When your chest

is touching mine

the beat of your wee heart

fluttering and thumping

so close

and you are sad

and you have been screaming

and it’s been oh, such a long day

(it’s only 9am)

and I am sad

and I have been screaming

time calls a truce.

An infusion of love happens



We pull apart –

always you first;

there’s a lot of stuff to do

when you are three.

I linger,

your heartbeat still resonates

in my chest,

and I think –

I needed that

quick-wire kick

of love

more than you.


Mental health, Motherhood

I am wading through fog at the moment, my brain feels like mashed potato, and with too much butter in it, to boot.

I have all these theories as to why I feel like I am lost in the mists right now, all terrifying and unhelpful like ‘early onset Alzheimer’s’ or ‘mercury poisoning’. Can such cloudiness be put down to my three small children and a six-year long accumulation of interrupted nights? Well, I don’t know but I’m sure if I went to the doctor with my tale of brain fog she would probably kindly point that out, and reassure me that everything was ok. I’ve just googled ‘what to pack for a weekend away’ which has really hit home to me what a mental state I’m in. I can’t think where to start with that, honestly. Pants, I suppose.

It doesn’t really matter what the reason is, I need to fix it. How? I don’t know. Read more books? I’ve already lined up a book called ‘Brain Longevity’ which is full of sensible advice about how to get blood rushing to the brain. Part of me feels like surrendering to the fog, actually. Just stop worrying about forgetting appointments and feeling confused about what day it is. Just go with the flow, however bewildering the current is.

I won’t do that though. I’ll try to follow the dim light I’m sure I will stumble across in a day or two, in a week or two. The brain is a uniquely beautiful, living and sprouting thing, and perhaps mine is, oh I don’t know, recalibrating, or regenerating itself. Maybe it needs to slumber for a bit for new shoots to spring out. I think a lot about how many of my problems would be solved by the purchase of a wall-planner, a giant thing taking up one side of the kitchen. I’d sit there every morning, a master in command, with a big, black marker, arrows everywhere, my life, everyone else’s, planned out. Perhaps if I tethered my thoughts, my brain, my life in this way, things would be simpler.*

*Note to self: A wall-planner is not a radical suggestion. It’s fairly normal if you have a family.


Meditation, Motherhood

I came across some words this morning and fell in love – a poem by Billy Collins called The Present, introduced by William Sieghart in The Poetry Pharmacy. It pokes fun at the current obsession with mindfulness and living in the moment, which conversely can cause a lot of needless guilt. (Like, often I’m with my three beautiful but bonkers boys, dreaming about being alone, snuggled low with a book and then bam! Comes the thought: WHY are you not savouring EVERY moment, they will be grown up soon and you will REGRET it!)

I don’t think the generation before me worried about all this consciously stepping into and savouring the moment – they just got on with it. Says William Sieghart on the pivot of this poem: ‘If living in the moment doesn’t suit you, don’t do it! Don’t feel obliged to change your interior life to suit the faddish dictates of the self-help industry. If you’re a fretter, or a daydreamer, or a reminiscer – celebrate it. Be yourself.’

Phew. There is a place for meditation and mindfulness, just like anything else in life, but it certainly isn’t there to make us feel we are failing in some way. Uh-uh, we are human, there’s no on/off switch – the mind is a massively unwieldy thing and yes, we can try to lasso it, rein it in, as is our wont – but we can dance with the devil too. If we were living in the present all the time, says Billy Collins:

…there’d be no past/with so many scenes to savor and regret,/and no future, the place you will die/but not before flying around with a jetpack. (Read the whole poem here).

This has cheered me up no end this morning because added to my long list of better ways to be – exercise more, meditate, be goddam mindful and don’t snap at my kids so much – there is a constant berating of my brain for the way it naturally is: it’s nostalgic, and often that causes me pain, yes, but it gives me some gifts too. As with most things, there is a flip side to nostalgia. It fosters my imagination; so for that matter does that other anti-mindful but delightful activity: daydreaming about the future.



I’ve written here before that I try to modulate my turn of phrase with my children, as per parenting advice of the day – or really, just common sense if I want to keep my kids out of therapy when they are older. So, if the situation calls for it, I say ‘that’s naughty behaviour’ instead of ‘you are a naughty boy’ or ‘that was a mean thing to do’ instead of ‘you are mean.’

I slip up all the time, of course. I was brought up in the late Seventies and Eighties, when it was still ok to hit children to stop them misbehaving. On that, recently my mother observed that my three boys ‘never listen to a word you say.’ Disheartening but true; they mostly don’t. I slide around on language, and more than a few times I’ve called these creatures, born perfect and pure, ‘naughty’ or ‘bad’. If I do, I catch myself. In the midst of such linguistic wrestling last week, I said to my middle son, ‘I love you, always, even when you are angry like this,’ trying to convey – which I hope they feel anyway – this baseline of love, so that they know that their frequent foul and stinking moods can be tethered to something strong and constant.

