to become more suitable for mums like me. And here’s are a few questions you might like to use as inspiration…

1 – How many calories do I burn when I chase three children around the house trying to get them dressed in the morning?

2 – Is it true that calories consumed while finishing off my kid’s tea don’t count?

3 – Is my step-count still accurate if my toddler steals my phone and legs it around the house for half an hour?

4 – Could you please add ‘wrestling a 16-month-old on the floor, attempting to change her nappy, while she’d much rather be stealing her brother’s toys or hiding the remote control under the sofa’ to your list of exercise activities?

5 – Does lugging three bags of laundry upstairs count as ‘weight lifting’? How about throwing the cushions back on the sofa 2,851 times a day? Or collapsing the buggy and heaving it into the boot, trapping my finger in the process? Really?

6 – You know the ‘sleep tracker’ function? Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. Is there any way that I can delete it?

7 – Does it count as a workout if I wear activewear on the school run? What if I have 7 different bags, two coats, two bits of toilet-roll artwork, and a trainer from ‘Lost Property’ in my hands while I’m doing it?

7 – Is there any chance that you got the calorie count for doughnuts wrong? Any chance at all?

8 – Do I still have to log the glass of wine in the evening if my children drove me to it? It seems a bit unfair.

You’re welcome.

Yours, Louise



6th February 2018

Dear first-time pregnant mummy – I remember being you…

Dear first-time pregnant mummy,

I remember being you.

In one sense it feels like yesterday that I was stroking my bump and trying to resist the urge to let my eyes dart to the calendar on the wall and count the days to my due date.

In another sense, the six years that have followed have been such a whirlwind of changing nappies, sterilising bottles, picking up cushions from the living room floor, and barking ‘IT’S TOO EARLY! GO BACK TO BED!’ when a child appears at the door at 5am, that it feels like it’s been forever.

But if I shut my eyes and really think about it, I can remember exactly what it felt like. The sheer volume of overwhelming advice, the texts pinging on my phone that demanded ‘ANY NEWS?’, the googling of labour symptoms, and the staring at a cot lying in the corner of an empty room and finding it very hard to imagine a little person lying inside it.

And if I take myself back to that room, all those years ago, here is the advice I would very much like to pass on…

1. Don’t ask the question ‘Can anybody recommend a buggy?’ on an online forum. You will receive approximately 74,000 replies, each telling you why their model is the absolute best. And after reading all 74,000 replies, you will feel like your head is going to explode. Instead, pick a mother of several children that you trust implicitly and ask her instead (she will probably have trialled at least 3 or 4 of them and have plenty of tales to tell). And failing that, simply walk into a large baby store, try a few, and pick the one that feels best. Just whatever you do, step away from the internet. It won’t help, I promise.

2. Stay in your pyjamas. Do this for the last bit of pregnancy – but even more so, for the first few months of your baby’s life. When your little person starts to crawl and then walk, you will find it very hard to stay within the confines of your living room for any length of time – and when that times comes, I guarantee that you will miss the pyjamas. And if they’re maternity pyjamas with big, wide, elasticated waistbands? Even better.

3. Don’t pack your hairdryer in your hospital bag. Greasy hair will be the least of your problems, believe me.

4. Dress your baby in onesies. Fashionable little outfits with several layers, shoulder poppers, and bows to tie might look adorable while you are pregnant – but in reality, they are going to stay in the drawer. Imagine getting a wriggling octopus dressed, while being totally paranoid about snapping all of his arms, while operating on about 2 hours (broken) sleep – and you can see what I’m getting at. It’s just not worth it. Stick to the onesies.

5. However sure you are that you have baby wipes in your bag before you leave the house, check again. And then again. It’s important.

6. Enjoy the cuddles. This one sounds a bit obvious, but when you have a newborn attached to you for 24 hours a day, you will start to fantasise about the day when you might be able to put them back down again. But believe me – in what seems like the blink of an eye, they will turn into a toddler that sits on your lap for approximately 4 seconds, before struggling to get down, stealing your phone in the process, and giving you glares from across the room as they work out how to video call their grandma.

7. Enlist help. You are an independent, feisty female, ready to take on the world. You can handle a baby! And I get it, because I was one of them once too, utterly determined to do it on my own (and then some). But the truth is that independent, feisty females still need sleep. And food. And wees and poos. And showers. And sometimes (shock, horror) a little time to themselves to stay sane. So if somebody tries to take that baby from your arms, whether it be husbands or boyfriends or grandparents or aunties or best friends or nannies, just let them. For a little bit, at least.

