The Mix Tape

Back in the late 80s to early 90s, I was young, and I dreamt of being allowed pierced ears, a Dynasty perm, and Blossom’s wardrobe.

I dreamt of being swept off my feet by either Philip Schofield (then in his gopher days), The Undertaker (a bit of early kink coming through), or possibly Kevin Costner from Robin Hood and/or WesTly from The Princess Bride.

(I also had a bit of a thing for Noel Edmonds, then hosting his House Party, which it’s best we don’t talk about. Or think about. Although I’m still very partial to a beard…)

Back then, True Love in its Real Life form was expressed in one way, and one way only – a way that perhaps remains to this day it’s very truest and purest manifestation:

The Mix Tape.

Being presented with a Mix Tape was a declaration of adoration akin to to a Knight presenting his Lady with a handkerchief. Or a head. Or something. Look, I’m not that hot on medieval; just know it was pretty damn hallowed.

It was a labour of love.

The maker of the Mix Tape would have to listen to the radio, ghetto blaster poised, ready to click record as their chosen song was played in the charts. It was a matter of pride and exquisite timing to be able to get the very beginning notes without them being sullied by the DJ’s voice.

Masters of the Mix Tape Art would slave over a playlist designed not only to the taste of the object of their love, but to weave a secret narrative through the words of pop, rock and early indie bands that would speak to them, only them, and bind them together forever.

Next they would practice their penmanship, another lost art, in the creation of the cassette tape case, listing the songs and artists. Possibly there was LETTERING.

I never received a Mix Tape. Lettered or otherwise.

This might have had something to do with the fact I was a speccy, spotty, swotty type, with social and coordination skills constantly vying for the bottom place of any list, pack, or anything with a bottom. Or slightly below that.

It may also have had to do with the fact that through some odd quirk of statistical fate, or just that open-minded (or in my case entirely oblivious) people tend to be spun together by pre-teen/teen social centrafugal forces, I was friends with the entire quota of lesbian, gay and bisexual persons from the GCSE class of 95.

As a heterosexual, romance just wasn’t on my radar. I was far too busy with tin-pot philosophy, ordinary pot, and quaffing Diamond White in the park to be very much bothered with any Noel Edmunds stirrings. I really didn’t miss it.

I did miss Mix Tapes though.

And then, I got my very first Mix Tape…

…a couple of weeks ago.

OK, so it was in the modern form of a Spotify playlist, but still. I’ll take what I can get.

It is called ‘My wardrobe is sill from the 90s’, and it was gifted to my by Boynotquiteonthenetheredge, so-called because the git is still basking in his mid thirties and we’re not rushing into anything.

This is not just a Mix Tape title but a commonly voiced opinion from the Boy, countered by me on the double grounds that a) I’m 40 and therefore dressing weird is no longer weird but ADORABLY ECCENTRIC, and b) combat trousers and crop tops ARE STILL COOL, DAMMIT.

Anyway, it is the soundtrack to my youth, and it’s basically the best thing anyone’s ever given me.

(Although he’s also got me at various points my favourite kind of pillow to keep at his house, a digital watch because I can’t tell the time, a book of clever word-play type poetry, a pile of stones from Scottish beaches and a voicemail pretending to be some sort of Russian contractor, just to cheer me up).

The point is that it’s a seriously brilliant present. Because it’s not grand or expensive, or a gesture that somehow says more about him than me, or boringly practical, or dutiful, or transactional, or 3 seconds to order off Amazon, or really actually for the children or house but justified as a large expenditure for my birthday- or in fact any of the gifts I’ve ever received before.

It’s something I’d always wanted but didn’t even know I’d always wanted.

It’s the fact he sat down and thought about what he knows about me and what music I like and how old I am and what was in the charts when I was young (and he was in nappies), and the mood and the FLOW of it.

It’s the fact it wasn’t even for an occasion – he just randomly did it.

It’s that he probably doesn’t even know why it means a lot to me and would be slightly perturbed I think it’s such a big deal. (No one tell him).

It’s that it’s quiet, and thoughtful, and teasing, and considerate, and KIND. And I’m still getting used to kind.

It’s the realisation, in physical (or at least audio) form, of something I’ve always known but haven’t always experienced – that real true love isn’t actually Things.

It isn’t words.
It isn’t even music.

Love is Actions… and not necessarily very big ones.

So this Valentine’s Day I hope you DON’T get diamonds.

I hope you don’t get roses (gold gilded or otherwise), or truffles, or God forbid some knobhead doing a dance routine marriage proposal – less in the hope you’ll marry them and more in the expectation of viral fame.

I hope you don’t get a last minute bunch of wilting flowers from the 24 hour garage, either.

I hope you get daffodils because they were all over your garden when you were a kid and you were just talking about it the other day.

I hope you get chocolate hobnobs because you’d really much rather eat them than the fancy posh stuff anyway – and I hope they come lavishly wrapped, with LETTERING.

I hope you get a Mix Tape.

I hope you give one.

In very Mixed Up times, perhaps it’s only little actions of thought and affection that can make sense of things. Perhaps they’re the only things that can really change the world for the better.

Although Alanis Morrisette, Ocean Colour Scene and The Goo Goo Dolls can probably help.

xxx

The Coil

I feel like I spent most of my 20s trying not to get pregnant.

Then I feel like I spent most of my 30s trying TO get pregnant. With varying degrees of success.

Now I’m entering my 40s I’m back on NOT, again, other than the odd womb pang when I see a small baby asleep – which usually disappears pretty fast when it wakes up.

The trouble with not wanting to be pregnant in your 40s is that there really aren’t any brilliant options.

First of all, my vagina is old. And grumpy. Possibly, you might say, CROTCH-ety.

To be fair, it’s been through some crap… Like children, which I suppose technically have been through it. Not in my case, obviously, because of the c-sections – but still.

All of this has left it with very little sympathy for womb pangs, and some Very Fixed Ideas.

Far from being loosened by the two pregnancies/children, for instance, it has now adopted a very strict shut-door policy to any lumps of dry cotton shoved up it from a cold standing start. Nope. Nopity nope nope nope.

This makes swimming on my period rather inconvenient, and I’ve tried explaining it nicely, but it doesn’t care. It feels much the same way about moon cups.

Another of its new and Very Fixed Ideas is that condoms are evil, and it will stage an unholy Thrush Protest if faced with one. This is also somewhat inconvenient to the mid-life dater.

It is also Over the pill. Nothing but break-through bleeding, cramps, and mood swings FROM MERRY RED HELL.

See? Definitely crotchety.

Not that the pill is now much of an option anyway….I’ve spent at least 25 years on the combination pill, on and off, but apparently when you hit your fourth decade it’s pretty much out of bounds – I think on the grounds of thrombosis/cancer/misc other horrifying side effects.

Your GP will of course offer you the MINI-pill.
This is in no way the same thing.

For a start, some of them come with a 3 hour window of pill-taking-opportunity, and if you miss it, you’re not covered. Now I got used to the 12 hour window of the combination pill, and the 7 day rule because I kept missing it, but 3 hours is TIGHT. Tighter than my lady bits faced with a tampon. Even now I’m old and boring and don’t actually go out partying, and even now there are mobile phones with alarms on, I still honestly couldn’t guarantee I’d take this reliably. And then if you have a dicky stomach or put on a few pounds, IT MIGHT NOT WORK ANYWAY.