He looked at me and said, ‘Mummy I still think you are beautiful even when you are angry.’ Mmm, ok, I thought. What a lovely thing to say, I said to him, his big blue eyes blinking with pleasure as he realised that his words could have such an effect. The older one walked in, wondering what this lovely thing was his brother had said to me, so I repeated it. Then, the older one casually said to the younger one, ‘You should use my line. I always tell her that there is lightness inside the darkness.’

The younger nodded sagely, as if to say, this is a good line indeed to use when my mother is cross with me. But – wow. You should use my line? What in the name of the good lord am I teaching my boys? To spin women lines? To sweet talk them? They are three and five! The five year old got the lightness in darkness line from one of the Lego movies, and kudos to him for spotting that I would be an absolute sucker for such a line, wheeled out at the right time. The three year old obviously got it directly from me; I’ve somehow taught him to throw out a few select words, like bait for a better mood, when we are in a state of emotional fray together.

I think of them as adult men, having a conversation with their other half. Their partner is annoyed about something, wants to discuss it, get it out into the open. They want to be taken seriously. ‘You look beautiful when you are angry.’ Can you imagine? ‘Darling, whatever. I’ve told you this so many times. There is lightness inside the darkness.’

I don’t know; it starts here, with me, doesn’t it – how my boys will relate to their partners in the future. It’s back to language again, perhaps the final layer in the nuances of parenting, for it is clear children instinctively read levels below that, lies which cannot be told, love which cannot be dampened – but language is important. Words have such power, and we often just throw them away like discarded shells, the oyster still nestling within.

The X-files


Today I came across the term ‘emotional bandwidth’. Jessica Grose wrote a piece in the New York Times parenting magazine about why she is resisting having a third child. She has reached her limits with two. Everyone, she posits, has a different emotional bandwidth when it comes to raising children. How she puts it: In the context of parenting, this is how much patience and humanity you have left to give to your existing children.

Her ‘primal lizard brain’ is still telling her to have another, but her rational side is a firm no, and you can tell she is going to stick to it. I think, as I’m 43, biology has dictated that I won’t have another child but if I was younger, I would be in danger of having another one. I say danger because my rational side – so much more shrunken and ineffective than my emotional, instinctive side (nothing to be proud of) – doesn’t even get a look in when I see a newborn. Ms Logic pipes up, weakly, you do realise that you couldn’t cope with another child, don’t you? Then the dreamy side (read: the crazy side) dithers in with a monologue on how special that time is, what a peak moment in your life it is – making a baby, growing a baby, having a baby, holding a baby. That feeling of timelessness, conversely hung in a vortex of swiftly shifting time, when you cradle your little one; who still seems attached by an invisible umbilical cord.

I have three small children, all less than two years apart in age, and my emotional bandwidth has been stretched. Often it is flimsy and at breaking point. When Jessica spoke of this concept, and how much patience and humanity you might have – and might do well to note you have – in reserve for your children, it made me feel a bit ashamed. Lately, I’ve had only miniscule amounts of patience with my children. Yesterday, we instigated a new ‘ticks and crosses’ system for the two older boys. If they get more ticks than crosses at the end of the week, each will be allowed to buy a small toy from the beach shop near the beautiful strand where we are spending the summer. This morning, I had to add an extra column for myself. The middle child was throwing tantrum after tantrum, because he had read one of the letters in his name as an ‘X’. No matter how many times I told him it was not an X, but a letter of his name, he kept stamping his foot and yelling and screaming that it was an X, and I should take it away forthwith. I lasted about six or seven minutes, then came over all Robert de Niro in Goodfellas: ‘You want an X? I’ll give you an X. I’ll give you ten Xs.’  Then I aggressively drew lots of deep big Xs all over his chart, which obviously drove him crazy.

A minute later, I was sorry. How can I teach these children about patience if I have none? How can I teach them about compassion if I am showing none? What about anger? If I am continually losing my temper, how on earth do I expect them to keep theirs? Anyway; I drew an X in my column for unacceptable behaviour and losing my temper, which pleased them both no end. I wouldn’t be allowed to get a toy this Friday if I kept going on like this for the rest of the week. I could only agree with them.

Growing pains


Yesterday my son came back from the park, mortified. Something which he found really embarrassing happened to him (I won’t say what), and it was in front of the older kids, who all laughed at him.