8. Take photographs. A little voice in your head will say ‘Am I taking too many photos of the baby? Maybe I should calm down a bit!” Ignore it. In fact, double your efforts. Those bow lips, and chubby wrists, and curled toes won’t last forever and you will treasure those photographs more than you ever imagine.

9. Slow down. Your newborn doesn’t need to learn sign language or be held in your arms as you dance around the room to piano concertos. There is plenty of time for that. For now, feel no guilt for sitting still and watching entire series back to back on Netflix.

10. You don’t need a nappy bin. Believe me. Once you remove it and bag it up, you aren’t going to want it anywhere near your house. Steal an extra wheely bin from a neighhour* and leave it just outside the back door so you can sling them out in your slippers (*just joking. kind of. actually quite a good idea).

 

Love from Louise x



4th February 2018

Six months in the UK – an update…

It’s Sunday evening and the kids are about to go to bed. My feet are in slippers, the central heating is cranked up, and a furry blanket is covering my knees. Outside, the temperature has plunged to 3’C and when I open the back door to throw a nappy in the bin, my breath smokes and dances in the air.

This isn’t where I expected to be in February. I expected to be in my dusty desert home in Dubai, enjoying after-school playdates to the park, planning weekend trips to the beach, and feeling smug about the perfect winter weather. After all, that is exactly where we have been for the last 7 Februarys. And being there at this time of year is the only real normality I have known as a mother. It was my ‘normal’.

But not anymore –  because after our last-minute decision at the end of summer to bring our return to the UK forward, we have now been here for six months. It’s the longest I’ve been away from Dubai since my husband moved there in 2009 – and sometimes, the place I used to call ‘home’ feels so far away and so distant that it feels like it was all just a dream.

I’m not going to lie, the first six months back in the UK were hard – but this was kind of our own fault for making the decision without any forward planning. I’m sure that we’d have found it all a lot easier if we’d shipped our things back to the UK when we first left in July and found a family home to move in as soon as it reached us. Instead, it took us a while to get our bums in gear, choose a shipping company, have my husband single-handedly pack up our villa in Dubai, and then find somewhere to live in the UK that was close to school and would fit all of our children into. It wasn’t easy, but we managed it – and in December, a truck pulled up to our new home in the countryside and our belongings (all those “things” I hadn’t seen since we left for Dubai Airport in the early hours of July 7th 2017) came tumbling out the back and into the place we would now call ‘home’.

Christmas and New Year arrived very quickly after that, making it feel a little bit like we were on holiday – but as soon as we returned home from skiing and settled into a routine with school and work, life started to feel normal again. Not the “normal” I was used to – but a “new normal”. And very quickly, it started to feel right that we were here.

In the darkest hours of the last six months, I thought we’d made a big mistake. So many times, I told my husband I wanted to go back. To turn back time. To re-register the kids at their school, to resume the play dates with the friends that felt like family, to be reunited with our nanny, our favourite weekend spots, our favourite malls, our favourite restaurants, and the life that I had loved so much. But since we settled into this new house in the UK countryside, I have realised that I wasn’t really missing many of those things at all – I was just missing having my life in order. I wasn’t missing Dubai – I was missing the feeling of normality, of security, of having my feet firmly planted on the ground.  The exception, of course, is my friends – but I’m no stranger to missing the people that I love. I’ve been doing that for the last 9 years and I can handle long distance relationships better than anyone.

And of course there will be days in the road ahead where I miss that old life with such intensity that it takes my breath away. Yesterday was one of those days. I pined so much for those friends, those old haunts, and the feeling of sunshine on my skin that it nearly brought tears to my eyes. But by bedtime, I was OK again. And I know I need to accept I’ll feel like that occasionally  – and that it’s OK to look back and say ‘Wow, I loved living there. I really did!”

There are so many things I am enjoying about being back in the UK. From the impromptu visits to grandparents to feed the children their tea, to ordering weekly Tesco deliveries to our door, to the weekends suddenly having this incredible possibility (“Shall we visit a 15th Century Castle today, kids? Why the hell not!”), to getting invites from my school friends to birthday parties and baby showers and being able to type back ‘YES!”, to holidays being about where we want to go now, rather than spending all our spare money on flying back to the UK.

For a long time, I didn’t think I’d be as happy as I was in the sunshine in Dubai – but I know now that I can be.

I will be.

I am.

As soon as we became expats, I knew I’d always love two places, two sets of people, two homes – but the easiest way to describe it is that finally it feels like we’ve got it the right way round.

The right way up.

And I am sure, finally, that we made the right decision back in late August.

I know we did.

It just feels right.