Of course after that there’s then patches and implants and injections – but it’s all more hormones, isn’t it? Pretty much like the ones in the pill that aren’t good for me and my vag is throwing tantrums over.

The fact is I’ve had a LOT of artificial hormones in my life. Decades worth. And when I’m staring sweating and anxious down the barrel of pre-menopausal hormonal doo-lallyness, do I really want to carry on? Does my vagina? Don’t we deserve a… break? A bit of au naturale? All it really wants in life, after all, is nice comfortable cotton underwear, no harsh detergents, and regular orgasms. It doesn’t really seem like a lot to ask.

So next up on the list is the coil, the middle-aged woman’s contraception of choice. Well it was my choice, anyway.

You can rest assured that my vagina was really NOT happy about having a coil put in, although it relented on the second attempt. After being probed with a camera. And then a ruler. Don’t ask.

A very nice if rather blunt doctor explained to me that in this version there was still local hormones involved (as opposed to national ones), and that I could still expect significant cramping, weight gain, acne breakouts, and break-through bleeding for up to six months. Oh, and while he was in there he might perforate my womb and would I just sign this waver thingy?

I hand on heart honestly can’t imagine there being any health situation other than Women’s Things where this level of risk plus HALF A YEAR’S worth of side effects were considered normal and acceptable. It’s madness. But it didn’t really feel like there were any other good options that didn’t involve absitenance, which me, my vagina AND my womb all voted against in practically unprecedented unity.

Then I was told I had to periodically check it was in right, by feeling for the strings.

Now while it does seem to be a demonstrable fact that the length of arm between someone’s wrist and elbow is the exact same size as their foot, I can, after a brief survey of friends, inform you that there is not the same universal correlation between middle fingers and cervexis. Cervi? Who knows? Anyway, unless I am making friends with particularly digitally stunted people, it’s not possible to feel the bloody thing. So the coil is very much an act of faith as much as contraception. As indeed is all contraception…

I feel like I could now go on a very long feminist rant about women’s rights over their reproductive organs and how limited or rubbish the options are and why better options with less side effects aren’t a priority in modern medicine and why our pain and long term symptoms hormonal and otherwise are ignored or miniminsed – and don’t get me started on the menopause – or abortion – and the impact all that has not just on women’s physical health but mental health, on their families and on thier careers, and on workplaces and the whole bloody GDP – and this is in a first world country and just think about what women go through around the world – but time is short and January is depressing enough.

At the end of my appointment, Dr Blunt gave me a nice wee card, and cheerfully told me to come back in 5 years.

“We’ll whip this one out, pop another one in, and then that’s you done love.”

THAT’S YOU DONE, LOVE.

So I am now one coil away from the end of my child-bearing years.

I swear even my vagina thought that was a bit harsh.

Certainly it’s been crying blood ever since, trying to get used to the idea. Or to the coil. One or the other.

The Wuwwier

The Wuwwier.

Ahhh, literacy, my old friend. Here we go again.

It’s safe to say the literacy journey is not an easy one for the Smalls-on-the-netheredge, especially at the start.

This is probably my fault. I didn’t learn to read until I was 7. I still can’t really spell.

My mother swears she sat on the sofa with Roger Red Hat open on her lap, me on one side, the dog on the other – and that the dog learned to read before I did.

(She gave up on trying to teach me how to tell the time, which is why to this day I can only have digital watches. I CAN read an analogical clock, now, but it takes several minutes, a lot of counting round in 5s, and I’d never bet on someone’s life I’d got the right answer).

It is now the smallest Small’s turn to struggle with her reading, writing, and spelling – and something is just not CLICKING.

It’s my second time round in the Mum-role of the literacy-rodeo. I’m sure it WILL click, in time, possibly with a bit of extra help from school, just as it did with the Big Small (sort of – there’s still some interesting flipped characters and spellings are a struggle) and me (sort of – I doubt I’d be employable without word processing and spellcheck).

But it IS something of a worry, which is why I was particularly delighted to get my very first note from her this week.

OK, it’s not perfect. Mummy is spelt entirely with Ws instead of Ms, which is an understandable mistake, and frankly, a rather alarmingly accurate one.

It made me laugh. Because I am a WUWWY.

I am a Mummy who worries… Sometimes a lot.

I AM worried that she can’t hold a pencil properly and can’t seem to recall the shapes of letters or process phonic sounds, and what does that mean, and is it just a starting blip or is it going to be a bigger problem, and what can I do to help, and should I back off when she gets frustrated, and how DO you actually make getting things wrong FUN?

I worry about her cough, every time she coughs, and how bad is it this time, and when to go to the Dr, and how many antibiotics she’s having, and about the operation she has to have, and the general anaesthetic and how she didn’t go out well last time, and how awful that was to watch, and what will they find this time, and will she be okay, and what if it’s serious?

I worry about how much the Big Small worries, also inherited from me, and ranging from what’s going to happen at school today to failing the spelling test, to who said what about whom in girlville, where she’ll get changed or what if there aren’t any toilets – and her hysteria over anything new or unusual, from me dying my hair to a change of pick-up routine or not having the right bloody tights.

I worry that she won’t do clubs where she won’t know anyone. and she doesn’t get to go to the ones she WILL go to every week, and what’s she missing out on, and how it will impact her opportunities and friendships when they all do stuff without her, and how to help with the friend issues, and when to intervene and when to stay out of it.

I worry about the school and club trips and what if something goes wrong, and what if mine is the one in the headlines standing up on the ride, falling through the gap, not strapped in the coach properly, messing around, in the wrong place at the wrong time – and what that phone call will sound like.

I worry who I would be if I wasn’t their mother, and if I define myself too much by them, and if that’s fair, on them or me.

I worry I’m not doing enough to support either of them, and there just seems to be no time, and certainly no way to carve out one-on-one time, and am I listening to them enough, or too much? and is it better for them to feel heard and accommodated or to just have things decreed for their best interests and maybe that makes them feel safer? and do I negotiate too much and have I set the right boundaries, and am I showing weakness or modelling humanity – and what if I’m getting it totally wrong and mucking them up?

I worry I’ve passed on my crappy worrying and spelling genes.

I worry we’re not having enough fun together, that we’re just plain routine and chores, and the time is short and I won’t have them for long and am I wringing enough out of it all, and am I enjoying it enough, and are they, and am I making enough effort and enough memories, and what WILL they remember, as they grow?

I worry they don’t know I love them, or that I love them too much, and what if that’s stifling, and CAN you spoil kids with too much affection, and am I spoiling them in other ways because I’m making up for the broken home, and how do I stop?

I worry how much my strained co-parenting relationship is affecting them, and how to make it better without just agreeing to things I don’t agree with, and how to talk to them about those disagreements – which they see and ask about – and if I’m answering the questions right, and if they know we both love them to the moon and back, and if they know that actually makes them lucky?

I worry if they will still love me back every time they come back from his.

I worry about the state of the world they’ll grow up in, and global warming burning the planet, and the rise of nationalism and the far-right past threatening to repeat itself, and War, and local violence in The Star, and homeless, hopeless families right on our doorstep, and Ebola, and acts of terror, and my inability to protect them or do anything at all to make any of it any better.

I worry I’m failing them, in big ways and little ways, all of the time.