He felt hurt and ashamed. It was the first time I had seen him like this. It was like he’d just crossed the line from the innocence of infancy into that darker sphere of childhood, where slipping up on social norms could whip you, leaving welts on your psyche, if you did not adhere to them exactly.

It cracked my heart a little. Could I go down to the park and talk to the older boys, make clear what had happened and how it could have happened to anyone of them? No way, he said, panicking, that will make it much worse, please don’t do that. I tried to make light of it then, saying – it’s no big deal, don’t even think about it anymore. It is a big deal to me! he said, his eyes widening. I was as hurt as he was, I think. I remember well that feeling of being laughed at by other children, when something out of the ordinary happened. Do you want to talk about it? I said. He shook his head. A tear rolled down his bronzed cheek. We were all quiet for a moment, then his little brother announced: They weren’t laughing at me.

I just wish it hadn’t happened Mama, whispered my eldest, graciously ignoring the younger’s unhelpful statement. He went off to flick through a book, even though he can’t read yet; it always makes him feel better.

I watched him as he mouthed out sibilant sounds to himself, making up stories he thought might match the pictures. I know, I know, my child, I thought. I wish it hadn’t happened to you either. I wish I could protect you from anything bad happening to you – hurtful things, sad things, embarrassing stuff, painful moments. Anything worse. Everything sharp and sore. I wish I could stand in front of you, your protector always, taking all your hits for you, so you wouldn’t have to feel any of the spikes you will inevitably feel when life hurls its taps and punches, tiny and enormous, toward you.

But I can’t. And I won’t. How else would you grow?

Party tricks


Yesterday my five-year-old picked me out an enormous black ‘crystal’ necklace from the local discount shop. It is hideous, and one of the most beautiful presents I have ever received because he is beside himself with the joy of giving.

The three of them were taken out to buy me a birthday present last night, and I told my husband that I wouldn’t judge him if they decided that the best present for a 43-year-old woman was a small box of boy Lego (I reject the pink Lego on principle). Usually, it is hard to steer them away from self-gifting – as it is, come to think of it, hard to nudge myself away from self-gifting – but they really invested themselves this time in the art of buying presents. I got: two fabric pink roses, a small square bar of dark cherry chocolate, socks with red flowers on them (‘Look Mama, these are real socks for women so you don’t have to wear ours anymore’), a tube of suncream, an oddly shaped navy T-shirt and the aforementioned startlingly ugly moody crystal necklace. It’s the first time I’ve seen the older boys taking more pleasure in giving than getting something; they were lit up, glowing.

Other birthday things: While dithering in the park yesterday I made plans to join a few others on the beach at 6.30am for yoga and then a swim in the sea. That is my ideal morning! I enthused to them; yes, this would set the tone of the year so perfectly. Yoga, then a swim! Where would you get it? Then I turned to pick up the baby, fell and twisted my ankle badly. Now I can’t walk on it.

You just can’t make plans, can you? I mean, you can sketch out a broad picture of how you’d like your life to look, and set yourself in that general direction, knapsack on your back and hoping for the best, but that’s about it. Anyway. I am 43. In words stolen from a mindful self-compassion course I did a few years ago which I absolutely hated – this year, may I be happy, may I be safe, may I live with ease, may I be free from pain.

Present to yourself, gift to the world

Meditation, Motherhood

In this podcast, I love what Jillian Lavender says about taking time for yourself, in her case specifically to meditate. She says something like, let’s turn on its head this whole idea of carving out some time for some self-care (yes, self-care, irritating term, but it is self-care nonetheless so let’s go with it) being selfish. It is not selfish, she says, it is the most generous thing you could do for yourself and for your family.

Yes, you are taking yourself away from them for ten minutes, or fifteen, or however long you can stretch to, and it often takes some mathematical maneuvering to find the time, particularly if you have very young children, but things have always changed when you get back. Your perspective has always shifted.

Having small children is stressful, it just is, the end. I’ve got a five year old, three year old and a one year old. The three year old is almost always having tantrums, the five year old isn’t far behind him and the one year old – well the poor soul is suffering so much with cutting teeth, and has been since soon after birth. It means he wakes about five or six times a night, and because he’s breastfed, it’s the only way I can comfort him. Some days, I just find it all really stressful. Let me be clear, the glory hours far outweigh the drudgy ones. Having children is exploding stars and love and joy; but it’s a headwreck too. I’m not sure how other mothers do it, but I find all the constant screaming and shouting really challenging (ahem, to say the least) and the problem with it is, my monkey beast comes out, every time, and I just want to shout and scream back. My son threw an apple at me last night and guess what? I threw it back. I feel terrible about it, it’s not cool behavior for an adult.