 



3rd December 2017

The one question I’ve been asked every day since I left Dubai is this: ‘Do you miss it?’

The one question I’ve been asked every day since I left Dubai is this: ‘Do you miss it?’

And it’s been so hard to articulate an answer before now, because everything was too new and too raw. But I finally feel ready to answer so here goes…

Yes, I miss Dubai.

Now in the depths of winter, I have nearly forgotten what it’s like to feel warmth on my skin. I miss sliding my feet in my flip-flops day in, day out. I miss the dresses that were my daily uniform. I miss the smell of sun cream as I slather it on our skin. I miss the swimwear that we climbed into so often, we decided to buy a storage box and keep it downstairs. I miss seeing the boy’s little pot bellies in swim shorts. I miss seeing the happiness on their faces as they dive in the pool. I miss the sand, and the shells, and the gentle roar of waves hitting the shore.

But that’s not all. I miss my friends. I miss the routines we made together, chatting over mugs of coffee in kitchens, and plates of eggs benedict in cafes after the school run. I miss seeing our children play together like cousins – and sometimes when I realise I haven’t seen those friends and their children for nearly half a year, it floors me. How is it possible we just stepped out of their lives?

I miss places that I never thought I’d miss. The shiny malls that were like mazes, but became as familiar as high streets back home. Even the supermarkets that fleeced me with £7 cauliflowers. The hotel pools we went to at the weekend, where we repeated to the children like robots ‘do you realise how lucky you are?’ The sandy school car park, where I wasn’t ‘the new mum’ and was met with smiles as soon as I strolled inside the gates. The kid’s play areas that I always hated, but now seem part of the very fabric of being a mum. The coffee shops where arriving with my laptop prompted calls of ‘welcome back!’ as I strolled inside.

And I miss just being a family. Being us. With our routines, our home, our belongings, and our little family unit. I haven’t sat on my own sofa, slept in my own bed, or even showered in my own shower for over 5 months now – and that seems so ridiculous and so impossible that sometimes I’m surprised at times that I ever managed to carry on.

I don’t miss all these things all the time, but they come into my mind every now and again. On cold mornings, on lonely afternoons, on days when nobody talked to me on the school run, in moments when something we used to do as a family pops into my mind. These things weave in and out of my mind, sometimes taking longer to disappear again than others, taking their turn to break my heart or make me wonder if we did the right thing.

But bar the odd moment, I am growing more and more confident by the day that we have made the right decision to settle back in the UK. It’s mainly to do with the children and how they have settled – something that was always in the back of my mind as an expat mum, knowing that one day I’d have to uproot them. One day I’d have to break their hearts too.

But it’s somehow more than that too. A few days ago a friend asked that very question ‘Do you miss Dubai?’ and I replied without thinking: ‘Yes, but it feels like we’ve got it the right way round now. It just feels right.’

And it does.

Because ever since that day back in 2009 when I first flew into the desert, I have known that my heart belongs to two places. One sandy, one muddy. One warm, one cold. One old, one new. And the mere act of arriving and settling in that place has meant my heart will be forever split in two.

But this way round feels right. It feels like the natural order has been restored and I never have to worry again whether we’re in the right place. It feels final. It feels like it’s the way it’s meant to be.

And that’s a relief, because until now I was relying entirely on the smiles on my children’s faces to reassure myself that we’ve done the right thing. And those smiles have been everything, when my toes are numb cold, or I’m missing the sound of my friend’s voice as I stroll into her kitchen, or it suddenly occurs to me that it’s been months since I heard the sound of the sea, or the call of prayer, or the splash as the children run and jump into a pool.

Those smiles have been everything.

And now – just occasionally, just often enough – I glance in the mirror and see mine too.



26th October 2017

It was an autumn afternoon, back in 1999…

It was a cool autumnal afternoon, back in 1999. Quite unremarkable as days go, but I remember it clearly.

It was my first term at university and I was walking to campus for a late afternoon lecture. The sky was a dark, twilight blue as dusk rolled in – and as I strolled, my eyes were drawn to a house with the lights shining bright inside. Without the curtains pulled, I could see two school children sat in the lounge. They were watching afternoon TV, sipping cups of orange squash, and nibbling biscuits.

A scene being played out in thousands of houses all over the country.

A scene I’d played out thousands of times myself.

And my eyes took in that familiar scene as I strolled past the house to my lecture, it hit me like a lightning bolt.

That part of my life was over.

I would never be a schoolchild again. I’d never get home from school and raid the biscuit tin. I’d never sit and watch after-school TV.

It was over.