I worry I worry too much.

That last one is something I’ve been accused of, recently.
That my anxiety impacts my ability to make ‘sensible’ decisions for the children.

I thought about it long and hard. The Wuwwying. And then I realised that the reason I thought about it long and hard is because actually, THAT’S WHAT MY ANXIETY DOES.

Look, there is clearly a downside to worrying. I know it well. If you let anxiety rule you it CAN impact the decisions you make (possibly stopping you from making any), and even your personality – because worry can come out as anger.

The thing is, when you know about the anxiety, you can watch for it, FEEL for it. And ultimately manage it. (Possibly with medical or theraputic support). But when The Fear comes down on you and stops you breathing, it is possible to both recognise it, and do something about it. You just need to learn what, and how.

I have learned that the way to deal with worry is not to let it bully you.

You can arm yourself with information to combat it, gathering the evidence to undermine it, and put it back into perspective.
You can refuse to listen to it, and think and do other things.
When it does get the better of you you can stop, and breathe, and make amends.
When it is too big, you can break it down, and do the little things that you CAN affect.

My anxiety doesn’t stop me from letting the kids go on school trips, for instance.
If it has led me to shout, I say sorry, and explain why I got angry.
If it is loud, I play louder music and I run to outrun it.
When it gets big, I go small, with recycling, food bank donations, teaching them tolerance.
When I question myself, I weigh up the pros and the cons, I take advice, I look inside myself, I test it out, I sleep on it – and then I make the best decision I can at that moment in time.

Because that’s the flip side of anxiety. Over-thinking involves THINKING, and that’s actually a GOOD thing. Questioning whether you’re doing the right thing, for the right reasons, at the right time – the very fear of getting it wrong – can actually lead you to make GOOD decisions. In fact, I’d rather make decisions with and in spite of anxiety than make them with and because of arrogance.

The stopping and thinking bit is okay, just as long as you START again.

Self-doubt can be harnessed into self-analysis, and that deliberation can translate into careful, powerful, and very deliberate action. Parenting with anxiety doesn’t necessarily make you a bad parent. If you can work through the overwhelm and the paralysis, it could make you a considered and considerate one. It may even make you a BETTER one.

What’s more, being afraid and doing things anyway is actually the very definition of being BRAVE.

So if you recognise any of this, if you are a Wuwwier like me, or just a Worrier, if you are doing it all anyway, remember you are also a Warrior.

As the Small Small reminded me, it’s all in the spelling.

And sometimes turning things upside down isn’t a mistake.

Pleurisy

I’m going to start this Century as I mean to go on –

apparently with a lung complaint from the turn of the LAST Century.

I have Pleurisy.

It hurts.

If I thought much about Pleurisy in the past it was as some vague and unspecific Victorian/Dickensian illness that involved coughing a few delicate spots of blood onto a snowy white hanky and looking wan.

I can confirm that it is more like hacking out an entire lung THROUGH your ribs until you cry.

The limbo between Christmas and New Year (without being too dramatic) can be a sort of wasteland of regret and hopelessness without structure or meaning.

I find it quite lonely at the best of times.

But there is no loneliness quite like being poorly on your own – apart from possibly being poorly on your own WITH SMALL CHILDREN.

It is a loneliness you can peel back in layers….

There is no one, for instance, to hand the children over to, so you can go back to bed.
There is no one to accompany you for an entire day in A&E, fetch you snacks, put money on the car, or wait to hear your name while you go for a wee.
There is no one to hold your hair back while you’re sick, or change your sheets when you have sweated into them.
There is no one to make you a cup of tea.
There is no one to get the Christmas decorations down, run the hoover round, put the washing on, get the kids up, feed them, and try to stop them killing each other or themselves.
There is no one to ask you how you’re feeling.

To be fair, I don’t think these most things happened when I was WITH someone either, which was its own sort of lonely, so I shouldn’t miss what I never had. And of course I should be grateful the children have at least made an effort…

They have both actually done a commendable job of EMULATING sympathy. Briefly. But let’s face it, children are not the most naturally empathetic of creatures, and therefore this has not really extended beyond a single day, a Get Well Soon card scrawled hastily on a scrap piece of paper, dry cornflakes in bed because they couldn’t reach the milk, the odd kiss, and being occasionally patted on the back when it actually looks like I might not take another breath.

However, to give them their due, they HAVE managed to play reasonably nicely together – in between arguments (obviously) – which has allowed me to take the odd nap.

I put a film on the other day and woke up semi-delerious to find they’d tired of it, and had somehow managed to unearth and build a game around a Bible, a picture of my Great Great Grandmother, and a condom with a best before date of May 2003.

You could not make this stuff up.

Look, on reflection I believe the latter items were both tucked INTO the Bible for safe keeping, a storage solution that must have made sense to 20ish year-old me, but frankly it was so random I had to double check I was awake. And there was no one to share the randomness with – another layer on top of the layers…

For the first time in a long time it’s really made me question my decision to stay in a city that’s not my city, where I don’t have family back-up or support. It’s another particular flavour of loneliness, an isolation. A lack of options. A panic.

Oh, I have lots of friends and lots of them have been lovely, don’t get me wrong – but asking for their help isn’t easy at the best of times. And it’s even harder when you’re already feeling vulnerable. It seems ridiculous, but it’s when you most need help it’s hardest to seek it. And around Christmas, of course, everyone else’s village is kind of busy. Or ill too…

I suppose I just want to acknowledge the hard and the lonely stuff, to myself. And to offer sympathy to others. To you, if you’re finding life hard, and if it’s even harder for you to actually ASK for sympathy, or for help. However much you need it. However much you deserve it.

You are not alone in the lonely.

So to the single parents limping through the last of the holidays with over-sugared, spoiled-rotten, and generally rotten children.

To the people parenting through stuffy noses, both-ends-at-once stomach bugs, and hacking coughs.

To the Pleuretic, should that even be a word.

May your blessed routine and childcare return next week.

May you and your village get better soon.

And in the meantime, may your offspring bring you offerings of dry cereal, homemade cards, antique photographs, and out-of-date contraception.

Amen.

Be More Sid

This is Sid.

Sid is not my cat.

Sid likes to sleep on my landing.
And my sofa.
And my bed.
And the Big Small’s Bed.
And the Small Small’s Bed.
And Catonthenetheredge’s bed.

Mostly, Sid likes to eat Catonthenetheredge’s cat food.
It is apparently delicious and to be coveted above all things, and sought after at every opportunity.
It is from Aldi.

Sid’s name is in all probability NOT Sid.

We named him after the children’s classic ‘Six Dinner Sid’, a book about a cat which goes round the neighbourhood hanging out with different families to get his requisite six dinners.

I have tried to discourage Sid from illegally breaking and entering my house, largely out of respect for Catonthenetheredge.

I have thrown water on Sid.
I have banged pans at Sid.
I have hissed at Sid.
I have shouted at Sid.
I have set the Smallest Small on Sid to smother him in pent-up four-year-old affection, which cannot be unleashed on Catonthenetheredge for fear of losing an eye, or possibly a finger. (Let’s be generous and say she’s not much of a cuddler. If we were being less generous we’d say she’s a vicious little cow).

Sid just comes back.

In fact, most of the time he doesn’t even leave.