So back to what Jillian said, in my case it’s true: I think meditating is the most generous thing I can do for my family and for me, because when I am consistent with doing it, it makes me a better person. It just does. Better, stronger, calmer, less tired, less snappy, less of a dick. It also gives me the extra gift of deeply appreciating the smaller moments, the fleeting pearls of mothering these beautiful tiny children that I know I will wear like a precious, treasured necklace when they are grown.

Mud song


I was in the countryside yesterday, visiting a relative. There was a cherry tree. Pots and pots of muddy things, seedlings of vegetables like radishes, kale and carrots. Scallions stood in a row like soldiers, their tart green tops fading into pristine white bottoms, nestled smartly in the warm brown earth. There were large, unidentifiable tubs and old containers filled with stagnant rainwater, leaves, floating bits of moss and sticks. A toadstool. There was an ancient, discarded tractor, such a dignified old workhorse, resting proudly, a relic in the muddy field – its once-majestic utility long rusted over. Ghosts of past men who worked the land hovered around it, beckoning me to peek inside, use my imagination to see that where now stood wild daisies and tufted roots of grass, knotted hands once shifted the gears and turned the giant metal wheels, day in and day out.

While my other two boys ran free, I followed my one year old as he wobbled and toddled and fell with joy into the damp grass, one chubby baby hand clutching a sausage stolen from the stove. He watched the horses in the field, wide-eyed at their muscly, gentle beauty. The clouds shifted swiftly, revealing a cool June sun, shards of its rays streaming down into the land, catching the light on his blonde baby curls and the royal blue glint of tiny wellies on his feet.

All the while, in the sleepy, slow country morning, he kept emitting that very particular baby squeal of delight. It is the sound of how you feel when you are completely in the flow of nature, of the seasons, of the earth around you. It’s kind of an ‘Ah-ooo’ sound, with the ‘Ah’ higher than the ‘ooo’. It was the sound of him and the world, together, interchangeable.

A sound like this, uttered out loud, is something we forget as we grow. As adults we can only revel in its cadence second-hand, when we hear a child sing it like this, or an animal. But we absolutely still feel it. How could we not? We don’t make that ‘Ah-ooo’ sound, but we feel that deep joy, that contentment, often when we least expect it. We might feel it when we are sitting in the sun, or walking on the beach, or pottering in the garden, poking in the mud. Or in a moment when we catch the wind on our face and feel oh! so alive: there was a scent, a touch of the moving air, that brought you out of your head and back to yourself.

‘Ah-ooo’ is the child’s song to the universe, it’s like they are talking to nature itself. They are saying: You give me the cool grass under my feet, these big-lashed horses, these pink and purple and blue flowers, this outdoor soup, this mud with things that grow in it – and I howl thank you. ‘Ah-oo’. I am happy in this earth.

No time for dragons


‘Absolutely no time for dragons,’ I yelled this morning as I wrestled my middle child into his car seat. Absolutely no time for dragons, I snapped again, running back from the car and into the house to grab coats, bags, books and lots of other random stuff I needed for the order of the day.

I was still on the dragon rant five minutes later, after I’d hauled everything in the car, checked all children were there, picked my glasses off the dirty floor and wiped them on my scratchy top. Dragons! The cheek of him, thinking I’ve got time to crawl in behind the couch at 7.50am on a school day to find his teeny tiny purple-with-darker-purple-wings plastic dragon that was his latest toy du jour.

All the boys fell silent as I adjusted the radio to a moody concerto from Lyric FM and got on my way in the bleak morning June rain. No time for dragons! June rain! echoed in my head on the short drive to drop my eldest son to school, and my middle son to preschool. But by the time I’d helped my five year old with his rucksack, and he’d stroked me on the hand to tell me two important things 1) He loved me and 2) Which Lego he wanted both for his birthday and his friend’s birthday, all my creaky morning edges had softened out and I got to thinking – ah now, does there really have to be such absolute no time for dragons?

That is obviously what childhood is all about. I looked at my remaining two sons in the rear view mirror. The dragon whisperer was subdued, the baby too. Perhaps he thought I’d really hammed up the dragon thing, like, had it really been too monumental a request to carry out for his beloved older brother, who shows him important things like how to jump off the windowsill and onto the couch without smashing his head off the floor, and how to choose a piece of Lego to put in his mouth that is large enough not to choke on?

I drop my second son off, and as I help him wriggle out of his coat I ask, where’s the dragon again? I say it with a serious enough tone that he knows I will make it a top priority when I get home, over picking cement-like Cheerios off the floor, over folding the laundry, and tackling the messy living-room. I want him to know that, despite my quick temper and dire organisational abilities in the morning, there will always be time for dragons in these glistening first years of his life.