I had been so excited about moving on with my life, leaving home for the first time, cooking my own dinners, making my own decisions about what time I would roll into bed in the evening, and what time I might roll out of it the next day, that I’d completely forgotten that I was leaving so much behind.

Did I want to go back there? No way. You couldn’t drag me.

But for the very first time in my life, I had an understanding of the finality of time. And I was shocked to realise that there was no way back. Even if I ended up hating university and wanted to go home, I could never be a schoolchild again drinking squash and nibbling biscuits.

I often think about that autumn afternoon stroll to university, because the realisation had shocked me. And over the years that followed, it had taught me to stand still and think ‘enjoy this moment – because once it’s over, it’s over.’ I learnt to appreciate moments, like the last night at university dancing in a dodgy club with my housemates, the day my boyfriend proposed, and the final dance on our wedding day.

But the finality of time has never been more obvious to me than since my first baby was placed on my chest back in April 2012. I suddenly wasn’t pregnant anymore – and until that moment, I had no idea I would miss the bump that housed the very baby I had been desperately trying to evict.

In fact, in the months and years that followed, I wished so much I could go back and tell my newly-pregnant self to enjoy that pregnancy. To soak up every second as life would never feel as exciting or as special again. To sleep, to relax, to cradle my bump, to take hundreds of pictures of it. To truly appreciate those nine months.

And there were lots more moments to remind me that life was passing at a crazy pace.  There was the moment I was stood behind another mother with a newborn in a supermarket queue and her baby jumped in shock at a loud noise – and I suddenly realised, with absolute horror, that my baby didn’t do that anymore.

There was the pace at which he grew out of sleepsuits. The joy of seeing him in new outfits peppered with the sadness of folding away his tiny clothes into boxes.

There was the joy of seeing him walk for the first time, before the sinking realisation that I’d never see the funny commando crawl he’d mastered again.

And even now – five years later – there’s the one single word he mispronounces every single time, which I have no intention of correcting. Because once he’s mastered his entire vocabulary without any sweet little slips, he somehow seems less of my baby.

Life passes at such a fast pace that I find it hard to soak everything up sometimes. I find it hard to pause and think ‘I really should commit this to memory’. In fact, some moments I don’t want to remember – whether it’s a difficult day, or a tricky night with a grouchy baby – and it’s only with the benefit of hindsight, probably years down the line from now, that I’ll stop and think to myself ‘those moments were pretty special after all, I guess’.

So in many ways, I was right on that autumn day back in 1999. You can’t go back in time – and you often don’t appreciate something until it’s long gone, out of your reach.

But I was missing something too, because now I am a mother I get to see it all again through their eyes.

Complete with the TV after school, the orange squash, and the biscuits.

And this time, I’m going to try – really try – to not let it slip away too quickly.



6th October 2017

Love used to be about kisses at the station in the morning…

Love used to be about kisses at the station in the morning when you said goodbye, lazy weekends together on the sofa, booking last minute trips to Paris on a Friday afternoon, taking selfies where only two of you had to fit into a frame, date nights that lasted until the morning, wearing lipstick and pretty underwear and still thinking it mattered, holding hands as you strolled through villages, and feeling flutters of butterflies before they got home.

Love was new, exciting, passionate, and romantic. And you thought it would always be that way.

But then you became parents and it changed.

Slowly at first; feeling a fuzzy warmth when you realise the baby has her eyes and his feet, seeing each other at your least glamorous and most vulnerable, watching them cradle a newborn and wanting to capture it in your mind forever, saying ‘no, I don’t mind!’ when it definitely isn’t your turn to do the nappy, trying to squeeze more faces into those selfies and suddenly realising they are the best selfies in the world.

And as the years ticked on, love became different again.

It was about going on family adventures, about sandy trips to the beach and muddy trips to the park, about waking up early at the weekend and heading downstairs with sleep still in your eyes, about doing things together that might not be new, exciting, passionate or romantic, but that something made your heart sing with joy.

It became about knowing somebody so well that you could can tell in one glance how they are feeling, about booking date nights weeks in advance because it all got so complicated, about getting excited about buying furniture or upgrading the family car, about seeing the best bits of them in your children and knowing you made the right choice all those years ago.

And it became about making decisions that might not be best for the two of you, but are best for those little people – and knowing hand on heart, that those decisions were still right.

Love changes.

It isn’t always better – and there are arguments spat with sleep-deprived anger in the kitchen and glares shot across restaurant tables when one of you knew eating out with kids would be a bad idea .

It isn’t as pretty, or as spontaneous, or as passionate, or as exciting.

But it’s just right.

And if you’re lucky – if you’re very, very lucky – you still feel flutters of butterflies before they get home.