He sits just outside the catflap for about 30 seconds until he’s convinced himself we’ve either forgotten or forgiven him, and pops back in with good-natured cheer, like nothing’s happened.

He patiently endures the Small Small’s maulings, with an air of palpable and long-suffering indulgence, and goes straight back to the cat food when she’s finished with him. If Catonthenetheredge attacks he just hunkers down with his ears back and tries to look unassuming, whilst not moving one inch away from the aforementioned cat food.
Catonthenetheredge is so used to people screaming and fleeing her in abject terror she has absolutely no idea what to do with him. In the end I think she’s come to the same conclusion that we all have: Nothing.

You see, there’s just no real help for it but to LIKE Sid.
He now has his own bowl, and we got him his own catnip mouse for Christmas.

The only fault I’ve found in him is that he is definitely a Free Range Pussy Cat. On the two occasions he has been accidentally locked in the house he’s turned into some sort of freak Hulk Cat and battered his way out through a locked catflap. (And then come right back in again for a snack).

Hell, it’s got to the point where I don’t just like Sid, I ADMIRE him.

And as I head into 2020 with a spare cat, I can’t help but feel like he’s got a lot to teach us all (although possibly not the bit about going uninvited into strange houses).

Because JUST IMAGINE living your life like Sid.

Just imagine.

The audacity.
The tenacity.
The single minded focus on a goal.
The willingness to fail, again and again, and to try, again and again, undaunted.
The unfailing good humour in the face of adversity.
The sheer CONFIDENCE.

I wish I was more Sid, in lots of ways.
And the thing I admire in him most is his absolute, rock-solid, unshakeable conviction that people are going to like him. You know, eventually.

God, I wish I had that.
I have always worried, you see, if people like me.
I worry about what they think of me. How to make them accept me. What they want from me – what they need me to be in order to like me, and how I can change myself to give it to them.

And I do this with everyone. EVERYONE. From the damn postman to random shop assistants, work colleagues to school mums, even my long standing friends – even my own bloody kids. Even to the point where I lose my sense of myself when not defined by other people and what they think of me. And I question it constantly.

Do they like me?
Am I good enough?
Am I enough as I am?
What do I need to change?
What did I say wrong?
How do I fix it?
What if they find out the truth?
How do I keep them from finding it?
How do I make them like me MORE?
How do I make them like me over and over again every time I see them?

A month or so ago, something of this was caught by the Big Small.

We’d had a humdinger argument where she’d basically been a BRAT, and told me she hated me, that I was embarrassing, and the worst mother EVER (a recurring theme). And I was out of all energy to empathise, distract, appease, ignore or rise above anything. So I told her that you know what? Sometimes I don’t like myself very much either. Sometimes I don’t always say the right thing. Sometimes I don’t always DO the right things. Sometimes I don’t have any of the answers. But I always love her, and I’m trying my very best to be my very best for her and her sister.

The argument blew over, but I hadn’t realised that what I said had hit home quite so hard until I got The Christmas Card.

It is the best and the worst present I have ever received.

In it, she told me that I was the BEST mother ever, that she loved me, and that she knew it was hard doing everything on my own and that she thought I was very brave. And then she said, ‘I know you say you don’t like you. But I like you. I like you because you are lovely and kind and play with me and [Small Small]. I asked my friends to write down why they like you too.’

And four little girls aged between 7 and 8, with clearly far more emotional intelligence than I’ve gathered in 40 bloody years, wrote a sentence about what they liked about me.

They like that I’m funny.
They like that I’m kind.
They like that I love to play with slime.
They like that I make them laugh.

And I cried like a baby.

Because people don’t really say nice things about me. And when they do I find it so easy to dismiss them or not to believe them. Have you ever noticed that? That the good stuff, the compliments just slide off you like water? But the bad stuff sticks? And if someone says the bad stuff to you often enough it becomes truer than true just by being consistent. And it’s so easy to believe… That I’m too intense. That I’m lazy. That I’m too much and doing too little and over emotional and being over sensitive and slightly stupid and not wired up right and never follow through, and I’m all talk and all of it, all of it, all of it. It’s all still there, not even buried deep.

But then four little girls in Year 3 sat down in their Christmas jumpers on Christmas party day at school and made me the most beautiful card I’ve ever had, and I feel like they pierced through all the bad stuff for the first time. Because for some reason they’re easy to believe. And I have never been more horrified or more grateful for anything.

I can’t work out whether it is a massive parenting fail that I’ve allowed my daughter to think I don’t like myself and set that example for her, or a massive parenting win that she’s just turned 8 and she’s done something so thoughtful and mature and kind.

What I do know is that she deserves for me to find my inner Sid this year.
She deserves to see someone who doesn’t need to be validated by anyone else, including her.
She deserves to see someone happy in their own skin.
She deserves to see someone who doesn’t constantly worry if people like her, if she’s said the wrong thing, made the wrong choice, who doesn’t second guess herself and who isn’t afraid to be who she is, always, in all ways, no matter what. No matter who’s looking.

And do you know what? I deserve that too, this year. In 2020 I deserve to see myself in 2020 vision – or at least how 7 and 8 year-olds see me. Because sometimes they see a lot of things a lot more clearly than we do.

I deserve to like myself.

And so do you.

So my New Year’s Resolution isn’t a complicated one. I’m just going to look at everything and think, What Would Sid Do?

Because Sid wouldn’t give up.
Sid wouldn’t care if people liked him – he’d know they would when they got to know him.
Sid wouldn’t be diminished by cold water, or derailed by loud pans, or depressed by failure.
Sid wouldn’t be hemmed in by other people’s rules or boundaries – he’d just break his way out.
Sid would just be Sid.
And then have a nap.

And that – that sounds like a resolution I can really get behind.

I highly recommend you do the same.

#BemoreSid
#WhatWouldSidDo?

By the way, if anyone lives in the Woodseats area of Sheffield and actually KNOWS Sid, I’d love to find out where he lives. And his real name. He’s literally an inspiration.

I AM SANTA

I AM SANTA.

This is the secret, silent scream in the hearts of women everywhere around this time of year.

Because towards the end of December we start to quietly resent the fact some overweight white bloke in a red suit and questionable facial hair comes swooping in to take the credit for all our hard work, blood, sweat, tears – and rather more money than we’d planned on spending. Again.

Yes, I know some men do pull their weight at Christmas, and some even go beyond reminding their wives to buy for their mother circa Xmas Eve, stringing up the outside lights like it’s an act of heroism, fetching the Christmas tree from the loft under heavy duress, and carving the damn turkey after a lot of unnecessary and self-important knife sharpening. That’s GREAT. Yay for transcending festive gender stereotypes! But let’s not pretend that’s what’s happening in most Great British households.

The mental load of family life falls to women, and it falls in drifts over Christmas.

We are the ones making the nativity costumes, keeping up with the non-uniform and Christmas jumper days and one-pounds-to-the-teacher and carol services and bake sales and moving the Elf around, and buying all the presents, even for his side of the family, and remembering not to re-gift the terrible smellies Auntie Carol got you last year, and thinking through what the Smalls want and orchestrating the Santa letters through a series of heavy hints so they match up with what you’ve brought, and co-ordinating relatives’ gifts and writing the Christmas cards and then bullying the Small people into writing 60 more bloody Christmas cards for the classes because it’s part of Small social engineering, and waiting up to get the Tesco delivery slot and then STILL having to do to an over-crowded supermarket with two kids in tow anyway for last minute bits on Christmas Eve, and decorating the tree and figuring out how to fit everything into the fridge and then the OVEN, and then WRAPPING all the presents and making sure the Father Christmas paper is kept special and hidden, and stuffing the presents into suitcases in the top or bottom of wardrobes at the dead of night so they’re not found, and thinking about who should sit where and that Grandad MUST have sprouts although everyone else hates them, and Cousin Sue’s gone Vegan, and making sure the kids open the matching presents at the same time to avoid arguments, and leaving out the mince pies and carrot for Santa and Rudolph and then eating/pretending to eat them and laying out footprints in flour/bicarbonate of soda, and then hoovering them up the next day, and taking the sellotape off the paper for recycling and remembering the festive recycling collection days and A MILLION AND ONE OTHER TINY THINGS THAT MAKE CHRISTMAS CHRISTMASSY.

It isn’t bloody Santa.
It isn’t the magic of Christmas.
It’s the magic of Mums.

If you’re starting to struggle with annual resentment, particularly around the fact that even a fictional fat fella gets more glory than you do, just remember you ARE Santa. The real Santa. In the ways that really matter.

And that’s how I’m going to try and explain Santa to the Smalls, when they come to the end of their belief, hopefully not too soon. Santa isn’t just one person – he’s lots of people. He’s YOU. And the magic is very real, it’s just not the magic you thought it was…

Too often, you see, when we give it is as much about us as about the person we give to. It’s a transaction – for thanks, for affection, for appreciation, for our sense of ourselves and who we want to be. Even when we make traditions, make memories, there is something of ourselves in there. We want to be remembered.

But Santa, Santa is the ultimate act of selflessness. It is an act of selflessness that as a collective we have all agreed to participate in EVERY YEAR.

If there is gratitude to be had, it is deferred by around 10 years until they KNOW, a good 30 years until they think to appreciate it, and definitely some time post their own parenthood before they actually GET IT.

At a time when a lot of us need our faith in humanity restoring – this is it. This is something we do, as human beings, together, that is kind of… amazing. We just all got too distracted by the anthropomorphisation bit to remember how amazing it is.

Because Santa isn’t a bloke in a red suit.
Spoiler alert: HE DOESN’T EXIST.

He is a concept.
A communal flight of whimsy:
A living, breathing fairy tale.

He is the best of us.

The existence of Santa is the existence of the only sort of magic that’s really real. It is a manifestation in a wildly avaricious and commercialised Western world of pure, unselfish love. Of giving without expectation of recognition, reward, or gratitude – just for the sheer beauty of it.

And that means Santa, in essence, IS a Mum. Or at least the essence of all Mums…

Because that, in a nutshell, is what motherhood is all about.
That’s what we do.

So Santas out there, I see you. I see you when the whole bloody point is not to be seen. I see you BECAUSE the whole bloody point is not to be seen.

I am Santa.

So are you.

And so one day, if we pass it on right, if we communicate it as the true magic that lies underneath all the exasperated threats, awkward knee-based encounters, half eaten mince pies, messy flour footprints and the piles of presents, it will be our children too.

It will become their privilege to be part of one of the only kinds of magic humanity is still capable of.

And that – THAT’S a gift worth giving.

It’s also a gift worth never being thanked for.

Merry Christmas.

PS. Facebook doesn’t show my posts to people unless I get likes and comments. So if you like this, please raise your hand and say ‘I am Santa’ in comments. I’ll wave back. #santasolidarity

ELF WARS

ELF WARS.

I blame America.

They bred the Elf on the Shelf. And they infected us. And now we face Elf segregation, Elf division, ELF WARS!

First there is the deep and deepening divide between parents who ELF and parents who, for the sake of their ‘elf, don’t ELF.

The first group hate the second group because a large number of them secretly sincerely regret making such a foolish month-long annual commitment of unsustainable creativity, but can’t say so, because the ‘magic of Christmas’.

The second group hate the first group because they have to explain to their children why their home DOESN’T have an Elf, while simultaneously maintaining the ‘magic of Christmas’, which essentially after infinity cyclical conversations with Smalls boils down to BECAUSE MUMMY HAS A BLOODY JOB.

Some within this group will secretly feel guilty: others militant: still more generally aggrieved, which is the British Way. The militant will talk at length to the generally aggrieved about the moral, ethical and consistency issues with telling one’s children a creepy toy-spy is watching them for good behaviour while simultaneously moving about the house at night and performing ‘hilariously’ naughty deeds. A few extreme crunchy outliers may even debate whether or not we should by lying to our offspring at ALL, about Santa, magic, Christmas, etc.

Within group 1 there will be the hardcore Pinterest Parents, who become evangelical about their cause and Competitive (big C) about it, often utilising the classic humblebrag and the medium of Facebook – or worse – the class WhatsApp group. “Oh Little Martin loves the Elf! This morning he made a hammock out of Mummy’s bra and put shaving foam all over the cat!” ENDLESS EMOJIS.

Somewhere a funny-man Dad will have put the Elf into a compromising position with Barbie, Oh the LOLS, What are we like? Monkey covering eyes, When Daddy’s left on Elf Duty, Etc.

Other Elfers will then be spurred to share their own Comedy Genius Elf Antics, thus putting up the backs of the Non-Elfers still further and inciting Non-Elf Extremism,

AND THE WHOLE OF PARENT SOCIETY CRUMBLES AND DESCENDS TO WAR.

Sooooo….

I have an Elf.

I try not to get competitive with it, or indeed particularly creative, or traumatise my children through it, or even judge/admire the non-Elfers.

I have an Elf for a very specific reason.

Two Octobers ago, my husband moved out. I had two very upset little girls (well okay, one pretty oblivious baby and one very upset little girl) and the days were dark with more than Daylight Saving Hours. I was desperate to do something for us, to bond our new smaller family, and to create a bit of light and sparkle for the Smalls. So my lovely sister suggested and then sent us an Elf.

We called it Elfie, like approximately 75% of all Elf on the Shelfs the country over, we put a Barbie skirt on her, and the Smalls were smitten.

Ours is not a naughty Elf, or a Santa-Espionage-Elf. She is a Kindness Elf. And through December she reminds the Smalls to be kind, to give to others, and to basically not be selfish greedy little boohoostards. This often isn’t inventive, because I’m tired. It can be simple as smiling at a stranger one day or giving someone a hug. There are definitely year-to-year repeats (I keep the notes). She also writes the girls a hello poem, with a poetry treasure hunt around the house to find her, simply because rhyming makes me happy and making them happy makes me happy.

Last year the Smalls found the Elf book in the summer, and missed Elfie so much she had to turn up to visit in August. IN AUGUST.

Elfing, you see, takes commitment, and energy, and frankly – desperation. That’s what Elfie was really born of. Desperation.

This year, there has been a new twist in our Elf journey.

The ex has now got an Elf.

It is called Snowy. It wrote them a poem. It introduced itself as being best friends with Elfie.

And I have Feelings.

I am now in my own internalised Elf-War.

One half of me thinks that it’s great he’s showing this level of interest in Christmas (he literally never even helped me decorate a tree). It’s great the kids get that at his end, and they love Snowy! And that should make me happy, right? I mean, I don’t own the Elf on the Shelf concept.

But.

This was… my thing. It was special. It was a bit of magic I created, that I carved out for us when there didn’t look like there would ever be magic again. I wanted to make my own Christmas tradition, and if feels like it’s been nicked. Or at least piggy-backed.

And now I’m dreading them coming back and telling me all the SO FUNNY things Snowy did, because he and she have a team and time and they’re not on their own at 11 o’ clock trying to think of something for it to do, and they’re not two years into Elf-fatigue, and I have to smile and say how lovely and keep up the pretence my Elf is best buds with theirs when really, really what my Elf wants to do is STUFF A CANDY CANE UP SNOWY’S TIGHT RED ARSE.

And that, my friends, is the Spirit of Christmas!

I hate myself. Although I think I’m having a pretty human response…
And I hate him, too. Which is also human.
And Elves. Who aren’t human. Or a sub-species. Look, no one really knows.

Particularly though, I hate having been dragged into the competitive Elfing world of the ELF WARS, which I never really wanted to be a part of.

Luckily, it’s nearly over.

In January all parents can negotiate a peace treaty and find other reasons to judge and compete with each other, and rouse ourselves to arbitrary indignation!

I can’t wait.

xxx

(PS. Now you know EXACTLY what Barbie is thinking about where the candy cane is going to end up in this picture. I like to think she’s taking revenge for all Barbies used and abused by Elves and Comedy Dads).

EDIT: For the last 2 years me and the Smalls have also done matching Xmas pjs. If even a hint of a picture of the four of them in matching pjs crosses my consciousness that candy cane will be REPURPOSED. Also I’ve had mulled wine. 😉

Topsy and Tim and the lost £@#!%

Sometimes, when the children aren’t around and the dibber is too far away I find myself watching Cbeebies alone.

Partly this is because I actually find myself caring about the plot of Molly and Me (Oops, I know), partly it’s because I have a girl crush on the mum from Waffle (we’d be friends) and partly because I am frozen in abject fear and horror of Moon and Me (Mr Onions is clearly a puppet serial killer, and HE COULD BE UNDER YOUR BED RIGHT NOW, and I defy you not to have to check this before you go to sleep).

Anyhoo, I think it’s a shame it ends at 7. I think parents, scratch that, MUMS, would get a lot out of the odd adult episode.

Here’s what I’m thinking.

1. BEDTIME STORY
First, Chris Evans reads us another bedtime story, but this time it’s extracts from Lady Chatterley’s Lover, there’s a roaring fire, and he’s forced to take his top off. For health reasons. More close ups of his eyes staring deep into the bleary eyes of sleep-deprived and sexually-underwhelmed viewers, like he knows our pain and is fully prepared to lick it away. You know. Personally.

2. ANDY’S DINOSAUR ADVENTURES
Andy can go on a Dinosaur adventure, but there must be actual peril, because frankly those CGI models are WASTED, and I’m gonna need more Jurassic Park and less stroll-in-the-park trying to get the baby to sleep.

I suggest he also takes his top off, or has it torn off by a Brontiraptorsaurasor. Possibly he has to dive into water to escape, a la Mr Darcy. I can’t decide whether I want him to have a skinny-lanky guy washboard and happy line going on, or a delicious dad-bod paunch. Either is good.

3. SWASHBUCKLE
Cook and Line are going in REAL green slime. We grew up with Noel’s House Party, dammit, and we want actual slippery slidiness not the fake bobbins they do on Swashbuckle – and also to not have to clean it up afterwards. Bliss!

They are fighting over something, not sure of the details: doesn’t really matter. I’m going for tops off again – purely for continuity, you understand. Line can keep the bandanna.

4. JUSTIN’S HOUSE
While we’re on the subject, I also want to see what’s under Robert the Robot’s outfit, and to have him clean MY house. No innuendo here. My actual house – it’s really dirty. Still no innuendo.

Right, that’s the sexy bit out of the way, I’m tired, if I can actually be bothered I can get myself off in minutes anyway because of the ever present danger of Small Person Intrusion, and now what I really want is a SOUL orgasm.

The rest of the Cbeebies team are therefore going to remake several episodes of our least favourite shows with an added dose of realism to make us all feel better about ourselves, our parenting, and our life choices!

5. BING
Flop is going to lose his ever-lasting-sheet for a change, for instance when Bing BREAKS HIS BLOODY PHONE and throws it in the BIN. He’s going to scream, possibly cry, send Bing to his room, and randomly threaten to take away everything he owns ever.

Next episode. When he doesn’t get his turn on the swing, Bing is going to throw a proper on-the-floor-screaming-fit, and Flop is going to stand by trying to catch flailing limbs, alternately shouting and pleading, and receiving pitying looks from passers-by.

6. KATIE MORAG
In the same vein, Katie Morag is going to throw a giant tantrum over having to go to too many of her brother’s four year old birthday parties because she’s BORED, IT’S NOT FAIR, YOU LIKE HIM BETTER THAN ME, and I HATE YOU YOU’RE THE WORST MOTHER EVER. She’s going to slam doors, twat her brother, and burst into hysterical tears. Both Grannies will tut, say it wasn’t like this in their day, and make stupid suggestions of how to deal with the situation involving clips round the ear and behavioural therapy respectively.

Meanwhile the baby will be having serious reflux issues and screaming constantly, while Katie Morag’s mum sits in a corner weeping with cabbage leaves on her boobs.

7. TOPSY AND TIM
Next up: Topsy and Tim. Topsy is going to whine incessantly, and Tim is going to need to be told to get his hands out of his pants every two minutes. They are constantly bickering, so all Joy can hear is ‘Muuuuuuuuum’ ‘He hit me’ ‘Topsy called me a poo-poo face’ ‘He started it’ ‘But she kicked me first’.

We watch (with popcorn/pombears) as her indefatigable good nature is gradually eroded over the next 20 minutes, and she actually shouts ‘For Fox Sake’ when they throw the birthday cupcakes on the floor.

Joy goes on to burn the fishfingers for tea, has to make two emergency caveman costumes for a random Stone Age Day she’s only just found out about, and threatens to punch her joker of a husband in the face when he comes in and asks why the house is such a mess. Cut to nighttime, when Tim wakes up with an itchy bum, and Joy pulls out a WORM on a cotton bud. Montage of Joy calling into work ‘sick’ in order to deal with the 3 billion loads of washing, and disinfecting the house. Topsy screams blue murder as Little Moon Bunny comes out of the wash dyed an uneven greyish-pink by accident. Joy unearths her secret gin stash from behind the rabbit food, circa 3pm, and breaks the fourth wall with a silent ‘cheers’ to the screen.

WE FEEL YOUR PAIN, JOY.

And frankly it’s about bloody time.

Now for the FINALE!!!

I want some romance before I go to bed, and the satisfying completion of a story arc we’ve all been avidly, if perplexedly, following for some years…

8. IN THE NIGHT GARDEN
I have a theory that the entire of In The Night Garden is a drug-addled courtship between lady of the night Upsy Daisy and tortured Smurf/chicken lovechild Iggle Piggle. He wants to get Upsy her Night Garden, all right, and he’s even brought his own blanket. We finally see them lay to rest their inner demons (represented by the rest of the cast) and consummate their love on Upsy Daisy’s bed.

Turns out someone else IS allowed in Upsy Daisy’s bed.

Daisy DO.

Heartwarming.

Sniff. No YOU’RE crying.

Please let me know in comments what else you’d add to my Adult Cbeebies schedule, or any other ideas for the episodes you’d most like to see!

Xxxx

(PS. For those who care, the Haahoos represent Daisy’s bloated euphoria on a high, the Pontipines are the little voices of doubt and catastrophe always on the cusp of her hearing, Makka Pakka is Iggle’s OCD, and the Tombliboos his warped morality – a candy-striped manifestation of see on evil, hear no evil, speak [squeak?] no evil).

(PPS. I have a lot of free time on my brain).

Project Stop

There’s a phrase that has been bouncing around my head for some time now.

What if you’re defined by the worst thing that ever happened to you?

What does that make you?

Who do you become?

How do you seize back control of your own story, as someone who DOES and not someone who is done TO?

Well the worst thing that ever happened to me wasn’t all that bad by Terrible Life Stuff standards.

I just got divorced. People break up. Families split. It’s as common as, well, you know, RAIN IN SHEFFIELD.

But 2 years on, it is still rubbish. It still hurts. And dammit, it IS still defining me…

For the last few weeks, it’s once again been the first thing I think about when I wake, usually at 3am, by the call of miscellaneous dread.
It’s the last thing I think about before I eventually go to sleep.
Some days, I am wandering again through the motions of everyday feeling like a stranger in a life I don’t recognise and never wanted.
Some days, I can’t hold a normal conversation with people about anything that’s not THIS, because it’s all there is, and they won’t understand, and saying what I think or feel or even just the facts about what’s happening is BORING, 2 years on, or inappropriate, or even just plain bitter.

That’s the trouble with 2 years on. People want you to be ‘over it’ by now.

But how do you get over something that’s not actually over? That keeps coming back around, like a vindictive groundhog day?

I was working on it. I was actually getting there. I was BETTER for a while (one very significant letter’s difference to bitter).

But then it started up again. It’s still alive and kicking and BITING. It’s still impotence and fear and anger and ridiculousness and lack of good choices and being backed into corners and there is no respite or even keel or even clarity – even REALITY – because it is lost in the he said/she said and twisted logic and semantics and anti-correlation and blame and accusations and ultimatums and reasonable vs unreasonable dressed up as reasonable in sheep’s clothes, howling at the damn moon.

And the only thing, the ONLY thing I can change about any of this – the only thing I will ever be able to change – is me.

MY reactions.
MY actions.
My choices, such as they are.

And sometimes that’s the hardest thing of all, isn’t it?

Especially when you feel powerless. When you feel done TO. When you feel the world can see but simply doesn’t care. When you feel alone.

So I do what I always do, when I feel my feet scrape the bottom of everything that is.
I Weeble.
I roll back up.
I show up.
I plan.
I invest.
I TRY.

But mostly, I DO.
(Ironically words I have come to sincerely regret…)

I throw myself into Christmas early and all the fab stuff we can do together, and crafts, and trips and tickets and friends and festive, because now I only get 2 December weekends to do it.
I try and use my alone time to do all the doing that needs to be done so I can just do Mummy when they’re back, and do it properly, so they remember me. So it matters.
I clean, because that means I’m coping, right? Look – mopped floors, everything must be fine!
I buy too many presents I can’t really afford to make up for everything that I know they see and don’t say, but comes out at odd times, and I’m sorry they have to live with all this, and I buy cheap sparkly clothes I won’t wear because I don’t go out, but sparkles make me happy – or at the very least sparkly, and maybe that will do – and I try and not look at the families in the shopping centre.
I try and build ME and be a growing, flourishing, rounded PERSON and not (only) a diminishing, scared and exhausted shell, so I plan activities and start courses and hobbies and write bad poetry and draw bad pictures and reach out to people and gatecrash friends’ activities but then don’t always respond or show up because I can’t face it.
I run until everything aches and I can’t breathe and then I drink wine so life looks funny again and have sex until it’s the only thing I can feel and blocks out everything else.

What I don’t do, very often, is stop.

I think I’m afraid that if I stop, everything that I’m fighting or running from will catch up with me.

I think I use momentum, I use DOING, randomly, so that I feel like I’m the one in charge of my life. That I’m the one doing the DOING, not having the doing done to me….

And I think that isn’t always the right call.

Sometimes stopping IS doing something positive for yourself.
Sometimes stopping is an investment.
Sometimes silence is golden.
Sometimes doing nothing is renewing.
And sometimes you need to stop before you fall over….

I suck at it. Stopping.

It feels like the enemy.
It feels like admitting defeat:
it feels terrifying.

Because, who am I when I’m not going?

How do I find a forwards, an out, an exit, if I stop moving?

What happens in the empty space that follows?

What is in my head if it’s not full of plans, and can I actually bear it?

What if all I am IS the worst thing that ever happened to me, and it has eaten away everything else and there is now nothing left underneath?

STOP.
STOP.
STOP.

I suppose that’s my new project, in my overall campaign to REdefine me – Project Stop. (which may in fact undermine the whole stopping ethos by being planned and attacked as a project, but it’s the only way I know how to tackle it, because old habits die hard).

So one of the things I’m going to DO this month is to learn to not DO, and take myself off to a pamper evening, run by a lovely friend of mine.

If any other Sheffield-based Weebles out there fancy Project Stop, I’d love to see you there.

It’s a Feel Good self care and pamper evening, at St Gabriel’s C of E Church, Sat 30 November from 19.00.

Here’s the Eventbrite link: http://bit.ly/FeelGoodEventbrite

xxx

Write on Bananas in Biro

So I’m halfway through my 40th year, and the other day someone asked me for some advice.

A large part of me wanted to pig-snort and spit out my tea, because I’m basically the least sorted person I know and with each passing year, if not month, I realise how ill prepared I am to deal with, well… pretty much anything. Adulthood, I suppose.

But another bit of me knew that I knew stuff.
I’ve been through stuff.
I’ve experienced stuff.
And this, this was something I could help with…

Unfortunately she wasn’t ready to hear it.

It’s back to the ol’ Grandmother Paradox I invented last mother’s day. The one where you can know so much but can’t pass it on to the next woman because they need to come to it by themselves. You can only watch, and listen, and be there if they’ll let you.

Every woman is the first woman to have a baby, to feel those new, old-as-time feelings.
Every woman is the first woman to suffer heartbreak.
Every woman is the Eve of her own life…

And every generation is silenced by and powerless under the Grandmother Paradox, watching helplessly from the sidelines as our daughters and our daughters’ daughters follow the same well-worn paths, without ever seeing our footprints in front of them.

This is not what I thought 40 would look like, back when I was, say, 20, starting out on that path.

And I wonder if there’s anything at all I could say to that woman, to me, that I’d have actually been able to listen to?

Weirdly, I fear we’d have very little in common. SingletoninCrookes was a very different creature. God, she was so naive.

She was so energetic.
She was so sure.
She was so well-rested…
She was so damn HAPPY.

Lordy I often feel I’ve lost the trick of that.

She – she knew everything, already. And she ignored the rest.

She was in her last year of University, fed up of studying and not doing enough of it, distracted by this AMAZING man she’d met the year before, her first real boyfriend, with a somewhat damaged past and a backstory that made her feel protective, proud, and probably a bit grown up.

There were some alarm bells. Bits that didn’t add up. Warnings from friends. Differences she told herself were strengths in the relationship rather than weaknesses…

Hindsight is a funny thing, isn’t it?

So is advice.

So here’s the bits I think I could say that maybe I could have heard. That maybe could soften some blows, or inform some better decisions or reactions… at least help 20 year old me develop some tools to deal better with the stuff coming down the line.

1. Always write on bananas in biro before you eat them

It’s a weirdly satisfying thing. Do it. Find a banana and do it now.

In fact, just take pleasure where it comes in all small things, and stop to appreciate them. Warm socks. Belly laughs. Purring. Spinning until you’re dizzy.

(Also, there may also be something coming called ‘Brexit’ that may or may not affect banana prices and supply. Enjoy them while you can).

2. Listen to your instincts

I know you think you’re instincts are sheet hot. Well they aren’t and they are. But only if you listen to them and don’t get lost in other people’s, well… advice.

But please keep reading.

Shut your eyes. Centre yourself. Find your strength, your energy, your core, and channel it at your choice.

You’re usually right.

3. Be your own person, not who you think you should be, or you think others want you to be.

You’re actually pretty cool.

Also, learn to take a compliment.

4. Stop worrying what other people think

Sorry love, not everyone is going to think you’re cool. Not everyone is going to like you. That’s okay. Let it go. (This will be a hit song!) Yes, I know you’re really nice. Yes, I know you get a buzz out of making people respond to you and creating harmony.

But it turns out harmony isn’t everything, and nor is being liked.

Defining yourself by other people doesn’t work. Define yourself from the inside out, not the outside in. As long as you like you, you’re #winningatlife. (This is a hashtag, useful for mini-blogging, coming soon!)

Just keep hold of the bits you like best, that make you you, and try not to lose them along the way.

5. Face conflict head on

Avoiding conflict is going to impact every relationship you will ever have, romanticly, professionally, platonically.

Sometimes people will behave towards you and others in ways you don’t like. Ignoring the problem, placating, pacifying, pretending it’s not that bad, looking the other way, all of these have a price.

Work out what your boundaries are.

There will be things that are best let go for the greater good or the bigger picture. There will also be things you need to stand up for, and to.

6. Don’t be afraid of anger

Feeling anger is okay. Expressing anger can be okay, too. It doesn’t make you a bad person. It doesn’t make you unstable, or volatile.

It makes you a person with feelings and the ability to process them. Congratulations!

7. Feel all the feelings

You know what? It’s not just anger. Feel ALL the feelings. Burying them will hurt you.

I know keeping emotionally steady feels safe for you. I know sometimes the big feelings come out in ways you don’t like and are trying to forget – in obsessive thoughts and routines and physical pain you inflict on yourself.

But choosing not to feel things, to self anaesthetise your emotions with bland routine and a veneer of normality (not to mention the drugs and alcohol), is masking what’s real.

And what’s real is beautiful as well as scary.

8. Ask questions

Keep curious. Don’t pretend you know what something is if you don’t. Everyone is making it up as they go along. No, they really, really are. Even the important people. Yes, even the Doctors. And the politicians.

Terrifying isn’t it?

Ask all of them questions. And ask questions of yourself. Keep asking even when you become annoying.

9. Keep learning and growing

Want to stop making things up as you go along? Know stuff. Follow the stuff that interests you. Read. Create. Expand.

Soon you’ll be able to do this on your phone! Using the interweb! Wherever you go!

10. Keep moving

I know you hate exercise. I know you’re traumatised by years of wearing industrial-strength-navy-blue-knickers and no sports bra and being forced to run (and consistently lose) stupid races round a track with all the boys in the middle fully clothed in cricket whites and staring.

But moving is good for you. It makes your body and mind feel great.

And running is good if you’re wearing a proper sports bra (invest in this!) and not doing it in giant humiliation pants. Honest.

11. Tend friendships

Connection is what connects you to everything, and tending friendships is key.

Look for the ones that you can show all your faces to. The ones that you don’t have to perform for. The ones who let you be more than one thing, have different moods, meet you in different guises, for different activities. The ones that show up at 3am if you’re lost. Physically or emotionally.

Don’t mistake colleagues or drink buddies for true friends. When the brown stuff hits the cooling device they won’t be there.

12. Look for people’s gaps

This is the real trick to identifying the true friends. Don’t let people tell you who they are, let them show you.

And if the two don’t match up, think about why, and what that means.

Look for your own gaps too. Be the person you want to be, and the friend you want to have. Show up. Keep you word.

13. Don’t forget family

You’re building your life. It’s exciting. There are so very many possibilities and opportunities. There are also dark times. When these come, your family (and a few of the really good friends) are the ones who will pick up your pieces.

Treasure them.

14. Keep up your hobbies

Find a way to do what you love, and don’t get distracted by the meaningless bells and whistles of life… or the damn TV.

Top tips: Give up soaps. There’s going to be a lot of random plane crashes/explosions/affairs/deaths that make literally no narrative sense. Meanwhile, watch out for the rise of the Super Series! Don’t watch ‘Lost’. Do watch ‘Game of Thrones’.

15. Remember you’re beautiful

No one is looking at your damn spots.

You’re not in the least bit fat and I can’t believe you’re worrying about it, because you’re gorgeous. Jesus, I wish I looked like you.

Wear the short skirt. Wear the crop top. Enjoy your body. It’s going to do AMAZING things. Try loving it.

16. Say yes

Say yes to the night out, the trip, the experience, the everything.

17. Say no

Learn to say no if you need to protect your boundaries. No isn’t a negative. It can be a strength.

18. Don’t save things for best

Look, stop saving stuff for best. It’s not the 1950s.

I don’t care if it’s evening wear, trust me, you soon won’t be going out as much, and you should just wear it everyday if you love it. No, it won’t wear out. That’s really not a thing. It’ll go out of fashion first. It’s just your Mum talking, because she is from the 1950s. She’s old, like, over 40, what does she know???

Apart from shoes. They do wear out. Get them reheeled and save yourself a fortune.

19. Be honest

Sometimes, you lie.

You lie to put people at ease, to create a relationship – sure I know that book/show/place. You lie because you don’t feel like you’re enough without embellishment. You lie to yourself because you can’t face feelings, conflict, pressure, decisions, even the truth.

You lie because you are hiding, from so much.

You don’t need to do this.

20. Check who you are

These are the questions you should be asking yourself. Are you someone you like? Are you someone you recognise? Are you being the best you, the very truest version of you?

Check in with yourself every now and again. And make changes if you can’t answer yes.

21. Expect the unexpected

There will be stuff. You can handle the stuff.

You are far, far stronger than you think you are.

22. Everything will be ok

Spoiler alert! It all works out in the end. Everything will be ok.

I promise.

Looking back at this list, BUGGER 20 year old me. That beeyatch can fend for herself!

All of this is the advice I need RIGHT NOW.

Maybe this is the year I’ll start to take it.
Maybe this is the year I’ll learn the lessons of half of a lifetime.
Maybe this is the year I’ll start to live them…

If you’ve got some advice to add to my list, I’d genuinely love to hear it.

I’m now officially old enough to try and transcend the Grandmother Paradox, and learn something from those who’ve gone before me.

I hope.